Huge areas of the Arctic are on fire – here’s what that means for the planet


(Iceland, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Writer, Formative Content

Large tracts of the Arctic are ablaze as wildfires reach unprecedented levels, satellite images show. The massive fires devastate everything in their path, polluting the atmosphere and forcing thousands of people from their homes.

Arctic wildfires emitted as much carbon dioxide in June as Sweden produces in an entire year, according to the EU Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service(CAMS). Around 50 megatonnes of CO2 have been released, more than Arctic wildfires produced in the previous eight Junes put together.

In a six-week period, over 100 intense and long-lived wildfires have hit the Arctic Circle, some large enough to cover an area equivalent to 100,000 soccer pitches.

Heat output from wildfires.
Image: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS)

Fanning the flames

Although wildfires are common in the northern hemisphere between May and October, this year they are encroaching further north. The blazes have increased in intensity and are burning longer than in previous years.

“It is unusual to see fires of this scale and duration at such high latitudes in June,” says CAMS senior scientist Mark Parrington. “But temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at a much faster rate than the global average, and warmer conditions encourage fires to grow and persist once they have been ignited.”

In Alaska, summer temperatures reached 32°C, against an average of around 18°C. In the parts of Siberia prone to wildfires, June temperatures were almost 10 degrees higher than the 1981-2010 long-term average.

Globally, the past four years have been the hottest ever recorded, according to NASA figures.

Playing with fire

Global warming means rising temperatures are drying out Arctic forests and making them more susceptible to fires. Intense heat incinerates trees, vegetation and any woodland creatures unable to escape the flames, while allowing the carbon stored in branches and tree trunks to escape.

A satellite image of wildfires in Ontario, Canada.
Image: World Meteorological Organization

Fires also pose a risk of permafrost melting and drying, exposing the carbon-rich peat underneath to combustion, thereby releasing more greenhouse gases.

There is also a danger of soot from the fires landing on snow and ice, causing the ice to absorb heat instead of reflecting it, increasing temperatures further.

As a relatively untouched part of the globe, the Arctic is sensitive to environmental change and is warming faster than most other regions.


The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019 places failure to mitigate climate change as the second greatest threat facing the world.

What is happening in the Arctic is a powerful reminder of the challenge that climate change poses. But the region also provides scientists and climatologists with a wealth of valuable information to assist them in the fight against global warming.


the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

EU trade agreements deliver on growth and jobs, support sustainable development

The world invested almost $2 trillion in energy last year. These 3 charts show where it went

Can the Americans alone determine the future of Syria?

The Chinese solar panels suddenly became too cheap for Europe

UN chief welcomes decision to delay formation of South Sudan unity government

Libya stands at a ‘critical juncture’, UN mission head tells Security Council

UN Forum examines three pillars of 2030 Global Goals

Nicaragua: MEPs demand an end to repression of political opponents

The Council of Europe adopts Recommendation on young people’s access to rights

“Beyond the beach: tackling plastic pollution upstream”, a Sting Exclusive by Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment

What just happened? 5 themes from the COP24 climate talks in Poland

Consumer protection: Deal on EU-wide rules for those sold faulty products

The G7 adopted dangerous views about Ukraine and Greece

State of Health in the EU: shift to prevention and primary care is the most important trend across countries

No barriers to free flow of non-personal data in the EU

Postal workers in France are helping elderly people fight loneliness

Is history a new NATO weapons against Russia?

These are the world’s most competitive economies

What data dominance really means, and how countries can compete

Medical students as the critical link to address climate change

Global Cooperation for Local Action: Fighting antimicrobial resistance

Spain locks down, Denmark shuts borders – today’s COVID-19 updates and expert analysis

Visa-free access to the EU for UK nationals and to the UK for EU nationals

MEPs propose ways to boost plastics recycling

Europe is now practically divided as in the Cold War

Just 24% of news sources are women. Here’s why that’s a problem

Latin America’s cities are ready to take off. But their infrastructure is failing them

We’re all in the same boat on the SDGs. Here’s how we steer a course

Deutsche Bank: the next financial crisis is here and the lenders need €150 billion from taxpayers

Protests, violence in Haiti prompts international call for ‘realistic and lasting solutions’ to crisis

Brexit update: Tusk’s proposal is out and Cameron takes it all

Election 2019: New, Updated seat projection for new Parliament

Nicaragua crisis: One year in, more than 60,000 have fled, seeking refuge

Schools must look to the future when connecting students to the internet

Eurozone has practically entered a deflation trap

Meet the Junior Enterprise network at JEWC 2014!

Here are 10 of Nelson Mandela’s most inspirational quotes

MWC 2016 LIVE: Under Armour learns from “robust community of data”

In Bahrain, Global Forum for Entrepreneurs and Investment examines empowerment of women, youth through innovation

Give a chance to the brothers of Ailan: reception of refugees in Greece

How tomorrow’s buildings will make you – and the planet – healthier

Capital transaction tax on Ecofin table

Future of Insurance Claims in Focus at Fourth Annual Connected Claims Europe Summit

Latin America and Caribbean region deadliest for journalists in 2019

How do we upskill a billion people by 2030? Leadership and collaboration will be key

Except Poland, can climate change also wait until 2021 for the EU Market Stability Reserve to be launched?

GSMA Mobile 360 – Africa: Rise of the Digital Citizen, Kigali 16 – 18 July 2019, in association with The European Sting

Trump stumbles badly on his Russian openings; Europeans wary of Putin

Deutsche Bank again in the middle of the US-EU economic skirmishes

UN chief condemns student abductions in north-west Cameroon

Insurer CEOs Reveal Marketing Strategies that Communicate the True Value of Insurance Products & Services to the Customer

Mosul’s ‘3D contamination’ adds to challenges of deadly mine clearance work

‘Young people care about peace’: UN Youth Envoy delivers key message to Security Council

To prevent coronavirus don’t touch your face – but how can you avoid it?

Baku forum to push back against ‘rise of hate’ with strong call for cultural and religious tolerance, says UN official

The miserables and the untouchables of the economic crisis

My Mothers

Moving from commitment to action on LGBTI equality

Ukraine: Temperatures plunge amid rising humanitarian needs

3.7 million lives could be saved by 2025 if health services ramp up nutrition actions: WHO

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s