Sonification of cryoconite landscapes over the Greenland ice sheet

Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Marco Tedesco, CUNY City College, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, New York, NY, United States
Sonification is the use of non-speech audio to convey information. In sonification, several elements can be altered, modified or manipulated to change the perception of the sound, and in turn, the perception of the information being transmitted. For example, an increase or decrease in pitch, tempo and amplitude can be used to convey the information but this can also happen by varying other less commonly used components. One of the advantages of using sonification lies in the temporal, spatial, amplitude, and frequency resolution that offer complementary and supplementary possibilities with respect to visualization techniques. Two years ago, the outcomes of the PolarSEEDS project (, consisting of sonification of time series of albedo, melting and surface temperature over the Greenland ice sheet, were presented in this very same session. The work that I will discuss in this presentation builds on the PolarSEEDS experience, focusing on the fascinating microcosm of cryoconite. Cryoconite is a unique and extremely fascinating form of glacial cover consisting of aggregated rock dust, inorganic and detrital organic matter, and active microbial colonies. It can be seen as ‘living stones’, with this ecosystem containing the only form of life that is sustained on the majestic surface of the Greenland ice sheet. Microbes are, indeed, the catalyst for cryoconite formation and growth. The cryoconite constituents radiate metabolic heat promoting glacier hole development, melt water formation, and decreasing glacier surface albedo. Lower albedos cause a positive feedback that further contributes to glacier ablation. Despite their importance, cryoconite systems are poorly studied and little is known about their evolution.

In the talk, I will first present and discuss previous sonification projects whose main focus was on the polar regions; then, I will present new sonifications based on data quantifying the distribution and evolution of cryoconite over the west portion of the Greenland ice sheet. Such dataset includes high-resolution digital photography collected from a helicopter-mounted camera in July 2015. The images have an unprecedented spatial resolution of 6 cm, producing a wide spectrum of information that is translated into sounds and ‘sonified’ through an ad-hoc developed code.