Greenland’s black snow ominous sign of climate disruptions

B. McPherson

Most of think of Greenland when we think of it at all, is of an almost continent covered in miles of ice. Times are changing and changing fast. For the past couple of decades environmental scientists have been warning of increased melting of the ice. This year, the melting was the greatest recorded.

Scientist Jason Box, working for the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, came back from his summer survey of the ice-cap with stunning photographs that bode ill for the rest of the world. The pristine white snow is black. Not just sprinkled with bits of dark pollution, black. You may find the photos he brought back at the Slate site.

Dark surfaces absorb more heat from the sun than light. The changing surface of Greenland has speeded up the melting of this Arctic refrigerator.

Sources of the dark matter on the Arctic ice can come from many areas. This summer there have been fewer snowstorms to cover dark material, winds circulate air from industrialized countries and deposit bits of pollution on the ice surfaces, wind blown dust finds its way to the Arctic regions and forest fire soot are all factors. This summer saw the largest and most numerous forest fires in the Arctic and boreal areas since records have been kept. Now microbes are adding to the mix, feeding off the particles being swept onto the ice.

How does the dirty ice in Greenland affect us in the lower latitudes? A higher melt rate of the ice leads to more water in the oceans. The ocean levels will rise correspondingly. Also an influx of cold water into the Atlantic Ocean may disrupt ocean currents. Europe and the East Coast of N. America enjoy moderate weather partly because of the warm current known as the Gulf Stream which shuttles warm water north. As ocean currents change so does the biology leading to changes in fishing activities. Our white polar regions act to moderate rising temperatures by reflecting heat from the sun.
For first hand, detailed accounts by the scientists camping on the ice-fields check out Dark Snow Project.

It is ironic that many people are meeting in New York this week to discuss climate change. There are some notable absences. Canada’s PM Stephen Harper has chosen to skip the conference and has sent the M. of the Environment who refrained from discussing the Oil Sands during her speech. China and India were cited for their heavy pollution loads they contribute. Canada’s PM did find time to attend an exclusive New York dinner later.

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