Wildfires above the Arctic Circle in Greenland and Alaska

Alaska Garnet Creek Fire
The Garnet Creek Fire (#576) as seen from the air on Monday, July 15, 2019, was burning about 12 miles southwest of Rampart, Alaska. The fire was started by lightning. Alaska Fire Service.


Wildfire activity is moving north. Of the 26 new fires reported over the past two days in Alaska, ten were above the Arctic Circle. Isolated thunderstorms are expected in the central and eastern interior today, Tuesday, with high temperatures reaching the low 80s in the Yukon Flats area.

Fifteen new fires were reported across Alaska Monday. Twenty-three fires are actively burning in the Tanana Zone today, with a total of 30 fires reported this year.


In addition to the fires in Alaska, on July 10 a satellite detected heat signatures in Greenland that were consistent with those seen at wildland fires. And another satellite photographed what appears to be smoke.

Wildfires in Greenland are rare but not unheard of. There were also fires there in 2015 and 2017.

Fascinating animation of satellite imagery

What do you find MOST interesting about this video?

Above: screen grab from the NASA video. This image is from August 31, 2017.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has put together an incredible animation that make it possible to track smoke, dust from Africa, and sea salt. “Sea salt?” you’re thinking? Yes, winds over the oceans pick up salt which becomes visible to sensors on the satellites making it possible to visualize wind patterns, including hurricanes, over the vast expanses of the oceans.

This visualization uses data from NASA satellites, combined with mathematical models in a computer simulation allow scientists to study the physical processes in our atmosphere.

I watched this five times seeing something different with each viewing. So what are you going to watch? Wildfire smoke in Canada? Smoke in Portugal? Smoke in the western U.S.? Smoke in the Southeast? Or dust coming from Africa? Or the wind patterns and hurricanes in the Atlantic? Or the smoke that begins on October 9 northeast of San Francisco generated from the destruction of thousands of homes? Or smoke from fires in Italy?

If you look VERY carefully, you will be able to see a little smoke from something very rare — a wildfire in Greenland, near the coast on the southwest side of the island intermittently between August 2 and 15. (More info about the fire in Greenland.)

I suggest clicking on the full-screen button at the lower right after you start the video. If you’re having trouble viewing it, you can also see it on YouTube.

Updated information about the wildfires in Greenland

The August 8, 2017 Deimos 2 image above shows one of the two wildfires currently burning in Greenland. When we wrote about the fires on August 7 it was the first time we had covered a fire on the island since we started Wildfire Today in 2008.

After our article was published other organizations also wrote about the fires. Online discussions developed over the last two days have included questions about the fire history of Greenland, and it turns out that no comprehensive reliable data has been unearthed. Researchers looking through satellite data have found historical heat detections by MODIS but many of the individual sensor trips are of low confidence, meaning they could be something other than a wildfire.

It appears that fires have occurred in Greenland, but at very low levels, and sporadically. We are not aware of the reliability of “wildfire CO2 emissions” to indicate the occurrence of wildfires, but the data presented by Mark Parrington (below) looks interesting.

Click once or twice on the images below to see larger versions.

Wildfires are burning in Greenland

Historically, wildfires in Greenland occur infrequently.

Above: Satellite photo of one of the wildfires burning in Greenland August 3, 2017. Sentinel-2A data from the European Union Earth Observation Programme.

(Originally published at 11:25 a.m. MDT August 7, 2017)

Three-quarters of Greenland is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside Antarctica, and permafrost is found on most of the rest of the island. These are reasons why it is very unusual, and possibly unprecedented, that two wildfires are burning on the giant island.

The fires are near Sisimiut in Western Greenland north of the Arctic Circle at 66.9 and 67.8 degrees north latitude, which compares to the “Far North” area of Alaska near the Brooks Range.

wildfires burning in Greenland
Satellite photo showing smoke from the two wildfires burning in Greenland, August 3, 2017. The red dots represent heat. NASA.

According to Danish and Greenlandic news reports, they were first spotted from an airplane piloted by Per Mikkelsen who took photos of the fires. The weather forecast for the area indicates no rain in the next 10 days.

“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, an Assistant Professor of Geography at Miami University told us Monday. She continued, “They are likely occurring in areas of degraded permafrost, which are predicted to have high thaw rates between now and 2050 with some evidence of current melt near Sisimiut. Fires in the High Northern Latitudes release significant CO2, CH4, N20, and black carbon. A fire this close to the Greenland Ice Shelf is likely to deposit additional black carbon on the ice, further speeding up the melt. More on black carbon deposition in Greenland from wildland fires can be found here.”

“The European Union Earth Observation Programme has stated that wildfires in Greenland are rare but have no data on previous wildland fire activity in this region”, Ms. McCarty said.

wildfires Greenland map
Vicinity map of the wildfires in Greenland.


(UPDATE at 3:03 p.m. MDT August 7, 2017)

After we published this article, NASA posted the satellite photo below that was acquired August 3, 2017 by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8.

fire greenland
Satellite photo of the fire in Greenland acquired by NASA August 3, 2017 using the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8.