alaska wildfire by Nidgel D'Souza July 18, 2019
Its the middle of the summer. The air conditioner is on full blast, the freezer is stocked with ice cream and popsicles, and cold water is the drink of choice.
Take a step outside. What do you feel? Heat, humidity, hot air? If these are your first thoughts, then you’re correct. It’s hot as f*ck!
This comes as no surprise, anywhere in the lower 48 states and Hawaii, this heat is perceived as the norm for this time of year. This is not the case with Alaska.
Since the beginning of the summer (June 21), Alaska has been battling a myriad of wildfires within the state. Currently, the largest wildfire in America is ravaging 29 miles southeast of Steven’s Village, AK, a small settlement in the northern interior of the state.
Labeled as the Hess Creek Fire, it has spanned 170,295 acres (~267 sq. mi). According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, there have been 782,681 acres on fire in the United States in 2019, and more than 550,000 of them are in Alaska.
This fire is only a fraction of the total amount of fires that have occurred in Alaska so far this year.
How can a place that is known for being frigid year-round be the epicenter for wildfires?
Simple, the changes in climate have caused extreme weather phenomena that have sparked disasters like the Hess Creek Fire. In other words, the Earth is Cooked!
The region where this fire is burning is in the boreal forests of Alaska. This forest is part of the largest biome in the world (biome: a large naturally occurring community of flora and fauna occupying a major habitat).
In this case, the Taiga biome, which covers the northern latitude of Earth and is just south of the Arctic circle, currently is blazing with fire that is larger than the city of Chicago (~234 sq. miles)!
Lightning in Alaska sparked wildfires in June that continue to blaze today. #SuomiNPP’s VIIRS instrument caught 2 of the largest in this image: The Swan Lake Fire and the Hess Creek Fire. More here: https://t.co/mc1dxToz8N pic.twitter.com/MMJFaZ37vE
— Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) (@JPSSProgram) July 1, 2019
In this region, wildfires are typical for this time of year; Alaska’s fire season usually starts in May and runs through mid to late July. Also, wildfires in this region are typically sparked by lightning strikes.
The issue with this fire season is that lightning strikes have increased in recent years. According to a research study on Nature.com, Sander Veraverbeke, an Earth system scientist stated:
“We find that lightning ignitions have increased since 1975, and that the 2014 and 2015 events coincided with a record number of lightning ignitions and exceptionally high levels of burning near the northern treeline…”
He continued to explain further,
“Lightning ignition explained more than 55% of the interannual variability in the burned area, and was correlated with temperature and precipitation, which are projected to increase by mid-century.”
Sander is essentially saying that the temperatures in the region have increased which directly increases lightning strikes. As lightning strikes increase, there is bound to be more wildfires.
However, this is only half the reason has to why wildfires are running rampant through Alaska.
Record-breaking heat in #Alaska has exacerbated clusters of wildfires burning throughout the state. https://t.co/8zqVC5JAjx #NASA #MODIS #fire pic.twitter.com/64zL7gYETx
— NASA Earth (@NASAEarth) July 11, 2019
Adding fuel to fire makes it difficult to control. In order for fire to spread, it needs some sort of medium to travel through. That medium could be a gas, liquid fuel, or any flammable material. In the case of the Hess Creek fire, the forest itself was the medium.
According to InciWeb (Incident Information System), black spruce needles and branches are highly resinous and usually distributed continuously from ground to treetop, they ignite and burn easily.
Black spruce is one of the most flammable vegetation types in Interior Alaska. Feather moss, along with black spruce, respond rapidly to weather conditions. Even in wet conditions or after experiencing a soaking rain, the fuels can dry out quickly and begin moving quickly through the tree crowns.
During this time of year, the forest ground is covered in moss that is usually damp. It acts as a sponge, soaking up water from snow and rain. In the summers, the forest floor is moist, and in the winters, it freezes. This summer, in particular, the forest ground was dry, allowing for less resistance for fires to spread.
This reduced resistance combined with the flammable vegetation produced the largest wildfire the US has experienced in 2019.
As of July 17, the wildfire has been slowed due to rainfall, but not extinguished. The temperatures in the region are only increasing year over year. As of right now, the only solution to containing and dissipating these wildfires is through organized firefighting and rainfall.
We are not living in normal times. The planet is a living breathing entity that is heating up, akin to someone catching a fever. What happens when someone catches a fever? Their body breaks down and exerts extra energy to cool itself, becoming weak in the process.
The same is happening to Earth.
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