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The Arctic is on fire, and you can see it from space

More than 50 wildfires are burning in parts of Sweden inside the Arctic Circle, according to the European Space Agency.

by Alex Lubben
Jul 20 2018, 4:08pm

Wildfires are ravaging parts of the Arctic Circle, and they’re big enough to see from space.

The wildfires started in early June, and more than 50 have now cropped up in parts of Sweden inside the Arctic Circle, according to the European Space Agency, which has kept tabs on the situation with satellites from space. Sweden doesn’t often have to deal with fires, but so far the blazes have swallowed up $70 million worth of land, according to Swedish news agency TT. The country has asked for help from Norway and Italy, which sent along helicopters and planes to help contain the flames, according to the New York Times.

To figure out the size of the fires and where they’re spreading, the European Space Agency put four of its Copernicus Sentinel satellites on the job. Without the satellite imagery they're providing, the agency would have a tough time measuring the fires or even seeing them at all in some of the sparsely populated areas.

The wildfires follow the longest sustained drought on record in Sweden and heat waves that have engulfed most of Europe. And to scientists, they look a lot like what you’d expect human-caused climate change to look like.

These photos show the west coast of Norway over to central Sweden, where the fires are raging below the clouds. And in a zoomed-in shot, not just the smoke is visible; the satellites caught images where you can see the actual flames.

(Gif courtesy of the European Space Agency)

The heatwave across Europe has shown other signs visible from space. Satellite photos from the UK’s Met Office show England turning brown over the course of two months.

In addition to the usual dangers of massive fires, the flames have started to encroach on a military station in Älvdalens, where ammo’s tested. The flames have cut off access to the base: Emergency workers can’t get within 800 meters and moving any closer would put them at risk should the ammo at the base blow up. Even dousing the flames over the base via helicopter is risky, because the ammo could blow and down a chopper, according to the local government in Älvdalens.

If the base does blow up, the fires could spread even more.

Since 2015, the Europeans have put satellites into orbit to monitor the Earth — and specifically to relay back information to provide info to help with natural disasters like the fires in Sweden. The missions are designed to the monitor problems like vegetation, land-surface temperatures, and the color of the ocean, all with the purpose collecting data on the state of the changing planet.