It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Over 300 wildfires are burning in Alaska right now. That’s an even bigger problem than it sounds
Following on a record hot May in which much snow cover melted off early, Alaska saw no less than 152 fires erupt last weekend. The numbers have only grown further since then, and stood at 317 active fires Friday, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, with over 280,000 additional acres burned just since Thursday.
[Alaska just had its hottest May in 91 years] This stunning tweet from the Alaska Division of Forestry sort of says it all:.........
(1) Recent research suggests that more Alaskan wildfires, and more large Alaskan fires in particular, are a trend;
(2) In some cases, wildfires in Alaska don’t just consume trees, grasses or tundra. They can burn away soils as well and threaten permafrost, frozen soil beneath the ground, and so potentially help to trigger additional release of carbon to the atmosphere.
“One major concern about wildfires becoming more frequent in permafrost areas is the potential to put the vast amounts of carbon stored there at increased risk of being emitted and further amplify warming,” said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at Climate Central and lead author of the group’s newly released report on Alaskan wildfires
[Why you should be worried about declining snow cover across North America] Sanford’s new report shows that this year is not an anomaly — it is part of a trend. The report found that there has been an upswing in large Alaskan fires, defined as those that consume more than 1,000 acres, over the past three decades:
And this is happening amid a dramatic warming of the Arctic region and of Alaska in particular, which “has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country,” notes the Climate Central report — 3 degrees over the past 60 years.
[The really scary thing about wildfires is how they can worsen climate change] So unless trees somehow manage to grow back just as fast as they are burned — pulling an equal amount of carbon back out of the air again — then more fires will worsen climate change.
Fire “has a substantial positive feedback on the climate system,” according to a 2009 multi-author Science paper on the matter. But even within this worsening-fires narrative, fires in the Arctic region are a special concern. And that’s because of the permafrost, the vast subterranean body of icy soils throughout the Arctic region whose total carbon content is estimated to be roughly double what’s currently in the atmosphere. [The Arctic climate threat that nobody’s even talking about yet] As the world tries to tamp down carbon emissions, a thawing of permafrost — leading to a new emissions source — could undermine progress considerably. And a trend towards more Alaskan fires clearly doesn’t help matters.
As the University of Alaska at Fairbanks puts it — in more detached and technical language — more Alaskan wildfires could lead to “Loss of forest and surface organic materials —> permafrost thaw —> change in vegetation/hydrology dynamics and carbon cycling.”
So, in sum, when we see so much of Alaska ablaze — as we do right now — we should worry about brave wildland firefighters and also any people who might be exposed to threat. But we should also worry about permafrost, and a potential contribution to climate change.
A wildfire burning above McHugh Creek grew quickly on Tuesday, seriously snarling traffic on the Seward Highway and inching closer to a small subdivision in Rainbow Valley to the south and toward Potter Marsh to the north.
Officials were visibly frustrated that fire crews had to fight traffic to get to staging areas throughout the day Tuesday. Anchorage police cautioned Tuesday afternoon that the Seward Highway — the only road connection between the Kenai Peninsula and the rest of Alaska — could be closed "at any point" due to the fire, but the road was fully reopened Tuesday night.