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Glaciers, Geoheritage and Geotourism

Posted by on Mar 16, 2017 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics, Science, Tourism | 0 comments

Glaciers, Geoheritage and Geotourism

Spread the News:ShareThe Valais in southern Switzerland is a mountainous canton that draws tourists each year for its spectacular scenery, including some of the largest glaciers in the central Alps. From a recent article written by Emmanual Reynard in Geoheritage and Geotourism, we learn that more than half of the canton’s workforce are employed by the tourism sector. Valais has long been a tourist hub in Switzerland, attracting sightseers and skiers to the two alpine ranges that lie on either side of the canton. This landscape played an important role in European art and literature, and Valais is also known as a key site for the development of glaciology. Tourists venture to the province not only for a glimpse of frosted peaks such as the famous Matterhorn and Weisshorn, but also to engage with the canton’s long history of geotourism and geoheritage which dates back to the 1800s.  The word geoheritage originates from the term “geological heritage,” and is defined by the diversity of geological features within a region. The Geological Society of America (GSA) applies the term to scientifically and educationally significant sites or areas with geologic features such as distinctive rocks, minerals and landforms. Geotourism is the exploration of such places. Sarah Strauss, an anthropologist at the University of Wyoming, has conducted extensive research in the Valais region. She believes that geoheritage is “very similar to landscape and a sense of place that is specific to the geologic rather than the broader environmental context.” Moreover, geoheritage is valuable because it permits geotourism. Canton Valais’s long history with tourism has reinforced its status as a geotourism hot-spot as climbers and hikers come to experience this glacial history for themselves.   As the GSA explains, “geological sites are critical to advancing knowledge about natural hazards, groundwater supply, soil processes, climate and environmental changes, evolution of life, mineral and energy supplies, and other aspects of the nature and history of Earth.” These sites should be protected and cherished for their natural beauty and importance. The tourism industry in Valais continues to celebrate its geoheritage through geotourism. The complex geology of Valais— the result of uplift and compression when the Alps first formed 20 to 40 million years ago— has made it a site of geoheritage throughout the centuries. Today, tourists and hikers can view crystalline and carbonate rocks formed millions of years ago on trails rising 800 to over 4,200 meters in elevation. Moreover, the region contains glacial valleys and horn peaks, as well as moraines, the masses of dirt and rocks deposited by glaciers. The Aletsch region of Valais is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is heralded as a site of outstanding natural and cultural importance. This region makes up the most glaciated part of the High Alps along with Jungfrau and Bietschhorn. The Aletsch is also home to the largest glacier in Europe. “While the Matterhorn is impressive, the Aletsch region is equally remarkable,” Strauss recalled to GlacierHub. “There were chapels and hotels built at the tongue of the glaciers.” Tourists that journey to Canton Valais will not be disappointed by the geologically significant province which embraces its geoheritage wholeheartedly. If you are unable to make the journey to Switzerland any time soon, enjoy pictures from the Valais tourism website here. Spread the...

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New Research Offers Fresh Insight into the Iceman’s Death

Posted by on Mar 15, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Science | 0 comments

New Research Offers Fresh Insight into the Iceman’s Death

Spread the News:ShareÖtzi, also known as the Iceman, is showing new signs of life – in his gut. Gabriele Andrea Lugli and other researchers from the University of Parma recently published findings on the Iceman in Microbiome Journal. Their research analyzes samples taken from Ötzi’s gut in order to reconstruct and characterize ancient bacteria to provide clues on how bacteria may have affected humans. While some evidence suggests that the Iceman was murdered or died from the lingering effects of an attack, researchers have now uncovered a new possible cause of death: inflammatory bowel disease. Ötzi was originally found in a receding glacier by two tourists in the Italian Alps in 1991. First thought to be someone from more recent times, research has shown that he lived about 5,300 years ago. Since then, he has become the best known frozen mummy in the world, because his remains are remarkably intact and offer a clear view of the distant past. Though Ötzi’s skin looks like brown caramel and his bones can be seen through his skin, he is very well preserved. Last year, PBS released a documentary titled “Iceman Reborn” about artist Gary Staab, who made a replica of the Iceman using 3D printing. One researcher in the film remarked, “He may well be the most studied human being in history.” Another researcher, referring to new discoveries about Ötzi’s genetic code, noted, “We are rewriting the history of humankind.” It was recently discovered that the Iceman has 61 tattoos, up from a previously smaller number. Ötzi’s tattoos are in locations where there is joint and spinal degradation, indicating the tattoos may have been treatment of some kind. In addition, he was found with a gash on his left hand and an arrow wound in his back, suggesting that he was murdered. He was also found with a copper axe, showing researchers that metalworking was earlier than previously thought. From the Archives: CT scans of ancient mummies show high levels of atherosclerosis, a condition associated with modern risk factors like smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise. Researchers think they know why the ancients also suffered from the disease. archaeology.org/news #archaeology #mummy #Otzi #heart (© Samadelli Marco/EURAC) A post shared by Archaeology Magazine (@archaeologymagazine) on Jan 27, 2017 at 9:54am PST While climate conditions can alter bacterial communities, low temperatures such as permafrost are optimal for long-term DNA preservation. Using a technique called next generation sequencing, the researchers investigated the human gut microbiota in the soft tissue of the human mummy. The samples yielded an enormous amount of data– about 71 gigabases from 12 biopsy samples. Ancient bacteria, such as the ones found in Ötzi’s gut, can provide clues on the history of diseases, the evolution of bacteria and bacterial infections in humans, allowing scientists to reconstruct pathogens like the plague (Yersinia pestis), leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae) and stomach infections (Helicobacter pylori). The researchers found that the upper part of the large intestines had ample Pseudomonas species. These bacteria are typically found in the soil. The presence of P. fluorescens in Ötzi’s intestines suggests that his immune system may have been compromised and that he may have been ill with inflammatory bowel disease at the time of his death. Other findings included the fact that even though modern P. veronii have been isolated from water springs, the ancient strain seems to have the ability to colonize the human gut. The bacteria also shares genetic material with Pseudomonas strains in isolated parts of Antarctica, a fact which supports its ancient origin. Evidence suggests that the evolution of the bacteria was helped by the development of its virulence....

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Snow Bacteria, A Pandora’s Box?

Posted by on Mar 14, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Snow Bacteria, A Pandora’s Box?

Spread the News:ShareRemember the famous scene in the movie “The Day after Tomorrow” when the flood comes, along with storms and a tsunami, and hundreds of people are killed at the dawn of a new ice age? In that scene, the bacteria once frozen in the world’s glaciers is released due to global warming. It turns out that fateful scenario may one day come true, according to recent research by Yongqin Liu, a scientist at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITPR) in China. You might be surprised or confused about how bacteria could survive in extremely cold conditions for thousands of years. The reason bacteria and other viruses can remain dormant in the ice layer is because some bacteria are cold-adapted. Glaciers can serve as excellent locations for such bacteria to survive during long periods of extreme cold. “A frozen condition is not optimal for most creatures on earth, but it does provide a satisfactory living environment for some microorganisms,” said Liu.   In the last few decades, scientists at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research have been studying snow bacteria in the Tibetan Plateau. Liu is one of the leading scholars on the team. For instance, earlier in 2008, she conducted research about snow bacterial abundance and diversity at the Guoqu Glacier and the East Rongbuk Glacier. By using a special approach (16S rRNA gene clone library and flow cytometry), Liu and her colleagues observed different patterns of seasonal variation at the two glaciers. They found that bacterial diversity at the glaciers also exhibits different responses to various environmental conditions. In an interview with GlacierHub, Liu explained, “Currently, we are focusing on the diversity of snow bacteria from glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau environment. Our latest paper was about snow bacteria on the Zangser Kangri Glacier. We managed to identify the major sources of the bacteria and make a comparison of snow bacterial abundance between the Zangser Kangri Glacier and other glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau.” Liu is one of many scientists fascinated with snow bacteria. But others might feel it is irrelevant to their modern life since these bacteria remain in a deep and frozen sleep. Shuhong Zhang, a researcher at Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes otherwise. “One impact of climate change is the rapid shrinking of glaciers,” Zhang writes in an article. “This results in microorganisms getting deposited into glacial snow or ice and being exposed to new environments such as glacier forelands.” Shlomit Paz, a scientist from University of Haifa, also found that the West Nile virus, one of the world’s most widely distributed viruses, could be propelled by global warming. “Recent changes in climatic conditions, particularly increased snowmelt and glacier retreat, contributed to the maintenance of the West Nile Virus in various locations in southern Europe, western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean, the Canadian Prairies, parts of the USA and Australia,” Paz writes. “As predictions show that the current trends are expected to continue, for better preparedness, any assessment of future transmission of West Nile Virus should take into consideration the impacts of climate change.” So perhaps one day, without actions taken to mitigate climate change, a Pandora’s box will be opened. In the ancient Greek myth, all the evils fly out of the box. And now, climate change may set lethal bacteria and viruses free, posing a new, catastrophic threat to human beings. Spread the...

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Roundup: Alpine Streams, Divergence and Ocean Acidification

Posted by on Mar 13, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Roundup, Science | 0 comments

Roundup: Alpine Streams, Divergence and Ocean Acidification

Spread the News:ShareRoundup: Streams, Oceans and Tiny Flies Climate Change and Alpine Stream Biology From Biological Reviews: “In alpine regions worldwide, climate change is dramatically altering ecosystems and affecting biodiversity in many ways. For streams, receding alpine glaciers and snowfields, paired with altered precipitation regimes, are driving shifts in hydrology, species distributions, basal resources, and threatening the very existence of some habitats and biota. Alpine streams harbour substantial species and genetic diversity due to significant habitat insularity and environmental heterogeneity. Climate change is expected to affect alpine stream biodiversity across many levels of biological resolution from micro- to macroscopic organisms and genes to communities.” Learn more about alpine stream biology here.   Ecological Divergence of the Alpine Mayfly From Molecular Ecology: “Understanding ecological divergence of morphologically similar but genetically distinct species – previously considered as a single morphospecies – is of key importance in evolutionary ecology and conservation biology. Despite their morphological similarity, cryptic species may have evolved distinct adaptations. If such ecological divergence is unaccounted for, any predictions about their responses to environmental change and biodiversity loss may be biased. We used spatio-temporally replicated field surveys of larval cohort structure and population genetic analyses (using nuclear microsatellite markers) to test for life-history divergence between two cryptic lineages of the alpine mayfly Baetis alpinus in the Swiss Alps… Our results indicate partial temporal segregation in reproductive periods between these lineages, potentially facilitating local coexistence and reproductive isolation. Taken together, our findings emphasize the need for a taxonomic revision: widespread and apparently generalist morphospecies can hide cryptic lineages with much narrower ecological niches and distribution ranges.” Read more about ecological divergence here. Ocean Acidification in the Antarctic Coastal Zone From ScienceDirect: “The polar oceans are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification; the lowering of seawater pH and carbonate mineral saturation states due to uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). High spatial variability in surface water pH and saturation states (Ω) for two biologically-important calcium carbonate minerals calcite and aragonite was observed in Ryder Bay, in the coastal sea-ice zone of the West Antarctic Peninsula. Glacial meltwater and melting sea ice stratified the water column and facilitated the development of large phytoplankton blooms and subsequent strong uptake of atmospheric CO2 of up to 55 mmol m-2 day-1 during austral summer. Concurrent high pH (8.48) and calcium carbonate mineral supersaturation (Ωaragonite ~3.1) occurred in the meltwater-influenced surface ocean… Spatially-resolved studies are essential to elucidate the natural variability in carbonate chemistry in order to better understand and predict carbon cycling and the response of marine organisms to future ocean acidification in the Antarctic coastal zone.” Read more about ocean acidification here. Spread the...

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Photo Friday: The Qilian Mountains

Posted by on Mar 10, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Images | 0 comments

Photo Friday: The Qilian Mountains

Spread the News:ShareLocated at the border of Qinghai Province and Gansu Province in China, the Qilian Mountains are the outlier of the Kunlun Mountains. Since the range is at the south of Hexi Corridor (the historic route from eastern China to other countries in Asia), it is also known as “Nanshan.”There are notable mountains in the mountain chain, including the Grand Glacier, Torey Mountains, Shulenan Mountains, and the Danghenan Mountains. The Shulenan Mountains, for example, sweep down to Qinghai Province and spread for 350 kilometers. The average height of the mountain tops is about 5000 meters. The middle of Shulenan Mountains is also the highest area of Qilian Mountains with three mountain tops higher than 5500 meters. At these high elevations, there are well-developed glaciers in the area including eight major glaciers. Snow covers the mountain tops all year long and livestock herds graze in the well-watered valleys. Learn more about Qilian mountains here and view GlacierHub’s collection of images.             Spread the...

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Hardangerjøkulen: The Real-Life Hoth is Disappearing

Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Featured Posts, News, Science, Tourism | 0 comments

Hardangerjøkulen: The Real-Life Hoth is Disappearing

Spread the News:ShareAny Star Wars fan will recognize the remote ice planet Hoth, the location of some of the most iconic scenes from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, including the attack on the Rebel Alliance’s Echo Base by Imperial Walkers and Han Solo’s daring rescue of Luke Skywalker after his tauntaun was attacked by a wampa. Not many people, however, would know that those legendary scenes were filmed on a Norwegian ice cap called Hardangerjøkulen. When the movie was filmed in 1980, the crew had to cope with subzero temperatures and freezing winds. However, nearly forty years later, the real-life Hoth is disappearing. According to a recent paper by Henning Akesson et al., published in The Cryosphere, the ice cap is extremely sensitive to small changes in temperature, and therefore vulnerable to climate change as global temperatures continue to increase. Akesson explains in an article for ScienceDirect that due to increasing temperatures, it is feasible that Hardangerjøkulen could fully melt by 2100 if the trends continue. Once it melts, he and his team maintain that the ice cap will never return. As the authors of the study explain, Hardangerjøkulen is located in southern Norway and measured 73 square kilometers as of 2012. It is generally flat in the interior and has several steeper glaciers along the edge of the ice cap that drain the plateau. Two of these glaciers, Midtdalsbreen and Rembesdalsskaka, have retreated 150 meters and 1386 meters respectively since 1982. Akesson et al. base their study of Hardangerjøkulen on modeling, as opposed to measurements or observations. The team used a numerical ice flow model to produce a plausible ice cap history of Hardangerjøkulen thousands of years before the Little Ice Age. Using a modelled history of the ice cap, they examined the sensitivity to different parameters. They found that it is “exceptionally sensitive” to changes in temperature. These changes in temperature impact the ice cap’s surface mass balance, which is the gain and loss of ice from a glacier system. The possible disappearance of Hardangerjøkulen has many implications, including impacting Norway’s tourism and hydropower industries. 99 percent of all power production in Norway comes from hydropower, which depends on glaciers’ water storage and seasonal water flow. Glaciers help contribute to water reservoirs used for the hydropower, and Norway itself contains nearly half of the reservoir capacity in Europe. The ice cap is also a popular destination for hiking and glacier walking, as well as for Star Wars fans hoping to visit the location of Hoth scenes. Local residents have remarked on noticeable differences in Hardangerjøkulen. Grete Hovelsrud, a senior researcher at the Nordland Research Institute and vice-president of the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research, told GlacierHub that the potential loss of Hardangerjøkulen is “very sad.” She added, “It is such a beautiful place. I skied across it last spring, and it really feels like being on top of the world.” Spread the...

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