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2015 Dark Snow Science Expedition Takes Shape

Our cause to inform the global public what’s happening in the remote but important Arctic leads us to our third Greenland science expedition taking shape.

Building on our past experience, our work this summer is to continue flying UAV missions over Greenland ice, across an elevation profile to track the darkness of the bare ice area expanding as snowline climbs the ice sheet. Our UAV range this year is 4 times what it was last year, 200 km+! We’re flying higher end instruments over the ice dark ice fields, sheet’s blue lakes, river networks, moulins and crevasses, producing unprecedented visual and science material.

We’ve got two scientific papers in late stages of progress, finding that melt is amplified by not only fire activity but surface ice algae. Another surprising twist is to be released in a study nearing submission for publication in a top journal.

In a strong affirmation of the support from nearly 800 pledges, that has made possible Greenland expeditions in 2013 and 2014, we’ve secured funding for much of this year’s activity from a well known foundation who’s identity will may share soon.

What remains on our wish list for 2015…

  1. support for a Dark Snow videographer Peter Sinclair’s travel to an important Greenland climate science meeting 2-5 June and continue north to Uummannaq Polar Institute for interviews with Greenlanders, $3k
  2. science tent to house our scientists at work, $1.8k
  3. each UAV flight is to have two video cameras on it recording 30 frames per sec to document the surface changes through time in better than HD resolution, $1.4k.
  4. after running our camp for 1 month on land, next to ice, 10 June – 7 July, it is advantageous to reposition the camp onto ice, following snowline inland on the ice sheet, to reoccupy at the same location as last year. For this we’re looking for another $12k for helicopter charter.

Your support has brought awareness of our science that was amplified by major network TV (HBO Vice, HBO Bill Maher, NBC Ann Curry, The Weather Channel, BBC, and more), print media (Rolling Stone) and online media (NASA, Outside, The Guardian, Slate, more than 50 news pieces).

Here’s our link to US tax deductible support using any normal credit/debit card hosted by PalPal.

Return supporters, on request, will receive a high quality decals. On request, pledges above $2.5 k will receive Greenlandic designed sun glasses.

Have an ice day!

the Dark Snow team

About the August, 2014 dark Greenland photos

Photos and video I took during an August 2014 south Greenland maintenance tour of promice.org climate stations and an extreme ice survey time lapse camera went viral, featuring a surprisingly (to me and others) dark surface of Greenland ice.

What we know, the southern Greenland ice sheet hit record low reflectivity in the period of satellite observations since 2000 due to a ~2 month drought affecting south Greenland…
2014_August_record_map
map with colors indicating when record low albedo was observed. The photos are from the blue patch near the southern tip of Greenland.
Snowfall summer 2014  for south Greenland would have kept the melt rates down by brightening up the surface. Summer 2014, at the PROMICE.org QAS_A site, we recorded ice loss from the surface at a place we thought was above equilibrium line altitude, where the surface would lose no ice in an ‘average climate’. The higher than normal melt rates allowed the impurities to concentrate near the surface in a process documented for snow surfaces by Doherty et al. (2013).
To avoid misinterpretation, black carbon is only part of the darkness, the rest is dust and microbes (See Dumont et al. 2014 and Benning et al. 2014). The photos are from the lowest part of the ice sheet’s elevation. The upper elevations do not get nearly this dark. This satellite image illustrates for west Greenland how dark the surface gets, down to 30% reflectivity.
Work Cited
  • Benning, L.G. A.M. Anesio, S. Lutz & M. Tranter, Biological impact on Greenland’s albedo, Nature Geoscience 7, 691 (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2260
  • Doherty, S. J., T. C. Grenfell, S. Forsstro¨ m, D. L. Hegg, R. E. Brandt, and S. G. Warren (2013), Observed vertical redistribution of black carbon and other insoluble light-absorbing particles in melting snow, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 118, 5553–5569, doi:10.1002/jgrd.50235.
  • Dumont, M., E. Brun, G. Picard, M. Michou, Q. Libois, J-R. Petit, M. Geyer, S. Morin and B. Josse, Contribution of light-absorbing impurities in snow to Greenland’s darkening since 2009, Nature Geoscience, 8 June, 2014, DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2180
Photo by Jason Box

Photos by Jason Box

 

Sky selfie

from part of NSIDC’s Greenland-today 20 August, 2014 post…

Sky selfie

Our colleague Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), and graduate student Johnny Ryan of Aberystwyth University spent much of the summer on the western ice sheet at Camp Dark Snow, near Kangerlugssuaq on the Arctic Circle (67 degrees north latitude at 1,010 meters above sea level). The team was investigating the Greenland surface albedo, climate, and surface melting, and how these evolve during summer. As part of the research, they have been using drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs) to photograph the surface from low altitude to examine the development of surface structures associated with melting. Strips of images and albedo measurements from the UAV are compared with simultaneous satellite images from the NASA MODIS sensor as an intermediate state to relate ground albedo measurements with that of the entire ice sheet. UAV photos reveal a surface riven with fractures, and drained by ephemeral rivers of melt water. The mid-summer melt surface in this area is pocked with 0.5 to 1 meter-wide (1.5 to 3 feet-wide) potholes with black grit and dust collected at the bottom. This black material is called cryoconite, and is comprised of dust and soot deposited on the surface, and melted out from the older ice exposed by melting. The dark patches are often glued together by tiny microbes.

GT_15Aug2014_Fig4

Images of the Greenland Ice Sheet near Kangerlugssuaq in west-central Greenland taken by a drone (UAV) used to evaluate the evolving albedo of the ice sheet surface during the summer melt season. At top left, Prof. Jason Box and Johnny Ryan, a Ph.D. student at Aberystwyth University, hold the drone they used. Top left, the drone takes a picture of the surface (and the operator, J. Ryan) on August 9, 2014 from low altitude, showing numerous cryoconite holes filled with black dust, grit, and soot that had accumulated in the winter snowpack, and melted out of the older ice below. Bottom, a higher-altitude image of the same area reveals sinuous melt streams and linear fractures, as well as small speckles of cryoconite holes on the ice sheet. Tents from the camp are also visible as colorful dots against the ice surface. 

ps. Professors Alun Hubbard and Niel Snooke at Aberystwyth University deserve a lot of credit for the UAV development.

atop a heap of useful data

Camp Dark Snow spanned the 2014 Greenland melt season, with 59 days camping, 17 June to 14 August. We had very few logistical snags and our science objectives were met. We had strings of clear sky days, followed by rain, sometimes heavy, to evaluate the time evolution of ice reflectivity.

We managed 26 UAV missions that fill the intermediate scale between our point measurements and that from satellite. Marek delivered a heavy box of ice samples to Copenhagen. On camp for most days, Karen developed a regular 2 day routine that has delivered for example 2,262 spectral reflectance point measurements as part of 29 surveys. The count of microbiological cell counts is staggering.

Coptering over moulins produced some video useful in communicating a video we call “follow the water” I presented at the AGU in 2013 and that will appear soon as a from Peter Sinclair. Several videos are in production to be shared in coming days, weeks, months.

We’re atop a heap of data and we’re busy beginning the next phase of the campaign; digestion.
A 21-23 September mile marker for us will be the International Workshop on “Quantifying Albedo Feedbacks and their Role in the Mass Balance of the Arctic Terrestrial Cryosphere at the University of Bristol, UK. Organisers: Martyn Tranter and Martin SharpThe meeting is supported by the International Arctic Science Committee.

fire, ice, soot, carbon: Dark Snow Project 2014 final field work in Greenland

Arrived yesterday to Kangerlussuaq, west Greenland, now 6 AM, we’re just about out the door in effort to put more numbers on how fire and other factors are affecting Greenland’s reflectivity as part of the Dark Snow Project.

I just received this 27 July, 2014 NASA MODIS satellite image showing wildfire smoke drifting over Greenland ice.

Premier climate video blogger Peter Sinclair is a key component of the Dark Snow Project because of our focus on communicating our science to the global audience. The video below was shot and edited last night quickly as we prepare for a return to our camp a few hours from now.

The video does not comment on the important issue of carbon. So, here’s a quick research wrap-up… Wildfire is a source of carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon to the atmosphere. Jacobson (2014) find that sourcing to be underestimated in earlier work. Graven et al. (2013) find northern forests absorbing and releasing more carbon by respiration due to Arctic warming’s effects on forest composition change. At the global scale, the land environment produces a net sink of carbon, taking up some 10% of the atmospheric carbon emissions due to fossil fuel combustion (IPCC, 2007). Yet, whether northern wildfire is becoming an important source of atmospheric carbon (whether from CO2 or CH4 methane) remains under investigation. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers find:

“fires shift the carbon balance in multiple ways. Burning organic matter quickly releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. After a fire, loss of the forest canopy can allow more sun to reach and warm the ground, which may speed decomposition and carbon dioxide emission from the soil. If the soil warms enough to melt underlying permafrost, even more stored carbon may be unleashed.

“Historically, scientists believe the boreal forest has acted as a carbon sink, absorbing more atmospheric carbon dioxide than it releases, Gower says. Their model now suggests that, over recent decades, the forest has become a smaller sink and may actually be shifting toward becoming a carbon source.

“The soil is the major source, the plants are the major sink, and how those two interplay over the life of a stand really determines whether the boreal forest is a sink or a source of carbon

Works Cited
  • Danish Meterological Institute provided the NASA MODIS satellite image
  • Graven, H.D., R. F. Keeling, S. C. Piper, P. K. Patra, B. B. Stephens, S. C. Wofsy, L. R. Welp, C. Sweeney, P.P. Tans, J.J. Kelley, B.C. Daube, E.A. Kort, G.W. Santoni, J.D. Bent, 2013, Enhanced Seasonal Exchange of CO2 by Northern Ecosystems Since 1960,  Science: Vol. 341 no. 6150 pp. 1085-1089, DOI: 10.1126/science.1239207
  • Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
  • Jacobson, M. Z., 2014, Effects of biomass burning on climate, accounting for heat and moisture fluxes, black and brown carbon, and cloud absorption effects, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 119, doi:10.1002/2014JD021861.