Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow Albedo: From the Granite State to Summit, Greenland

There’s nothing like the first big snow of the season. Having grown up in New Orleans, I still get a rush of excitement when I wake up to the blanketed ground and the tree branches heavy under the weight of snow. As this winter season begins, I look forward to the skiing, the ice skating, the snowy woods and even some shoveling now and then. But sometimes, you just can’t get enough of winter, from the thrill of bundling up to go out into the cold to the joy of watching the delicate snowflakes slowly coat the ground. So what do you do when you’re down in the dumps because the last of the snow has melted in New Hampshire and the ice has left the ponds? Well, this past summer, the answer was to travel to Summit, Greenland, a land of perpetual snow and ice! 

Summit, Greenland. An expanse of snow and ice as far as the eye can see.
Through Dartmouth’s IGERT program, I was able to spend nearly four weeks at Summit Station at the top of the Greenland Ice Sheet. While I was there, one of my research goals was to study the snow albedo, which is a measure of the fraction of incoming solar radiation that is reflected off of the ground surface. Thanks to the EPSCoR project and the work that our group has been doing to study snow albedo in New Hampshire, I had a wealth of tools and techniques readily available for this research. While at Summit, I made daily measurements of snow albedo and snowpack characteristics such as grain size and shape, chemical impurities, temperature and density. Ultimately, I hope to compare my snow albedo studies at Summit with those that we have made here at home. 

Left: Making snow characterization measurements in New Hampshire last winter. Note the grass visible in the snow pit! (Photo: Wesley Whitaker) Right: Making albedo measurements using the ASD FieldSpec at Summit, Greenland. (Photo: Christine Urbanowicz) 
My trip to Summit also provided us with the opportunity to interact with the students of the Joint Science Education Project. This program brings together high school students from Greenland, Denmark and the United States to travel around Greenland and learn about the science research that occurs around the country. Thanks to the CoCoRaHS Albedo program, we brought a few snow albedo kits along with us and used them to investigate the snow around Summit Station.

Making albedo measurements with the JSEP students using the CoCoRaHS snow kit! (Photo: Christine Urbanowicz)
We discussed how different types of snow grains and changes in snow chemistry can affect the albedo. We made measurements on fresh snow, snow that had been compacted by heavy machinery and snow that had experienced lots of exhaust from a recent C-130 cargo plane landing. It quickly became clear to the students that not all snow is the same. It was exciting to see the same types of measurements that are being made by schools all over New Hampshire also taking place in the center of the Greenland Ice Sheet!

The JSEP group after a successful day of albedo measurement! (Photo: Christine Urbanowicz)
Traveling to Greenland over the summer was a fantastic opportunity, providing a platform to extend my snow research and to connect and share with a fantastic group of international students. But for now, there’s no need to venture northward, because winter comes to us! Here in New Hampshire, we will dive into a series of new snow albedo measurements right in our backyard.

Let it snow!

Posted by Alden Adolph, PhD Student, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College