Greenland, Dark Snow Project: Now More Important than Ever

May 27, 2014

Dr. Jason Box, speaking to me via Skype from Copenhagen, where he is a scientist with the Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland.
I asked him about recent findings that show Greenland’s ice to be even more vulnerable than we thought. The research came from the same team that has published new dire warnings on the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Chris Mooney, interviewing Richard Alley in Mother Jones:

And it gets even worse: West Antarctica isn’t the only worry. To hear Alley tell it, it’s just that West Antarctica is pretty much lost to us already. Next up is a place that we might still be able to save, but that we’re currently playing an insane game of roulette with: Greenland.

It contains much more water than West Antarctica: about 23 feet of global sea level rise. That’s equivalent, on a worldwide scale, to the storm surge caused by Supertyphoon Haiyanwhen it struck the Philippines last year.

And here again, the news isn’t good. Recently published research finds that much more of the Greenland Ice Sheet than previously believed is exposed, from beneath, to the ocean. Basically, the new science amounts to a topographical remapping exercise—for terrain that is as much as three miles below a vast sheet of ice. And it turns out that the canyons beneath Greenland’s glaciers are deeper than scientists previously thought, and in some cases, well below sea level. This means, in turn, that more of the ice sheet is potentially exposed to warming seas—similar to the ice sheet of West Antarctica.

Illustration showing newly revealed topography of subsealevel glacial channels in Greenland, from the new Nature Geoscience paper by Morlighem, Rignot et al Note below sea level “bowl” in the interior.

“It doesn’t yet say, ‘Greenland is about to fall into the ocean, run for the hills,'” Alley says, “but it does make Greenland look a little bit more vulnerable than we thought.”

But not yet sacrificed. Not yet gone. For Alley, then, the true upshot of the West Antarctica news is this: It makes saving Greenland absolutely essential. Ten feet of sea level rise will be incredibly painful to adapt to already, but 33 feet from the combined loss of West Antarctica and Greenland? It’s simply inconceivable. There is no such thing as adapting to that.

Essentially, then, we need an all out global push to stop global warming and save Greenland—and thus, the places where we all live.

Alley puts it like this: “If we’ve committed to 3.3 meters from West Antarctica, we haven’t committed to losing Greenland, we haven’t committed to losing most of East Antarctica. Those are still out there for us. And if anything, this new news just makes our decisions more important, and more powerful.”

Dr. Box and I will be joining an international team on the Greenland Ice this summer, in a new Dark Snow Project initiative. As Dr. Alley points out, the stakes have never been higher for understanding the key drivers of Greenland melt.  If you have not contributed to Dark Snow yet, please consider a tax deductible gift now.

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20 Responses to “Greenland, Dark Snow Project: Now More Important than Ever”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    WOW—-more disturbing news about what’s going on under the glaciers. And that makes it even more important to continue looking at what’s going on at the surface, especially with all the unprecedented and massive fires in the US, Alaska, and Siberia generating pyrocumulus clouds that carry soot high into the atmosphere (where it gets on the train for guess where?—Greenland).

    Maybe Dark Snow ought to take E-Pot along and let him play with his idea of rolling out reflective/insulative blankets over the ice sheet? We are getting closer to the point of no return, folks—-send some $$$ to Dark Snow—-you may soon be too busy swimming for high ground to try to hold on to it.


    • Reflective blankets might be a good idea, but it requires a lot of funding which should come from fossil fuel companies.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Uh, JCL? I was just kidding about the crackpot idea of covering the ice. It is only slightly less goofy than the silica gel and hagfish slime schemes.

        PS How do the Norwegians feel about Greenpeace interfering with their plans to drill in the Arctic?


      • It’s a terrible idea. Animals live on the ice, for one thing. Second thing, the surface area is HUGE. Third, manufacturing this covering would take a whole lot of resources, and spew CO2 into the atmosphere, which is one of the culprits anyway. Fourth, sooner or later it too will get covered in soot. Fifth, it’s likely it would be made from plastic or at least metal plastic combination, hormone disruptors all over the North Pole anyone? Not to mention creatures would try to eat it.

        Why not focus on the root cause, which is CO2 emissions and deforestation?

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Uh, C-L? Did you not notice that we were kidding about the reflective blankets? It was an idea that was soundly rejected the first time it was brought up—-for all the reasons you mentioned and more. I was just throwing out some chum to see if there were any Great White Narcissists cruising about.


          • I was replying to John Christian Lønningdal, because he sounded like he was taking the idea seriously…

          • dumboldguy Says:

            JCL has a rather dry sense of humor and is way more polite than me, but if he doesn’t reply to you directly, I would bet he was kidding—-I sure was.


          • Sorry CL, I should have added a smiley there. Generally whenever I hear a grand design idea to “solve CO2 emissions” by other means than cutting it, I suggest the whole bill for the project to be directly taken from the income from fossil fuel.

            I mean if you need to build a plant to clean up the poison that a business puts in the river upstream then for gods sake send the bill to the company. If there is an ounce of democracy left in this world I cant see the part of the constitution that says the bigger the company the less they are responsible for their actions.


  2. […] Box on the state of our Arctic and Antarctic glacier knowledge. Greenland, Dark Snow Project: Now More Important than Ever | Climate Denial Crock of the Week Sign in or Register Now to […]

  3. redskylite Says:

    With big fires burning in both Alaska and Southern Siberia, I fear for the result of the fallout, Dark Snow is a truly worthwhile project to monitor the damage we are doing to the albedo.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Latest-News-Wires/2014/0527/Alaska-fire-continues-to-grow-may-have-been-caused-by-cigarettes

    http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_26/Siberian-forest-fires-triple-within-three-days-7137/

  4. redskylite Says:

    Researchers from Dartmouth found that another side effect from global warming, forest fires, made the melting even worse. Soot from fires elsewhere in the world landed on Greenland snow, making it darker, causing it to absorb more heat.
    Good coverage of the issues from the Sydney Morning Herald.

    A new study of Greenland, published recently in the journal Nature Geoscience, paints an even bleaker picture. The melting is accelerated because many of the glaciers flow in the warming waters around Greenland. However, scientists had believed that the melting would slow once the bottom of the glaciers melted and they were no longer touching the water.”

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/melting-of-the-worlds-ice-anything-but-glacial-20140528-zrqb5.html

  5. rayduray Says:

    Climate Progress reports: “Most-Visited Glacier In North America Is Losing An ‘Astonishing’ 16 Feet Of Ice Each Year”

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/05/27/3441881/athabasca-glacier-astonishing-melt/

  6. redskylite Says:

    Short video on Siberia, Methane (80 billion Tonnes) interactions with Gazprom pipelines. We are too late.


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