Open fires in Greenland in summer 2017: transport, deposition and radiative effects of BC, OC and BrC emissions
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 peatlands that became vulnerable to fires by permafrost thawing. We used several satellite data sets to estimate that the total area burned was about 2345 ha. Based on assumptions of typical burn depths and emission factors for peat fires, we estimate that the fires consumed a fuel amount of about 117 kt C and emitted about 23.5 t of black carbon (BC) and 731 t of organic carbon (OC), including 141 t of brown carbon (BrC). We used a Lagrangian particle dispersion model to simulate the atmospheric transport and deposition of these species. We find that the smoke plumes were often pushed towards the Greenland ice sheet by westerly winds, and thus a large fraction of the emissions (30 %) was deposited on snow- or ice-covered surfaces. The calculated deposition was small compared to the 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 (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization) lidar data showed that our model captured 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 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 and BrC deposition was about 0.007, too small to be measured. The average instantaneous surface radiative forcing over Greenland at noon on 31 August was 0.03–0.04 W m−2, with locally occurring maxima of 0.63–0.77 W m−2 (depending on the studied scenario). The average value is up to an order of magnitude smaller than the radiative forcing from other sources. Overall, the fires burning in Greenland in the summer of 2017 had little impact on the Greenland ice sheet, causing a small 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 emissions deposited on the Greenland ice sheet from these fires could contribute to accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet if these fires become several orders of magnitude larger under future climate.