These Satellite Images Show Just How Serious The Artic’s Wildfire Problem Is


Swan Lake Fire, 5 miles NE of Sterling, Alaska. Taken: June 29, 2019. Pierre Markuse/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Large swathes of the Arctic, including in Alaska, Alberta, Greenland, and Siberia (areas better known for their icy landscapes) are on fire.

Perre Markuse – a remote sensing and geography enthusiast – has collected satellite images of the blazes ravaging through the uppermost regions of the northern hemisphere, showcasing the scale of the situation.

HWF042 wildfire near High Level, Alberta, Canada - May 28, 2019, Pierre Markuse/Flickr CC BY 2.0

States like California and countries like Australia may immediately spring to mind when you think of wildfires but the boreal forests in the Arctic Circle can fall victim to lightning strikes and other firestarters, too. That's not to say fires of this scale and duration aren't highly unusual – nor is it common that they start so early in the season.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) published data earlier this month, revealing these fires were responsible for releasing 55 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in June alone. To put it into perspective, that is roughly equivalent to Sweden's total annual emissions and more than the carbon dioxide emitted from Arctic wildfires every June between 2010 and 2018 combined

Wildfires in the Arctic Circle are most common in July and August but have been exacerbated this year thanks to June's excessive heat. The sixth month broke records becoming (globally) the hottest June ever documented

And don't expect things to calm down quite yet – this month is expected to be another scorcher. July 2019 is not only predicted to be the hottest July on record but the hottest month everThat's according to climate scientists at Berkely Earth, a non-profit that analyzes land temperature data for climate science.


Indeed, the last five years have been the hottest on record and it doesn't look as though 2019 will buck this trend. What's more, the Arctic appears to be warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world thanks to positive feedback loops like the albedo effect, which accelerate the trend. (The albedo refers to the idea that additional ice melt exposes darker surfaces that absorb more of the Sun's energy, causing temperatures to rise and thus, more ice to melt in a continuous cycle.)

Alaska and Siberia have seen some of the heaviest battering from wildfires, with the former registering close to 400 wildfires this year as of July 11 (presumably exceeding this figure by now). That is more than California or, indeed, any state in the US this year, reports NASA. Most are caused by lightning strikes.

Wildfires over Alaska, USA - July 8, 2019. Pierre Markuse/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Meanwhile, in Siberia, the flames are threatening a natural feature nicknamed the "mouth of hell", writes the Siberian Times. The official name is the Batagaika crater but locals regard the (almost) 300-foot-deep crevice a doorway to the underworld. Wildfires could destabilize the ground around the Batagika crater, causing it to collapse so that it gapes even wider.

Several wildfires between about 57°N and 70°N in Krasnoyarsk Krai and Sakha Republic, Russia - July 21, 2019 Pierre Markuse/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Greenland is also experiencing an unusually warm (and dry) summer, leaving the country vulnerable to wildfire. The Greenland ice sheet began melting a month earlier than average, the Washington Post reports, and scientists say we will have to wait and see if it surpasses the record melt of 2012.

Wildfire in the Qeqqata Kommunia, Greenland - July 14, 2019 Pierre Markuse/Flickr CC BY 2.0

For more of Markuse's images, find him on Flickr