Arctic 2016 – Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada

April 6 – May 6, 2016

In April 2016, Science in the Wild team members and advisors will travel to the Penny Ice Cap, a 6,000 km2 ice cap on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.

Deposition of dust and black carbon or soot (pollution) is a problem on accumulation zones of valley glaciers and on icecaps worldwide. This soot is the result of incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels (e.g., Goldberg et al., 1985), while dust is released from devegetated or dry soils due to land use changes. These dark contaminants absorb more solar radiation, much like you do when wearing a dark versus light t-shirt, thereby reducing the natural albedo (reflectivity) of snow and ice, and leading to enhanced melting (e.g., Kaspari et al., 2011).

Given the vast area the glaciated parts of the world cover, we tend to rely on satellite data to help us determine snow/ice reflectivity and use those numbers in melt models to forecast future changes. However, previous research shows that remote sensing data from orbit are ineffective at detecting black carbon on the ground (e.g., Warren et al., 2013). In addition, one of the sensors on MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging spectroradiometer), onboard the Terra/Aqua satellites is degrading, causing misinterpretations of data – data that ultimately are used in sea level rise predictions (e.g., Polashenski et al., 2015).

Our project work is aimed at exploring the surface reflectivity of the snow and ice of the ice cap, as that is what MODIS sensors measure, but on a much larger spatial scale. We will be comparing our results on dust deposition with Zdanowicz’s (1998), nearly 20 years later – has dust deposition increased and if so, by how much? Given the recent increase in fire activity in the Northern Hemisphere, we also are interested in the impact of soot on snow from wildfires (e.g., Westerling et al., 2006).

Planning for an expedition of this magnitude in a remote part of the world requires not only the proper gear and skillset (mountaineering, crevasse rescue, medical training, electronics troubleshooting) but also permission and support from the local communities. We are working with Parks Canada to obtain the necessary paperwork and look forward to disseminating our results not only to the local communities but also the public at large.

Expedition planning (left to right: Mr. Jorge Rufat-Latre; Dr. Jason Reimuller; Dr. Ulyana Horodyskyj)

Expedition training in Colorado and meeting Arctic explorer, Lonnie Dupre (left to right: Mr. Jorge Rufat-Latre; Mr. Lonnie Dupre; Dr. Ulyana Horodyskyj)

Meeting and talking with Lonnie Dupre (Grand Marais, MN) provided a wealth of knowledge to our small research team. His 25-year career has spanned 15,000 miles in the Arctic, including travel by dog sled team, on foot, by ski, and by kayak. Lonnie has lived, traveled, and immersed himself in the Inuit culture, along the way gaining insight to their way of life in the far North.

An ASD, Inc. handheld spectroradiometer (ASD Inc., a PANalytical company) measures how reflective a surface, such as snow and ice is and that information can be used in melt modeling. The dirtier the snow (from dust or pollution), the less reflective, and the more melting that occurs.

All of our field measurements on the Penny Ice Cap will provide insight into the effects of contaminants on snow and ice melt in this natural and safe field laboratory. Combined, field measurements and observations from orbit (satellite) will either validate that which we see already from orbit, or reveal by how much we need to calibrate our melt models and forecasted glacial changes. This applies not just for this location, which will be of great value for the locals, but also for other glaciers worldwide, where locals depend upon them for water resources. We plan to publish our results in peer-reviewed journals and produce an adventure science documentary.


Goldberg, E., (1985), Black carbon in the environment, Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.

Kaspari, S. D., Schwikowski, M., Gysel, M., Flanner, M. G., Kang, S., Hou, S., and Mayewski, P. A., (2011), Recent increase in black carbon concentrations from a Mt. Everest ice core spanning 1860–2000 AD, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L04703, doi:10.1029/2010gl046096.

Polashenski, C.M., Dibb, J.E., Flanner, M.G., Chen, J.Y., Courville, Z.R., Lai, A.M., Schauer, J.J., Shafer, M.M., Bergin, M., (2015), Neither dust nor black carbon causing apparent albedo decline in Greenland’s dry snow zone: Implications for MODIS C5 surface reflectance, Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, doi:10.1002/2015GL065912.

Warren, S. G. and W.J. Wiscombe, (1980), A model for the spectral albedo of snow II: Snow containing atmospheric aerosols, J. Atmos. Sci., 37, 2734–2745

Westerling, A.L., Hidalgo, H.G., Cayan, D.R. and T.W. Swetnam, 2006, Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity, Science, 313(5789), pp. 940-943, DOI: 10.1126/science.1128834

Zdanowicz, C.M., Zielinski, G.A. and C.P. Wake, 1998, Characteristics of modern atmospheric dust deposition in snow on the Penny Ice Cap, Baffin Island, Arctic Canada, Tellus B, DOI: 10.1034/j.1600-0889.1998.t01-1-00008.x.