Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cryoconite, a dust discovered and named by arctic explorer Nils A. E. Nordenskiöld in 1870

Cryoconite is a dark, powdery dust transported by wind and deposited on the surface of snow or ice [1]. It was discovered and named by arctic explorer Nils A. E. Nordenskiöld during his visit to the Greenland ice sheet in 1870 [2]. Human activities have increased the amount of black soot in cryoconite since Nordenskiöld's days, and global warming has given it new importance.

As Mark Jenkins in a recent Greenland article [2] explains: “Cryoconite begins as airborne sediment spread over the ice by wind. It is composed of mineral dust sucked up from as far away as Central Asian deserts, particles from volcanic eruptions, and soot. The soot particles come from fires both natural and man-made, diesel engines, and coal-fired power plants.” Cryoconite is often found in cryoconite holes, which are water filled cylindrical melt-holes on glacial ice surface [3]. Besides Greenland, cryoconite has been found in Antarctica, Canada, Tibet and the Himalaya mountains.

The name cryoconite also defines a mineral mixture composed of garnet, sillimanite, zircon, pyroxene, quartz and other components [1].

[1] Dictionary of Geology & Mineralogy. Second Edition. McGraw-Hill, New York, 2003.
[2] Mark Jenkins: Melt Zone: Dust lands, icemelts, rubber duckies drown. National Geographic June 2010, Volume 217 , Number 6, pp. 34-47.
[3] Cryoconite hole.


  1. Its actually a colony of various extremaphobe bacteria that anchor to soil that makes it to ice
    They increase in size as the colony grows and they melt into the snow to acess water to do photosynthises like plants