Dark Snow Project: Crowd-Source Funded Science for Greenland

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:03 PM GMT on April 26, 2013

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"There's no place on Earth that is changing faster--and no place where that change matters more--than Greenland." So said 350.org founder Bill McKibben, in a 2012 Rolling Stone magazine interview. As Earth Week 2013 draws to a close, I want to draw your attention to a unique effort to learn more about why Greenland is melting so fast--a crowd-funded research project that anyone can contribute to, which aims to answer the "burning question": How much does wildfire and industrial soot darken the ice, increasing melt? The Dark Snow Project, the first-ever Greenland expedition relying on crowd-source funding, hopes to raise $150,000 to mount a field research campaign to find out. The project is the brainchild of Dr. Jason Box, Professor at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), and one of the world's leading experts on Greenland's glaciers. He has set up a website called darksnowproject.org to help raise the funds for the field campaign, and has raised about half of the needed amount as of mid-April.


Figure 1. Over the course of several years, turbulent water overflow from a large melt lake carved this 60-foot-deep (18.3 meter-deep) canyon in Greenland's Ice Sheet (note people near left edge for scale). Image credit: Ian Joughin, University of Washington.

2012: Unprecedented melting in Greenland
Watching the weather events of 2012 over Greenland made all seasoned climate watchers a little queasy. The vast ice sheet on the island holds enough water to raise global sea levels by 7.36 meters (24.15 feet) were it all to melt, and the ice melt season of 2012 gave notice that an epic melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet may be underway. According to NOAA's 2012 Arctic Report Card, the duration of melting at the surface of the ice sheet in summer 2012 was the longest since satellite observations began in 1979, and the total amount of summer melting was nearly double the previous record, set in 2010 (satellite records of melting go back to 1979.) A rare, near-ice sheet-wide surface melt event melted 97% of the surface of Greenland's ice sheet on July 11 - 12. While a similar melt event at the summit occurred 1889, but the 1889 event has no basis in the instrumental record from coastal Greenland. It's instead likely that 2012 was Greenland's warmest summer in at least 863 years, since the medieval warm period (see http://www.meltfactor.org/blog/?p=677 and http://www.meltfactor.org/blog/?p=725). The incredibly warm temperatures have been blamed on highly unusual atmospheric circulation and jet stream changes, which were also responsible for 2012's unusually wet summer weather in England. It would not be a surprise if this sort of summer began occurring more often, since temperatures on top of the Greenland Ice Sheet have been rising six times faster than the global average during the past twenty years. A May 2013 Geophysical Research Letters paper by McGrath et al., "Recent warming at Summit, Greenland: Global context and implications", concluded that by 2025, there is a 50% chance of ice sheet-wide melt events happening annually. The ice sheet reached its darkest value on record in 2012. The darkened surface was due to below average summer snow, soot particles from pollution and forest fires, and record melting. A darker ice sheet absorbs more solar energy, in a vicious cycle that raises temperatures, melts more ice, and further darkens the ice sheet. The amount of melting that was caused by soot from forest fires is important to know, since global warming is likely to increase the amount of forest fires in coming decades. However, the amount of forest fire soot landing on the Greenland Ice Sheet is almost completely unknown, which is why Dr. Box is determined to find out, via the Dark Snow Project.


Figure 2. Smoke from a fire in Labrador, Canada wafts over the Greenland ice sheet on June 17, 2012, as seen in this cross-section view of aerosol particles taken by NASA's CALIPSO satellite. Image credit: Dr. Jason Box, Ohio State University.

Greenland causing 25% of global sea level rise
In a landmark study published in November 2012 in Science, 47 researchers from 26 laboratories reported that the amount of ice being lost from Greenland and Antarctica has tripled since the 1990s, with Greenland contributing more than twice as much to global sea level rise than Antarctica. The study, "A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance", found that the two ice sheets were responsible for 20% of the global sea level rise of 3.1 mm/year during the 20-year period 1992 - 2011. The remainder of the rise was due to expansion of the water due to heating of the oceans, melting of mountain glaciers, and unsustainable pumping of ground water. Said co-author Erik Ivins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, "The pace of ice loss from Greenland is extraordinary, with nearly a five-fold increase since the mid-1990s." As of 2011, Greenland's contribution to global sea level rise on its own had risen to 20 - 25%, according to an international research group led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, in an article published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters on 1 June 2012. If the current exponential ice loss trends continue for the next ten years, Greenland's contribution to sea level rise will double to 1.4 mm/yr by 2022, the researchers said. Many sea level rise researchers expect global sea level to rise by about 1 meter (3.3 feet) by 2100. During the 20th century, global sea level rise was about 0.18 meters (7 inches.)


Figure 3. Monthly smoothed (purple) and unsmoothed (blue) values of the total mass lost from the Greenland Ice Sheet (in Gigatons, Gt) from measurements by the GRACE satellites between March 2002-September 2012. An approximate equivalent global sea level rise figure is on the right axis. Note that the decline in ice mass lost from Greenland is not a straight line--it is exponential, meaning that more ice loss is lost each year than in the previous year. Image credit: 2012 Arctic Report Card.

Will Antarctica be more important than Greenland for sea level rise?
Although melting from Greenland is currently raising global sea level by about a factor of two more than Antarctica melting is, that situation may change later this century. A 2013 study by Dahl-Jensen et al. looked at a new ice core drilled from the bottom-most depths of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The core suggests that the ice in Greenland may have partially survived the warm Eemian period before the Ice Age, approximately 118,000 - 126,000 years ago, when Greenland temperatures were 5- 8°C warmer than present-day temperatures. Global sea level during the Eemian was 4 - 8 meters (13 - 26 ft) higher than the present sea level, and the scientists estimated that melting from Greenland was responsible for 2 meters (6.6 ft) of this sea level rise. This implies that Antarctica was responsible for 50 - 75% of global sea level rise during the Eemian, and thus we might expect Antarctica to take over as the dominant source of sea level rise later this century, when global temperatures may to rise to levels similar to those experienced during the Eemian.

Related posts
Greenland experiences melting over 97% of its area in mid-July (July 25, 2012)
Record warmth at the top of the Greenland Ice Sheet (July 18, 2012)
Unprecedented May heat in Greenland; update on 2011 Greenland ice melt (May, 2012)
Greenland update for 2010: record melting and a massive calving event

Dr. Jason Box's blog on Greenland and the Dark Snow Project is at http://www.meltfactor.org.

The http://www.greenlandmelting.com/ website looks like a great resource for following this year's melt progression in Greenland.


Video 1. Glaciologist Dr. Jason Box and 350.org founder Bill McKibben plug the Darksnow project in this January 2013 video by Peter Sinclair. There's some impressive footage of the record Greenland snow melt of summer 2012 sweeping away a 20-ton tractor that was attempting to repair a bridge washed out by the raging Watson River on July 11, 2012 in Kangerlussauaq, Greenland. The driver escaped unharmed.

Support the Dark Snow Project
One of Dr. Box's collaborators, photographer James Balog, who created the amazing time-lapse Greenland glacier footage in the fantastic 2012 "Chasing Ice" movie, puts it like this: "Working in Greenland these past years has left me with a profound feeling of being in the middle of a decisive historic moment--the kind of moment, at least in geologic terms, that marks the grand tidal changes of history." On that note, I encourage you all to support the Dark Snow Project. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Dark Snow Project Expedition Plan 2013
Prepare and gather science equipment including a field spectrometer, snow and ice coring device, and snow metrics kit.

Travel to Iqualuit, on Baffin Island, Nunavut from home locales in California, Ohio, Michigan, Vermont and rendezvous with Dash-6 "Twin Otter" ski-equipped airplane and flight crew.

Organize cold weather survival kit.

Ferry team from Iqualuit to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Fly to and land at sampling sites high on the inland ice sheet.

At each site collect snow samples from a snow pit and obtain snow cores to a minimum depth of the previous year's snow surface, and record snow properties.

Transport of team and snow samples to Greenland's capital Nuuk, where the team will rest after hustling at field sites.

Return to Iqualuit, then to respective home locales to start the data analysis and reporting phase of campaign.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting DFWdad:
I do not remember anyone saying our sea levels have risen already. In fact, I seem to remember, that with tides and such, it is a hard thing to determine...
Really? You apparently missed this:

sea

...and this:
sea

...and this:
sea

There are about a hundred more, but you get the picture now, I hope...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13551
31. JeffMasters (Admin)
Quoting ScottLincoln:

Dr. Masters... you might want to tweak your wording a bit here as I know it has caused some confusion. 97% of Greenland's ice sheet didn't melt. Perhaps better wording would be:
"A rare, almost ice-sheet-wide surface melt event occurred on July 11-12 where 97% of the ice sheet's surface experienced melting concurrently.

Also of note... wasn't the 1889 event just evident from the summit ice cores? Wouldn't that instead imply we have not had such strong melting at the summit since 1889, instead of implying that we have not had almost the entire ice sheet experiencing melting since then? The distinction would be that we don't have as much evidence suggesting a near ice-sheet-wide melt on that date, just that melting occurred on the summit, but in modern times we have better tools for estimating melt across all of Greenland.


Thanks, I reworded it. I think the assumption is that if the summit is melting, then most of the rest of the ice sheet is too. However, you are correct, the 1889 event was measured just at the Summit ice core. See:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2012GL 053611/abstract

Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters
Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:
I have made many contributions over the years to the Yellow Snow Project.

Jedkins posted this yesterday. I doubt that this trucks owner will be helping fund the Dark Snow Project.


Gosh I hate those things, and working at a tire shop in College Station, TX, I see more than my fair share. There is just no need for that crap. Overcompensation at its finest.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11669
Quoting CybrTeddy:


Andrea was a nightmare in 2007 for dry air. As I recall, it had almost no precipitation and caused several wildfires raging across the state of Florida to get worse. That being said, it appears that the early stages of formation with this storm would have high in precipitation as it crosses the state of Florida from the Gulf - I think that is what I would be excited for when it comes to precipitation chances.



If it were to cross into the gulf indeed it would, but otherwise it would make things worse. I remember Andrea, that was down right weird.
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 7569
EURO Model of Potential Andrea Friday next week.



Looks like it WILL cross Florida, lets just hope the trend continues.
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2873
Why is it every time when you post something, afterwards when you refresh, it takes you to bottom of page, instead of where you are at currently on the page.

Admin please ADVISE
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I like the project, sounds very interesting. Industrial soot is good for no one.

"the two ice sheets were responsible for 20% of the global sea level rise of 3.1 mm/year during the 20-year period 1992 - 2011"

I did the math, because honestly the number sounded like a lot, and I do not remember anyone saying our sea levels have risen already. In fact, I seem to remember, that with tides and such, it is a hard thing to determine.

That's .49 inches in 20 years, when you figure 20% of 3.1mm per year for 20 years. .

"The vast ice sheet on the island holds enough water to raise global sea levels by twenty feet were it all to melt",

What exactly would it take for all of it to melt? Seriously, I want to know. How many years of no additional snow, and no winter temperatures?

I see these "what if's", and they seem to be boldly written to grab your attention. But I am a literal person, and I would like to know what it take for this seemingly worse-case scenario.

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Possible increased wildfire and increased soot in the offing:

Fires Burn More Fiercely As Northern Forests Warm
25 Apr 2013 by Dylan Walsh - Yale Environment 360

From North America to Siberia, rising temperatures and drier woodlands are leading to a longer burning season and a significant increase in forest fires. Scientists warn that this trend is expected continue in the years ahead.
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Quoting fortpiercecane1:
Sand is being added back to the beaches in Martin and Saint Lucie counties here in Florida after last years season in which we took bad erosion. A decent sts could wash away a lot of time and tax payers money real fast.


And all for the tourists.

It's a necessary reocurring expense and believe me, this time next year they will probably be restoring the entire beachfront in both counties based on the predicted number of storms sure to directly or indirectlt affect the Treasure Coast.

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Quoting FunnelVortex:
I think we may get Subtropical Storm Andrea The Second.


If that does happen, I will be convinced that mother nature has some sort of twisted sense of humor. Bertha in 2008, for example, was the earliest forming major Cape Verde hurricane - developing one day before the previous record setter, Hurricane Bertha of 1996, developed.

Subtropical Storm Andrea in 2013 forming in the first half of May in the same area as the previous Subtropical Storm Andrea in 2007 would just further my suspicion.
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Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:
I have made many contributions over the years to the Yellow Snow Project.

Jedkins posted this yesterday. I doubt that this trucks owner will be helping fund the Dark Snow Project.



is that rolling backwards? I do not understand the smoke direction.
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Sand is being added back to the beaches in Martin and Saint Lucie counties here in Florida after last years season in which we took bad erosion. A decent sts could wash away a lot of time and tax payers money real fast.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
This site is still jacked up, when you hover over the refresh button in firefox it flashes like a cursor and you have to time it in order to refresh the page, other sites don't do this.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Andrea was a nightmare in 2007 for dry air. As I recall, it had almost no precipitation and caused several wildfires raging across the state of Florida to get worse. That being said, it appears that the early stages of formation with this storm would have high in precipitation as it crosses the state of Florida from the Gulf - I think that is what I would be excited for when it comes to precipitation chances.


It could still draw moist air from the gulf. Hopefully.
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2873
Thank You Dr. for the great post and information. This reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. In the coming decades, if this trend continues for both the Greenland and Antarctica, as sea levels begin to rise in earnest, they will inadvertently become the Wicked Witches of the North and South to Man; "I'm melting, I'm melting".... ...Boggles the mind as to the potential effect of rising sea levels on coastal residents/development worldwide. In terms of Florida (and other similar coastal regions), salt water intrusion will have a huge impact on fresh water aquifer sources...........Time to also seriously think about funding desalinization plants in the coming decades if this comes to pass.
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 9220
Quoting Jedkins01:
BTW a lot of Floridians are getting excited over the possibility of a STS forming off the East coast of Florida. Although I don't know why there is so much excitement about associating it with drought relief because a tropical system that moves by the east coast or forms off the east coast but does not cross the state will actually decrease or prevent rainfall.

This is historically always happens because dry air is brought down from the north in such a setup, in fact my hope is that the system will not form. There are no indications that this potential system would cross the state if it were to develop. Therefore, it would help to decrease rainfall for much of the state accept maybe the immediate east coast of Florida which isn't dealing with much drought right now anyway.

This would generally be true with any tropical systems,or any low pressure system for that matter, but a STS would be an even higher likelihood because they often have large circulations thus helping to draw additional dry air across the state under northerly flow.

Historically, tropical systems that ride off the east coast of Florida before headed elsewhere or form off the east coast but head elsewhere are notorious for bringing an extended period of dry weather across Florida.


Andrea was a nightmare in 2007 for dry air. As I recall, it had almost no precipitation and caused several wildfires raging across the state of Florida to get worse. That being said, it appears that the early stages of formation with this storm would have high in precipitation as it crosses the state of Florida from the Gulf - I think that is what I would be excited for when it comes to precipitation chances.
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I think we may get Subtropical Storm Andrea The Second.
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2873
Quoting Jedkins01:


Oh ok, because it was confusing in that it at first appeared as if you were attempting to say that I support those people when my entire purpose of posting the image was to show how ridiculous those people can be.

Your editing of the post isn't confusing though now.


You were pretty quick copying that! As soon as I posted and read the way it came accross, I went right back to change it.
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Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:


From above...

"The darkened surface was due to below average summer snow, soot particles from pollution and forest fires, and record melting. A darker ice sheet absorbs more solar energy, in a vicious cycle that raises temperatures, melts more ice, and further darkens the ice sheet."

Edit: I also changed my post to read "the trucks owner" so it didn't read as if you would not be contributing.


Oh ok, because it was confusing in that it at first appeared as if you were attempting to say that I support those people when my entire purpose of posting the image was to show how ridiculous those people can be.

Your editing of the post isn't confusing though now.
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 7569
BTW a lot of Floridians are getting excited over the possibility of a STS forming off the East coast of Florida. Although I don't know why there is so much excitement about associating it with drought relief because a tropical system that moves by the east coast or forms off the east coast but does not cross the state will actually decrease or prevent rainfall.

This is historically always happens because dry air is brought down from the north in such a setup, in fact my hope is that the system will not form. There are no indications that this potential system would cross the state if it were to develop. Therefore, it would help to decrease rainfall for much of the state accept maybe the immediate east coast of Florida which isn't dealing with much drought right now anyway.

This would generally be true with any tropical systems,or any low pressure system for that matter, but a STS would be an even higher likelihood because they often have large circulations thus helping to draw additional dry air across the state under northerly flow.

Historically, tropical systems that ride off the east coast of Florida before headed elsewhere or form off the east coast but head elsewhere are notorious for bringing an extended period of dry weather across Florida.
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 7569
Quoting Jedkins01:



What does that have to do with the dark snow project?


From above...

"The darkened surface was due to below average summer snow, soot particles from pollution and forest fires, and record melting. A darker ice sheet absorbs more solar energy, in a vicious cycle that raises temperatures, melts more ice, and further darkens the ice sheet."

Edit: I also changed my post to read "the trucks owner" so it didn't read as if you would not be contributing.
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Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:
I have made many contributions over the years to the Yellow Snow Project.

Jedkins posted this yesterday. I doubt that he will be helping with the Dark Snow Project.




What does that have to do with the dark snow project?
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 7569
Quoting Dr. Jeff Masters:
A rare, near-ice sheet-wide surface melt event melted 97% of Greenland's ice sheet on July 11 - 12. While a similar melt event occurred 1889,

Dr. Masters... you might want to tweak your wording a bit here as I know it has caused some confusion. 97% of Greenland's ice sheet didn't melt. Perhaps better wording would be:
"A rare, almost ice-sheet-wide surface melt event occurred on July 11-12 where 97% of the ice sheet's surface experienced melting concurrently.

Also of note... wasn't the 1889 event just evident from the summit ice cores? Wouldn't that instead imply we have not had such strong melting at the summit since 1889, instead of implying that we have not had almost the entire ice sheet experiencing melting since then? The distinction would be that we don't have as much evidence suggesting a near ice-sheet-wide melt on that date, just that melting occurred on the summit, but in modern times we have better tools for estimating melt across all of Greenland.
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Thanks for the new blog, Doc.

(FWIW-I will not be discussing any CLIMATE issues on the main blog. I have ruffled too many feathers on the topic and will, from this point further, stick to topics of weather and shorter-term impact.)

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The NHC big map has been cleaned from last season, ready with some of the names for the upcoming hurricane season

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Thanks Jeff...
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Thanks Doc!
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Thanks Doc!
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I have made many contributions over the years to the Yellow Snow Project.

Jedkins posted this yesterday. I doubt that this trucks owner will be helping fund the Dark Snow Project.

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thanks doc

repost from last blog

Hmm looks like we're going to start hurricane season 2013 like we did back in 2007

Subtropical Storm Andrea 2007 (first half of may)

(from wiki.)

Subtropical Storm Andrea 2013 (first half of may)


(from Crown Weather Services)
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Thanks for the new blog Dr. Masters
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.