In a region better known for its ice and snow, it’s a fire that now has scientists struggling to learn more. Since at least the end of last month, a stretch of land in western Greenland has been alight with a with a “sizable wildfire,” NASA says.
The agency’s European counterpart, the ESA, was a little more emotive in a recent tweet sharing imagery from one of its satellites: “This Sentinel-2 image of Greenland shows [a] massive forest fire,” the ESA tweeted. “Yes it is Greenland.”
The fire is burning roughly 90 miles northeast of Sisimiut, a town of about 5,500 that rests on the island’s west coast, according to NASA. Citing local reports, the publication Climate Central reports the fire observed by the agency consists of a series of blazes — the largest of which is about 3,000 acres.
“These fires appear to be peatland fires, as there are low grass, some shrub, and lots of rocks on the western edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet,” Jessica L. McCarty of Miami University told Wildfire Today.
As The New York Times has pointed out, peat is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change — drying out as temperatures rise — and especially dangerous for exacerbating climate change if it burns.
“It’s carbon that has accumulated over several thousands of years,” one researcher told the paper last year. “If it were to be released, the global CO2 concentration would be much higher.”
NASA notes the fire, while not unprecedented in Greenland, still makes for an “unusual event” on an island mostly covered by ice. The agency points to an analysis pulled together by Lhermitte, who demonstrates that NASA satellites have detected an “exceptional” number of wildfires in 2017.
It remains unclear what triggered the blaze or how long it will last — but satellites from both NASA and the ESA continue to watch it burn from space.