From Iceland Monitor: “Glacier bus Sleipnir, named after Odin’s eight-legged-horse in Norse mythology, is the largest such truck in the world. It features eight wheels and is currently being tested on Langjökull Glacier where it passes with flying colors. It features comfortable leather seats inside for passengers with views to both sides of the vehicle and through the roof. The vehicle cost around 70 million ISK to make and it can cross glacial crevasses measuring up to three meters.”
Determining Distribution of Insects in Andean Rivers
From Ecohydrology: “This research was conducted in the high-Andean basin of the Zhurucay River in southern Ecuador. In 4 river reaches, 19 sampling campaigns were conducted per reach spread over a period of 35 months. The biotic samples were selected in the periods with greatest flow stability… In conclusion, although macroinvertebrates are currently employed in water quality studies, riparian vegetation and hydromorphological factors are determinant for their communities in pristine Andean rivers. Such factors are therefore crucial in the study of environmental flows and the assessment of the ecological integrity.”
Learn more about what influences the distribution of insects in glacier streams in Ecuador here.
Interpreting Exposure Ages from Ice-Cored Moraines
From Journal of Quaternary Science: “Be dating of moraines has greatly improved our ability to constrain the timing of past glaciations and thus past cold events… Here we present 28 new Be ages from ice-cored Neoglacial moraines on Baffin Island, Arctic Canada, and explore the processes at play in moraine formation and evolution through field observations and a numerical debris-covered glacier model… Three Baffin Island moraines yield Be ages suggesting formation at 5.2, 4.6 and 3.5 ka, respectively, adding to a growing body of evidence for significant summer cooling millennia before the Little Ice Age.”
From Microbiology Society: “A cold-tolerant, translucent, yellow-pigmented, Gram-stain-positive, non-motile, rod-shaped bacteria was isolated from snow of the Zadang Glacier on the Tibetan Plateau, PR China. 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity analysis indicated that the isolate was closely related to Conyzicola lurida KCTC 29231T and Leifsonia psychrotolerans DSM 22824T at a level of 97.72 and 97.49 %, respectively. Other close relatives had a 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity of less than 97 %… Based on phenotypic and chemotaxonomic characteristics, strain ZD5-4T was considered to represent a novel species of the genus Conyzicola, for which the name Conyzicola nivalis sp. nov. is proposed.”
U.S. Geologist Clarence King’s Poetic Mount Shasta
From Project MUSE: “But, for all his complexities, King’s recorded observations of wilderness places rise above his life’s convolutions. Unfortunately, what escapes many scholars is the remarkableness of King’s writing, an irony considering its salience; in fact, King’s brilliance is best illustrated in his lexical finesse, poetic flights of language, and artistic verisimilitude of nature’s beauties.”
Learn more about the poetic perceptions and mastery of language of the late geologist Clarence King here.
New Insights on Glacier Meltwater
From Geophysical Research Letters: “Arctic river discharge has increased in recent decades although sources and mechanisms remain debated. Abundant literature documents permafrost thaw and mountain glacier shrinkage over the past decades. Here we link glacier runoff to aquifer recharge via a losing headwater stream in subarctic Interior Alaska. Field measurements in Jarvis Creek (634 km2), a subbasin of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, show glacier meltwater runoff as a large component (15–28%) of total annual streamflow despite low glacier cover (3%)… Our findings suggest a linkage between glacier wastage, aquifer recharge along the headwater stream corridor, and lowland winter discharge. Accordingly, glacierized headwater streambeds may serve as major aquifer recharge zones in semiarid climates and therefore contributing to year-round base flow of lowland rivers.”
In 1989, Indonesia’s highest peak, Puncak Jaya (16,564 ft), within the Sudirman Range of Papua New Guinea, boasted five glaciers along its slopes. Today, these rare equatorial glaciers of Asia are nearly gone. By 2009, both Meren and Southwall, two of Puncak Jaya’s glaciers, had disappeared completely, and the remaining three glaciers, Carstenz, East Northwall Firn, and West North Wall Firn glaciers, were well on their way to doing the same, according to NASA Earth Observatory.
A group of scientists collecting cores on Puncak Jaya reported to NPR in 2010 that they had watched the glacier “drop 12 inches in just two weeks.” Tropical glaciers— 99 percent of which are found in the Andes of Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru— have retreated rapidly in the last century, many losing more than half of their ice mass. Puncak Jaya’s glaciers experience only slight equatorial mean temperature variation during the year (around 0.5°C), according to NASA. “Experts think rising air temperatures are the primary reason that the glaciers have lost so much ice so quickly,” the Earth Observatory reports, but it also notes that “changes in humidity levels, precipitation patterns, and cloudiness can also have an impact.”
View images of the massive retreat of Puncak Jaya’s glaciers.
From Nature: “On a glorious January morning in 2015, the Australian icebreaker RSV Aurora Australis was losing a battle off the coast of East Antarctica. For days, the ship had been trying to push through heavy sea ice… Then the weather came to the rescue, with a wind change that blew the ice away from the shore, opening a path through the pack… Rintoul and his team were the first scientists to reach the Totten Ice Shelf — a vast floating ice ledge that fronts the largest glacier in East Antarctica… The team had to work fast before the ice closed again and blocked any escape. For more than 12 hours, Rintoul and his colleagues carried on non-stop, probing the temperature and salinity of the water, the speed and direction of ocean currents as well as the shape and depth of the ocean floor… These first direct observations confirmed a fear that researchers had long harboured… East Antarctica is well below sea level, which makes it more vulnerable to the warming ocean than previously thought.”
From Ecography: “The Antarctic Peninsula is among the places on Earth that registered major warming in the last 60 years… The loss of sea-bed ice coverage, on the one hand has been affecting benthic assemblages, but on the other it is opening up new areas for benthic colonization. Potter Cove (South Shetland Islands) offered the opportunity of assessing both processes. We recently reported a sudden shift of benthic assemblages related to increased sedimentation rates caused by glacier retreat. This glacier retreat also uncovered a new island that presents a natural experiment to study Antarctic benthic colonization and succession… Under the current scenario of climate change, these results acquire high relevance as they suggest a two-fold effect of the Antarctic Peninsula warming: the environmental shifts that threaten coastal ecosystems, and also the opening up of new areas for colonization that may occur at a previously unimagined speed.
As climate change continues to impact world glaciers, adventure athletes are taking sports to an extreme at famous glacial settings. Ever heard of glacier boarding, for example? It’s just one of the bizarre sports now being played at glaciers near you.
As GlacierHub reported in 2014, canyon guides Claude-Alain Gailland and Gilles Janin took boogie boards to Altesch glacier in Switzerland, coasting through a freezing channel carved into the ice. If that doesn’t look like fun, in 2007, Kealii Mamala invented another new sport: glacier surfing. He became the first person to surf a wave caused by a calving glacier at Alaska’s Childs Glacier.
Even the world’s most prominent athletes are participating in the new sporting trend. In 2013, tennis superstars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokoviche played an exhibition match at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. While, in reality, the match took place on a man-made court on a nearby barge, we’re pretty sure it’s the closest a game of tennis has ever been to a glacier. This Photo Friday, enjoy images of some bizarre glacier sports.
From The Nation: “Pakistani cyclist Samar Khan is the first women in the world to ride cycle on the 4,500 meter high Biafo Glacier in the Karakoram Mountains of Gilgit Baltistan. With the passion of cycling, she raised her voice for social injustice and created awareness in the community to change the perception of people related to adventure sports and to bring the ‘Cycling Revolution’ to Pakistan like other countries to lessen the accidents, pollution and to bring healthy lifestyle.”
From The Cryosphere: “The glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca Peru are rapidly retreating as a result of climate change, altering timing, quantity and quality of water available to downstream users. Furthermore, increases in the number and size of proglacial lakes associated with these melting glaciers is increasing potential exposure to glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs)… Most satellite data are too coarse for studying small mountain glaciers and are often affected by cloud cover, while traditional airborne photogrammetry and LiDAR are costly. Recent developments have made Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) a viable and potentially transformative method for studying glacier change at high spatial resolution, on demand and at relatively low cost. Using a custom designed hexacopter built for high altitude (4000 – 6000 masl) operation we completed repeat aerial surveys (2014 and 2015) of the debris covered Llaca glacier tongue and proglacial lake system.”
Learn more about using drones to study glacier dynamics here.
Two Glaciers Given Legal Status
From Times of India: “Ten days after it declared the rivers Ganga and Yamuna as ‘living entities’, Uttarakhand high court (HC) on Friday declared the glaciers from where the two rivers originate, Gangotri and Yamunotri respectively, as legal entities as well. The order delivered by Justices Rajiv Sharma and Alok Singh, who had also passed the order on the two rivers on March 20, said that the glaciers will have “the status of a legal person, with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.” This, the court said, was being done “in order to preserve and conserve them.”
From The Telegraph: “President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday visited an Arctic archipelago, part of Russia’s efforts to reaffirm its foothold in the oil-rich region. On a tour of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, a sprawling collection of islands where the Russian military has recently built a new runway and worked to open a permanent base, Mr Putin emphasized the need to protect Russia’s economic and security interests in the Arctic… During the visit, Putin inspected a cavity in a glacier that scientists use to study permafrost. He also spoke with environmental experts who have worked to clean the area of Soviet-era debris.”
From adn.com: “Matanuska Glacier is the most user-friendly glacier in Alaska — one of few major ice sheets in the world that visitors can drive to and explore on foot. The glacier sits along a scenic stretch of the Glenn Highway about two hours from Anchorage, a frozen river sprawling almost 30 miles from the 13,000-foot heights of the Chugach Mountains to a toe hundreds of feet deep and miles wide that offers unique glimpses of usually buried formations. The only road-accessible route to the ice is through property owned by Matanuska Glacier Park LLC… Before November, a tour was just one option for glacier-goers who wanted to spend several hours with a guide on a trail that loops past frozen caves, tunnels and canyons and avoids hidden crevasses, water-filled pits or holes that can descend hundreds of feet into the ice. But that month, Matanuska Glacier Park began requiring any first-time winter visitor without glacier travel experience to pay for a tour — like it or not.”
Downward Trend of Organic Pollutants in Antarctica
From Chemosphere: “Passive air samplers were used to evaluate long-term trends and spatial distribution of trace organic compounds in Antarctica. Duplicate PUF disk samplers were deployed at six automatic weather stations in the coastal area of the Ross sea (East Antarctica), between December 2010 and January 2011, during the XXVI Italian Scientific Research Expedition… In general, the very low concentrations reflected the pristine state of the East Antarctica air. Backward trajectories indicated the prevalence of air masses coming from the Antarctic continent. Local contamination and volatilization from ice were suggested as potential sources for the presence of persistent organic pollutants in the atmosphere.”
A newly released ASTER image from January 29, 2017 shows the rapid retreat of New Zealand’s glaciers. When the image is compared to a Landsat image from January 12, 1990, differences can be detected between the larger terminal lakes and the ice free of moraine cover for the Mueller, Hooker and Tasman Glaciers. In total, New Zealand contains over 3,000 glaciers, many located on the South Island in the Southern Alps, according to NASA. These glaciers have been in retreat since 1890, with only short periods of recorded advance during that time.
ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer), built by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is one tool launched in 1999, along with four other Earth-observing instruments, used to monitor the changing surface of the planet. It allows scientists to better understand dynamic conditions, such as glacial advance or retreat, that are otherwise difficult to physically measure, and offers data critical for surface mapping.
See NASA’s images over the years of New Zealand’s glacier retreat.
From Biological Reviews: “In alpine regions worldwide, climate change is dramatically altering ecosystems and affecting biodiversity in many ways. For streams, receding alpine glaciers and snowfields, paired with altered precipitation regimes, are driving shifts in hydrology, species distributions, basal resources, and threatening the very existence of some habitats and biota. Alpine streams harbour substantial species and genetic diversity due to significant habitat insularity and environmental heterogeneity. Climate change is expected to affect alpine stream biodiversity across many levels of biological resolution from micro- to macroscopic organisms and genes to communities.”
From Molecular Ecology: “Understanding ecological divergence of morphologically similar but genetically distinct species – previously considered as a single morphospecies – is of key importance in evolutionary ecology and conservation biology. Despite their morphological similarity, cryptic species may have evolved distinct adaptations. If such ecological divergence is unaccounted for, any predictions about their responses to environmental change and biodiversity loss may be biased. We used spatio-temporally replicated field surveys of larval cohort structure and population genetic analyses (using nuclear microsatellite markers) to test for life-history divergence between two cryptic lineages of the alpine mayfly Baetis alpinus in the Swiss Alps… Our results indicate partial temporal segregation in reproductive periods between these lineages, potentially facilitating local coexistence and reproductive isolation. Taken together, our findings emphasize the need for a taxonomic revision: widespread and apparently generalist morphospecies can hide cryptic lineages with much narrower ecological niches and distribution ranges.”
From ScienceDirect: “The polar oceans are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification; the lowering of seawater pH and carbonate mineral saturation states due to uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). High spatial variability in surface water pH and saturation states (Ω) for two biologically-important calcium carbonate minerals calcite and aragonite was observed in Ryder Bay, in the coastal sea-ice zone of the West Antarctic Peninsula. Glacial meltwater and melting sea ice stratified the water column and facilitated the development of large phytoplankton blooms and subsequent strong uptake of atmospheric CO2 of up to 55 mmol m-2 day-1 during austral summer. Concurrent high pH (8.48) and calcium carbonate mineral supersaturation (Ωaragonite ~3.1) occurred in the meltwater-influenced surface ocean… Spatially-resolved studies are essential to elucidate the natural variability in carbonate chemistry in order to better understand and predict carbon cycling and the response of marine organisms to future ocean acidification in the Antarctic coastal zone.”
It’s official. The Senate voted today to confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke (R–MT) as the nation’s next Secretary of the Interior. The strong majority confirmation vote of 68-31 gives Zinke, a Westerner and fourth–generation Montanan, commanding power over the nation’s most prized public lands and wildlife as well as 70,000 employees, 280,000 volunteers, and a $12 billion annual budget.
The Department of the Interior— a Cabinet-level agency created in 1849 to manage the country’s internal affairs— oversees such critical offices as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others.
A former boy scout turned Navy SEAL in the Iraq desert, Zinke grew up 30 minutes outside of Glacier National Park in Montana, an experience he cites as the impetus for his interest and dedication to environmental stewardship. He has promised to “restore trust” in the department and address the $12-billion maintenance backlog in America’s national parks from Alaska to the beaches of Maine.
Republicans hope Zinke will also usher in a “culture of change” to the Interior by repealing many of the Obama administration’s land management policies seen to favor environmentalists over local interests.
Zinke, a Trump administration favorite, was once considered a moderate Republican when it came to environmental and land management issues, siding with Democrats on bipartisan legislation and standing up to fellow Republicans on conservation principles. He challenged Republican colleagues on the transfer of federal lands to the states, for example, speaking out and voting against certain Republican-led proposals. In 2016, he also supported Democrats in calling for full funding and permanent authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in a bipartisan effort. Most recently, in July 2016, Zinke publicly withdrew from the Republican Convention due to the party’s support of federal land transfers to the states.
At the same time, Zinke is a vocal advocate for oil and gas development on public lands, fracking and coal mining interests, and weaker protection for endangered species and national monuments, among other anti-environmental platforms, earning him a five percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters and an F rating from the National Parks Action Fund. His recent statements, particularly on the issue of climate change, have some scientists and environmentalists deeply concerned.
On the topic, Zinke openly oscillates between acceptance and denial, both of which he displayed during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January. However, unlike President Trump, who flat out denies climate change, Zinke went on record during the hearing citing glacier retreat as evidence that the planet is warming in a heated exchange with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Sanders was the first to challenge Zinke on the issue during the hearing.
“Climate change is very important to issues that the Department of the Interior deals with,” said Sanders. “Is President-elect Trump right? Is climate change a hoax?”
Zinke seemed to have a response prepared for the question, launching into a multi-part answer on what he called the “tenants” of his climate change perspective. These include: one, his recognition that climate is changing, and two, his belief that man is an influence. “That is indisputable,” Zinke said, adding later, “I do not believe it is a hoax.”
Zinke offered Glacier National Park as an example of a visible symptom of climate change that he has witnessed personally. “I have seen glaciers over the period of my time recede. As a matter of fact, when my family and I have eaten lunch on Grinnell Glacier, the glacier has receded during lunch,” Zinke said.
This comment prompted chiding from Sen. Angus King (I-ME) later in the proceedings. “I want to thank you for your straightforward admission that climate change is happening, that human activity is contributing to it, and for also the image of the glacier retreating during lunch,” said King. “I am going to add that to my arsenal of climate change anecdotes.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) also weighed on the topic of receding glaciers. “Glacier National Park is going to be… I don’t know, ‘Lake National Park’ or ‘Mountain National Park,'” said Franken. “But it isn’t going to be Glacier National Park in 30 years.”
Around glaciers and the subject of glacier retreat, at least, the body seemed to find common ground. But when further probed by Sanders on whether climate change is a hoax, Zinke seemed hesitant. “I believe we should be prudent to be prudent,” he said. “That means, I don’t know definitively. There is a lot of debate on both sides of the aisle,” a response that did not sit well with Sanders.
“Well, actually, there is not a whole lot of debate now,” replied Sanders. “The scientific community is virtually unanimous that climate change is real and causing devastating problems.”
After several hours of testimony and questions that touched on diverse topics from wildfires in Tennessee, coal mining in West Virginia, protection of wild horses across the West, and the delisting of the greater sage-grouse, the committee ultimately approved Zinke’s nomination by a 16-6 vote, advancing his nomination to the full Senate. He was well received by the Republican senators on the committee who see in the congressman an ally and fellow Westerner sympathetic to regional concerns; less so by environmentalists and some Democrats who fear Zinke will shepherd the department in the wrong direction, perhaps even into an era of public land privatization from which there is no return.
But on this point, Zinke drove a hard line, at least in rhetoric. “I want to be clear on this point. I am absolutely against the transfer or sale of public land,” he said in his testimony. “I can’t be anymore clear.”
He drew attention to his service in the military as an example of his strong backbone. “This is probably one of the reasons why the president elect put a former Navy SEAL in place,” he said. “I don’t yield to pressure. Higher principle, yes. But my job is to advocate for the Department of the Interior to make sure we have the right funds and to be a voice in the room for great public policy.”
But not all Montanans are convinced of Zinke’s ability to lead the Interior Department well.
“I believe that Zinke has at least minimal qualifications to be Secretary of the Interior simply by virtue of coming from a state in which hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoorsmanship are prominent concerns,” said Bill Cox, an economist and Democrat who lives in Montana. “About where he would come down when public lands confront mining companies, oil and gas drillers, and other commercial ambitions, I am much less confident.”
Jamey Loran, a fourth generation Montanan and a certified public accountant who has worked with Native American tribes for the past 15 years, agreed. “It is difficult to pigeon-hole him as a strict environmentalist or anti-regulation proponent. He will almost always do what is in his own political best interest,” he said. “He brings a very simplistic mindset to complex problems. I have little hope that he will have much success dealing with problems such as climate change. In fact, I have grave concerns that matters will get much worse because ‘quick fixes’ always benefit those with economic interests over future generations or endangered species.”
Despite negative views like these, Zinke remains quite popular in his home state, recently winning re-election by a 16-percent margin.
“We are happy with Ryan Zinke as our Secretary of the Interior because he was raised in Montana surrounded by the wilderness and environment, which he will manage as opposed to someone who was raised in the city,” said Carl and Cheryl Baldwin, third-generation conservative ranchers from Montana. “We have talked to him personally as our representative in Congress and know his decisions will not hurt or harm our federal lands.”
Jim Martin, a retired home-builder in Montana, and his wife Judy, added that the balance of timber, recreation, ranching and wilderness is important, something that a Westerner like Zinke understands. “He has lived in other sections of the U.S. so as to realize regional problems with the environment,” said the Martins. “He will not let liberals overpower the conservative right.”
Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who gave the opening statement at the hearing, drew attention to the deep divides along party lines that exist at the end of the Obama administration’s leadership under Secretary Sally Jewell, a former CEO of REI.
“To state that Alaska has had a difficult or tenuous relationship with the outgoing administration is probably more than an understatement,” said Murkowski. “Instead of seeing us as the State of Alaska, our current President and Secretary seem to see us as ‘Alaska, the National Park and Wildlife Refuge’ — a broad expanse of wilderness, with little else of interest or value.’” It is a sentiment that was echoed by other senators from mostly red states throughout the hearing.
Zinke attempted to appease concerns about his ability to work with both sides of the aisle. “Even in this body, we are all different, but we all share a common purpose: to make our country great again. As secretary of the interior, I will have inherited 70,000 hard charging, dedicated professionals that want to do the same thing,” he said. “My task is to organize for a better future for interior and our country. I will work with anybody, as the list would indicate. I’ve never been red or blue. To me it has always been red, white and blue.”
Environmentalists, opposed to Zinke, must now hope awareness of the disappearance of our white glaciers might promote coordinated action between red and blue leadership under the new secretary, before it is too late.
In South America, the tropical glaciers of the Andes have been shrinking at an alarming rate, leaving the local communities at risk of losing an important water source. In Bolivia, for example, an Andean glacier known as the Chacaltaya Glacier disappeared completely in 2009, cutting off a valuable water resource to the nearby city of La Paz during the dry season.
In total, the Andes Mountains are home to nearly 99 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, with 71 percent located in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca and 20 percent in Bolivia, according to UNEP. Other tropical glaciers are found in the equatorial mountain ranges of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Over the past 30 years, scientists estimate that the glaciers of the tropical Andes have shrunk by 30 to 50 percent. This rate of decline predicts that within 10 to 15 years many of the smaller tropical glaciers will have completely disappeared.
Take a look at GlacierHub’s collection of images of the rapidly retreating Andean glaciers.
Imagine if we had a crowd-sourced digital record of the damage climate change is causing to our planet. That’s the mission of Project Pressure, an UK-based organization dedicated to documenting and publicizing the world’s vanishing glaciers. With MELT, an open source digital atlas, Project Pressure hopes to give the public a new tool to visually tour the world’s receding glaciers, helping us all to better understand the ongoing impact of rising global temperatures.
Rather than relying on satellite images and direct measurement, two techniques that have their limits, Project Pressure hopes to document glacier fluctuations of the world’s 300,000 glaciers through comparative imagery. This will allow researchers to analyze glaciers otherwise inaccessible for direct measurement and provide new visual insights to changes in glacier length. The images are both heartbreaking and alarming, demonstrating both the staggering beauty of our world glaciers and their current state of decline.
Take a look at GlacierHub’s collection of images from Project Pressure, and learn more about the initiative here.