The real fire and fury is in Greenland right now

Thousands of acres of permafrost are burning in what appears to be Greenland’s biggest fire on record. And climate scientists are freaking out not just because the massive fires are unusual, but because they release large amounts of greenhouse gases and speed up the melt of the ice sheet and the carbon-rich permafrost.

Greenland is almost entirely covered in an enormous ice sheet, but grassy, carbon-rich peatlands along the coast are heating up and drying out. “These fires appear to be peatland fires,” said a wildfire expert. “They are likely occurring in areas of degraded permafrost, which are predicted to have high thaw rates between now and 2050.”

Peatlands, also known as bogs and moors, are the earliest stage in the formation of coal. A 2015 study noted, “Globally, the amount of carbon stored in peats exceeds that stored in vegetation and is similar in size to the current atmospheric carbon pool.”

Peat fires are difficult to stop, often burning until all the organic matter has turned to ash. A coauthor of the 2015 study noted, “Smouldering peat fires already are the largest fires on Earth in terms of their carbon footprint.”

“Fires in the High Northern Latitudes release significant CO2, CH4, N20, and black carbon,” said the expert. “A fire this close to the Greenland Ice Shelf is likely to deposit additional black carbon on the ice, further speeding up the melt.”

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