As if drought, flooding, extreme hurricanes, and deadly heat waves weren’t enough, climate change could make zombie forest fires more common, scientists say. Research published Wednesday in Nature found zombie fires — wildfires in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, so-called because they continue to smolder under winter snows and reignite once the snow melts — are becoming more common as global temperatures rise due to humans’ extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.
“I think the sheer fact that this is happening really shows that this region is changing so, so quickly,” Sander Veraverbeke, an associate professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, told CNN. “It’s really a testimony of the rapid warming in the Arctic and boreal (forests).”
Making matters worse, the Arctic is heating faster than the rest of the planet. The fires and warming fuel a vicious cycle: Higher temperatures enable longer fire seasons and more zombie fires, which lead to the release of more methane and CO2 from carbon-rich peatlands — just 10% of CO2 from Alaskan fires comes from burning trees — which further accelerates global warming.
“Ten years ago, someone asked me, ‘How often do these happen?’ And I said, ‘Ehhh, they’re interesting but they don’t happen very often,’” Randi Jandt, a fire ecologist with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told National Geographic. But, she added, “We definitely seem to be seeing them more, in my 30 years of observation and asking people up there about [overwintering fires] before that.” (New York Times $, National Geographic, CNN, Axios, The Guardian, Reuters, BBC, Vice, ABC, Wired, Popular Mechanics, E&E $)