Scientists say they have discovered strong signals of a reigniting of the fires that raged across the Arctic following an unusually warm spring.
The European Union's Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) said on May 27 that the smoldering piles, so-called "zombie fires," were picked up by satellites monitoring emissions from the region and are expected to spread and increase in number as the seasons change.
The risk of wildfires increases with hot weather and low humidity, and Europe in particular has seen record temperatures for March and April this year, CAMS said.
According to Mark Parrington, the CAMS senior scientist and wildfire expert, the hot spots are particularly concentrated in areas that burned last summer -- namely Russia, Greenland, Canada, and the U.S. state of Alaska.
“We have seen satellite observations of active fires that hint that ‘zombie’ fires might have reignited, yet it has not been confirmed by ground measurements," he said.
"The anomalies are quite widespread in areas that were burning last summer. If this is the case, then under certain environmental conditions, we may see a cumulative effect of last year’s fire season in the Arctic, which will feed into the upcoming season and could lead to large-scale and long-term fires across the same region once again.”
At one point in August 2019, a record 5.5 million hectares was ablaze in Russia alone, mostly in Siberia, with smoke clouds covering more than 5 million square kilometers, bigger than the size of the European Union.
Scientists fear that the blazes may trigger a permafrost melt that might cause mass carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere, the destabilization of glaciers, and a rise in the sea level.
Ice melting could also release methane gases.
Last year’s wildfires in the region were unprecedented, releasing an estimated 50 megatons of carbon dioxide in June and 79 megatons of carbon dioxide in July -- equal to the exhaust fumes from 36 million cars.