Soot and other burned biomass from Western wildfires can influence Arctic sea ice

Larger and more intense wildfires have a massive impact on the environment as it deteriorates the air quality and leads to pollution in the surrounding regions.

A recent study can explain to what extent the impact of wildfires can be seen. In a study, published in Science Advances, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that soot and other burned biomass from wildfires are impacting the Arctic.

Researchers discovered that the wildfires in Colorado and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere can eventually make their way to the Arctic. If this becomes prominent, it can lead to ripple effects on climatic patterns for the rest of the globe – a matter of major concern.

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Patricia DeRepentigny, the lead author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at NCAR, said: “This research found that particles emitted from wildfires where people live can really impact what happens in the Arctic thousands of miles away.”

“Sometimes the Arctic can be seen as this region that we shouldn’t care about because it’s so far away from where we live… but the fact that there’s this back-and-forth of what happens here with the wildfires can the sea ice , and a diminishing sea ice can then lead to more wildfires here, connects us with the Arctic a little bit more,” DeRepentigny added.

DeRepentigny and her team studied a recent model – the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model version 2 (CESM2). They noticed that the Arctic sea lost ice drastically towards the end of the 20th century. The previous models didn’t highlight it, hence, the researchers decided to probe it further.

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After the due analysis, they found that the biomass burning emissions had the biggest effect on Arctic sea ice loss when simulated. They compared the forcings between the new and previous generations of climate models. Forcings are the different ways a climate model can be influenced, such as carbon dioxide or methane emissions or solar radiation.


As mentioned in the study, the researchers found that the main difference is due to the non-linear cloud effects that can emerge when aerosols, small particles or liquid droplets, released by fires interact with Arctic clouds.

Wildfires impact on health

Wildfires also lead to several health issues such as exposure to smoke for a prolonged period of time can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation. There’s a risk of serious disorders, such as reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure.

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