Posts Tagged "switzerland"

Photo Friday: Ice diving in the Alps – Glacial Lake Sassolo

Posted by on Jul 29, 2016 in All Posts, Experiences, Featured Posts, Images, Sports, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Photo Friday: Ice diving in the Alps – Glacial Lake Sassolo

Spread the News:ShareFranco Banfi is a professional underwater photographer, renowned for his spectacular images of marine wildlife, captured across every ocean on the planet. In 2010, Banfi, a Swiss national, dived into the Lago di Sassolo (Lake Sassolo) to reveal the hidden wonders of the ice mazes which form in the glacial lake at 6,560 feet (2,000 m) above sea level, in the European Alps. Ice diving is highly technical, and is complicated when undertaken at altitude. Banfi has been diving for 35 years, and has “around 100 dives under the ice,” experience gained through his pursuit of the perfect image of rarely seen species. In 2005, Banfi chased Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) in the Arctic Circle, and leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) in the Antarctic Ocean. Banfi wound his way through the sub- and englacial pathways of the ice, in temperatures around 35.6-37.4°F (2-3°C). He remarked, “It can be dangerous if you don’t know the place and if you don’t have experience in an ice environment.” However, Banfi was raised in Cadro, Switzerland, and grew up diving Lago di Lugano (Lugano Lake). Reflecting on the dangers of his dive at Sassolo, Banfi said “It gets quite dark depending on how much ice there is above your head at the surface – so in some places with thicker ice it gets dangerously dark.” He added, “Ice like this can collapse anytime,” as the exhaled bubbles alter the buoyancy of the overlaying ice. According to the seasoned diver, his underwater model and dive partner Sabrina Belloni joined him on the journey through the icey labyrinth, but was hesitant, awaiting terrifying signs of an imminent failure of the thick ice. “You can usually hear the crack, but not always,” said Banfi. “If you hear this, it’s already too late.” Spread the...

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Damming Switzerland’s Glaciers

Posted by on Jun 29, 2016 in Adaptation, All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Science | 0 comments

Damming Switzerland’s Glaciers

Spread the News:ShareAn estimated 80 percent of Switzerland’s annual water supply will be “missing” by 2100, as glaciers in the Alps retreat under rising temperatures. A recent study by Swiss and Italian researchers addresses this anticipated loss by exploring whether dams could replicate the hydrological role of glaciers. Like glaciers, the dams would contain and store meltwaters at high elevations in the valleys where the glaciers once resided. The authors, Daniel Farinotti of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Alberto Pistocchi of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Matthias Huss of the University of Fribourg, call the approach “replacing glaciers with dams.” Their method seeks to harvest the diminishing glaciers’ waters to maintain Europe’s water supply and contribute to power generation.  . The trio of authors are glaciologists and hydrologists, with expertise in chemistry, engineering, and resource management. Between them they have over 260 published works. Suffice it to say, they know what they are are talking about. Speaking to GlacierHub, Pistocchi said that the idea occurred to him during one of his many cycling trips across the Alps. The possibility gripped him, and he began searching for colleagues in the field of glaciology to help him run scenarios on the future health of glaciers. He met with Huss, who had “recently investigated in depth the contribution of glaciers” to Alpine water resources. Farinotti was soon invited to provide an engineer’s perspective. They studied how to “artificially sustain” the role of glaciers within the local hydrological cycle. The idea simply capitalizes on the natural processes already in motion. Meltwaters from glaciers naturally fill depressions, forming glacial lakes, or, if unimpeded, flowing into local rivers. Farinotti and his team were interested in determining how practical it would be to impound the runoff from melting glaciers with dams at the high elevations where the ice remains intact. They proposed that the glacier meltwater which accumulated would serve a similar role as the glacier had, as they would conserve the water and manage its release during drier seasons, thus maintaining a steady supply, and exploiting the newfound stores for power generation. They found that while extensive melting will continue to provide meltwater from the European Alps in the near future, there are considerable logistical, financial, technical, diplomatic and bureaucratic hurdles to damming and storing it there. Farinotti and his colleagues concluded that while their proposed strategy could preserve sufficient volumes to meet Europe’s water demands through 2100, the supply scheme is unavoidably “non-renewable.” The source glaciers’ volumes are finite, as is the quantity of water that could be dammed. Accordingly, without an additional strategy for replenishing the stores (i.e. pumping in Austria) in the high reaches of the Alps, the supply would eventually run out. Between 1980-2009, glaciers supplied continental Europe with approximately 1,400 trillion gallons (5.28 km3) of freshwater per year — about 1 percent of the total volume consumed by the United States each year. The majority (75 percent) of the melt occurs (unsurprisingly) at the height of summer, from July through September. Rivers flowing from the Alps received considerable contributions from the glaciers at this time every year. During the peak, six percent of the Rhine, 11 percent of the Po, 38 percent of the Inn, and 53 percent of the Rhône comprise glacial meltwater, according to Farinotti and his colleagues. As many modelers do, Farinotti and his colleagues examined the impacts of a range of climate change scenarios on the Alps’ glaciers. They projected the probable volumes of meltwater, and health of glaciers in response to optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic concentrations of greenhouse gases...

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Rocks and Rain Fix Nitrogen in Post-Glacial Sites

Posted by on Apr 19, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Rocks and Rain Fix Nitrogen in Post-Glacial Sites

Spread the News:ShareA new study in Plant and Soil found that the input of nitrogen from the atmosphere, via a process of rain funneling through rocks, created levels of nitrogen that are adequate to support plant growth in post-glacial alpine soil, challenging the common view that the element is the primary limiting factor in deglaciated areas. In fact, the researchers found that phosphorous, due to the low-weathering rates and high nitrogen deposition of the region, is the element in soil which limits post-glacial plant life colonization. The team was lead by Hans Göransson of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. The finding challenges the widely-held view that the only plants capable of colonizing post-glacial environments are species that are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Instead, as this work shows, natural processes enable other plants to become colonizers in the European Alps. This research may have implications for future ecosystem plant colonization and biodiversity, a topic of interest to scientists as glaciers retreat and expose new soils in many regions of the world. The team, focusing on Damma Glacier in Switzerland, found that the expected nitrogen-fixing plants were usually absent in the early stages of these post-glacial sites, contradicting what previous research has suggested. The study’s findings differ from the research done in recently deglaciated areas in Glacier Bay in Alaska and on the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand, which show an abundance of nitrogen-fixing plants in post-glacial sites. Most plants are unable to process atmospheric nitrogen directly and can only absorb it once it undergoes a transformation within the soil. (Nitrogen is essential for plant growth.) Some plants, however, undergo a process called nitrogen fixation which converts atmospheric nitrogen into a form useful for them. Bacteria in the plant’s roots help, as they are able to convert the nitrogen into a usable form. Because of this capacity, nitrogen-fixing plants are generally thought of as the colonizing species in post-glacial sites, since these rocky areas are typically so low in soil nitrogen that plants that cannot fix nitrogen would not be able to grow. Once the nitrogen-fixing plants begin to die and the nutrients from them return to the soil, a more diverse second generation of plants can grow. The team set out to explore how plants in the region were colonizing even when nitrogen-fixing plants were not present. They found that nitrogen from the atmosphere was deposited into the soil by newly exposed rocks, which acted as funnels when it rained. This process provided sufficient amounts of nitrogen for plant growth, and thus allowed non-nitrogen fixing plants to grow in these areas. The researchers divided the Damma post-glacial area into a total of 21 sites across three time periods related to the age of the soil since the glacier retreated: pioneer (fewer than 16 years since deglaciation), intermediate (57-80 years), and late-stage (108-137 years). The Damma glacier has had a long and well-tracked retreat, making the separation of time periods easy. The team used ion exchange resin bags at each site that measure the amount of nitrogen in the soil. They also took the above-soil measurements by collecting the biomass growing at the sites and analyzing the nitrogen levels. They found that nitrogen levels were high in the pioneer stage, followed by low levels in the intermediate, and high levels again in the late stage. As the nitrogen channels through rocks and into the soil, it creates an overabundance of nitrogen at first, since there is little or noplant life to use the element. This process eventually creates hotspots of plant growth, but as...

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Bacteria From the Sahara Desert Found on Swiss Glaciers

Posted by on Feb 24, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Bacteria From the Sahara Desert Found on Swiss Glaciers

Spread the News:ShareBacteria living among dust particles from the Sahara have been found trapped in ice and snow on the Swiss Alps at an altitude of over 11,000 feet, according to a December article in Frontiers in Microbiology. The samplings collected from the Jungfraujoch region of Switzerland contained bacteria originally from northwest Africa, meaning these bacteria survived a remarkable wind-blown journey of over 1000 miles. These bacteria are particularly adapted to cope with UV radiation and dehydration stress, say authors Marco Meola, Anna Lazzaro, and Josef Zeyer. In February 2014 there was a strong Saharan dust event. According to the NASA Earth Observatory, dust events occur when powerful African winds uplift sand and dust into the atmosphere. Reaching high altitudes, clouds of dust are then transported across the globe through high altitude wind patterns. Initial uplift events are difficult to predict. In the past researchers collected dust samples via air capture, snatching the particulates, also called bioaerosols, straight out of the air before they landed. But it is difficult to grab enough dust using this method to have a sample size large enough for microbiological analyses, and the act of gathering particulates from the air often damages the samples that are captured. By collecting samples from snowpack in the European Alps, the researchers were able to obtain a pure sample without damaging the integrity and the potential viability of the particulates. Bioaerosols are airborne particles that contain biological matter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes fungi, bacteria, and even viruses. Charles Darwin first discovered bioaerosols on his famous journey across the Atlantic with the crew of the Beagle. He describes them in his 1846 An account of the fine dust which often falls on vessels in the Atlantic Ocean as “67 different organic forms in fine dust particles.” Saharan dust events that travel toward Europe are rare. Because these events are monitored in real-time at the Jungfraujoch meteorological station, researchers are able to connect samples to specific dust events. For their research, Meola, Lazzaro, and Zeyer used samples taken from a depth of 220 cm from an excavated vertical trench in June 2014. The particulates collected and attributed to the February 2014 Saharan dust event were tracked back to Algeria. Surrounding countries like Niger, Mali, and Morocco may have also contributed dust particles. Until they landed on the snow in Jungfraujoch, the bioaerosols stayed high in the upper atmosphere, where they were free from any risk of contamination. Three days after landing, the Sahara Dust particles were covered with fresh snow, preserving them by keeping them cold, insulated, and safe from UV radiation. Meola, Lazzaro, and Zeyer were surprised that one phylum of bacteria, Proteobacteria, was the most common in both the clean-snow control sample and in the Sahara dust sample. What they did discover in the Sahara dust snow samples was an abundance of pigment-producing bacteria from Africa, absent from the clean-snow samples, including the pigment-producing Gemmatimonadetes. These are bacteria that have adapted to cope with high amounts UV radiation, very low temperatures, stress from dehydration, and nutrient deficient conditions. These unique adaptations allow them to survive the long journey from Africa to Europe. It is remarkable that these tiny organisms, adapted to the desert conditions in the Sahara, can survive high in the atmosphere and as well as under the snow. Spread the...

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Helicopters: The Eye-in-the-Sky for Glacier Research

Posted by on Feb 10, 2016 in Adaptation, All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Helicopters: The Eye-in-the-Sky for Glacier Research

Spread the News:ShareWith global warming, glaciers are melting, and mountain ranges in the mid-latitudes such as the Swiss Alps are showing significant glacier retreat. For decades researchers have measured the length and area of glaciers to see if they are shrinking or not— a key symptom of disequilibrium— which can be done using photographs and satellites. But a key indicator of a glacier’s health is the volume of the ice, and that’s impossible to calculate without knowing its thickness. To measure this, scientists can take advantage of advanced tools involving helicopters and radar, according to a recent study conducted in the Swiss Alps by Anja Rutishauser, Hansruedi Maurer, and Andreas Bauder and published in the journal Geophysics. To map the ice-bedrock interface, researchers use ground-penetrating radar to go through the air and ice and then down to the rock so they can determine how far down the rock is. While it’s easy to measure the where the top of the glacial ice is, figuring out where it meets the rock below, and thus calculating its thickness, requires instrumentation. However, this is tricky because glaciers are in narrow valleys. So how do you get the equipment above the glacier? It’s possible to place radar directly on the glacier surface; this system produces high-quality images, but there are many places where it is difficult or impossible to gain access to the surface. And it’s cumbersome and expensive to move the equipment from one spot to another on the surface. As the paper states, A major challenge in conducting ground-based surveys arises from the logistical and accessibility problems posed by rough and potentially dangerous terrain (e.g., crevasses). In contrast, airborne GPR systems are less affected by terrain challenges and have a high potential for rapidly investigating large areas. Most such systems used to investigate valley glaciers have been mounted beneath helicopters. Because they can fly, helicopters can soar over tough terrain and cover a lot of ground, and offer a solution to the limits of surveys with radar equipment placed directly on the glacier surface. The authors discuss three different helicopter-borne ground-penetrating radar (GPR) systems. The first system, developed at the University of Münster in Germany, is a low-frequency pulsed system (BGR), the second system is a stepped frequency system, produced by a commercial firm (RST), and the third, with a frequency profile closer to the second, is also a commercial system (GSSI). The BGR system uses two shielded broadband antennae mounted on a frame structure. This structure is attached to a rope, and when in operation hangs 20 meters below the helicopter in flight. The RST system is similar to the BGR system, and differs only in the frequency of the radar pulses that it emits. The GSSI system uses a distinct technique, in which the antennae are mounted directly on the helicopter skids. This GSSI system seemed attractive, since the first two systems, in which the helicopter carried a weight suspended below it, could interfere with the stability and efficiency of the helicopter. Moreover, the GSSI system might allow the helicopter to fly more steadily, producing a smoother image that required less processing to compensate for fluctuations in velocity. The researchers conducted a number of repeat flights to assess the three systems. They used different systems on individual sections of the glacier, and compared the images for two features: the clarity of the images which they produced and the depth of ice that they could penetrate. The RST system proved to be the most effective on both features. Though the GSSI system was more favorable in terms of its effects on the flight performance of...

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