British Columbia

Smoke from B.C. wildfires in skies over Greenland

Soot and smoke from B.C.'s wildfires have been spotted as far away as the ice fields of Greenland, according to a satellite image from NASA.

B.C. wildfires having an impact on environment abroad

The Dark Snow Project has studied the factors contributing to snow melting in the Arctic in 3 separate expeditions to Greenland. (Dark Snow Project)

Soot and smoke from B.C.'s wildfires have been spotted as far away as the ice fields of Greenland, according to a satellite image from NASA

Jason Box is the head of the Dark Snow Project and a research scientist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

He says that this smoke, coming from B.C. and Alaska wildfires, is contributing to the dark snow phenomenon seen across the Arctic.

"In Greenland we've been witnessing fjords with hazy smoke sky and near nighttime you see an orange sky, both indicative of these smoke particles in the air," Box told Gregor Craigie on On the Island

What happens when the smoke falls?

"We know from our field measurements that even small increases in concentrations of black carbon soot from wildfires has a significant heating effect, so it brings the melt onset earlier and as melting occurs on snow those dark particles concentrate on the surface and the surface gets darker," Box said.

Although he says that summer snowfall can cover that and slow that process down, it is periods of clear sky conditions, which Greenland has been experiencing lately, that increase the melting process and make the carbon particles more noticeable.

Jason Box is the head of the Dark Snow Project based in Greenland, which studies the multiple impacts contributing to Arctic melting. (Jason Box/ Twitter)

The Dark Snow Project has crowd-funded three separate trips to study the multiple factors that contribute to the melting of the Arctic.

"Lower on the inland, where there is bare ice, and the snow has melted off, you see this glacier ice. It is much darker and on that surface you can accumulate strong concentrations of black carbon, but also mineral dust and ice algae," Box says.

Long-term effects still unknown

In the last 15 years, the reflectivity of Greenland has been reduced by more than five per cent. This means that the land is taking up more and more sunlight during the summer months. The amount of energy that the barren land is consuming is equivalent to roughly twice the European electricity usage in a year.

"Its not just ice on Greenland, it's Canadian ice caps, Arctic sea ice, and even snow patches. All these bright surfaces are most susceptible to increasing black carbon deposition from wildfires," Box said.

He says that the melting of snow in the Arctic leads to a multiplying effect in climate change on a larger scale.

"We call that a positive feedback, which means that climate change comes on a little bit faster in a remote place like the Arctic."

In other words, once the ice begins to melt in the Arctic, more and more sun is absorbed which raises the temperatures, inevitably causing more ice to melt. This leads to climate change elsewhere.

"B.C. has been experiencing persistent sunny conditions actually related to Arctic warming that slows down the jet streams," Box said.

However he does say that the smoke from B.C. can have the opposite effect on the snow.

"If smoke gets really high it atmosphere, it actually shades the surface and has a cooling effect. It's pretty complicated."