Posts by gstovall

Satellite Images Offer Clues to Causes of Glacial Lake Flooding

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Satellite Images Offer Clues to Causes of Glacial Lake Flooding

Spread the News:ShareSatellites are now allowing us to track the behavior of icy glacial lakes on the Himalayan Mountains–in particular the conditions that lead to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), which have become increasingly frequent in the region over the past 20 years. Researchers from the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment and the State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Sciences in China published a study in PLOS One in December of last year that catalogued data from lakes in the central Himalayas between 1990 to 2010. The scientists, Drs. Yong Nie, Qiao Liu, and Shiyin Liu, used images from Landsat scientific satellites to count and measure glacial lakes in the region. As the longest running remote sensing project, Landsat has over 40 years of images available across the globe. GLOFs – floods that occur when a lake dammed by a glacier or glacial moraine is released – are hazardous to communities located at elevations below the burst lake. Flooding and debris flows damage infrastructure, cause property loss, and can take lives, as GlacierHub has reported in prior posts. It is widely believed that rising temperatures due to climate change and reduced albedo of the ice from cryoconite (also known as carbon dust particles) are melting the glaciers at higher rates and causing lake volumes to rise, which in turn increases the risk of GLOF events. But the specific processes that lead to GLOF outbursts are not well understood. By looking at lakes at four time points (1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010), at different elevations (from 3,500 to 6,100 meters), of different types (pro-glacial and supraglacial), and of varying sizes, the researchers were able to identify which lakes expanded faster and burst more frequently to understand which ones pose the greatest risk of GLOFs. Overall, it was found that total lake surface area for the 1,314 lakes in the central Himalayas had increased over the 20-year period. Drs. Nie, Liu and Liu found that more lakes on the northern side of the central Himalayan range were expanding rapidly. They also found that pro-glacial lakes (lakes at the terminus of a glacier) grew faster than supraglacial lakes (lakes on the surface of the glacier). Some pro-glacial lakes are connected directly to glaciers while others are not, but those that were connected grew far faster. Additionally, larger pro-glacial lakes were likely to flood sooner than smaller ones and more changes to glacial lakes occurred at the altitudes between 4,500 and 5,600 meters. The dynamics of alpine glacial lakes are complex, but this study could help communities monitor lakes at high risk of flooding and to create early-warning systems and disaster preparedness plans. PAPER DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083973.g002 Spread the...

Read More

Is a new Fern Gully in the making on a sub-Antarctic island?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2014 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 2 comments

Is a new Fern Gully in the making on a sub-Antarctic island?

Spread the News:ShareAn unusual form of life was recently discovered on a glacier located on a remote island in the Southern Ocean. Signy Island is part of the sub-Antarctic South Orkney Islands, about 600 kilometers northeast of  the Antarctic Peninsula and 900 km southeast of Tierra del Fuego. The site of a former whaling station and the current home of a British research facility, Signy Island is largely covered with ice, the surface of which is pockmarked with holes in many sections. The life-form was found in one of these surface holes. Material called cryoconite –windblown dust made of rock, soot and microscopic organisms– has settled on the surface of ice on Signy Island, as it has on many other glaciers and icesheets. Generally dark in color, cryoconite absorbs solar energy and melts the ice surface. The melting creates depressions in which cryoconite settles, further intensifying the melt. This process can  create deep and sometimes narrow tubular holes which contain significant amounts of sediment. Researcher Dr. Ronald Lewis-Smith from the Centre for Antarctic Plant Ecology and Diversity in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, collected sediment from the bottom of these ice tubes in November 1999. He carefully cultured the materials at the research station on Signy Island, and over the following months some plants began to grow.  The first ones to appear, consisting of mosses and a kind of non-flowering plant called liverworts, were all native to the island. A more unusual one appeared after a few more months. Initially identified as a liverwort, it was sent to a laboratory in England, where it was cultivated on a base of sterilized moss from Signy Island. As this plant grew, it became evident that it was a fern, and therefore not a native to the island. It took several years for it to grow large enough to be identified. Photographs of the plant and two fronds were sent to the Natural History Museum in London, where specialist identified it as Elaphoglossum hybridum. This species is found across a wide area of southern Africa, and also on islands in the southern Indian Ocean, as well as Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. These sites all lie to the north and the east of Signy Island. Some locations are as close as 1500 km to the island. However, the prevailing winds are from the west,. As the author states, “The most probable explanation for the spore, from which the present plant developed, reaching Signy Island was by encircling the Southern Hemisphere on an east–west trajectory at high altitude.” The survival of this viable spore is thus a testimony both to its ruggerd vitality and to the ability of the glacier to preserve it. This fern could not grow in Signy Island’s current climate, but Lewis-Smith’s research does show that diaspores–plant seeds or spores –could be preserved in glacier ice and be viable for growth if the climate becomes more hospitable for them in the future. It is striking to think of the future of Signy Island when current warming trends progress further. Glaciers might contribute to the appearance of new species in two ways. Firstly, as they retreat, there will be an expansion of the ice-free areas in which plants can grow. And secondly, they may release biological material such as this spore, from which new species, not known on the island, may grow. Perhaps, thanks to climate change, Signy Island could one day resemble Fern Gully. The new ferns could be a testimony to the glaciers, which will be much diminished by that time. Spread the...

Read More

Drawing Montana’s glaciers at a glacial pace

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Featured Posts | 1 comment

Drawing Montana’s glaciers at a glacial pace

Spread the News:ShareWith his dog Mylah by his side, the Montana artist Jonathan Marquis climbed up eight glaciers this summer. In addition to an ice-axe and crampons, he took less standard equipment: two graphite pencils and notebooks. These are essential tools for his undertaking, which he has termed his Glacier Drawing Project, an ambitious plan to make drawings of all 60 of the state’s named glaciers, an undertaking which will require four or five more summers. This June he completed the initial financing of the project through Kickstarter, a popular crowd funding website. He reached his goal of $6,000, which paid for first hikes to Montana’s glaciers. As his Kickstarter project page declares, “I am going to hike to all of Montana’s glaciers to draw, bear witness and create a comprehensive record of these extraordinary features before it is too late.” Indeed time is short. Scientists in Montana’s Glacier National Park estimate that the park’s namesake glaciers may be completely gone by 2020. Historically, the park was the home of around 120 glaciers, and as of 2010 there were only 25. Marquis is not limiting himself to Glacier National Park, but will also draw the glaciers in the Mission Mountain Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. “I want to see each of these glaciers with my own eyes, feel their cold with my fingers, experience their presence with my body and breathe the chilled mountain air surrounding them,” he said. Better known for his paintings and graphic designs, Marquis chose sketches and drawings as the media best suited to capture and evoke glaciers. He suggests that drawing offers a more intimate experience to the artist and the viewer than photography, the medium most often used to depict glaciers. The marks his pencil makes as he drags across a page evoke for him the marks that glaciers make as they move across the landscape. “Drawing has the potential to convey not only the seen but also to be a record of what is felt and experienced over a period of time across a broad set of vantage points,” he wrote. Apparently his 129 financial backers agree. Kickstarter allows for public sourcing of financing of various independent projects, usually in modest amounts. The catch is that the full amount must be reached by the deadline; otherwise none of the funds can be used. The Glacier Drawing Project exceeded its goal and 20 patrons contributed $100 dollars or more each, a generous contribution. Ultimately Marquis wants to show in exhibitions and create a coffee-table book of his drawings. This will both document Montana’s changing mountains and raise awareness about climate change. You can see more on the progress of The Glacier Drawing Project on its Facebook page, and more about the artist, Jonathan Marquis, on his website. For an account of an artist who evokes changing glaciers in the Italian Alps, see “The painting is our desire for the mountain“. And for an account of an artist who captures glacier sounds rather than images, see “If a glacier melts on a mountain, does anyone hear it?“. Spread the...

Read More

Photo Friday: Highland communities in Ancash, Peru

Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in All Posts, Communities, Images | 1 comment

Photo Friday: Highland communities in Ancash, Peru

Spread the News:ShareAnthropologist Kate Dunbar wrote her dissertation on highland communities in Peru’s Ancash region. The glaciers in this area are important sources of drinking and irrigation water for these villages as well as myriad downstream users. Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com. Ancash Peru (photo by Kate Dunbar) Ancash Peru (photo by Kate Dunbar) Ancash Peru (photo by Kate Dunbar) Ancash Peru (photo by Kate Dunbar) Ancash Peru (photo by Kate Dunbar) Spread the...

Read More

In state of the climate report, mountain glaciers get special attention

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in All Posts, Science | 0 comments

In state of the climate report, mountain glaciers get special attention

Spread the News:ShareThe year 2013 hasn’t been a good one for climate change (as you might’ve guessed) and mountain glaciers have been singled out, according to a new report released by the National Climatic Data Center. The largest climate data archive in the world sits in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains and contains 14 petabytes of information, enough to stream 23 million movies. Asheville, N.C. is home to the NCDC, a division within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – that provides climatological services and data worldwide. For the last 24 years, NCDC scientists have been producing an annual report on the state of the world’s climate. These reports provide updates on global and regional climate and notable weather from the preceding year. Published by the American Meteorological Society in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), this report is a large international collaboration. The most recent report, covering the year 2013, involved over 400 scientists from 57 countries. Among the 2013 report’s distinguished highlights, along with carbon dioxide levels topping 400 parts per million, and the record-breaking super-typhoon Haiyan, is the news about mountain glaciers. The supplementary report begins by explain the importance of these glaciers: “Around the globe, some 370 million people live in basins where rivers derive at least 10 percent of their seasonal discharge from glacier melt. Glacier melt provides drinking water for human populations, and irrigation water for crops. Dams on glacier-fed rivers are key sources of hydroelectric power in some parts of the world. The retreat of the majority of mountain glaciers worldwide is one of the clearest signs that climate is warming over the long term; some glaciers have already disappeared.” The report indicates that mountain glaciers lost more ice from melt than they gained from seasonal snow-fall for the 23rd year in a row. This pattern is expected to continue. Since 1980, glaciers have lost the equivalent of 50 feet (more than 15 meters) of water. Five regions with long histories of data are used in the report as a barometer for the health of mountain glacier: Austria, Norway, New Zealand, Nepal, and the Northern Cascades of Washington State. The news – a pattern dominated by loss – is grim. Of the 96 glaciers evaluated in the Austrian Alps, 93 are retreating, two are stable, and just one is advancing. Norway is much the same: 26 of the 33 are retreating, another four are stable, and only three are advancing. Things are worse in North America (the 14 glaciers of the Northern Cascades in Washington State and Alaska are all significantly retreating) and in New Zealand, where all 50 are anticipated to have retreated by the end of the 2013 melt season. Only in Nepal, where the 3 glaciers monitored are near equilibrium, this near-balance reflects an unusually good year. In 2013, those glaciers received the largest amount of snow accumulation in the last seven years. The plight of diminishing mountain glaciers has serious implications for the health, food, energy resources and livelihoods of the 370 million people who live close to them. There are also serious effects in adjacent lowlands. Just as steady upward trend of the Keeling Curve of carbon dioxide concentrations is closely watched, so should be its apparent reflection: the glacier mass balance curve, shown each year in the State of the Climate report for the world to see. This year’s’ report and all previous reports are available for free download online. Spread the...

Read More