Extreme Temperature Diary-April 23, 2018/ Topic: Sooty Greenland Ice

Monday April 23rd… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing post will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials)😊. Here is today’s main climate change related topic:

Sooty Greenland Ice

Have you ever noticed during the winter that once some brownish or blackish substance gets put on an icy sidewalk ice melts faster even when temperatures are below freezing? That is precisely what is happening on a vast scale across polar areas of Earth due to plain old pollution or exhaust from our engines, whether they be from manufacturing or from shipping. Today we look at a study reported from Inside Climate News, which focuses on soot, algae and other substances aiding to melt Greenland, one of the two primary sources of future sea level rise:


Quoting from the article:

In the high-stakes race against sea level rise, understanding what’s causing the Greenland Ice Sheet to melt is critical. The problem isn’t just rising temperatures: soot from ships, wildfires and distant power plants, as well as dust and a living carpet of microbes on the surface of the ice, are all speeding up the melting.

Right now, predictions for sea level rise range from about 1 to 10 feet by 2100—a wide difference for coastal communities trying to plan seawalls and other protective measures.

The more we understand about how pollutants affect the ice, the more accurate those projections will be. So, let’s take a look at what’s happening on the ice sheet now—and the risks ahead.

First, temperatures are rising in the Arctic at about twice the global average. That causes melting around the edges of the ice sheet each year and reaches across more of the surface during summer heat waves.

In areas near the edge of the ice sheet, things get even more interesting: a carpet of microbes and algae mixed with dust and soot, a short-lived climate pollutant, is darkening the ice sheet, absorbing the sun’s rays and accelerating the melting of the ice.

New research shows this dark zone is growing.

Roughly 70 percent of Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise today comes from the melting of the ice sheet, rather than from glaciers calving, so what happens in these acceleration zones matters for Miami and other cities along the coasts.

Greenland’s Living Carpet of Algae

In western Greenland, the dark zone is about the size of West Virginia. It grew by 12 percent between 2000 and 2012, and new research suggests it’s likely to continue to expand, according to climate researcher Jason Box, who travels wide swaths of the ice sheet each summer to collect samples for the Geological Survey of Denmark and the Dark Snow project.

The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, describes a geological feedback loop on the ice that’s expanding the dark zone: Warming melts the western edge of the ice sheet, releasing mineral dust from rock crushed by the ice sheet thousands of years ago. That dust blows to the surface of the ice, nurturing the microbes and algae living there. Those organisms produce colored pigments as sunscreen, which contribute to the darkening of the surface, reducing reflectivity and increasing melting.

Black Carbon: A Climate Double-Whammy

Soot, also known as black carbon, is another big concern because it’s a climate double whammy: It’s much more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere in the short term, and when it falls to the surface, it gradually darkens Greenland’s snow and ice.

Those two impacts are key reasons the UN’s International Maritime Organization is currently moving toward new restrictions in the Arctic on heavy fuel oil, shipping’s fuel of a choice and a major source of black carbon. They’re also reasons several countries are working to expand the Gothenburg Protocol to cover black carbon. (Never heard of it? Read this.)

Last summer, unusual peat fires in Greenland’s drying permafrost released about 23 tons of carbon near the ice sheet. By the scale of North American or Siberian wildfires, the Greenland fires weren’t all that big, but their proximity increased the amount of black carbon particles falling on the ice sheet, Norwegian researcher Andreas Stohl said during the EGU meeting. He noted that Greenland’s permafrost is thawing faster than expected now.

Please read the rest of the linked article for more details. I’ll add my two cents here. It is essential during the next few decades of this century that most soot be eradicated from industry. Most important cargo ships like cars need to become battery operated to limit soot building on Greenland’s ice. Shipping near Greenland will only increase with time as sea ice disappears from the Arctic. This news leaves me disheartened since I know that short term greed will probably lead to long term pain.

There are many factors stacked against the viability of a stable climate. Pollution leading to a lower albedo for Greenland’s ice is just one. Treaties like the Paris Accords need to include hard plans to limit soot clinging to Greenland and for that matter Antarctica. Perhaps that new country can be treated like an African game preserve, getting special attention to keep one of the planet’s big air conditioners running. Regulators of heavy fuel oil for shipping and police patrols in the Arctic may play a key future role to prevent shorelines and coastal cities across the entire planet safe from inundation. We can only hope.

Inside Climate News has also reported on a potential treaty that does limit cheap heavy fuel oil. The problem here is the economics to refit ships with higher costing batteries, or for that matter less polluting fuel. Here I sincerely doubt that much will be done, unfortunately, because of profit margins. People do want their goods delivered cheaply:


Quoting from this article:

The week of April 9, the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee will be grappling with multiple climate change-related issues, including possibly finalizing a first-ever agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. The IMO has wrestled with a major agreement on emissions for decades, but this meeting will be the first time that it also officially discusses regulating heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. 

“A single HFO (heavy fuel oil) spill could have devastating and lasting effects on fragile Arctic marine and coastal environments,” the proposal calling for a ban says. “In addition, Arctic shipping is projected to continue to rise, thus increasing the risk of a spill.”

Map: Arctic region discussed by the International Maritime Organization

The proposal calls for a ban no later than the end of 2021, which is perhaps the earliest it might happen because the IMO is a slow-moving body. Such proposals must wind through committees before a vote for approval, making it a long road from agenda item to action. But for those who have been working on the issue, this is progress.

Who Uses It, and Who Supports a Ban

A recent report by the ICCT found that the biggest user of the fuel in the Arctic is Russia, which used 140,300 tons of it in 2015, followed by Canada, which used 14,612 tons. Denmark used 13,893. When a series of countries banded together to propose a heavy fuel oil ban in the Arctic—an effort led by the United States at the end of the Obama administration—those three countries were notably absent.

Graph: Black Carbon Emitted in the Arctic, by Country Ship Is Registered In

Momentum at the IMO

Heavy fuel oil earned a seat at the IMO table after a paper was submitted this summer by Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States, which called for the IMO to develop rules to mitigate its risks.

Though Russia was initially hesitant, it did ultimate support the measure, along with the rest of the Arctic states.

That landed the issue on the agenda for next week’s meeting in London.

But a ban is only one possible outcome. Experts expect that other mitigation measures—like alternate sea routes and making certain areas off-limits—could be proposed. Findings will go to a subcommittee, which will make recommendations in a year or two.

Yes…I will be watching to see what transpires on heavy fuel oil before the next decade starts.



I may add more relevant ET information to this post later today.


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The Climate Guy



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