What is a zombie wildfire, and how is it burning in the arctic?
The earth is on fire. From the earlier wildfires that ravaged Australia, to the current fires in California – there is no doubt that forest fires have become more of an issue than ever this year. But now, there is another threat to contend with: zombie wildfires.
Zombie wildfires have been burning through the arctic at record speed over the past few months, releasing megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
But what the heck are zombie wildfires? And how are they managing to burn in some of the toughest and coldest conditions on the planet?
Zombie wildfires are so named because they refuse to die.
Zombie wildfires begin underneath the snow. As the snow melts, heavy layers of peat and straw underneath the ice effectively create insulation and so ignite very easily in sunny or hot conditions.
That leads to smoldering hotspots which – when you add in a bit of wind – turns these from small mounds of flame or smoke into a ravenous wildfire.
More importantly, these wildfires don’t necessarily go away during the winter. That’s right, they can survive the frigid arctic winter by burrowing downwards, and acting like a slow-burning oven over the winter.
Scientists now believe that many of the wildfires currently decimating the arctic are actually leftover form last spring.
According to researchers, the fallout from this year’s wildfires alone is nearly 250 megatons of carbon dioxide. That has led to poor air quality across Canada, Russia and Europe.
So far, one of the biggest zombie wildfires to ever be recorded has been in Chuckegg Creek, Alberta. The fire burned through more than 1,351 square miles in just 12 weeks.
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