In a recent study conducted by an international team dust from an active coal mine was found to speed the melting of arctic snow by as much as 84%. The site of the study was a mine near Svalbard, Norway and a team of scientists led by Alia Khan, a post-doctoral researcher at Colorado University did some hands-on research in a tough climate.
The researchers measured the light absorption capacity of a number of samples and adjusted their tests for environmental factors such as snow grain size and location relative to the mine. The underlying effect that they were studying is called albedo, and refers not to the absorbance, but spectral reflectivity of an object or substance.
Normally snow has a very high albedo, but, airborne pollution from the coal mine made a huge difference in how the snow reacted to the sun’s light. The study concluded that coal dust had a strong effect and reduced the albedo in the area significantly.
Alia Khan was optimistic that this research could be a jumping off point for a global appraisal of this phenomena and commented, “The extreme contrast between snow and dust at this particular site gave us a baseline to develop algorithms that we can now use to take future measurements in areas that aren’t easily accessible,”.
Clearly this kind of research is vital to our understanding of how our emissions can effect the world as a whole, and we need to continue to investigate the ways we are impacting the earth.
While this study was done on a necessarily small scale, the physical effects of pollution could easily be affecting large parts of the arctic regions. The poles are very difficult to study in person due to environmental challenges, and Ms. Khan’s suggestion that satellites could be used for further research is encouraging.
Overall it is good to see confirmation for what seems obvious with only a small amount of reflection: we are causing our planet to change, and we need to take measures to limit our emissions.