Dark Snow has Landed

June 27, 2013

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SISIMIUT, Greenland – What started as an improbable vision months ago, struggled through a protracted and difficult fundraising process, and seemed to many a reach too far, has now touched down on the Greenland ice sheet, and begun a citizen-science effort that may help redefine how science is done and communicated to a wider public.

The Dark Snow Project team, Professor Jason Box, Dr. Marek Stibal, Rolling Stone writer Jeff Goodell, and myself, landed on, photographed, and took samples from the Greenland ice sheet on June 25.

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Microbiologist Dr. Marek Stibal peers out of the Air Greenland chopper that took Dark Snow Project scientists to their first touchdown on the Greenland ice sheet.

The first research leg involved Dr. Stibal’s sampling of surface ice and sediment for microbiological and chemical analysis.  More on this is coming, but Marek’s research is certainly the most novel leg of this project, and may in the end turn out to be the most important. Ice sheet albedo is emerging as a key driver of Greenland surface melt – maybe THE key driver – and one reason could be that human influences are accelerating the growth of the naturally occurring algal community on the ice surface, which further darkens the ice sheet, causing even more solar heating.

In making our way to the first sample site, we first landed on a recently uncovered piece of rocky terrain that satellite images suggest may have been icebound since an orbitally-forced warm period that ended 3000 years ago.  We then flew along the 400 foot calving wall of the Ilulissat glacier, the world’s fastest moving ice stream.

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Proceeding over the ice sheet a short distance, we identified a darkened area near a striking emerald-blue meltwater lake, where we took samples for about an hour.  At every stage our pilot checked carefully with Air Traffic control in Ilulissat,  keeping updated on a large fog bank hovering off the coast that could have forced a hasty and expensive rerouting, so time was valuable and every step had a sense of urgency.

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My post was shotgun seat next to the pilot, where I could shoot out the open window from time to time. The green tinted sun roof adds an entirely serendipitous glow.

On the following day, Jeff Goodell had to leave us. Marek, Jason, and I flew to a new location at Sisimiut on the coast, where we’ll be reviewing what is already a wealth of visual material, and begin pushing it out through social media channels, as we promised all our supporters over the last 8 months.

Obstacles remain, and the plans for rest of the  2 + week expedition are clouded by doubts about our flight arrangements. Our original helo provider has been grounded for now by bureaucratic snafus between Greenlandic,  Dutch, and Danish authorities. We had to cancel our planned flight on the 24th, but were able to find an Air Greenland chopper to fill in on the 25th – shooting fresh holes in our already-strained budget.

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Dr. Jason Box and Rolling Stone writer Jeff Goodell inspecting ice bergs near the outlet glacier in Ilulissat

At this point, we await further word on if and when more flights will be possible. New members of the science and media team will be showing up in coming days, so plans are being evaluated almost hourly in light of what we know at the moment.

Photos: J. Box

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Our landing zone was chosen from a satellite photo that indicated some low albedo areas, such as here near this meltwater lake, where we finally landed.

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13 Responses to “Dark Snow has Landed”


  1. […] week, Dark Snow Project hosted Rolling Stone writer Jeff Goodell, whose latest piece “Goodbye Miami”  is a […]


  2. […] swirling around a new Dark Snow Project expedition this summer. More on this soon, I […]


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