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Unusual Wildfire Burns in Greenland

In an unusual event, satellites have detected a sizable wildfire burning in Greenland. The fire is in western Greenland, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northeast of Sisimiut. Most of Greenland is covered by ice, but dwarf willows, shrubs, grasses, mosses, and other vegetation do live in some coastal areas.

Satellites first detected evidence of the fire on July 31, 2017. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer(MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite Suomi NPP collected daily images of smoke streaming from the fire over the next week. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this more detailed image of the fire on August 3, 2017.

While it is not unprecedented for satellites to observe fire activity in Greenland, a preliminary analysis shared by Stef Lhermitte of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands suggests that MODIS has detected far more fire activity in Greenland in 2017 than it did during any other year since the sensor began collecting data in 2000. The fire appears to be burning through peat, noted Miami University scientist Jessica McCarty.

It is not clear what triggered the fire. Sisimiut, the second largest town in Greenland, has a population of 5,500 people.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Caption by Adam Voiland.

Instrument(s):
Landsat 8 – OLI
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