'Airpocalypse' smoke reaches North Pole for the first time ever

By Mark Puleo,
'Airpocalypse' smoke reaches North Pole for the first time ever
Satellite imagery from NASA shows smoke from wildfires in the Siberian region of Russia have reached the North Pole in what the agency is calling "a first in recorded history." Image courtesy NASA

Aug. 12 -- Santa Claus isn't supposed to see smoke. For the first time in recorded history, hazy smoke from raging wildfires in the Arctic has reached the North Pole, and NASA satellites have the images to prove it.

A week ago, the space agency's MODIS, an imaging sensor on the Aqua satellite, captured true-color images of what NASA called a "vast, thick, and acrid blanket of smoke" that clouded the North Pole.


The smoke is coming from enormous fires that are burning in the Siberian region of northern Russia.

According to China's Xinhua news agency, the Mongolian capital city of Ulaanbaatar was blanketed in "white smoke." The republic of Yakutia, home to Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place on Earth, has also been shrouded in smoke, as captured by MODIS images last Friday.

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The thick smoke in Yakutia sent air quality measurements in recent weeks plummeting to an extreme category dubbed "airpocalypse," a category described by officials to have "immediate and heavy effects on everybody."

Smoke from the Siberian wildfires can be seen stretching across the Arctic Circle, shrouding the North Pole and impacting areas of Greenland and Canada. Image courtesy NOAA/CIRA

The "airpocalypse" inducing smoke was shown to have traveled almost 1,900 miles from Yakutia to the North Pole, according to NASA.


"The smoke, which was so thick that most of the land below was obscured from view, stretches about 2,000 miles from east to west and 2,500 miles from south to north," the agency wrote. "But it captures only a small part of the smoke from the Russian fires."

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To reach Ulaanbaatar, NASA added that the smoke needed to have traveled more than 1,200 miles. From there, it appeared to waft over nearly the entire Arctic Circle, impacting Nunavut, Canada and areas of western Greenland.

Wildfires have been burning in Siberia more frequently than ever before. While the total size is difficult to determine in the remote area, Russian weather monitoring institute Rosgidromet said this week that more than 8 million acres were burning and more than 34 million have been destroyed so far this season, the second-worst mark on record.

For comparison, during the California wildfire season last year, which was the worst on record, just under 4.4 million acres were burned.

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In the United States, Americans have seen firsthand this year how wildfire smoke can travel thousands of miles.

Fires in California and Montana have drastically impacted air quality levels in cities like Denver, which is more than 1,000 miles away from the Dixie Fire in Northern California.


Americans have also been on the receiving end of Siberian wildfire smoke. In 2019, wind currents carried smoke across the Pacific Ocean and into Alaska and northwestern Canada.

Scenes from the great outdoors around the world

Pedestrians take photos of and enjoy the snow covered trees in Central Park after a winter storm in New York City on January 7, 2022. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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