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The Restlessness of Cotopaxi: A “Benevolent” Eruption

Posted by on Aug 17, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News, Science | 0 comments

The Restlessness of Cotopaxi: A “Benevolent” Eruption

Spread the News:ShareOn August 14, 2015, Ecuador’s glacier-capped Cotopaxi erupted for the first time since the 1940s. A billowing plume of ash rose early in the morning and grew through the day, reaching heights of over three miles. Two small eruptions rained ash on the southern outskirts of Quito, Ecuador’s capital 45 kilometers from the volcano. These dramatic events rattled the country and punctuated a period of seismic and low-level volcanic activity that lasted from April to November 2015. Recently, scientists at Ecuador’s Instituto Geofísico Escuela Politécnica Nacional (IGEPN) analyzed both the physical properties of the episode and the institutional and community responses of this “dry run,” yielding information that will help Ecuador prepare for future events. Lead author and IGEPN geologist Patricia Mothes told GlacierHub that among the most important lessons learned from the period of restlessness were that “changes can occur very rapidly,” and that certain seismic trends and deformation of the volcanic cone will act as precursors to actual eruption. The report found that over the seven months of earthquakes, degassing, ground deformation, glacial melting and plumes towering over the landscape, the activity level of the episode actually remained relatively low, at two out of eight on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. Nevertheless, the impacts of the activity were manifold. Heat from the rising magma, in tandem with the layer of dark ash that formed on the glaciers, increased melting and formed new crevasses. People donned masks to avoid breathing in the ash, which damaged crops, sickened livestock, and lowered visibility on the roads for people in transit across the country. Some residents hastily sold their land and livestock or abandoned them entirely. The net effect was to depress the local economy. With this geophysical unrest came unrest to those living near the volcano. The controversial President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency, and thousands of residents of nearby villages evacuated to safer areas. After weeks to months of displacement in shelters and other towns, some returned to their homes, but recovery was slow and incomplete. In addition to economic harm, the volcanic activity had psychological dimensions. The Atlantic reported that people living in the risk zone experienced sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The most intense threat to Ecuadorians was the potential of lahars, slurries of mud and melted snow and ice that can flow for tens of miles and devastate landscapes. The geologic record shows that in each major eruption, most recently in 1877, Cotopaxi has spawned major lahars on each of its flanks. During the 2015 event, glacial melt formed small lahars that sometimes covered the road to the volcano. In the event of a more major eruption, glacial outburst floods could occur, according to Mothes. “If impacted by hot pyroclastic flows that would come out of the summit crater and careen down the steep flanks, the glaciers would be greatly eroded, ripped up, and much internal glacier water would likely be released,” she told GlacierHub. During the eruption of 1877, between five and ten meters of ice melted, and giant lahars formed. In the event of an eruption in the future, “the only mitigation scheme is to have people go to higher ground, out of the areas to be potentially affected by lahars,” said Mothes. Communication surrounding the eruption events at the science-society interface was fraught, according to the IGEPN report. Though the agency released three updates daily, misinformation spread broadly through social media, causing panic. In response, emergency services and the IGEPN formed a “vigía” (“look-out” in Spanish) network of observers near the volcano, who disseminated observations of Cotopaxi on...

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Glacial Change in China’s Central Asia

Posted by on Aug 16, 2017 in All Posts, Experiences, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Glacial Change in China’s Central Asia

Spread the News:ShareThough I lived in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for almost two years, it was only when I was in the heart of the Tian Shan mountains, my motorcycle meandering its way around fallen rock, sheep herds and horses, that I felt truly at home. Just a few hours outside of the city of Shihezi, inspiring peaks soared over 4000 meters. Though I had no scientific data to support my feeling that these stunning vistas were impermanent, over the course of my stay there were fewer and fewer clear days to see the cresting glacier-capped peaks from my apartment window. The haze even began to influence my weekend trips deep into the mountains, sometimes choking off the views far outside of the city. There is too much pollution in these mountains, not like when I was a child— a common refrain that echoed among many Kazakh and Mongol herders who made their home there. In a recent article in the journal of Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Baojuan Huai and a team of Chinese researchers use remote sensing to put scientific data in the place of the herders’ and my own perceptions. The glaciers of the Tian Shan— the impressive mountain range that historically has divided the region’s agrarian oasis-states to the south and nomadic communities to the north— are in danger of disappearing. The authors demonstrate that in the Chinese Tian Shan, the total area of the glaciers studied has decreased by 22 percent over a fifty year period. The data also shows that glacier retreat is a variable within different regions of the Tian Shan— the result of a convergence of factors both human-caused and natural. China is home to a baffling 46,377 glaciers. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region contains 18,311 of them. The Tian Shan, which cuts across Xinjiang into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, boasts the largest number of glaciers in northwest China. These glaciers provide invaluable solid reservoirs to agriculture, animal husbandry, and industry in the region. When considering the Tian Shan range alone, the glacial loss will continue to have a severe impact on the livelihoods and ecology of Xinjiang, according to Weijun Sun, one of the paper’s authors. “Warming temperatures are causing a real reduction to glaciers across China, and ablation is occurring constantly, negatively impacting regional ecology,” he said in an interview with GlacierHub. To acquire data for so many glaciers, the team utilized remote sensing technology, which relies on satellites to monitor different sites, using automated glacier mapping technology to distinguish glaciers from other features. Remote sensing alleviates many of the difficulties typically faced in conducting research on glaciers, which are often remote and difficult to access, according to Sun. “Remote sensing is a fantastic tool, expanding the scope of what we are capable of measuring. With this technology we can now measure things like the amount of reflectance coming from under the surface, or the temperature at the base,” he stated. For the study, the team selected glaciers that covered a range of variables: glaciers large and small, debris-covered and debris-free, and at high and low elevations were all represented. The research shows that over the period studied, 182 Tian Shan glaciers disappeared, and several large glaciers divided into multiple small glaciers. The percentage of area reduction tended to be higher in small glaciers than in large glaciers, with small glaciers more likely to shrink significantly or disappear entirely. Glaciers across the Tian Shan experienced a real loss over the period studied, but the rate of change between regions within the mountain range showed significant variability. While glacier loss in one region...

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The Pascua-Lama Mining Project Threatens Glaciers

Posted by on Aug 15, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

The Pascua-Lama Mining Project Threatens Glaciers

Spread the News:ShareFabiana Li, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba, brings new insight to a long-standing conflict over a South American mining project in her recently published article “Moving Glaciers: Remaking Nature and Mineral Extraction” on Sage Journals. Li’s article investigates the controversial Pascua-Lama mining project, located on the border between Chile and Argentina, run by Barrick Gold, a prominent mining company from Canada. The project gained recognition because of its plan to move three glaciers located at the mining site, disturbing the integrity of the glaciers in the region. Ongoing debate over the site’s future and expenses led Barrick to abandon the project in 2013, but controversy over the future of the site continues. “The Pascua-Lama project is still in limbo,” Li said in an interview with GlacierHub. “Like other mining companies recovering from the downturn in the metals market, Barrick is now looking for partners for a joint venture in order to mitigate the risks involved in the project. The company has already spent $8.5 billion on Pascua Lama, so it is not likely to abandon it entirely, but it will not be able to continue operating as before, without a new approach to community relations and environmental issues.” The Pascua-Lama project first ran into trouble when dealing with the glaciers that surrounded the ore deposit, notes Li. In the company’s initial environmental impact assessment, they disregarded the glaciers’ existence. In 2001, the company decided to include the glaciers in the environmental impact assessment by creating a section called the “glacier management plan.” The plan stated that Barrick would move 10 hectares of glaciers with bulldozers, front loaders, or even “controlled explosives,” if necessary, to an adjacent area outside of the development. This plan was approved by the Chilean authorities in 2001. However, the company’s proposal to move the glaciers was met with animosity from environmental organizations, local residents of the Huasco Valley (a region in Chile located below the mine), representatives of the Catholic Church, Diaguita indigenous communities (who claimed the land as their own), and local and foreign activists. Li told GlacierHub that she tried to show in her article how glaciers, mountains and rivers are more than just resources. “They make up people’s sense of place, their identities, and ways of life,” she said. “They form part of important relationships that people forge with their surroundings and that sustain life.” Communities in the Huasco Valley, for example, protested the glaciers’ removal, arguing that they are dependent on the water supply for agriculture and drinking, with the glaciers storing water for the dry season. During the 1990s, there was a boom in companies investing in exploration and extraction from countries in South America like Peru. As of 2013, Pascua-Lama was thought to own one of the world’s largest gold and silver resources. Barrick first began exploring the Chile/Argentina border in 1994, searching for possible mining opportunities. It was not until 1997 that both the Chilean and Argentinian presidents signed the Mining Integration Treaty that allowed mining development along the mountain ranges. The treaty granted access to economic activity, foreign property ownership, and water and resources. The Pascua-Lama project also became the world’s first binational mine, creating an example for other projects and developments to follow. In 2004, the company released an environmental impact assessment, which diminished the importance of the glaciers once again, calling them “ice reservoirs,” “ice fields,” or “glacierets.” One of Barrick’s top executives even denied that there were any glaciers at all. Scientists and researchers hired by the company, such as those at the Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas (Center...

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Roundup: Ultra Denials, Temperatures, and Marathons

Posted by on Aug 14, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Roundup: Ultra Denials, Temperatures, and Marathons

Spread the News:ShareTrump on Climate: Deny, Deny, Deny From HuffPost: “Perry went on to defend his and others’ denial of near-universally accepted climate science, suggesting that those who question the scientific community’s findings are more intelligent. Also in June, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park started melting ‘right after the end of the Ice Age’ and that it has ‘been a consistent melt.’ He also dismissed the notion that government scientists can predict with certainty how much warming will occur by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.” Read more about the Trump cabinet and its tenuous relationship to evidence here.   Ski No More From Reuters: “High temperatures that have hit Italy over the past weeks have taken their toll on the country’s glaciers, with a summer ski resort at the Stelvio Pass having to make the historic decision to suspend its activities due to worsening conditions at the Alpine glacier. Swathes of southern and eastern Europe have sweltered in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) this week in a heat wave nicknamed ‘Lucifer’ that has fanned forest fires, triggered weather warning alerts and damaged crops.” Watch the short video here.   A Mountain of an Ultra Marathon From the Bellingham Herald: “12 runners set out from Bellingham Bay for the top of snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance. To get there and back — a round trip of 108 miles during a hot, sunny weekend — they ran, hiked and climbed to the 10,781-foot summit of Mount Baker over two nights and two days. Eleven of them completed the arduous journey, a trek known as the Mount Baker Ultra Run.” Read more about this impressive feat here. Spread the...

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Photo Friday: The Shrinking Patagonian Icefield

Posted by on Aug 11, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Images, Science | 0 comments

Photo Friday: The Shrinking Patagonian Icefield

Spread the News:ShareTypically obscured by cloud cover and mist, it is difficult to study the glaciers of the Southern Patagonian Icefield from space. However, on April 29, May 1, and May 24, 2016, NASA satellites captured clear images of the glaciers. Compiled into striking mosaics, this data reveals a great deal about the shrinking icefield. For example, the mosaics obviate the differences between the eastern and western parts of the icefield. Heavy precipitation on the landscape west of the icefield keeps the terrain green and lush, while the eastern regions of retreat are characterized by bare, brown rock. Glacial flour, a fine sediment produced when ice grinds over of bedrock, colors the proglacial lakes a distinct turquoise. Enjoy observing the Patagonian Icefield through the images below.             Spread the...

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Radical Tactical Shift: Swimming in Unfrozen Places

Posted by on Aug 10, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Sports | 0 comments

Radical Tactical Shift: Swimming in Unfrozen Places

Spread the News:ShareIn the Arctic, global climate change is a story of disappearing ice. Midwinter sea ice has decreased by two million square kilometers since satellite records began 40 years ago, and glaciers in the Arctic have been melting at unparalleled speeds, profoundly impacting Arctic species and ecosystems. When it comes to activism about this troubling issue, endurance swimmer and U.N. Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh is literally all in. He's in! Lewis will swim along the edge of the sea ice; we expect the kilometre to take approx 17.5 minutes. #ArcticDecade pic.twitter.com/Te0Zg4fwgK — Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) July 29, 2017 Recently, Pugh swam along the sea ice off the Norwegian island of Svalbard, in water that the Monaco Glacier had occupied only a few years prior. Swimming a kilometer along the sea ice took him 22 minutes, longer than expected. He couldn’t remember ever having been so cold, he said in a statement. He was so chilled that his hands stopped functioning, and he had to bite his photographer’s drysuit sleeve so his crew could lift him into the support boat. A source, who asked to remain anonymous as swimming was forbidden by the research station he worked for, swam in Antarctica’s Ross Sea and was impressed by Pugh’s accomplishment. “Being in such cold water even for just a second, it’s scary. Your body goes into shock— it was at one temperature, and now it isn’t suddenly. But when that’s over, it’s very rewarding and satisfying,” he told GlacierHub. Witnessing changes to the oceans over his lifetime inspired Pugh to channel his talent for cold-water swimming into raising awareness about climate change. “I undertake swims in the most vulnerable parts of our oceans to campaign for the creation of marine protected areas,” Pugh said. He has finished a series of swims in his native South African waters, is the first person to complete long-distance swims in the ancient Seven Seas, and has accomplished distance swimming campaigns in both the Arctic and Antarctic. I swam at Monaco Glacier 12 years ago. Just look at it today.#ArcticDecade #ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/3WJHnWeBmt — Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) July 28, 2017 Raised on his father’s stories of famous polar explorers, Pugh yearned to visit the Arctic since he was a child, he told a TED audience in September 2009. He is deeply troubled by the rapid change he has observed since his first trip. “I’ve seen polar bears walking across very thin ice in search of food. I have swum in front of glaciers which have retreated so much, and… every year, seen less and less sea ice,” he said. “I wanted the world to know what was happening up there.” In 2007, in order to shake lapels and stir up conversation about climate change, Pugh planned the world’s first distance swim at the geographic North Pole, swimming one kilometer in negative 1.7 Celsius water. Along with his support team, he caught a ride north on a Russian icebreaker and personally witnessed the vast loss of Arctic sea ice when they encountered patches of open sea at the pole. During the 18 minute and 50 second swim, his hands were so damaged by the cold water that he couldn’t feel them for four months after. He said the conversation generated about climate change made the pain worthwhile. It's over. 1 km done, Lewis was in the water for 22 minutes. Rushing back to the ship now. #ArcticDecade pic.twitter.com/X76ZeCSw59 — Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) July 29, 2017 “Anyone who tells you they enjoy swimming in freezing water is either mad, or has never done it,” said Pugh. “I...

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