Dark Snow has Landed
June 27, 2013
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 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.
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.
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.
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