Tag Archives: Jason Box

Dark Snow Project probes relationship between wildfires and Arctic melt

Dr. Jason Box, lower right, is asking for public donations to finance a research trip to Greenland to study the impact of wildfire ash on Arctic albedo. Photo: meltwater.org

Dr. Jason Box, lower right, is asking for public donations to finance a research trip to Greenland to study the impact of wildfire ash on Arctic albedo. Photo: meltwater.org

In 2012, the Greenland ice sheet experienced extraordinary ice melt during an unusually warm period in mid-July. Coupled with other geologic events, like a large calving event on the Petermann Glacier, the melting has scientists questioning the dynamics at play and the potential consequences.

One of those scientists is Jason Box, from the Byrd Polar Research Center. As reports of 90 percent of Greenland’s surface thawing last July captured headlines, Box saw a potential correlation between the unusually warm Arctic weather and the wildfires ravaging the West. It was one of the worst fire seasons on record. In addition to blazes in Colorado, New Mexico, and California, tundra fires burned huge expanses in Alaska and Canada.

Box modeled the weather patterns during those events and showed that smoke from the fires passed over the Greenland icesheet. He hypothesized that ash and soot from the smoke fell to the ice sheet and darkened it, which altered its ability to reflect sunlight.

He wanted to study the relationship between wildfires and Arctic ice melt, and figured he’d need about $150,000. Such funding was not immediately available.

Rather than scrape the research, Box, who has been the recipient of many  grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation and other agencies in the past and who has worked in Greenland since the mid-1990s, decided to raise the money himself.

For the past year, he’s been leading a fundraising effort to finance a research trip to Greenland this summer.

He calls it the Dark Snow project, and Box plans to sample ice cores and study whether wildfires are responsible for the widespread melting in 2012 in Greenland.

He’s raised slightly more than half of the desired $150,000. Much of that will pay air transport to and from the ice sheet for Box and his team. At least two journalists plan to document the trip, including Bill McKibben, who wrote about Box in the August 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

Box told PBS Newshour that raising the money on his own has been challenging but that it comes with certain advantages.

“There’s fewer strings and less structure, which gives you an advantage to try edgier and riskier research,” Box said, adding that he sees the Dark Snow Project as a pilot study. If the team succeeds and publishes their findings, it could lead to a government grant to fund further research.

Snow’s reflectivity, also known as albedo, decreases as white snow melts because water is darker and absorbs more of the sun’s energy. Soot generated by wildfires and/or industrial emissions that is deposited on the ice can further reduce albedo; dirty snow melts faster than white snow.

Since unveiling his project at last December’s American Geophysical Union meeting, Box has gotten steady support. His research team includes four scientists and a creative team. Stay tuned as we update you periodically on the progress of the Dark Snow Project.  —Rachel Walker

ACT 2011

Act I of NSF’s Greenland Research  Season

Clément Miège and Evan Burgess arrive in Kangerlussuaq. Photo: Byrd Polar Research Center, OSU

Like spring flowers, science teams funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation are popping up all over the Arctic as we head into the research season. CPS staff recently began our March/April migration to Kangerlussuaq, the program’s logistics hub in Greenland.  In addition to opening our office and warehouse spaces and preparing for the influx of research teams coming later this month, we assisted an early bird Arctic Circle Traverse (ACT) team going in to the field for Principal Investigators Rick Forster (U of Utah) and Jason Box (Ohio State U).

The ACT research aims to improve our understanding of the Greenland ice sheet’s mass balance by providing data on how much snow accumulates in areas where little information exists now.  Scientists can tell us about the ice sheet’s mass balance by measuring how much snow and ice is lost through melting (a lot these days) and comparing it to how much is gained through precipitation.

Loading ice core boxes in the Twin Otter. Photo: Polar Field Services

The Forster/Box team of four—researchers Evan Burgess and Clément Miège (U of Utah), driller Terry Gacke and mountaineer Brian Ballard—flew to Raven Camp out on the ice sheet and mounted a ~350-mile snowmachine traverse from there a few days ago. Each day the team rides the ice sheet, towing a ground-penetrating radar on a sled that collects information on snow accumulation in the top 50 meters of the ice sheet. They also stop to drill ice cores that help them verify the radar data. They leave the cores in boxes for later retrieval and shipment to U.S. research labs for analysis.

As we’ve said many times, polar field work is not for the faint-of-heart. The ACT team is camping out on the ice sheet.  In tents.  In temperatures that fall into the minus 30s and 40s at night. Strong winds pinned them at kilometer marker 48 yesterday, but the forecast suggests they can get an early start tomorrow and make tracks before a new storm arrives. We keep a close eye on them, through daily check-ins and “bread crumb” GPS tracking devices affixed to their snowmachines that tell us exactly where they are in real time. You can keep an eye on them too. Visit:  http://www.datatransport.org/act/monitor to view the tracker.  And visit the Ohio State University ACT page at: http://bprc.osu.edu/wiki/ACT to keep up on the team’s activities via their online journal.–Kip Rithner

Massive iceberg is on the move and splitting up

The slip of water separating Greenland's northwestern coast from Canada's Ellesmere Island is called the Nares Strait. The giant iceberg that calved from Greenland's Petermann Glacier in August has broken in two and entered the strait. Map courtesy Arctic Portal (http://www.arcticportal.org/)

The enormous iceberg that calved off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier Aug. 4 has split in two during its trip through the Nares Strait. Andreas Muenchow, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who has been tracking the berg via satellite images, told CNN that it broke after repeatedly running into a small rocky island called Joe Island west of Greenland. 

“The forces of the ocean currents and the winds wiggling it on and off the island were too much,” Muenchow said.

The larger piece is about 152 square kilometers (59 square miles) or roughly 2.5 times the size of Manhattan. The smaller piece is about 84 kilometers (32 square miles). Muenchow and colleagues looked at historical records dating back to 1876 and determined that the original berg was the biggest to have calved off Petermann in that time.

Image courtesy Andreas Muenchow, University of Delaware

The iceberg entered the Nares Strait, which runs between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, at the beginning of the month. A European Space Agency satellite captured its progress and the agency created this animation of the berg’s travels:

Petermann Glacier iceberg progress toward Nares Strait

Meanwhile, Ohio State University Professor Jason Box has been thwarted in his attempts to reach the glacier to retrieve data from instruments he left last year at the site of the break. These include two time-lapse cameras that should have recorded the calving event.

He raced off last month to Greenland with colleagues in hopes of reaching the glacier and equipment. But the group was unable to arrange for a safe helicopter flight to the remote location and Box has returned home.

“Needless to say, it was difficult to turn south without the data,” he wrote Monday on his blog.  He’s hoping that a flight can be arranged for one of his colleagues before mid-October when daylight becomes too scarce for such a long trip. If that proves impossible, they’ll plan on a trip in March, he said.

­­– Emily Stone

Measuring Greenland’s Snowfall

Note: We were doing a little housekeeping and came on this update on the Arctic Circle Traverse written back in June. It holds up as a nice view into what it takes researchers to “collect data,” so here you go. We hope to hear more from Box when he returns from Greenland after retrieving data from his time-lapse cameras observing the Petermann Glacier.

Even the best planned plans can go awry. So it went in April and May, when a series of mishaps beyond their control kept the five-person team led by Jason Box from heading out to the field for their Arctic Circle Traverse (ACT), a National Science Foundation-supported study of snow accumulation on the Greenland Ice Sheet.

While awaiting a break in conditions, the team assembled their gear in Kangerlussuaq. All photos courtesy of Jason Box

Snow storms, the eruption of the  Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland,which prevented airplane flying, and aircraft problems grounded the crew and originally dashed their hopes of getting out on the ice.

“Our biggest challenge was getting into the field,” says Box. “We learned that the traverse, while labor-intensive, is more likely to succeed than depending on flights, especially in east Greenland.”

Just when things were looking their grimmest, the team got a window of clear weather and set out for 13 days.

Home away from home: camping on the ice sheet.

Sleeping under “turbulent” Aurora Borealis at night and blazing trails during the day, they successfully traversed roughly 700 kilometers. Over the journey, the team gathered the necessary information to map snowfall rates across the ice sheet, Box said.

Posse, Greenland style. Getting ready to ride.

They measured snow depth using radar, and took ice cores as well. Isotopes in the cores allow scientists to identify annual snow accumulation; radar and coring used in conjunction provide more specificity than either technique would alone.

As they traversed, a NASA P-3 airplane flew over their line and collected radar data that measured the layering structure of the snow, providing “virtual ice cores.”

Every successful coring operation warrants a celebratory drink. Jason Box prepares to open the bottle.

“It’s nice to have the P-3 data, as it will cover a much larger area,” says Box. However, the airborne radar doesn’t replace actual ice cores, he says.

“So far there is no way to efficiently remotely sense the vertical profiles of density,” says Box. “Cores remain necessary in-situ observational data.”

The research aims to provide an accurate analysis of snowfall on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Box and his collaborators, Rick Forster (PI on a related NSF grant that seeks to fill holes in the snow accumulation data), Evan Burgess, and Clément Miège (University of Utah) are measuring annual snow fall to better understand how much of the ice sheet volume change and, in turn global sea level, is due to changes in snowfall or due to changing melt rates.

“We know that melt rates have increased in recent years,” the group writes on their blog. “Yet, we also know that as climate warms, the atmosphere holds more moisture and consequently, more snow is delivered to the ice sheets. Our project will help better understand the effect on the mass budget of changing mass input from snow accumulation variations in the past 30-60 years. We’re like auditors, with really thick parkas on.”

Those parkas kept the crew warm as they worked and camped in temperatures as low as -35 C (-31 F) at night and up to -5 (23 F) to – 25 C (-13F) during the day.

Now that they’re home, they’ve hung the parkas in the closet and begun the long task of analyzing the data, says Box.

“The core just made it off the ice sheet, and it needs to be put into the core melter to get the isotope and other chemistry data,” he says. “A graduate student, Clement Miege, will spend much of the summer identifying layers in the ground radar data.”

The team will present preliminary results at the AGU meeting in San Francisco this December.  —Rachel Walker

Greenland Sheds a Massive Iceberg

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image of Petermann Glacier on August 5, 2010. The image was acquired almost 10 hours after the observation that first recorded the event. By the time Terra took this image, skies were less cloudy than they had been earlier in the day, and the oblong iceberg had broken free of the glacier and moved a short distance down the fjord. NASA image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon. Caption by Holli Riebeek and Michon Scott.

An iceberg roughly four times the size of Manhattan is making its way toward the Arctic Ocean after calving off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier earlier this month.

The 251-square kilometer (97-square mile) behemoth broke off the Petermann in northwestern Greenland on Aug. 5, causing the glacier to lose about one-quarter of its 70-kilometer (40-mile) floating ice shelf, according to NASA. It’s the largest Arctic iceberg to form since 1962.

Researchers at the Byrd Polar Research Center at The Ohio State University said the chunk represents the largest single loss of ice ever recorded in Greenland. Jason Box, an associate professor of geography and atmospheric sciences, wrote in a blog post that the glacier retreated 15 km (9 miles) in that one event, which represents a new known minimum for the glacier.

Box and others studying the glacier have recorded its increasing disintegration since 2000. It’s retreated a total of 21 km (13 miles) in that time. The Aug. 5 break is three times larger than any previous ice loss in Greenland or elsewhere in the Arctic since at least 2000.

“While it is unreasonable to pin an individual cracking event of a glacier on Global Warming, even if enormous, the retreat of Petermann glacier is most certainly part of a pattern of global warming,” Box wrote.

— Emily Stone

ACT 10: The Movie

A field stop on the ACT 2004 traverse. Photo: Blue Spikes (Earth Science Agency) and Joe McConnell (Desert Research Institute)

How much snow falls in Greenland?  Rick Forester, Evan Burgess, and Clément Miège (University of Utah) and Jason Box (The Ohio State University) are helping answer that question. Following a two-week put-in delay due to poor weather, the Icelandic volcano eruption, and aircraft issues, the group had twelve successful field days measuring snow accumulation on the southeastern Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS).

Their three-year project, the Arctic Circle Traverse 2010 (ACT 10), builds on similar work done in 2004, and will help fill a data gap with information critical to remote sensing, mass balance and ice sheet and climate modeling studies.

During their 700 km traverse, the team used a ground-penetrating radar to examine the top ~160 feet of snow. The radar uses electromagnetic waves to create an image of snow layers below the surface. By correlating their images to firn cores, they will be able to measure the amount of snow that has fallen in southeastern Greenland over the last 20-60 years.

To see the ACT 10 team in action, check out Jason Box’s movie here:


–Marcy Davis