Upsala Glacier, a stunning glacier within Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina, has been retreating rapidly due to climate change. NASA has found, through satellite imaging, that Upsala’s ice front has moved back approximately 2 miles since 2001, following a similar trend seen in the rest of Patagonia (the vast area at the southern extent of Chile and Argentina). Also featured in the photos below is the Estancia Cristina–a popular ranch that many visitors use as an outpost on their journey through the glacial park, especially to see Upsala. The ranch offers unique views of the glaciers and its own beautiful scenery. Upsala gets its namesake from the Swedish University (Uppsala University) that first sponsored glacier research in this area. The area has been extensively studied since, and Upsala is often used as an example of glacial retreat in Argentina. Upsala’s retreat is significant because of the size of the glacier; once the largest glacier in South America, it is now the third largest. Argentinian glaciers, and Upsala in general, will aid in our further understanding of glacier dynamics. Cristina Estancia Ranch Cristina Estancia Ranch (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/8632855@N05/3132389522/in/photolist-5LNjgU-mWNrP2-AovBjN-5ULuBg-BeyDho-BUkdW5-DBwf7r-DzcUYf-kPy5sx-DzcVh1-Dr7Emo-mWQjRb-5LNiNy-5ULx6p-5UL9dX-5ULkN6-baXWPx-baXWYX-5UQtgj-aBAbqT-aBJ85t-aBLGyq-aBLE29-aBJ4nZ-aBHX58-aBHVzg-aBLd5A-aBLCAs-aBHUF8-aBLDnN-aBLFPJ-aBHvbD-aBLJMq-aBJ3Ev-aBLL8L-aBJ7jn-aBJ5Ng-aBHWjr-aBHTSg-aBLcqN-aBLETQ-aBHTfv-dbHFM7-baXYbD-baXXNP-baXXDP-baXXZF-5LivTv-dbHAar-55GC6d"> Shane R/Flikr</a>) Upsala Glacier Upsala Glacier (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/mederic/2201782237/"> Médéric/Flikr</a>) Near Estancia Cristina Near Estancia Cristina (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/benobryan/3223386378/in/photolist-5UQGtd-79DsEh-5LNjgU-mWNrP2-AovBjN-5ULuBg-BeyDho-kPy5sx-BUkdW5-DBwf7r-DzcUYf-DzcVh1-Dr7Emo-mWQjRb-5LNiNy-5ULx6p-5UL9dX-5ULkN6-baXWPx-baXWYX-5UQtgj-aBAbqT-aBJ85t-aBLGyq-aBLE29-aBJ4nZ-aBHX58-aBHVzg-aBLd5A-aBLCAs-aBHUF8-aBLDnN-aBLFPJ-aBHvbD-aBLJMq-aBJ3Ev-aBLL8L-aBJ7jn-aBJ5Ng-aBHWjr-aBHTSg-aBLcqN-aBLETQ-aBHTfv-dbHFM7-9Yt9Up-baXYbD-baXXNP-baXXDP-baXXZF">Ben O'Bryan/Flikr</a>) Upsala Glacier Retreat Upsala Glacier Retreat (Photo:<a href="https://www.nasa.gov/content/upsala-glacier-retreat">NASA/</a>) Mountain near Estancia Cristina Mountain near Estancia Cristina (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/benobryan/3222497455/"> Ben...Read More
For more than eight months I have been working on a project to help restore a remote mountaintop Tibetan nunnery in Nepal, which was devastated by the earthquake last year. These activities draw directly on the religious traditions of the nuns and on indigenous building practices of the region. Four days after the earthquake on April 25, 2015, I took a private rescue flight to Bakhang, Sindhupalchowk district in Nepal. I found a ghostly landscape of flattened and damaged buildings. The earthquake killed one nun and left all the others, about 200 in all, homeless. Thirty of them were seriously injured. All the nunnery houses—which had been hand-built by the nuns—were destroyed. Sixty-four residents of nearby villages were also killed. In this rugged landscape, with glaciated mountains reaching over 5000 meters in elevation, active landslides created additional damage. The conditions were extremely difficult. Two hundred of us slept under one large blue tarp. Many nuns kept crying, mourning the dead and expressing great distress. Moving out from the shells of their homes created a spiritual crisis for the nuns, because they felt they violated their faith; according to Buddhist beliefs, it is not permitted to leave in the middle of spiritual practice, even in the face of a disaster like a fire or a flood. I was soon joined by my colleague from the Mountain Resiliency Project, a social enterprise dedicated to strengthening remote mountain communities in Nepal, and by others from the Hunnarshala Foundation and the Tibet Fund. We stayed for three weeks, providing psychosocial counseling to the nuns and assisting them with the first steps of the recovery. During that time, we did not receive any assistance...Read More
With global warming, glaciers are melting, and mountain ranges in the mid-latitudes such as the Swiss Alps are showing significant glacier retreat. For decades researchers have measured the length and area of glaciers to see if they are shrinking or not— a key symptom of disequilibrium— which can be done using photographs and satellites. But a key indicator of a glacier’s health is the volume of the ice, and that’s impossible to calculate without knowing its thickness. To measure this, scientists can take advantage of advanced tools involving helicopters and radar, according to a recent study conducted in the Swiss Alps by Anja Rutishauser, Hansruedi Maurer, and Andreas Bauder and published in the journal Geophysics. To map the ice-bedrock interface, researchers use ground-penetrating radar to go through the air and ice and then down to the rock so they can determine how far down the rock is. While it’s easy to measure the where the top of the glacial ice is, figuring out where it meets the rock below, and thus calculating its thickness, requires instrumentation. However, this is tricky because glaciers are in narrow valleys. So how do you get the equipment above the glacier? It’s possible to place radar directly on the glacier surface; this system produces high-quality images, but there are many places where it is difficult or impossible to gain access to the surface. And it’s cumbersome and expensive to move the equipment from one spot to another on the surface. As the paper states, A major challenge in conducting ground-based surveys arises from the logistical and accessibility problems posed by rough and potentially dangerous terrain (e.g., crevasses). In contrast, airborne GPR systems are less affected by terrain challenges and...Read More
A new study in Nature says the Earth, previously headed for an Ice Age before the Industrial Revolution, is likely to maintain its current warm phase in the glacial cycle for an unprecedented amount of time. The researchers―Andrey Ganopolski, Ricarda Winkelmann, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research―first examined the effect of the Earth’s orbital characteristics on the glacial cycle, but found that increased carbon dioxide (CO2) played a more important role. Additionally, they found a critical relationship between CO2 and solar radiation that could aid in predicting the beginning of the next glacial period. “This illustrates very clearly that we have long entered a new era, and that in the Anthropocene humanity itself has become a geological force. In fact, an epoch could be ushered in which might be dubbed the Deglacial,” co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber said in a press release for the study. Interglacial periods are the phases in Earth’s history with generally low amounts of global ice, and glacial periods have the most ice. The study uses the commonly accepted theory that glacial periods occur when Northern Hemisphere summer solar radiation (the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface) is at its lowest. If summer solar radiation is low in the Northern Hemisphere, where there is more land, snow does not melt as readily. This build up of snow leads to more reflectivity―albedo―at the surface. As global albedo increases, even less snow melts and this process continues enhancing itself; this positive feedback loop could potentially trigger a glacial period. This concept was used to support the study’s claim that our planet was headed for a glacial period prior to the Industrial Revolution since...Read More
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