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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
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Research article 14 Mar 2018

Research article | 14 Mar 2018

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This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Open fires in Greenland: an unusual event and its impact on the albedo of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Nikolaos Evangeliou1, Arve Kylling1, Sabine Eckhardt1, Viktor Myroniuk2, Kerstin Stebel1, Ronan Paugam3, Sergiy Zibtsev2, and Andreas Stohl1 Nikolaos Evangeliou et al.
  • 1Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), Department of Atmospheric and Climate Research (ATMOS), Kjeller, Norway
  • 2National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, Kiev, Ukraine
  • 3King's College London, London, United Kingdom

Abstract. Highly unusual open fires burned in Western Greenland between 31 July and 21 August 2017, after a period of warm, dry and sunny weather. The fires burned on peat lands that became vulnerable to fires by permafrost thawing. We used several satellite data sets to estimate that the total area burned was about 2345 hectares. Based on assumptions of typical burn depths and BC emission factors for peat fires, we estimate that the fires consumed a fuel amount of about 117ktC and produced BC emissions of about 23.5t. We used the Lagrangian particle dispersion model to simulate the atmospheric BC transport and deposition. We find that the smoke plumes were often pushed towards the Greenland Ice Sheet by westerly winds and thus a large fraction of the BC emissions (7t or 30%) was deposited on snow or ice covered surfaces. The calculated BC deposition was small compared to BC deposition from global sources, but not entirely negligible. Analysis of aerosol optical depth data from three sites in Western Greenland in August 2017 showed strong influence of forest fire plumes from Canada, but little impact of the Greenland fires. Nevertheless, CALIOP lidar data showed that our model captured very effectively the presence and structure of the plume from the Greenland fires. The albedo changes and instantaneous surface radiative forcing in Greenland due to the fire BC emissions were estimated with the SNICAR model and the uvspec model from the libRadtran radiative transfer software package. We estimate that the maximum albedo change due to the BC deposition was about 0.006, too small to be measured by satellites or other means. The average instantaneous surface radiative forcing over Greenland at noon on 31 August was 0.03Wm−2, with locally occurring maximum values of 0.63Wm−2. The average value is at least an order of magnitude smaller than the radiative forcing due to BC from other sources. Overall, the fires burning in Greenland in summer of 2017 had little impact on BC deposition on the Greenland Ice Sheet, causing almost negligible extra radiative forcing. This was due to the – in a global context – still rather small size of the fires. However, the very large fraction of the BC emissions deposited on the Greenland Ice Sheet makes these fires very efficient climate forcers on a per unit emission basis. If the expected further warming of Greenland produces much larger fires in the future, this could indeed cause substantial albedo changes and thus lead to accelerated melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The fires burning in 2017 may be a harbinger of such future changes.

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Nikolaos Evangeliou et al.
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Short summary
We simulated the peatland fires that burned Western Greenland in summer 2017. Using satellite data we estimated that the total area burned was about 2345 hectares, the fuel amount consumed about 117 kt C and the emissions of BC about 23.5 t. Smoke plumes were often pushed towards the Greenland Ice Sheet and 30 % of the BC emissions was deposited on snow or ice. This caused a maximum albedo change of 0.006 and a surface radiative forcing of 0.03 W m−2 with local maxima of up to 0.63 W m−2.
We simulated the peatland fires that burned Western Greenland in summer 2017. Using satellite...