Nevada Wildfires July 2017

Wildfires in Nevada caused carbon dioxide (CO2) to reach levels as high as 742 ppm on July 12, 2017 (green circle image on the right).

At that spot in Nevada, carbon monoxide (CO) levels were as high as 30.43 ppm (green circle image right).

Numerous wildfires hit the Northern Hemisphere in July 2017. News coverage focuses on loss of lives, evacuations, electricity outages, etc. Here's a typical news report.
Importantly, global warming increases the intensity and frequency of wildfires, while wildfires further speed up global warming, due to loss of vegetation and erosion, and due to emissions associated with wildfires.

The satellite image below shows the smoke plumes and the charred area resulting from the wildfires in Nevada.

These wildfires illustrate the amount of emissions that can be caused by wildfires.

The google maps image below further shows where the fires were burning.


Mackenzie River Wildfires July 2017

The image below shows temperatures recorded at two locations over the Mackenzie River on July 7, 2017, one of 32.6°C or 90.8°F at the mouth of the Mackenzie River and another one of 34.7°C or 94.5°F further inland. Warm water from rivers can substantially warm up the sea surface and thus melt the sea ice.

Due to high temperatures, wildfires broke out near the Mackenzie River, as illustrated by the satellite image below.

Rain Over Arctic Ocean

The Damage of Wildfires

Wildfires can cause a lot of damage, they can kill people and wildlife and can destroy entire ecosystems. Wildfires also come with a lot of emissions, including soot that darkens the surface when settling down, thus further speeding up warming.

As the Arctic warms up more rapidly than the rest of the world, the temperature difference between the Equator and the North Pole decreases, which in turn weakens the speed at which the north polar jet stream circumnavigates the globe. This makes the jet stream more wavy with loops that can bringing warm air high up into the Arctic.

Changes to the jet stream in turn cause further changes. What was previously seen as extreme weather is becoming increasingly common, such as heat waves and droughts that make vegetation dry and vulnerable to pests and diseases, with high temperatures subsequently resulting in strong winds, storms and lightning.

A combination of heat waves and wildfires can strongly speed op warming, in a number of ways:
  • Warm air reaching high latitudes results in droughts, heat waves and wildfires. The heat from heat waves and wildfires makes permafrost melt, resulting in albedo loss.
  • Wildfires cause a range of emissions, including CO2, CO, methane (CH4) and soot, which can cause strong additional warming, especially locally.
  • Loss of vegetation can result in soil erosion, which can be aggravated by storms that are becoming more prominent due to global warming. 
  • Char and soot from wildfires blackens land, vegetation, snow cover and sea ice, causing more sunlight to be absorbed, rather than reflected back into space as before, thus also causing albedo loss and speeding up warming and melting.
  • Warmer rainwater can, as a result, flow into rivers and warm up the Arctic Ocean.

Kazakhstan Wildfires July 2017

The highest levels of carbon dioxide recorded by satellite are associated with wildfires.

Wildfires caused carbon dioxide to reach levels as high as 746 ppm in Kazakhstan on July 11, 2017 (green circle on image on the right). Carbon monoxide levels in the area were as high as 20.96 ppm on July 10, 2017.

The satellite image below shows wildfires in Kazakhstan on July 9, 2017.

The satellite images show wildfires in Kazakhstan on July 11, 2017.


Wildfires in Russia's Far East August 2016

Wildfires can add huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and black carbon (BC or soot) to the atmosphere.

While CO and soot are not included as greenhouse gases by the IPCC, they can have strong warming impact. CO acts as a scavenger of hydroxyl, thus extending the lifetime of methane. BC results from biomass burning, which a study by Mark Jacobson found to cause 20 year global warming of ~0.4 K. Moreover, BC has a darkening effect when settling on snow and ice, making that less sunlight gets reflected back into space, which accelerates warming. This hits the Arctic particularly hard during the Northern Summer, given the high insolation at high latitudes at that time of year.

The image below shows carbon dioxide levels as high as 713 ppm and carbon monoxide levels as high as 32,757 ppb on August 12, 2016, at the location marked by the green circle, i.e. the location of wildfires in Russia's Far East.

As said, wildfires can also emit huge amounts of methane. The image below shows methane levels as high as 2230 ppb at 766 mb.

The magenta-colored areas on above image and the image below indicate that these high methane levels are caused by these wildfires in Russia's Far East. The image below shows methane levels as high as 2517 ppb at 586 mb.

Methane levels as high as 2533 ppb were recorded that day (at 469 mb), compared to a mean global peak of 1857 ppb that day.

Wildfires in Russia's Far East

Wildfires in Indonesia 2015

Analysis by Global Fire Data found that the 2015 Indonesian fires produced more CO2e (i.e. CO2 equivalent of, in this case, CO2, CH4 and N2O) than the 2013 CO2 emissions from fossil fuel by nations such as Japan and Germany. On 26 days in August and September 2015, emissions from Indonesian fires exceeded the average daily emissions from all U.S. economic activity, as shown by the WRI image below.

A study calculated that Indonesia’s 2015 fires killed 100,000 people.

Methane emissions from wildfires can sometimes be broken down relatively quickly, especially in the tropics, due to the high levels of hydroxyl in the atmosphere there. Conversily, methane from wildfires at higher latitudes can persist much longer and will have strong warming impact, especially at higher latitudes.

Similarly, CO2 emissions from wildfires in the tropics can sometimes be partly compensated for by regrowth of vegetation after the fires. However, regrowth can be minimal in times of drought, when forests are burned to make way for other land uses or when peat is burned, and especially at higher latitudes where the growth season is short and weather conditions can be harsh. Carbon in peat lands was built up over thousands of years and even years of regrowth cannot compensate for this loss.

Another study concludes that there is strong correlation between fire risk for South America and high sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

Wildfires in Russia's Far East

In 2014, PM2.5 pollution was responsible for an estimated 428 000 premature deaths in 41 European countries. The main source, contributing 57% of PM2.5 emissions in 2015, was domestic wood burning, especially in eastern Europe. Globally, 4.3 million deaths were attributable to household air pollution in 2012.

Nitrogen dioxide, mostly from vehicle exhausts, caused an estimated 78,000 people's death in the above 41 countries. Ground-level ozone killed an estimated 14,400 lives prematurely

Wildfires caused PM10 levels as high as 75,994 micrograms per cubic meter of air in Siberia on August 17, 2017, and as high as 15, 044 micrograms per cubic meter of air in Oregon on September 6, 2017. 

Self-reinfocing Feedback Loops

The following is from:
Feedbacks in the Arctic

The image below depicts how feedback loops occur as accelerated warming occurs in the Arctic causes albedo changes (feedback #1) and methane releases (feedback #2). Accelerated Arctic warming also alters the jet stream, resulting in more extreme weather such as strong wind, droughts and heatwaves that fuel fires. These fires cause all kinds of emissions, including carbon dioxide, dust, soot, volatile organic compounds, methane and other ozone precursors. The greenhouse gases accelerate warming, while aerosols can also have a particularly strong impact, i.e. when settling on land, snow and ice, these aerosols cause albedo changes that further accelerate warming in the Arctic (feedback #3). Incomplete burning also results in carbon monoxide, which depletes hydroxyl that could otherwise have broken down methane.

[ image from Feedbacks in the Arctic ]

Arctic sea ice loss causing fires

2021 study, also discussed at facebook, describes how decline of the Arctic snow and ice cover has contributed to fires in California. In an interview, co-author Heilong Wang explains that, when the summer sea ice is much reduced, the ocean can absorb and store more heat from sunlight. Less sea ice cover over the Arctic will also allow more heat to be released from the ocean to the atmosphere in the following autumn and early winter. The anomalous heat in the Arctic can form rising air from the surface, and that can strengthen the low pressure system with a counter-clockwise spinning vortex. When it moves south, it pushes the polar jet stream off its normal course, facilitating a high pressure system to form over the western U.S. This high-pressure system is a clockwise spinning vortex. This drives dry and hot air to descend to the ground—from the upper air to the ground. Normally it comes with clear skies and no precipitation. So those are all weather conditions contributing to fire hazards.

The study adds that the fire weather changes driven by declining Arctic sea ice during the past four decades are of similar magnitude to other leading modes of climate variability such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation that also influence fire weather in the western U.S.

Fires causing Arctic sea ice loss

Furthermore, fires also speed up the demise of the Arctic snow and ice cover, e.g. soot causes more sunlight to be absorbed when settling down on the snow and ice cover (albedo change). 

Together, these mechanisms constitute a self-reinforcing feedback loop. An earlier-mentioned loop occurs as emissions by people cause the ocean to heat up, which causes more sea ice in the Arctic to melt and more sunlight to be absorbed (instead of reflected back into space, as previously), in turn further speeding up ocean heating. Another self-reinforcing feedback loop occurs as accelerated warming in the Arctic cause methane releases that further speed up warming of the Arctic. 

The following content is from the post that was added June 2021: 
Heatwaves and the danger of the Arctic Ocean heating up

Heatwaves and Jet Stream Changes

Heatwaves are increasingly hitting higher latitudes, as illustrated by the forecasts below. The background behind this is that the temperature rise caused by people's emissions is also causing changes to the jet streams.

[ click on images to enlarge ]

These changes to the Jet Stream are increasingly creating conditions for heatwaves to strike at very high latitudes, as also illustrated by the images on the right.

The first image on the right shows that surface temperatures as high as 48°C or 118.3°F are forecast in the State of Washington for June 30, 2021, at 01:00 UTC, at a latitude of 46.25°N. At the same time, even higher temperatures are forecast nearby at 1000 hPa level (temperatures as high as 119.4°C or 48.6°C).

The next two images on the right show what happened to the jet stream. One image shows instantaneous wind power density at 250 hPa, i.e. at an altitude where the jet stream circumnavigates the globe, on June 26, 2021 at 11:00 UTC. The image features two green circles. The top green circle marks a location where the jet stream is quite forceful and reaches a speed of 273 km/h or 170 mph. The bottom green circle marks the same location where the 48°C is forecast on June 30, 2021. This shows how heat has been able to move north from as early as June 26, 2021.

The next image on the right shows the situation on June 30, 2021, 04:00 UTC, illustrating how such a jet stream pattern can remain in place (blocked) for several days (in this case for more than five days). The green circle again marks the same location where the 48°C is forecast (in the top image on the right). 

This illustrates how a more wavy jet stream can enable high temperatures to rise to higher latitudes, while holding a pattern in place for several days, thus pushing up temperatures over time in the area.

As said, these changes in the jet stream that are enabling hot air to rise up to high latitudes are caused by global warming. Accelerating warming in the Arctic is causing the temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator to narrow, which in turn is making the jet stream more wavy.

The next image on the right shows that a UV index reading as high as 12 (extreme) is forecast for a location at 51.56°N in Washington for June 28, 2021, illustrating that such an extreme level of UV can occur at high latitudes, due to changes in the jet stream.

Accelerated Warming in the Arctic

As the temperature rise is accelerating due to people's emissions, it is speeding up more in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth.

The Arctic is heating up faster than elsewhere, as numerous feedbacks and tipping points are hitting the Arctic, including:

• Albedo loss goes hand in hand with decline of the snow and ice cover. Albedo is a measure of reflectivity of the surface. Albedo is higher as more sunlight is reflected back upward and less energy is getting absorbed at the surface. Albedo decline can occur as snow and ice disappears and the underlying darker soil and rock becomes exposed. Even when the snow and ice cover remains extensive, its reflectivity can decline, due to cracks and holes in the ice, due to formation of melt ponds on top of the ice and due to changes in texture (melting snow and ice reflects less light). Calving of the ice can take place where warmer water can reach it, and such calving can increase as storms strengthen and waves get larger.

• Furthermore, albedo loss can occur as dust, soot and organic compounds that are caused by human activities get deposited on the snow and ice cover, reducing the reflectivity of the surface. Organic compounds and nutrients in meltwater pools can lead to rapid growth of algae, especially at times of high insolation.

• Latent heat loss. As sea ice gets thinner, ever less ocean heat gets consumed in the process of melting the subsurface ice, to the point where - as long as air temperatures are still low enough - there still is a thin layer of ice at the surface that will still consume some heat below the surface, but that at the same time acts as a seal, preventing heat from the Arctic Ocean to enter the atmosphere. 

• Wind changes including changes to the Jet Stream can further amplify the temperature rise in the Arctic. As the temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator narrows, the Jet Stream becomes more wavy, spreading out widely at times. The changes to the jet stream cause more extreme weather, including heatwaves, forest fires, storms, flooding, etc. This can cause more aerosols to get deposited on the snow and ice cover. Stronger wind and storms over the North Atlantic can also speed up the flow of warm water into the Arctic Ocean.

Albedo loss, latent heat loss and changes to wind patterns can dramatically amplify the temperature rise in the Arctic. The temperature of the Arctic Ocean is rising accordingly, while there are a number of developments and events that specifically speed up the temperature rise of the water of the Arctic Ocean, as discussed below.

Arctic Ocean heating up

The temperature of the water of the Arctic Ocean is rising, due to a number of events and developments:
                 [ from the insolation page ]
  • Solstice occurred on June 21, 2021. The Arctic is now receiving huge amounts of sunlight (see image on the right, from the insolation page).

  • Sea surface temperatures and temperatures on land were very high in Siberia, Canada and Alaska. Strong winds can spread warm air over the Arctic Ocean.

  • Arctic sea ice extent is low for the time of year, but at this time of year (June), there still is a lot of sea ice present (compared to September). The sea ice acts as a seal, preventing ocean heat from entering the atmosphere, resulting in more heat remaining in the Arctic Ocean.

[ Lena River, Siberia ]

  • Warm water from rivers is flowing into the Arctic Ocean, carrying further heat into the Arctic Ocean. Above image shows that on June 23, 2021, sea surface temperatures were 22.3°C (72.2°F) at a spot where water from the Lena River flows into the Arctic Ocean. The image on the right shows that at a nearby location the sea surface temperature was 20°C (36°F) higher than 1981-2011.

  • Changes to the jet stream can also cause strong storms to dramatically speed up the amount of heat flowing into the Arctic Ocean, as discussed at the Cold freshwater lid on North Atlantic page.
  • [ from: Ten temperature rise indications ]
    As discussed at the Latent heat page, loss of the latent heat buffer is contributing to the rapid temperature rise in the Arctic. The remaining sea ice acts as a buffer, consuming ocean heat from below. Sea ice is getting thinner each year, so ever less ocean heat can get consumed in the process of melting the sea ice from below.

  • Warm water from the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean is flowing into the Arctic Ocean and the amount of ocean heat flowing into the Arctic Ocean is rising each year. The image on the right shows that sea surface temperatures were as much as 14.8°C or 26.6°F higher than 1981-2011 off the North American coast (green circle) on May 17, 2022.

The danger of the temperature rise of the Arctic Ocean

The danger of the temperature rise of the Arctic Ocean is that it can cause destabilization of hydrates at its seafloor, resulting in eruption of huge amounts of methane from hydrates and from free gas underneath the hydrates.
[ The Buffer has gone, feedback #14 on the Feedbacks page ]

In a news release associated with another study, Noboru Nakamura warns that “Since the heating mechanism identified in this work involves condensation of water vapor into clouds, the intensity of atmospheric blocking and heat waves will likely increase in the future as the warming climate allows more water vapor to be present in the atmosphere.

In conclusion, changes caused by emissions by people could result in a huge temperature rise soon, while a 3°C rise could cause humans to go extinct, which is a daunting prospect. Even so, the right thing to do is to help avoid the worst things from happening, through comprehensive and effective action as described in the Climate Plan.


• Wildfires

• Rain Over Arctic Ocean

• Wildfires in Russia's Far East

• Effects of biomass burning on climate, accounting for heat and moisture fluxes, black and brown carbon, and cloud absorption effects, by Mark Z. Jacobson (2014)

• 2016 fire risk for South America

• Global Fire Data - 2015 Indonesian fires

• Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions than Entire US Economy (2015)

• Indonesia’s 2015 fires killed 100,000 people, study finds

• Smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused 100,000 premature deaths

• Wildfire Danger Increasing

• Smoke Blankets North America

• More on Wildfires

• Wildfires even more damaging

• Wildfires in Canada affect the Arctic

• The Threat of Wildfires in the North

• Russia: 74 million acres burned through August 2012

• Earth on Fire

• Fires are raging again across Russia

• Turning forest waste into biochar

• Feedbacks in the Arctic

• Increasing large wildfires over the western United States linked to diminishing sea ice in the Arctic - by Yufei Zou et al.

• If Sea Ice Melts in the Arctic, Do Trees Burn in California?
• Ten temperature rise indications

• New study lays out hidden backstory behind deadly Pacific Northwest heat wave

• The 2021 Pacific Northwest Heat Wave and Associated Blocking: Meteorology and the Role of an Upstream Cyclone as a Diabatic Source of Wave Activity - by Emily Neal et al.

1 comment:

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