Smoke from Russian Fires Over Arctic Sea

From NASA: (satellite image follows) one wonders what this will do to the albedo of sea ice.

Numerous wildfires have dotted the Russian landscape this past summer fire season.  Although not quite as the adage says, although still true, where there’s fire there’s smoke. The smoke in this image has drifted from the Eastern Russian wildfires to the Arctic Sea. Other images that have been collected over the summer show both the fires that have broken out and the accompanying smoke, and can be viewed by clicking the links below:

Wildfires Consume Parts of Eastern Russia – August 04, 2014

Seeing Through Sakha’s Smoke – July 31, 2014

Smoke Haze and Fires in Russia – July 2014 – July 24, 2014

The blaze of a fire is dangerous enough but smoke is an insidious by-product of fires as well.  Winds carry the smoke out of the immediate area to other parts of the world not affected by the direct fire.  That smoke can cause multiple problems in the areas that it is carried to.  The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM or soot). Smoke can contain many different chemicals, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins. The type and amount of particles and chemicals in smoke varies depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available, and the burn temperature.  As always, exposure to high levels of smoke should be avoided.


This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite on August 12, 2014. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.  NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner

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Lance Wallace
August 14, 2014 7:26 am

Two of the links show the actively burning areas in red, but I don’t see them on the photo shown.

Pamela Gray
August 14, 2014 7:34 am

I wonder. A decadal drought may show up as a seasonal fire debri deposit in the ice cores. Maybe the layers are spaced far apart or maybe close together. Compaction further down (aka further back in time) tends to diminish “ring width” as a measure of snow deposit which could then be correlated with other known proxies of drought, etc. But I am guessing that this debri does not do much damage to ice melt. However, the subpolar weather conditions that lead to anomalous seasonal fires would be interesting if these events show up in the ice cores.

Jim Clarke
August 14, 2014 7:35 am

Fires like this are perfectly natural, and whatever impact the soot has on Arctic ice will also be natural and temporary. The long term trend in Arctic sea ice, whatever that turns out to be, should not be affected by the soot from wildfires.

August 14, 2014 8:14 am

Add soot and dust from poorly controlled coal fired generator stations from China, Russia, etc. and you have a pretty good explanation for ice pack loss over the past 30 years or so. One that actually makes sense. Not to mention could be mitigated in a realistic and beneficial ways.

Bloke down the pub
August 14, 2014 9:59 am

Perhaps the smoke particles will act as nuclei for snow formation and help to recover the depth of snow on the sea ice that you reported on the other day.

steve mcdonald
August 14, 2014 10:12 am

The question is what started the fires.

August 14, 2014 10:20 am

Equal to this effect, Judith Curry has measured a substantial DECREASE in Arctic snow and ice albedo (lowering from a “fresh ice + new snow” albedo in January-March of 0.86, then steadily going down over the summer to a mid-July low of 0.44 average albedo, and a measured low of 0.38!
Then, as melt water re-freezes and new snow falls, the albedo recovers back to a November – December 0.85.
So, over the Arctic summer? The actual ice albedo in the summertime is not all that “pristine white” as Sereeze and his cohorts of the Arctic feedback scam want you to believe.

August 14, 2014 11:07 am

If not a auger for catastrophic warming, Artctic sea ice loss is of what concern? Who cares? Mariners perhaps weather forcasters maybe. Not me. I can’t see any reason for concern. Without the CAGW hype, ,Arctic ice loss,or gain is just a curiosity.
Interesting post though, I’m just adding my perspective.

August 14, 2014 11:11 am

My above post was addressing “hunter”‘s post:
hunter says:
August 14, 2014 at 8:14 am
Add soot and dust from poorly controlled coal fired generator stations from China, Russia, etc. and you have a pretty good explanation for ice pack loss over the past 30 years or so. One that actually makes sense. Not to mention could be mitigated in a realistic and beneficial ways.

Svend Ferdinandsen
August 14, 2014 11:14 am

Who knows if that smoke has any changed influence. You need some statistics over decades of fires that delivers the smoke, else it sounds like a climate scientist , who never has seen it before, and find it very alarming.

Ted Clayton
August 14, 2014 11:37 am

I agree with Pamela Gray @August 14, 2014 at 7:34 am, that these taiga and tundra fires are not likely to be key drivers of Arctic ice-melt.
Darkening-agents that are buried under last night’s dusting of new snow, do nothing to warm the surface. Where sustained melt-trends ‘raise’ old particulate ‘back ‘ to the exposed surface … everything that has landed on the snow field emerges & contributes to warming.
When we can look down and see through the smoke of fires, there isn’t a lot of particulate there. It gradually thins out, over extended time-spans, and across very large areas. The amount of darkening that is contributed is going to be hard (impossible?) to measure or even detect.
The kind of particulate that we ‘want’, to effect surface-warming, tends not to travel well. Natural fires, especially low-intensity burns, tend not to produce a lot of ‘good’ particulate. Substances that are not particulate, dissolve in water and move away from the snow/ice surface.
Deposits of identifiable fire debris in cores may be more likely to have been wind-transport ‘cold’ ash & char; part of the more-general dust & loess dynamic, than settled-out ‘smoke’.
Studies in this area were of high interest, back in the nuclear Cold War era.

Mac the Knife
August 14, 2014 11:38 am

Wildfires produce emissions and soot. They drift whichever way the wind blows. Got it.
Our planet has evolved a myriad of natural ways of mitigating those emissions and soot, usually to the benefit of life that survives the wildfire. This has been going on for millennia, without consideration from humans, other than running for their lives to get out of the way. Does deposited soot cause accelerated ice melting? Sure it does! So what? Life on this planet has adapted to meet these variables quite nicely. Why should we stop adapting now?
Why should we give any credence to those advocating we force the planet to comply with their wrongheaded desire for unnatural climate stasis?

Barbara Skolaut
August 14, 2014 11:41 am

Red? I don’t see any red.

August 14, 2014 11:41 am

Why do I sense a scare story coming from the Alarmists?
One more observation, down to Earth as ever the Russians have declared a hunting ban until the Forests dampen down a bit more.
Of course then they will lift it.
No mention of Climate Change though.

August 14, 2014 11:43 am

EOSDIS viewer link for those who enjoy looking at the sat data.,MODIS_Aqua_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor,!MODIS_Terra_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor&time=2014-07-18&map=-451498.806434,2158144.104184,1907797.193566,3315264.104184
And yes, Canada has had an extreme year for fires. What black carbon does to the cryosphere is a very important matter. I remember during the “coming ice age” scare, it was calculated that spreading soot over the arctic would melt the sea ice in three years.

NZ Willy
August 14, 2014 12:21 pm

I expect this is just a normal summer fire season, within 2 sigma.

August 14, 2014 1:03 pm

we say here : there is no smoke without fire

August 14, 2014 3:42 pm

> sfx2020 says:
> August 14, 2014 at 11:43 am
>I remember during the “coming ice age” scare,
> it was calculated that spreading soot over the
> arctic would melt the sea ice in three years.
I think you mean this (19 minutes and 45 seconds into the program)…

the full program is…

August 14, 2014 4:57 pm

Back in the early 70’s when I was in University, a very well-known prof was orienting us to the wonders of geology. Back then high-jacking airliners had just taken off and as a side note one day he made the statement that if you really wanted to blackmail the world you should fill a couple of 737’s with soot and fly them over the arctic and threaten to blow them up. Good thing DHS was not around back then. he went on to say – as one who had studied the numbers (I think back then they were looking at ways to geo-engineer the earth towards greater warming as they really did fear an oncomng ice-age) – that the Arctic would melt and stay melted.
So far in the comments there seem to be a lots of opinions, but not much in the way of real numbers as to how soot affects albedo. It would be good if someone with real understanding spoke to the issue.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Yogyakarta
August 14, 2014 5:34 pm

Natural fires produce a lot of condensed volatiles. The blue haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains is exactly that. Condensed volatiles evolve over time, particularly the react with sunlight and stick together into giant dentritic particles which drop to the ground. Black carbon, dust and wind-blown ash (fugitive dust) are all in that mix and are wind dependent. The particles can easily be traced even if they cannot be seen in low concentration. Fires in Zambia bring particulate matter to Australia each fire season. It has been happening for millennia. There is nothing new about brush fires. Remember the Sioux Lookout fire patch visible from space?
” The type and amount of particles and chemicals in smoke varies depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available, and the burn temperature.”
A missing ingredient there is water in the form of fuel moisture. It makes a large difference to the final chemical composition. Generally speaking biomass fires make small particles under 1 micron. Per kg, these have a huge heating effect, perhaps 640 times that of CO2/kg, thermalizing solar radiation in the daytime, shedding it at night by IR. Particles under 0.05 microns have nearly no effect in this way so the ‘interesting’ bits are between 0,05 and 1.0 microns. It is the major component of PM2.5 (which includes everything smaller than 2.5 microns). The ratio of elements in the particles can be used to determine the type of combustion they come from (or if they are just blown from the ground).
The clouds of smoke in the photo are exactly the same as the grass fire smoke in Africa that is as common as sunshine in dry season. The main cause is lightning strikes in dry weather.
Historically man has managed the vast open areas of, for example, northern Alberta, by careful burning of grasslands. Otherwise the trees would take over and there would be far fewer deer. This has been going on for ,000 years, minimum. Anyone claiming an increase in fires in one year will reduce ice in the Arctic is blowing smoke.

August 14, 2014 7:06 pm

In the last century, Man has reduced the extent of wildfires by millions of acres a year. This photo signifies nothing.

Ted Clayton
August 14, 2014 7:30 pm

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Yogyakarta says:
August 14, 2014 at 5:34 pm

It would be good if someone with real understanding spoke to the issue.

The “understanding” seems decent, but quantification is lacking.
The Encyclopedia of Earth, Albedo entry ( has a nice Table 1. of albedo values.
Albedo is the ratio of reflected light, compared to the strength of the source (sun), expressed as a number between 0 and 1. It’s measured with a light-meter. Before meters, it was measured with photographic films. Before film, it was measured with ‘extinction techniques’, using calibrated filters (usually ‘smoked’ glass).
Highly absorptive surfaces have an albedo-value approximating zero. Highly reflective surfaces have a value close to one (“perfect reflection”, seen on calm water at low angles, etc).
Generally, the albedo-topic is dominated by the atmospheric heating that can be calculated as the increased ‘capture’ of sun-energy. That’s not what we’re talking about in this post. Here, we are looking at the melting of snow & ice at their surface. I.e., the surface of frozen Arctic water deposits must be raised about 32 degrees F.
Faint traces of dark substances on high-latitude snowfields is not going to do the trick. It’s going to take a fairly “gross” level of soot-dusting to crank the required BTUs to the surface of the snow. (Sublimation can erode snow/ice surfaces, without melting, but it still takes the same BTUs … and it’s humidity/wind dependent. Ie, they do dry laundry on the clothesline in Barrow, in the winter.)
Bottom line: To increase the albedo of a near-perfectly reflective surface (~0.0 albedo) to a 50% absorbing surface (0.5 albedo), will require that half the surface-area be covered with eg soot. This will be a medium-gray (resembling ‘average’ soil), and it will capture about half of the incident sun-energy. Experience tells us this will work well to melt snow.
Reducing the soot-coverage reduces the overall heat-input; soon, it can no longer raise the temperature enough to melt the surface, and the main mechanism then ceases to operate. ‘Some’ enhanced sublimation may continue to occur.
Again, faint amounts of surface-smudging result is some small amount of atmospheric air-warming, which may have various significant effects. One of those effects, though, will not be the melting of snow, if the temp of the snow-surface doesn’t rise about freezing.

August 14, 2014 8:37 pm

>Walter Dnes says:
>August 14, 2014 at 3:42 pm
>I think you mean this (19 minutes and 45 seconds into the program)…
No, it was in a paper, or article, around 1975 I think. (found it online before, but can’t find it at the moment). It also included the Soviets idea of damning the rivers that empty into the Arctic ocean, to increase the salinity, REDUCING the sea ice that would form. It was all about what might be done to reduce ice in the NH, with the caveat about the dangers of changing things on that level. I will find it, as it seems relevant.

August 14, 2014 9:28 pm

Forgive the double post, the talk of soot and damning rivers it was the April 28, 1975 Newsweek “The Cooling World”. . Also found it mentioned here

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