Meet climate change's latest offering to Earth - 'Zombie wildfires'

Edited By: Bharat Sharma WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: May 19, 2021, 10:15 PM(IST)

File photo: Amazon Rainforest Fire Photograph:( Reuters )

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"Zombie wildfires" in the upper north are coming back to life in spring after seemingly dying off due to winter snow. Here's why

Ever heard of zombie fires? Those might be the next threat we face as a civilisation battling the disastrous effects of climate change. Forest fires have become extremely regular over the last few years, with regular reports coming in from different parts of the world including Australia, the United States, and the Amazon rainforest in South America.

But the most dangerous threat lies in the boreal forests located in the far north reaches of planet Earth. In these areas, changes in climate are causing more warming than elsewhere.

And that’s not even the worst part. Apparently, many wildfires have developed the ability to re-spawn. Turns out, the “zombie wildfires" in the upper north are coming back to life in spring after seemingly dying off due to winter snow. As soon as the snow retreats, the fires resuscitate back to life.

Scientists from the Netherlands and Alaska have now devised ways to predict the scope and dangers of such “zombie fires” that are now burning throughout the year.

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Between 2002 to 2018, about one per cent of the burning that took place in Alaska and Canada’s northwestern territories was able to survive winters, and extended well into the next year, Reuters first reported.

The study, published in Nature on Wednesday found that “zombie fires” now account for more than 38 per cent of all burning that takes place in the region. Such “zombie fires” are now becoming more common as climate change pushes territories into drought, in turn causing devastating fires.

The extent of damage caused by these fires was calculated by scientists using a computer algorithm which took into consideration multiple variables including satellite imagery, human presence and infrastructure, and the records of lightning strikes.

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The algorithm showed that 0.8 per cent of the area in Alaska and Canada’s northwest has burned over the last 20 years. But it is not easy for fires to survive the cold wintery conditions. They need to be ferociously hot and ignited to continue burning beneath the layers of snow. The “zombie fires” point to how quickly climate change is damaging the region.

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