Following this year’s unnaturally dry summer, wildfires of an intensity not seen in decades have roared across the shores of Russia’s Lake Baikal. At their peak, they raged across nearly 150,000 hectares of land, an area roughly equivalent to that of the Houston metropolitan area. Greenpeace Russia estimates that over the course of July and August alone, up to 1.5 million hectares burned — that is, over 5.5 thousand square miles.
The image of Siberia burning is deeply unsettling, especially given its reputation as one of the coldest places on earth. Though wildfires in the region occur each year, their recent size and severity reveal broad ecological stress in the region. Of equal concern is Lake Baikal’s declining water level, which in early 2015 dropped below critical levels for the first time in more than three decades.