Greenland’s Ice Sheet Is Filthy, And That’s A Problem

Scientists have long known that Greenland’s surface is neither green nor snowy white like you’ll find on a world map. Rather, many of the country’s massive ice fields have morphed into an ugly grey-black you’d find on the side of the road a few days after a blizzard.

Now, a new paper links this darkening of Greenland’s ice to a familiar culprit, climate change, and warns that the worst is yet to come as the planet warms.

The study, published Thursday in the journal The Cyrosphere, suggests that a “feedback loop” of melting ice in turn causes the once-white landscape to collect impurities like soot, where it then soaks up more heat and melts further.

“We knew that these processes had been happening,” Dr. Marco Tedesco, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and lead author of the study, told The Christian Science Monitor. “What’s new is the acceleration of the darkening, which started in 1996.”

Due to the ongoing plight of climate change, the Earth has seen year after year of record-breaking warmth, which can cause several seasons’ worth of snowfall to melt. Additionally, soot from global wildfires or atmospheric dust that has settled year after year then gets concentrated on the ground as surrounding snow layers disappear. This mixture of melted snow and atmospheric dust causes the black appearance.

“You have impurities stored in the snowpack, and as you start melting in the snow, part of the impurities will be flushed away, and the other part will be basically standing on the surface,” Tedesco told The Washington Post. “Snow acts really like a filter. So the idea here is, the more you melt the snowpack, the more you will release these impurities on the surface of the snow, or the ice.”

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