What are “Zombie Fires” that are burning the Arctic?

1 October 2020.


According to a new study the once frozen tundra region of the Arctic is witnessing ‘Zombie fires’. Frequent Zombie fires in the Arctic region have changed the fire regimes in the Arctic.

What is a Zombie fire?

A ‘zombie fire’ is a fire from a previous growing season that can smoulder under the ground which is made up of carbon-rich peat. When the weather warms, the fire can reignite.

What is the concern?

  • Fires in the Arctic are spreading to areas which were formerly fire-resistant.
  • The tundra — north of the Arctic Circle — is drying up and vegetation there like moss, grass, dwarf shrubs, etc are starting to catch fire.
  • While Wildfires on permafrost in Siberia south of the Arctic are not uncommon, in 2019 and 2020, burning occurred well above the Arctic Circle, a region not normally known to support large wildfires.
  • Siberia this year has recorded a severe heatwave.
  • All of this year’s fires inside the Arctic Circle occurred on continuous permafrost, with over half of these burning on ancient carbon-rich peat soils.
  •  The fires and record temperatures have the potential of turning the carbon sink into a carbon source and increasing global warming.
  • The fire activity was recorded in the Russian Arctic in real time, using a variety of satellite and remote sensing tools.
  • There is an urgent need to understand the nature of fires in the Arctic which are evolving and changing rapidly.
  •  In fact, the issue is so important to the climate system that it has to be taken up as an issue of global importance.
  • It calls for global cooperation, investment and action in monitoring fires.
  • Learning from the indigenous peoples of the Arctic about how fire was traditionally used can be useful.
  •  New permafrost- and peat-sensitive approaches to wildland fire fighting are needed to save the Arctic.

What is permafrost?

Permafrost is ground that continuously remains frozen for two or more years, located on land or under the ocean. Permafrost does not have to be the first layer that is on the ground. It can be an inch to over miles deep into the Earth’s surface.

Why are zombie fires hazardous for Russia?

  • Climate change is heating Russia at a rate more than twice the global average, thawing what was once permanently frozen ground in the Arctic tundra.
  • Russia is built on permafrost.
  • In June 2020 the oil leak in Ambarnaya river was due to melting of  permafrost.
  • This incident forced the Russian govt to impose emergency in the region.

Posted by

Author and Educator

Leave a Reply