08/2021 National Geographic

Siberia’s wildfires submerge it in smoke

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As massive wildfires engulfed Siberia, burning over six million hectares of forested lands in Yakutia region, plumes of smoke travelled as far as the North Pole. With their villages engulfed in the thick haze, Yakutia’s residents stepped out to fight the unprecedented fires themselves.

In Siberia, hot, dry weather has helped fuel widespread forest fires have unlocked extreme carbon pollution, releasing hundreds of millions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Residents of the Yakutia region, many of them farmers, have been fighting the fires with makeshift kit and basic tools. At the same time, they have tried to handle the year’s harvest, collecting what they can before wildfires consume their crops. Smoke from these fires has engulfed local villages, blotting out the sun, making the air difficult to breathe, and producing apocalyptically reddish skies.

Swathes of Yakutia are covered in a deep-set layer of permafrost, or permanently frozen ground. But forest fires are stripping away surface layers that lie above the permafrost and insulate it - and so heat from the fires is causing the permafrost to thaw.