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US & China Research Coordination at the Third Pole

Posted by on Jun 9, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Science, Uncategorized | 0 comments

US & China Research Coordination at the Third Pole

Spread the News:ShareA major conference highlighted significant evolution in research and international cooperation across the world’s so-called “Third Pole”. The Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC) hosted the “Third Pole Environment Workshop”, which featured 80 researchers from 15 countries, specialised in researching Earth’s “Third Pole”. It was the sixth event since 2009. The Third Pole (TP) comprises 1.9 million square miles (5 million km2) — equivalent to over half of the continental United States — centered over the Tibetan Plateau. It extends from the Pamirs of Tajikistan, along the length of Hindu-Kush Himalayas, through to the Hengduan, Kunlun and Qilian mountain ranges of China. The “Third Pole Environment (TPE) Workshop” — held at The Ohio State University on May 16-18 — was a rare opportunity bringing together specialists from around the world who “share an interest in the Third Pole region and wish to communicate their latest research results”, said the conference’s first circular. GlacierHub caught up with Dr Paolo Gabrielli – a Principal Investigator and ice core specialist at Ohio State University’s BPCRC. He credited the TPE series’ success to the “longstanding collaboration and friendship between The Ohio State University’s Professor Lonnie Thompson, and the Institute of the Tibetan Plateau Research’s Professor Yao Tandong.” The American-Chinese duo began their pioneering work on China’s glaciers in the 1980s, before “the importance of studying glaciers and their connection to climate change” had been realised. Asked about his impressions of the research being conducted at the TP,  Dr Gabrielli remarked that “the study of the TPE region is still at the beginning.” However, “impressive monitoring programs” have been established, especially on the Tibetan Plateau. He believes that whilst it is “still too early to draw firm conclusions,” the data presently being gathered will bear significant fruits in years to come. Understanding the TP is critical, as changes there have regional and global impacts. In addition to being the source region for rivers which sustain over 1.5 billion people across ten countries, the TP “significantly impact[s] climate systems in the northern hemisphere and even the whole globe,” remarked Professor Yao Tandong in his opening address. It is also home to thousands of glaciers which cover over 38,600 square miles (100,000 km2). The conference was the sixth in a series which has been bringing international experts together since 2009. It was supported by familiar names, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), UNESCO and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The cryosphere and hydrosphere are central components of the TPE workshops, however, experts who research the atmosphere, biosphere and anthroposphere (a ‘sphere’ of Earth specifically modified or made by human activity or habitats) were also represented. Professor Lonnie Thompson — a founding father of the TPE initiative — stated, “The Third Pole Environmental program is an international, multi-disciplinary collaboration among scientists, students, engineers, technicians, and educators.” Building on this sentiment, Professor Thompson said, he “hoped that the TPE office will serve as a home base for collaborative research, as well as fulfil one of TPE’s most important missions: international collaboration through training of young scientists.” Dr Gabrielli revealed that students “were financially supported…[enabling them] to take part [in] this conference. ” Asked what he thought the most pressing issues facing the TP are, Dr Gabrielli said, “The continuity of…freshwater (both in terms of quantity and quality) in the future is the main concern.” Whilst the research may well be in in its early phases, clear and troubling trends have already been revealed. Temperature projections indicate that the region will be subject to a minimum increase of 1°C, and as high...

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New Report Highlights Vulnerability of World Heritage Glacier Sites

Posted by on Jun 7, 2016 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Featured Posts, News, Uncategorized | 0 comments

New Report Highlights Vulnerability of World Heritage Glacier Sites

Spread the News:ShareA new report entitled “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” highlights the vulnerability of key glacial World Heritage Sites to climate change. The report was coauthored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Since 1972, UNESCO has been protecting more than 1,000 World Heritage sites in 163 different countries, with the goal of maintaining them for  the benefit of future generations, and for all humankind. Most of these sites are iconic tourist destinations, ranging from natural wonders such as Yellowstone National Park, scenic wild landscapes such as the Galapagos Islands, to cultural icons, such as Stonehenge. Many are glaciers and glacial mountain ranges.  But climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, higher temperatures, habitat shifts, and more frequent and extreme weather events, threaten to quickly and permanently degrade and destroy both the natural beauty and cultural value of these sites. Moreover, climate change exacerbates the effects of other processes which endanger these sites, such as urbanization, pollution, natural resource extraction and, increasingly, poorly managed tourism.  The report argues that damaging what it calls the “outstanding universal value” of World Heritage sites harms not only the site itself, but also the local communities and economies that depend on these sites for tourism.   UNESCO and its World Heritage program were both created in a spirit of internationalism. UNESCO was formed following World War II, and in 1972, it created the World Heritage Centre to “encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.” Now, climate change threatens these universally loved sites, as well as their surrounding local communities. The report details 12 full case studies and 18 briefer “sketches” of the climate change vulnerability of 31 World Heritage properties in 29 countries. Four include glacier landmarks. Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal Sagarmatha National Park encompasses the highest point on earth: the peak of Mount Everest. The National Park is listed as a World Heritage site for the abundant natural beauty of its mountains, glaciers, and valleys, and for the cultural significance of local Sherpa culture. One third of the people on Earth depend on glacial melt water from the Himalayas, including water from Sagarmatha. However, glacial retreat caused by rising temperatures are threatening the reliability of Sagarmatha’s water source. Glacier loss in the region also threatens to cause catastrophic landslides, glacial lake outbreak floods (GLOFs), and erosion. Golden Mountains of Altai, Russian Federation The Altai Mountains are listed as a World Heritage site for their biodiversity and for the region’s cultural and archaeological traditions. The mountains hold the frozen tombs of the ancient Scythian people, who were documented by ancient historian Herodotus (484-425 BC). Climate change and rising temperatures threaten both threatens the tombs’ preservation, which are remarkably protected by permafrost, and the Altai mountain glaciers. Huascarán National Park, Peru Huascarán National Park rests in Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world’s tropics, and the Park encases Huascarán: the highest peak in Peru. The Park contains incredibly diverse flora and fauna and 660 glaciers, making it a popular tourist destination. The famous Pastoruri Glacier is one of the park’s main attraction, but it may disappear altogether within the next few decades. Since the 1930s, the Park’s glaciers have shrunk by 30 per cent. This poses concerns about water availability for many local communities, as well as for hydropower. Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, Denmark The Icefjord serves as a major summer tourist destination, where visitors travel to the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, which hangs off of the Disko Bay. In the...

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Roundup: Lamborghinis, Spy Satellites, and Changing Calendars

Posted by on Jun 6, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Roundup: Lamborghinis, Spy Satellites, and Changing Calendars

Spread the News:ShareEach week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news. Swedish Skier Drives a Lamborghini Up a Norwegian Glacier From Autoblog: “The latest stunt by Jon Olsson has no particular purpose, but we love it just the same. Olsson, a former ski racer, always has a neat car with an equipment carrier stuck on top, and in this video he puts his customized rear-drive Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640 to work at Fonna Glacier Ski Resort in Norway. Makes sense to us. As he says in the short video, the aim is to have fun. He drives the Lambo up the Norwegian glacier aided by monster rear tires with some frightening studs, and then he makes things a little more interesting by creating a giant giant slalom course for the car.”  Learn more about Olsson’s glacier drive here.   Villages Must Recalibrate Time to Survive in the Pamir Mountains From EOS: “The calendar has stopped working for the people of the Pamir—the stunning, stark mountain range straddling the modern-day borders of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. A shifting climate is disrupting not only their subsistence farming and herding but also their unique way of tracking time. . Local timekeepers name each new seasonal development after a part of the body, beginning with the toenail, then moving upward to the shin, the thigh, the intestines, the heart, and so on, until reaching the head. Arrival at the head coincides with the end of spring and a pause in counting. When the first cue of summer is observed, the counting sequence restarts, but this time from the head downward. Timekeepers rely on natural events—the nascence of a flower, arrival of a migratory bird, movement of fish, breakup of lake ice—as the indicators of seasonal change, not simply the number of days since significant positions of the Sun, Moon, and stars. For centuries, this indigenous timekeeping strategy has offered local villagers an intuitive context for scheduling day-to-day life, from when to plow and seed to the timing of festivals and other events at the heart of Pamiri society. In recent years, however, climate change coupled with political instability has begun to disrupt the Pamir landscape, throwing these traditional ecological calendars out of sequence—and in need of recalibration.” Find out about traditional calendars in the Pamirs and their evolution here.   Quantifying Ice Loss in the Eastern Himalayas Since 1974 Using Declassified Spy Satellite Imagery   From The Cryosphere: “Himalayan glaciers are important natural resources and climate indicators for densely populated regions in Asia. Remote sensing methods are vital for evaluating glacier response to changing climate over the vast and rugged Himalayan region; yet many platforms capable of glacier mass balance quantification are somewhat temporally limited considering typical glacier response times. We here rely on declassified spy satellite imagery and ASTER data to quantify surface lowering, ice volume change, and geodetic mass balance during 1974-2006 for glaciers in the eastern Himalayas, centered on the Bhutan-China border. The wide range of glacier types allows for the first mass balance comparison between clean, 15 debris, and lake-terminating (calving) glaciers in the region. Measured glaciers show significant ice loss, with an estimated mean annual geodetic mass balance of -0.12 ± 0.06 m.w.e. yr-1 (meters of water equivalent per year) for 10 clean-ice glaciers, -0.15 ± 0.11 m.w.e. yr-1 for 5 debris-covered glaciers, -0.25 ± 0.10 m.w.e. yr-1 for 6 calving glaciers, and -0.16 ± 0.05 m.w.e. yr-1 for all glaciers combined.“ To learn more about the new insights gleaned from declassified images from spy satellites, click here. Spread the...

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Photo Friday: Studying Microbes on Glacier

Posted by on Jun 3, 2016 in Featured Posts, Images, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Photo Friday: Studying Microbes on Glacier

Spread the News:ShareAny avid hiker or mountaineer would agree life as a scientist studying microbes on glaciers is not too bad. Just look the business trips they get to make. Italian scientists Dr. Andrea Franzetti, environmental microbiologist, and his colleague Dr. Roberto Ambrosini, ecologist, took a trip to Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan to collect data and bacteria samples for their latest work on supraglacial microbes. Temporary office (base camp) on Baltoro Glacier, Pakistan with Gasherbrum I in the background. K2, second highest mountain in the world, shot from Baltoro Glacier. Dr. Roberto Ambrosini taking measurements in cryoconite hole on Baltoro Glacier with Mitre Peak in the background. Checking instrumentation on Baltoro Glacier Spread the...

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Does Glacier Retreat Promote Invasive Species?

Posted by on Jun 2, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Does Glacier Retreat Promote Invasive Species?

Spread the News:ShareA recent study suggests that glacier reatreat may contribute to spread of a noxious invasive algae species in Chile. The particular species is a kind of algae, Didymosphenia geminata, commonly called “didymo.” Since this microscopic organism, a kind of planktom, forms thick dense mats that coat rocks, it is also known as “rock snot.” Vivián Montecino and her co-authors report on the spread of this species in a paper published earlier this year in the journal Science of The Total Environment. They discuss a recent bloom of this species that occurred in 13 river basins in Chile between 2010 to 2015, extending over 1800 kilometers in central and southern Chile. Didymo has been found around the world. The dense algae mats are a problem because they are unpleasant, creating problems for tourism and sport fishing. Moreover, they interfere with local ecology, since they cover rocks that are the habitat for larve of aquatic insects, disrupting aquatic food webs. Didymo is native to the northern hemisphere, but recently has extended its range to the southern hemisphere, including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and, as this study shows, Chile. It spreads rapidly and has proved very difficult to eradicate. The researchers gathered water samples at over 300 sites between 2010 and 2015 in 13 river basins, assessing physical and chemical characteristics of the samples and checking for the presence of didymo. They found that in Chile, as in other regions, it is concentrated at site with low water temperatures and in streams that have low concentrations of phosphorus. They noted the presence in didymo in nearly all the rivers in Chile with these characteristics, suggesting that it may not continue to spread in the future. They note that didymo took a similar amount of time, about 6 years, to spread across the South Island of New Zealand, reaching its full extent in that time. The authors note that the spread of didymo to the south may be associated with glacier retreat. They comment that glacier retreat in the watershed of the Baker River is associated with increased stream flow in the summer, leading to a lowering of phosphorus concentrations which favor the species. The Baker River drains the rapidly shrinking Northern Patagonian Icefield. This research demonstrates the complex consequences of glacier retreat. It seems paradoxical that the dilution of nutrients such as phosphorus associated with increased stream flow could favor invasive species, but dense mats of rock snot that cover the rocks along stretches of the Baker River demonstrate this association. As glaciers change, the ecosystems in the rivers fed by their meltwater also change, often for the worse. Spread the...

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Organisms on Glacier Surfaces May Function as Carbon Sinks

Posted by on May 31, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Organisms on Glacier Surfaces May Function as Carbon Sinks

Spread the News:ShareA new study shows that life processes of microbes living on the surface of glacier ice–organisms known as supraglacial microbes–may have an impact on the melting of glacial ice and on global greenhouse gas levels. It documents a previously unrecorded process by which these microbes produce compounds which retain carbon on the glacier surface, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Since 2009, Dr. Andrea Franzetti, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Milan, and a team of Italian scientists have used DNA sequencing to determine the taxonomic characteristics of bacteria and algae from glaciers in several regions of the world, and to infer their metabolic processes.  Their latest work, Light-dependant Microbial Metabolisms Drive Carbon Fluxes on Glacier Surfaces, was published in The ISME Journal, a multidisciplinary journal of microbial ecology,  in April of 2016. Dr. Franzetti and his colleagues who studied microbes dwelling on the surface of glacier ice hypothesize that the supraglacial microbes determine whether glaciers can on average absorb or release atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas. Since roughly 10% of the Earth’s surface is covered by glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice, the cumulative impact of supraglacial microbes on global CO2 levels could have a significant effect on global climate. The key issue whether the supraglacial microbes are predominantly CO2 consumers, like plants, or producers, like animals. The balance of these two types of microbes determines whether the world’s ice surfaces produce more CO2 than they absorb–or vice versa. Although “it is still an open question,” said Dr. Franzetti during an interview with GlacierHub, he stated there is a trend that implies that marginal glaciers at the edge of ice sheets and mountain glaciers are dominated by CO2 producers and tend to act as carbon sources, while the interior regions of glaciers and ice sheets have mostly CO2 consumers and act as carbon sinks. The rates of production and absorption, multiplied by the areas where these activities are found, will determine the net effect of these organisms. Their research in two sites–Forni in the Italian Alps of Italy and Baltoro in the Pakistani Karakoram–shows a number of biochemical processes that contribute to the production of organic molecules, removing carbon from the atmosphere. In particular, they find that organisms can process the carbon monoxide (CO) that is formed as sunlight breaks down organic matter in cryoconite (a mixture of dark sediment and microbes found on ice surfaces), turning it into compounds that remain on the glacier surface. Their sequencing techniques have documented the presence of a number of genes that support photosynthesis. The discovery of this carbon sink is a key contribution of their research.  Since the type of microbes found on glaciers are predominantly the same as those found on ice sheets, Dr. Franzetti hypothesizes the most common metabolism is determined by the area of the ice and the availability of nutrients.  Mountain glaciers and marginal glaciers have a more confined surface area and tend to have more organic compounds from windblown sediment and upstream melt water.  Thus, marginal and mountain glaciers can support a greater number of CO2 producers than other areas of the glacier or ice sheet. In addition to influencing the trapping or releasing of atmospheric CO2, microbial activity may lead to the darkening of the glacial surface and the reduction of the glacier’s albedo, or solar reflectivity, which leads to increased melting.  Glacial darkening can originate from various microbial activities.  These include the natural pigmentation, or color, of algae on bare surface ice, and the buildup of cryoconite. Many supraglacial microbes produce an adhesive substance that trap sediment carried by wind and melt water.  Over time, the fine...

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