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Wildfire northeast of Sisimiut, Greenland © Greenland Travel

Wildfires in Greenland linked to peat

10/08/17Environment

Wildfires continue to burn close to the Greenland Ice Sheet, on the country’s west coast.

Satellites have observed smoke and flames on the island, where 80% of the land is covered by ice up to three kilometres thick. The wildfires have been seen northeast of Sisimiut and have been burning since 31 July.

Experts believe at least two fires are burning, and the likely source is fire in peat that may have dried out as temperatures have risen.

Peat fires worry researchers because the material stores large amounts of CO2 that is released through burning. They are also worried that the ‘black carbon’ soot arising from the fires could land on the ice sheet and cause further melting.

Researchers say that across Greenland there is now less surface water than in the past, which could be making vegetation more susceptible to fire.

Police have warned hikers and tourists to stay away from the region because of the dangers posed by smoke.

Wildfire expert Professor Jessica McCarty from Miami University, US, said: “Usually, when a wildfire is smouldering like that, it’s because there’s a lot of ground-level fuel, carbon organic matter; that’s why I assume that it’s peat.

“The fire line is not moving, the fire is not progressing like we’d see in a forest fire, so that means it’s burning whatever fuel is on the ground.”

Locals say that what they call ‘soil fires’ have happened before, especially in the last 20-30 years.

Researchers have been examining the satellite record to look for evidence of previous outbreaks. Dr Stef Lhermitte, from Delft University, the Netherlands, suggests that the satellite has detected more fires in 2017 alone in Greenland than in the 15 years it has been operating.

Pan European Networks Ltd