Posts by Syed Sayeed

A Glacier Makes a Cameo on ‘Madam Secretary’

Posted by on Apr 5, 2016 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

A Glacier Makes a Cameo on ‘Madam Secretary’

Spread the News:ShareGlaciers made an unusual appearance on a primetime American television network last month: the television series Madam Secretary aired an episode whose plot involved a conflict between mining interests and an transnational public over the fate of a glacier in Chile. The show, on CBS, stars a fictional Secretary of State, Elizabeth McCord (played by Téa Leoni). In “Higher Learning,” Secretary McCord is pulled into a conflict sparked a hemisphere away when protesters bar an American mining company’s trucks from entering an indigenous heritage site in the Andes. Viewers learn through protesters’ shouts that the miners intend to extract gold that lies beneath the glacier at the site. The miners planned to dig through the glacier to access the gold, and the opponents of the operation say this will destroy the glacier. The mining company is American, and has a contract with the Chilean government. When an American employee is injured by a protester, the company calls on the State Department to ensure the safety of its workers. The Secretary attempts to intervene on behalf of the company by negotiating with the Chilean government to shut down the protests. The issue hits her agenda just as she is preparing to leave on a trip with her daughter Alison to visit the fictional Rafferty College, which Alison hopes to attend. Stopping by the office, where she is briefed by her team of four staffers, she points out that she understands the protesters’ perspective, saying, “It’s not surprising that people would object to moving an entire glacier to dig the gold out.” An advisor, Jay Whitman, played by Sebastian Arcelus, also points out that the whole affair has “a strong whiff of neo-colonialism.” However, the White House Chief of Staff pressures her to respond to the mining company’s interests because the company is based in the home state of a potential ally of the president. Furthermore, the mining company has a legal contract to extract the gold, so the Secretary is left in the position of having to try to protect their right to operate. The story takes another twist when the Secretary arrives at the college campus she is visiting with her daughter and is confronted by a group of vocal students who demand justice for the Chileans and for the environment. The students jumped on the issue when the media picked up the story of a solo protester who began a hike up the glacier saying he will reach the top to pay tribute to the glacier one last time, or die trying. Nothing fazes Bess, not even student protestors & a lawsuit. Watch #MadamSecretary now: https://t.co/BxeXmwy2lz pic.twitter.com/6UxTgLrT5B — Madam Secretary (@MadamSecretary) March 21, 2016 GlacierHub has covered controversy over mining in glaciated areas, for example when state-owned Codelco proposed expanding Chile’s largest copper mine in 2014. The expansion, which Codelco announced would continue, albeit with some redesigns, requires major operations near glaciated territory and the removal of six glaciers. The company initially claimed that there would be little environmental damage. Greenpeace responded to Codelco’s move by declaring Chile’s glaciers an independent “Glacier Republic.” This move was a sign of protest against the failure of the state to protect glaciers. Also, in Kyrgyzstan, the Kumtor gold mine’s operations has threatened glaciers and water. As these stories show, the episode of Madam Secretary is fairly realistic in its depiction of geopolitical issues. We see how transnational politics play a role in resource extraction. We also see how a Secretary of State uses political channels, leveraging US trade policy in a conversation with the Chilean ambassador, who she calls...

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Roundup: Kelp, Firn, and Plankton Studied in Svalbard

Posted by on Apr 4, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Roundup | 0 comments

Roundup: Kelp, Firn, and Plankton Studied in Svalbard

Spread the News:ShareEach week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news. Warming of Artic  Changes Kelp Forests’ Density and Depth From Polar Biology: “Arctic West Spitsbergen in Svalbard is currently experiencing gradual warming due to climate change showing decreased landfast sea-ice and increased sedimentation. In order to document possible changes in 2012–2014, we partially repeated a quantitative diving study from 1996 to 1998 in the kelp forest at Hansneset, Kongsfjorden, along a depth gradient between 0 and 15 m. The seaweed biomass increased between 1996/1998 and 2012/2013 with peak in kelp biomass shifted to shallower depth, from 5 to 2.5 m.” Read more about this study here.   Firn, Newly-Settled Snow on Glaciers, Stores Water From  Geophysical Research Letters: “Ice-penetrating radar and GPS observations reveal a perennial firn aquifer (PFA) on a Svalbard ice field, similar to those recently discovered in southeastern Greenland. A bright, widespread radar reflector separates relatively dry and water-saturated firn…Our observations indicate that PFAs respond rapidly (subannually) to surface forcing, and are capable of providing significant input to the englacial hydrology system.” Read more about this study on firn hydrology here.   Krill and Crustaceans Play Bigger Role in Warming Ecosystem From Polar Biology: “Euphausiid (krill) and amphipod dynamics were studied during 2006–2011 by use of plankton nets in Kongsfjorden (79°N) and adjacent waters, also including limited sampling in Isfjorden (78°N) and Rijpfjorden (80°N). The objectives of the study were to assess how variations in physical characteristics across fjord systems affect the distribution and abundance of euphausiids and amphipods and the potential for these macrozooplankton species to reproduce in these waters…Euphausiids and amphipods are major food of capelin (Mallotus villosus) and polar cod (Boreogadus saida), respectively, in this region, and changes in prey abundance will likely have an impact on the feeding dynamics of these important fish species” Learn more about these ecosystems here. Spread the...

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Photo Friday: Mia Baila’s “Portraits of Ice”

Posted by on Mar 18, 2016 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Featured Posts, Images | 0 comments

Photo Friday: Mia Baila’s “Portraits of Ice”

Spread the News:ShareMia Baila has been painting glaciers in Alaska since she first saw them in 2008. In an email to Glacierhub, she wrote that she describes these paintings of glaciers as “Portraits of Ice,” and wrote that the process of representing a glacier in a painting is similar to the process of capturing the uniqueness of a human face. She also described the challenge of painting ice: “With some glaciers, the ice is so twisted and convoluted that it’s as though I am finding my way through a maze or labyrinth as I draw and paint on the canvas. With others, the ice is smoother, and less complicated, yet no less challenging.” Baila writes of the loss of glaciers to climate change: “I am very aware that as I make these paintings of the glaciers, most of my glacier subjects are melting. At some point in time, when the glaciers themselves are very much diminished, or completely gone, my paintings will serve as a record of the beauty that is here now.” The paintings below are of glaciers in Glacier Bay, including Margerie Glacier, as well as College Fjord and the Mendenhall Glacier. Her website can be found here and she can be followed on facebook. Glacier_Symphony_MiaBaila (1) The_Glacial_Stream-650x493 SouthSawyerSeptember-484x376 Autumn_in_Mendenhall-627x495 5_Frozen_Memory_Lamplugh_Glacier-536x412 Ancient_Ice Spread the...

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Tourists on Thin Ice in Glacial Lagoon

Posted by on Mar 15, 2016 in Featured Posts, News, Tourism, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Tourists on Thin Ice in Glacial Lagoon

Spread the News:ShareIn February, a group of nearly 50 tourists drew national attention in Iceland when, ignoring posted signs, they wandered onto a sheet of ice. Luckily they were called by back to shore by a tour guide who spotted them, according to Iceland Magazine. However, the event raised the question of tourist safety, which is a growing concern in the area. The event happened at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, a popular destination in southeast Iceland and the terminus of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. The group, which included some parents with children, braved the ice in order to get a closer view of seals. They jumped over cracks between floating ice. Though the ice appeared stable, the tourists had placed themselves at risk of being stranded since the ice sheets could have drifted apart. The Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon is a draw for tourists in the area, since it contains strikingly impressive icebergs and is conveniently situated on Iceland’s Ring Road. Dr. Þorvarður Árnason, an environmental scientist at the University of Iceland, said that the lagoon’s ice is made complicated by its tidal connection with the Atlantic Ocean. “Foreign tourists coming to Jökulsárlón during the winter are probably not aware of this,” he wrote in an email message. “They think this is a ‘normal’ frozen lake… and do not consider the danger of the incoming tide of warm oceanic water which can melt the surface ice and also causes the floating icebergs to start moving, so that the ice around them can crack.” The incident has become known locally as “the stranding of the tourists,” according to M Jackson, a researcher in the area who spoke with GlacierHub. Jackson is based near Jökulsárlón and is on a 9-month visit to Iceland to collect first-hand observations and accounts of glaciers’ impacts and relationships with humans. In Iceland, Jackson said that the problem of tourist safety is frequent and well-known. She spoke with tourists at Jökulsárlón in the days following the incident. When she went to the lagoon, tourists were again walking out onto the ice and she asked them about safety when they returned to shore. Some said they were following footprints in the snow, while others thought it was similar to walking on frozen lakes back home. Others said danger wasn’t a concern. The responses indicated that tourists were both unfamiliar with the dangers of the lagoon ice and neglectful of “individual and community safety,” Jackson wrote via email. “There appears to be a disregard for the dangers foreign tourists are placing themselves in and the dangers they are placing others in—the rescuers who will volunteer to help them.” Jackson lives in the town of Höfn, a fishing town of 1,700 near Jökulsárlón, and said that resident volunteers from the town are the first line of response for situations like the one that arose. Volunteer groups fit into a long tradition in Iceland, according to a recent article in the New Yorker. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue’s original goal was to save fishermen lost at sea. In 1950, they saved both the victims of a plane crash on a glacier as well as a team of first responders from the American military who got stranded. The work is seen as a form of community service, with employers allowing volunteers to take time off for for training and emergencies. The presence of this system has encouraged abuse, and tourists are seen as taking unnecessary risks because they count on it. Though the tourist group at Jökulsárlón was able to walk back to shore and did not need saving, incidents such as this still ring alarm bells in Höfn. Jackson said that when...

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Crevasses Offer Clues About Glacial Dynamics

Posted by on Feb 23, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Crevasses Offer Clues About Glacial Dynamics

Spread the News:ShareA recent article accepted in the Reviews of Geophysics summarizes research on how crevasses form and affect glaciers. Crevasses are fractures in the glacier surface that are renowned for their danger but also have been a research focus for glaciologists and other physical scientists for the past several decades, a subject which William Colgan of York University in Canada and his co-authors examine in detail. “Because of the non-trivial safety hazard associated with accidental crevasse falls, crevasses have been a bit of an afterthought in most observational glaciology studies to date,” Colgan told GlacierHub. “In this review, we tried to pull together various crumbs of crevasse insight from about 200 studies published over the past sixty years.” As glaciers move, the ice within them deforms, expands and contracts, and crevasses form as a result of the resulting tensions in the ice. Glacier ice is constantly in the process of moving, and generally flows downslope from the higher accumulation zone, where snowfall contributes to building up glacier ice, to the lower ablation zone, where ice is lost through sublimation, melting, or iceberg calving. The ice experiences differential stresses as it travels over bumps on the bedrock below, or in areas where the slope changes, leading to cracking. Another source of stress occurs as ice flows through areas of changing lateral boundaries; these constrict the ice or allow it to spread more widely. Like liquid water in a river, glacier ice speeds up in certain areas and slows down in others. The differential pushes and pulls causes the ice to split. Crevasses can occur in varying locations along a glacier, including curves and straightaways, and on both the top and bottom surfaces of glaciers. “Ice generally deforms and flows like a fluid, albeit a really, really, viscous fluid,” Colgan said. “Sometimes, however, the stresses exerted on a parcel of ice change too quickly for plastic deformation, and the ice experiences brittle fracture instead, forming crevasses. The distribution of crevasses on a glacier can change with both space and time, which makes crevasses interesting indicators of glacier dynamics.” Crevasses form, but they can also seal up, like a healing wound, and disappear. Scientists have been conducting research on this lifecycle. When crevasses rapidly appear and then close up within a short span of the glacier’s movement, it is referred to as a low-advection life cycle. If crevasses open up, and persist for a long time as the glacier moves long distances to conditions favorable to sealing up, that is referred to as a high-advection lifecycle. An analysis of published studies suggest that low-advection lifecycles are more common in the ablation zone while high-advection lifecycles are more common in the accumulation zone. Crevasses’ spatial dimensions determine how they influence the movement of the overall glacier. The authors write that the most important area for research is understanding how deep crevasses will be once they form, rather than their width. Deep crevasses allow water to penetrate further into the body of the glacier. Just as melting ice absorbs heat, this freezing water releases heat into the glacier. Even small amounts of heat can have large impacts on the glacier flow rate, and the deeper this heat is released in the glacier, the greater its impact on ice movement. Faster glacier movement can lead to greater loss of glacial ice, especially by increased calving into the ocean, since this accelerated downslope movement will not change the rate of glacier formation in higher zones. Data on the depth of crevasses is limited. Many crevasses are covered by thin snow bridges that make them invisible, both to...

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