Smith also warned that some fires were destroying ancient peat bogs containing carbon that has accumulated over thousands of years, a process similar to fossil fuel burning.
Analysis performed by Smith, covering May and June of this year, suggested that about 50% of the fires in the Arctic Circle were burning on peat soils, with the vast majority of the fire activity occurring in eastern Siberia. [...]
In June, Russia's aerial forest protection service reported that 3.4m acres of Siberian forest were burning in areas unreachable to firefighters. Last summer, the Arctic fires were so intense that they created a cloud of smoke and soot bigger than the EU landmass.
[Peat is] made from slowly decomposing organic matter, like moss, that gradually builds up into a layer perhaps several meters thick. Given enough time and enough pressure, it will eventually harden into the undisputed heavyweight champion of carbon emissions: coal. [...]
When peat is wet, it's up to 95 percent water, but as it dries it condenses, turning into one of the most flammable substances in nature. "Drier and denser are the double whammy," says Waddington. "If those types of peatlands were to ignite, you can burn well over 1,000 years of carbon accumulation in one single fire." For every hectare, you might lose 200 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The typical car emits 5 tons in a year.
And when dried peat burns, it burns in a super weird way. [...] When peat catches fire, say after a lightning strike at the surface, it smolders like a lit cigarette, gradually burning deeper and deeper into the ground and moving laterally across the ecosystem, carving enormous holes in the soil. "I've seen smoldering holes where I go inside and I disappear from the horizon," says Rein.
This three-dimensional fire continues for perhaps months at a time, gnawing both downward and sideways through carbon-rich material. "It's the combination of these two phenomena that leads to massive carbon emissions, massive damage to the ecosystem, massive damage to the soil and the root systems," Rein says. "You have to go to a different planet to find a more persistent type of fire."