Photo Friday: Happy Shorebird Day

GlacierHub is glad to join the first World Shorebirds Day on September 6, 2014, by showing the diversity of shorebirds that are found near glaciers, including tidewater glaciers and glaciers in mountain lakes. These include classic waders such as the black stilt and the least sandpiper. Other birds also frequent the shores of glacial waters. These come from a number of families: ducks, puffins, gulls, skuas, eagles and penguins.. Examples can be found from several different continents. These birds show the great natural diversity that exists in glacier environments. Their calls are often evocative, as a recent post to GlacierHub noted.

World Shorebirds Day is organized by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, based in southeastern Massachusetts. Glacier birders are invited submit their shorebird watching sites to a registry of such sites.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

Least sandpiper, Kenai Mountains , Alaska (Travis/Flickr)
Least sandpiper, Kenai Mountains , Alaska (Travis/Flickr
Horned puffin, Kenai Fjords, Alaska (Brian Henderson/Flickr)
Horned puffin, Kenai Fjords, Alaska (Brian Henderson/Flickr)
Arctic Skua, Iceland (Brian Gratwicke/Flickr)
Arctic Skua, Iceland (Brian Gratwicke/Flickr)
Black stilt, Mt Cook, Southern Alps, New Zealand (Jon Sullivan/Flickr)
Black stilt, Mt Cook, Southern Alps, New Zealand (Jon Sullivan/Flickr)

Lava, and alerts, are seeing red

Our colleague Gísli Pálsson wrote this morning from Iceland, “The show is on; this time a considerable eruption.”

At the Holuhraun lava field, lava has been erupting since Sunday morning. These lava fountains reach more than 50 meters high. Though they are dramatic, they do not release ash that would interfere with aviation. This activity is about five kilometers from  Dyngjujökull Glacier. If the fissure opens under the glacier, floods might result.

These lava fountains are just part of the activity along the fissure that stretches to the northeast from Bárðarbunga.  As the attached map shows, there have been a large number of earthquakes in recent days associated with this fissure, though there is earthquake activity nearby as well, linked to other fissures and faults. This map comes from a source tweeted out by Dave McGarvie, a remarkably well-informed volcanologist who is currently in Iceland. For more information, you can follow an animation of the earthquake activity, also tweeted by McGarvie.


At the northeast end of the fissure, directly at Bárðarbunga, the risk of a subglacial eruption  has increased.  The earthquake activity continues to be strong, with one earthquake today registering 5.1. A flight over the glacier on Friday noted new crevasses, a sign of melting at the  base of the glacier.   As a result, the risk to aviation has been raised again to red, for the third time. A small portion of the airspace north of the area has been closed to aviation, but no airports or commercial flights have yet been affected. The evacuation orders continue in effect.

(source: Morningbladet)
(source: Morningbladet)

Further reconnaissance will have to wait a day or two. The remnants of Hurricane Cristobal are approaching Iceland, bringing winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour and rains. The heaviest rains are expected in the southeast of the country, around the area of the eruption. The storm will pass, but the future of the eruptions remains uncertain.


Storm over Iceland on August 31, 2014. (source:
Storm over Iceland on August 31, 2014. (source:


The eruption has begun (We mean it this time)

The Icelandic Met Office announced that an eruption began at midnight, local time, at Holuhraun, north of Dyngjujökull. Lava is emerging on the surface, rather than beneath a glacier, so it is directly visible.

Iceland's volcanic eruption as seen from the air. (source:
Iceland’s volcanic eruption as seen from the air. (source:

The lava is being emitted from a fissure about 900 meters long, with what the Civil Protection Authority calls “low lava fountains with thin flowing lava.” The lack of ash means that the risk to aviation at present is small. Had the eruption occurred under the ice, there would have been a much larger risk of an ash cloud like the one in 2010 that halted air traffic for six days.

The Icelandic Met Service had briefly raised the warning level at Bárðarbunga to red, but after a few hours brought it back to orange. There is a small area restricted to aviation, but it does not extend even to the regional airport at Akureyri in the north.

(source: ISAVIA)
(source: ISAVIA)

A webcam from the area at Bárðarbunga does not show much activity, though last night the eruption from Dyngjujökull could be seen in the distance.

Iceland's Dyngjujokull erupts (source:
Iceland’s Dyngjujokull erupts (source:

Authorities are continuing to order an evacuation area north of the glacier. The possibility of an outburst flood cannot entirely be ruled out, even though the magma has moved north of the country’s major glaciers to areas of bare rock.

(source: Morgenbladid Reykjavik)
(source: Morgenbladid Reykjavik)

Though we don’t have many dramatic photos to show at this point, we would like to share a cartoon that appeared yesterday, just before the eruption started.  It comes from a producer of children’s music, who lives on a new volcanic island near the main island of Iceland. You can follow her on twitter at @islandofelska.

(source: Elska/Twitter)
(source: Elska/Twitter)

And we would like to send our thanks to Gísli Pálsson, who sent us an email this morning from Reykjavik to alert us about the eruption. You can read his account of a recent visit to a glacier in a non-volcanic part of Iceland here.

Crevasses have formed on Iceland glaciers

View from reconnaissance flight. (Morgenbladid Reykjavik)
View from reconnaissance flight. (Morgenbladid Reykjavik)

In the last two days, there have been significant changes in the glaciers and volcanoes in Iceland. There has not yet been an eruption, but the melting of ice indicates that additional heat is reaching the surface. The pattern of earthquakes has also shifted.

Scientists from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences, together with representatives of the Civil Protection in Iceland, met today to discuss the on-going unrest at the Bárðarbunga volcano. A flight over Bárðarbunga revealed large crevasses, totaling about 5 kilometers in length. These crevasses are probably the result of melting at the bottom of the glacier, about 500 meters below the surface. And that melting, in turn, stemmed from heating at the base as magma rose, or even came into direct contact with the ice. It is possible that the extensive earthquake activity also contributed to the crevasses. Instruments reveal that a lake located beneath Grímsvötn Glacier has risen about 5-10 meters, another sign of melting. Future events will help clarify the role of these different processes.

Glacier crevasses (Tobias Duerig/University of Iceland)
Glacier crevasses (Tobias Duerig/University of Iceland)

The pattern of earthquakes reveal that magma has been moving to the northeast from Bárðarbunga, pushing ahead through a dike (an underground fissure). Seismic activity is increasing around the Askja volcano, and GPS measurements show that the surface is being pushed upward there. Aksja is located in the rainshadow of other mountains. Since it receives less snow, it does not have a glacier on its summit.

lake at summit caldera in Askja  source  Iceland Review
Lake at summit caldera in Askja. (Iceland Review)

The earthquake map shows a line of activity stretching Bárðarbunga from to the northeast. The green stars are the quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater; the group to the upper right in the set are close to Askja. The most recent quakes—indicated in red—are also in that section.

recent quakes

As a result, the aviation warning code for Askja has been elevated from green to yellow, so there are now warnings for two volcanoes in the area. The Department of Civil Protection has notified nearby residents of the increased risk of flood, and organized community meetings to discuss possible responses.

current volcano warnings

Icelandic volcano in Vatnajökull eruptsökull#mediaviewer/File:Eyjafjallajökull_major_eruption_2_20100420.jpg
The second 2010 eruption in Eyjafjallajökull seen from Fljótshlíð at night. (David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons)

Our Icelandic colleagues have just contacted us. Ásdís Jónsdóttir writes “Just a note to tell you that an eruption has begun in Vatnajökull – it is under the outlet of Dyngjujökull. It started about half an hour ago (at quarter past two p.m.). They are evacuating areas to the north of the glacier (they were partly evacuated earlier).”   Gísli Pálsson adds “ It’s now maximum alert, limited air travel around.”

code redThe Icelandic Meteorological Office ha upgraded the aviation alert to red: “Eruption is imminent or in progress – significant emission of ash into atmosphere likely.”

Their most recent report indicates that lava has emerged under the glacier, but that the future progress of this event is still unknown: They list six points (From

  • A small lava-eruption has been detected under the Dyngjujökull glacier.
  • The Icelandic Coast Guard airplane TF-SIF is flying over the area with representatives from the Civil Protection and experts from the Icelandic Met Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences. Data from the equipment on board is expected later today.
  • Data from radars and web-cameras is being received, showing no signs of changes at the surface.
  • The estimate is that 150-400 meters of ice is above the area.
  • The aviation color code for the Bárðarbunga volcano has been changed from orange to red.
  • Some minutes ago (14:04), an earthquake occurred, estimated 4.5 in magnitude.

Iceland earthquakes continue, evacuations begin

Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting in April 2010, which shut down transatlantic and European air travel. Officials are closely monitoring the situation at Bárðarbunga volcano, which may have a similar eruption. (Wikimedia Commons)
Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting in April 2010, which shut down transatlantic and European air travel. Officials are closely monitoring the situation at Bárðarbunga volcano, which may have a similar eruption. (Wikimedia Commons)

As the earthquakes continue at Bárðarbunga volcano, under Iceland’s largest glacier, local authorities and residents have become increasingly concerned about the risk of outburst floods, though the warning remains at code orange. They recognize that large quantities of water could rush down river valleys if magma should rise to the surface. As a precautionary measure, residents and tourists have been evacuated from two areas north of the glacier. Icelandic authorities have also prepared contingency plans in case floods threaten major hydroelectric facilities.

Map of road conditions and evacuation routes. (Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration)
Map of road conditions and evacuation routes. (Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration)

Another site reports that a number of farmers have rounded up their sheep and horses, who range freely to forage in the summer and early fall. The animals are confined indoors during the long Icelandic winters, where the farmers must supply them with fodder. The farmers and animals alike do not enjoy an early round-up, but the risk of losing animals to floods or to ash-clouds is too great to dismiss.

There have been many earthquakes in the last two days, since GlacierHub last reported on this situation. The first map below, from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, shows how the quakes are tightly clustered. The second, a visualization by Bæring Gunnar Steinþórsson, shows the quakes in three dimensions. His site,, allows viewers to adjust the angle of view and the period that is covered.

Iceland earthquakes wednesday august 20

Bárðarbunga 3D visualization

As recent reports by Eric Holthaus in Slate and by Dave McGarvie in The Conversation  have discussed, there are a variety of types of floods and explosive ash releases that could occur if lava were released at Bárðarbunga, under a layer of ice that is 400 meters thick. it is unlikely that an eruption would disrupt air traffic as seriously as the 2010 event at Eyjafjallajökull. Holthaus modeled a likely scenario of ash transport, should an eruption occur, which shows that it would pass over major airports, but mentions that fewer flights would probably be disrupted, thanks to better forecasts and more effective regulations.

Possible ash plumes, based on data from NOAA. (Eric Holthaus/Slate)
Possible ash plumes, based on data from NOAA. (Eric Holthaus/Slate)

Nonetheless, as the Icelandic anthropologist Ásdís Jónsdóttir wrote in a recent email, “We have to keep in mind that there have indeed been regular eruptions… in the past.” The twelve hundred years of Iceland’s recorded history and the geological evidence from before that demonstrate the great power of Iceland’s volcanoes and glaciers. For the time being the surface of Bárðarbunga  remains calm, as shown by these photos that Jónsdóttir took on a recent trip.

Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009. (Ásdís Jónsdóttir)
Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009. (Ásdís Jónsdóttir)
Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009
Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009. (Ásdís Jónsdóttir)

The risk of an exploding glacier is heating up in Iceland

The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. (David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons)
The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. (David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons)

Will lava soon hit glacier ice, unleashing an explosion that would spew ash and steam high in the atmosphere? The Icelandic Meteorology Office (IMO) thinks that the probability of such an event in their country has increased. Through Saturday 16 August the risk level had been at code green– a “background, non-eruptive state.” The IMO has upgraded the risk twice in the last two days, on Sunday to code yellow, and earlier today, Monday, to code orange, indicating that a “volcano shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.”

The responsibility for monitoring such risks falls to the IMO because sub-glacial volcanic eruptions can create vast plumes of material that reach into the atmosphere. This phenomenon is critical for Iceland because of its location on the paths of many flights between western Europe and the East Coast of the US. When the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in this manner in April 2010, flights were cancelled for six days, affecting ten million passengers. The lava was released under a thick cap of glacier, creating a vast plume of ash and steam that was propelled up to an elevation of 9,000 meters. The resulting cloud, presenting a great threat to airplanes, was carried long distances by the jet stream. It covered Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Britain and the Netherlands, as well as large portions of Finland and Germany, and reached far into Russia. On a more local scale, residents and domestic animals had to remain inside for a number of days, and the rivers in the region were flooded with hot water. The ash-fall covered fields and pastures, creating problems for farmers.

volcano warning orange

The IMO has been monitoring Bárðarbunga, a volcano more than 2000 meters in elevation, located beneath Vatnajökull, the country’s largest glacier. Since early June, they have observed that four GPS stations in the area have shown upward movement in a direction away from the volcano. This movement suggests that a mass of magma (molten rock beneath the earth’s surface) has been expanding upward, closer to the earth’s surface, and displacing the GPS stations.

Ash clouds emminating from volcano blasts are highly dangerous for jet engines. (Aviation Safety Institute)
Ash clouds emminating from volcano blasts are highly dangerous for jet engines. (Aviation Safety Institute)

The IMO have been particularly concerned by what they call a “seismic swarm.” (If you were wondering how to say that in Icelandic, the answer is “skjalftahrina.”) This term, in either language, refers to a cluster of earthquakes. This recent swarm began early Saturday morning and has continued to the present. More than 1400 earthquakes have been recorded, some small, some medium-sized, concentrated near the faults associated with the volcano. These swarms constitute a second line of evidence that an eruption may occur, since such earthquakes can be created by pools of magma as they move upward. The earthquakes in the last 24 hours have been more numerous, more powerful, and closer to the surface—all pointing to an increased likelihood of eruption.

Bardarbunga 17-08-2014 from Atlantsflug – Iceland on Vimeo.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office is monitoring the situation closely. It is coordinating with the local civil defense authority, which has closed roads because of flood risks, and with the International Civil Aviation Organization as well. You can check out a video taken by a brave pilot who flew his plane over the volcano on Sunday. And you can follow this situation at the IMO ( By the way, the Icelandic word for “weather” is easy for English-speakers—it’s “veður,” pronounced “vethur.”

Read a story on GlacierHub about an Icelandic glacier that does not have a volcano under it, but presents other dangers.

Detail of earthquake activity on Monday, August 18 with detail of glacier.
Detail of earthquake activity on Monday, August 18 with detail of glacier.

In Chile, glaciers and dams become political footballs


Glaciers, an unlikely political player in Latin America, had a major part to play in one of the most striking victories for the environmental movement in South America.

Last month, a committee of ministers in Chile voted to cancel the permit of the massive HidroAysen project located in southern Chile that had sought to construct five large hydropower dams on the Rio Baker and the Rio Pascua. These pristine rivers flow from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean in Patagonia, an area of high mountains, glaciers, ancient forests and fjords. Endesa Chile, the country’s largest private electric utility and Colbun, a power transmission firm, both sponsored the HidroAysen project.

The $10 billion development would have provided 2750 megawatts, about a quarter of Chile’s electricity, by 2020. It also would have required construction of a major transmission line through indigenous lands and agricultural zones, flooded wild rivers whose rapids and waterfalls draw tourists and adventurers, and drowned forests, which are the habitat of an endangered species, the huemul or southern Andean deer.


Chile’s rapid economic growth has placed pressure on its energy resources, particularly since it lacks fossil fuel resources of its own. Copper exports are a major source of revenue, but the refining requires a great deal of electricity, at the same time that urban demand is growing. Hydropower has seemed like an option, since the southern part of the country has abundant water resources that derive from snowmelt and glaciers, unlike the desert north and the semi-arid central region, where the capital city Santiago and the bulk of the population are concentrated.

Public opinion polls showed that the majority of Chile’s population opposed the dam. Above all, they valued the unique quality of this remote wilderness region. The endangered huemul was also a potent symbol, since it is featured, along with the condor, on Chile’s national coast of arms. Plans were also in the works to set up a new Patagonia National Park, over 1,000 square miles in area, with support from the former CEO of the clothing company Patagonia Inc.
Protesters march against the HidroAysen dam project in Santiago, Chile in 2011. ((ivar Silva/Flickr)

In the end, it was not the huemul or the whitewater rapids that the ministerial committee mentioned as reasons to pull the permits on the dams. Their report cited several gaps in the plans that HidroAysen had presented. The proposal did not address the risk that the upstream glaciers might create outburst floods, when vast quantities of meltwater could course down the narrow canyons, damaging or destroying destroy the proposed infrastructure. Glaciers have played an important role in Chile once or twice before. The ministers, as well, commented that the plans did not make provisions for 39 families that would have to be relocated, or address endangered carnivore or amphibian species.

The dams were caught in the political tensions of Chile, a country that is still working out the conflicts that led to the coup of 1973, in which the armed forces deposed the democratically elected government of socialist president Salvador Allende. HidroAysen had been approved in 2011 under the government of Sebastián Piñera, a center-right figure from the National Renewal Party. Michelle Bachelet, a member of the Socialist Party, was elected president in 2013 and drew support from environmentalists who opposed the dams.


Bachelet’s term of office ends in 2018, and a more conservative government might yet support another project for dams in Patagonia. But for the meantime, a coalition of environmentalists and left-wing politicians have blocked them, speaking in the name of the endangered species, of displaced local families—and of the power of glaciers to send floods that rush down through canyons.




The Painting Is Our Desire for the Mountain: The glacier artwork of Rudolf Stingel

© Rudolf Stingel. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Robert McKeever
© Rudolf Stingel. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Robert McKeever

Scientists have long used historical photographs of glaciers as a source of data. They provide evidence on the size of glaciers in the past, and in this way allow researchers to establish the pace of glacier retreat.  In recent years, an Italian artist—who grew up among glaciers himself—has found a new way to work with these photographs and to demonstrate a different kind of meaning.

The painter Rudolf Stingel comes from the town of Merano in the Italian Alps, close to the borders with Switzerland and Austria. Since his childhood in the region, the glaciers on the high peaks near his hometown have shrunk significantly. Stingel has developed creative possibilities from this loss. He has blown up old black-and-white photographs of the mountains to an enormous size, up to fifteen feet wide, and used them as the basis for immense landscape paintings.

Untitled", 2010, and “Untitled", 2010, as: "© Rudolf Stingel. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Alessandro Zambianchi
Untitled”, 2010, and “Untitled”, 2010, as: “© Rudolf Stingel. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Alessandro Zambianchi

An exhibition of Stingel’s work was shown at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City earlier this year. These paintings capture the stern snow-covered peaks, and other details such as the folds and cracks and discoloring that have developed as the photographs age. Stingel let the paintings sit on his studio floor, so they aged as the original photographs aged, acquiring scuff marks, drips from other art projects, and bits of debris. The final products, such as the ones illustrated here, are striking and absorbing.

Where scientists treat photographs as a record of another object – such as a glacier – from the past, Stingel forces us to recognize that photographs themselves are objects. To convert a photograph to a set of data is as much as intervention as to transform a photograph into a painting.

Untitled", 2010, and “Untitled", 2010, as: "© Rudolf Stingel. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Alessandro Zambianchi
Untitled”, 2010, and “Untitled”, 2010, as: “© Rudolf Stingel. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Alessandro Zambianchi

Nothing can stop the progress of time; photographs age, just as mountains do. To work with an old photograph, whether as a scientist or as an artist, is to select a way to change it. This process involves the chance of fate, whether in the inevitable aging of an archival photograph, however well curated, or in the random events in an artist’s studio.

Stingel’s work has long played with issues of individual and collective memory. He has produced paintings from reworked personal photographs from different periods of his life and approached a geological kind of intervention when he covered the floor of his studio with Styrofoam and then walked across the surface wearing boots that he dipped in a liquid that partially dissolved the surface, leaving something like the fossilized trackway of a prehistoric animal.

In these earlier works, Stingel has shown us that no object can preserve the past, and that even our memories change, as we re-record them.  And now he shows us how irrevocably the glaciers are vanishing. Neither photographs of them nor the paintings of the man who had walked among them as boy can preserve them perfectly. All we can see is their fading—and our wish to still be able to see them as they were.