Soot from fires in the Arctic may be speeding up the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet.
“Soot is an extremely powerful light absorber,” Jason Box, associate professor of geography at Ohio State, said in a press release. “It settles over the ice and captures the sun’s heat. That’s why increasing tundra wildfires have the potential to accelerate the melting in Greenland.”
Box presented images from of smoke billowing over Greenland during the American Geophysical Union meeting this week. Box used satellite images of fires and computer simulations of wind trajectories to suggest that soot from Arctic fires are landing on Greenland.
Wildfires in the Arctic have become more frequent in recent years as rising temperatures allow the area to dry out. For example, the Anaktuvuk River fire burned more than 621 square miles of tundra on Alaska's North Slope in 2007. The area hadn't seen a fire of that scale in at least 5000 years, according to research led by Feng Sheng Hu of the University of Illinois.
Box hopes to get on the ice to directly measure soot’s effect on Greenland. A crowd-funding effort, the Dark Snow Project, is working to raise funds for his expedition.
One large forest fire is outlined in red in this image of the western Canadian Arctic. Smoke from nearby fires flows across the lower left corner of the image. (NASA Earth Observatory, Wikimedia Commons)