As global warming ramps up, expect to see Greenland in the news a lot. That’s because its ice sheet is under threat of melting. But that’s not the only reason. The other reason is fire.
We know that Greenland, like the rest of the globe, is warming. And it’s ice is melting and contributing to rising sea levels. But fire activity is increasing there, and that’s another indication of, and result of, climate change.
Back in August 2017 a wildfire burned in western Greenland near Sisimiut, the second largest city in Greenland. It sparked a conversation among scientist about increasing fire activity there.
At the time, Stef Lhermitte of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, presented data showing that MODIS, and instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite, had detected far more fire activity in Greenland in 2017 than during any other year since the sensor began collecting data in 2000.
Now we have another fire in Greenland. (Greenland is an independent territory of Denmark, BTW.)
This one was first detected on July 10th by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) instrument on the LandSat 8 satellite. The OLI captured the image below in both visible light, and in thermal to show the actively burning fire.
The fire is located near Queqqata Kommunia, a small town of about 10,000 people. It’s just east of Sisimiut. The fire is burning near a hut on the Arctic Circle Trail, so it was likely caused by a hiker. There are no trees in the area, so it’s not a forest fire by any means. The area is covered with wetlands and shrublands.
The area is going through a drought right now, so it’s been unusually warm and dry in the region in recent months.
The image above shows temperature data that is almost real time. It comes from aircraft, satellite, and ground station data. On July 10th, the temperature in Western Greenland, where the fire is located was 10 degrees Celsius above normal (20C versus 10C.)
This fire was short-lived. Though the 2017 fire burned for two weeks, this one was put out on the same day by firefighters. But that only highlights the danger.
Emergency services in the area say they have extinguished five fires in the past couple weeks. The fires are mostly human caused, but sometimes the cause is just a piece of broken glass that focuses the Sun’s energy into a tiny spot. Due to the dry conditions, these fires are flaring up more frequently.
Karl Jorgen Lennerth is the police commissioner in Sisimiut. In an interview with the Greenland Broadcasting Corporation, he said, “We are experiencing a huge drought. We got up early spring and the snow melted very quickly. That is why there is drought all over.”
But some of the fires are entirely natural. In the same interview, Lennerth said, “So far we have experienced two natural fires in the district. It does not surprise us, because nature is simply so dry.”