Keeping an eye on Siberian fires

Many of our friends and colleagues have asked us about the Siberian wildfires occurring around Lake Baikal this summer. The short answer is that we feel safe at Bolshie Koty and smoke here is episodic. This NASA Earth Observatory image is from several days ago – there are more recent NASA images of the smoke on the lake but I like the ones that NASA has annotated like this!

Baikal_fires_20150808_NASA_Russia_amo_2015220

An annotated image of fires around Lake Baikal from NASA Earth Observatory – the image was acquired 8 August 2015. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php

When we initially arrived at Irkutsk State University’s field station in Bolshie Koty on 12 August, we thought we could smell some smoke but it was not too bad and the view was clear. Yesterday (14 August – remember our time zone is 15 hours ahead of the Western U.S.) the smoke became progressively thicker through the day, never bad enough to make us feel that working outside was a problem. In the afternoon Kara took a photo and compared it to the same view from 2012 and you can see that the smoke is thick enough to obscure our normal view.

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The view from our dacha steps in July 2012 at Bolshie Koty on Lake Baikal. Photo: Kara Woo

Baikal_BolshieKoty_Woo_20150813

The view from our dacha steps on 14 August 2015  around 5:00 pm at Bolshie Koty on Lake Baikal. Photo: Kara Woo

This photo comparison really drove home to us how much smoke was in the air, and I spent some time reading about fire effects on lakes, particularly on deposition of nutrients. We certainly thought about wildfire effects on Lake Baikal in the review paper that Marianne led in 2009 [PDF], but it is a funny human quirk that a visual really drives home the point! Smoke can contribute a lot of nitrogen to lakes and streams, with more nitrogen, phosphorus, dissolved organic carbon and various cations coming into surface waters in subsequent days and months. It gets very complicated as you consider how hot the fire is, the soil type and other geological aspects of the region, the patterns of subsurface flow, the precipitation pattern, and many other factors!

In any event, I’m very glad to say that we are waking up to a much more clear sky.

Baikal_BolshieKoty_Hampton_20150815

The view from our dacha steps at Bolshie Koty 7:00 am on 15 August 2015. Photo: Stephanie Hampton

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