More About Blackened Ice

October 30, 2014

Dr. Jason Box at Dark Snow Project:

Photos and video I took during an August 2014 south Greenland maintenance tour of climate stations and an extreme ice survey time lapse camera went viral, featuring a surprisingly (to me and others) dark surface of Greenland ice.

What we know, the southern Greenland ice sheet hit record low reflectivity in the period of satellite observations since 2000 due to a ~2 month drought affecting south Greenland…

Map with colors indicating when record low albedo was observed. The photos are from the blue patch near the southern tip of Greenland.


Snowfall summer 2014  for south Greenland would have kept the melt rates down by brightening up the surface. Summer 2014, at the QAS_A site, we recorded ice loss from the surface at a place we thought was above equilibrium line altitude, where the surface would lose no ice in an ‘average climate’. The higher than normal melt rates allowed the impurities to concentrate near the surface in a process documented for snow surfaces by Doherty et al. (2013).
To avoid misinterpretation, black carbon is only part of the darkness, the rest is dust and microbes (See Dumont et al. 2014 and Benning et al. 2014). The photos are from the lowest part of the ice sheet’s elevation. The upper elevations do not get nearly this dark. This satellite image illustrates for west Greenland how dark the surface gets, down to 30% reflectivity.
Work Cited
  • Benning, L.G. A.M. Anesio, S. Lutz & M. Tranter, Biological impact on Greenland’s albedo, Nature Geoscience 7, 691 (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2260
  • Doherty, S. J., T. C. Grenfell, S. Forsstro¨ m, D. L. Hegg, R. E. Brandt, and S. G. Warren (2013), Observed vertical redistribution of black carbon and other insoluble light-absorbing particles in melting snow, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 118, 5553–5569, doi:10.1002/jgrd.50235.
  • Dumont, M., E. Brun, G. Picard, M. Michou, Q. Libois, J-R. Petit, M. Geyer, S. Morin and B. Josse, Contribution of light-absorbing impurities in snow to Greenland’s darkening since 2009, Nature Geoscience, 8 June, 2014, DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2180

For more visuals, check these clips from various drone flights at the Dark Snow Camp in August.
First, belly cam of the fixed wing UAV, gives some overview of surrounding area, with good resolution of varying brightness of snow and ice surface.

Here, a small helicopter drone follows a stream to an unusual double moulin not far from the Dark Snow Camp. You can see variations in the surface, including very dark, even black areas, where thick deposits of sludge and soot have collected, we believed because this area was possibly the bottom of a lake that had drained, and left a good deal of material behind.


12 Responses to “More About Blackened Ice”

  1. It’s so dark it doesn’t even look like snow.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Happy Halloween! This gave me an idea for a great Halloween costume—-Frosty the Dark Snow Man. Bottles of water can be concealed inside the costume and used to leave a trail of “sea level rise” and ice melt puddles wherever one goes. Should make one “the guest to remember” for party hosts with nice carpet, and stimulate some good discussions. (This post, coupled with the Pre-TSD post, has NOT made my day, BTW).

    PS Dark Snow Frosty evokes some of the costumes worn back in the 70’s by the “environmentally concerned” of the time. Like the guy who wore a plastic dry-cleaning bag and said he was a condom, his message being that we had to get human population under control before it was too late. The discussions that brought on were not very “party-like”, with some population bomb deniers attacking him and saying the costume was appropriate only because he was an “environmental dickhead” and ought to cover his head as well.

  3. Peter, I have a question for the Dark snow group.
    Have they or are they planning to do any paleo-(dark snow) of ices cores to see how the soot has change over time and location on Greenland ice sheet for let’s say one or two hundred years?

  4. indy222 Says:

    “Dark Snow”…. could be the next Star Wars re-boot arch villian.

  5. […] Dr. Jason Box at Dark Snow Project: Photos and video I took during an August 2014 south Greenland maintenance tour of climate stations and an extreme ice survey time lapse camera went v…  […]

  6. Peter, kudos to you for helping to document this. Like others, I too am surprised by how dark the ice cap surface in Greenland has become. I haven’t read about this anywhere else.

    I’m wondering if you guys were able to do any kind of analysis of the soot on the ice to determine where it comes from. I realize that might not be easy, but it might be important. Is it dust from burning coal, for example? Or from deforestation? Could some of it be just from the fact that as the ice melts from AGW, it reveals dust from previous years that was buried under the snow, which builds up on the surface as the upper layer retreats?

  7. redskylite Says:

    The video’s and shots of the darkened ice are truly astounding and priceless, it is truly empirical evidence that all is not well in the once pristine environment. It has been widely reported (even in the notorious Daily Mail, and cannot be denied, by Watts, Curry or anyone else, no one has come up with curious old yellowing flaky parchments showing black ice existed in the day’s of Eric Bloodaxe.

    In time I’m sure fully peer reviewed scientific reports will be published, but I have a feeling we do not have much time -so the jolt by media was worthwhile.

    I notice Tom Grenfell & Steve Warren (University of Washington) with Tony Clarke (University of Hawaii) and others did some field work in this area early on in this century , but nowhere to the extent the Dark Snow are tackling it. It would be interesting to know the reaction of the other investigators, although Jason Box has been studying Greenland with field trips since at least 1994.

  8. Reminds me of the snow plow banks in March.

    The dark bits just melt right down into the surface, and the surface is all lacy and delicate, with *lots* of surface area.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I’ve had the same thought, but what’s really shocking about the Greenland pics is how extensive the dark snow is. It’s one thing to have a few feet of dirty snow next to the roads where we’ve been deliberately spreading sand and running dirty vehicles, but Greenland is so way “out there” it boggles the mind to see it so very dirty and try to wrap the brain around where the dirt came from.

      I hope Dr. Box will publish some results soon. I would sleep easier if it turns out that dark snow has been around since before the fossil fuel era and is as much or more a natural than man-made phenomenon. If he says, “Man and global warming are causing nearly all the dark snow”, it will be another nail in the coffin.

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