Greenland’s Dark Zone Is Getting Worse

Posted: Apr 13 2018, 3:46pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Greenland’s Dark Zone is Getting Worse
Credit: MODIS/NASA

Mineral dust and black carbon is darkening the surface of large ice sheet and contributing more to its melt

Greenland ice sheet, the second largest mass of ice on Earth, has been getting darker over the years. New research suggests that the problem is caused by impurities like carbon and ice-dwelling algae and it will contribute to increase snow melt.

"What we show is that the Dark Zone is covered in a finely distributed layer of dust, and black carbon, which provide nutrition for dark colored algae. These are the main cause of the darkening.” Co-author of the study professor Alun Hubbard from CAGE – Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway said in a statement.

The Dark Zone of Greenland is some 400 kilometers wide and stretches about 100 kilometers. The significant accumulation of mineral dust and black carbon in recent years is making the surface look even darker. The darker the ice, the more it reduce the sheet's albedo or the extent to which it reflects light. White-colored snow or pure ice blocks sun’s energy but dark surfaces absorb it, which increases melting of the ice.

"The fact that a large portion of the western flank of the Greenland ice sheet has become dark means that the melt is up to five times as much as if it was a brilliant snow surface. " Hubbard said.

The Dark Zone of Greenland is of great interest to scientists because it can help them understand ice sheet melting and improve their projections of future sea level rise. Previously, the zone was observed by satellites. But for the latest study, researchers used unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV to thoroughly investigate the darkened ice belt and determined what it is made up of.

“If we compare it to camera pixels, even the best satellites for the ice sheet imaging have resolution of tens of meters. They can't see the detail of what's happening on the ground. Our fixed-wing UAVs can take hundreds of images with pixel resolutions on the centimeter scale with an operating range of hundreds of kilometers," said Hubbard. “The UAV survey, with its amazing detail, allows us to identify and characterize all the different surface types and impurities across the entire dark zone, not just a small local little part of it.”

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