Zombie fires becoming more common as the climate warms • Earth.com

Zombie fires becoming more common as the climate warms

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features overwintering fires, also known as zombie fires, which smolder underground in the wintertime.

Zombie fires can survive snow and the rain during the winter months and re-emerge in the spring. According to NASA, this type of wildfire is becoming more common in high northern latitudes as the climate warms. There is also a global warming change.

“Smoldering fires are flaming fires that have entered ‘energy-saver mode,’” said Rebecca Scholten of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “These fires are only just surviving based on the resources they have – oxygen and fuel – and can transition back into flaming fires once conditions are more favorable.”

Scholten’s team has shown that the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories are especially prone to overwintering fires.

“For me, the sheer fact that these fires exist and happen every other year now was probably the most surprising finding,” said Scholten. 

“Although our satellite record of these fires in itself is too short to look at long-term trends, we found that the number of fires that overwinter is strongly linked to summer temperatures and large fire seasons. And for these we do see a pronounced upward trend – hotter summers and more burned area – with continued climate warming.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

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