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Ice farmers

 

“There’s so much pollution in the air now that if it weren’t for our lungs, there’d be no place to put it all.”

Robert Orben, 1927

 

The dawn of the industrial revolution, in the 18th century, marked the beginning of a dramatic change in the impact that humans have on the Earth. Smoke relentlessly billowed from factories, day and night, to keep up with the ever-increasing demands on growing industries such as agriculture and textiles. By the 1850s, a secondary revolution was spurred on by technological and economic progress as a result of steam-powered ships and railways. These efforts climaxed in the mid-19th century with the momentous invention of the internal combustion engine and the generation of electricity.

 

“It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness….”

Extract from ‘Hard Times’ by Charles Dickens, 1854.

 

Widnes_Smoke

Photo: Widnes, England, late 19th century. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Of course, the abundance of smoke generated during this new mechanical era didn’t just disappear into thin air. Instead, air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels had (and has) a consequential effect on the balance of the Earth’s elements. One element that has sparked interest within the Dark Snow Project is nitrogen. When fossil fuels are burned, reactive nitrogen, in the form of nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2, referred to collectively as NOX), are expelled into the atmosphere. It is these gases that can ultimately form smog and acid rain. NOX is predominantly removed from the atmosphere through the production of nitrate (Geng et al 2014). In addition to this, a second major and historic source of human generated nitrate has come from chemical fertilizers; used to assist with the ever-increasing demands on our food resources due to our growing population. These nitrogen-based compounds have been sprayed onto our fields since the advent of the Haber Bosch process (an energy demanding reaction that enables fertilizers to be synthesized) in the early 20th century (Felix and Elliott 2013). Nitrate from farmlands can become aerolised into the atmosphere, and as a result, in addition to the increased burning of fossil fuels throughout the industrial revolution, the use of fertilizers further exasperated the generation of man-made nitrate sources.

 

So, if all this industrial and agricultural pollution started to occur over 200 years ago, how can we possibly know about it today? Well, once aerosolized, nitrate and NOX are transported by winds through the atmosphere until they are eventually deposited onto the Earth’s surface. Depositions that occur over the Greenland ice sheet actually become encapsulated in time, buried under layer upon layer of snow. Ice core scientists can then drill out an ice core and obtain a nifty geochemical history lesson that can span thousands of years.

 

_mg_8533_neem_2010

Photo: Bo Vinther examining an ice core as part of the NEEM drilling project, http://www.neem.ku.dk.

 

Human impacts on the nitrogen cycle (Galloway et al 2008) can be detected through the use of stable isotopes (variations in the atomic mass of elements due to differing numbers of neutrons within an atom’s nucleus). 14N is the natural and most common form of the stable nitrogen element, making up over 99% of the molecules that we measure on earth. However, reductions in the rarer second form of nitrogen, 15N, has been linked to increases in human-generated NOX levels; and so has become a proxy for the impact of our fuel consumption and agricultural activities on the global nitrogen cycle (e.g. Felix and Elliott 2013, Geng et al 2014, Hastings et al 2009).

 

Geng et al (2014)

Graph by Geng et al (2014) depicting how increases in ice core nitrate levels are coupled with a decrease in 15N concentrations.

With the historic global increases of nitrate concentrations in mind, and predictions that these levels will continue to rise (Liao et al 2006), this year’s Dark Snow Project participants plan to take on an alter ego as farmers, and actually fertilize the surface of the Greenland ice sheet! The idea is to add our own sources of nitrate within fertilization plots, so that we can observe the impact that nitrate elevations have on the microbial communities of surface ice. In addition, we will be looking into the implications that changes in the microbial communities have on the lowering the surface albedo, and of course, ultimately enhancing ice sheet melt rates.

Cameron_Karen_IMG_9919_bw-3

Dr Karen Cameron is a microbial ecologist working in the Department of Geochemistry at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. Her previous research has focused on biogeochemical interactions that occur within supraglacial and subglacial environments, and on the biogeographical variability of glacial associated microbial communities.

Works Cited

Felix J D and Elliott E M 2013 The agricultural history of human?nitrogen interactions as recorded in ice core  15N?NO3? Geophysical Research Letters 40 1642-1646

Galloway J N, Townsend A R, Erisman J W, Bekunda M, Cai Z, Freney J R, Martinelli L A, Seitzinger S P and Sutton M A 2008 Transformation of the nitrogen cycle: Recent trends, questions, and potential solutions Science 320 889-892

Geng L, Alexander B, Cole-Dai J, Steig E J, Savarino J, Sofen E D and Schauer A J 2014 Nitrogen isotopes in ice core nitrate linked to anthropogenic atmospheric acidity change Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 5808-5812

Hastings M, Jarvis J and Steig E 2009 Anthropogenic impacts on nitrogen isotopes of ice-core nitrate Science 324 1288-1288

Liao H, Chen W T and Seinfeld J H 2006 Role of climate change in global predictions of future tropospheric ozone and aerosols Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 111 1984–2012

Black Carbon in the Cryosphere

I’m very excited to join the field team this summer! My contribution to Dark Snow’s Greenland ice sheet field campaign this summer is to quantify changes in spectral albedo over the melt season using an Analytical Spectral Device (ASD) portable spectrometer. A related objective for my doctoral research on Black Carbon in the Cryosphere is to collect black carbon samples.

_DSC0394

Collecting spectral reflectance measurements of dirty snow in Svalbard

Black Carbon (BC) comes from incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels (Goldberg et al., 1985). On snow and ice, the dark particles absorb sunlight, substantially reducing the surface albedo. The absorption heats the surrounding matter, promoting melt. This feedback is of particular importance in polar and alpine regions dominated by snow and ice. In this sense, Greenland and the Himalayas share this enhanced climate sensitivity. Black carbon deposition on the Greenland ice sheet enhances generation of melt-water, which contributes to further melting of the ice sheet, as well global sea level rise.

Researchers have been studying the effect black carbon has on the cryosphere and black carbon’s linkage with global climate for decades (Wiscombe and Warren, 1980; Grenfell et al., 1981, Chylek et al., 1983; Clarke and Noone 1985; Hadley et al., 2010). Although advancements in remote sensing enable quantitative measurements of aerosol black carbon in the atmosphere, remote sensing of black carbon in snow is not currently possible (Warren, 2013). Ground measurements of the cryosphere, such as with a portable spectrometer, therefore remain one of the only ways to monitor and quantify surface albedo reductions due to black carbon.

Recent developments in chemical and optical analytical techniques are enabling more descriptive studies of black carbon within snow and ice (Hegg et al. 2009, Kaspari et al. 2011, Schwarz et al. 2012). Black carbon aerosols from both biomass burning and fossil fuel combustion may travel across the globe in the atmosphere, and are then ‘scavenged’ by rain or snow precipitation (Doherty et al., 2010). Furthermore, after deposition they become retained in the snowpack or ice surface where they may degrade over time.

The aim of our work this summer is to measure spectral albedo change through the microbial ‘growing season’, as well as to discern how black carbon concentrations may relate to growth of microbes. The data I collect will contribute to my dissertation research that so far has focused on the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, Nepalese Himalayas, and the Norwegian Arctic. Like snowflakes, each system is unique; with different sources of black carbon, as well as varying impacts. In the Himalayas there are both local and long-range transport sources of black carbon, and increased melting can have an impact on water resources for downstream communities. In Greenland, most black carbon comes from long-range transport and has major implications on increasing melt-water generation, which leads to further and more rapid loss of ice, as well as sea level rise. Due to rapid surface melting, the Greenland ice sheet is a highly dynamic system to study impurities on the ice surface, as well as to understand their impacts on ice melt. Thus, I’m really excited to forage in another different system.

Gearing up for the upcoming field season, I am filled with a variety of feelings. Life as a grad student is often very busy, with a variety of projects and commitments, but field experiences like this where you have the opportunity to be on the ground collecting data, seeing and experiencing changes in the cryosphere first hand, is what it’s all about for me. I’m really looking forward to being a part of the Dark Snow team!

Alia Khan – PhD student at the University of Colorado, Boulder / Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).

References:

Chýlek, P. (1983). Albedo of soot?contaminated snow. Journal of Geophysical Research, 88(3), 837–843. doi/10.1029/JC088iC15p10837/full

Clarke, A., and Noone, J. (1985). SOOT IN THE ARCTIC SNOWPACK: A CAUSE FOR PERTURBATIONS IN RADIATIVE TRANSFER, 19(12), 2045–2053.

Grenfell, T. C., Perovich, D. K., & Ogren, J. A. (1981). SPECTRAL ALBEDOS OF AN ALPINE SNOWPACK Thomas C. Grenfell and Donald K. Perovich, 4, 121–127.

Hadley, O. L., Corrigan, C. E., Kirchstetter, T. W., Cliff, S. S., & Ramanathan, V. (2010). Measured black carbon deposition on the Sierra Nevada snow pack and implication for snow pack retreat. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 10(15), 7505–7513. doi:10.5194/acp-10-7505-2010

Hegg, D. a, Warren, S. G., Grenfell, T. C., Doherty, S. J., Larson, T. V, & Clarke, A. D. (2009). Source attribution of black carbon in Arctic snow. Environmental Science & Technology, 43(11), 4016–21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19569324

Kaspari, S. D., Schwikowski, M., Gysel, M., Flanner, M. G., Kang, S., Hou, S., & Mayewski, P. a. (2011). Recent increase in black carbon concentrations from a Mt. Everest ice core spanning 1860-2000 AD. Geophysical Research Letters, 38(4), doi:10.1029/2010GL046096

Schwarz, J. P., Doherty, S. J., Li, F., Ruggiero, S. T., Tanner, C. E., Perring, a. E., … Fahey, D. W. (2012). Assessing recent measurement techniques for quantifying black carbon concentration in snow. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques Discussions, 5(3), 3771–3795. doi:10.5194/amtd-5-3771-2012

Warren, S. G. (2013). Can black carbon in snow be detected by remote sensing? Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 118(2), 779–786. doi:10.1029/2012JD018476

Warren, S. G., & Clarke, A. D. (1990). Soot in the atmosphere and snow surface of Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research, 95(D2), 1811. doi:10.1029/JD095iD02p01811

Glacial ice tea

What do glacial surfaces and tea have in common? The obvious answer to a glaciologist… ‘a glaciologist – standing on the surface of a glacier, drinking tea’. While this is, of course, correct, here’s another that is more interesting and of high relevance to the Dark Snow Project; the surface’s colour. Or – more precisely – its pigmentation.

The Dark Snow Project is interested in all things dark on the surface of glaciers and ice sheets. Joe Cook summarizes the ways microbes can contribute to the darkening of glacial surfaces. I’ll focus on a specific process that may be the key biotic factor for albedo reduction of the Greenland ice sheet.

There are three species of algae that grow on glacier surfaces worldwide – Cylindrocystis brébissonii, Mesotaenium berggrenii, and Ancylonema nordenskiöldii. I’ll call them ‘ice algae’. Each belongs in a single group of green algae called Zygnematophyceae, also called conjugating algae due to their inventive and esthetic way of having sex. It is still a mystery why only these few species reside on ice, and from only one group, but we begin to understand how: it’s to do with tea!

Imagine the environment of the surface of the Greenland ice sheet… It’s of course cold, around freezing all the time, and it can be very bright, further amplified by ice crystals reflecting the incoming light in all directions and multiple bounces between clouds and the surface increases the glare. If you’re an alga, then you too are cold and you’re dazzled much of the time. You get most of your food from the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but you still need some other nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and there is not much of that around. And you may even need to protect yourself from large predators that stalk these vast white planes. Ok, not large for humans. Microscopical predators. But still scary.

It seems that ice algae have solved these problems in one fell swoop by producing a special pigment stored small vesicles (called vacuoles) inside the cells, and its colour has been described (see Yallop et al. 2012). Now, depending on the observers’ state of colour-blindness and/or gender, the pigment is seen as purple brown (Yallop et al. 2012), brownish (Remias et al. 2012), and dark brown (Uetake et al. 2010). I am going to call it ‘dark’. Until recently, the chemical nature of this dark pigment was unknown. But then Daniel Remias and his colleagues from Innsbruck University decided to look at one of the ice algae – M. berggrenii from an Alpine glacier – more closely (Remias et al. 2012). They managed to resolve the structure of the main compound responsible for the dark colour and gave it a beautiful name: purpurogallin carboxylic acid-6-O-b-D-glucopyranoside.

looks like spiders having a good time to me

‘Ice tea’ – purpurogallin carboxylic acid-6-O-b-D-glucopyranoside, as identified by Remias et al. 2012

 

What can purpurogallin carboxylic acid-6-O-b-D-glucopyranoside do? Well, it’s dark, so of course it absorbs sunlight, mostly in the ultraviolet and visible parts of the spectrum. In other words, it is a sunscreen, a protection against the harmful UV radiation and also excessive visible radiation which can inhibit photosynthesis in the cells. But that’s not all. The pigment may also represent a sink for surplus energy that cannot be invested in cells due to limitations in temperature or nutrient availability, and may even act as a chemical defense against grazers as, for example, phenolic compounds in marine kelp. So, given the nuisances you have to put up with as an alga living on the surface of an ice sheet, it seems like a very useful thing to have.

no spiders here

Absorption spectra of purpurogallin carboxylic acid-6-O-b-D-glucopyranoside (c) and its likely precursor (b) isolated from Mesotaenium berggrenii. From Remias et al. 2012

 

And strangely, purpurogallin carboxylic acid-6-O-b-D-glucopyranoside is a pigment that has only been detected in higher plants, such as fermented plant tissue… leaves, more specifically… fermented leaves of Camellia sinensis, even more specifically. Also known as black tea.

So here we are, glaciologists standing on the melting surface of the Greenland ice sheet, sipping tea that is black precisely for the same reason why the ice surface is getting dark – a simple pigment produced by a living organism.

We promise we won’t spill much of the tea.

 

References

Uetake J, Naganuma T, Hebsgaard MB, Kanda H, Kohshima S (2010) Communities of algae and cyanobacteria on glaciers in west Greenland. Polar Science 4: 71–80

Remias D, Schwaiger S, Aigner S, Leya T, Stuppner H, Lütz C (2012) Characterization of an UV- and VIS-absorbing, purpurogallin-derived secondary pigment new to algae and highly abundant in Mesotaenium berggrenii (Zygnematophyceae, Chlorophyta), an extremophyte living on glaciers. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 79: 638–648

Yallop ML, Anesio AM, Perkins RG, Cook J, Telling J, Fagan D, MacFarlane J, Stibal M, Barker G, Bellas C, Hodson A, Tranter M, Wadham J, Roberts N (2012) Photophysiology and albedo-changing potential of the ice algae community on the surface of Greenland Ice Sheet. ISME Journal 6: 2302–2313

Dr Marek Stibal is a scientist in the Department of Geochemistry at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. He examines the microbial ecology and biogeochemistry of icy ecosystems, with an emphasis on large scale effects of microbial activity on glacial systems, carbon and nutrient cycling in the cryosphere, and microbial diversity, distribution and dispersal in Arctic and Antarctic terrestrial environments. He has been working on Arctic glaciers, including the Greenland Ice Sheet, since 2002.

Ice sheet microbes and melt

Greenland contains the largest continuous mass of ice in the northern hemisphere; an area over 2 million km2. The frequency of Greenland surface melting has increased, likely as a result of human-induced climate warming, with the melt-area covering almost the entire ice sheet surface in 2012 (Ngheim et al. 2012; Box et al, 2013; Tedesco et al. 2013).

Ablation zone extent on the Greenland ice sheet: July 8 (left) and July 12 (right). On July 8, ~40% of the ice sheet was melting. Four days later, ~97% of the ice sheet surface had thawed.  Credit: Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

Ablation zone extent on the Greenland ice sheet: July 8 (left) and July 12 (right). On July 8, ~40% of the ice sheet was melting. Four days later, ~97% of the ice sheet surface had thawed. Credit: Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

Although its fair to say that higher temperatures mean more melt, the response of earth’s glaciers and ice sheets to climate warming is complex, also depending upon a range of feedbacks (e.g. Box et al, 2012). For example, when ice melts, liquid water runs over its surface, sometimes collecting in pools and lakes. Liquid water is a more effective absorber of sunlight than snow or ice, so the overall reflectivity (also called albedo, Greek for ‘whiteness’) of the ice decreases. The result is faster ice melt. Melting promotes more melting.

Box et al’s (2012) image of albedo anomaly in summer 2012. Darker blue means greater darkening compared to average albedo.

Box et al’s (2012)
image of albedo anomaly in summer 2012. Darker blue means greater darkening compared to average albedo.

Not only melt water that reduces  Greenland ice sheet albedo. A variety of aerosol ‘impurities’ further reduce surface albedo. These include black carbon (BC) derived from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, other industrial activity, biomass burning, and wildfire. Black carbon can be transported across the hemisphere through the atmosphere and deposited on ice, and currently the impacts remain uncertain (Hodson, 2014). Dark Snow field science is examining this question in detail based on 2013 field measurements and planned measurements for June-August, 2014.

Black Carbon - produced during the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels

Black Carbon – produced during the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (photo, wikimedia commons)

The presence of microbes on the ice surface also alter albedo and can therefore influence melt rates (Yallop et al, 2012). They do so by growing and adding dark biomass to the ice, causing mineral fragments to aggregate and resist removal (flushing) by melt water, and by producing dark humic substances and pigments. There may even be a relationship between microbial activity and BC. Yet, it is not yet known whether microbes metabolise BC and reduce its impact, or cause it to “stick” to the ice surface and prevent its removal by flushing (Hodson, 2014).

Many microbes on the Greenland ice sheet inhabit ‘cryoconite’ holes; cylindrical tubes ‘drilled’ into the bright ice surface ice by dark cryoconite debris. The debris is a loose bonding of minerals encased in microbial biomass (e.g. Gribbon, 1979; Cook et al, 2010). Cryoconite holes on the Greenland ice sheet likely provide favourable conditions for photosynthesis by: 1.) maintaining light intensities that are high but not harmful because ultraviolet radiation is not transmitted by water; 2.) providing nutrients in melt water flowing in through the hole walls; and 3.) providing relatively long term (years) storage of microbes. This also promotes proliferation of bacteria and “grazers” that feed upon other microbes. These factors make cryoconite holes active and biodiverse ice sheet habitats (Hodson et al, 2008).

Cryoconite holes – generally considered to be the most biodiverse microbial habitats on glacier surfaces

Cryoconite holes – generally considered to be the most biodiverse microbial habitats on glacier surfaces (photo, J. Cook)

Despite being the most studied biological entity on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, cryoconite holes remain poorly understood in terms of their biological community dynamics, thermodynamics, evolution and impact on albedo. Further, the characteristics of the holes themselves, and the microbes inhabiting them, have been shown to vary depending upon location on the ice sheet (Stibal et al, 2012), and these spatial patterns probably also evolve over time. Edwards et al (2014) recently found microbial communities to be extremely dynamic in response to environmental change, while Irvine-Fynn and Edwards (2014) showed that hydrological and glaciological processes might also influence microbial activity. Cryoconite holes will provide research foci for some members of the field team in summer 2014. For further information on cryoconite, see: herehere; and here.

JCook_Mugshot-2

Dr Joseph Cook is a Lecturer in Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Derby (UK) who is particularly interested in researching the links between biological and physical processes on glaciers and ice sheets. He completed his PhD at the University of Sheffield (UK) in 2012 and has undertaken several Arctic field seasons. He is also an avid rock climber and mountaineer and maintains a cryosphere-focussed website (http://tothepoles.wordpress.com).

 

References:

Box, J.E., Fettweis, X., Stroeve, J.C., Tedesco, M., Hall, D.K., Steffen, K. 2012. Greenland ice sheet albedo feedback: thermodynamics and atmospheric drivers. The Cryosphere, 6, 821-839. open access.

Box, J.E., Cappelen, J., Chen, C., Decker, D., Fettweis, X., Mote, T., Tedesco, M., van de Wal, R.S.W., Wahr, J. 2013. Greenland ice sheet. Arctic Report Card. http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/greenland_ice_sheet.html

Cook, J., Hodson, A., Telling, J., Anesio, A., Irvine-Fynn, T, Bellas, C. 2010. The mass-area relationship within cryoconite holes and its implications for primary production. Annals of Glaciology, 51 (56): 106-110

Edwards, A., Mur, L. A.J., Girdwood, S. E., Anesio, A. M., Stibal, M., Rassner, S. M.E., Hell, K., Pachebat, J. A., Post, B., Bussell, J. S., Cameron, S. J.S., Griffith, G. W., Hodson, A. J. and Sattler, B. (2014), Coupled cryoconite ecosystem structure–function relationships are revealed by comparing bacterial communities in alpine and Arctic glaciers. FEMS Microbiology Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1574-6941.12283

Gribbon, P.W. 1979. Cryoconite holes on Sermikaysak, West Greenland. Journal of Glaciology, 22: 177-181

Hodson, A., Anesio, A.M., Tranter, M., Fountain, A., Osborn, M., Priscu, J., Laybourn-Parry, J., Sattler, B. 2008. Glacial Ecosystems. Ecological monographs, 78 (1): 41-67

Hodson, A. 2014. Understanding the dynamics of black carbon and associated contaminants in glacial systems.WIREs Water 2014, 1:141–149. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1016

Irvine-Fynn, T.D.L., and A, Edwards. 2014. A frozen asset: The potential of flow cytometry in constraining the glacial biome. Cytometry Part A 85 (1), 3-7

Nghiem, S. V., D. K. Hall, T. L. Mote, M. Tedesco, M. R. Albert, K. Keegan, C. A. Shuman, N. E. DiGirolamo, and G. Neumann (2012), The extreme melt across the Greenland ice sheet in 2012, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L20502, doi:10.1029/2012GL053611.

Stibal, M., Telling, J., Cook, J., Mak, K.M., Hodson, A., Anesio, A.M. 2012. Environmental controls on microbial abundance on the Greenland ice sheet: a multivariate analysis approach. Microbial Ecology, 63: 74-84.

Tedesco, M., X. Fettweis, T. Mote, J. Wahr, P. Alexander, J.E. Box, B. and Wouters. 2013. Evidence and analysis of 2012 Greenland records from spaceborne observations, a regional climate model and reanalysis data, The Cryosphere, 7, 615-630, doi:10.5194/tc-7-615-2013.

Yallop, M.L., Anesio, A.J., Perkins, R.G., Cook, J., Telling, J., Fagan, D., MacFarlane, J., Stibal, M., Barker, G., Bellas, C., Hodson, A., Tranter, M., Wadham, J., Roberts, N.W. 2012. Photophysiology and albedo-changing potential of the ice-algal community on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. ISME Journal, 6: 2302 – 2313

 

Camp Dark Snow 2014

At last, Camp Dark Snow 2014 has a date (17 June) and a location; 42 nautical miles east of Kangerlussuaq on the southwestern Greenland ice sheet, at an elevation 1250 m above sea level.
Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 2.13.39 PM
Here each summer the ice melts down 1.48 m on average since 2008, only 0.3 m in 2009; and  2.1 m in the record melt year of 2012 (data after Fausto et al. 2012). This location is host to the PROMICE.org @Promice_GL “KAN_M” climate station.

Dirk van As maintains the KAN_M climate station in the pre-melt of 2013
When we start the camp, there will be some residual winter snow on ice, how much, hard to predict, though we can see below that southwest Greenland has had this year 30-50% of normal precipitation. If this drought keeps up, we’ll see an earlier than normal bare ice emergence and higher than normal melt.
Precipitation_2014_1-95_anompercent_vs_1980-2010
precipitation difference from normal according to an observationally constrained atmospheric circulation model. Brown isolines indicate less than average precipitation. The contour interval is 10, 30, 50, 70, 100, 110, 120, 150 percent.
Late June when we should put in our camp, there will be snow and slush in some areas until the snow is gone. Ideally, we have both snow and bare ice when we set the camp. The Digital Globe image below depicts what the surface would look like by say mid July once the snow cover is gone.
Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 11.19.49 AM
spacing between the melt ponds is 800 m (2300 ft)

Our field experiments, to be elaborated further in future posts, include documenting the importance of dust, black carbon, and microbes in snow and ice melt.

The field team so far includes:

  • Drs. Marek Stibal video; Karen Cameron; and Prof. Jason Box of Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS)
  • Prof. Martyn Tranter; University of Bristol in England
  • Drs. Arwyn Edward; Tristram Irvine-Fynn, a video; Alun Hubbard, a video of the University of Aberystwyth in Wales
  • Dr. Joseph Cook of the University of Derby in England
  • Alia Khan, blog of the University of Boulder, CO, USA
  • media specialist Peter Sinclair, a video
  • media specialist Dr. Sara Jones, a video

It is by pooling resources among these groups that we can do more/better science and get the science message out.

Work Cited

  • Fausto R. S., D. Van As and PROMICE Project Team (2012), Ablation observations for 2008-2011 from the Programme for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet (PROMICE). In Bennike O, Garde AA and Watt WS eds. Review of survey activities 2011. GEUS, Copenhagen, 25-28 (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland Bulletin 26).