April 3, 2020: A federal court today ruled against the Trump administration and in favor of Oregon Wild and our allies in a long-running legal battle over the Crystal Clear logging project on the eastern slopes of Mount Hood. The logging project encompassed nearly 12,000 acres of public land in the Mount Hood National Forest, and included almost 3000 acres of logging of mature and old-growth forests along with plans to build or re-open 36 miles of roads.
Oregon Wild, Bark, and Cascadia Wildlands have fought this logging project for several years, highlighting the significant harm it would cause to fish and wildlife (including Mt. Hood’s tiny population of gray wolves), its negative effects on carbon sequestration and climate change, and the reality that logging older, larger, and more fire resistant trees would likely increase the risk of destructive forest fires.
The court found the negative fire consequences of this logging
project compelling, and cited Oregon Wild’s arguments in the ruling:
Oregon Wild pointed out in its EA comments that “[f]uel
treatments have a modest effect on fire behavior, and could even make
fire worse instead of better.” It averred that removing mature trees is
especially likely to have a net negative effect on fire suppression.
Importantly, the organization pointed to expert studies and research
reviews that support this assertion.
Oregon Wild also pointed out in its EA comments that fuel
reduction does not necessarily suppress fire. Indeed, it asserted that
“[s]ome fuel can actually help reduce fire, such as deciduous hardwoods
that act as heat sinks (under some conditions), and dense canopy fuels
that keep the forest cool and moist and help suppress the growth of
surface and ladder fuels . . . .” Oregon Wild cited more than ten expert
sources supporting this view.
This ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stems from an appeal that Oregon Wild and our sister groups filed over a previous judge’s findings. The court ordered this project be sent back to the Forest Service for preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to address the scientific controversy over logging to reduce fire hazard. It isn’t the end of the fight, as the Trump administration and the Forest Service could appeal this ruling, or re-work the logging sale and offer it again. But it is a huge victory for the fish and wildlife of Mount Hood, and the Oregonians who cherish these magnificent public lands.
The long term solution will require Congress establishing a plan for Mount Hood that better protects the Wilderness, Wild & Scenic Rivers, trails and recreation from destructive logging. We’ll be looking to Senator Wyden and Congressmen Blumenauer and Walden for leadership on this front.
It’s also a victory for the thousands of Oregon Wild members and supporters who make our work possible through their activism and financial support. Your contributions make it it possible for Oregon Wild to fight the Trump administration, and to stand up for the wildlands, wildlife, and waters that make Oregon a special place.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we selected five of our favorite stories of women in the cryosphere:
JUNKO TABEI, JAPANESE CLIMBER
On May 16, 1975, Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848 m. Tabei is also the first woman to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.
GlacierHub spoke with Helen Rolfe, co-author of “Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei,” a 2017 memoir published by Rocky Mountain Books that honors Tabei’s life experiences— inspiring readers to “Ganbatte,” a Japanese word used to encourage someone to “do your best.”
For centuries the Qashqai people of Iran have been stewards of the pastures and forests of their mountain homelands. Last week, researcher and PhD student Ghanimat Azhdari, a global steward of Qashqai culture as well as mountains, perished when Iranian security forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people on board. The accident occurred during the most recent period of military provocation between Iran and the United States.
The Qashqai are an Indigenous group of nomadic pastoralists in southwestern and central Iran that tend to herds of goats and sheep. Born the daughter of a local Qashqai leader, Ghanimat Azhdari was a PhD student at Canada’s Guelph University, where she worked on using satellite imagery to map Indigenous cultural sites. She hoped this would foster bottom-up conservation efforts centered on Indigenous knowledge and support. She was 36 years old.
Mujer Montaña—“Woman Mountain” in Spanish—participated in a recent project of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), in which women climbers from Latin America and Europe carried out ascents of peaks in two mountain ranges in the Bolivian Andes. They established mountaineering records, achieving first all-female ascents and opening new routes. They met another goal as well, promoting exchanges between people of different cultures and worldviews. And, in their distinctive way, they built awareness of mountains in the context of climate change—a key goal of the UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award Platform, which supported the project.
This project, supported by a number of government agencies and tourism firms in South America and Europe, brought together the members of Mujer Montaña, a Latin American group founded in 2013, with representatives of the Women’s High Mountain Group of the French Federation of Alpine Mountain Clubs (a UIAA member since 1932). In total, four women from South America and eight from Europe took part in the project.
One day last June, something rare took place on Interior Alaska’s Gulkana Glacier— a dance party. As a treat for the final day of Girls on Ice, a glacier-based science education program for teenage girls, instructors lowered each of the nine girls into a crevasse, two at a time, and they used ice axes and crampons to climb out. The day was chilly and the winds were picking up, and the girls started dancing to keep warm. “They were dancing and laughing and shining,” said glaciologist and Girls on Ice instructor Aurora Roth. “I want to hang on to that forever. That’s why I do what I do, to see girls shining in the outdoors.”
Girls on Ice began in 1999 when a team of two instructors and five
teenage girls spent a week exploring the South Cascade Glacier in
Washington. In 2012, a group of graduate students from the University of
Alaska Fairbanks decided to adapt the program to Alaska. Each June,
eight or nine girls join up with female mountain guides, scientists, and
artists to spend a week on the Gulkana Glacier studying glacial
processes, creating art, and exploring themes from climate change to
socially-prescribed gender roles. “The wilderness setting and single
gender field team inspires young women’s interest in science and
provides a challenging environment that increases their physical and
intellectual self-confidence,” states the program’s mission statement.
Pervasive and dangerous gender imbalances in the geosciences necessitate this focus on girls’ physical and intellectual self-confidence. M Jackson, a glaciologist and environmental educator, is troubled by gender dynamics in the sciences today. “While there are women in glaciology, it is not simply an issue of metrics, the number of women in the field, or the number of women-authored publications. I can tell you from personal experience that out in the field on glaciers, in years past, I have almost always been the only woman on the team. This is changing today,” she said.
Robin Bell is a renowned geophysicist, the natural science which concerns itself with the physical processes and properties of the Earth. She has accumulated many accolades for her discoveries in Antarctica and Greenland, which include sub-glacial lakes, rivers that flow uphill, and a volcano beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet.
Bell is the current president of the American Geophsyical Union. The
AGU is an international organization, which includes 62,000 scientists
from 144 countries, making her the de facto top earth scientist
in the world. The sensitive polar regions Bell studies are warming
quickly, a symptom of climate change wrought by emissions from mankind’s
activities. She is acutely aware of her personal contributions to the
problem; her fuel-intensive polar research and a demanding travel
“I just want to set an example. If I am telling people this is an issue, I should be acting like it’s an issue.”
For many Americans, even those convinced of the science, climate change is a problem requiring collective action and thus excuse themselves from making personal sacrifices to reduce their personal emissions. Some say individual efforts to curb climate change, like eating less meat or cutting down on their air travel, are largely symbolic and too small to make any meaningful impact. It is notable, however, that the world’s leading earth scientist is not allowing collective inaction to absolve her of personal responsibility.
Indigenous issues in high mountain areas is a primary raison d’etre for GlabierHub and has been since the site began in 2015. GlacierHub strives to communicate the essentiality of indigenous knowledge to climate crisis solutions and sustainable practices related to glacier communities. With that goal in mind, we invite our readers to submit materials and to pass this invitation to submit papers to the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020 on to others as well.The deadline to submit is May 31, email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The importance and relevance of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge in responding to the challenge of anthropogenic climate change is recognized by policymakers and academics. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in its recent Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services underscores the key contributions of Indigenous peoples and local communities to conservation and fostering of biodiversity. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges the importance of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge (IKLK), the inclusion of non-published IKLK remains beyond the scope of the Sixth Assessment Report.
This request for submissions seeks contributions from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to the Global Report of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020. We expect that this report will document, among other things, how holders of IKLK observe, forecast and respond to anthropogenic climate change. In doing so, the report will constitute an invaluable input to be considered in the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.
Working Group II of the IPCC assesses the impacts, adaptation and vulnerabilities of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change and options for adapting to it. The assessment is undertaken from a global to a regional view of ecosystems and biodiversity, and of humans and their diverse societies, cultures and settlements. It considers the vulnerabilities, capacities and limits of these natural and human systems to adapt to climate change, and thereby reduce climate-associated risks together with options for creating a sustainable future for all through equitable and integrated approaches to mitigation and adaptation efforts.
The Global Report Indigenous and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020 is not an official IPCC product. It is, however, a stand-alone yearbook report documenting Indigenous Knowledge and Local knowledge contributions about climate change that will inform the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.
We envision that the core of the report will be the contributions of holders of IKLK, which will be preceded by an introductory chapter framing the report. Finally, there will be a concluding chapter highlighting the main findings and key messages to policymakers and academics.
A group of eight academics involved in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report have been chosen to facilitate, edit and produce the Indigenous and Local Knowledge Report 2020 on Climate Change. They receive no benefits from the process and in order to maintain global equity and remain unbiased, no organisation will be affiliated with the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge Report 2020 on Climate Change. It will be released online as an open-access PDF in December 2020 to global and local audiences.
We invite all relevant stakeholders to contribute to the Indigenous and Local Knowledge Report 2020. Submissions are especially welcomed from Indigenous and local knowledge holders, organisations and communities. All submissions are following free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Submissions will remain the intellectual property of the authors, but by submitting to this initiative, author(s) agree to share their contributions universally for the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge Report 2020.
We welcome 2-3 page submissions (max. 2000 words) on all aspects of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge related to climate change. Submissions may include, but are not limited to, oral history, worldviews, observed changes, forecasts, impacts, responses, human and Indigenous rights, ecological restoration, conflict, equity issues, and so on. Submissions should include the location, community, and name(s) as well as communications details of the submitting entities and/or individuals.
Submissions can be made in the official UN languages in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. However, the report language will be in English. Primary submissions will be translated. The submissions, after editing, are planned to be published in the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge Report 2020 in December 2020.
The deadline for submissions to the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020 is 31st May, 2020. All submissions should be sent via email to email@example.com (an email repository accessed only by the report editors).
Information can be received from editors at firstname.lastname@example.org
On 23 February 2020 (corrected – this was erroneously reported as 24 February 2020) an enormous, catastrophic debris flow tore down the Salkantay River in Santa Teresa, Peru. This event has killed at least four people, with a further 13 reported to be missing. Given the magnitude of the flow, this number is probably uncertain.
A mudflow on this scale usually requires an extraordinary cause. Diario Correo in Peru has an explanation – this event was caused by glacial collapse on Salkantay mountain. This hypothesis is proposed by Oscar
Vilca Gómez, who the article describes as a specialist in Hydrology and
Glaciology. He visited the site site of the detachment as part of a
research team from the National Institute for Glacier Research of the
Ministry of Environment. They propose that an ice / rock avalanche
detached from the mountain, crossed the Salkantay Cocha lake, and
generated the huge debris flow.
The article includes the following image of the site:
In first inspection this appears to be a wedge failure in the rock mass that has fragmented to generate the rock / ice avalanche. The photographer appears to be standing on the landslide deposit.
Salkantay (which also appears to be named Salcantay at times) is located at -13.340, -72.540. Salkantay Cocha lake appears to be at -13.342, -72.569. At the moment it is not clear as to which slope has failed to generate this ice-rock avalanche and debris flow. There is excellent Google Earth imagery of this area, so it should be possible to get a better understanding in due course.
Over the last 24 hours more information has become available about the Salkantay landslide and mudflow. Oscar Vilca has kindly contacted me to say that the event occurred on 23 February 2020, and not 24 February as had been widely reported.
The triggering event is being described as an ice/rock avalanche with an initial volume of 400,000 cubic metres. This has clearly bulked up to form a mudflow with a much higher volume, presumably through entrainment of ice and saturated debris in the channel. This is similar to the Seti River rock avalanche and debris in Nepal in 2014, which also had devastating effects. On this occasion the initial collapse may have been smaller, but the mudflow was on a similar scale.
If this is indeed the scar then my interpretation is that this is a classic wedge failure in the rock mass, with a near vertical fall onto the ice and moraine at the toe of the slope. The rock slope would have been a mixture of rock and ice, both on the surface and within fractures. On impact the mass has probably fragmented to form an ice/rock avalanche, which has then entrained debris and ice/snow/water, transitioning to become the mudflow seen in the videos. This has behaved in a manner that is akin to a lahar, with a large volume, high velocity and long runout.
In August 2019, Pakistan successfully established a long-term cryosphere monitoring programme on Koshik Glacier in the Karakoram – a 5-km long clean glacier accessible from the Karakoram highway. The glacier met the requirements for a benchmark glacier provided by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS): clean, with uncomplicated geometry, accessible, and representative of glaciers in the entire region.
ICIMOD’s Cryosphere Initiative – supported by the Government of Norway and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – has been closely working with Karakoram International University (KIU), the Institute of International Rivers and Eco-Security, Yunnan University, and the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITP) to initiate a long-term cryosphere monitoring programme in Pakistan. A team of researchers from these institutions conducted initial activities from 23 July to 20 August 2019 for long-term measurements, including installing stakes to measure glacier ablation and accumulation for mass balance. Rain gauges were installed close to the glacier to measure total precipitation. Similarly, Differential GPS surveys were conducted on the glacier surface to monitor glacier surface elevation change.
Snow and ice are important sources of water for domestic use, agriculture, and hydropower operation in Pakistan. With 7,253 known glaciers, Pakistan has the largest area under ice cover of any country in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). As individual glaciers shrink and fragment into multiple glaciers because of rising global temperatures, this figure is bound to increase. However, an increase in the number of glaciers is not the same as increased volume; it is more indicative of declining glacier health. Only a handful of these glaciers are monitored long term and there is no ground-based, long-term glacier observation programme in Pakistan.
At least 30 years of data are needed to understand the trends and impacts of climate change. Long-term cryosphere data helps make sense of changes in the cryosphere and develop forecasts to inform progressive adaptation policies and mitigation actions. ICIMOD is working with regional partners to establish long-term cryosphere monitoring in HKH countries. Cryosphere monitoring activities were first established in Nepal in 2011, and this was replicated for a similar programme in Bhutan in 2015. Afghanistan also started long-term cryosphere monitoring activities in early 2019, with ICIMOD providing technical backstopping.
A common challenge across HKH countries is the lack of experienced personnel to conduct cryosphere monitoring activities. ICIMOD and partners regularly conduct training on glacier monitoring to address his gap, and such trainings continue to be in high demand across the region as countries begin to understand the importance of monitoring their cryosphere.
I am a glaciologist and planetary scientist, now at the Planetary Science Institute, formerly at the University of Arizona and US Geological Survey. I cofounded, then directed Global Land Ice Measurements from Space. My work involves remote sensing and field studies of glaciers, glacial lakes, and landslides. I apply science to human concerns when earthquakes hit mountains, glacial lakes burst, landslides and avalanches dam rivers, or when mountain disasters destroy oil pipelines, highways, villages and military bases.
My earliest University studies in geology taught me about natural coal ages and ice ages. I became concerned about human-caused climate change in the 1980s when the scientific community’s alarm amped up about industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. The basic physics is not complex. Human-caused global warming was predicted in the 1890s by Svante Arrhenius and Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin. They recognized that fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapor explain the ice ages and interglacials, and that industrial emissions of carbon dioxide eventually would alter Earth’s climate.
If not for greenhouse gases, the Earth would be gripped by a permanent global ice age. But if too much of these gases are added rapidly, then climate change is injurious. Venus, where surface temperatures are near 750 degrees F, has an extreme “super-greenhouse.” Mars, on the other hand, has so little greenhouse gas that, together with its greater distance from the Sun, keeps it more frigid than Antarctica.
Global climate is normally regulated by geology and Earth’s rotational wobble, solar physics, and Jupiter’s gravitational tug on our planet’s orbit. The drift of continents and emissions of volcanic gases can cause the climate balance to be tipped toward a full ice age; or to a full hot house, where rain wears down the continents and mountains are partly replaced by global swamps— organic accumulations then eventually form coal, oil, and natural gas. These swings happen naturally, primarily slowly, and life adapts accordingly.
Civilization has grown during a relatively stable climate. Small natural climate swings have caused famines, desertification, and spread of grasslands, affecting nomadic, agricultural, and urban societies. Natural climate changes have caused civilizations to collapse, including a 13th century mega-drought induced failure of the Anasazi and other Pre-European Native cultures in and near my state of Arizona.
In 2004— a US Presidential election year— my agency (USGS) caved in to the climate change denialism of President George W. Bush, a former oilman, who apparently didn’t want understanding of greenhouse gases and a warming planet to spread among the public. Public communications about the science of glaciers and climate change were stymied. I resigned my civil servant position so that nobody could dictate my public communications. Never one to tolerate either climate change exaggeration or climate change obfuscation, I did not participate in the minimization and hiding of evidence for climate change. I always thought that the modern global economy can adapt and mitigate 21st century impacts from a couple degrees of human-caused climate warming. (And we can if we are smart about it.)
Around 2005, I started paying attention to the continuing work by Dr. Jennifer Francis (then at Rutgers University, now Woods Hole Research Center). The melting of Arctic sea ice, predicted in 1981 by Jim Hansen and colleagues, already was underway. Francis had linked the fast-warming Arctic and melting sea ice to shifts in the behavior of Earth’s jet streams — the great rivers of stratospheric air that guide storms, speed eastward-bound airliners, and slow westward flights. The now familiar, dreaded, related winter weather phenomena known as snowmaggedons, polar vortex disruptions, and bomb cyclones also had begun, and extreme drought and heat waves in both summer and winter were being reinforced by slowly moving or stationary and wildly meandering jet streams— the kind of extreme weather that Francis with colleagues has explained, other climatologists have also supported, and which the public is grasping in terms of consequences.
I was not thinking about abruptly changing behaviors of the gigantic currents of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. In 2005, I thought that climate change was gradual and readily manageable. I was wrong. I didn’t consider nonlinear effects— the tipping points— that climate change would have on individual components of the Earth system.
Hurricane Katrina hit also in 2005, and since then a succession of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes have struck North America and Asia, and year-upon-year of ever-warmer, record-warm conditions have hit worldwide. The climate and extreme weather news just in 2019 and 2020 is alarming not just to scientists but to a wider public. Jennifer Francis is onto something big, as she has connected climate change to extreme weather with a climatological understanding as almost nobody else had previously done. Forest fires have raged seasonally on six continentsat levels that previously were uncommon or historically unprecedented. Wildfires have become an increasingly frequent feature of the past two decades’ evening news in California, Alaska, Australia, Scandinavia, and Siberia. Wildfire links to climate change are understood scientifically and were predictedand are also understood by the public.
As if the changing atmospheric circulation isn’t enough, there is increasing evidence that some ocean currents are changing from historic behavior. In 2014 I attributed part of the variability in glacier behavior to regional adjustments of ocean currents to shifting global climate. Overall, glaciers started melting 150 years ago in response to a modest natural warming episode earlier in the 19th century, and since the 1990s the melting binge has speeded dramatically. This behavior recently extends to the Greenland ice sheetand parts of Antarctica.
A finely tuned Earth system from a century ago has become more disrupted than at any time in human civilization, by some measures more than since modern humans (Homo sapiens) have lived, and by other measures more than going back halfway to the age of dinosaurs. Carbon dioxide levels assure that much more change is pent up and is coming our way.
My confession is that the signs and the models were in place by 2005, but I was still thinking in gradualistic terms. I was not thinking about abruptly changing behaviors of the gigantic currents of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. In 2005, I thought that climate change was gradual and readily manageable. I was wrong. I didn’t consider nonlinear effects— the tipping points— that climate change would have on individual components of the Earth system. My change of perspective stemmed partly from my own research into melting glaciers and the roles of exceptional heat or rain in triggering glacier surges, ice avalanches, and glacial lake outbursts, and that these processes involve climate-tipping points and glaciological tipping points. But then there were record breaking hot summers and drought in my home state of Arizona, and record breaking wildfires nearby in California. Those are just the impacts I personally deal with every year. Globally there are so many 500-year floods, 500-year droughts, unprecedented firestorms, so many $10 billion and $100 billion hurricanes that we forget their names, and bizarre weather patterns that have no place in history. At some point, we run out of excuses that it’s just an anomaly for this, and a different anomaly for that. The recognition hits: the data on greenhouse gases and global warming connect to the climate models, and the models connect to the observed rise in extreme weather, and lately, to burning koalas and kangaroos.
are by nature cautious in our technical work. However, it can become
misleading, even unethical, to leave the public with what to them is a
confusing concept of statistical uncertainties and error bars and confidence
limits; our language must not obscure the underlying understanding and urgency
that the scientific community has about what is happening and why and what is
will not turn into a Venus, but my planetary science mind definitely sees how
rain forests turn to deserts, how nations lose their food supplies, and wars
erupt. The climate system is in upheaval, and global climate change has global
economic reach of course. As a scientist, I see that the gap between climate models
and extreme weather observations is not yet closed at the local and regional
levels. It is locally and regionally where the most serious impacts of climate
change nonlinearities— the tipping points— are being felt. In politics, as a
famous American House Speaker once said, “All politics is local.” In climate,
we ought to take the same approach to inform public understanding. People care
about burning koalas, but they will vote on climate change when they see the
Fifteen years after my enlightenment, we have more than a crisis, arguably not yet an apocalypse. The planet has been through worse. But humanity, aside maybe from Homo robustus, has never witnessed such drastic changes to our environment, a period now known to geologists as the Anthropocene. Civilization is slowly preparing, but not on a schedule to match climate change’s impacts on people, dollars, and nature.
Scientists, economists, engineers, and business people— and many politicians— know what should be done and how to do it. We can affordably transform our economy to move off fossil fuels. Most nations want to do this. Roadblocks against international climate change agreements and national policy initiatives are erected by crafty saboteurs, who use “manufactured doubt” about climate change. They implement myriad infrastructural supports and subsidies for 20th century technologies to keep the world hooked on fossil fuels.
It might be too late. I am not of a view that is already clearly too late. Too late for what? The worst? No, it is not too late to make things worse. After a depressing January, my almost irrepressable optimism is reasserting that we can chart and follow a better course. Politicians will come onboard, pressured by public opinion and climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg. Maybe this year’s record-breaking, nature-killing, sea-to-sea-to-sea bushfires across Australiawill awaken politicians there. It’s something everywhere, every year.
Though there are hopeful political glimmers in China, the U.S. and elsewhere, the corporate world may be issuing a mandate for the needed changes. Though still attracting climate activists’ skepticism, a rather believable and substantive action plan has been announced by the $7 trillion BlackRock investments— the world’s largest investment group. Climate activists’ pressure is needed to assure follow through. Around the world, no matter what the economic system, people— powerful people especially— respond to where money flows. Furthermore, the rich and powerful have children, too. Maybe the message is getting across.
A new postdoctoral fellowship seeks applicants interested in probing the timescales of human interactions with cryospheric change. The University of Oregon-led project will take an interdisciplinary approach, noting geographers and related fields would be really well-positioned, and are open to researchers in social sciences, humanities, or natural sciences. The deadline to apply is February 17.
By Mark Carey and Dave Sutherland
GlacierHub readers are aware that glaciers are shrinking and that this cryospheric change has far-reaching implications for people living close to and far from the ice and snow. The recent IPCC special report on oceans and the cryosphere makes this abundantly clear, noting that melting ice in high-mountain and Polar regions affects “food security, water resources, water quality, livelihoods, health and well-being, infrastructure, transportation, tourism and recreation, as well as culture of human societies, particularly for Indigenous peoples.” Research on the societal and physical dimensions of ice keeps expanding, offering more precise pictures not only of the ice change itself but also the ways people are affected and responding.
Frequently, though, discussions about glacier retreat and human resilience to the ice loss can miss some of the nuance in the timing and timescales of these processes. Reports about glacier size, retreating terminus positions, increased calving, reductions in glacier runoff, and slope instability in the periglacial environment often adhere to long-term linear chronologies and focus on decadal timescales. They might go back a few decades or to the end of the Little Ice Age to document past glacier terminus positions and illustrate ice loss. Or, the accounts provide projections of ice loss moving forward, usually trying to understand processes and impacts to the year 2100, or perhaps an earlier date when the glaciers might disappear altogether.
Yet there are other aspects of the timing and timescales of glacier loss that have received less attention in recent years. Glaciers do of course change over decades, centuries, and millennia. But they also have “weather,” with daily variations due to solar heating and melt, seasonal variations that result in more water in certain months, and longer term changes due to natural and anthropogenic factors.
People living near glaciers also operate under their own temporalities, which often do not align with the “natural” temporalities of ice environments. Fishing communities react to daily, weekly, and seasonal changes of glacier runoff and iceberg calving into fjords. Hydroelectric companies must overcome effects of glacier fluctuations on downstream hydrology so they can boost energy production every weekday evening for peak electricity consumption. Irrigators, too, have different water needs based on their seasonal and crop-specific water needs. And they must adjust to daily, seasonal, annual, and decadal changes to glacier runoff, which influences the quantity and timing of water flowing into their fields. Tourism also has its unique temporalities, usually concentrated in summer months or tied to some other specific seasonal constraint that may have little or everything to do with snow and ice conditions, particularly for access or safety. In all of these cases, there are wildly distinct environmental and societal timescales that interact, intertwine, or collide with different people differently.
Dave Sutherland (oceanographer) and Mark Carey (historian) have just launched a new project at the University of Oregon that seeks to understand these divergent, multiple, and constantly changing temporalities. The project explores glacier fluctuations from both a physical science perspective and societal lens. What is the impact of cryospheric change and ice loss on local communities in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska region? How do we reconcile the long-term trends in glacier change with observed short-term variations, and how do the short-term changes affect various social groups differently? To make progress on these questions, this project will develop a nuanced, time-focused approach to glacier change.
A key part of this project is the hiring of a new postdoctoral fellow to join their team at the University of Oregon. Applications are due by February 17, 2020. The postdoc will help study the timing and timescales of glacier and societal change in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Sutherland and Carey will both co-mentor the postdoctoral fellow for this integrated, interdisciplinary research. The postdoctoral fellow may come from any discipline provided they have interdisciplinary inclinations and training. They will be integrated into both Sutherland’s Oceans and Ice Lab and Carey’s Glacier Lab, making this a truly interdisciplinary research experience.
Ultimately, this research project and postdoc will implement the frequent calls for integrated, interdisciplinary research. They will examine the scientific issues of glacier change and its impacts on various marine and land-based ecosystems, as well as analyzing how different stakeholders and human groups are affected by the timing of specific changes in socio-cryospheric systems. Resilience, in short, hinges as much on short-term planning for these various contingencies as it does on long-term planning for glacier shrinkage, future runoff reduction, and sea-level rise—the issues we usually hear most about with climate change and ice loss.
We need to understand how glaciers are shrinking in order to better adapt to climate change impacts such as changes to water supply, landslides and avalanches, says Professor Andreas Kääb, a glacier expert from the University of Oslo in Norway.
Measuring ice melt and the unprecedented changes in our cryosphere––the frozen parts of the planet which regulate the climate by reflecting the sun’s heat––is crucial for understanding future situations, he says.
We spoke to Prof. Kääb about the importance of the cryosphere and what we know about how it’s changing.
‘Glaciers are typically found comparably close to where people live. That means their changes affect people quite directly.’
‘Glaciers are typically found comparably close to where people live. That means their changes affect people quite directly.’
Professor Andreas Kääb, University of Oslo, Norway
Why is the cryosphere important?
‘The cryosphere––that is glaciers and ice sheets, snow, sea ice, permafrost, and lake and river ice––and changes of the cryosphere affect the lives of hundreds (of) millions (of people) and many ecosystems in various direct and indirect ways. Seasonal or year-round snow covers around 45 million sq km, and glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets an additional 15 million sq km, together (constituting) around 40% of the Earth’s land area.
‘Importantly, most ice on Earth is very close to melting conditions, a few degrees below 0°C, and thus reacts very sensitively to changes in air temperatures. Small temperature changes can trigger melt and (large) environmental changes. Sea level change through increased melt of glaciers and ice sheets is certainly the most far-reaching effect of ice melt on Earth.’
How are sea levels changing?
‘Melting of glaciers, (and) the two ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica contributes to more than half of the currently measured sea level rise and they are projected to contribute more. The other half is thermal expansion––as the ocean gets warmer it expands––and all this sea level change affects people around the world, especially in coastal areas, (and) even if living far away from the melting ice.
‘Mean sea level is projected to rise about 1 metre by 2100 and will threaten coastal societies. How much the ocean would rise in (the) case of an, unrealistic, complete melt of the Antarctic ice sheet is around 60m.’
What are the other impacts of ice melt?
‘In terms of more local effects, there are a number of hazards relating to glaciers and thawing permafrost that we expect to increase. For instance, if glaciers retreat they leave steep mountain flanks uncovered so there is debris and rocks that are set to destabilise. So, we expect more rockfalls or debris flows from such areas.
‘Greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost are much less understood, but could have an equally wide, actually global, impact by enhancing manmade emissions.
‘Then there are also hazard situations that could actually improve. (Ice avalanches from glaciers) can destroy infrastructure, houses and kill people. But (there’s) the extreme case (where) if a glacier retreats very much, then the hazard from related ice avalanches could actually reduce.’
Do you think we have passed a tipping point when it comes to ice melt?
‘The term tipping point is a bit controversial, because in most cases we don’t really know. Another term that is better is what the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) uses––committed (climate) change. So, climate change that man has contributed to has committed changes to the future.
‘That means the excess energy that mankind has already caused (through greenhouse gas emissions capturing the sun’s heat) will commit a long-term change in glaciers, ice sheets and ocean temperatures. Change that, let’s say, over a hundred years is irreversible. Even if we change our emissions now, a lot of ice melting has been committed.’
You focus on glaciers. Why do we need to understand glacier change?
‘Glaciers are typically found comparably close to where people live. That means their changes affect people quite directly. Understanding glacier change helps to adapt to related climate change impacts such as changes in dry-season run-off and water supply, changes in glacial landslides and avalanches, or changes in the touristic value of glaciers.
‘Glaciers reflect climate change in a very visible and clear way. Their shrinkage has become for good reason an icon of climate change. For scientists, glaciers are important to illustrate climate change and make it understandable for a large audience.’
You were the coordinator of ICEMASS, a project using satellite imagery to measure and analyse changes to glaciers. How did you analyse change?
‘We have increasingly more and more different satellite data, and what the satellites measure is very different. My main goal, my main achievement, of the ICEMASS project was actually bringing different data together and integrating them. For instance, we use optical satellite images repeatedly to measure glacier flow. This works perfectly fine unless you have cloud cover or polar night (24-hour darkness). Then we use radar images that penetrate through clouds for the same purpose. But this does not give us the volume of glaciers.
‘For that we use, among others, satellites that shoot laser beams, like your laser pointer, and they measure the return time of this signal. The signal is sent from a satellite, bounces (off) the glacier surface, and comes back to the satellite. The time difference is directly related to the distance from the satellite to the (glacier surface). So, if you know the satellite position very well, which we do, then you can measure the height. And if you do that, over time, repeatedly, you get also the changes in glacier thickness and volume.’
And what did you find?
‘For me, personally, the most important results are more regional scale results. We developed glacier volume changes over a number of areas where little was known before. One of the examples that made it into the Nature journal, for instance, was glacier volume changes over the Himalayas and Central Asia. There was a lot of different numbers around for these melting glaciers––some actually massively contradicted each other––from very little change to massive change. And we (really) narrowed this uncertainty down.’
What did your project reveal about the state of glaciers around the world?
‘We found glacier mass loss in almost all regions we looked at. Unexpected large losses we measured in the European Arctic, on Svalbard. The massive retreat of sea ice in this sector of the Arctic raises air temperatures at a rate of roughly double the global average. The result is glacier melt rates (that are) much higher than one would expect so far north. In addition, about half of the glacier mass loss comes not from direct glacier melt but from glaciers that massively increased their ice flow and thus their ice discharge into the ocean.
‘(We found) unexpected low changes in glacier mass, lower than the global average, in parts of Central Asia, in the Karakoram, Pamir, and western parts of Tibet. There is even a region where glaciers grow a little bit. By also measuring changes of lakes without direct river outflow, we could show that the region received in recent years more precipitation, which let the lakes and the glaciers grow, despite air temperatures increasing at the same time.’
This year’s IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere says climate change will cause up to 80% loss of glaciers in some places by the year 2100. What can research do to help society prepare for this future melting?
‘Carbon dioxide levels are much higher than they have been for the last 1 million years or more. This means our climate is at a stage where we don’t have historical experience to build sound statistics on extreme events. So, we need to monitor more what is going on now and then we need to better model future scenarios.
‘The EU has their own fleet of satellites, the Sentinels within the Copernicus programme. They are really a game changer because before them there were mostly occasional scientific satellites.
‘These EU satellite constellations, in my experience, help develop models and strategies for really long-term perspectives. (We need these) satellites to allow for the long-term, consistent, observations that we need to predict and adapt to climatic changes.’
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This Q&A was written by Steve Gillman and originally appeared in Horizon Magazine.The research in this article was funded by the EU’s European Research Council.
Bushfires raging in Australia have taken their toll on New Zealand’s glaciers. Smoke and dust from the fires drifted across the Tasman Sea and settled on glaciers in New Zealand more than 1,300 miles away. Ash covering glaciers in New Zealand is visible in photos published to Twitter. In the images, the snow and ice appears as a pinkish color.
Australia has experienced a severe bushfire season. At least 18 people have died, over 1,000 homes destroyed, millions of livestock lost, and over 15 million acres of land has burned. The smoke and dust-laden glaciers of New Zealand are representative of the second-order effects of the bushfires in Australia.
The distance the smoke and ash have traveled and the extent to which they have blanketed glaciers in New Zealand speaks to the severity of the Australian bushfires. This coating of smoke and ash poses a significant threat to New Zealand’s glaciers. It settles as black carbon, which darken glaciers’ snow and ice, absorbing heat and contributing to increased rates of melting and extending the melt season.
The smoke from the fires rose high into the atmosphere and could be seen from space. Some regions of Brazil became covered in thick smoke that closed airports and darkened city skies.
As the rainforest burns, it releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and larger particles of so-called “black carbon” (smoke and soot). The phrase “enormous amounts” hardly does the numbers justice – in any given year, the burning of forests and grasslands in South America emits a whopping 800,000 tonnes (880,000 U.S. tons) of black carbon into the atmosphere.
This truly astounding amount is almost double the black carbon produced by all combined energy use in Europe over 12 months. Not only does this absurd amount of smoke cause health issues and contribute to global warming but, as a growing number of scientific studies are showing, it also more directly contributes to the melting of glaciers.
In a new paper published November 28, 2019, in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers has outlined how smoke from fires in the Amazon in 2010 made glaciers in the Andes melt more quickly.
When fires in the Amazon emit black carbon during the peak burning season (August to October), winds carry these clouds of smoke to Andean glaciers, which can sit higher than 3 miles (5,000 meters) above sea level.
Despite being invisible to the naked eye, black carbon particles affect the ability of the snow to reflect incoming sunlight, a phenomenon known as albedo. Similar to how a dark-colored car will heat up more quickly in direct sunlight when compared with a light-colored one, glaciers covered by black carbon particles will absorb more heat, and thus melt faster.
By using a computer simulation of how particles move through the atmosphere, known as HYSPLIT, the team was able to show that smoke plumes from the Amazon are carried by winds to the Andes, where they fall as an invisible mist across glaciers. Altogether, they found that fires in the Amazon in 2010 caused a 4.5% increase in water runoff from Zongo Glacier in Bolivia.
Crucially, the authors also found that the effect of black carbon depends on the amount of dust covering a glacier – if the amount of dust is higher, then the glacier will already be absorbing most of the heat that might have been absorbed by the black carbon. Land clearing is one of the reasons that dust levels over South America doubled during the 20th century.
The tropical belt of South America is predicted to become more dry and arid as the climate changes. A drier climate means more dust, and more fires. It also means more droughts, which make towns more reliant on glaciers for water.
Unfortunately, as the above study shows, the fires assisted by dry conditions help to make these vital sources of water vanish more quickly. The role of black carbon in glacier melting is an exceedingly complex process – currently, the climate models used to predict the future melting of glaciers in the Andes do not incorporate black carbon. As the authors of this new study show, this is likely causing the rate of glacial melt to be underestimated in many current assessments.
With communities reliant on glaciers for water, and these same glaciers likely to melt faster as the climate warms, work examining complex forces like black carbon and albedo changes is needed more now than ever before.
The glaciers, atop a mountain near Puncak Jaya, on the western half of the island of New Guinea, have been melting for years, Thompson said. But that melt increased rapidly due in part to a strong 2015-2016 El Niño, a phenomenon that causes tropical ocean water and atmospheric temperatures to get warmer. El Niños are natural phenomena, but their effects have been amplified by global warming.
The study suggests that the glacier will disappear in the next 10 years, most likely during the next strong El Niño.
Thompson said it is likely that other tropical glaciers, such as those on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Quelccaya in Peru, will follow.
“I think the Papua, Indonesia, glaciers are the indicator of what’s going to happen around the world,” Thompson said.
Thompson and his team have been monitoring the glacier since 2010, when they drilled ice cores to determine the composition and temperature of the atmosphere around the glacier throughout history. Even then, the glacier was shrinking. That melt started at least 150 years ago, Thompson said, but has quickened in the last decade. The researchers found signs of melting at both the top of the glacier and at the bottom.
During the 2010 drilling expedition, the team installed a string of PVC pipe sections, connected by a rope, into the ice. Their idea was to measure how much ice had been lost by periodically measuring the rope sections left uncovered as the ice melted.
When the stake was measured in November 2015, about five meters of rope had been uncovered, meaning that the glacier surface was melting at a rate of about one meter per year. A team went back in May 2016, and saw that an additional approximately 4.26 meters of rope had been uncovered––a rapid increase in melting over just six months.
The team also measured the extent of the glacier’s melt by measuring its surface area, which shrank by about 75 percent from 2010 to 2018. The ice field had shrunk so much that by 2016 it had split into two smaller glaciers. Then, in August 2019, a mountain climber scaling the peak took a photo of the glacier, showing its near disappearance.
“The glacier’s melt rate is exponentially increasing,” Thompson said. “It’s similar to visiting a terminal cancer patient, and documenting the change in their body, but not being able to do anything about it.”
Globally, glacier melt is a major contributor to sea level rise, which, along with warming ocean waters, can lead to more frequent and more intense storms.
Thompson said the mountaintop glaciers around the world contribute between a third and a half of the annual sea level rise in the Earth’s oceans.
“They are much more vulnerable to the rising temperatures because they’re small and they’re warmer––they’re closer to the melting threshold,” he said. “Ice is just a threshold system. It is perfectly happy at freezing temperatures or below, but everything changes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Climate change has increased the temperature of the atmosphere, which means the air around the glacier is warmer. But it has also changed the altitude at which rain turns to snow. That means that where snow once fell on top of the glacier, helping rebuild its ice year-by-year, rain is now falling. That rainfall is the kiss of death for a glacier.
“It’s similar to visiting a terminal cancer patient, and documenting the change in their body, but not being able to do anything about it.”
Water absorbs more energy––more heat––from the sun than snow does, so increasing the water on top of the glacier warms the glacier even more, accelerating the melting of the remaining ice.
“If you want to kill a glacier, just put water on it,” Thompson said. “The water basically becomes like a hot water drill. It goes right through the ice to the bedrock. So, when water starts to accumulate on top of the glacier, the glacier starts to melt much faster than current models predict as the models are driven by temperature changes but don’t account for the effect of water accumulating on the glacier surface.”
Once water starts streaming through crevasses in the glacier to the bedrock, it also begins to lubricate the glacier along its bottom. This eventually creates a warm pool beneath the glacier, which may cause the glacier to slide, ever-so-slowly, down the mountain to lower elevations where temperatures are warmer.
Such was the case with this glacier, the researchers learned when they first drilled in 2010. The cores they brought to the surface showed meltwater at the base of the glacier as well as at the top.
That melt can affect the information scientists are able to learn from the cores, which normally provide year-by-year data records of the climate around the glacier. As the glacier melts, those year-by-year records can become blurred. In this case, however, the cores still showed evidence of El Niño events throughout the ice cores’ history. Because so much of the glacier has melted, the cores hold data for only the last 50 years, despite the fact that these glaciers have likely occupied these mountaintops for the last 5,000 or so years.
The glacier’s disappearance is a cultural loss, too, Thompson said: The indigenous people who live around the mountain worship it.
“The ridges and the valleys are the arms and legs of their god, and the glacier is the head,” he said.
When the team drilled in 2010, some of the elders of the indigenous communities protested: “In their words, they thought we were ‘drilling into the skull of their god to steal the god’s memories,’” Thompson said. “I told them that was exactly what we were doing. We needed to preserve those memories because the glacier was going to melt.”
That started a debate throughout the indigenous community, weighing whether the team should be allowed to continue its research mission to learn the history contained within the ice, or was it more important that the glacier remain undisturbed? Thompson said the elders of the community were strongly in favor of kicking the research team out while the younger people, he said, wanted the mission to continue. In this case, the younger people won.
“It was the young people who were saying, ‘Have you not seen what’s happening?’” Thompson said.
Other Ohio State researchers on this study are Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Mary E. Davis, Ping-Nan Lin, Julien P. Nicolas, John F. Bolzan, Paolo Gabrielli, Victor Zagorodnov, and Bryan G. Mark. This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.
This post was written by Laura Arenschield and originally published by Ohio State News.