first data makes it off Camp Dark Snow

Phase 1 of our field  program began 18 June with the camp installation and getting into a rhythm with ground and airborne measurements.

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drone view of cook and science tents

A re-supply flight rotated in fresh people and food while Jason and Marek rotated out until their 1 August return for the final weeks of our the 2 month field science campaign.

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from left to right: Nathan Chrismas, Marek Stibal, Karen Cameron, Martyn Law, Alia Khan, Oysten Bornholm (pilot), Jason Box, and Filippo Qaglia

After the usual uphill struggle that is field work, a most welcome feeling of satisfaction came after successful flights with the UAV copter.

launching copter with down looking video calibrated using the white reference target

Jason Box launching UAV copter with down looking video calibrated using the white reference target lower right.

Ice biologists were busy gathering cell counts and I can tell you, the results are telling us we’re not wasting out time out on the ice.

Dr Marek Stibal gathers ice algae samples.

Dr Marek Stibal gathers ice algae samples.

Dr Karen Cameron measures spectral reflectance of ice all around our camp.

Dr Karen Cameron measures spectral reflectance of ice all around our camp.

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Dr. Jason Box measures reflectivity of ice algae and other snow and ice impurities.

We’re still running our crowd funding campaign because we lack

  1. some travel funds
  2. funds to do some of the lab processing
  3. funding for advancing our drone objectives.

We ask you to join us and help our science happen with a US tax deductible pledge.

take off today for camping on ice 2 months

Today, we plan a 1315h take off from Kangerlussuaq (SFJ), west Greenland to our science camp that should run 2 months.

We have moved our target camp location 6 nm closer to SFJ to a place called S6; -49.3989154, 67.0784848, or in decimal minutes 49° 23.935’W, 67° 4.709’N, 1011 m above sea level.

S6 is 38 nautical miles from SFJ or ~21 minunute one-way fly time at 110 kt.

Reasons for the move:

  • We have judged that S6 us better for our science to start at snowline that is today just at or below S6. Snow line had been moving fast up glacier in the past 5 days but with snow last night and clouds and more snow in the forecast, we believe our science is best to start in these conditions.
  • According to the pilot, above S6 may not be land-able by the S61 that lands not on skids but relatively small wheels.
  • budget projection motivate us to work closer to the airport, with each flight saving 12 nautical miles. The relatively expensive S61 helicopter is the only reliable option for us in SFJ.
  • S6 has a long climate record, beginning in the 1990s.

Sikorsky S61 helicopter is fully loaded for our camp put in

While on camp, we may be reached by email using with a maximum 250 kb message size filter that will block your message.

For phone communications, ring us at Iridium:
primary +88 162 143 3943
secondary +88 162 143 3944

Have an ice day!

The Dark Snow science team

west Greenland melt is ON

Weather was very warm yesterday in Kangerlussuaq, at least 15 C (60 F) but 20 C (70 F) at the unofficial airport site. The river came up fast and wide between our 10 AM first look to the late afternoon; 24 h sun here on the Arctic circle. The snowline is migrating up the ice sheet. It seems we arrived right on the start of continuous melt. The previous days have had variable weather and even fresh snow on hilltops.

The melt is ON. The extended forecast is for warm sunny weather…

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 8.23.18 AMThe warm weather is a relief because right now, snowline is ~850 m above sea level. We aim to camp at 1250 m and don’t want to arrive to slush deeper than our ankles.

The precipitation forecast for next Wednesday would come the night of our camp put in. We’d rather have snow than rain. But the freezing level in the atmosphere would be right at camp elevation, so it would be a ‘wintery mix’.


Cyanobacteria: Harnessing light to grow

As an evolutionary biologist, I am particularly fascinated by microbial life that manages to survive in frozen environments. Among the most important groups of organisms found on the Greenland ice sheet are the cyanobacteria. Along with ice algae these are the plants of the ice sheet, performing oxygenic photosynthesis and generating organic carbon helping to link the microbial food web.

While the ice surface tends to be dominated by algae (although some filamentous cyanobacteria can be seen (Yallop et al., 2012)), cryoconite holes are a different matter where a whole host of cyanobacteria can be found. Cryoconite holes are formed by aggregations of ‘rock dust’ reducing local albedo and forming tiny pools of meltwater full of microbial activity. Cryoconite granules are held together by a matrix of filamentous cyanobacteria and the extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) that they exude. Unicellular species are embedded within the cryoconite matrix. I am interested in finding out just what these species of cyanobacteria are, when they evolved to live in the cold, and what kind of adaptations have allowed them to survive and carry out efficient photosynthesis in such extreme conditions.

Cyanobacteria on the Greenland ice sheet – a) cryoconite holes, b) filamentous cyanobacteria sticking out of a cryoconite granule and c) fluorescence microscope image of cryoconite showing cyanobacteria (red) and extracellular polysaccharides (green). From Yallop et al., 2012.

Cyanobacteria on the Greenland ice sheet – a) cryoconite holes, b) filamentous cyanobacteria sticking out of a cryoconite granule and c) fluorescence microscope image of cryoconite showing cyanobacteria (red) and extracellular polysaccharides (green). From Yallop et al., 2012.

Another important question involves the relationship that cyanobacteria might have with the dark snow. If excess black carbon were to cause an increase in heterotrophic bacterial consumption of carbon from external sources instead of carbon fixed by the cyanobacteria (like in the cryoconite holes of Svalbard: see Stibal et al., 2008), then the community composition of the microbial ecosystem may be altered. Cyanobacteria may also interact directly with the black carbon by either increasing the amount of time black carbon spends on the ice, masking it with organic material, drawing it into cryoconite holes or even breaking the black carbon down (Hodson, 2014). Whichever way, the cyanobacteria of the Greenland ice sheet have an undeniable influence on the fate of carbon – which both builds life and accelerates melting – on glacier surfaces, and they remain fascinating organisms for helping to understand the evolution of life in the cold.


Hodson AJ. Understanding the dynamics of black carbon and associated contaminants in glacial systems. WIREs Water. 2014 Mar 1;1(2):141–9.

Stibal M, Tranter M, Benning LG, ?ehák J. Microbial primary production on an Arctic glacier is insignificant in comparison with allochthonous organic carbon input. Environmental Microbiology. 2008 Aug 1;10(8):2172–8.

Yallop ML, Anesio AM, Perkins RG, Cook J, Telling J, Fagan D, et al. Photophysiology and albedo-changing potential of the ice algal community on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. ISME J. 2012 Dec;6(12):2302–13.


Ice is the answer. It is also the question: sculptor Gabriel Warren joins Dark Snow Project

I position my work at the intersection of two fault lines: that between art and science, and that between mankind and the natural world. I have found natural ice formations to be a rich source for my endeavors in sheet metals, glass, illumination, stones, and more.

miriam full comp-3

A lot of my titles are in ancient Greek, for reasons explained on my website. This one is “Empurologia #24”. It simply means ‘study of interior fire and light’. It is located in the cafeteria of Miriam Hospital, Providence, RI. (2009)

I have been fortunate to be able to witness ice in its own ‘habitat’. In 1999, Courtesy of the National Science Foundation, I became the first sculptor from any country to be sent to Antarctica. In 2001, I deployed to the high Arctic with the Canadian Coast Guard in the Lancaster Sound area. In 2006 I deployed again to the The Ice — Antarctica. These trips (and others I have organized privately) have been absolutely critical to my output. I have found that I cannot work just from the photography of others; without personally being confronted by these phenomena, I can’t insert what to me is absolutely central to any acceptable art: emotional content.

Piesterion #6-2

This one is ‘Piesterion #6. The title refers to pressure (think piezo-electric), since this series is loosely based on ice cores. (1991).

I am invited to join Dark Snow summer 2014. This is a bullseye for me. I have seen plenty of imagery, in the course of research, of the supraglacial lakes, rivers, and the moulins that drain them down to bedrock far, far below. I see this as a cast of characters that I can use to create metaphorical meanings and interest in my work. I have only one life, and I will not use it to create pretty shiny things: I demand real meaning from what goes out the doors of my studios.


I consider myself a landscape sculptor– by which I do not mean that I bounce about on bulldozers: there are scars enough on the land. Rather, the forms and patterns that I find in my travels, especially in ice, give me an armature for my intellectual, emotional, visual explorations and probings in metal, as well as glass, stone, and other materials. These emerge from my deep appreciation of the natural world, and my distress at the insults, many of them irrevocable, that it receives from our species. This environmental subtext is not presented in an obviously illustrative kind of way, but woven into a metaphorical fabric.