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'Unprecedented' wildfires ravage the Arctic

Updated 8:21 AM ET, Wed July 24, 2019

(CNN) - More than 100 intense wildfires have ravaged the Arctic since June, with scientists describing the blazes as "unprecedented."

New satellite images show huge clouds of smoke billowing across uninhabited land in Greenland, Siberia and parts of Alaska.

The wildfires come after the planet experienced the hottest June on record and is on track to experience the hottest July on record, as heatwaves sweep across Europe and the United States.

Since the start of June, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which provides data about atmospheric composition and emissions, has tracked more than 100 intense wildfires in the Arctic Circle.

Pierre Markuse, a satellite photography expert, said the region has experienced fires in the past, but never this many.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a faster rate than the global average, providing the right conditions for wildfires to spread, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS.

"The number and intensity of wildfires in the Arctic Circle is unusual and unprecedented," Parrington told CNN.

"They are concerning as they are occurring in a very remote part of the world, and in an environment that many people would consider to be pristine," he said.

The average June temperature in Siberia, where the fires are raging, was almost 10 degrees higher than the long-term average between 1981--2010, Dr Claudia Volosciuk, a scientist with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) told CNN.

Parrington said there seemed to be more wildfires due to local heatwaves in Siberia, Canada and Alaska.

The fires themselves contribute to the climate crisis by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

They emitted an estimated 100 megatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere between 1 June and 21 July, almost the equivalent of Belgium's carbon output in 2017, according to CAMS.

Read more: Scientists memorialize the first glacier lost to climate change in Iceland

Volosciuk said wildfires are also exacerbating global warming by releasing pollutants into the atmosphere.

"When particles of smoke land on snow and ice, [they] cause the ice to absorb sunlight that it would otherwise reflect, and thereby accelerate the warming in the Arctic," she said.


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