Jason Box: Can We Save Greenland?
January 31, 2013
Jason Box is one of the premier experts on the Greenland ice sheet, having spent, in total, more than year camping on the ice over the course of the last 2 decades.
Dr. Box is the creator of the Dark Snow Project, an ambitious attempt to Crowd-fund an arctic expedition this summer. Over the last decade, Jason’s measurements indicate that the surface of Greenland has become darker, more absorptive of the sun’s light and heat. There are a number of processes that could be causing it – some natural, some manmade. DarkSnowProject is designed to sample snow at various points on the ice sheet, and determine if soot from increasing numbers of large wild fires could be one of the significant reasons for darker snow.
If the fund raising goes well, I’ll be going along to document the project – so Jason and I took advantage of the ClimateDesk press event (above) to hang out for a day and strategize, visit some key journalists, and bond over beers at a dark DC watering hole. (well, beers and a shotglass of unpronounceable clear liquid something that Jason shoved in front of me)
Among the press who picked up on the Climate Desk event, and the Greenland Story – PBS Newshour:
Are wildfires speeding up ice melt in Greenland? Jason Box, founder of the Dark Snow project, is taking up a collection to find out.
Last summer, record-setting wildfires raged across Colorado and New Mexico. It was the third most devastating wildfire year on record in the U.S. Warmer and drier temperatures in recent decades has also led to increased fire activity in the Arctic tundra. The Anaktuvuk River fire in Alaska in 2007, for example, burned 401 square miles, an area the size of Cape Cod. It was the largest tundra fire ever recorded.
While forests and grasslands burned, the Arctic melted. Greenland’s ice sheet melted at a faster rate than scientists had ever observed, with 90 percent of the mass thawing in July.
Box, who is a Greenland ice climatologist at the Byrd Polar Research Center, thinks there might be a connection between the wildfires and the unprecedented ice melt.
“I was on my way back to Greenland while the fires were going on, and a light bulb went on,” he said. “Soot is a multiplier [of snow melt]…human activity is interacting with Greenland’s climate through fire.”
Box is no stranger to Greenland. He’s made 19 trips to the country since 1994 to study the glaciers. He’s also been involved in the Extreme Ice Survey, a research and photography project that monitors the disappearance of the earth’s glaciers.
Jeffrey Deems, a research scientist at CIRES who is not involved in the project, said rising temperatures have been well studied as a key factor in Greenland’s ice melt, along with the link between shrinking ice mass and sea level rise. But so far, the impact of soot and ash on snow albedo and how that’s affected accelerated ice melt in Greenland has gotten little attention.
“The big elephant in the room in terms of energy balance is solar radiation,” he said. “Soot and black carbon and mineral dust-affected albedo has an effect on that energy balance.”
Box hopes to drill into the inland ice sheet to examine the black carbon littering the layers of snow, in order to determine where it’s coming from: tundra fires, exhaust from ships or manufacturing dust from the continents, for example.
Layers in the ice are similar to rings in a tree. Each layer corresponds to a distinct year, and the thickness of the ice tells scientist about the rate of melt that year and the health of the ice. For this project, they hope to analyze ice cores from 2012, which had both heavy fires and extreme melt. They’ll compare these core samples to those from earlier years. A lab analysis of the samples should reveal if melt increased around those dark layers, he said.
But a research trip to Greenland is not cheap. Chartering a plane to the island costs $10,000 a day, Box said; more if the weather delays your flight. So when he was turned down for a National Science Foundation Rapid Research grant in 2012, Box launched a social media campaign to encourage public contributions. So far, the Dark Snow project has raised $67,465, which is still short of their $150,000 goal.
First project video here. More to come shortly.