ARCTIC WILDFIRE (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Env and Eco)

News-CRUX-10     8th July 2024        

Context: Smoke from raging wildfires has once again darkened the skies over the Arctic.

Arctic Wildfire

  • About: The Arctic region is warming approximately four times faster than the global average, with temperatures rising about 3 degrees Celsius since 1980. This accelerated warming creates conditions conducive to wildfires.
  • Increased Lightning Activity: As temperatures rise, there is a higher frequency of lightning strikes in the Arctic. Lightning-sparked fires have more than doubled in areas like Alaska and the Northwest Territories since 1975, contributing significantly to wildfire occurrences.
  • Thunderstorm Patterns: Warming temperatures alter atmospheric conditions, promoting thunderstorm formation. Thunderstorms bring more lightning strikes, further increasing the ignition risk for wildfires in the Arctic.
  • All three factors: Rising temperatures, more frequent lightning and heatwaves — will most likely worsen in the coming years, thereby causing more wildfires in the Arctic. 

o By 2050, it is estimated that wildfires in the Arctic and around the world could increase by one-third, according to a report by the World Wild Fund.

Impact of Arctic Wildfires on Global Warming

  • Release of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs): Wildfires release greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) when burning vegetation.
  • Increased wildfire frequency globally contributes significantly to climate change.
  • Impact on Permafrost: Arctic wildfires pose a greater risk due to their potential to thaw permafrost, releasing vast stores of carbon. The region's permafrost holds an estimated 1,700 billion metric tons of carbon, significantly more than annual global fossil fuel emissions.
  • Threshold of Climate Change: Thawing permafrost from widespread wildfires could breach the critical 1.5 degrees Celsius warming threshold, leading to irreversible environmental consequences globally.
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