Posts Tagged "switzerland"

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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Roundup: Glaciers Lose Old Timber, Gain Dust and Carbon

Posted by on Jan 25, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Roundup, Science | 0 comments

Roundup: Glaciers Lose Old Timber, Gain Dust and Carbon

Spread the News:ShareEfforts to Clean Up Switzerland “A lot of infrastructure in the Alps dilapidates due to a missing use, the absence of owners or an unclear legal status. The infrastructure built in the latter half of the 20th century consists of solidified, impregnated wood, and metal. A recent survey by mountain wilderness has shown that there are – just as an example – over 600 ski lifts without being used, left for decomposition. The aim of this Mountain Wilderness Switzerland’s project is the deconstruction of a decayed hut in commune of Safien, the canton of Graubünden, in an appropriate way (professional recycling and waste disposal). It involves all the necessary work to deconstruct the building: Obtaining the permission to do so, inspecting the material used, organising their appropriate recycling or disposal (where not possible elsewhere), and – finally – the deconstruction. Hence, the local habitat is able to regenerate, biodiversity and the ecosystem will profit from our action in the long term. The spot once covered by the building will be restored to its natural state with long term benefits for plants, animals (and mountaineers).” To learn more about this project click here. Dust from Sahara found in European Alps “Deposition of Sahara dust (SD) particles is a frequent phenomenon in Europe, but little is known about the viability and composition of the bacterial community transported with SD. The goal of this study was to characterize SD-associated bacteria transported to the European Alps, deposited and entrapped in snow. During two distinct events in February and May 2014, SD particles were deposited and promptly covered by falling snow, thus preserving them in distinct ochre layers within the snowpack.” To find out more about the dust from the Sahara that blew all the way to the Alps, click here. Antarctic Glaciers Act as Carbon Sinks “Glacier surface ecosystems, including cryoconite holes and cryolakes, are significant contributors to regional carbon cycles. Incubation experiments to determine the net production (NEP) of organic matter in cryoconite typically have durations of 6-24 hours, and produce a wide range of results, many of which indicate that the system is net heterotrophic. We employ longer term incubations to examine the temporal variation of NEP in cryoconite from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica to examine the effect of sediment disturbance on system production, and to understand processes controlling production over the lifetimes of glacier surface ecosystems. The shorter-term incubations have durations of one week and show net heterotrophy. The longer term incubations of approximately one year show net autotrophy, but only after a period of about 40 days (~1000 hours). The control on net organic carbon production is a combination of the rate of diffusion of dissolved inorganic carbon from heterotrophic activity within cryoconite into the water, the rate of carbonate dissolution, and the saturation of carbonate in the water (which is a result of photosynthesis in a closed system). We demonstrate that sediment on glacier surfaces has the potential to accumulate carbon over timescales of months to years.” Spread the...

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In an Empty Building’s Place: Wilderness and Community

Posted by on Jan 14, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Spread the News:ShareA Swiss NGO, Mountain Wilderness, has developed a solution to a problem found in many alpine regions: the abandoned buildings which result from outmigration of rural families. They designed sustainable, participatory techniques for removing the building materials and applied them to an empty farmhouse in a remote glacier valley as a demonstration project. And once the building was removed, plants could begin to establish themselves on the site, promoting habitat restoration. For their first project site, Mountain Wilderness selected the commune of Safiental, located within the glacier-rich canton of Graubunden. The main village of this commune is located at an elevation of 1,350 m. Its current population of about 900 is roughly half the size of the population at the middle of the 19th century. Like many other high-elevation regions of Switzerland, Safiental has experienced significant outmigration, and it contains many empty buildings. The local residents selected one building for removal. It had been used as a stable during World War II, and provided a few gamekeepers with shelter in the years after the war, but had not been used for either purpose for some time. Their first project faced many challenges. The staff of Mountain Wilderness had to obtain permission for the removal from the owner of the farm and from the local government. They needed to inspect the material carefully to decide the best way to deal with it, and then to arrange for appropriate recycling or waste disposal. Finally, they needed to identify a dozen or so local volunteers to carry out the work, and then to coordinate with the local community to schedule the event. Moreover, to accomplish the tasks of bringing tools up and old materials down, Mountain Wilderness did not want to use helicopters; they oppose their use in mountain areas in general, since the noise disrupts the wildlife and the wilderness character of the region. A branch of the Swiss army lent horses for these activities—a more sustainable form of transportation, as well as a quieter one. When the project was completed, the local residents were satisfied.  A local carpenter, Kay Decasper, selected some of the wood to make into artisanal furniture. The mayor of Safiental, Thomas Buchli, described it as a “strategy that is viable in the long run” since it would promote sustainable tourism in the commune. Though this concern for participatory and sustainable methods added to the effort required for the project, it also increased public awareness of wilderness preservation. In this way, the project became a showpiece for the removal of abandoned buildings and for habitat restoration. Founded in the small town of Brig in southern Switzerland in 1995, Mountain Wilderness is an NGO that promotes the protection of high mountain landscapes. Their philosophy is centered on the word “respect.” It guides their strategy of enlisting mountain sports enthusiasts as a means for preservation of wilderness.  They aim to keep ski resorts from growing too large, and they promote car-pooling and ride-sharing to existing resorts as a way to reduce traffic on mountain roads and to keep parking lots as small as possible. They seek a total ban in the Alps on snowmobiles and heli-skiing, since they strongly value the silence of mountain wilderness. The organization also provides teaching materials to schools as a means of building appreciation of wilderness values. This project was one of the 13 around the world that was nominated for the Mountain Protection Award. This award grants recognition of initiatives that address promotes concrete actions, including energy efficiency, conservation initiatives, waste management, community activities and water conservation. It is awarded by the International Climbing and Mountaineering...

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A Swiss Exhibit You Can’t Miss

Posted by on Nov 25, 2015 in Art/Culture, Featured Posts, Tourism | 0 comments

A Swiss Exhibit You Can’t Miss

Spread the News:ShareThe Glacier Garden (Gletschergarten) in Lucerne is Switzerland’s premiere Glacier Museum. The museum is almost 150 years old, but the special exhibition “Glaciers of the World” is brand new. “Glaciers of the World” was opened on November 4th 2015, and will conclude on April 10th 2016. Together with glaciologists and photographers, Jürg Alean has designed exhibition in which large panoramas of glaciers from around the world are on display, along with pictures of mysterious ice structures, and glacier-dwelling animals and plants. Photographs featured in the exhibit were taken by Jürg Alean and Michael Hambrey. The Gacier Garden, where the exhibit is displayed, was first opened in 1873, following the owner’s discovery of strange rock formations and holes on the grounds. Upon scientific examination these uniquely smooth rocks and divots were found to be evidence of a glacier that once covered the area. Today Swiss glaciers exist only on the highest mountains, but the findings corroborated the story that glaciers once covered the land. “Glaciers are fascinating, not only for specialists, but also for our [museum] guests,” Andreas Burri, director of Glacier Garden told GlacierHub in an email. “Most [people] don’t have the opportunity to go on a glacier and if these glaciers are far away in the Arctic or Antarctic, the visit is nearly impossible.” The greatest impact that the Glacier Garden has on people is in allowing people to discover glaciers. This discovery is heightened by the realization of how quickly our remaining glaciers are disappearing. “An important aspect is the discussion of the climatic change,” Burri added. “People became sensitive to environmental or disappearing phenomenas like glaciers. In the Alps, the declining of the glaciers is obviously and the whole issue is in the head of (parts of) the society. It is assumed, that in 50 years most of the big glaciers in the Alps are melted away. This forecast makes people thinking about …. and we as the “Glacier Garden” have the intention to be a further trigger of these thinking processes.” If you would like to learn more about the Glacier Garden, please visit their website. Spread the...

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Rhone Watershed At Risk from Climate Change

Posted by on Oct 1, 2015 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Rhone Watershed At Risk from Climate Change

Spread the News:ShareResearchers, policy experts and agency managers have long recognized that water resources are influenced both by global climate processes and by regional environmental dynamics.  In a close examination of an economically important region in the Swiss Alps, reseachers recently found that land use change have a much smaller impact on glacier and snow melt than climate change. An assessment of stream flow during different times of year also revealed a lower peak flow and an earlier start to peak flows driven by melting snow and glaciers. The findings support previous research on annual melt in the region, and strengthen the understanding of the causes of the changes. By emphasizing the importance of climate change, this research can help shape policies to address declining water resources. Water flowing from high altitudes in the Alps plays a significant role in Switzerland’s tourism industry, hydroelectricity production and feeds into the Rhone River and Lake Geneva. Every summer, runoff from snowmelt and the Rhone Glacier enters the Rhone River, which, at 167.5 kilometers in length, is one of the longest and most important in the country. “The entire upper Rhone watershed is of paramount importance because 11 large hydropower plants are located in this watershed,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, a model could lead to a better understanding of the current inflow situation and scenario analysis could help in planning better downstream water management.” By using data to create land maps and developing models, researchers from Stanford University, the University of Geneva and the Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change in Graz, Austria, found that if the world continues on a business as usual trajectory in which greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed, streamflow from the Swiss Alps will be greatly reduced as a result of glacier loss. Climate change will also lead to reduced agricultural production, which in turn will promote forest growth as farmers take lands out of cultivation. This change will also impact stream flow, since trees will absorb precipitation and reduce runoff into streams, though the impact of climate change was found to be more significant. This importance could be related to lower levels of land use change in high altitudes, the authors concluded. Models were developed to assess glacier melt and land use change for two periods, between 2011 and 2025, and between 2026 and 2050. The models included a number of  physical processes, including ocean precipitation, transpiration, snow melt and glacier melt. Researchers also used a Soil and Water Assessment Tool to determine water flow. “Since the runoff in this watershed is driven by snow and glacier melt, the early melt could lead to several consequences, the most severe of which is on hydropower based energy production,” the authors wrote. “Early melt will cause an early filling of reservoirs and result in a shortage during peak flows. Therefore, the result obtained from this study can be useful for water management in the Rhone Valley.” In this way, their findings correspond to other studies elsewhere in  Europe, in Latin America and Asia, which also show that glacier retreat will have negative effects on hydropower–a source of renewable energy which could reduced the dependence of global economies on fossil fuels. Studies such as these are thus of great importance for formulating responses to climate change.   Spread the...

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