Tuesday, August 08, 2017

There’s a Wildfire Burning in West Greenland Right Now

The Sentinel-2 satellite captured a wildfire burning in western Greenland. (Credit: Pierre Markuse/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
It’s not just the American West and British Columbia burning up.  A fire has sparked in western Greenland, an odd occurrence for an island known more for ice than fire.

A series of blazes is burning roughly in the vicinity of Kangerlussuaq, a small town that serves as a basecamp for researchers in the summer to access Greenland’s ice sheet and western glaciers.  The largest fire has burned roughly 3,000 acres and sent smoke spiraling a mile into the sky, prompting hunting and hiking closures in the area, according to local news reports.

There’s no denying that it’s weird to be talking about wildfires in Greenland because ice covers the majority of the island.  Forests are basically nonexistent and this fire appears to be burning through grasses, willows, and other low-slung vegetation on the tundra that makes up the majority of the land not covered by ice.

Data for Greenland fires is hard to come by, but there is some context for fires in other parts of the northern tier of the world.  The boreal forest sprawls across Canada, Russia, Alaska and northern Europe, and provides a longer-term record for researchers to dig into.  That record shows that the boreal forest is burning at a rate unprecedented in the past 10,000 years.
Ultimately, it’s not the burning of Greenland’s tundra that’s the biggest climate change concern. It’s the island’s massive store of ice that if melted, would be enough to raise sea levels 20 feet.

The ice has been melting at a quickening pace since 2000, partly due to wildfires in other parts of the world.  The uptick in boreal forest fires has kicked up more ash in the atmosphere where prevailing winds have steered it toward the ice sheet.

The dark ash traps more energy from the sun, which has warmed the ice sheet and caused more widespread melting.  Soot from massive wildfires in Siberia caused 95 percent of the Greenland ice sheet surface to melt in 2012, a phenomenon that could become a yearly occurrence by 2100 as the planet warms and northern forest fires become more common.

Read more at There’s a Wildfire Burning in West Greenland Right Now

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