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Dark Snow & Emma

Over the past decade Ireland has endured some extreme weather conditions from summer heatwaves to cold spells of snow and ice chaos. There's an argument that these events are influenced by what's happening with the Greenland Ice Sheet (2018)

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Documentary maker: Liam O'Brien

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Documentary-maker: Ronan Kelly

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Dark Snow & Emma

It began with a Rolling Stone magazine. Not a magazine where you’d expect to read about climate change.  Producer, Liam O’Brien read an article about a man named Jason Box, Professor Jason Box. 

He grew up in Colorado and became fascinated by ice and snow obviously important parts of the local ski economy.  His interest led him to study the Greenland Ice Sheet and to measure, on the ground  or on the ice, the rate of ice melt.

Every year the ice sheet is covered in new snow and every year some of the ice melts.  For years that exchange has remained pretty constant.  However in recent years, more ice has melted than snow has fallen.  And so, the ice sheet is shrinking each year.

This has an impact for Ireland and the rest of North-West Europe. The extra freshwater in the North Atlantic generates more storm conditions. While it also upsets the polar jetstreams, rather than flowing as free as they used to, they have started to stall and meander "drunkenly and lazily", according to Jason.  

This means that weather can get ‘stuck’.  A heatwave like the one we had in the summer of 2018 rather than lasting days can go on for months. Liam was amazed at the ‘dark snow’.  "On the ice, it’s pristine white but when you go up in a helicopter, it looks grey and black."

This is because tiny dust particles in the snow are being deposited and left exposed because of the faster ice melt.  Because the surface is now dark, it also absorbs the heat of the sun more and, therefore, accelerates the melt.

The Summer of 2018 was good for Greenland.  It was cold and wet, more snow fell than normal and Jason says this is a blip also caused by climate change. Despite his bleak view on the surface of the ice, Jason tries to remain positive suggesting solutions such as growing more trees and "dialling back" our carbon consumption. 

This documentary was produced in association with Irish Aid/Department of Foreign Affairs

Produced by Liam O'Brien and Ronan Kelly

First broadcast RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday 15th of December, 2018.

Danish Broadcasting video of the scientific work on the Greenland Ice Sheet

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries

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