Dr. Jason Box, a glaciologist from Ohio State University is on a mission to prevent glacial melting. The mission is to cover large portions of glaciers with blankets that will reflect the powerful rays of the sun.
Earth receives many different wavelengths of radiation from the sun. The
radiation brings light and warmth to our planet. When this solar radiation
hits anything on Earth it is either reflected off the surface or absorbed, warming the surface. White surfaces reflect more solar radiation than black surfaces. Our ice caps reflect 80 percent of visible light, while a dark surface such as charcoal would only reflect 4 percent. The amounts of incoming solar radiation that a surface reflects is called albedo. Glaciers have an albedo of 80%.
Since the ice caps don't absorb much of the radiation, they stay cool enough to stay frozen. But, as the atmosphere warms, the ice edges melt. So, there is less ice around to reflect the radiation and more land around to absorb it. This will ultimately cause our planet to warm even further.
In the winter the glaciers are covered with white snow. But, in the summer the color of the glacier is actually gray, so it absorbs more solar radiation. This is where the idea of a glacial blanket comes up. With a white blanket on top of the glacier in the summer, much more sunlight will be reflected than normal. The blanket also traps a layer of very cold air between the ice and fabric. This stops the ice from melting. The blankets will attempt to counteract this warming effect by trying to stop the outer edges of the glacier from melting. This will then increase the albedo of Greenland's glacial ice and eventually increase the Earth's albedo as a
Dr Box and a task force from the Discovery Channel decided to test these glacial blankets. They visited a remote glacier in Greenland, bringing 31 giant rolls of white polypropylene blankets. These blankets will cover a total surface area of 10,000 square meters of the glacier, and are designed to reflect the sunlight and decrease melting. The scientists hope to conserve ice approximately 2 meters deep. One of the scientists will remain at the camp for the whole summer to gather data and maintain the blankets. Results will be collected August 25th.
The science behind these blankets to prevent sections of glaciers melting was developed by universities in Europe, the University of Innsbruck, and the
University of Zurich.
For more information on the polypropylene blankets and the mission, head to: http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/project-earth/lab-books/greenland/greenland-guide1.html