Soot from Canadian wildfires may have increased Greenland ice melt

Research has found that soot is covering immense areas of Greenland's ice-sheet, darkening and increasing its heat absorption, causing melting to increase. (iStock)
Research has found that soot is covering immense areas of Greenland’s ice-sheet, darkening and increasing its heat absorption, causing melting to increase. (iStock)
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.

They found that soot is covering immense areas of the ice-sheet, darkening and increasing its heat absorption, 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 (N.W.T.) Some 3.5 million hectares of forest went up in smoke in the N.W.T. 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.

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.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Sixth lowest ice extent in Arctic, Radio Canada International

Finland: Summertime snow in Finland, Yle News

Greenland: Field notes from Greenland – From the glacier to the sea, Blog by Mia Bennett

Russia:  Giant virus revived from ancient permafrost in Siberia, CBC News

United States: NASA projects tracking changes in Alaska’s glaciers and Arctic atmosphere, Alaska Dispatch

Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

With a passion for anything antique with an engine, and for Canadian and world history, Marc comes with a wealth of media experience. After DJ work at private radio in southern Ontario, and with experience in Canadian Forces radio and tv in Europe, the state broadcaster in Austria (Radio 3), and the CBC in Ottawa and Montreal, he was the host of the immensely popular CBC and RCI show, "The Link". He is now part of the new RCI online team producing stories from and about Canada from coast to coast.

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