We believe gathering measurements from the surface of Greenland ice is fundamental to advancing our understanding of the melting Arctic.

We inform the global public what's happening in this remote but important place.

2017 WindSled Traverse – Green Science


The Expedition 

Image 1. Inuit WindSled team from the left – Nacho Garcia, Ramon Larramendi, Ross Edwards, Jens Jacob Simonsen and Hilo Moreno.

This is the first post in a series reporting on the 2017 Greenland Inuit WindSled traverse from a green science perspective. I was the scientist on the traverse from May 15th to July 25th, 2017. What a journey! I rode on a kite hauled 2.3-tonne sled system ~ 1100 km across the Greenland ice sheet. At times it seemed like we were being pulled by a thin rope hanging in the air. The traverse was led by Spanish polar explorer Ramon Larramendi and included polar guide and mountaineer, Hilo Moreno,  extreme environment film maker and photographer Nacho Garcia, marine engineer/captain Jens Jacob Simonsen and myself an Earth scientist / biogeochemist / extreme-environment ultra-trace chemistry expert (image 1).


Image 2. 2017 Greenland WindSled traverse route

Green science goals

The Dark Snow project science goals for the traverse were:
1. The collection of black carbon snow samples to investigate spatial variability and its relationship to snow melt; and
2. To assess the WindSled capacity for future green science.

Ross Edwards - Dark Snow project sample collection.

Ross Edwards – 2017WindSled black carbon snow sample collection.

First Impressions

I came into the project with some scepticism regarding the capacity of the WindSled to get us to where we needed to go and carry frozen samples. Electrical power was also a real concern. In the future, we plan to perform chemical analyses on the sled. Melting snow for chemical analysis will need at least 400 W of power. Would our equipment even survive the traverse? Based on my first-hand experience of storms crossing the Greenland ice sheet, I had some anxiety that this journey could end badly i.e. Ross and WindSled team extinction. Up until my arrival in Kangerlussuaq on May 15th, I had no first-hand experience with the WindSled and only a vague impression of how it worked. Personally taking the ride was the only way to get a grip on the reality of this thing. It seemed too audacious.

Dark Snow Project to sample snow across Greenland using wind & solar energy

In partnership with Adventure-preneur Ramon Larramendi and trace chemist Ross Edwards, the Dark Snow Project is to sample snow across Greenland May 21 – 22 June, 2017.

The key innovation is using wind & solar energy.

We are crowdfunding this activity.We don’t have all our costs covered. But the work is too cool to not do and we’re confident people like you can help us make it happen (click here).

A 3 minute video…

Dark Snow is a crowd funded activity

Below is a key result we obtained with our crowd funded activity, showing elevated black carbon concentrations sufficient to bring earlier melt onset.


Those results were presented at an invited AGU conference presentation and are being incorporated into a book in preparation.

Please help us continue the project with your US tax deductible pledge!

Black and Bloom: Sheffield Update


In a flash, three months have passed since I started working at the University of Sheffield on the NERC Black and Bloom project. This exciting project aims to constrain the role of ice algae in Greenland ice sheet surface melt, building on the work of the Dark Snow Project. There are four work packages – one to examine the microbiology of the ice surface, one to examine inorganic materials on the ice surface, one to measure and model the albedo of the ice surface, and one to upscale field observations to the macroscale using satellite remote sensing. I am the PDRA on work package 3.

It has been a hectic start to the project, but amazingly, all the field kit has been purchased, inventoried and sent off on pallets to be stored in Kangerlussuaq (Greenland) ready for our field season in July. We had a great ally in CragX climbing shop in Sheffield, who helped us to procure our camp and safety equipment, and even let me put our mess tent up in their main climbing hall!

Checking the mess tent at The Foundry, Sheffield (UK)

Checking the mess tent at The Foundry, Sheffield (UK)

We’ve all also been working away at refining our individual science plans and getting to grips with new equipment, techniques and experimental designs to make sure we hit the ice running in the field in July. For me, this has meant lots of time with the ASD FieldSpec – a device for measuring electromagnetic radiation at very high resolution. This device will be crucial for understanding how impurities – including ice algae – change the energy balance of ice surfaces.

Ice algae, soot and dust darken the ice surface on the Greenland Ice Sheet (ph. J Cook)

Ice algae, soot and dust darken the ice surface on the Greenland Ice Sheet (photo J Cook)

I’ve also been getting my coding skills up to scratch, with help from the NCAS team (National Centre for Atmospheric Science) who provided an excellent scientific computing course at the University of Leeds.

So, with our kit currently sailing somewhere between here and western Greenland, we await our July put-in, cautiously going over our plans and developing our experimental designs. If the last three months are anything to go by, the time between now and July will be busy and exciting.

Sculptural products from Dark Snow 2014 campaign

In August of 2014 I was honored and privileged to be a team member of Dark Snowʼs terminal rotation of the season in the ablation belt of Greenlandʼs Ice Cap. This would not be of particular note, except that I am not a scientist, but an artist.

#2 compress

Well, maybe not just any artist. I like to think that I have one foot in the world of science, and that one of my roles is to attempt to bridge the gaps between the two disciplines. I believe that the flash of creativity— the “something” where there was nothing— is identical in  process in science and art. Indeed, to me, at their best both are derived from the same approach: looking very, very closely at the world, and then making some kind of interpretative sense of it. Of course there are mediocre practitioners of both, who create science about science or art about art, or other lacks of inspiration, but that is inevitable in any human endeavor.


My residence with Project Dark Snow was my fourth polar sojourn. When the NSF sent me in 1999 to The Ice (Antarctica) I became the first sculptor from any country to be sent to the “last continent” (7 weeks). They sent me again in 2006 (4 weeks). I also spent the last rotation of 2001 on Canadaʼs largest icebreaker (Louis S. St-Laurent) (5 weeks). All of these trips included a significant airborne component, in fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

#1 compress

On the Greenland Cap I assisted with the science work, but I also engaged in my usual observations when in the field. I get asked frequently if I sculpt on these trips: of course not. I am out there as a researcher, gathering “data” in a manner somewhat parallel to what the science folks do. For them, the data will be analyzed and interpreted back at the lab, and for me there is plenty of time to carve, weld and grind when back at my studios. On ice I photograph, sketch, observe, make notes, converse. It is imperative to keep an open mind: it is very often the unexpected that turns out to be the real prize.


After these and other trips to nourish my work, at first I am artistically stunned. Slowly, some art begins, usually fairly illustrative since I am still in thrall to the majesties I have witnessed; often this takes the form of works on paper, but not this time. Somehow, sheet marble called, and seemed a logical first step. Eventually, LED illumination wormed into things as well. Gradually, as a bit of time and labor pass, I slowly am able to inject metaphorical meaning into the work, and as it thus matures I become more and more comfortable applying my signature.

#3 compress

In every case, this visual, intellectual, metaphorical infusion is added to everything previous, and the entire additive structure of all my trips and other nourishment becomes enriched.


I hope that the provided images  show this progression, consequent over more than a year, a normal time for these gellings to occur.