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…

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.

Canadian fires and the Dark Snow effort


An aerial view of the Birch Creek Fire complex, which seared 250,000 acres as of Wednesday. Credit: NWTFire/Facebook/

A large number of uncontrolled fires are burning across the Canadian NWT. The prevailing flow brings some of that smoke to darken Greenland ice.


Example of one day last week of fires detected from NASA satellite thermal imagery. Analysis by Jason Box as part of the Dark Snow project

via Brian Kahn of Climate Central

“The amount of acres burned in the Northwest Territories is six times greater than the 25-year average to-date according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates “unprecedented” in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark climate report released earlier this year indicates that for every 1.8°F rise in temperatures, wildfire activity is expected to double.

We have a team on Greenland ice right now, and until mid August, tasked with measuring the impact of dark particles on ice melt. We are asking for support to increase our abilities to detect smoke landing on Greenland ice. The support will help us afford expanding our laboratory work.


Dark Snow feedback animation from Joe Immen


After seeing graphic artist Joe Immen’s Climate Hawk logo, I approached him to develop the Dark Snow logo. Here are some photos I shot on our first meeting as Joe sketched the first Dark Snow logos…

Joe Immen at work

Joe Immen sketching the first Dark Snow logo back in October, 2012

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 5.14.47 PMFrom that discussion came the following logo of several others…

Dark Snow logo fire-Greenland map3

Joe Immen lives in Columbus, Ohio.