Image taken from small drone shows vast area of what should be white snowy surface to be darkened by soot. the dark surface absorbs heat speeding up melting as shown by the thousands of rivers of melt water
Photo Credit: Jason Box- GEUS

Soot from Canadian wildfires increases melting on Greenland


Researchers studying Greenland’s massive ice-sheet are making some worrisome findings.

Danish-born glaciologist Jason Box who has studied glaciers for two-decades is in the second year of a study called the Dark Snow project. He is with the Geological Survey of Greenland and Denmark.

Extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on July 8, 2012 (left) and then just a few days later July 12 (right). On July 8, roughly 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing but by July 12, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed. © Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

They found that soot is covering immense areas of the ice-sheet, darkening in and increasing its heat absorbtion, causing melting to increase. The soot may be from a variety of sources including burning of coal, diesel, dung and wood.

It’s also thought that greatly increased soot this year is due to the record number of fires in Canada’s Northwest territories Some 3.5 million hectares of forest went up in smoke in the NWT alone this year, while many other huge wildfires occurred in all provinces in Canada’s boreal forest area. Although it’s considered the end of the fire season, several wildfires are still burning.

Melting attributed to conditions created by human-induced climate change. 

Mike Flannigan, of the University of Alberta Director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science says, forest fires used to average 1 million hectares a year, but now average double that saying its due to human induced climate change.

A French research team also reports increased dust covering the glacier. They indicate it may come from elsewhere in the Arctic as snow cover melts earlier in the season due to climate change.

Date from GRACE staellites Greenland experienced a steady ice loss of 200 billion tons annually, which could stack up on all of Manhattan to nearly 12,000 feet, or more than eight times taller than the Empire State Building. Researches estimated that the annual acceleration in ice loss is roughly increasing by 8 billion tons every year. © Image-Christopher Harig (Princeton University)

As the Greenland sheet is darkened, its “albedo” or the reflective quality of the white snow and ice is diminished. Scientists say even a slight reduction in the albedo will have a significant affect on the ice sheet.

A recent study using the European Cryosat2 and based on reprocessed and improved data between 2003 and 2008, reports an average trend of ice-loss of Greenland’s ice sheet of over 190 cubic kilometers per year.   Analysis of ice loss from GRACE estimates are somewhat lower but still surprisingly worrisome at 145 cubic kilometers a year.

Box says the increased melting will have an effect on sea-level rise around the world.

The findings of Jason Box and his team have yet to be peer-reviewed but he released the images this week in hopes that those attending the international climate talks at the UN would get the message.

Journal Cryosphere : ice loss abstract

NOAA Arctic report card 2013

Dark Snow Project

Princeton news- GRACE

Mapping Greenland’s mass loss in space and time

Dark snow project video

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One comment on “Soot from Canadian wildfires increases melting on Greenland
  1. Avatar Peter Ashcroft says:

    Has there also been a change in the average wind direction from the southern parts of Canada towards the glacial areas of northern Canada and Greenland?