Per Erik Hanevoll, manager of the Sverdrup Research Station in Ny-Alesund, was puzzled by the haze that drifted in over Kongsfjorden on July 10. At first he thought it was heat haze, since instruments showed it was 14.1 degrees Celsius on Zeppelinfjellet, but the yellowish color suggested otherwise.
– There had been clear and nice weather all week, said Hanevoll, who by chance had taken photographs from the Zepplin Observatory the previous day. So he took additional pictures on that day as well.
The observatory is operated by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (Nilu) and advanced measurement equipment captures even the smallest changes in the air. Svalbardposten previously reported the sensors are detecting toxins from spray products in the United States, but on this occasion the pollution was coming from the north. It apparently passed over the North Pole on its way to Svalbard.
– I thought it was very much similar to an Arctic haze, pollution from afar, and got Nilu to investigate. Most likely there was a forest fire in Alaska that was the reason we got the heat haze in Svalbard. Nilu claims that on the basis of indicators they detected from several components, the station leader said.
The Nilu analysis shows the particles are likely from a large wildfire on June 15 in Alaska. Reuters reported the fire spread over 26 square kilometers and 1,700 homes were evacuated while 200 firefighters fought the blaze. More than 45 homes were destroyed. If Nilu's theory is correct, the smoke drifted here.
– Sometimes we get very powerful air pollution over Svalbard because of what occurs in Asia or, in as in this instance, Alaska, Hanevoll said.
– Whether it was psychological or not, I don't know, but it was as if there was a familiar taste to the haze. A bit like sulphur, actually. The color reminds me a bit of city smog, he said.
There have also been large forest fires in Canada this month, but it is uncertain if traces from them will find their way here. In any event, it's now known what a forest fire looks like in Svalbard.