The Arctic is getting so hot again⁠— scientists expect zombie fires to return

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Scientists have observed “tremendous warmth in the Arctic” which will eventually reignite the fire.
  • Zombie fires, also known as holdover fires, are wildfires that keep burning under the ground even after flames on the surface die down.
  • A similar warning was issued by scientists in Alaska — a state which recorded 39 fires since 2005.
Zombie fire, which released 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide after burning the Arctic region, are returning back to life from the dead. Scientists have observed “tremendous warmth in the Arctic” which will eventually reignite the fire.

"We have seen satellite observations of active fires that hint that 'zombie' fires might have reignited," Mark Parrington, a senior scientist and wildfire expert at the European Union's Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service told AFP.

Zombie fires, also known as holdover fires, are wildfires that keep burning under the ground even after flames on the surface die down. These fires are hidden and can survive harsh winters or hot summers.

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A normal person may not see what’s burning inside the ground and there’s a good chance that these fires may return when the weather is warmer and windier.

A wildfire observed in Greenland in 2017. NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen

Scientists are yet to confirm the hotspot but they’ve warned fires at areas which burned last year.These wildfires are particularly caused due to record high temperatures with low humanity and a dry spell.

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"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," Parrington said.

A similar warning was issued by scientists in Alaska — a state which recorded 39 fires since 2005. While most of these fires were small, about 7 of them were easily seen from space.

"Fire managers noted increasing occurrences where fires survive the cold and wet boreal winter months by smouldering, and re-emerged in the subsequent spring," the Alaska Fire Science Consortium, grouping four universities and research institutes, reported in their Spring 2020 newsletter.

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