“More fuel, more lightning strikes, higher temperatures, lower humidity — they combine to fuel fires that burn hotter and burn deeper into the ground, so rather than just scorching the trees and burning the undergrowth, they’re consuming everything, and you’re left with this moonscape of ash.” Rick Thomen writing in The Conversation.
The hot and dry start to the summer in Yukon and Alaska has sparked record-breaking wildfires across the Taiga (Boreal Forests) and the tundra. Over 5000 lightning strikes from June 21 through June 30 have threatened indigenous villages in the far north with incineration and unhealthy smoke. Fire fighting resources are stretched thin in both Alaska and Yukon.
In the vast expanse of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the fires have created concern that tundra fires will be more common and more significant as climate change continues ravaging the Arctic.
So far, the fires have consumed 2 million acres so far in 2022. That is ten times greater than all of 2021.
Lisa Phu writes in Alaska Beacon:
The current fires in Southwest Alaska are burning on a landscape marked by permafrost and small vegetation, as well as a lack of trees, Grabinski said.
Tundra fires have always happened, said Nancy Fresco, an associate research professor at the International Arctic Research Center within the University of Alaska Fairbanks, “but climate change is greatly increasing their frequency and severity.”
Historically, fires affecting the Southwest tundra were relatively small and infrequent, she said.
“The fires burning now really are unprecedented in that sense,” Fresco said.
That’s due to several factors. Statewide, Alaska is experiencing higher temperature trends that can cause drying, which in turn can spell more frequent and intense fires.
And on top of that, climate change is causing vegetation in the region to change. With warmer seasons, the soil thaws earlier, and different plants begin to grow there, Fresco said.
Canada’s north has been seeing warm temperatures and wildfires. The situation is so extreme that the territorial government has issued a Yukon-wide travel advisory. Officials expect this fire season to be extraordinarily violent.
The Yukon has had extreme flooding due to a historic snowpack that has threatened several regions since the thawing began in April. The snow melt has threatened eleven river basins across the territory. In addition, ice break-up in combination with the snowpack melt is up to 400% higher than the historical median.
From the CBC:
A Yukon government hydrologist says there's high flood potential for several communities in the territory.
"We are specifically highlighting high flood potential for Carmacks, Dawson and the Klondike Valley … Old Crow, Pelly Crossing, Ross River, Teslin and Upper Liard," said senior hydrologist Holly Goulding.
She said the potential flooding is based on results from the May 1 snowpack survey, which shows record levels of snow across eight of 11 river basins across the territory, the same as it did in April.
She said the snowpack estimates based on the latest survey range from 150 per cent to 400 per cent of the historical figures for May 1.
"So that's one and a half to four times the snow that we've had on average historically on May 1st," she said.
From Yale360 and the threat global warming poses to the fjords and rainforests of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
A few hours’ drive south of Anchorage, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is an Alaska in miniature. Larger than the state of Delaware, the refuge’s expanse includes snow-capped mountains, forests, lakes, vast wetland networks, and glacier-fed salmon streams that provide habitat to all of the state’s charismatic megafauna: grizzlies, black bear, moose, caribou, wolves, lynx, mountain goat, and bald eagles. First protected as moose habitat in 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt, today the refuge remains a largely undeveloped, 2-million-acre wilderness that is a popular destination for angling, alpine hiking, paddling, camping, and hunting.
But like the rest of Alaska, which has warmed an average of 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 70 years — two to three times the U.S. average — the Kenai refuge is experiencing dramatic impacts from climate change. Rising temperatures and lower annual precipitation are making the region more susceptible to wildfires, which occur earlier in the season and now burn through wetlands and alpine tundra — habitats that used to serve as fire breaks. Over the last 50 years, the drop in precipitation has reduced the availability of water by 55 percent, resulting in smaller lakes and parched bogs.
Glaciers are thinning and shrinking, and salmon streams — which fuel lucrative commercial and sport fisheries — are heating up to the limits of fish survival. Trees and shrubs are invading alpine tundra at a rate of up to 10 feet per year, and woody plants are barging in on ancient peat bogs. Warming temperatures also have fueled successive outbreaks of spruce bark beetles that razed the region’s forests. And a native grass species — Calamagrostis canadensis, called bluejoint — is colonizing the ravaged forests and appears to be choking out trees and shrubs. Researchers forecast that by the end of the century, these grasslands might replace all of the refuge’s boreal woodlands.