Huge Swathes of the Arctic on Fire

July 29th, 2019 - by Harry Cockburn / The Independent & Phoebe Weston / The Independent
Massive Arctic fires are now visible from space.

 ‘Unprecedented’ Satellite Images Show Huge Swathes of the Arctic on Fire

Earth’s boreal forests burning at rates unseen in ‘at least 10,000 years’

Harry Cockburn / The Independent

(July 22, 2019) — Vast swathes of the Arctic are suffering from “unprecedented” wildfires, new satellite images have revealed. 

North of the Arctic circle, the high temperatures are facilitating enormous wildfires which are wreaking ecological destruction on a colossal scale.

It comes after the world’s hottest June on record which has been followed by a devastating heatwave in the US, with Europe forecast for the same treatment later this week.

Satellite images reveal fires across GreenlandSiberia and Alaska, with warm dry conditions following ice melt on the enormous Greenland ice-sheet commencing a month earlier than average.

Pierre Markuse, a satellite photography expert, posted images showing smoke billowing across massive areas of uninhabited and wild land.

The pictures show forest fires and burning peat. They also reveal the extent of the damage the fires leave behind. In Alaska wildfires have already burned more than 1.6 million acres of land.

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, said the amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires between 1 June and 21 July 2019 is around 100 megatonnes and is approaching the entire 2017 fossil fuel CO2 emissions of Belgium.

“I think it’s fair to say July Arctic Circle wildfires are now at unprecedented levels, having surpassed previous highest #CopernicusGFAS estimated July total CO2 emission (2004/2005), & last month’s 50 megatonnes … and still increasing,” he tweeted.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has described the fires in the northern hemisphere as “unprecedented” and warned of the enormous impact they are having on CO2 levels contributing to the climate crisis.

“Since the start of June, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (Cams) has tracked over 100 intense and long-lived wildfires in the Arctic Circle,” the WMO said in a statement

“In June alone, these fires emitted 50 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to Sweden’s total annual emissions. This is more than was released by Arctic fires in the same month between 2010 and 2018 combined.”

“Although wildfires are common in the northern hemisphere between May and October, the latitude and intensity of these fires, as well as the length of time that they have been burning for, has been particularly unusual,” the organisation said, quoting Dr Parrington. 

“The ongoing Arctic fires have been most severe in Alaska and Siberia, where some have been large enough to cover almost 100,000 football pitches, or the whole of Lanzarote. In Alberta, Canada, one fire is estimated to have been bigger than 300,000 pitches. In Alaska alone, Cams has registered almost 400 wildfires this year, with new ones igniting every day.”

The average June temperature in the region of Siberia where wildfires are raging was almost 10  degrees higher than the 1981—2010 long-term average.

The WMO added: “The northern part of the world is warming faster than the planet as a whole. That heat is drying out forests and making them more susceptible to burn. A recent study found Earth’s boreal forests are now burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years.”

Human Body ‘Close to Thermal Limits’ Due to Extreme Heatwaves Caused by Climate Change

Swathes of land could soon become uninhabitable amid catastrophic weather changes

Phoebe Weston / The Independent

LONDON (July 27, 2019) — Extreme global temperatures are pushing the human body “close to thermal limits”, according to a climate scientist. 

Record-breaking heat has swept through Europe this week with temperatures topping 40C in a number of countries. 

However, in places such as South Asia and the Persian Gulf, people are already enduring temperatures reaching up to 54C. 

Despite all the body’s thermal efficiencies, these areas could soon be uninhabitable, according to Loughborough University climate scientist Dr Tom Matthews in The Conversation

When air temperature exceeds 35C, the body relies on sweating to keep core temperatures at a safe level. However, when the “wet bulb” temperature—which reflects the ability of moisture to evaporate—reaches 35C, this system no longer works.

“The wet bulb temperature includes the cooling effect of water evaporating from the thermometer, and so is normally much lower than the normal (“dry bulb”) temperature reported in weather forecasts,” Dr Matthews wrote. “Once this wet bulb temperature threshold is crossed, the air is so full of water vapour that sweat no longer evaporates,” he said.

This means the human body cannot cool itself enough to survive more than a few hours.

“Without the means to dissipate heat, our core temperature rises, irrespective of how much water we drink, how much shade we seek, or how much rest we take,” he explained. 

Some areas—which are among the most densely populated on Earth—could pass this threshold by the end of the century, according to Dr Matthews.

There is already evidence wet bulb temperatures are occurring in Southwest Asia. 

With climate change starting to profoundly alter weather systems, rising temperatures could soon make parts of the world uninhabitable. 

If electricity can be maintained, living in chronically heat-stressed conditions may be possible but a power outage could be catastrophic. 

In a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change, Dr Matthews and his team looked at the probability of a “grey swan” event in the case of extreme heat coinciding with massive blackouts.

Mega blackouts sometimes follow powerful tropical cyclones. Researchers found that dangerously hot temperatures during a period with no electricity could have catastrophic consequences.

“We looked at tropical cyclones, which have already caused the biggest blackouts on Earth, with the months-long power failure in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria among the most serious,” Dr Matthews wrote

“We found that as the climate warms, it becomes ever more likely that these powerful cyclones would be followed by dangerous heat, and that such compound hazards would be expected every year if global warming reaches [40C]. 

“During the emergency response to a tropical cyclone, keeping people cool would have to be as much a priority as providing clean drinking water.”

Heat-stressed countries are likely to see the largest absolute increases in humid-heat and they are often the least well-prepared to deal with the hazard. This could drive mass migration, which would make heat a worldwide issue—even for countries that are not experiencing scorching temperatures. 

Dr Matthews wrote: “The challenges ahead are stark. Adaptation has its limits. We must therefore maintain our global perspective on heat and pursue a global response, slashing greenhouse gas emissions to keep to the Paris warming limits. 

“In this way, we have the greatest chance of averting deadly heat—home and abroad.”

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