Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Environment

The Icy Island of Greenland Is on Fire — and It’s a Major Cause for Concern

Twitter: @newscientist

Wildfire is spreading through western Greenland — a fact that should raise eyebrows because Greenland is covered in ice and snow and because this is not an episode of “Game of Thrones”.

Though small wildfires are not uncommon, this wildfire is the largest the country has seen since it began reliably using satellites to detect fires in 2000, according to Stef Lhermitte, assistant professor of geoscience and remote sensing at Delft University of Technology. 

The absence of recent lightning storms — the main cause of wildfires in the Arctic — has led scientists to suspect that humans and climate change may have played a role in the unusual occurrence. In fact, fires of this magnitude are so unprecedented in Greenland that no one had thought to watch for them, Jessica McCarty, assistant professor of geography at Miami University of Ohio, told Newsweek.

“It’s fair to say that it’s part of the pattern of warming. We should see more such fires in Greenland,” climate scientist Jason Fox told Mother Jones

The large blaze started as a cluster of small fires in an area often used by reindeer hunters, approximately 90 miles northeast of Greenland’s second-largest town, Sisimiut, according to NPR.

Currently, the fire covers an area of about two square miles. That’s tiny compared to the massive wildfires California, but much larger than typical fires in Greenland. 

Some scientists told Buzzfeed they believe that climate change may have stoked the flames. The fire is likely to be fueled by peat, a dark rich soil that has been made more vulnerable to catching fire because the permafrost — soil that is frozen for more than two years — is melting faster than usual. The area has also seen below average rainfall in recent months, meaning it was more susceptible to catching fire.

Read more: Climate Change Is to Blame for British Columbia’s Wildfires, Experts Warn

Firefighters have been dispatched to address the fires and protect the reindeer territory, but scientists worry that smoke and carbon the wildfire is producing are the bigger issue.

Wind may carry the soot from the flames up Greenland’s ice sheet. The black carbon would darken the surface of the ice sheet, attracting and absorbing more of the sun’s heat. This could cause the ice to melt faster and contribute to rising sea levels. In fact, “warming Arctic temperatures – and a darkening surface of the Greenland ice sheet – are causing so much summer melting that it is now the dominant factor in Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise,” scientists have said.

Read more: Melting Greenland Could Raise Sea Levels by 20 Feet

Global Citizen campaigns against climate change in support of Global Goal No.13. You can take action to stop climate change here.