The Current

Wildfires Are Melting Greenland: The Measurements

Climate scientists Jason Box and McKenzie Skiles are packing up their ice core drills and heading to Greenland.

McKenzie Skiles wields her portable spectrometer.     Photo: Annie Bryant

Snow is a highly reflective natural surface, when dark impurities are present they absorb more sunlight- and the snow reflectivity drops. This same effect can be felt on a sunny day if you wear a dark shirt, rather than a light one. McKenzie will use a “spectrometer” that measures sunlight intensity at high resolution across the visible and near-infrared spectrums, to quantify how much solar energy the snow is absorbing and how much it is reflecting. She will do this first at the surface, collecting measurements of both incoming and reflected sunlight, and then will dig a snow pit down to measure the snow reflectivity at the 2012 surface layer. The combination of all of these measurements, along with impurity content from the ice core, will allow us to more accurately quantify how much additional energy the light absorbing impurities contributed to the 2012 record setting melt.

McKenzie will dig a snow pit while Jason cores. She’ll use a portable spectrometer (like the device she is wearing above) to "zap spectra," which record the snow's reflectance.

Our science is a philosophical climb and we’re not alone on the mountain. Others have sampled Greenland snow and ice for impurities. Yet, we target specifically the 2012 refrozen melt layer from the 2012 record setting melt.

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