Alaskan summers have long been described as brief and mild. In the early summer of 2022, the word that stood out was smoky.
In a scene that was repeated several times in June and early July, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite observed smoke spreading across large portions of Alaska. On July 1, 2022, intense fires were located in the southern and interior regions of the state, but southeasterly winds pushed smoke into the far north as well.
Smoke from one particularly smoky fire northwest of Iliamna Lake (southwest Alaska) hampered visibility on the Seward Peninsula, more than 400 miles (600 kilometers) to the northwest. The influx of smoke led to extremely high particulate matter readings (AQI above 700 at times) in Nome, according to University of Alaska Fairbanks climatologist Rick Thoman.
Alaska surpassed 2 million acres (8000 square kilometers) burned on July 2, 2022, matching the earliest date for the milestone in the past 20 years. On July 5, 2022, the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reported 210 active fires in the state. Forty-two were large fires with firefighters working on them, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Wildfires are a regular feature of Alaskan summers, but this year’s fires have been exacerbated by drought, unusual heat, and several intense lightning storms. In early July, the area burned was on track to be among the largest on record, according to Thoman.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE, GIBS/Worldview, and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership. Story by Adam Voiland.