Ice and fire: How burning forests melt ice sheets

A song of ice and fire (and smoke and sunshine and algae)

Forest fires can melt glaciers thousands of miles away by changing the colour of the ice, all thanks to a heavy little particle called black carbon (commonly known as soot).

On the Greenland ice sheet – already the world’s biggest cryospheric contributor to climate change – there is a place called the dark zone, where black carbon from fires helps melt the ice between double and ten times the rate of the white around it.

With fires in regions across the globe set to worsen due to climate change, we’re only just beginning to understand this strange feedback loop, and the threat that fires pose to the ice.

Written, produced & narrated by Georgie Johnson

Edited & animated by Sian Butcher

Script edited by Emma Howard

Sound & music by

Featuring Jessica McCarty (Miami University) and Alun Hubbard (Universities of Aberystwyth, Tromsø)

Footage: NASA, Greenpeace, Getty

Special thanks to Greenpeace Global Mapping Hub, Ice Alive and Dr Reyes Tirado