Almost 700 tonnes of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere in every minute of 2020, satellite data reveals.
A total of 244 megatonnes of CO2 spewed into the air from the Arctic Circle wildfires, plaguing the world’s northernmost region between January 1 and August 31.
This is the highest recorded emissions level for the region and is already a third higher than last year’s total, when just 181 megatonnes of the greenhouse gas were produced in 12 months.
The Arctic Circle includes latitudes upwards of 66 degrees North.
Scientists from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reveal the summer of wildfires in the Arctic Circle exceeded last year’s records for CO2 emissions.
Daily images and observations taken from space reveal the raging fires, driven by global warming, created smoke plumes equivalent of more than a third of Canada.
The wildfires have been concentrated primarily in Russia’s Sakha Republic and Siberia.
In June, a temperature of 100.4F (38C) was recorded in Verkhoyansk, 3,000 miles east of Moscow.
Previous predictions suggested such temperatures would not reach the region until 2100, indicating the Arctic circle is warming far faster than anticipated.
A study from Copernicus found that for the average SIberian temperature of every June from 1950 to 2018, this year was up to 10°C higher.
Clare Nullis, a spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organisation, said earlier this week: ‘This year was exceptionally bad, was exceptionally severe.’
While satellite images do not reveal how these fires start, many of the blazes early in the summer are thought to have been caused by ‘zombie’ fires that smoulder through the winter and then reignite, he said.
Freakishly warm weather across large swathes of Siberia since January combined with low soil moisture – likely a consequences of global warming – have fuelled the flames.
According to the data, the peak of the Arctic fire season was in July and early August, but Sakha Republic and Chukotka experienced above average intensity well into late August.
Between June and August, the fires in the Eastern Federal District of Russia emitted a total of approximately 540 megatonnes of CO2.
The figure for this area, which is outside the Arctic circle, surpasses the previous highest total emissions, which was in 2003
The EU research also scrutinised the wildfires affecting much of southwestern USA, particularly those seen in California.
It is thought these fires, which include the second and third worst blazes in state history, were started by lightning.
Mark Parrington, Senior Scientist and wildfire expert at CAMS, comments: ‘The Arctic fires burning since middle of June with high activity have already beaten 2019’s record in terms of scale and intensity as reflected in the estimated CO2 emissions.
‘We know from climate data provided by our parallel service at ECMWF, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), that warmer and drier conditions have been prevalent again this summer.
‘Our monitoring is vital in understanding how the scale and intensity of these wildfire events have an impact on the atmosphere in terms of air pollution.
‘This is also providing useful information for scientists, policymakers and relevant bodies around the world.’
Meanwhile, a large region of the southwestern USA has been experiencing its own wildfire problems due to heatwave conditions with large plumes of smoke observed moving eastward across the Great Lakes towards the North Atlantic.
California, in particular has been experiencing widespread wildfire activity, including the 2nd and 3rd worst fires in state history.
Worldwide, CO2 emissions from fires have averaged about seven billion tonnes a year since 2000, and were even higher in the 1990s, according to Copernicus.
But humanity’s output of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels – 37 billion tonnes last year – has increased by nearly 50 percent over the same period.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who heads up WWF’s climate and energy work, said it was clear that the planet was facing an ’emergency’.
‘We need a cohesive global response to limit the worst impacts of climate change, and to help improve public health and protect the places we live,’ he said.
‘Current commitments by governments to fight climate change are completely inadequate, and could lead to an Arctic that is 10 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today.’