America’s northern frontier is seeing a surge of large wildfires, releasing more carbon dioxide from tundra and forests
By Megan Darby
Alaska is seeing a dramatic increase in wildfires as it warms twice as fast as the rest of the US.
These are not only devastating local ecosystems, warns a report by Climate Central, but releasing more greenhouse gases from forests and tundra.
That drives global temperatures even higher, in a “self-feeding cycle” that further ups the risk of infernos.
The number of large-scale wildfires, covering more than one acre, jumped in the 1990s and has stayed high, researchers found. Last decade, it was almost double the rate in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the Arctic region, the trend is even starker, with a near tenfold rise over the same period.
Amid rising temperatures, the wildfire season has expanded 40% since the 1950s, running from May to August.
And the area burned each year is set to doubly by 2050 and triple by 2100, according to the US National Climate Assessment.
“Fires in Alaska don’t often make news in the lower 48, but they threaten vast expanses of forest, parkland, and tundra that store immense quantities of carbon,” the authors wrote.
“The state’s growing number of large wildfires have the potential to damage these ecosystems, and the people and wildlife that depend on them, while releasing a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere, further contributing to global warming.
“Wildfire emissions over these vast areas also threaten air quality in Alaska and beyond.”