Sports Medicine Specialist Discusses Ice Climbing

Volker Schoeffl climbing in Laos (source: Tanya Weidner/Green Climbers Home)
Volker Schoeffl climbing in Laos (source: Tanya Weidner/Green Climbers Home)

Volker Schoeffl, a physician and professor in Bamberg, Germany, is a leading specialist on sports medicine, with particular emphasis on climbing. He works in both Germany. He is the physician of the German national climbing team, and also serves on the medical commissions of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation  and the International Federation of Sport Climbing.  He is an accomplished climber himself, having completed the first ascent of the south face of Batu Lawi in Sarawak, Indonesia, and having climbed more recently in Laos.

GlacierHub recently interviewed Schoeffl about his research.

Ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies (source: Pazit Polak/Flicker)
Ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies (source: Pazit Polak/Flicker)

GH: In a recent publication on extreme sports, you discussed ice climbing, and stated “Most of the acute injuries (73.4%) happened in an icefall climbing, a smaller number on glacier ice walls (11.4%), and the least on artificial ice walls (2.5%).”  Do you think that this low proportion of injuries on glaciers is due to a lower rate of injuries per hour for this activity, or to the fact that people climb more often on icefalls than they do on glacier ice walls or artificial ice walls?

VS: I would say that the latter reason is the important one. Fewer people climb on glacier ice walls and on artificial ice walls than they do on icefalls.


Ice climbing in the Colorado Rockiers (source: John Fowler/Flickr)
Ice climbing in the Colorado Rockies (source: John Fowler/Flickr)

GH: In this publication, you also state, “The overall injury rate [in ice climbing] published in the literature is comparable with other outdoor sports (2.87-4.07 injuries/1000 hrs, with most injuries of minor severity.” Do you think people perceive ice climbing as more dangerous than rock climbing?

VS: I personally still think that ice climbing is riskier than rock climbing. However, the study did not definitively prove that. Further evidence must be collected before we can reach firm conclusions.  We do know that there are very different risk profiles in different kinds of climbing. For example, indoor climbing lacks certain external objective dangers, such as rockfalls, which are much more common in ice climbing and traditional rock climbing.


Volker Schoffl climbing indoors in Europe (source: Enrico Haase/Outdoor Sports Team)
Volker Schoffl climbing indoors in Europe (source: Enrico Haase/Outdoor Sports Team)

GH: Do you have any thoughts or information on accidents and injuries that are related specifically to glaciers, such as falling into crevasses?

VS: I cannot comment on this topic, because data are not available.


GH: What advice would you give to ice climbers?

VS: I would give the advice that they most likely already know. Be extra cautious, because falling is not an option! Be sure to consider external hazards, such as icefalls and avalanches. And remember that not only ascents are risky; descents are dangerous as well.

Readers who would like to learn more about Dr. Schoeffl’s research and to hear his advice can read his book, One Move Too Many: How to Understand the Injuries and Overuse Syndromes of Rock Climbing. First published in 2033, the third edition of the book, with extensive new material, was published earlier this year.

Landscape in the Bavarian Alps (source: German Alpine Club)
Landscape in the Bavarian Alps (source: German Alpine Club)

Interested readers can also participate in a sports medicine clinic which he is co-organizing in Bamberg, Germany from June 22 to 25, 2017, which addresses climbing, as well as running. It includes sessions on training and on injury prevention, as well as on diagnosis and treatment of injuries. This event is sponsored by the German Alpine Club, the Bavarian Sports Medicine Association, and Bamberg Social Foundation. The program and registration forms are available here.

Roundup: The Past, Present and Future of Ice on Earth and Mars

This Week’s Roundup: Glacier Archaeology, Medicine and Simulation

Researchers explore an abandoned ice-skating rink at a glacier in New Zealand

From the New Zealand Department of Conservation: “In its heyday (the 1930s), the Mt. Harper ice rink was reputed to be the largest ice rink in the Southern Hemisphere, attracting hundreds of ice skaters and hockey players to its remote location each winter. However, World War II, petrol rationing, warmer winters and new indoor rinks all contributed to its demise. Today, considerable evidence of the complex remains intact, from buildings, to the rinks themselves, and the trees that were planted to shade and protect the rink—all in a remote and spectacular location.”

Read about the site and see more photos here:

A plow found near the site of the rink, used–in the absence of Zambonis–to prepare the rink or ice. (source: Katharine Watson/NZ Dept of Conservation)

A specialist in sports medicine finds glaciers less risky than other sites for ice-related spots

From Extreme Sports Medicine: “Rock and ice climbing diversified from mountaineering with various forms of activities, such as sport climbing or deep water soloing. … The overall injury rate is low, with most injuries being of minor severity. Nevertheless the risk of a fatal injury is always present. Both injury rate and fatality rate vary from the different subdisciplines performed and are the lowest for indoor climbing, bouldering or sport climbing. They are naturally higher for alpine climbing or free solo climbing. External factors as objective danger through, e.g. wind chill or rockfall add to the risk. Most injuries and overstrain are on the upper extremity, mostly at the hands and fingers. …Most of the acute injuries (73.4 %) happened in a waterfall, few in glacier ice walls (11.4 %) and on artificial ice walls (2.5 %).”

Learn more about risks associated with glacier sports and other ice sports here:

Ice-climbers with safety equipment (source: Pixabay)
Ice-climbers using crampons, ice-axes, and other safety eqipment (source: Pixabay)

An Austrian glacier served as a field site to test a mission of human researchers on Mars

From Acta Astronautica: “… the AMADEE-15 mission, a 12-day Mars analog field test [was conducted] at the Kaunertal Glacier in Austria. Eleven experiments were conducted by a field crew at the test site under simulated Martian surface exploration conditions and coordinated by a Mission Support Center in Innsbruck, Austria. The experiments’ research fields encompassed geology, human factors, astrobiology, robotics, tele-science, exploration, and operations research. A Remote Science Support team analyzed field data in near real time, providing planning input for a flight control team to manage a complex system of field assets in a realistic work flow, including: two advanced space suit simulators; and four robotic and aerial vehicles. … A 10-minute satellite communication delay and other limitations pertinent to human planetary surface activities were introduced.”

Read more about this simulation here.

Simulating the collection of soil samples on Mars, at a field station on Kaunertal Glacier in Austria.
Simulating the collection of soil samples on Mars, at a field station on Kaunertal Glacier in Austria (source: Acta Astonautica)

Photo Friday: World Nomad Games Held in Kyrgyzstan

The World Nomad Games, held in Kyrgyzstan on September 3-8, drew participants from 40 countries, most of them from former Soviet Union. Competitions were held in over 20 different sports, including archery  and javelin throwing, horse racing and several kinds of wrestling (some between individuals who stand in a ring, another between mounted riders).  A sort of polo played with the headless body of a dead goat, known in Afghanistan as buzkashi and as kok-boru in Kyrgyzstan, is a particular favorite. A board game, toguz, somewhat similar to chess, is a less physical form of competition.

This event was the second World Nomad Games, following the first event in September 2014. This year’s event, like the earlier one, was held at Cholpon-Ata in Naryn Province of Kyrgyzstan, a small town on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, with striking views of the glacier-capped peaks of the Tien Shan.

These photographs demonstrate the vigor of the nomad traditions and the excitement of the participants. They document the importance of horses in nomad cultures, and demostrate other skills as well that have developed over the centuries among the pastoral populations who inhabit the high-elevation grasslands, many of them watered by glacier melt.

American and Russian teams playing kok-buro (source: Ronan Shenhav/FLickr)
American and Russian teams playing kok-boru (source: Ronan Shenhav/Flickr)


Kyrgyz men in traditional hats, watching the games (source:Ronan Shenhez/Flickr)
Kyrgyz men in traditional hats, watching the games (source:Ronan Shenhav/Flickr)


Two men reaching for a goat carcass (source: Altainovosti/Twitter)
Two men reaching for a goat carcass in a game of kok-boru (source: Altainovosti/Twitter)


Kyrgyz and Chinese teams playing kok-buro (sourde: Ronan Shenhav/Flickr)
Kyrgyz and Chinese teams playing kok-boru (source: Ronan Shenhav/Flickr)

Argentina’s National Glacier Inventory Makes Progress

Identifying glaciers in the Atuel drainage, central Andes (source:Facundo Rojas/IANIGLA)
Identifying glaciers in the Atuel drainage, central Andes (source: Facundo Rojas/IANIGLA)

Argentina’s national glacier inventory, which began in 2011, has recently advanced significantly. A group of researchers from the Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (IANIGLA) wrote recently to GlacierHub They prepared a document, included below, to describe the progress to date. The authors of this document are Laura Zalazar, Lidia Ferri, Mariano Castro, Melisa Giménez, Hernán Gargantini, Pierre Pitte, Lucas Ruiz, and Mariano Masiokas.

Training new researchers for the glacier inventory (source: IANIGLA)
Training new researchers for the glacier inventory (source: IANIGLA)

Glaciers play an important role in Argentina as water reserves, and serve as crucial components of hydrological systems, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas. Their rapid shrinkage in the context of global warming creates serious issues for the country. Despite the importance of the glaciers, Argentina lacks precise information on the number, location and size of these glaciers. This gap is one of the reasons that a law, known as Law 26636, was passed in 2010, titled “Minimum Standards for Preservation of Glaciers and periglacial environment.”

The principal objective of this law, laid out in its first article, is “to protect glaciers, considering them as strategic reserves of water resources.” The third article establishes the National Inventory of Glaciers, to document all of the glaciers and periglacial landforms, recording the information that is necessary for their proper protection, management and monitoring as water reserves.

Carrying equipment to Mount Mercedario, central Andes (source: IANIGLA)
Carrying equipment to Mount Mercedario, central Andes (source: IANIGLA)

The inventory and monitoring of glaciers and periglacial environments is carried out by the Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (IANIGLA), in coordination with the agency charged with enforcing the law, the Ministry for Environment and Sustainable Development.

The work is carried out through three distinct components. The first of these is the mapping and characterization of all the ice bodies in the country. The second is the study of recent fluctuations of selected glaciers, and the final ones consists of studies  of benchmark glaciers which are analyzed in detail to establish the effects of climate change.

Collecting data for mass balance research, Los Tres Glacier, southern Patagonia (source:IANGILA)
Collecting data for mass balance research, Los Tres Glacier, southern Patagonia (source: IANIGLA)

The study of fluctuations of glacier length and area of glaciers is currently scheduled to begin when the full inventory of the country’s glaciers is complete. This timing will allow IANIGLA to identify representative glaciers for all of the drainages.

Progress has been made with research on benchmark glaciers. Three have already been selected, each in a different region, and IANIGLA is monitoring their thickness, mass balance and velocity. These are Agua Negra Glacier in the arid north, Alerce Glacier in northern Patagonia and Los Tres Glacier in southern Patagonia. The process for selecting a fourth benchmark, located in the central Andes, is currently under way.

The mapping and inventory is carried out on a regional basis, recognizing the great climatic variation across the country. The regions, ranging from 21° S to 55° S, are the arid northern Andes, the central Andes, northern Patagonia, southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. In turn, these regions are subdivided into drainages and sub-drainages.

Calingasta Glacier, an example of a debris-covered glacier, northern Argentina (source: IANIGLA)
Calingasta Glacier, an example of a debris-covered glacier, northern Argentina (source: IANIGLA)

Within each of these sub-drainages, glaciers are mapped by remote sensing, along with field observations for validation. The mapping distinguishes rock and debris-covered glaciers, snow patches and ice fields from other glaciers. At present, IANIGLA has worked in 60 of the 70 sub-drainages in the country, and has napped 14,648 glaciers, with a total area of 5557 km2.

Base camp at Lake Tannhauser, southern Patagonia (source: IANIGLA)
Base camp at Lake Tannhauser, southern Patagonia (source: IANIGLA)

The research to date has shown significant regional variation across the country. Southern Patagonia accounts for 60% of the glacier area in the country, but only 14% of the individual glaciers in the inventory, while the central Andes represents 32% of the area and 55% of the total number of glaciers. The area in southern Patagonia is concentrated in a few large glaciers (including the Southern Patagonian Ice Field), while the central Andean glaciers are smaller. The types of glaciers also differ, with many debris-covered glaciers in the arid northern Andes.

IANIGLA looks forward to completing the inventory and the studies of glacier fluctuations. This work will support the effective implementation of the2010 glacier law in policy-making.

Readers can locate reports and maps from the inventory at

Alaska Filmmaker Mike Loso Speaks about Glaciers

The short firm “Glaciers – Why Should We Care?” is currently being shown as part of International Polar Week. This event, running from 19 to 25 September 2016, is designed to promote polar science and education around the world, and includes a five-day film festival. It is sponsored by the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists, headquartered at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø.

Michael Loso, a scientist at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, is featured in the film, which shows the importance of glaciers in natural ecosystems and in human society. In a recent interview, Loso explained to GlacierHub that he made the video two years ago when he was a professor at Alaska Pacific University. Stacia Bakkensto, a science outreach coordinator with the National Park Service at Fairbanks, suggested the idea of the video to him. She had selected Alaska’s glaciers as the theme for a story map—a set of video, images, texts and data that are presented in GIS form, linked to a map. She approached Loso because he was the lead author on a report from the NPS, Alaskan National Park Glaciers – Status and Trends Final Report, published in 2014.

Mount Blackburn and Kennicott Glacier (source:NPS)
Mount Blackburn and Kennicott Glacier (Photo source: NPS)

Backensto visited Loso near Kennicott Glacier, in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, where he was conducting a field course with students at the university. She shot a good deal of video that day, he recalled, and used some of it for the video featured here. Though that video did not fit into the story map that was produced (that one featured repeat photography of Alaska glaciers), it has circulated in a number of settings, and has received hundreds of views.

In the video, Loso stresses that glaciers are important, not just because they are linked to fisheries, to natural hazards and to other things of economic value to humans, but for themselves. He moved to Alaska because the glaciers are so cool—a word he repeats several times. He expresses the sense of “loss to our heritage” that glaciers are shrinking—in part because of human actions.

Loso states in the video that glaciers aren’t sentient beings “like wolves and bears,” which are protected through the Endangered Species Act. He adds “we don’t have an endangered glaciers act. If I was president, we would have one.”

Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (Photo source: R. Droker/Flickr)

During the interview, he mentioned that he knew the work of the anthropologist Julie Cruikshank, who has written a book about her field work in the Wrangell-Saint Elias, Do Glaciers Listen? In that book, she discusses the views of the indigenous communities of the region, who believe that glaciers are sentient.

Loso paraphrased Cruikshank’s portrayal of the native historical view: “If you behave poorly towards them [the glaciers], they will exact their revenge.” Our modern scientific view is different, he said, and we understand that glaciers are not sentient. Nonetheless, he said, “cause and effect play out. We have behaved with a lack of respect, and much to everyone’s surprise, there’s a set of consequences that rain down on us.” In that way, he said, “the native peoples were right. The glaciers can cause misfortune, and therein lies a lesson for us, regardless of your worldview.”

He continued to explain his thoughts. The scientific revolution led us to move past “superstition and myth” by providing a scientific explanation for natural phenomena like volcanic eruptions and tornadoes. We no longer viewed these disasters as consequences of our own behavior. But now “the modern environmental movement has renewed that old sense of culpability.” He cited as an example the recent seismic activity in Oklahoma, which has shown us that humans can cause earthquakes.

“Our sense of responsibility has come back,” he said in conclusion. His film, along with his more recent one included below about rapid melting of Alaska’s glaciers, may spread this sense of responsibility more widely.

Photo Friday: 19th Century Russian Paintings of the Caucasus

A number of 19th century Russian artists painted landscapes of the Caucasus. They were fascinated with the region’s rugged mountains— many of them topped with glaciers— and its wild, exotic, fierce inhabitants. The paintings often evoke, directly or indirectly, the wars which ran from 1813 to 1864 in which the Czarist armies displaced the Persian rulers of this region and subjugated the native populations. But the paintings do not simply celebrate Russian conquests. Instead, they underscore the heroism and endurance of the fighters on both sides. Seeking to impress viewers with the dramatic mountains, the artists often exaggerated the height and form of the mountains.

Many of the artists were radicals who opposed the rigid hierarchies of Czarist Russia. Some of them traveled to the Caucasus as exiles from the major Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Among these was the Romantic writer Mikhail Lermontov, known for his poetry and his early novel The Hero of Our Age, and who also produced landscape paintings (the first in the series below is one of his). He was exiled twice, the first time for writing a poem critical of high officials, the second for insulting another publicly.

Other artists had rebelled against the major artistic institutions of Czarist Russia, and the formalism that these institutions promoted. Several of the paintings included below were produced by members of the group The Wanderers, students who left the Imperial Academy of Arts, located in St. Petersburg, in 1863 in frustration at the academy’s deliberate lack of attention to Russian culture. They dedicated themselves to depictions of daily life, showing common people, often in outdoor settings.

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More 19th century Russian paintings of the Caucasus, many of them depicting glaciers, can be found here.

Glacier Research in Peru Links Students with Communities

A faculty member and students from a provincial university in Peru recently presented the results of a class project on glacier research at an international conference. Their study of glacier retreat and environmental risks draws on the familiarity of the faculty and students with local environments and cultures. It sets an important example by showing how this familiarity makes such work possible in what might be seen as an unfavorable setting: a small university in a developing country.

Vizcachani Glacier and Lake Japucocha (source: Google Earth)
Vizcachani Glacier and Lake Japucocha (source: Google Earth)

Renny Aguilar Diaz, the faculty member, teaches environmental engineering at the National University of Juliaca, located in the Puno region in southern Peru. He also works with SENAMHI, the Peruvian National Meteorological and Hydrological Service.

Speaking with GlacierHub last month, and following up with an email interview, Diaz explained that the project focused on  Mount Vizcachani, a peak 6044 meters above sea level in the Cordillera Apolobamba, located on the border between Peru and Bolivia.  He expressed his appreciation for SENAMHI, which provided data and logistical support to the project. He noted as well that the university, founded in 2007, is smaller and less well funded than older universities in Peru.

Map of field site, showing glaciers and lakes (source: R.Diaz)
Map of field site, showing glaciers,  lakes and local community (source: R.Diaz)

The students used two different methods to study the peak, its glaciers and the associated lakes and streams. They examined LANDSAT satellite images from 1985 to 2016 to identify recently formed glacier lakes. This project gave students experience in using the Normalized Difference Snow Index (NDSI) to analyze these images and detect changes in glacier cover and new lakes. The research also included field trips to the glaciers to provide ground-truthing of the satellite images and to assess water quality.

The field work involved significant challenges: a five-hour drive on unpaved roads in poor condition, and then another five hours of hiking to the glacier. The hiking provided an opportunity for the students to converse with the members of the local community of Pampamachay, whose livelihoods rest on the cultivation of cold-tolerant potato varieties and on the herding of sheep and alpacas.

Research camp below Vizcachani Glacier (source: R. Diaz)
Research camp below Vizcachani Glacier (source: R. Diaz)

Several of the students, who are from the Puno region, speak Quechua, the primary language of the community.  The local residents explained their concerns, particularly about the expansion of artisanal gold mining in the higher sections of the Cordillera, which could lead to water pollution. To assess water quality, the students analyzed the water samples which they collected in the lakes, and found that it was mildly acid, with an average pH of 6.5.

The students later shared this information with the communities, who expressed a fear about possible impacts on pasture and on alpaca herds. Fortunately, this level does not seem threatening, though there is a possibility of increased acidification from the weathering of rocks that are newly exposed by glacier retreat. Diaz wrote to GlacierHub, “the meeting with the community unfolded in a friendly manner.” He mentioned a positive note of the contacts with the community members: the sighting of eight Andean condors.  This species is the largest flying bird in the world, of importance throughout Peru. It appears in the country’s first coat of arms and in indigenous rituals.

Lake Japucocha (source: R. Diaz)
Lake Japucocha (source: R. Diaz)

Diaz, along with another faculty member from the National University of Juliaca, Ricardo Chambi and three students, presented a poster at the International Forum on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, held in Huaraz, Peru in August. The poster, titled “Glacier Lakes as Indicators of Glacier Retreat in Vizcachani, Cordillera Apolobamba” indicated that the glacier cover in the Cordillera Apolobamba has decreased by 57% between 1985 and 2016. There had been only one lake at the start of this period, Japucocha, but by the end there were five, two of them covering 10 hectares in area. These other lakes are so new that they do not yet have names, but only have been given numbers.

Newly-formed Lake 13, a source of GLOF risk (source: R. Diaz)
Newly-formed Lake 16, a source of GLOF risk (source: R. Diaz)

The researchers reported that there is a significant risk of glacier lake outburst floods. They commented on the instability of the moraines behind which the lakes have formed, and showed an image of one of the new lakes, into which a glacier had recently released ice through a calving event. They comment that the community of Pampamachay lies in the path of these possible flood events, another finding of potential importance to the community.

A number of participants in the forum listened to the explanations which Diaz and the students gave of the poster. Benjamin Morales, the director of INAIGEM, the institution which sponsored the forum, asked several questions after their explanation.  One of the student authors, Franklin Hancco, explained to GlacierHub that this forum was the first conference that he attended outside his home region of Puno. He indicated that it was an exciting opportunity for him to meet researchers from other parts of Peru and Latin America, as well as from Europe and North America.

INAIGEM director Benjamin Morales discussing the poster with faculty and students (source: R. Diaz)
INAIGEM director Benjamin Morales discussing the poster with faculty and students (source: R. Diaz)

The poster demonstrates the potential for training students in scientific research methods, even in small provincial universities that lack the support of wealthier institutions located in the capital city of Lima. Such methods can serve to document processes of glacier change. The poster shows as well the value of linkages between glacier researchers and mountain communities, and the importance of language and culture in establishing these linkages.

Readers who wish to learn more about this project can contact Diaz directly at, Chambi at and Hancco at




Work of Glacier Artist Burko to be Displayed at the UN

Diane Burko at work (source:INSTAAR)
Diane Burko at work (source:INSTAAR)

Works by the artist Diane Burko depicting glaciers and ice sheets will be featured at the United Nations headquarters in New York from September 27 to October 8.  They will be displayed in a digital exhibit “Save the Earth, Save the Land,” in which a screen 50 feet long will be installed in the first floor lobby of the headquarters.  

The images to be shown on this screen include several of Burko’s paintings, along with other works, including a piece by the German artist Joseph Beuys, named 7000 Oaks, for the trees he planted in the city of Kassel, Germany, each accompanied by a basalt column. Other works in this exhibit also suggest the urgency of addressing environmental degradation. Among these are photographs of  the columns which Ugo Rondinone installed near a freeway in the desert outside Las Vegas, David Maisel’s  photographs of  polluted mine sites and Chris Jordan’s images of crushed cars, spent bullet casings and cellphone chargers.

Elegy for Grinnell (source: Burko/Lisica)

This exhibit closely follows the September 21 meeting organized by the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The meeting is bringing leaders from countries around the world to deposit their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession to the Paris Agreement on climate change, accelerating the entry into force of the agreement signed in Paris last November.

Burko’s training as an artist began with painting.  In the late 1970s, she and the artist James Turrell took a flight over the Grand Canyon. This experience was a turning point, leading her to explore landscape imagery and to include aerial photography.  She has traveled widely in Greenland, Svalbard, Patagonia and Antarctica,  and has spent time in high mountains as well, particularly the Rockies. In 2011 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.  

Her recent work engaged directly with climate change. In addition to taking photographs of glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets, Burko makes paintings whose cracked surfaces evoke crevasse-filled glaciers. These were displayed recently in a solo show earlier this year at the Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston.  

Portals of Zion (source:Burko/PAFA)
Portals of Zion (source: Burko/PAFA)

Burko continues to produce and display art actively. Her pencil drawing, Portals of Zion, was included in an exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for the centennial of the national parks.  She took part in a two-person show with Paula Winokur, titled Glacial Dimensions-Art and the Global Ice Melt, that ran from February through April at the Karl & Helen Burger Gallery at Kean University in Philadelphia.    

Burko’s photographs and Winokur’s porcelain sculptures presented the beauty and fragility of ice and snow. Burko wrote to GlacierHub that she particularly enjoyed a “lively panel discussion” in which she and Winokur took part, along with several scientists, leading to active engagement with the audience. “Art, as opposed to reading a newspaper or looking at a graph, can hit the viewer on an emotional level and help them connect,” she commented

Her work is on display at other settings as well. The National Academy of Sciences recently bought pieces from her Elegy series for their permanent collection.

The public will have other opportunities to see exhibits of Burko’s work. She will take part in an exhibit Polaris: Northern Explorations in Contemporary Art at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Running from January 11 to April 30, 2017, it will present works about the Arctic from 19th century explorers to the present, emphasizing the rapid pace of environmental change in the region.  It will include Burko’s Morning Sail 2, 1 photograph of a recently-calved iceberg off Greenland.

Morning Sail 2 (source: Burko)
Morning Sail 2 (source: Burko)

Later in 2017, she will have a solo show Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives, Paintings and Photographs at the Walton Art Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In an email to GlacierHub, Burko described this exhibit, opening on May 4 and continuing to July 15,  as “my most important solo show.”

Readers who are interested in learning more about Burko’s work can see an interview with GlacierHub and a discussion of her recent solo show at Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston.

Photo Friday: A Day of Fieldwork in the Italian Alps

The Italian paleoclimatologist Paolo Gabrielli, at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at the Ohio State University, conducted a day of field research earlier this month at Mt. Ortles in the South Tirol in the Italian Alps, working with 8 colleagues from the Universities of Venice, Pavia, Padua and the Province of Bolzano. These images were all taken on that day, showing the construction of a snowpit, the collection of samples, and the closing of the pit. They document how rapidly the weather can change in the Alps, with clouds moving in quickly.

Gabrielli described his research to GlacierHub in a recent interview. He wrote, “The primary goal of our scientific program on Mt. Orles (3905 m, Eatern Italian Alps) is to identify interactions between atmospheric warming and environmental changes in the ecosystems and human society from the beginning of the Holocene to the current warm period.” He indicated that the ice cores provide data on air temperature, human activities such as industrialization and fire, and ecosystems (plant composition, soils). His team examines many elements of the ice, including stable isotopes of the ice itself, ions, dust, trace elements, pollen, black carbon and organic compounds. He indicated that his research has been funded by NSF and the Province of Bolzano.

Gabrielli added “More information about our project and international partners can be obtained at and from our paper under discussion at The Cryosphere

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The Andes Challenge: Extreme Sports, Tourism and Science in Peru

run on glacier
Running on Vallunaraju Glacier in Andes Challenge (source: Benkelo Morales)

Four extreme athletes gathered before dawn on August 28 at a glacier in Peru to start a 170 kilometer race. Setting off from the foot of Mount Vallunaraju in the Cordillera Blanca range, they ran up to its summit at 5625 meters and down to the Llaca valley. They then alternated cycling and running, passing through the regional capital of Huaraz and over a second mountain range, the Cordillera Negra, before completing a descent of over 3500 meters through the coastal desert to the port of Huarmey on the Pacific Ocean. They finished the route in under 16 hours.

“It was really very moving. I received them at the port, along with regional mayors and other political authorities,” Benjamin Morales, the director of the Peruvian National Research Institute for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM) wrote to GlacierHub.

Athletes biking in the Cordillera Negra section of the Andes Challenge (source:AccesoPeru)
Athletes biking in the Cordillera Negra section of the Andes Challenge (source: AccesoPeru)

Described as one of the most challenging ultramarathons of the world, the Andes Challenge promotes  opportunities for  athletics and also tourism in Peru, showcasing the great ecological diversity of the Ancash region. The race passes through snowpeaks, forests, grasslands, farmland and desert— areas where INAIGEM conducts research on endemic plant species, glacier processes, and environmental issues such as water management and disaster risk reduction. The route provides a window into the region’s cultural diversity as well, since it includes indigenous and mestizo settlements of the highlands and coast. And the event organizers encourage participation, not only by top athletes in the one-day ultramarathon, but by others who move at slower paces, completing the route in two or more days, or simply hiking different sections of it. An additional goal of the event is to promote sustainable development of the region.

This event builds on earlier efforts dating back over 10 years. The head of Huascaran National Park, in which Vallunaraju is located, encouraged a Peruvian runner to complete a similar route in 2010. In the following year, over a dozen runners, including one woman, also ran the course. It then fell into abeyance until Benkelo Morales, an athlete, hotel owner and event organizer from Huaraz, decided to revive it. The full name which he bestowed on it, “Andes Challenge: The Route of Mountain Ecosystems and Climate Change,” signals his concern to build awareness of environmental issues. He drew support from the national park, INAIGEM, the regional office of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, several municipal governments, an environmental NGO, the Peruvian mountain guides association, and two mining firms. A much larger version of the Andes Challenge will be held on June 29, 2017.

GlacierHub recently interviewed Benkelo Morales about the event.

Three athletes running in the Andes Challenge (source: Facebook)
Three athletes running in the Andes Challenge (source: Facebook)

GlacierHub: What were the most important successes of the Andes Challenge this year?

Benkelo Morales: The Andes Challenge was born as an athletic initiative in 2004, with the idea of linking the snowpeaks of the Cordillera Blanca with the sea in less than a day, combining climbing, cycling and running. We tried it out a few times but never had much of an impact on the population of the region. This year, INAIGEM came up with an interesting idea – sport and science could work together. They suggested that the route of the race could be an area for tourism and for research on ecosystems. This way, tourists could visit the region, seeing an area where athletes race and scientists conduct research. Put simply, the most important success is that we achieved promoting science through sport and tourism.


Steep downhill section of the Andes Challenge in the Cordillera Blanca (source:Benkelo Morales)
Steep downhill section of the Andes Challenge in the Cordillera Blanca (source: Benkelo Morales)

GH: What support has been most important in the preparation for the Andes Challenge and in its operation?

BM: All activities require a budget. Since this was the first offering of the race, we did not have registration fees or private sponsorships. Because of this, the logistical support of INAIGEM was invaluable for us. INAIGEM helped us with vehicles and staff, so that we were able to gain Support from municipal governments along the route and from mining companies. In this way, we were able to launch the project. And we wish to thank the athletes who took part as well, the Ecuadorian Nicolas Miranda de Ecuador, Jenn Hrinkevich from the US, and three Peruvians, Emerson Trujillo from Huaraz, Hernan Henostroza and Richard Hidalgo.


GH: What was the biggest surprise of the event?

BM: There were many surprises, including the way the community members along the route came out to applaud the runners. But the most important surprise was that the Minister of the Environment showed herself to be so interested in the project. It is very difficult to make contact with ministers in Peru, but thanks to INAIGEM and the international forum which they organized, we had the opportunity to present the project to many groups, from major government figures to universities, students and the media.


Biking in the Cordillera Negra sction of the Andes Challenge (source:Benkelo Morales)
Athletes biking in the Cordillera Negra section of the Andes Challenge (source: Benkelo Morales)

GH: What was the greatest joy of the Andes Challenge?

BM: Extreme races have their risks. It was an enormous joy to see the athletes run into the ocean after 16 hours of uninterrupted effort, without any accidents at all. And also, seeing so many people along the route and at the finish on the beach were great incentives to keep on going, despite the fatigue.


Athletes biking in the coastal desert portion of Andes Challenge (source: Facebook)
Athletes biking in the coastal desert section of Andes Challenge (source: Facebook)

GH: What do you anticipate for the Andes Challenge in the future?

BM: Well, I think the main thing is to position the entire route as a tourist corridor where people of all types and interests can take some time to cover the route. It’s such a diverse route that it could please all kinds of tourists. On the level of sport, we hope that it will become one of the most challenging in the world. We would like to see the world’s top runners and cyclists coming to take part. They could become “sports ambassadors” to promote awareness of climate change and adaptation.


arriving coast
Athletes reaching the Pacific Ocean at the end of the Andes Challenge (source: Benkelo Morales)

GH: What importance does the Andes Challenge have for the communities along the route and near it?

BM: To have an extreme race like this requires going through isolated areas that are difficult to get to, the same places where ecological research is often carried out. So these communities are the ones that are least favored by the government. So we can state that the Andes Challenge can bring different types of benefits to these communities, from tourism and economic activity, to training in environmental issues and in athletics, to education and employment. Stated simply, the Andes Challenge will put these communities on the map.

Roundup: Old Tibetan drawings, new photos from land and sea

This Week’s Roundup: A monk’s drawings and photos from land and sea

Drawings from the 1850s provide detail on Tibetan history and culture

From British Library blogs:

Detail of map in the Wise Collection at the British Library, showing Mt. Kailash and surroundings in great detail with the circumambulation path, monasteries, a lake, streams and a tall prayer flag pole
Detail of map in the Wise Collection at the British Library, showing Mt. Kailash and surroundings in great detail with the circumambulation path, monasteries, a lake, streams and a tall prayer flag pole. (Source: British Library)

“The drawings in the British Library’s Wise Collection probably form the most comprehensive set of large-scale visual representations of mid-nineteenth century Tibet and the Western Himalayan kingdoms of Ladakh and Zangskar. These drawings were made in the late 1850s – at a time when the mapping of British India was largely complete, but before or around the time when Tibet began to be mapped for the first time by Indian Pundits.”  Depicting landscapes, buildings, people and many activities, this collection “reflects a complex interpretation of Tibet commissioned by a Scotsman and created by a Buddhist monk. The result of their collaboration represents a ‘visible history’ of the exploration of Tibet.”

Click here to learn more about these striking images and the research on them being conducted by Dr. Diana Lange of Humboldt University, Berlin.

Elephant seals document impact of glacier melt on ocean circulation

From Nature Communications:

Elephant seals, with sensors glued to their heads (source: Clive R. McMahon)
Elephant seals, with sensors glued to their heads (source: Clive R. McMahon)

“New observations from instrumented elephant seals in 2011–2013 … provide the first complete assessment of the formation of dense water in Prydz Bay off Antarctica.”  Until recent, large flows of this dense water have contributed to the formation of a layer of water,  known as Antarctic bottom water, which contributes to global ocean circulation. This new work documents the importance of ” freshwater input from the Amery Glacier and Amery and West Ice Shelves … and highlights the susceptibility of Antarctic bottom water to increased freshwater input from the enhanced melting of ice shelves, and ultimately the potential collapse of Antarctic bottom water formation in a warming climate.”

Click here to read more about the valuable data provided by elephant seals

New images depict water conflicts in post-Soviet Central Asia

From Foreign Affairs:

Tortkul Reservoir on border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (source: David Trilling)
Tortkul Reservoir on border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (source: David Trilling)

“The relations of the five former Soviet Republics in Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—are, more often than not, defined by water. ” Tensions have increased “since the dissolution of the Soviet Union over a quarter century ago.” Moreover, “there is one glaring issue: the region’s glaciers, the source of huge and once predictable water supplies, are melting at record rates.”

Click here to see the striking images of water use and misuse in Central Asia, and to learn the historical background of water conflicts

Photo Friday: The Cordillera Blanca of Peru

I traveled recently to the Cordillera Blanca, the mountain range in Peru with the largest concentration of glaciers in the world’s tropics. The Peruvian National Institute for Research in Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, INAIGEM, invited me to participate in a forum, and helped me visit several rural communities.

I’ve written other posts about the forum, a visit to a lake with a high risk level for outburst floods, and a trip to a research area in a national park.

I include here other images–of people and towns, as well as of mountain landscapes–that didn’t quite fit into the topics of the other posts. I hope that these convey some aspects of daily life in this beautiful region as it undergoes dramatic change. I hope as well that the images convey the deep connections of people to the region.

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