Dr. Florent Domine

Website: https://sites.google.com/site/florentdomine/accueil

Florent Domine is a Senior Scientist and Research Director at the Takuvik Joint International Laboratory at the University of Laval, in Quebec City, Canada.  His research focuses on snow physics and chemistry.  He has pioneered novel methods to measure snow specific surface area (SSA), which is used for understanding atmosphere-snowpack exchange of gases, and for energy budgets and climate applications.  SSA is also useful for understanding the microphysics of snow metamorphism, and the study of the thermal conductivity of snow, which determines snow temperature and the heat flow between the ground and the atmosphere.  His group has studied chemical impurities in snow which can determine light absorption in the visible, and therefore snow albedo. Absorbing species such as hydrogen peroxide can generate chemically active radicals such as OH, which initiate active photochemistry in the snowpack. This leads to the emission to the atmosphere of highly reactive species such as formaldehyde (HCHO), nitrogen oxides (NO + NO2) and halogens (Br2 and BrCl). These latter molecules start oxidation cycles in the polar atmosphere, that lead to high rates of mercury deposition and to rapid ozone destruction.  In 2021 he published a co-edited volume (with Paul Shepson) called “Chemistry in the Cryosphere”.

Interviews

2009

Dr. Florent Domine, who conducts research in snow physics and snow chemistry, as related to climate change and permafrost decay, talks to Arcticstories in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, where it is currently snowing, but there are no clouds in the sky. He describes the snow as very tiny crystals that are falling slowly and accumulating on the roof of his tent. This type of clear-sky precipitation is called diamond dust and is the dominant form of precipitation on the AntArctic ice cap, less common here in the Arctic. Dr. Domine is excited to sample the snow and is careful to ensure that it is not contaminated. He has instruments in his tent to sample snow from different locations, and he is currently cleaning up the snow that has fallen through the gaps in the fabric of his tent.

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Dr. Florent Domine is “Directeur de Recherche,” a CNRS position at Takuvik Joint International Laboratory, hosted by Université Laval in Quebec city. Here he describes snow as an insulator with thermal properties that help buffer cold waves during winter. The heat conductivity of snow is measured using a heated needle to determine its insulating properties. Additional instruments measure density and other characteristics. Snow reflects light, contributing to cooling the Earth’s atmosphere, but also limits ground cooling in the winter, leading to complex warming and cooling effects on the planet. The removal of snow would cause the planet to warm, but the extent of this warming is unclear due to complex positive and negative feedbacks that have not been fully studied. Changes in the physical properties of snow due to changes in climate should be included in climate models, as they will have tremendous effects on the thawing of permafrost. The insulating effect of snow depends on complex interactions between snow, vegetation, and climate, and the changes in these factors can result in either a positive or negative feedback on permafrost thaw.

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Snow expert Dr. Florent Domine studies the physics and chemistry of snow. His team measures the atmospheric gasses that are emitted by snow. They draw snow samples from different locations. One of the major focuses of his study is on organic compounds, crucial in snowpack photochemistry. Domine also analyzes the physical properties of the snowpack, measuring the surface area by taking a block of snow and cutting it into four pieces to test reproducibility. His team also measures infrared reflectance by exposing the snow to an infrared diode laser. They keep their instruments warm enough to operate on the snow and study the variation in snow stratigraphy by digging a long trench to see the snow layers starting and finishing at different spots.

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Dr. Domine continues to discuss his work collecting samples on the tundra and sea ice. He highlights the importance of studying the heat conductivity of snow and its impact on climate change. Dr. Domine mentions that unfortunately most people have not recognized the active role that snow plays in the climate system, and that France is not currently funding research in this area. The conversation also touches on the importance of snow to the French economy, particularly in the ski industry.

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In this conversation, snow scientist Dr. Florent Domine discusses his snow and ice crystal photography. He uses a macro lens, extension tubes, and a reflex camera but needs to keep it at a specific temperature while taking the photographs. Due to the cold climate, he stores the camera in a cold room at -20 degrees Celsius.. Dr. Domine explains that taking photos of snow crystals can be a bit of work, but it is necessary to get a decent picture. While some snow crystals are aesthetically pleasing, most are just small, rounded grains.

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Dr. Florent Domine explains that many people do not understand the Arctic. He clarifies that the North Pole is in the Arctic and penguins are not found there, only polar bears. He stresses the importance of the Arctic in regulating the Earth’s temperature and how the melting of the polar ice pack could lead to catastrophic global consequences such as the absorption of solar radiation by the ocean and accelerated warming. He explains that these effects are not well understood and could have serious consequences in the next 10-20 years.

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Domine describes his experiences in Norway’s Svalbard region, an archipelago located a thousand miles north of Norway’s North Cape in the European Arctic. Svalbard is one of the most beautiful and scenic places on Earth, but also dangerous due to the presence of polar bears. Dr. Domine shares that he always travels with an experienced guide. And he has stopped counting the number of polar bears he has encountered, there are so many bear encounters. He jokes about how to evaluate the danger level when meeting a polar bear by looking at the color of its butt – if it’s white, he quips, it’s dangerous; if it’s brown, it’s safe. (Brown because it has just eaten a seal!) Dr. Domine also mentions that Svalbard is warmer than its latitude might indicate due to the Gulf Stream and seldom drops below -35 degrees Celsius. Finally, he notes that polar bears are rare on the west coast of Svalbard due to the lack of sea ice.

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