Experiences

Using Kayaks and Drones to Explore Glaciers

Posted by on May 23, 2017 in All Posts, Experiences, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Using Kayaks and Drones to Explore Glaciers

Spread the News:ShareField study sounds cool: a group of scientists take boats out into untraveled waters on an important scientific mission, even witnessing extraordinary scenery like an iceberg calving event along the journey. However, the breathtaking beauty of such a trip can also come at a price, sometimes even human life! “I like working in Alaska, but I face the difficulties of any ice or ocean research project,” said Erin Pettit, an associate professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Pettit finds it hard to find a reliable boat and captain for her trips, and too much ice in the fjord often limits how close she can get to the glaciers. The risks to her personal safety rise when she has to work on cold or rainy days. “It can be really dangerous in Alaska, so we send the kayaks out,” said June Marion, the principal engineer for a new study using remote-controlled kayaks to research Le Conte Glacier. The oceanic robotic kayaks are controlled by a laptop a few miles away, according to Marion. “When the calving event happens and an iceberg falls onto the kayak, we do not need to sacrifice valuable human life,” she said. “More importantly, the kayak can go further into unexplored regions. We are more hopeful to collect data.” With a radio controller or a computer, the researchers navigate the kayak by clicking on points on a map, sending the kayak directly to the location for study. The engine can even be started using a computer program. “There are always new technologies being used on glaciers,” said Pettit. Guillaume Jouvet et al. figured out another way for scientists to avoid danger during field work. They used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, to study calving of the Bowdoin Glacier in Greenland in 2015. They combined satellite images, UAV photogrammetry, and ice flow modeling, drawing important conclusions from the results. With UAVs, researchers are able to obtain high-resolution orthoimages taken immediately before and after the initiation of a large fracture, including major calving events. In this way, Jouvet et al.’s study demonstrates that UAV photogrammetry and ice flow modeling can be a safer tool to study glaciers. This technology has also been successfully applied to monitor Himalayan glacier dynamics: the UAVs can be used over high-altitude, debris-covered glaciers, with images of glacier elevation and surface changes derived at very high resolutions, according to W. Immerzeel et al.. UAVs can be further revolutionized to develop current glacier monitoring methods. Scientists like Marion and Pettit are excited to see these new technologies developed to study glaciers and save lives. They are hoping for more methods to achieve this goal. Spread the...

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Samar Khan Becomes First Woman to Cycle on Biafo Glacier

Posted by on May 11, 2017 in All Posts, Experiences, Featured Posts, Interviews, News, Sports, Tourism | 0 comments

Samar Khan Becomes First Woman to Cycle on Biafo Glacier

Spread the News:ShareIn August 2016, Samar Khan, 26, became the first woman to cycle 800 kilometers to reach the Biafo Glacier in northern Pakistan, where she then rode at an elevation of 4,500 m on top of the glacier. Accomplishing one of the highest glacier rides in the world, she proved that glaciers can draw attention to some of society’s most entrenched issues, from climate change to women’s rights. “In order to change the mindsets of our people, I chose to cycle on glaciers,” Khan told GlacierHub. “I wanted people to realize the importance of what we have, how to preserve it, and what our duties are toward these majestic landmarks.” Khan reached Biafo Glacier after 15 days of cycling from Islamabad to Skardu, becoming the first Pakistani to accomplish the feat. She was accompanied by other cyclists at various times during her journey and was honored upon her arrival by the sports board of Gilgit-Baltistan. Prior to the Biafo trip, she had previously covered 1,000 km, cycling from Islamabad to the Pakistan-Chinese border.  Biafo Glacier, the third longest glacier outside the polar regions, required Kahn to disassemble her bike and carry the parts, helped by porters, for four or five days up ice and snow to reach the remote glacier before riding it. She camped near the glacier in dangerously cold conditions, telling Images, a Pakistani magazine, “Camping on the glacier was not easy. I was so cold that I couldn’t sleep and later slept with the porters in a cramped space.” Recognizing that climate change is impacting the glaciers, Khan plans to keep cycling. “I will be cycling on other glaciers, summiting peaks, and documenting it all to create awareness about climate change and its effect on our environment,” she said. “I am going for a peak summit of 6,250 m in Arandu (Karakoram Range), Skardu, and Gilgit-Baltistan on May 14th.” Gilgit-Baltistan is a mountainous administrative territory of Pakistan, home to five peaks of at least 8,000 m in height. Sadaffe Abid, co-founder of CIRCLE, a Pakistan-based women’s rights group focused on improving women’s socioeconomic status, talked to GlacierHub about Ms. Khan’s achievement. “It’s not common at all. It’s very challenging. For a Pakistani women, it is very unusual, as women don’t ride bicycles or motorbikes. Their mobility is extremely constrained. So, it’s a big deal and its setting new milestones,” she said. “I am the first Pak girl to break stereotypes and cycle to northern Pakistan,” Samar Khan told CIRCLE in an interview posted on Facebook. Khan has faced sexism and violence by going against the norms in Pakistan. She recounted a story to CIRCLE about her engagement to a man. When she met his family, they gave her a list of demands including not speaking Pashto and not using social media or her cell phone. When she refused, she was beaten and thrown out of a car. She ended up in the ICU and became depressed before eventually finding cycling. “Steps taken like this boost the confidence of other ladies in underprivileged areas and make them aware about their basic rights,” Khan said. “It makes them realize their strengths and capabilities. The change begins when they start trusting themselves instead of listening to the patriarchal society.” Khan told GlacierHub that she also faced criticism and disbelief of her accomplishment from other sources. “There was a trekking community who criticized my way of exploring Biafo Glacier, the most challenging and rough terrain for trekkers. I was going there on my cycle, which was really hard for them to accept,” she said. “But the mainstream media supported my...

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Studying Microclimate in Central Chile

Posted by on May 3, 2017 in All Posts, Experiences, Featured Posts | 0 comments

Studying Microclimate in Central Chile

Spread the News:ShareFor map geeks, especially geographers and cartographers, it might be of interest to know about an overlooked peculiarity in Chilean maps. Unlike other countries, perhaps with the exception of Argentina, topographic and nautical charts use the words “glaciar” and “ventisquero” to refer to a glacier or zone filled with perennial snow (see an example for the San Quintín glacier, Chilean Patagonia, here). There are limited references on the web about why “ventisquero” is utilized in these maps, although Wikipedia suggests that this word is utilized in Spain to denote locations where snow accumulates by snowdrift (maybe an inheritance from the conquistadors’ comprehension of snow and ice at the time?). As a “rookie” undergrad glaciologist in my early twenties (around the year 2000), this inconsistency caught my attention during my visit to a glacier in Monte Tronador. Without any background knowledge at that time, I assimilated the word “ventisquero” as meaning that glaciers or perennial snow produce wind (one meaning of ventisquero is “that brings gale”). A few years later, I convinced myself of the existence of this glacier/snow wind when I visited the Pío XI glacier. I experienced a lot of turbulence when passing above the ablation zone by helicopter. Misleading or not, understanding the wind system over glaciers and snow remained on my mind. Thanks to a research grant from the Chilean Council of Sciences (CONICYT) and support from the National Forest Corporation (CONAF), this last year we began a research project to study the features of the atmospheric boundary layer above glaciers and snow, where we expect to provide better understanding of several microclimatic features, including the glacier wind, especially in a regional scenario of less snow and increasing glacier melt and recession. In this research, we combine several methods: climatic observations, numerical climate modeling, and surveys using unmanned aerial vehicles. On March 2017, we carried out our first field campaign to install weather stations in the forefield of the Cipreses and Cotón glaciers, two relatively large ice bodies that feed the Cachapoal river in Central Chile, which in turn power a great share of the Chilean wine industry. Our goal with these observations is to capture any change in near-surface weather conditions when seasonal snow covers the surface. Our campaign began when we drove nearly seven hours from Concepción to the park entrance. We spent the next two days on a 25-km walk (~15 miles) to get to the upper-valley.  Because March corresponds to the end of the summer, we were hit by intense sunshine and temperatures above 30°C (86 F), which slowed us down. Thus, after two days and two river crossings, helped by “arrieros,” horses and mules, we began the installation of the stations, configured to continuously measure near-surface temperature, relative humidity, incoming and outgoing solar radiation (so we get albedo), atmospheric pressure, and wind speed and direction. In all locations, we tried to follow the main axis of the valley, but in one of the cases we had to go closer to the valley wall because the valley gets too narrow. There, we also realized that the Cipreses Glacier had receded quite a lot and was now above a nearly 500-m rock wall. After three days, we left the upper valley hoping the stations will be functioning and recording when we return next October. In the meantime, we expect to find further funding to reach the highest sections of the valley using a helicopter and install climatic sensors on the glacier. The team exhibited a great mood and scientific curiosity, including members Mauricio Aleuy, a B.S. in geography who is working on...

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Extreme Skiing Expedition Raises Climate Change Awareness

Posted by on Jan 25, 2017 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Experiences, Featured Posts, Images, Interviews, News, Sports | 0 comments

Extreme Skiing Expedition Raises Climate Change Awareness

Spread the News:ShareAs glacial ice melts due to global warming, explorers Borge Ousland and Vincent Colliard are in the process of skiing across the world’s 20 largest glaciers to raise awareness about climate change. Deemed the Alpina & Ice Legacy Project, the plan seeks to have the duo cross the world’s most isolated glacial realms over the next 10 years. Ousland hopes that his expeditions will help in develop “new technology, political will, and [understanding about] what’s going on,” according to a November 2016 interview with National Geographic. Given the current state of climate change, the two men may not only be the first to accomplish the feat of traveling the world’s 20 largest glaciers, but also the last.  Both athletes are decorated skiers, with combined expedition experience across all seven continents in the past decade. Borge Ousland, the team’s leader, is credited with the first and fastest solo expedition to the North Pole, a journey that took more than 50 days and resulted in severe weight loss and frostbite. Still, only three years later, Ousland became the first to ski 1,864 miles across Antarctica completely unsupported. Now, for the Ice Legacy Project, 54-year-old Ousland has teamed up with 30-year-old Frenchman Vincent Colliard for a multi-stage glacier expedition. Derek Parron, an experienced backcountry skier and owner of  Rocky Mountain Underground ski company, attested to the audacity of Ousland and Colliard’s expedition in an interview with GlacierHub: “In all my years of doing long ski treks in the backcountry, I’ve never heard of a team working towards such an extraordinary goal,” he said. “Despite the wealth of experience between the two of them, their project is extremely dangerous with a lot of factors that could potentially go wrong.”  The skiing and mountaineering community has a great deal of respect for the duo’s ongoing project, and Parron pointed out that “not only are they touring across the world’s largest glaciers, but they’re documenting the entire process for the world to see.”   Maintaining a presence on social media is an important piece of the project, allowing the public to track the team’s progress across the numerous expeditions. “The world needs to find technical and political solutions to the environmental crisis,” Ousland told GlacierHub. “This long-term expedition is meant to be an incubator to that process, a visual example and a window to what is happening.” Despite the risks, the duo has already successfully completed two goals of their project with funding support from watchmaker Alpina: crossing the Stikine Glacier in Alaska and the St. Elias-Wrangell Mountains  Ice Field.   “We’d get up at 5 a.m., eat breakfast, check to see if we got news from the outside world, then start skiing at 8 a.m,”  Colliard commented to National Geographic about a normal expedition day. “We’d ski for nine hours, towing our sleds, which were about 175 pounds per person, taking 15-minute breaks every hour.” The team would cover approximately 12 miles every day, making sure to keep sufficient food available to sustain a 5,000-calorie daily diet.  Given the dangers of crossing glacier fields in Alaska, the team’s effort to raise awareness about climate change is all the more admirable. Their project outline states that the plan “combines athletic prowess, human adventure and the sharing of knowledge about the polar environment with as many people as possible, so that future generations may enjoy the fascinating and priceless legacy of glaciers and icecaps.” In order to achieve these goals, Ousland described three major dangers that exist when traveling in isolated glacial environments: hidden crevasses, powerful avalanches from the mountains above, and inclement weather in...

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Presence and Absence: Mourning a Himalayan King

Posted by on Jan 3, 2017 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Experiences, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

Presence and Absence: Mourning a Himalayan King

Spread the News:ShareA shortened version of this article was published in the Nepali Times on December 23, 2016.   One Thursday last month, not much before noon, I was walking through a forest steeped in snow, in rural Vermont. Sun came and went between the clouds. It was quiet, spare. Crystalline light reflected off the frozen surface of a nearby pond. The world felt peaceful, filled with grace and presence, even as it was marked by absence: the bareness of birch trees, the pale winter light. I did not know it at the time, but as I was walking, at what was the first hour of Friday December 16, in Kathmandu, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, the King of Lo, or Upper Mustang, was leaving the shell of his body, his consciousness released. He was 86 years old, and had ruled his kingdom for more than half a century with equanimity. I had the good fortune to have known him, in some small way, for the last twenty years. We shared an affinity for horses and a love of the landscape he called home. It is fair to say that meeting him altered the course of my life. Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista was known by many names. In Nepali, people referred to him as the Mustang Raja, one of four “petty kings” – including local rulers in Bajhang, Salyan, and Jajarkot – who retained regional power even as their territories were incorporated into the emerging nation-state of Nepal in the mid-18th century. These “petty kings” were recognized by Nepali law from 1961 until 2008, when Nepal transitioned from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic. In Tibetan, Bista was called Lo Gyalpo, or the King of Lo, evoking a sense of respect and deference akin to the titles given to kings of neighboring Bhutan and Sikkim. The fact that Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista had been officially stripped of his raja title by the Nepali state did little to affect his importance in the lives of Loba, people from upper Mustang. To them, he was far from “petty” in his influence. To Loba, he was often called Kundun. This Tibetan word means “presence.” It is the same term of address that is often used by Tibetans to refer to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This gives one a sense of just how important this person was to the people of Mustang. He helped to define and defend a people, a place, a way of life, and a sense of belonging to the high pastures and valleys, the canyons and plains, the monasteries and villages of this Himalayan enclave. Bista was 25th in a lineage of rulers that dates back to the late 14th century, and the founding of the kingdom by a western Tibetan leader named Amepal. In 1964, when he was in his mid-thirties, Bista assumed the title of Lo Gyalpo after the death of his father. He was his father’s youngest son. Bista married Sidol Palwar, a refined, elegant woman who traveled from Shigatse, Tibet, to Lo as a bride in 1950, before the political upheavals of 1959. They had no living biological children, but the couple adopted their nephew, Jigme Singe Palbar Bista, as son and heir. Over the past half-century, Bista ushered his community through massive political-economic and sociocultural transitions: the stationing in Mustang of Chushi Gangdruk, the Tibetan Resistance Army, from 1961 until 1974; opening Lo to foreign tourists in 1992, after Nepal’s first jan andolan, or People’s Movement, in 1990; the decade-long People’s War (1996-2006) and its attendant impacts on all aspects of life in...

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Technology in Adventure: Lessons from an Everest Attempt

Posted by on Oct 20, 2016 in All Posts, Experiences, Featured Posts, Sports | 0 comments

Technology in Adventure: Lessons from an Everest Attempt

Spread the News:ShareSarah Jane Pell, a researcher at the Exertion Games Lab at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia and a self-described artist-adventurer, initially planned to climb Mount Everest in April 2015 to document her experiences with high-definition 360-degree video and record artistic expressions on the summit. She hoped to provide human-computer interaction designers with initial research on how to embrace adventure. As part of the Exertion Games Lab, which focuses on exploring the role of games in order to design better interactive experiences, Pell is particularly interested in human movement and performing arts. She was initially hired at RMIT as a visiting researcher to explore digital systems supporting performance for underwater play. She chose Mount Everest as an extreme location for her field work, but she never expected to have her journey interrupted by a powerful earthquake that struck Nepal a few weeks into her trek. Pell then reoriented her research based on her experiences during her expedition to focus on technology’s role in adventure. On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region just before noon local time, killing eighteen climbers on Everest and more than 8,000 across Nepal, while displacing another 2.8 million people, according to a Washington Post article written by Annie Gowen. A few weeks before the earthquake, Pell had arrived in Lukla Airport and begun her ten-day trek to Everest Base camp. Due to an unforeseen incident with her climber’s permit days before the earthquake, Pell had left Everest, traveling to Kathmandu to resolve the issue before returning to Everest Base Camp (EBC). She was on the fourth floor of her hotel in the capital when the earthquake struck. She survived, and in the days after the disaster, documented what she experienced through personal video. She returned home to Australia a few weeks later, where she evaluated her own personal journey with adventure technology. Pell describes how technology helped and hindered her during her trek in her recent article. Throughout her journey on Everest, Pell had field-tested various adventure technology, including both high-tech equipment, such as wearable biofeedback systems, and low-tech equipment, such as “non-smart” phones. She sought to understand how that technology interacted with the extreme environment of Mount Everest. For example, she used technology like her Jawbone fitness tracker to help her prepare physically for the climb, and to monitor her progress and preparedness. Pell was even able to record with her phone the moments after the quake, as she and others were waiting for inevitable aftershocks. One of the more surprising experiences she had was discovering how smart technology failed her due to limited connectivity and power. Instead, she had to depend on lower-tech solutions. For example, she was only able to get reception from a 2G phone and observed local people stringing up plastic bags of water above their stoves in order to detect aftershocks, which would produce ripples in the water. Despite the fact that earthquake-related apps exist, Pell was not able to use them due to the lack of Internet and power. Pell’s trek on Mount Everest, and the events that occurred post-earthquake, presented her with both straightforward and unexpected ways to interact with and depend on technology. Based on her first-hand experience, she and Mueller explored two dimensions of the relationship between technology design and adventure within their paper. Pell and Mueller defined one type that supports the instrumental and experiential components of adventure, or in other words, how technology can be used to measure and document adventure. The second type supports the expected and unexpected components of adventure. The first dimension...

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