Russia Experiences Great Burning: Satellite Shots Show ‘Sea of Smoke and Fire’ Blanketing Russia

I don’t know what’s more troubling — the vast size and extent of smoke and wildfires blanketing Siberia and Russia, or the almost complete silence from Russia and the mainstream media on what appears to be a massive, ongoing climate disaster (Note: NASA did provide an excellent press release via the Earth Observatory link here and below).

In 2010, Russia experienced a deadly heatwave that set off terrible wildfires that belched smoke over many of its more populous cities. These fires spread over a region closer to Europe and so they had great impacts on both property and lives. In 2012, Russia experienced a second spate of massive fires, but these raged over more remote sections of Siberia. At first, Russia was slow to respond. Then, it mobilized an army of firefighters — thousands and thousands — to fight scores of blazes raging across its large, remote Arctic regions. The smoke cloud from these fires was so large it eventually covered a section of the Northern Hemisphere from Siberia to the west coast of North America. Valleys in British Columbia filled with the stench of burning from fires thousands of miles away spurring phone calls from concerned Canadian locals to fire departments there.

Then comes 2013. From spring to summer, central Siberia sweltered under a near constant drought and intermittent heatwaves as a very high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream enabled a powerful heat dome to form during June and then re-form during late July and early August. The late July heat surge appeared to be the final insult setting off an enormous rash of fires throughout central Siberia and Russia. By early August the number of fires raging out of control swelled to 170. Today, the number is probably closer to three hundred. Human-caused climate change is, yet again, scarring Russia with a terrible set of burn marks.

It is difficult to look at today’s Aqua satellite shot and not stand in fear and awe.

Great Burning in Russia, August 5, 2013.

Great Burning in Russia, August 5, 2013.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

What we are looking at in this shot is the entirety of north-central Russia covered by a boiling cloud of smoke under which a massive field of fires burn. In the north, the large smoke cloud is now spilling out over the Kara Sea. In the south, we can see it just reaching northern Mongolia. In the east, a string of very large fires are roaring through tundra and boreal forest near western Kamchatka. And in the west, a broad tongue of smoke juts off the map and on toward Moscow whose skies are just starting to darken with smoke.

Though normally this massive swath of smoke would be driven eastward over Kamchatka and then into the Pacific Ocean, a combination of a very weak Jet Stream flow and powerful heat dome high pressure system is funneling this smoke westward in retrograde to the prevailing upper level wind flow. This anomalous pattern is similar to an upper level low that took a backward course over more than 3,000 miles of the US, marching all the way to the Pacific Ocean and into climate change weather weirdness history.  But, in this case, smoke from hundreds of wildfires is being driven backward against the prevailing wind flow for nearly 5,000 miles. In both the former and the latter cases, the typical Jet Stream pattern has been completely compromised as large backward eddies dominate major Northern Hemisphere regions for extended periods.

Closer in Modis shots with heat map imagery provide us with fire locations beneath the smoke dome (Hat tip to Colorado Bob for his sharp eye).

Russian Sea of Smoke and Fire West on August 4, 2013.

Russian Sea of Smoke and Fire West on August 4, 2013.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

If you cut the ‘Great Burning’ image I posted above in half, this shot would represent its western portion. Each red dot in the image represents a single wildfire. Some, which you can identify by their smoke plumes, are readily visible. Others are entirely masked by the massive covering smoke cloud.

Great Burning Russia East

Russian Sea of Smoke and Fire East August 4, 2013

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

On the eastern side of this great burning area in Russia, we find new, very large fires raging over Arctic Siberia and spreading into Kamchatka. It is difficult to exaggerate the immense side of some of these burn zones with the largest measuring 250×250 miles at its widest points. In this image, the large scorch marks left over by some of these fires begin to become visible. But zooming in on today’s Modis image provides even more clairity:

70x30 mile scorch mark left by a single, still burning, Russian wildfire.

70×30 mile scorch mark left by a single, still burning, Russian wildfire.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

In this shot, we find a massive 70X30 mile scorch mark scarring both tundra and boreal forest land in Arctic Siberia. Other, smaller scorch marks from past fires are also visible in this image. But this single, recent burn mark is just one of many that are now spreading out over similar regions of the Russian Arctic.

Unfortunately, heat and dry weather are expected to persist in this region for at least the next week. The forecast for Monday, August 12 calls for 77-86 degree or higher temperatures to remain in place over much of Arctic Russia with cooling confined to only the most northerly regions.

Large swath of 77-86 degree temperatures predicted to remain over Arctic Russia on Monday, August 12.

Large swath of 77-86 degree temperatures predicted to remain over Arctic Russia on Monday, August 12.

(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)

UPDATE: FURTHER READING ON THIS EVENT FROM NASA

(Hat tip to Prokaryotes)

NASA provided an excellent report on this particular event four days ago that is well worth reading:

The summer of 2012 was the most severe wildfire season Russia had faced in a decade. 2013 might be headed in the same direction after an unusual heat wave brought a surge of fire activity in northern Siberia in July.

A persistent high-pressure weather pattern in the Russian Arctic—a blocking high—contributed to the heat wave, which saw temperatures reach 32° Celsius (90° Fahrenheit) in the northern city of Norilsk. For comparison, daily July highs in Norilsk average 16° Celsius (61° Fahrenheit). Blocking highs are so named because they block the jet stream from moving rain-bearing weather systems along their normal west-to-east path; this leads to “stuck” weather patterns with long periods of stable air and exceptional heat.

(Read more here)

 

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59 Comments

  1. james cole

     /  August 6, 2013

    This event is really becoming epic in it’s scale and duration. I am an avid viewer of RT, the Russian News Channel that is available here in the USA now on our DISH Service. Imagine, not a word of these fires, not even a mention!
    We live in a world where the big fossil fuel industry can use it’s money and political power to enforce a sort of mad silence upon media. Not just RT, the US mainstream media has been second to none in ignoring the great fires out west this years. Hundreds of homes burn and not a mention on the cable news. All these heat waves and extreme and weird weather events, and the US media has clamped total silence upon it. I’ll tell you, even the internet is limited to a sparse few blogs and news sites like this one that take on the fast changing world climate situation.
    The arctic heat wave this year has been seen in Alaska, Northern Scandinavia, the Arctic Canadian wilderness and now, in it’s MOST extreme form across the vast northern Russian land mass.
    The area we are talking about is so vast, even we Americans can’t grasp it. I was lucky enough to see parts of Russia’s northern forests and a bit of the Urals, just enough to look out from the Urals onto the vast plains of the “green sea”, as locals call Siberia.
    That this area is now burning, and much of it too remote to fight the fires with much effect, well this event will go into the history books as one of the big signs that global warming is in full effect now, not in 2050, it is here NOW!
    Yet our friends the deniers hold the media high ground, and most people are ignorant of events in Siberia’s great forests. A victory for big oil and conservative politicians.

    Reply
    • I’m stunned by the scale on the satellite shot. On the ground, these things must be immense. Seems the green sea is turning into a scorched sea.

      Reply
  2. NASA covered the wildfire 4 days ago, some good images here as well. I quote the NASA commentary in full…

    The summer of 2012 was the most severe wildfire season Russia had faced in a decade. 2013 might be headed in the same direction after an unusual heat wave brought a surge of fire activity in northern Siberia in July.

    A persistent high-pressure weather pattern in the Russian Arctic—a blocking high—contributed to the heat wave, which saw temperatures reach 32° Celsius (90° Fahrenheit) in the northern city of Norilsk. For comparison, daily July highs in Norilsk average 16° Celsius (61° Fahrenheit). Blocking highs are so named because they block the jet stream from moving rain-bearing weather systems along their normal west-to-east path; this leads to “stuck” weather patterns with long periods of stable air and exceptional heat.

    The map above shows land surface temperature anomalies for July 20–27, 2013. Rather than depicting absolute temperatures, the map shows how much the temperatures for that week differed from the long-term average for the area. The measurements were collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Shades of red indicate temperatures that were warmer than average; blues are below average. Oceans, lakes, and areas with insufficient data (usually because of persistent clouds) appear in gray.

    The small inset box toward the upper left marks the area shown in the lower image. Acquired by MODIS on July 25, 2013, the natural-color image shows smoke billowing from fires in the Khanty-Mansiyskiy and Yamal-Nenetskiy districts. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected abnormally warm surface temperatures associated with fire.

    The fires are burning in an unusual area. Most summer wildfires in Siberia occur south of the 57° North latitude line, along the southern edge of the taiga. The July 2013 fires are significantly north of that, raging in woodlands near the 65° North line.

    High temperatures play an important role in promoting wildfires. Warm fuels burn more readily than cooler fuels because less energy is required to raise their temperature to the point of ignition. With temperatures soaring in northern Russia, it was easier for previously active fires to continue burning and for lightning to spark new ones.

    This summer’s heat wave, like all extreme weather events, had its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and there’s a high level of agreement among scientists that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves and wildfires of this magnitude will occur.

    While temperatures are increasing globally, the warming in Russia since the mid-1970s has been more rapid than most areas—about .51°C per decade compared to about .17°C globally—according to a study by Anatoly Shvidenko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Researchers expect a doubling in the number of forest fires in Russia’s taiga forests by the end of the century, as well as increases in the intensity of those fires.

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=81736&src=eorss-iotd

    Reply
    • Well you can count on NASA to provide an excellent report and it seems you can count on everyone else to subsequently ignore it.

      Will post a quote from this article as an update. Thanks, Pro.

      Reply
  3. Russian media reporting on the fire

    “A state of emergency has been introduced in majority of districts of Novosibirsk Region, Governor Vasily Yurchenko said on Friday. The expected grain harvest in the region has been revised downward to 2 million tons from 3 million due to the fires, he said.” http://en.ria.ru/russia/20120803/174955569.html

    Reply
  4. On another note.

    How much carbon content and possible methane content is released from these fires? For instance the SWIPA assessment noted:”Future rates of methane production from Arctic wetlands and thawing permafrost are difficult to predict because it is not clear whether more wetland and lakes will be formed due to the thawing of ice-rich permafrost, or fewer, because of summer drying.” http://climatestate.com/magazine/2013/08/methane-in-the-arctic-circle/

    Hence the wildfire is another acceleration for permafrost melt and subsequent methane release.

    As you noted “Last week, a persistent Arctic heatwave re-intensified over Central Siberia, setting off a rash of wildfires while at the same time apparently forcing some of this region’s vast tundra methane stores to erupt.” http://robertscribbler.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/heat-dome-wildfires-methane-pulse-expand-blanketing-arctic-siberia-in-cloud-of-dense-smoke/

    New York Times run an article 2011:” A troubling trend has emerged recently: Wildfires are increasing across much of the north, and early research suggests that extensive burning could lead to a more rapid thaw of permafrost.

    Rise and Fall of Permafrost

    Standing on a bluff the other day, overlooking an immense river valley, A. David McGuire, a scientist from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, sketched out two million years of the region’s history. It was the peculiar geology of western North America and eastern Siberia, he said, that caused so much plant debris to get locked in an ice box there.

    These areas were not covered in glaciers during the last ice age, but the climate was frigid, with powerful winds. The winds and rivers carried immense volumes of silt and dust that settled in the lowlands of Alaska and Siberia.

    A thin layer of this soil thawed on top during the summers and grasses grew, capturing carbon dioxide. In the bitter winters, grass roots, leaves and even animal parts froze before they could decompose. Layer after layer of permafrost built up.

    “If, in a warmer world, bacteria decompose organic soil matter faster, releasing carbon dioxide,” Dr. Ciais wrote, “this will set up a positive feedback loop, speeding up global warming.”

    When organic material comes out of the deep freeze, it is consumed by bacteria. If the material is well-aerated, bacteria that breathe oxygen will perform the breakdown, and the carbon will enter the air as carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas. But in areas where oxygen is limited, like the bottom of a lake or wetland, a group of bacteria called methanogens will break down the organic material, and the carbon will emerge as methane.

    Scientists are worried about both gases. They believe that most of the carbon will emerge as carbon dioxide, with only a few percent of it being converted to methane. But because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas, the 41 experts in the recent survey predicted that it would trap about as much heat as the carbon dioxide would.

    Dr. Walter Anthony’s seminal discovery was that methane rose from lake bottoms not as diffuse leaks, as many scientists had long assumed, but in a handful of scattered, vigorous plumes, some of them capable of putting out many quarts of gas per day. In certain lakes they accounted for most of the emerging methane, but previous research had not taken them into consideration. That meant big upward revisions were probably needed in estimates of the amount of methane lakes might emit as permafrost thawed.

    When the Tundra Burns

    One day in 2007, on the plain in northern Alaska, a lightning strike set the tundra on fire.

    Historically, tundra, a landscape of lichens, mosses and delicate plants, was too damp to burn. But the climate in the area is warming and drying, and fires in both the tundra and forest regions of Alaska are increasing.

    The Anaktuvuk River fire burned about 400 square miles of tundra, and work on lake sediments showed that no fire of that scale had occurred in the region in at least 5,000 years. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/17/science/earth/warming-arctic-permafrost-fuels-climate-change-worries.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0#h%5B%5D

    One could plot the daily 451MB readings from MODIS (methanetracker.org) to this map http://climatestate.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SWIPA_Methane.jpg

    Reply
    • Also read the NASA 2012 assessment on the wildfire season. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=79161

      Reply
    • These are excellent points.

      As for your question. It would seem to me that much of the greenhouse gas material emitted from fire would be CO2. But the fact that we are seeing methane in conjunction begs the question– do fires somehow tap subterranean methane stores? It takes an anaerobic environment to support the microbes that produce the methane. In Antarctica, and in sections of ice, we sometimes find these microbes living in areas of dense organic matter. Thawing or breaking the ice can release this material. Methane producing bacteria can also be found in peat.

      Burning breaks both ice and peat material through physical and chemical processes. If methane is released during fire, some would burn, turning to CO2 and some would out-gas.

      After a fire passes, thawed and weakened tundra may also release more of its anaerobic stores.

      One mechanism that I’m rather concerned about involves the flooding of thawing tundra due to sea level rise. A lot of that tundra sits on low land and a melt pulse would cover it. What happens if a larger portion of Yedoma is inundated? The regions that would have given a CO2 feedback now give a methane feedback.

      We need more in the scientific literature on this and we need to get the guys and gals who make the models to pay attention.

      Reply
      • We are on the same page. I blogged about flooded soils awhile ago

        Flooded soils

        http://climateforce.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/flooded-soils/

        ClimateCentral noted:

        Research has shown that increased forest burning as a result of warming will be a bigger factor driving the release of stored carbon from the boreal forest than the more direct impacts that climate change will have on the carbon cycle, such as through changes in the rate at which soils can absorb atmospheric carbon. And the boreal forest is becoming more flammable at the same time as another key Arctic biome, the tundra, is as well. One massive tundra fire in Alaska in 2007 emitted 2.1 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, about equal to the amount of carbon that the Arctic typically absorbs in a year, according to a 2011 study. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/arctics-boreal-forests-burning-at-unprecedented-rate-16278

  5. Shanghai Breaks All-Time Record Highs as Brutal Heat Continues
    AccuWeather.com meteorologists were forecasting temperatures to approach and perhaps set the all-time high on Tuesday. The high climbed to at least 105.8F (41 C), breaking the previous all-time record high of 40.6 degrees C (105 degrees F).

    http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/shanghai-may-break-alltime-rec/16197322

    Reply
  6. Steve

     /  August 6, 2013

    How long has their weather in this instance been moving in retrograde fashion? Isn’t this unbelievably alarming, like at least a 9 on a scale of 10?

    Reply
  7. Steve

     /  August 6, 2013

    Is it as uncommon for there as the July event was for the U.S.? Am I correct in assuming that China’s long brutal heat wave also has to do with an incredibly weak jet stream? “At least for now” is an interesting way to put it. If I was at the switch, even with my lack of understanding of things, I’d feel pretty comfortable sounding the alarm with this one. Jennifer Francis was really alarmed about what last winter would bring. Even though it didn’t happen as she feared, I would guess she is even more concerned with this winter.

    Reply
    • It’s the raging transition between summer and winter that sets up for brutal weather at this point. I think that’s when Dr. Francis was concerned about.

      I say ‘at least for now’ because ice sheet response may turn stagnant into ferocious. Either way it’s not a good situation.

      Reply
  8. Steve

     /  August 6, 2013

    I can’t find the clip from last year for some reason. I can find clips of her talking about the winter, but not the specific one that she came across as very worried. In the clip, she was literally frightened that an arctic dip would extend into the southeastern US for a prolonged period of time and the results would be horrendous. She feared that a lot of cities couldn’t handle what might come there way. I lived in Florida for eleven years. When the weather hit the mid 30’s on cold nights, the power capacity to keep up with the heating demand starts getting stretched extremely thin. I haven’t been down there in 8 years, but if things haven’t changed, a long cold snap could indeed be devastating.

    Reply
  9. Terra/MODIS
    2013/218
    08/06/2013
    04:55 UTC

    Reply
  10. Pyro – My observed events at Newsvine – 2886, my articles there 112.
    These are not ‘news bits’.

    Reply
    • They are a what most people call ‘a body of work’ . Over years of reading . And I remember most all of it.

      So I do not post ‘ bits of news ‘.

      Reply
  11. Pyro –
    Not pickin’ fight , just telling you I understand this material very deeply .

    Reply
  12. “Once polar bears reach adulthood they are normally nigh on indestructible, they are hard as nails.”

    Reply
  13. Pyro – I watch the Earth , like no man you ever met . I don’t give a rat’s fuzzy butt , if see that or not.

    Reply
  14. typo – if you see

    Reply
  15. Pyro – I watch the Earth … All of it . And I’ve been at it for decades .

    Test me , ask me a question , but make it very obtuse .

    Reply
  16. RS – Tanks adding for my feed.
    The world is ocean of information , we just try to keep our heads above the flood.

    Reply
  17. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it,
    you can be a great author. I will always bookmark your blog and will
    eventually come back later on. I want to encourage
    yourself to continue your great job, have a nice morning!

    Reply
  18. I wrote about this a few years ago. Jokingly I might add.

    http://blog.khanneasuntzu.com/?p=335

    Reply
    • Steve

       /  August 8, 2013

      Khannea: If John Grisham reads this blog, you should be getting a new friend request any minute now! Sounds like Conspiracy Theory meets the Pelican Brief. On the surface, this really makes sense. If you would build nuclear weapons, what would make you hesitate from doing such a thing? Wow!

      Reply
    • Plan Carbon? Nice. Brings up a whole new notion in international relations theory — Climate Change Game Theory. Dear goodness would that be cynical.

      Reply
      • Lewis Cleverdon

         /  August 11, 2013

        As a British comedian remarked recently,
        “I do try to be cynical, but its hard to keep up.”

        Regards,

        Lewis

    • Lewis Cleverdon

       /  August 11, 2013

      Khannea – you overlook a couple of practical hindrances to your humorous analysis – first, the soils coming out of permafrost are by no means suitable for agriculture, not least because they unfreeze to become massive swamps; second, we are heading to a level of climate destabilization by the 2020s that so disrupts agriculture globally as to impose intensifying serial global crop failures, and consequent geopolitical destabilization.

      Fortunately the Russian Academy of Sciences is very well aware of these facts, so the delusion of vast new farm resources gets no traction in the Kremlin.

      Which is not to say that Global Warming’s advance is not being used as a means of coercion at the level of superpower rivalry for global dominance.

      Regards,

      Lewis

      Reply
  19. Gabby Johnson

     /  August 8, 2013

    The forests around me here in the northern Rockies are about 75 percent dead, and just about everyone (even the deniers) acknowledge it’s just a matter of time before similar catastrophic fires erupt in North America.
    I’ve heard, also, that there’s a lot of concern about the forests in the Ukraine around Chernobyl, that when they go they will release (again) much of the longer-lived radiation back into the atmosphere.

    Reply
    • Wow. That’s a mess waiting to happen.

      Reply
    • Lewis Cleverdon

       /  August 11, 2013

      Gabby – I’m afraid there’s a factor in this that very few yet recognize – which is that unless we achieve a global climate treaty that mandates binding Emissions Control and also Albedo Restoration to cool the planet and stabilize the climate, the forests now burning will mostly fail to regrow.
      That is, on its present course under Obama’s adoption of Cheyney’s policy of inaction, America is in process of losing its forests, permanently.

      I suggest we should apply much more care in identifying just who is to primarily to blame for the present reckless stasis and just what is the motivation.

      Regards,

      Lewis

      Reply
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