A spate of incredibly hot, dry weather has descended on Scandinavia, contributing to the worst wildfire outbreak in recent memory. In other words, it’s just another week in the Anthropocene.
Northern Scandinavia has been roasting for days, with temperatures climbing over 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal well north of the Arctic circle, thanks to an intense high-pressure ridge that’s parked itself over the region. By early afternoon local time on Thursday, a station in northern Finland hit 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and a number of others had blown past 30 degrees Celsius (84 Fahrenheit), capping off a week of extreme heat that Severe Weather Europe dubbed “amazing.”
All time temperature records are being smashed all over the place.
The same region is seeing an extraordinary outbreak of wildfires riding on the back of the heat wave. On Wednesday, the Guardian reported that at least 11 wildfires were burning in the far north above the Arctic circle, with dozens more smoldering across the wider region. Most of the conflagrations are in Sweden, where nearly 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) burned between July 12-18, according to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service.
As a graphic tweeted out by the Earth observing agency shows, that’s far above the seasonal average for the region. Nieves Fernandez, an Associate Professor of fire safety at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, called it the “worst wildfire season in Scandinavia that can be remembered.”
The fire danger remains high for much of northern Scandinavia into the weekend, and Sweden has called for assistance from its European Union brethren to help battle the blazes.
Aarne Granlund, Project Coordinator for Carbon-Neutral Circular Economy work at the Finnish foundation Sitra, says the situation really developed in May with record breaking heat and drought “which then continued into June and July.”
“Swedish authorities banned campfires and outdoor burning—the recent wildfires were most likely set off by lightning strikes,” Granlund told Earther in an email. “We also had a drought in Finland in May and June, and some fires we set off by things like car exhausts on grass and dry land” and by the use of heavy machinery in peat production areas.
“Much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing very hot summer conditions, and I think we are going to mark summer 2018 as an extreme weather event that has long term consequences on both land and water,” Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph, told Earther via email.
While there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies yet linking any of these heat events to climate change, we do know that climate change is expected to bring more intense and frequent heat waves, in addition to lengthening and intensifying wildfire seasons around the world. And we know that far northern latitudes are sweating the most.
In Sweden, temperatures are rising faster than the global average, with summer expected to be up to 2-4 degrees Celsius (3.6-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer by 2080, according to the Swedish Commission on Climate and Vulnerability. That same report points to a major increase in unusually hot days and heat waves by the end of the century. Kind of like what we’re seeing this week.
“I can say with complete certainty, if we see [more] hot conditions like what we’ve been experiencing this summer, we will see more catastrophic fire activity,” Turetsky said. “That link is clear.”
This article has been updated to include comments from Aarne Granlund.