The Arctic is on fire, and these images from space show the choking smoke

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Satellite images from NASA and the European Space Agency paint a sobering picture of wildfires burning across the Russian area of Siberia. 

Fires are typical for this time of year in Siberia, but this summer is proving particularly severe. More than 2.7 million hectares (6,671,845 acres) of remote forest is currently burning across six Siberian and Far East regions, according to Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency, coating entire cities in black smoke and noxious fumes. Lumped together, the fire area would be larger than Massachusetts.

The above image from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center shows a thick cloud of smoke swirling over Russia and moving toward the US and Canada. ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 also delivered a worrying satellite view of the Siberian smoke plumes.

Some of the Siberian wildfires can be seen in image captured from space on July 28. The smoke has carried air pollution into the Kemerovo, Tomsk, Novosibirsk and Altai regions.


It’s not just Russia that’s on fire. Wildfires have also raged in Greenland and Alaska, fueled by record-breaking temperatures, lightning and strong winds.    

NASA is sounding the alarm about how these intense and numerous fires might accelerate melting in the Arctic as soot warms the atmosphere and the burning of decomposed organic material releases megatons of carbon dioxide into the air. 

Climate change is already hitting the Arctic hard. Greenland watched sea ice melt in June and Actic permafrost is under threat from thawing

“One fire here and there is not a big deal, as far as immediate local weather and climate impacts,” Santiago Gassó, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. “But when you have so many fires continuously emitting, the smoke remains in the atmosphere for so long that it can actually change temperature profiles for several days and has a meteorological and climatic impacts.”

Last year, satellite images showed smoke from California’s deadly Camp Fire blanketing the state, and another pictured a burn scar left behind by the Woolsey Fire. As global temperatures continue to rise, we will likely bear witness to even more smoke-filled views from space.