Greenland's darkening ice sheet
Marco Tedesco/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Aerial images of Greenland show rivers of meltwater and areas of dark ice.

Satellite pictures show that the massive Greenland ice sheet is getting darker. Darker surfaces absorb more heat from the sun, hastening melt that contributes to global sea-level rise.

A University of Washington scientist is co-author on a new paper that tracks down why the ice sheet is darkening. The study, led by Columbia University, was published March 3 in The Cryosphere.
“According to the satellites, Greenland is darkening by about 2 percent per decade since 1996,” said second author Sarah Doherty, a research scientist at the UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “That seems really small, but it’s actually climatically significant.”

Wildfires have been recently proposed as the cause for darkening of Greenland’s ice sheet, but historical records of fires during that period could not explain the changing reflectivity since the mid-90s, Doherty said.

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