Cloud seeding is the formal term for manipulating rain clouds. Illustration by Wikipedia.
20 Jul 2020

Russia fights Siberian forest fires by manipulating rain clouds


Huge forest fires are raging in Siberia, Russia. Russian authorities are working to extinguish an area of ​​about 46 thousand hectares. Russian firefighters are now allegedly being aided with the help of aircraft spraying chemicals to manipulate clouds to produce rain.

It is a well known fact that large forest fires are very difficult to stop unless the fire fighting efforts are helped by a change in weather from dry to wet. To stop the recent fires, Russia has used a previously proven method called cloud seeding, which is to prepare clouds with chemicals.

"This method aims to control how much rain an area receives and where the rain falls. This is not a method entirely without risks, says Swedish Television´s meteorologist Josefine Bergstedt.

"One of the most effective chemicals is silver iodide, and it is not completely harmless to humans and animals", she says.

According to an article in The National Post, on July 10, the Russian forestry agency said active work was underway to battle 158 forest fires covering 46,261 hectares as of Friday. Just a few days earlier, the effected area was more than three times larger.

States of emergency have been declared in the regions of Krasnoyarsk and Yakutia, and in parts of several other Russian regions.

Scientists say they expect record-breaking temperatures in Siberia – which reached as high as 38 Celsius (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) last month, according to reports – will continue to spawn wildfires and cause more greenhouse gases to be released into the air.

Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation program, said that temperatures in Arctic Siberia had soared to a record average for June, more than 5 degrees Celsius (9°F) above normal.


Novel climate threat when Siberia experiences record heat wave

There is currently a heat wave in Siberia and the high temperatures have caused the permafrost to start melting. On Saturday, 38 degrees C were measured in Verkhoyansk, a city in northern Siberia - the highest temperature ever measured north of the Arctic Circle.

"This is without a doubt a worrying sign", says Freja Vamborg at the EU's climate institute Copernicus to the newspaper The Guardian.

The summer has also been record hot in other Siberian cities. In Tjersky, 113 km northeast of Verkhoyansk, 30 degrees was measured last week. Admittedly, large temperature variations are normal in Siberia and winter temperatures of minus 50 degrees C are not uncommon.

The temperatures during the current heat have have been so extreme that the permafrost, the normally permanently constantly frozen ground in Siberia, has begun to melt.

According to Freja Vamborg, the winter and spring have also been unusually warm in Siberia, also with regard to the fact that the world as a whole is getting warmer.

"Siberia stands out as a region which shows a consistently warmer trend with higher temperature variations", she says to Swedish Television, SVT.

Rising temperatures are a trend throughout the Arctic, not just in Siberia with, among other things, forest fires and large insect swarms as a result.

In Siberia, the climate is further aggravated by the melting permafrost, which emits methane gas when it melts,e. This week, a large oil tank in Norilsk collapsed, 300 km northeast of Moscow and 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil leaked into a nearby river, which is largely said to have been a direct effect of the thawing permafrost.

The heat wave in Siberia is something that worries climate scientists. Due to the high temperatures, 2020 is about to be the warmest year ever in the world, despite reduced carbon dioxide emissions as a result of the corona pandemic.

in Verkhoyansk, a city in northern Siberia, was measured on Saturday as high as 38 degrees. In that case, it is the warmest temperature ever measured in the Arctic, according to the Washington Post.


Putin concerned for cities built on the melting permafrost

Even in Russia as a whole, 2020 has been a record hot year, as much as 5.3 degrees above the average temperature  comprared to during 1951-1980, according to the Berkley Earth Project.

The Russian president Vladimir Putin has also expressed concern over the country's rising temperatures and melting permafrost:

"Some of our cities were built north of the Arctic Circle, on the permafrost. If it starts to thaw, you can imagine the consequences. It's very serious", Putin said in a statement.


Cover Photo (Above) Cloud seeding is the formal term for manipulating rain clouds. Illustration by Wikipedia.