Arctic Circle fires this year have released approximately 35% more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the already record-breaking 2019 Siberian blazes, according to new data.
The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service — which monitors fires around the world using satellite technology — reported Thursday that the new recorded level amounts to around 244 megatonnes of the gas.
“The Arctic fires burning since the middle of June with high activity have already beaten 2019’s record in terms of scale and intensity as reflected in the estimated CO2 emissions,” Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service senior scientist and wildfire expert Mark Parrington said in a statement.
While much of the released carbon dioxide is reabsorbed from the atmosphere when burned ecosystems naturally regrow, it’s increasingly crucial to determine the net emissions from the Arctic fires.
The most recent fires released bounties of the gas — more than in entire nations like Sweden.
If the rate of fires increases like researchers expect, forests and grasslands would not naturally regrow, as this process usually takes decades.
However, another type of fire may present a more significant challenge, burning wetlands composed of ancient plants amassed over thousands of years.
Peatlands are extremely carbon-rich, and about half of the Arctic fires this year have burned there.
Recent reports have been problematic because ecosystems like the peatlands are often considered “carbon sinks,” or natural locations where the planet absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.
In their current condition, they might be potent sources of carbon amidst the highest atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide in at least 800,000 years.
Additionally, many peat fires remain undetected by satellites, because they can burn at lower temperatures, hinting that even ceiling shattering estimates for the level of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere from the Arctic Circle could likely be lower than the actual amount.