Communities

Glacial Retreat Causes A Yukon River to Disappear

Posted by on Dec 14, 2016 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News, Science | 0 comments

Glacial Retreat Causes A Yukon River to Disappear

Spread the News:ShareMuch to the alarm of Canadians, the glacier-fed Slims River has disappeared following extensive glacial melting associated with anthropogenic climate change. Views of the Slims Valley, where the river once flowed, have been replaced by a dry plain, marked only by the sinuous bevels left behind by the river in the soil. These changes have major implications on local ecosystems and will inevitably result in lower water levels in downstream glacial lakes. For example, for many years, the Yukon’s Kluane Lake has been fed by the continuous flow of the Slims River. Water in the Slims River had been transported from Kaskawulsh Glacier, feeding the Kluane Lake and flowing into the Bering Sea. The Kaskawulsh Glacier is a large temperate valley glacier that lies in the St. Elias Mountains. It measures more than four miles across at its widest, where it meets the Slims and Kaskawulsh Rivers. With the recent melting of the glacier, water has been diverted in the direction of the Kaskawulsh River, which drains nearly 500 kilometers away in the Gulf of Alaska. Jeff Bond of the Yukon Geological Survey stated to Paul Tukker of CBC News, “Folks have noticed this spring that the [river has] essentially dried up.” This loss of streamflow is the first regional occurrence in the last 350 years, according to the Yukon Geological Survey. Some of the warmest temperatures on record in 2015 and 2016 have had major implications on glacial health in the region, with ice loss reported throughout the surrounding Saint Elias Mountains, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The rangers in the Kluane National Park noted that the Kaskawulsh Glacier has retreated nearly a half mile to the point where its melt water is now traveling in a completely different direction. In this case, the diversion of glacial meltwater is so substantial that no water is flowing in the direction of the Slims Valley and the downstream Bering Sea. Despite the Slims normally flowing approximately 19 kilometers from the edge of the glacier to Kluane Lake through the Slims Valley, changes to the Kaskawulsh’s spatial distribution have caused meltwater to flow not westward but to the east, flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The change in water patterns has major implications for ecosystems in regions experiencing new levels of flow (both in the dryer and the now wetter areas). For example, in the absence of perennial water, the Slims Valley is more prone to dust storms, at least until new vegetation stabilizes the floodplain. Retired Utah Geological Survey geomorphologist Will Stokes told GlacierHub, “The valley may undergo a major ecological evolution over the next few decades, characterized by new flora and fauna.” Although this may seem like a minor adjustment, Stokes explained, “These changes can drastically alter the local food chain, and if lake levels end up lowering dramatically, there may be a major negative impact on local hunting and fishing.” Jeff Bond further speculated to CBC News that the melt-water system which fed the Slims Valley may have only been a temporary outflow from the Kaskawulsh Glacier, representing a “300-year blip” on a much longer geological timescale in which large glaciers evolve. A study by Harold Borns in the American Journal of Science supports the notion that water began flowing northward around the year 1700, when climatological events caused the glacier to advance, ultimately diverting a large portion of snowmelt towards the Slims Valley and creating the Kluane Lake. This relationship illustrates the impact that regional climate has had on glacial events, with recent warming reversing the changes that occurred in a...

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Patagonian Ice Holds the Key to Unlocking the Past

Posted by on Nov 2, 2016 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Images, Science, Tourism | 0 comments

Patagonian Ice Holds the Key to Unlocking the Past

Spread the News:ShareA research team recently conducted a study in the Northern Patagonia Ice Field (NPI) to uncover some of the mystery behind Earth’s ancient climate. Along the way, the team made important observations about the current state of glacial ice thinning and climate change. Through their investigation of ancient paleoclimates (climates prevalent in the geological past), the scientists were able to identify time periods where major glacial growth and decline occurred in the Patagonian Ice Field, contributing important information to our understanding of our planet’s climate following the last ice age. Developing a strong comprehension of glacial advance and retreat over the last 10,000 years in places like the Patagonian Ice Field provides the scientific community with tools to augment our understanding of the past, as the planet’s climate is intrinsically related to its ecology at any given point in our recent geological history. Patagonia hosts a wide variety of largely untouched landscapes, possessing a range of environments from mountains and deserts to glaciers and grasslands. In addition to its mountainous beauty, the Northern Patagonia Icefield is special in that it is the most glaciated terrain on the planet within its latitude of 46.5 to 47.5 degrees south. The region where the ice field lies is a barren sector of South America spanning nearly 3 million square kilometers across southern Argentina and Chile. In the glaciated terrain, thick layers of ice and rock hold a wealth of information regarding global climates of the last 25,000 years, offering a glimpse of where we are headed given the recent anthropogenic (human-caused) acceleration of climate change. The study provided scientists with valuable climate data from the Late Pleistocene and Holocene time periods, which began approximately 125,000 years ago following the final episode of widespread global glaciation. The lead researchers of the study, David Nimick and Daniel McGrath, focused specifically on the the largest outlet glacier draining in the region, the Colonia Glacier on the eastern flank of the ice field. The team sought to constrain the ages of major glacial events by using a variety of dating techniques, including dendrochronology (tree-ring dating), radiocarbon dating, lichenometry (utilizing lichen growth to determine the age of exposed rock) as well as optically stimulated luminescence (dating the last time quartz sediments were exposed to sunlight). Employing such a wide variety of experimental techniques can be a valuable tool in improving the confidence of data and allowed the team to study a diversity of unique properties of the same glacial medium.   By examining properties of lichen and quartz grains (when they were last exposed to sunlight), the research team was able to  constrain the time at which specific rocks were uncovered from the ice sheets. The age at which the ice melted away to reveal these rocks corresponds to events of retreat (and subsequent advance) of glacial ice across the last few millennia. The determination of major glacial events using these techniques sheds light on the climatic events that not only influenced South American paleoclimate but also may affect present and future glacial retreat given the recent spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Results from dating analyses indicated that the most prominent increase in glaciated terrain occurred 13,200 years ago, 11,000 years ago and 4,960 years ago, with the last major advance defining the onset of Neoglaciation – the period of significant cooling during the Holocene or present day epoch. Analysis of a local ice-dammed lake revealed that glacial growth occurred 2,900 years ago and 810 years ago, with ice retreating during the intervening periods. This data points to the idea that in a general...

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Glaciers Help Explain Suffering Salmon Populations

Posted by on Oct 27, 2016 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts | 0 comments

Glaciers Help Explain Suffering Salmon Populations

Spread the News:ShareThe Nooksack Indians, who live in northwest Washington near the border of Canada, are fighting to save local salmon populations through a variety of innovative measures. Several species of salmon reside in the Nooksack River, which is comprised of three main forks that drain a large portion of the Cascade Range into Bellingham Bay. The salmon of the Nooksack are struggling as waters in the river warm. In response, the Nooksack Indians have turned to local glaciers to help understand and resolve the otherwise unrestricted impacts of climate change. The waters of the Nooksack River have long housed several salmon species that have provided tribes like the Nooksack with sustenance and financial support. In recognition of the importance of fishing for Native American communities, fishing rights were granted to the local tribes through the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. However, these fishing rights are threatened by the dwindling salmon populations struggling to keep up with the changing climate. The endangerment of the local salmon populations aren’t just an economic loss for the Nooksack Indians, but a culturally significant loss as well. Oliver Grah, Water Resources Program Manager for the tribe, points out, “The Nooksack Indian Tribe is place-based. That is, tribal members are supposed to stay and live on or near their reservation.” Once the river ecosystems reach a specific tipping point, the salmon populations will begin to die off and the impacts on local tribes will be deeply felt. In an effort to avert worrisome climate projections, the Nooksack Indian Tribe has been proactively implementing adaptive infrastructure and closely monitoring nearby glaciers crucial to healthy salmon numbers. It’s through thoughtful and long-term adaptation and monitoring plans that the Nooksack Tribe seeks to ease the environmental stressors that may critically alter salmon habitats. Pacific Northwest salmon populations fare best in periods having “high precipitation, deep mountain snowpack, cool air and water temperatures, cool coastal ocean temperatures, and abundant north-to-south ‘upwelling’ winds in spring and summer,” according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Nooksack River relies heavily on the glacial runoff from both Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan located near the U.S.-Canada border. Summer glacial melt has historically helped keep rivers cool and ideal for salmon, according to Northern Arizona University. However, as places like Washington continue to see above average temperatures, the glacial snowpack has started to suffer. When the glaciers suffer, the salmon suffer. With the current temperature trends, salmon populations will slowly wane to extinction in the Nooksack river, according to Grah. Grah states, “Ultimately, loss of glacier melt due to glacier recession will result in reduced stream flows and increased temperatures late in the summer when salmon are most vulnerable.” Different salmon species breed during the late summer and early fall, according to the National Park Service. This process begins in freshwater when a salmon egg nest becomes fertilized and remains embedded in the river bottom during the winter months. In the spring, eggs hatch and remain close to the nest for several months. Once the salmon have matured and grown in size, they begin to migrate towards the ocean. Depending on salmon breed, the migration can take anywhere from 0-2 years. Once the salmon reach the mouth of the river, they feed to increase their size and chance of survival in the ocean. Salmon can remain in the ocean for up to 8 years before migrating back to their native streams for reproduction. But this entire process relies on a consistent habitat in the salmon’s native river. The Nooksack Tribe recognizes the importance of trying to maintain this original ecosystem...

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Tensions Flare Over Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park

Posted by on Oct 26, 2016 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

Tensions Flare Over Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park

Spread the News:ShareFirst Nations in Canada have long gotten the short end of the stick in deals with federal agencies. Recently, inside Jasper National Park, things are tending toward more of the same, with indigenous people raising objections over a newly installed glass skywalk 918 feet above the Sunwapta valley. Like Canada’s other early national parks, Jasper was formed through colonial territorialization, in which indigenous people were forced from their lands to make way for wilderness preservation. As a result, the government must still consult with indigenous communities that hold Aboriginal or treaty rights in the area, a process fraught with controversy, according to an article by Megan Youdelis, a researcher at York University. In Jasper National Park, interests of First Nations overlaps with that of Parks Canada, causing friction over the development of the Glacier Skywalk. Jasper, located in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta province, is a few hours drive west of Edmonton, and is the second most visited park in Canada  with over two million visitors a year. Replete with glaciers and snow-capped mountain peaks, it is home to the Columbia Icefield, the largest ice field in the Canadian Rockies, as well as the Athabasca Glacier, the most-visited glacier in North America. First Nations are the descendants of people who immigrated to the area as far back as 9,000 years ago, after the big glaciers receded from the present-day park. Parks Canada, founded in 1911, is in charge of all national parks in Canada, and approved the $21 million Glacier Skywalk, but many First Nations felt that they weren’t properly consulted, according to Youdelis. Youdelis found that park management traditionally marginalizes First Nations’ input in the decision-making process in parks across Canada, including in Jasper. “It’s not right that certain First Nations enjoy fairly advanced comanagement arrangements with the state (such as in Gwaii Haanas, for example), while the First Nations living in Treaty areas are only ‘consulted’ in a very cursory manner,” said Youdelis in an interview with GlacierHub. “I think this is a major problem for the older, southern parks in Canada, like Jasper, where Indigenous territories continue to be appropriated so that corporations and the state benefit economically.” The 2011 Consultation and Aboriginal Engagement Report gives an account of the stakeholder meetings and open houses in which First Nations were consulted about the skywalk, but the report does not give any indication of which tribes were consulted, what issues were raised and what was done to address these issues. Parks Canada did not respond to requests to comment. According to a public forum put forth by Parks Canada, “Subsequent site visits with Elders from communities that expressed an interest in the project either confirmed that there were no concerns with the project or that no follow-up was required.” Some First Nations members refute this claim and have expressed that Parks Canada didn’t consult them properly by using only a forum meeting instead of a formal consultation with First Nations. Forum meetings are considered inadequate by some members of First Nations because not all Indigenous people can attend because of either the time or location. Furthermore, if Indigenous people don’t speak up during the meeting, their opinions simply aren’t heard. One member from the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation told Megan Youdelis, “We just felt it was very inappropriate that the Forum be used for consultation.” Another member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation said, “They did a brief presentation on what they wanted to do with the Glacier Skywalk and they asked for some feedback. The first thing I remember one of the members saying was, ‘This...

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At the Foot of a Zanskari Glacier

Posted by on Sep 27, 2016 in All Posts, Communities, Experiences, Featured Posts | 0 comments

At the Foot of a Zanskari Glacier

Spread the News:ShareA recent conversation in Zanskar, a region in the Himalayas of northern India,forcefully showed me how people can express their common concern for glaciers through  frameworks so different that they can be challenging to bring together. My first visit to Pensi-la My daughter and I entered Zanskar in June this year by the road from Kargil, the only thoroughfare that connects this subdistrict with the rest of India. On this road, I was welcomed by Pensi-la, a name that stands both for a pass at 4400 meters elevation and for the biggest doksa (summer milk camp) of the region, located just below the pass. The doksa is watched over by Drang Drung, an impressive glacier of the Greater Himalaya Range, which dominates the landscape as one moves towards Padum, the small capital city of Zanskar.  Its length of 23 kilometers makes  Drang Drung Glacier the largest glacier of Zanskar, and the second largest glacier in the entire region of Ladakh, a broad mountain region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, known for its strong cultural, linguistic and religious affinities with Tibet. Zanskar comprises a population of about 14,000, whose subsistence is mainly ensured through agro-pastoralist activities. The pastures of Zanskar are fed by glacier meltwater, which is the lifeblood of this part of India, where rainfall is scant. At the foot of the Drang Drung glacier, women spend the summer with their dzomo, the female yak and cow hybrid. There, they milk their animals, churn their milk into butter, and prepare cheese and yogurt. At night, they sleep in their pullu, basic shelters made of stone. But nights are short in the doksa: women wake up every day at 2am to milk their large herds. Then, as soon as the sun rises, the dzomo make their way to the foot of the glacier, where they spend the day. Dairy products from Zanskar, known for their richness, are famous throughout Ladakh. In a recent speech, the Dalai Lama extolled their virtues, as they are the product of animals that feed on the medicinal plants that grow at the foot of Zanskar’s impressive glaciers. The spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism encouraged Zanskarpas to commercialize their dairy products by emphasizing their very unique qualities. A return visit to Pensi-la My daughter and I returned later in the summer to the doksa in Pensi-la, with our friend Stanzin. I wanted to understand more fully the lives of the women in this area. We pitched our tent next to the pullu of Dolma, a woman in her sixties, who has spent her entire life in these high pastures. After a freezing night, DOlma invited us in for breakfast in her pullu. During our conversation, she reflected on the milk production of her animals. She can see that over the years, this vegetation has become sparse, creating difficulties for dairy herds. In her view, this decline in pastures can only be the result of the decreased winter snowfall, which has contributed to a reduction in the size of the glaciers. “This is the lack of luck of people today,” Dolma lamented, “in my younger days, the glaciers were immense. What does future hold, I wonder.”  Her perception coincides with the findings of  scientific research by Ulrich Kamp of the University of Montana and his associates, who have documented that Drang Drung Glacier has receded over 300 meters between 1975 and 2008. According to Dolma, these changing meteorological patterns do not happen on their own. Rather, they are the result of people’s increasing greediness. In the doksa, where pastoralist activities have decreased over the years, this is manifested...

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Himalayan Region Considers Climatic Threat to Hydropower Future

Posted by on Sep 15, 2016 in Communities, Featured Posts, News, Science | 0 comments

Himalayan Region Considers Climatic Threat to Hydropower Future

Spread the News:ShareGlacial melt is threatening the Hindu Kush Himalayan region’s development of potential hydropower. A recent forum convened by the Kathmandu-based organization International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) highlighted the climatic and social challenges that accompany the establishment and sustainability of the region’s hydropower sector. The Sept. 1 event event, “Managing climate and social risks key to hydropower development,” held in Stockholm, Sweden, was co-organized with the Stockholm International Water Institute, in addition to the research and consulting organization FutureWater and Statkraft, a Norwegian state-owned hydropower company. The Hindu Kush Himalayan region has nearly 500 GW hydropower potential, but only a fraction of it has been developed, despite the “increased climatic and social risks” this problem creates, according to ICIMOD.  “There is a need to manage risks so that the mountains and the plains derive sustainable benefits from the region’s rich hydropower potential,” said David Molden, the Director General of ICIMOD, according to the organization’s media release. The Asian mountain range extends across eight countries, from Afghanistan into Myanmar. Collectively, the biodiverse region, with 10 major river basins, directly supports the livelihoods of more than 210 million mountain inhabitants. The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, sometimes called HKH, also has the highest concentration of snow and glaciers outside the polar region, with 54,252 glaciers identified last year — meaning 1.4 percent of the region is glaciated. Glacial retreat, onset by the impacts of climate change and warming atmospheres, varies, but has been observed across all HKH glaciers in the last few decades. Overall, the decrease in glacial mass in this region over the last several decades has been among the most pronounced worldwide. “This surely is one of the most vulnerable regions,” said Molden during a video interview at the event. “It is highly vulnerable to climate change and the people in the mountains are not the ones emitting the greenhouse gases, but really the ones paying the price for climate change. Some of the issues we are seeing are melting ice, permafrost… changes in rainfall patterns that will make a big difference in this region… we really have to pay attention to the area.” Over 80 percent of the glaciers in the Himalayas have not been researched, as GlacierHub previously reported. Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in the area, along with landslides, have also increased in recent years, placing “existing and planned hydropower plants at risk,” according to the organization. While the Indian Himalayas has the potential to produce 150,000 MW of hydropower each year, only 27 percent of that power has actually been developed. In Nepal, only 2 percent of the region’s hydropower sources are utilized. Companies at the September meeting expressed concern about a number of risks in generating hydrpower in the region, Molden said in the video interview. The first step, he explained, is understanding the challenges. These include tracking changes in hydrology water resources that come from glacial melt. While melting glaciers increase water flows in rivers  for short periods of time, their contribution to river systems will gradually lessen. There are also challenges related to GLOFs, and the damage the outburst floods could inflict on hydropower plants. Aditi Mukherji, ICIMOD’s theme leader in water and air, spoke at at the meeting, presenting on how while hydropower is produced in the mountains of India, for example, mountain people there do not always receive direct commensurate benefits from the production of the energy sources. The consultation of communities in the construction of hydropower plants was also highlighted as another ongoing issue. Martin Hornsberg, of Statkraft, also presented at the conference, discussing how many run-off-river hydropower plants...

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