Posts by kristenfrench

Peruvian Demands Payment for Climate Change

Posted by on Mar 19, 2015 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

Peruvian Demands Payment for Climate Change

Spread the News:SharePeruvian farmer and mountaineering guide Saul Luciano Lliuya, and the town of Huaraz where he lives, long known as the “Switzerland of Peru,” may go down in climate-change history. The hundreds of tropical glaciers that blanket the mountains above Huaraz are melting, and Lliuya lays partial blame on German energy company RWE, Europe’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Last Friday, Lliuya sent a letter of complaint to RWE, demanding that it pay $21,000 in compensation for its role in climate change, pocket change for a company that earned $1.38 billion in 2014. According to Lliuya’s claim, all the carbon RWE emits into the atmosphere contributes to glacial melt that threatens to flood his town, destroy his home and displace his family. It is the first such claim in Europe and is backed by a German environmental NGO called Germanwatch, a representative of which met with Lliuya during the Lima Climate Change Conference, COP20, last December. Lliuya sent the letter to RWE through his lawyer Roda Verheyen, a Hamburg-based environmental attorney. If RWE is not willing to pay or does not answer his request by April 15, Lliuya will evaluate the possibility of suing the company. “This move is unparalleled in Europe,” said Christoph Bals, Germanwatch’s policy director, in a statement. “It is unprecedented both in legal and political terms.  It empowers potential climate change victims. It implements the ‘polluters pay’ principle, a step which is long overdue. A company which creates risks to others has two obligations: stopping to hurt them and limiting the damage.” Michael Murphy, a spokesman for RWE, told GlacierHub via email that the company could not comment on the letter because it had not yet received it. There is no chance a lawsuit would turn into a class action, because Germany does not have a legal framework for such cases, Verheyen said, also via email. “I do not know whether this will spur similar cases,” she wrote. “My client takes a very courageous step.” Given the timing, the case could have an impact on negotiations at the climate treaty meeting in Paris this December. According to the most recent assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, retreat and melting in the tropical glaciers of the Andes are caused by climate change. In fact, there are few environmental risks in which climate change can as clearly be faulted as Andean glacier melt, says Germanwatch. “We do think that both the present claim and a potential lawsuit could lend new momentum to a climate agreement and in the international climate debate,” wrote Stefan Küper, Germanwatch press officer, in an email. Huaraz is the capital of the region of Ancash, which is a site of great social unrest in Peru, in part due to the environmental impacts of mining mega-projects, which have long been charged with contaminating local water resources. Ancash registered the highest number of social conflicts of any region in Peru during February, with 24 cases, according to the Peruvian government’s Public Defender’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo). Flood Risk The mountain range that towers over Huaraz is known as the Cordillera Blanca, or white mountain range, the highest tropical mountain chain in the world. These dramatic white peaks are covered in 722 glaciers and 296 lakes, according to some estimates. But as the glaciers melt, they threaten not only to deplete a critical water source for the region, but to overwhelm the lakes below, causing torrential and devastating flooding in what are known as a glacial lake outburst floods. One of these lakes, called Lake Palcacocha, sits directly above Huaraz and is thought to pose...

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Will Chile Get Its Five-Star Glacier Law?

Posted by on Mar 12, 2015 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Will Chile Get Its Five-Star Glacier Law?

Spread the News:ShareChilean authorities and legislators agreed last week to a new framework for a law to protect thousands of melting glaciers in the towering Andes. The new proposal would safeguard glaciers inside of Chile’s national parks, but it’s not clear what protections would be offered to those glaciers that lie near some of the country’s major mining concessions. Some 31,000 glaciers span the Chilean side of the cordillera, which represent 82% percent of all glaciers in South America and provide critical water resources to the region. But the billions of dollars worth of copper, gold and other mining projects operating in the Andes represent a significant source of income for Chile, the world’s biggest copper exporter. Though Chilean authorities pledged to make the new proposed law a priority—it will be presented to environmental authorities this week—glacier laws have been a subject of heated debate for some time in the country, and it’s not clear this one will pass any more readily than its predecessors. While the new legal framework includes approximations of some measures contained in a “five star” glacier law proposal put forward by Greenpeace and a handful of Chilean politicians last year, environmentalists charge that there are too many loopholes for mining companies to exploit. The new glacier law framework consists of 14 amendments to an earlier law proposed last year, according to Chilean newspaper La Segunda and radio station Radio UChile. These amendments would assign legal classification to different kinds of glaciers, as well as to the frozen land surrounding them, declare them national “patrimony” to be protected by the government, and allow for the revision of environmental permits already granted for projects that would interfere with glaciers. Such permits could not be revoked, but companies could be required to take additional measures to mitigate the impacts their projects would have on glaciers. The law would also describe specific kinds of activities prohibited on glaciers designated as requiring special protection. The “five-star” proposal included a few extra steps: de facto protection of all areas defined as “glaciers,” as well as surrounding land, banning any activity that damages a glacier, and requiring all projects that today impact glaciers to stop doing so. Environmentalists have been clamoring for good glacier laws in recent months with a string of colorful protests. In January, Greenpeace activists parked themselves in front of the presidential palace, La Moneda, in the capital city of Santiago with a mock food cart full of withered and dried up fruits and vegetables for the “Market without Glaciers.” Produce was advertised at outrageous prices ($5,000 pesos, or around US$7, for every ratty piece of corn). On Twitter, Matias Asun, head of Greenpeace Chile, explained in Spanish that this is what the country’s produce would look like if all of its glaciers were destroyed. A few months earlier, on Sept. 27, two thousand people, many of them children wearing superhero costumes, marched to the La Moneda to urge president Bachelet to write glacier protection laws. And last March, Chilean Greenpeace activists declared a “Glacier Republic,” a sovereign state covering 23,000 square kilometers of glaciers in Chile that already has over 15,000 “citizens,” to push adoption of a law to protect Chile’s glaciers. According to at least one politician, 80 to 85 percent of all glacier surface area in Chile exists within its national parks. Under the new legal framework, the fate of the rest of the glaciers would be determined by the council of ministers as opposed to by legislation. Greenpeace’s Asun told Radio UChile that he believes this would open such decisions up to political influence from mining companies such as Barrick Gold,...

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Mining a Norwegian Glacier for Luxury Ice Cubes

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Tourism | 1 comment

Mining a Norwegian Glacier for Luxury Ice Cubes

Spread the News:ShareThe World’s Most Wanted Ice Cube: that’s the tagline a Norwegian company is using to market ice cubes carved out of a melting ten-thousand-year-old Norwegian glacier. It plans to sell them to owners of upscale bars in Dubai, London and New York. After all, if you are sipping a $50 7-star cocktail served in a glass made of Swarovski crystal you are not going to want to contaminate your drink with any old grocery store ice cube. You are going to want luxury ice. At least, this is what Geir Ludvik Olsen is banking on with his Norwegian startup SVAICE. He launched the company in November and wants to make his ice cubes out of ice mined from Norway’s Svartisen glacier. Most glacier ice formed long before the industrial age polluted our atmosphere and our water, so it is presumed to be especially pure. It has been so tightly compressed over thousands of years by the weight of a glacier that it takes forever to melt and won’t dilute your drink. And glacier ice cubes hiss and pop as they melt—they practically sing to you while you sip. “If you thought you knew what an icecube [sic] could do for you, think again!” the company’s website declares. “We guarantee goosebumps and a memorable moment for those who can find it.” The home page features a pretty average looking ice cube, set against a mysterious curl of white smoke and a background of deep purple shading to black. SVAICE plans to sell around 16 million of the cubes a year in sleek black refrigerated boxes. Olsen says the venture will support the struggling local economy of Nordland county, where the glacier is located. He told the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK his company will provide 60 new jobs. And Arve Knutsen, Nordland County Council advisor for business and regional development,  hopes the ice cubes will put Svartisen on the map for tourists. But SVAICE’s plans have drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists, who are not thrilled at the idea of mining a melting glacier to support an energy-intensive and emissions-heavy shipping business. Sigurd Enge, an advisor on Arctic issues for environmental NGO The Bellona Foundation, told Norway’s The Local that a full environmental impact assessment should be required to see how the mining operation will affect the condition of the glacier. Enge also noted that it will require a lot of energy just to keep the product cold as it is shipped around the globe. The World Wildlife Fund’s Secretary General in Norway, Nina Jensen, also spoke to The Local about the project. “It seems very strange that the government should provide support to mine Svartisen when we know that it is shrinking because of climate change,” she told the publication. “I do not think it is right to create short-term jobs by eating up the last parts of a glacier which is about to disappear.” SVAICE is getting 250,000 kroner (US $33,000) from Norway’s Nordland County and the Norwegian forestry department to conduct exploratory “drilling” on Svartisen, which will require heavy industrial machinery. Norway’s second largest glacier, Svartisen covers approximately 370 square kilometers of land and sits just 20 meters above the sea. Melting water from the glacier is dammed and used to produce electricity. Between 1999-2009, the outlet glacier at the tail of Svartisen, called Engabreen, retreated 255 meters, according to the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. At the terminus, the glacier is melting at an annual rate of 12 meters. SVAICE’s website claims that the ice it will harvest is “soon-to-be calving” anyway and adds up to “just a cup of water in the ocean.” Those 16 million ice cubes per year are the equivalent of 51.4 seconds of hydropower, the...

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Scientists Learn to Drone in the Himalayas

Posted by on Feb 5, 2015 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Science | 0 comments

Scientists Learn to Drone in the Himalayas

Spread the News:ShareAs glaciers around the world melt in response to climate change, scientists are rushing to map and catalog the precise ways in which they are changing. They have new allies in this fight: drones. But first, scientists have to learn how to use and operate them. In late January, an organization dedicated to sustainable mountain development called ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) held a workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal on the use of drones for scientific research. The workshop addressed permitting issues, the use of drones in landscape mapping, and some future applications of drones. These include detecting and documenting flooding and landslide hazards, as well as tracking illegal logging and mining. Participants were also shown how to fly a drone and tested the machines out in the field. Many researchers believe that drones could significantly transform our understanding of glacier dynamics and glacier melt. They can collect data on large geographical areas faster than ground-based field studies and have higher spatial resolution than satellite imagery. And they are especially suited to tracking and mapping natural hazards and risks, such as glacial lake outburst floods and landslides, due to the ease with which they can reach and monitor far-flung places in dangerous terrain. All it takes to launch one into the world to fetch glacier data is a GPS device, a camera and a little programming to design a schedule and plot out a route. ICIMOD and researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands were the first to launch a study of Himalayan glaciers using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle). The Himalayas, which supply rivers that provide water to a fifth of the global population, are losing ice at the rate of 9,000 sports stadiums full of ice every year. But what exactly is the role that the glaciers play in the water cycle of the Himalayan region? And how are they melting? There are many theories but very little data. The groups’ initial research findings, which concerned the debris-covered Lirung Glacier in the Langtang valley, were published in the journal Remote Sensing Environment last July. Today, the ICIMOD and Utrecht University researchers are using UAV’s to conduct comparative studies of the Lirung and Langtang glaciers in Nepal. That project is attempting to address several key research questions: (a) how quickly and where specifically are debris-covered glacier tongues melting; (b) how dynamic are ice cliffs and supra-glacial lakes and what is their role in controlling the melt; (c) how fast are the glaciers moving, or what is the ice flow velocity and; (d) are the glaciers retreating? The project leaders also hope to train local researchers so that they can use UAVs to monitor glaciers in the region over the long term. Other UAV-glacier projects include the Ocean Research Project’s glacier mapping research on the southeast coast of Greenland. PhD students in the geosciences from the University of Cambridge and Aberystwyth University are also using drones to investigate the glaciers of West Greenland. Still others are using them in the Canadian Arctic. Even high school students are getting in on the act. One group from Miami spent the summer investigation ice mass loss at the Kennicott Glacier in Alaska. As drones evolve, with better technology and software, and scientists get a better handle on how to use and operate them, the research findings they can contribute to the field of glaciology will surely evolve as well. For other stories on the use of drones in glacier research, look here and here Spread the...

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Earthquakes Rattling Glaciers, Boosting Sea Level Rise

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics, Science | 0 comments

Earthquakes Rattling Glaciers, Boosting Sea Level Rise

Spread the News:ShareTalk of earthquakes likely calls to mind giant fissures opening up along the earth’s crust, the trembling of rock, buildings crumbling to their knees and, depending on your age and cast of mind, the love of Superman for Lois Lane. But it does not likely conjure up images of giant tongues of sliding ice or the splash of calving icebergs. And yet it should. Most earthquakes are generated by the friction produced by two bodies of rock rapidly sliding past each other on a fault in the Earth’s crust, but a different breed of earthquakes was discovered in 2003: glacier earthquakes. These newly documented earthquakes are occurring in glaciated areas of Alaska, Antarctica and Greenland and are caused by the dumping of giant icebergs–equal in size to, say, 400,000 Olympic swimming pools–into the sea. They produce seismic signals equivalent to those found in magnitude 5 earthquakes, which can be felt thousands of kilometers away. And there are many more of them today than there were just a couple of decades ago: six to eight times more than in the early 1990s have been recorded at outlet glaciers along the coast of Greenland. This sudden surge in glacier earthquakes is expected to set off a series of events that will result in faster sea level rise over the coming century than had previously been estimated, according to research conducted there by Dr. Meredith Nettles, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, and some of her colleagues, as a part of Project SERMI. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revised estimates for the next century dramatically upward (from 11-17 inches by 2100 to 10-39 inches) when taking Dr. Nettles and her colleagues’ earthquake research into account for the first time. This upward revision reflects the fact that the earthquakes change the internal dynamics of the glaciers, causing them to flow more rapidly, and to shed more ice into the ocean. Nettles gave a talk on glacier earthquakes last November at the American Museum of Natural History. In the summer of 2006, she and 11 other scientists from six institutions in the U.S., Denmark and Spain traveled to a small town in East Greenland to take seismic, GPS and time-lapse photography measurements of the Helheim Glacier. They wanted to examine the location, dynamics and frequency of glacier earthquakes and to develop a method for using seismic data to map changes in the ice. They also wanted to learn how these earthquakes shape the behavior of outlet glaciers, which cluster around coastlines and deposit ice and meltwater into the oceans. After setting up camp in town, the scientists flew a helicopter out to the glacier, drilled holes 6 feet deep in the ice, and drove 9-foot poles into those holes to anchor their GPS, time-lapse and seismic equipment. From the data they collected, they learned that short-term acceleration of glacier ice flows—up to 25% increases in velocity—coincided with the earthquakes. They also found that the increase in glacier earthquakes corresponded to net retreat of the ice front in Greenland. In particular, the section of the Greenland coast with earthquake-producing glaciers expanded northward. And whereas in the 1990s, a few glaciers were causing earthquakes; by 2005, those glaciers were associated with more frequent earthquakes, and other glaciers began to have seismic activity as well. Future research should focus on ice-ocean interactions that promote or reduce glacier calving, said Nettles. And scientists still need to better understand the specific mechanisms of loss of ice at the calving front and the effects of loss of ice on flow speeds. Nettles’ current research examines the impact of tides on...

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