Posts Tagged "glacier melt"

PhotoFriday: Wildfires Rage in Alaska

Posted by on Jun 26, 2015 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Images, Uncategorized | 0 comments

PhotoFriday: Wildfires Rage in Alaska

Spread the News:ShareUnseasonable heat in Alaska combined with winds and low humidity have triggered major wildfire outbreaks in the Northern state. According to a status report from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, as of Wednesday, June 24, there were 278 active wildland fires state-wide. The Healy Lake Fires grew to 10,000 acres earlier this month, doubling in less than 24 hours. The Stetson Creek Fire started when lightning struck on the Kenai Peninsula. The fire had consumed about 400 acres last week. This May was the hottest May on record in Alaska, according to data that goes back 91 years.  The immediate cause of the high temperatures can be attributed to the development of an El Niño event in the eastern Pacific, which can trigger extreme climate events around the world. On a longer timescale, Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the national average over the last 50 years, the US Environmental Protection Agency found. Looking down on wildfire in Alaska, glaciers nearby. Credit: AKFireInfo Record high temps in northwestern Canada and parts of Alaska in the third week of May this year. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory Alaska Army National Guardsman releases water during a firefighting mission on June 17. The Stetson Creek Fire is a result of lighting that struck the Chugach National Forest on June 16. Credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Map from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center illustrates the tremendous number of fires across Alaska as of June 24. Credit: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center An Alaska Army National Guard helicopter releases ~700 gallons of water on the Stetson Creek Fire near Cooper Landing, AK, June 17. Two helicopters flew 200 bucket missions, dumping more than 144,000 gallons of water on the 300-acre Stetson Creek Fire on the Kenai Peninsula. Credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Arial view of forest fire coverage shows proximity to glaciers in Alaska. Credit: NASA “The number of large wildfires (larger than 1,000 acres) suddenly increased in the 1990s, and the 2000s saw nearly twice as many large wildfires as the 1950s and 60s,” according to Climate Central. This increase has been concurrent to rising temperatures. The U.S. National Climate Assessment reports that the area impacted by wildfires in Alaska will double by 2050, and triple by 2100 if emissions continue at present rates and warming continues. The heat means trouble for Alaska’s glaciers, too. A new study from researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks found that from 1994 to 2013, Alaskan glaciers have lost 75 gigatons (or 75 billion metric tons) of ice per year. That’s equivalent to half the total ice loss of Antarctica. For regular updates on the wildfire status, visit: http://akfireinfo.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/AK.Forestry To report a wildfire in Alaska call 1-800-237-3633 Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.  Spread the...

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A Dying Glacier, a Drought-Stricken Village, and a Good View

Posted by on Jun 25, 2015 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Experiences, Featured Posts | 0 comments

A Dying Glacier, a Drought-Stricken Village, and a Good View

Spread the News:ShareIn the course of researching my new book, “Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity and Survival on the Roof of the World”, I traveled to many communities living in the shadow of retreating snow and ice. I talked to Sherpa villagers who fear potential glacial lake outburst floods in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley, and with Naxi people adapting to drought conditions not far from the increasingly bare flanks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in China’s Yunnan Province. But nowhere did I find the consequences of the Himalaya’s shrinking glaciers and snowfields as stark or sobering as in Kumik, a cluster of 39 households hugging a hillside in northwest India. Kumik is one of the oldest communities in the remote Zanskar Valley, and the first there to be abandoned due to a changing climate. Zanskar lies in the “rain shadow” formed by the Great Himalayan Range, where the only source of water – and therefore life – is melting snow and ice. The villagers of Zanskar long ago developed a sophisticated water-sharing system, to irrigate their fields of barley, peas, wheat and fodder grasses. But physics threatens to overwhelm this cultural ingenuity. “There are loud indicators that these glaciers are melting,” Shakeel Romshoo, a glaciologist at the University of Kashmir, told me. He has studied glaciers in Zanskar and other parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir since the mid-1980s. “Out of 365 glaciers in the Zanskar region that were there in 1969, about 6 of these glaciers are not there.” As in, completely gone. “I would say, all the glaciers I have seen, they are showing the recession.” Ulrich Kamp, of the University of Montana, measured thirteen glaciers in Zanskar, combining field measurements of glacier topography with thermal imaging and remote sensing data. “Most of the glaciers in the Greater Himalaya Range in Zanskar are receding since at least the 1970s,” he and his colleagues concluded. Kumik is on the sharp edge of this troubling trend. Its sole lifeline is one small stream coursing down from the glacier-capped mountain of Sultan Largo. This lifeline is frequently severed by the double whammy of declining snowfall and earlier, warmer springs. The stream now often dries up by August, before the harvest. Ishay Paldan, the oldest resident of Kumik, has watched as the snowfields and small glaciers on the mountains above have steadily retreated over the course of his lifetime. “When I was a child, we had no problems with water,” he told me on my first visit. The view from his window shows just how much things have changed: the snowline that once almost came down to the edge of Kumik is now several kilometers distant. Kumik’s chronic state of drought became so acute in the summer of 2000 that the entire community gathered and made a painful decision. They would leave their ancient homes, and start over somewhere else. The government offered them a dusty, wind-scoured patch of desert – a couple miles and almost a thousand feet below – where they could start over. So they began to dig a canal, five miles long, to bring water from the Lungnak River. They gathered stones and mixed mud bricks. They started to build a new village from scratch, hoping to green this no-man’s-land long known as Marthang, “the red place.” Since my first visit in 2008, I have spent many happy days with the people of Kumik, listening to their stories in the old village they are slowly leaving, and working alongside them in the new one they are slowly coaxing from the desert floor. The villagers are...

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Climate Change Adaptation is Key to Water Security

Posted by on Apr 29, 2015 in Adaptation, All Posts, Featured Posts | 1 comment

Climate Change Adaptation is Key to Water Security

Spread the News:ShareA significant research gap may be hindering community efforts to withstand climate-induced glacier melt, according to a new review from researcher Graham McDowell and his colleagues at McGill University. Understanding how to help communities adapt to the effects of glacier melt, which threatens water sources for communities worldwide, will require deeper assessments of existing projects, the review found. A research agenda should focus on assessing different adaptation measures to better inform policy and community projects in the future. Glaciers are key water sources in mountain areas, especially in South America and South Asia. More than 72 million people live in mountain regions, and large proportions of these populations reside in glaciated regions. Without glaciers, the livelihoods and health of communities worldwide will be threatened, but the issue is not well understood. Only 36 studies of adaptation projects have been published. In total, studies document 74 adaptations, mainly in Peru, India and Nepal, though the lack of research in this area suggests the number of existing adaptation plans may be greater than researchers have studied. Almost 50 percent of documented adaptation plans are driven by a need to cope with the repercussions of climate change. Adaptation plans differ depending on how communities living near glaciers make their livelihoods, whether they are in ski towns in the European Alps or subsistence agrarian communities in the Himalayas and Andes. McDowell found that most of the work on adaptation in glaciated regions comes from academic institutions, while NGOs and governments contribute much less. 50% of the projects in the papers which McDowell et al. reviewed concentrated in agricultural sector, followed by hazard management (31%), tourism (26%), water management (24%) and public health security (19%). McDowell’s assessment suggests that adaptations to climatic changes are frequently embedded within responses to other socio-economic, political, and environmental challenges. To address these challenges, autonomous adaptation without government help at local scales may be especially important in often-remote glaciated mountain regions, where 58 % of adaptation initiatives were at an individual, household, or community scale, and 46 % were categorized as being autonomous, the review found. Communities in need South America, which holds more than 99% of the world’s tropical glaciers, is particularly vulnerable to global warming. As climate change converges with human activities in glacier-filled mountains, the degradation of high Andean ecosystems is accelerating. These glaciers, which provide drinking water and sustain rivers, are crucial to water supply in South America and are used for agriculture, hydroelectricity and industry such as agro-exports and mining. At the same time, there are growing concerns that the rainy season will bring a higher risk of flooding, even if climate change leads to seasonal drought in the region. Facing abnormal rainfall, local farmers have to adapt to avoid economic loss. Unavoidable glacier melt will severely reduce water supply in a continent that is already water-poor. In Peru, 8.9 million people live in rural areas and 3.3 million currently don’t have access to safe portable water. Around 3 million people, most of them children, die each year related to disease linked to consumption of contaminated water. In order to provide more safe potable water, people are now trying to build large public facilities, such as reservoirs to store drinking water. However, microorganisms such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter are a concern as studies show increased temperatures favor conditions under which these microorganisms thrive. A research agenda that addresses projects that can help communities adapt to the cascading effects of climate change is becoming increasingly urgent as the lives of millions come under threat. For more information about adaptation in glacier areas, look here. Spread the...

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The Chameleon Glaciers

Posted by on Apr 16, 2015 in Adaptation, All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

The Chameleon Glaciers

Spread the News:ShareCan you spot the glacier on the picture above? Not that easy… Glacier Noir is a debris-covered glacier located in the French Alps. Contrary to clean-ice glaciers which are shiny white or blue ice masses, debris-covered glaciers are ice masses with a layer of rock debris on the top which makes them look like their surrounding environment: they are the “chameleon glaciers”. They are currently called debris-covered glaciers but in the early 2000s, you could hear “debris-mantled glaciers” and even “buried glaciers” in the 1960s. They are often confused with rock glaciers. There are a lot of names and confusion around debris-covered glaciers. Why? Simply because they are difficult to find, define and study as you can imagine from the picture above. Debris-covered glaciers represent around 5% of all mountains glaciers in the world. So why is it important to study them – there are many more clean-ice glaciers, aren’t there? Yes, debris-covered glaciers are a small fraction of all glaciers but like any other glacier, the melting of debris-covered glaciers contributes to sea level rise and there is currently huge uncertainty about how fast they melt compared to clean-ice glaciers. In addition, in the Himalayas, they make up a greater proportion of the glaciers and in many valleys, debris-covered glaciers are the main and often the only source of drinking water, like for example the famous Khumbu Glacier just below Mount Everest on the Nepal side. Some debris-covered glaciers, like the Tasman Glacier, the biggest glacier in New Zealand, are very large features that can be the origin of risks and hazards. The debris layer creates numerous ponds filled with meltwater on the surface of glaciers. These ponds can hold monumental volumes of water that can be suddenly and brutally drained through crevasses in the ice or a breach on their edge. This drainage can create an outburst flood and submerge the valley below. Debris layers on top of glaciers can come from rock falls, like for the Sherman Glacier in Alaska. This rock cover modifies the dynamics of the ice by slowing down the melting happening underneath. This insulation process creates various phenomena, like thickening of the ice under the debris, building hills of ice slowly moving down the glacier or advancement of the glacier’s tongue. These two phenomena can block or deviate water streams and again generate massive floods. A less obvious reason to study debris-covered glaciers is that if glaciers on Mars exist, they are debris-covered. So studying debris-covered glaciers on Earth can contribute to space conquest and the human adventure on Mars. In the same vein, studying current debris-covered glaciers and their behavior in the face of climate change can help us understand and interpret the climate of the past. There is an example of a potential misinterpretation of the Waiho Loop moraine in New Zealand in front of the Franz-Joseph Glacier: 12000 years there was a worldwide cooling event (called Younger Dryas) that might have led to the formation of the very large moraine of Waiho Loop. Or, a massive rock avalanche landing on Franz-Joseph Glacier triggered its advance and the deposition of the moraine. I’ve already described a few examples of debris-covered glaciers: Glacier Noir, Khumbu Glacier, Tasman Glacier, Sherman Glacier and maybe Franz-Joseph Glacier. But where else can you find debris-covered glaciers? They can actually be found in every mountain range: from the Miage Glacier (Italy) in the European Alps with  to the Inylchek Glacier (Kyrgyzstan) or Langtang (Nepal) glaciers in the Asian High Mountain; from the Black Rapids Glacier (Alaska) in the Rocky Mountains and the Dome Glacier (Canada), to the Andes...

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Glacier Meeting in Kathmandu

Posted by on Mar 24, 2015 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Images, News, Policy and Economics, Science | 0 comments

Glacier Meeting in Kathmandu

Spread the News:ShareKathmandu, a Nepalese valley with a rich cultural and religious history, was the venue for the International Symposium on Glaciology in High-Mountain Asia early this month. From March 1 to 6, 240 scientists from 26 countries gathered there to further interdisciplinary understanding of the science of glaciers, snowpack, and permafrost in the high-mountain Asia region—the Himalayan, Hindu-Kush, Karakoram, Tien Shan, Pamir, and Tibetan Plateau mountain chains. The conference was organized by the International Glaciological Society (IGS) and hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). IGS, founded in 1936, aims to stimulate interest in and encourage research into the scientific and technical problems of snow and ice in all countries; ICIMOD is a regional intergovernmental organization aimed at spreading knowledge about the impacts of climate change on the Hindu Kush Himalayas of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan—both their fragile ecosystems and the communities that live there. Participants of the symposium exchanged the latest research findings on glaciers and glacier contribution to river flow in high-mountain Asia. This researched looked at past, present and future glacier change, glacier dynamics modeling and observations, glacier and snow melt and glacier hazards, among other subjects. While the coming together of so many scientists and specialists in the field helped to fill knowledge gaps across the region, additional questions were raised during the symposium. In particular, participants believe a more complete and accurate picture of glacier change must still be achieved. Field observations, improved models, inter-comparisons of models, and regional data sharing are considered among the most critical directions and needs for future research. The high-mountain regions in Asia have been more acutely impacted by climate change than many other regions of the world in recent years, given the high concentrations of glacier ice found here. Glacial melt has overwhelmed not just regional ecosystems, but traditional livelihoods. These glaciers feed rivers that support the agriculture and livelihoods of over one billion people and are crucial for hydroelectric power generation. In addition, accelerated melting can aggravate natural hazards such as flooding and avalanches. Creating an interdisciplinary understanding of glaciers was one of the primary focuses of the symposium. Glaciology brings together the atmospheric and hydrologic sciences, required to understand the connections between atmospheric processes and cryospheric change, as well as downstream impacts in the region. The cryosphere is defined as the part of Earth’s surface that consists of solid water, including snow cover, glaciers, ice sheets and ice caps, among other formations, and which plays a critical role in global climate and its changes. The interdisciplinary approach to glaciers in the region has provided the opportunity to capture regional and local changes in glaciers, snow and water availability. Scientists also discussed advances in measurements, modeling, and interpretation of glaciological changes in high mountain Asia, in order to better understand the impacts of these changes. While there is evidence of glacier retreat in the eastern Himalayas and glacier melt rates are projected to rise, river flows will not decline significantly in the coming decades due to projected increases in precipitation. It is one of the major findings presented at the conference. Meanwhile, scientists noticed that the Karakoram glaciers have been identified as an anomaly in the region, given that they are not experiencing retreat, something that has not yet been fully explained by scientific research. The IGS president Doug MacAyeal pointed out at the symposium that the role of debris cover and black carbon in glacier melt is still unclear, and the insufficient observations of high-altitude precipitation remains unsolved. The results of the meeting will be published in Annals of...

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