Science

A New Glacier Grows at Mount St. Helens

Posted by on Apr 25, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Science | 0 comments

A New Glacier Grows at Mount St. Helens

Spread the News:Share “I grew up in the Yakima Valley (near Mount St. Helens). I was out fishing when I saw the lightning and dark cloud,” Flickr user vmf-214, who captured the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, told GlacierHub. “It looked like a storm. I saw it as I pulled into the yard. Mom came out and said the mountain had blown.” He was describing the volcanic eruption that occurred at Mount St. Helens 37 years ago in May 1980. During that event, an eruption column rose into the sky, ultimately impacting 11 states in the U.S. But it wasn’t just the people who live in the area that were affected by the eruption: the glaciers of Mount St. Helens melted into nearby rivers, causing several mudslides. Cascades Volcano Observatory indicates that before the 1980 eruption, extensive glaciers had covered Mount St. Helens for several hundred thousand years. About 3,900 years ago, Mount St. Helens began to grow to its pre-eruption elevation and a high cone developed, allowing for substantial glacial formation. There were 11 major glaciers and several unnamed glaciers by May 18, 1980, according to the United States Geological Survey. But after the eruption and resultant landslide, about 70 percent of the glacier mass was removed from the mountainside. It was during the winter of 1980 to 1981, following the catastrophic eruption, that a new glacier, Crater Glacier, first emerged. “The glacier formed very fast, in a couple decades,” professor Regine Hock from the University of Alaska – Fairbanks told GlacierHub. It developed in a deep crater left by the eruption and landslide. Rock debris from the crater walls and avalanche snow created a thick deposit between the 1980–86 lava dome and crater walls. Shaped like an amphitheater, the crater protected the glacier from sunlight, allowing the glacier to expand extensively, according to the USGS. By September 1996, it was evident from photographs and monitoring that a new glacier had formed. Crater Glacier at Mount St. Helens is now considered one of the youngest glaciers on Earth. “The glacier tongues can be seen, descending either side of the degassing cone. Much of the glacier is covered by volcanic ash,” notes a recent report in Geography Review. By 2004, the report continues, the glacier covered around 0.36 square miles (0.93 km2), with two lobes wrapping around the lava dome in a horseshoe-like shape. Joseph S. Walder, a research hydrologist at the USGS, has been studying the latest eruptions of Mount St. Helens. When interviewed by GlacierHub, he attributed the formation of the Crater Glacier to three factors. “First, the crater acts as a sort of bowl that collects snow avalanching from the crater walls, so the accumulation rate is extremely high,” Walder said. “Secondly, the crater floor is in shadow most of the time. Last but not least, lots of rock material avalanches onto the crater floor, tending to cover and insulate accumulating snow.” Today, there are hiking tours available throughout the Mount St. Helens area. Climbing the mountain is like walking on the moon, with ash and boulders surrounding you. From the top, you can see the growing volcanic dome, steaming and smoking. Rodney Benson, an earth science teacher and blog writer at bigskywalker.com, hiked into the crater recently. “Some say the world will end in fire. Some say ice. What does this new glacier indicate?” he pondered.   As glaciers around the world recede as a result of climate change, the new glacier provides a fascinating context to explore interactions between volcanic processes, volcanic deposits and glacier behavior. The intensive monitoring programs led by the USGS...

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Roundup: Mélange, Ice Microstructures and Ice Caps

Posted by on Apr 17, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Roundup, Science | 0 comments

Roundup: Mélange, Ice Microstructures and Ice Caps

Spread the News:ShareRoundup: Mélange, Microstructures and Ice Caps Breakup of Mélange Increases Calving From the Journal Nature Communications: “At many marine-terminating glaciers, the breakup of mélange, a floating aggregation of sea ice and icebergs, has been accompanied by an increase in iceberg calving and ice mass loss. Previous studies have argued that mélange may suppress calving by exerting a buttressing force directly on the glacier terminus. In this study, I adapt a discrete element model to explicitly simulate mélange as a cohesive granular material. Simulations show that mélange laden with thick landfast sea ice produces enough resistance to shut down calving at the terminus. When sea ice within mélange thins, the buttressing force on the terminus is reduced and calving is more likely to occur.” Read more about the study here.     Ice Microstructures and Fabrics of Guliya Ice Cap From Journal Crystals: “This work is the first in the general natural ice literature to compare microstructures and fabrics of continent-type mountain ice in mid-low latitudes with polar ice in order to find out how they evolved based on similar fabric patterns of their vertically girdles. Microstructures and fabrics along the Guliya ice core on the Tibetan Plateau, China, were measured at a depth interval of approximately 10 m…  The thermal kinemics caused by the temperature can play a vital role in different stress cases to cast the similar or same fabric patterns. Normal grain growth, polygonization/rotation recrystallization, and migration recrystallization play roles of different importance at different depths.” Read more about the study here.   The Projected Demise of Barnes Ice Cap From American Geophysical Union: “As a remnant of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, Barnes Ice Cap owes its existence and present form in part to the climate of the last glacial period. The ice cap has been sustained in the present interglacial climate by its own topography through the mass balance-elevation feedback. A coupled mass balance and ice-flow model, forced by Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 climate model output, projects that the current ice cap will likely disappear in the next 300 years. For greenhouse gas Representative Concentration Pathways of +2.6 to +8.5 Wm−2, the projected ice-cap survival times range from 150 to 530 years. Measured concentrations of cosmogenic radionuclides 10Be, 26Al, and 14C at sites exposed near the ice-cap margin suggest the pending disappearance of Barnes Ice Cap is very unusual in the last million years. The data and models together point to an exceptionally warm 21st century Arctic climate.” Read more about the study here.   Spread the...

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Explore the Homeland of the Emperor Penguin

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

Explore the Homeland of the Emperor Penguin

Spread the News:Share“Each winter, thousands of Emperor Penguins leave the ocean and start marching to a remote place in Antarctica for their breeding season. Blinded by blizzards and strong winds, only guided by their instincts, they march to an isolated region, that does not support life for most of the year…” – March of the Penguins The famous documentary March of the Penguins, directed by Luc Jacquet, earned the emperor penguin fanfare and admiration around the world. With their charismatic shape and loving nature, emperor penguins reside on the ice and in the ocean waters of Antarctica for the entirety of their lifespan, living on average from 15 to 20 years.  Satellite data has been used to help researchers better understand emperor penguin populations and how they respond to environmental variability, including the threat of a rapidly warming planet. But the information gleaned so far remains too limited to significantly help conservation efforts. Enter André Ancel, a researcher who led a team on a mission to study the remaining areas where emperor penguins might breed. His team recently published their findings in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation. March of the Penguins Official Trailer:   “The climate of our planet is undergoing regional and global changes, which are driving shifts in the distribution and phenology of many plants and animals,” Ancel writes in his paper. “We focus on the southern polar region, which includes one of the most rapidly warming areas of the planet. Among birds adapted to live in this extreme and variable environment, penguin species are the best known.” Even with their extreme adaption capabilities, emperor penguin breeding colonies are impacted by the fact that chicks often succumb to Antarctic elements. “Though they are one of the tallest and heaviest birds in the world, the survival rate of newborn emperor penguins is really low, only about 19 percent,” Shun Kuwashima, a PhD student at UCSC and self-declared penguin lover, explained. The purpose of Ansel et al.’s research was to predict how the species responds to climate change and to better understand the penguins’ biogeography, or geographical distribution. “There are only about 54 known breeding colonies,” notes Ancel, “many of which have not yet been comprehensively studied.” But finishing the research was a problem, considering that access to emperor penguin colonies remains limited. Getting accurate measurements on the size and location of the colonies relies on ground mapping and aerial photographs, which is “laborious, time consuming and costly,” according to Ancel. Even with the help of satellites, heavy cloud cover in the winter degrades the quality of images. Not to mention, the lack of light further complicates the collection of accurate data. In addition, the break-out of sea ice at the end of the breeding season can reduce the probability of detecting breeding colonies. Although the authors did not actually conduct any exploration or examine remote sensing data to locate new emperor penguin colonies, they used data on the location of known colonies to make their findings. Based on the behavioral patterns of penguins, including movement and dispersal, and on the availability of food, the researchers found “six regions potentially sheltering colonies of emperor penguins.” It is true that scientists have looked for emperor penguin colonies with satellite data in the past, but the method was limited. To make improvements and find potentially missing colonies, the team developed an approach for calculating separation distance between colonies. The approach determined the loxodromic separation distance (the shortest distance between two points on the surface of a sphere) between each pair of geographically adjacent colonies. Then, based on the fact that a breeding adult...

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Iceberg Scars on Seafloor Offer Clues to the Past

Posted by on Mar 28, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Iceberg Scars on Seafloor Offer Clues to the Past

Spread the News:ShareMany people know the phrase “tip of the iceberg,” which acknowledges that most of the iceberg sits underwater, but few know what the bottom of an iceberg is capable of. Scientists recently found scars in the North Falkland Basin, north of the Falkland Islands, created by icebergs when they plowed into the seafloor. Known as scours, these u-to-v shaped scars can inform researchers about the Earth’s past in terms of climate, geography and ocean currents. Christopher Brown et al. recently published a paper on the topic in the journal Marine Geology, presenting their latest findings. In the paper, the researchers note that the icebergs responsible for the scours in the North Falkland Basin likely calved from glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula. The size of the icebergs must have been immense in order for them to travel 2,000 kilometers and still leave marks on the seafloor hundreds of meters below. Given the freshness and reworking of the scours in the North Falkland Basin, researchers believe they likely formed during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the time period when glacier and ice sheets dominated the globe and Antarctica was larger than it is today. Christopher Brown et al. later found and analyzed the scours using five high-quality 3-D seismic data sets covering an area of 1550 km². From analyzing the curvature of the scours, researchers can determine what kind of tides and currents were active thousands of years ago. Scours can also inform scientists about southern hemisphere climatology and ocean patterns. In the North Falkland Basin, Christopher Brown et al. found scours at depths ranging from 280 to 460 meters below sea level, while the depth of the basin reaches up to 2,500 meters. The researchers also located scours measuring nearly 10 meters deep, 38 kilometers long, and one kilometer wide. These scours may have meandered due to the rotation of the iceberg’s keel, or underside, when pushing into the seafloor. External forces that may have also caused a direction change can include ocean currents, tidal changes, subglacial calving, subglacial drainage and storms. Analyzing the location, curvature and orientation of scours provides scientists with insight into the Earth’s past. For example, the icebergs in the North Falkland Basin were likely carried by the East Falkland Current, an important northward current along the east side of Argentina that brings fresh, cold water north from Antarctica. This suggests that the current was active in the LGM and sheds light on the ocean-climate interactions in the southern hemisphere’s past. Christopher Brown et al. determined that a collection of icebergs may have even formed an iceberg “graveyard,” suggesting there may have been an ice bridge from Argentina to the Falkland Islands at some point in time. This means that the icebergs would have traveled on the east side of the Falkland Islands in order to get to the basin. In the northern hemisphere, scour marks have been found far away from where they were sourced, in the low-to-mid latitudes along the southern Atlantic United States coast, for example. In the southern hemisphere, few iceberg scours have been found outside of Antarctica, particularly in the mid-latitudes. The recent findings in the North Falkland Basin support the idea that icebergs could travel into warmer waters farther north of 50°S, the approximate location of the Falkland Islands. Rarely have icebergs been recorded north of the Falklands, but a few mega icebergs were spotted between 1979 and 2003. With much of the ocean floor still unexplored, there are likely more scours yet to be discovered that can tell scientists more about the planet’s past. As the scours in the North...

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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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