Photo Friday: Icebergs at Berg Lake

Located in Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada, Berg Lake tends to be filled with icebergs throughout the year. Visitors often see ice break off or calve into the lake, which is partially fed by Berg Glacier. Known for its glacier, floating icebergs, and bright bluish-green water, the lake is a popular destination for hikers. Berg Glacier sits atop Mount Robson, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Mount Robson is part of a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains known as the Rainbow Range. Named “Tsitsutl,” meaning “painted mountains” in the local dialect, Rainbow Range is made of lava and rock that comes in hues of red, orange, lavender and yellow, noticeable on sunny days.

Mount Robson Provincial Park, including Berg Lake and Glacier, was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1990. For a visceral experience of the park, attend the 7th Annual Mount Robson Marathon to be held on September 9, 2017. The marathon will take runners up the world-renowned Berg Lake Trail. Below, you can find a video of hiker Phil Armitage on the trail.


Icebergs floating in Berg Lake (Source: Scott Theede/Flickr).



Berg Glacier at Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia (Source: Jeff Pang/Flickr).



South face of Mount Robson (Source: Jeff Pang/Flickr).



Overlander Falls in Mount Robson Provincial Park (Source: Guenter Wieschendahl/Creative Commons).



Exploring Corporate Social Responsibility with KÜHL

Many companies today have corporate social responsibility programs that aim to improve their social and environmental impacts—and their appeal for investors and consumers. But critics argue that some of these programs are merely cosmetic and allow companies to continue to pursue socially or environmentally harmful business practices around the world.

GlacierHub took a closer look at one CSR initiative that involves a glacier in South America.

Sponsoring a Glacier Expedition

The Utah-based outdoor clothing and gear company KÜHL, one of the largest outdoor gear companies in the U.S., states on its website that it is passionate about protecting the natural environment. As part of its mission, KÜHL, which is a play on the German word for “cool,” says that it aims to support the health of its employees, customers and beautiful open spaces. In late 2016, the company sponsored a research expedition for two Boise State University professors, a volcanologist and a geophysicist. The pair traveled to a glacier-covered volcano in Chile along with a photographer and filmmaker who documented the journey. The company provided the expedition with gear.

A KÜHL customer shows off her hiking gear (Source: KÜHL/Instagram).

Brittany Brand, co-author of a 2017 volcanic hazard study featured here, was one of the two professors from Boise State whose research was sponsored by KÜHL. Brand runs the Physical Volcanology group at Boise State University and is interested in volcanic eruption dynamics and hazard assessment. Jeffrey Johnson, the other professor on the expedition, used the opportunity to study the geophysics of volcanic eruptive processes.

The team visited one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, the Villarica. Due to glacial ice at the top, lahar events, or debris flows, were triggered during the eruptions of 1964 and 1971. The field data collected by the Boise State team at the Villarica helped the scientists develop experimental models after they returned to the United States.

Villarica Volcano in Chile (Source: Lain and Sarah/Flickr).

Johnson told GlacierHub that he was happy to accept corporate sponsorship of his environmental research. “Scientific researchers are always grateful for outside support when it is offered.” Matthew Wordell, the photographer for the trip, further explained to GlacierHub that the KÜHL Racr X Full Zip jacket was great help during their trek. They needed lightweight and breathable gear, and the jacket proved to be invaluable. Of course, by wearing the company’s clothing on the expedition, the team of four also promoted the KÜHL brand, as videos and photos from the trip were shared on the company’s blog and Instagram account.
“With sponsors on board, it was important to be hyper aware of how the environment and gear interacted to create compelling imagery, often with little more than a few seconds to compose and capture the moment before it was gone,” Wordell explained in a post on the KÜHL website. 

A Fuller View of Corporate Social Responsibility

Recent articles in the New York Times, The Guardian, and Forbes have highlighted cases in which corporations with poor environmental records use corporate social responsibility programs to promote images of themselves as leaders in environmental protection. But as noted in a study by Graeme Auld and others published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources, some companies do work to promote sustainability well beyond the requirements of environmental regulations, both from personal commitments of their leaders as well as a wish to attract customers who seek green products and services. 

So what is KÜHL’s environmental record like outside of this branding program? When questioned about the sponsorship, a marketing representative from KÜHL told GlacierHub that she was contacted directly by the film production crew that documented the trip. Both Johnson and Brand are affiliated with this production crew. KÜHL’s marketing representative was sent a proposal by the crew, and KÜHL was able to support the trip with clothing from their sample collection. The marketing representative noted that this type of sponsorship is on a “case by case basis” and “depends on what we have going on.” She is proud that KÜHL could offer their services and “honored to be able to associate with such great work.”

Climbers wearing KÜHL outerwear (Source: KÜHL/Instagram).

In addition to sponsorships, the company has put a number of environmentally friendly policies into place at the corporate headquarters to demonstrate its corporate social responsibility. For example, there are no paper towels in the headquarters, LED lighting is installed throughout the building, and the company is pet-friendly. KÜHL has also used sustainable materials, including organic cotton, for their clothing. KÜHL Coffeenna™ hoodie is made of a knit fabric which contains recycled coffee grounds. And founder Boyle’s commitment to the firm runs deep. When asked to “name his price” for the company, he told an interested venture capitalist that his company was not for sale at any price.

However, although the company mentions its behind-the-scenes financial donations that help promote environmental awareness and some of the sustainable materials it uses in clothing, it doesn’t have a comprehensive corporate social responsibility program detailed on its website, like some other outdoor gear companies. Nor does the company fully document its impacts on the environment.

Patagonia Powderbowl Men’s Ski Jacket Review (Source: A Better Ski/Wikimedia Commons).

Other firms provide fuller disclosure. Patagonia, for example, includes a history of its supply chains, how it works to protect migrant workers, and its fair-trade certifications on its website. In a recent online review, “Environmental & Social Responsibility: How Outdoor Gear Brands Perform,” David Evans ranked 20 firms in this sector. Patagonia was the only one which received the highest grade of an A. REI, a member-owned cooperative, was the second-highest ranked, with a B. The others all received Ds and Fs. It seems likely that KÜHL, which was not included in this survey, would have been ranked in third place, behind the two industry leaders in CSR but ahead of the majority of firms.

As Wim Dubbink and other researchers, writing in the Journal of Business Ethics, have indicated, companies should be as transparent as possible about their actions in order to be socially and environmentally responsible. While KÜHL has carried out a number of actions to care for the environment, fuller transparency would make it easier to assess the level of KÜHL’s commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Comments from an Expert

KÜHL headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah (Source: Google Maps).

Bruce Usher, co-director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at the Columbia Business School, discussed this case with GlacierHub. “CSR works best when the business plan of the company aligns with the social mission,” he said. “When there is good alignment (e.g., a clothing company that uses recycled materials in their products and promotes an environmental mission), the CSR initiative and the business plan fit nicely together. When there is not good alignment, the CSR initiative looks and feels either like philanthropy (e.g., when a bank supports an environmental initiative), which is absolutely fine but of limited value, or it’s ‘greenwashing’ (e.g ., when a coal company supports an environmental organization), which is, of course, not fine at all. Frankly, greenwashing initiatives tend to backfire on companies, as customers, employees and investors generally see through them, e.g. BP’s rebranding campaign several years ago titled ‘Beyond Petroleum’.”

Usher added, “The key point with Kühl is that there appears to be alignment. The fact that they market their CSR by promoting pics of scientists wearing their clothing may seem unseemly to some people, but I see it as actually being beneficial to both the company and the environmental mission. That being said, I do have a favorite sweater that’s made by Kühl, so perhaps I’m not entirely objective.”

“It’s almost impossible for the social mission and business plan to line up perfectly,” Usher noted. Even Patagonia did not receive a fully positive evaluation in the review mentioned above, since it doesn’t publish a full CSR report. In this sense, corporate social responsibility can remain a goal to which firms can aspire. And, as KÜHL has shown, glaciers are a positive setting in which firms can make contributions in this important area.


Photo Friday: Aleutian Islands from the Sky, Sea and Space

This week’s Photo Friday explores the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. The Aleutian Islands, which separate the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean, consist of a series of islands and islets that contain 40 active and 17 inactive volcanoes. These volcanic islands formed from the subduction of the Pacific tectonic plate beneath the North American tectonic plate, and some of the volcanoes are glaciated. Scientists have determined that many of the islands had glaciers at one period.

The Aleutian Islands are also part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (AMNWR), which protects various seabird colonies. As the largest wildlife refuge in the United States, more seabirds nest on the islands than anywhere else in North America. Puffins, gulls, cormorants, cackling geese, and terns, among others, call the area home. See pictures of some of these birds and the Aleutian Islands from the air,  land, and sea below.

Aleutian Cackling Geese in flight over Amchitka Island (Source: USFWS).


Crested Auklets resting on a rocky ledge (Source: Pixnio/Wikimedia Commons).


Unusually clear skies allowed NASA’s satellite to acquire this image on May 15, 2014 in which 52 volcanoes are visible (Source: NASA).


Eruption of Mt. Cleveland (Source: NASA).


Chagulak Island in the Aleutian Islands (Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).


Hauling supplies on Attu Island in Alaska (Source: Adam/Wikimedia Commons).

Listening to Glaciers Artfully

Jonathan Gilmurray, the author of “Ecological Sound Art,” covers artists who have created works based on the sounds made by melting glaciers. Gilmurray argues that ecological sound art can be effective at motivating people to combat climate change. He also believes that it should be more fully appreciated on its own as a new art form.  

Also known as environmentalist sound art, ecological sound art incorporates naturally-occurring sound, with or without modification, and other elements to depict or evoke the environment. It is a form of artwork that draws on a key principle of environmental ethics, the connectedness between humans and the natural environment. Gilmurray believes ecological sound art can be more effective than other forms of ecological art because of sound’s unique ability to reveal relationships that exists between things in the world. The act of listening implies an attentiveness to the natural world, a greater degree of relatedness than might be found in the works of a visual artist who seeks to capture or depict the natural world as an object.

Gilmurray explains Ecological Sound Art here: 

Ecological sound artists convey ecological messages about the subjects they record by evoking emotions within their listeners through various means. Some, like Chris Watson, use recordings from their fieldwork. His piece Vatnajökull from 2003 is a collage of recordings tracing the journey of 10,000-year-old ice from the Icelandic glacier Vatnajökull. The recordings follow the waters of the glacier as they form from melting ice and flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Listen to a snippet of his work here.

In addition to the sound of ice on the move, people who listen to this piece also hear birds calling each other overhead, the creaking of the ship Watson voyaged on, and waves on the Atlantic Ocean. The UK-based audiovisual organization Touch provides the following description of Watson’s piece: “The most eerie aspect of it is the strange ‘singing’ events which occur throughout, especially by the end of the piece when we’re tossing about on the ocean and an unidentifiable spectral singing hovers over the surface of the sea, causing you to believe in sirens.” 

Field recording session workshop with Jana Winderen and BJ Nilsen (Source: Sonic Acts/Flickr).

Another artist, Jana Winderen, seeks to “reveal the complexity and strangeness of the unseen world beneath.” Some of her art was recorded inside of glacier crevasses in Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. In a statement on her website, she explains, “I like the immateriality of a sound work and the openness it can have for both associative and direct experience and sensory perception.” You can listen to her 2010 piece Energy Field, which incorporates sounds from northern winds, ravens and running dogs.(Evaporation (2009) by Jana Winderen)

Other artists combine their field recordings with digital enhancements for a different effect, which many find to be more musical. Daniel Blinkhorn incorporated crackling sounds from the fjords of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean with electronic static sounds. On his website, he provides samples of the original recording and digitally re-mastered version so that listeners can compare for themselves.

To achieve their desired effects, ecological sound artists employ highly sensitive hydrophones (underwater microphones) and vibration sensors. To some listeners, the end result is so pleasing to the ear that they question why more art shows and galleries do not include an auditory component. Gilmurray is working toward addressing that gap. He hopes that ecological sound art will become as recognized as other forms of environmentalist art.

Over the years, other ecological sound artists have explored a variety of techniques to evoke a human response to climate change. By creating live recordings, Katie Paterson allowed her audience to dial a number which allows them listen to a microphone submerged in a lagoon in Iceland. Paterson’s approach – the audio equivalent of a webcam – lets listeners hear the Vatnajökull glacier melt in real time.

“One of the key aspects of these works is the manner in which sound captures the dynamics of the glacial melting process in a way that images cannot,” Gilmurray points out. “Approached from a purely visual perspective, a glacier appears to be literally ‘frozen,’ in the sense of being still, unmoving and unchanging. Unless one manages to witness a dramatic calving event, its melting is generally too gradual to be perceived.”

Underneath Vatnajökull Glacier in Iceland (Source: David Phan/Flickr).

This is one reason why ecological sound art is so effective. Sound artists have used the medium to engage with ongoing environmental issues – habitat loss, climate change, and overdevelopment – to spur a human reaction. By hearing nature through this hauntingly beautiful art form, we become witnesses to its cry for help. It sends each listener a personal message to take action.

“The sonic dimension of glacial melting allows us to hear glaciers melting as a dynamic, ongoing process,” Gilmurray explains. “It is happening ceaselessly and progressively, second by second. This understanding encourages the sense of urgency with which it is so vital that we learn to regard and respond to climate change.”

In Suspended Sounds, a collective work by ecological sound artists from all over the world, sounds from endangered and threatened species were recorded. Since the exhibition of Suspended Sounds in 2006, some of these species are now extinct, highlighting the consequences of anthropogenically-induced climate change and urging listeners to act. Ecological sound art has stimulated conservation movements in the past. The 1970 recording of humpback whales and the songs they sing helped shift public opinion on the hunting of all whale species.

By persuading listeners to engage with what they are hearing in new and unfamiliar ways, ecological sound art stresses the importance of interconnectedness between humans and the surrounding environment. Artists hope their recordings will spur new appreciation, respect and value for the natural environment and the organisms that call Earth home.

For more information on Jonathan Gilmurray, read his latest academic papers here and listen to his research interests here.


Roundup: Brown Haze, A Glacier Song, and Adventure Sixty North

Roundup: A Video, A Glacier Song and Pollution

Glacier Retreat from Rick Brown’s Perspective

From Vimeo: In the video “Glacier Exit” by Raphael Rogers, Rick Brown, owner of Adventure Sixty North, takes viewers on a glacier ice hike. Rick has been guiding tours in Seward, Alaska, since the early 1990s. On this particular tour, Rick points out areas where the glaciers have been retreating at a rate of 150 feet per year. This retreat, which used to take hundreds of years, now only takes a year or two and is resulting in visible wildlife changes. The video quotes Lord Byron – “I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”

Watch the stunning video “Glacier Exit” here.

Welcome sign to Seward, Alaska (Source: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr).


Brown Haze Particles Over the Himalayas

From Atmospheric Environment: “The Tibetan Plateau is one of the largest plateaus in the world. Its glaciers are a major source of rivers like the Indus, the Ganges and the Yangtze. Yet, the rapid pace of urbanization and industrialization along the elevated site of the Himalayas have subsequently increased the burden of atmospheric pollution (which has adversely affected the Himalayan glaciers and hence the climate system). Brown haze can consist of soot, fly ash, organic particles and various salts. Its deposition on Tibetan glaciers is an important factor responsible for rapid glacier retreat and thermal heating.”

Read more about brown haze and its implications here.

Haze along the Himalaya Front Range (Source: NASA).


Electronic Musician GLOKMIN’s New Song “Glacier”

From Twitter: “Glacier” is the title of the new single by the electronic musician GLOKMIN. He is a 21-year old artist from Alexandria, Virginia, and he performs in Washington D.C. From his song, you can hear some glacier/ambient sounds coupled with lyrics such as “your heart’s a melting glacier.” The song begins with the sound of a glacier cracking and falling onto the ground below.

Listen to the full song and others by this artist here.

Electronic artist GLOKMIN (Source: Twitter).


Elderly Wisdom and Youth Action in Ladakh

People of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent live in one of the highest locations in the world, the Ladakh region of northwestern India. Ladakh extends over 45,000 square miles and includes the Ladakh mountain range, which is part of the glaciated Karakoram Range of south-central Asia. Many in the Ladakh region are Buddhist and believe in good moral conduct such as generosity, righteousness and meditation. This goodwill extends to the glaciers, which they respect and value.

The Global Workshopa project that allows students to create original work that thinks critically about science and development, recently created a video in which young people from Ladakh interview their elders about climate change and its impacts on the glaciers. In the video, the grandparents remember a time during the mid-20th century when streams were full, glaciers were more robust, and snowfall was heavy. Now, farms in the agricultural areas are suffering because of a decrease in glacier meltwater for crop production.

“Himalayan Elders on Climate Change” (Source: The Global Workshop/YouTube).

In a paper titled “Glaciers and Society,” Karine Gagné, a postdoctoral associate of cultural anthropology at Yale University, and her colleagues, discuss some of the approaches used by locals to counter the impacts of receding glaciers.

Construction of a new 30-meter artificial glacier (Source: Rolex Awards).

Gagné spent a fair amount of time working in Ladakh observing everyday life and climatic changes. She told GlacierHub that in certain communities in the region, people depend on specific glaciers, have named them accordingly, and undertake specific actions to protect them.

In the paper, Gagné et al. discuss Chewang Norphel, a retired civil engineer in Ladakh who created artificial glaciers to harvest snowmelt and rainwater. Norphel’s project brought attention to the plight of farmers who use meltwater for agriculture. It has since been replicated by the younger generation.  

Still, receding glaciers have translated into water scarcity in some Ladakhi villages. Water is a pressing issue because villagers rely on snowfall in the spring to sow their crops. Elders have prayed to mountain deities that their glaciers will provide water in the spring. 

Irrigation from snowmelt in Ladakh (Source: Nevil Zaveri/Creative Commons).

Gagné explained that glaciers are “embedded in the local culture and religious views.” People believe, for example, that there is a guardian deity that inhabits the surrounding glaciers and that one’s actions can reflect in the condition of the natural environment. If one behaves unethically, it could lead to less meltwater than is necessary for growing crops that year.

Using the information provided by their elders, the youth interviewers from The Global Workshop are documenting the changes in their environment and their elder’s responses. Their interviews will help to fill gaps in environmental data extending to the 1950s in an effort to better understand changes in the local water systems and health of the glaciers. 

Many of the youth attend schools like the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) environmental school. Founded by education reformist and engineer Sonam WangchukSECMOL works on renewable energy and climate change preparedness with the youth from Ladakh. The campus is a student-run, solar-powered eco-village, where students live among staff and volunteers.

Students listen intently in class at the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh school (Source: SECMOL).

The Global Workshop’s video shows the importance of passing down generational knowledge, demonstrating how helpful it can be for youth involvement, community building, and environmental data collection.

If you are still curious about Ladakh, see GlacierHub’s recent piece on climate change adaptation to learn more about other efforts in the region.


Local Communities Support Mountain Sustainability

International capacity-building collaborations have been initiated to observe glaciers and develop action plans in the tropical Andes and Central Asia. A recent study titled “Glacier Monitoring and Capacity Building,” by Nussbaumer et al., highlights the importance of glaciers in the Andes and Central Asia for water management, hydropower planning and natural hazards. 

The Andes and Central Asia are among regions with the least amount of glacier observation data. For Central Asia, this was the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991. In the Andes, institutional instability has been a continuous threat to the continuity of its glacier monitoring program. Monitoring glaciers in these regions can help mountain communities regulate their freshwater supply, manage the risks of glacier related hazards such as avalanches, and track declining runoff, all of which will have consequences for their socioeconomic development. Unfortunately, these two regions are also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A) Monitoring stations in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, (B) In situ mass balance measurements in the Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan (Source: Nadine Salzmann and Martin Hoelzle).
A) Monitoring stations in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, (B) In situ mass balance measurements in the Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan (Source: Nadine Salzmann and Martin Hoelzle).

As one of the seven South American countries that contain the Andes Mountain Range, Peru recently utilized its glacier monitoring capabilities to assess potential flood risks posed by rapidly changing glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca, a smaller mountain range in the Andes. 

Samuel Nussbaumer, the study’s lead author and a climate scientist, explained some of the hazards that changing glaciers can cause in Peru to GlacierHub. He explained that since there are “many new lakes emerging from retreating glaciers, ice could avalanche into these lakes,” which can be dangerous for the surrounding community. To reduce disaster risks in mountainous regions, glacier monitoring is crucial.

“If an event happens, and glacier data is already prepared, then the community can assess the risk and determine why the event happened,” continued Nussbaumer.

Another way that monitoring glaciers in these regions can help mountain communities is through freshwater supply regulation. The Cordillera Vilcanota in southern Peru provides water to the densely populated Cusco region. Glacier changes in Cordillera Vilcanota and other former Soviet Union countries in Central Asia, can have drastic consequences on the freshwater supply in mountain communities. 

The majority of freshwater on Earth, about 68.7 percent, is held in ice caps and glaciers. The authors argue that data-scarce regions like Central Asia and the Andes must strengthen their glacier monitoring efforts to inform water management. This will help buffer the high and increasing variability of water availability in these regions.

Young farmers in Peru (Source: Goldengreenbird/Creative Commons).
Young farmers in the mountains of Peru (Source: Goldengreenbird/Creative Commons).

Furthermore, in Central Asia, interest and awareness in rebuilding the scientific, technical, and institutional capacity has risen due to water issues in the region. Declining freshwater runoff is spurring glacier awareness in Central Asia, specifically in Kyrgyzstan. 

“Any assessment of future runoff has to rely on sound glacier measurements and meteorological data in order to get reliable results,” Nussbaumer said.

To sustain capacity-building efforts, Nussbaumer et al. recommend strengthening institutional stability and resources throughout both regions. Nussbaumer concludes that “direct glacier measurements (in situ data) are key to achieving contributions to sustainable mountain development.” 

Training youth to monitor and research local glaciers in their community could be a helpful approach. By monitoring how local glaciers change and evolve over time, communities in the Andes and Central Asia can strengthen their hazard management and freshwater regulation capacity. Local research capacities could also be improved by minimizing the bureaucratic barriers that block the implementation of glacial research projects.

Bringing the sheep home on the southern shore of Issy-Kol in Kyrgyzstan (Source: Peretz Partensky/Creative Commons).
Bringing the sheep home near the southern shore of Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan (Source: Peretz Partensky/Creative Commons).

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), which is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, has a new project called “Capacity Building and Twinning for Climate Observing Systems” (CATCOS). Professor Martin Hoelzle of the University of Fribourg believes that CATCOS can support developing countries, and help them contribute to the international glacier research and monitoring community. CATCOS is working with developing countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan so that they may contribute to worldwide glacier data monitoring networks.

Glaciers in the Andes and Central Asia ultimately enhance the resilience of mountain ecosystems through their freshwater provision and hazard management. Monitoring and protecting them benefits local mountain communities throughout Asia and South America. To learn more about capacity building and glacier monitoring in developing countries, visit the World Glacier Monitoring Service here. You can also find information about the study’s funding agency, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, here.

Photo Friday: Spring Arrives at the Glaciers!

The delicate Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum), which blooms just after the snow melts, is our indication that spring is here! The species is now blooming in mountainous areas like the Rocky Mountains and will continue to bloom until mid-August. The flower grows best in rich, moist soil along stream banks and in meadows. Bears, deer, elk, and ground squirrels all eat different parts of the droopy flower, also known as the Avalanche Lily. Meriwether Lewis, famous for the early 19th century Lewis and Clark expedition, mentioned the species numerous times in his 1806 journal. Historians speculate that Lewis’ interest stemmed from the flower’s status as a harbinger of spring.

See images of the Glacier Lily below.

Glacier Lilies (Source: GlacierNPS/Creative Commons)
Glacier Lilies (Source: Glacier NPS/Creative Commons).


Marmots playing in a Glacier Lily meadow in Montana (Source: Glacier National Park/Creative Commons).
Marmots playing in a Glacier Lily meadow in Montana (Source: Glacier National Park/Creative Commons).


Close up of a Glacier Lily (Source: YellowstoneNPS).
Close-up of a Glacier Lily (Source: Yellowstone NPS/Creative Commons).


Nature at work (Source: United States Department of Agriculture)
Nature at work (Source: United States Department of Agriculture).


 Glacier Lily specimen that Meriwether Lewis collected on May 8, 1806, along Idaho’s Clearwater River (Source: Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia).

Glacier Lily specimen that Meriwether Lewis collected on May 8, 1806, along Idaho’s Clearwater River (Source: Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia).



The Messy Encounter of Volcanoes and Glaciers

Lahars, or mudflows from the eruptions of glacier-covered volcanoes, are a threat that the communities of Skagit Valley in northwest Washington live with. These destructive mudflows can be triggered during volcanic eruptions when hot water and debris rush downslope from the volcano and mix with glacial water. A recent study from the Journal of Applied Volcanology by Corwin et al., identifies ways to improve hazard management and community preparedness in Washington’s Skagit Valley, home to Mount Baker, the second most glaciated volcano in the Cascade Range, and Glacier Peak, the second most explosive. The highly populated communities within Skagit Valley remain especially at risk for dangerous mudflows since both Mount Baker and Glacier Peak are considered active lahar hazard zones.

Mount Baker in Washington state (Source: Jerry Meaden/Creative Commons).
Mount Baker in Washington state (Source: Jerry Meaden/Creative Commons).

All five of Washington’s Cascade Range volcanoes are active. These volcanoes are especially dangerous because in addition to flowing molten lava and spewed ash that can destroy everything downhill, volcanoes with snow and ice at their peaks can create additional perils. Heat from the eruption can melt the snow or ice that has accumulated, create mud, and pour down narrow mountain valleys. This mixture of water and rock fragments that flows downslope of a volcano into a river valley has dangerous repercussions for communities like those in the Skagit Valley.

Destruction from a lahar in Washington (Source: Mitchell Battros/Creative Commons).
Destruction from a lahar in Washington (Source: Mitchell Battros/Creative Commons).

While lahars can be visually stunning when the volcanic material interacts with glaciers  see the remarkable images in GlacierHub’s recent article on these events in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia lahars can cause extensive damage to the built environment as boulders destroy structures and mud buries entire communities. Moving lahars appear as a roiling slurry of wet concrete and can grow in volume as they incorporate everything in their path  rocks, soil, vegetation, and even buildings and bridges.

Mudslide from a lahar 55 miles northeast of Seattle (Source: Mitchell Battros/Creative Commons).
Mudslide from a lahar 55 miles northeast of Seattle (Source: Mitchell Battros/Creative Commons).

Corwin et al. determined that a crucial disaster risk management strategy for lahar events is “whole community” training programs, which emphasize household preparedness and help disaster responders better perform their duties. Since lahars can cause widespread damage to the surrounding environment, it is important for community members to understand how to address the hazard before it occurs.

The focus of the research was on the ascription of responsibility on preparedness and the influence of professional participation in hazard management on household preparedness and risk perception. Disaster response professionals know  the best household preparedness measures, yet they sometimes fail to implement these measures in their own households. The study found that this may be a result of professional disaster responders being out in the field during a disaster, instead of in their homes.

Even more surprising, response professionals failed to interpret local volcanic hazard maps more accurately than laypeople. There could be several reasons for this that need to be explored in a subsequent study, but as Kimberley Corwin, a geoscientist and the leading author of the study,  explains, it could be because “people in both groups drew on outside information such as what they remembered or learned about the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.”

When asked by GlacierHub about her familiarity with lahars, Corwin described her closest experience with an active volcano in Chile’s March 2015 Villarrica volcano eruption. Corwin was in Pucón, Chile, for a volcanology course with Boise State University. The group of academics arrived two weeks after the main fire fountain event, which triggered a lahar. There was still active ash venting in the area.

“While we were there, the alert levels in the town were elevated and a 5-kilometer exclusion zone was set up around the vent,” Corwin explained. “It offered a great opportunity to observe the reactions of locals, tourists, and officials.”

Corwin’s further research found that preparedness measures are crucial in areas that are prone to natural disasters, as they can help professional responders and other community members protect themselves and their families.

A video of a 2003 lahar event in East Java, Indonesia, at the  Semeru volcano (Source: adripicou/YouTube).

In the Skagit Valley, nearly all the community members correctly identified that lahars pose a risk to the region. However, when questioned about their confidence level on how to respond to a lahar, the participants demonstrated decreased self-assurance. They answered by saying that they have higher confidence when responding to floods, as these natural events occur more frequently than lahars.

Map showing volcanoes in the Cascade Range (Source: U.S. Geological Survey).
Map showing volcanoes in the Cascade Range (Source: U.S. Geological Survey).

Some recommendations for implementing “whole community” training programs involve increasing community participation in hazard management, identifying where community members can access hazard information, and providing instructions on how to interpret this information. Overall, these recommendations would increase household preparedness and allow professional responders to successfully complete their tasks without worrying about the safety of their families back home. In this way, community members would reclaim responsibility for their personal safety, and professional responders could feel more comfortable responding during a hazardous lahar event.


Roundup: Game of Thrones, Earth Selfies, and Glacier Safety

Roundup: Greenland, Earth Selfies, and Pakistan

Game of Thrones Actor Photographs Climate Change

From Travel + Leisure: “Google Maps announced a project with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, ‘Game of Thrones’ actor and U.N. goodwill ambassador, that takes Street View to southern Greenland. Coster-Waldau, who is Danish-born but whose wife is from Greenland and whose family has a home in Greenland’s Igaliku, is focused on increasing awareness of climate change as part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to showing the landscapes of Greenland on Street View, Google also put together a time-lapse showing how snow and ice coverage has changed over recent years.”

Read more about their work here.

Explore climate change in Greenland with Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Source: Google Maps/Travel + Leisure).


New Earth Selfies Every Day

From Science Magazine: “The San Francisco, California–based company Planet, launched 88 shoebox-sized satellites on a single Indian rocket. These satellites joined dozens already in orbit, bringing the constellation of ‘Doves,’ as these tiny imaging satellites are known, to 144. Six months from now, once the Doves have settled into their prescribed orbits, the company says it will have reached its primary goal: being able to image every point on Earth’s landmass at intervals of 24 hours or less, at resolutions as high as 3.7 meters— good enough to single out large trees. Data from Planet is even enabling the monitoring of glaciers.”

Read more about this work here.

Logo for the California-based company Planet (Source: Planet/Creative Commons).


Glacier Safety Awareness in Pakistan

From Pamir Times: “Mountaineers and researchers from Shimshal Valley trekked across northeastern Pakistan this January, to raise awareness about saving glaciers from a warmer environment. Pakistan is home to the world’s largest glaciers outside of the polar region. The expedition was aimed at monitoring and collecting data to analyze the change in the glaciers due to global warming. The activists hope to inspire people at every level around the world, and Pakistan in particular, to stand up and take some substantial steps in addressing the issues of global warming and climate change.”

Read more about the expedition here.

Spurred by a press conference in Islamabad last December, activists traveled to Skardu, Pakistan to spread their message (Source: Waqas Usman/Creative Commons).
Aactivists traveled to Skardu, Pakistan to spread their message (Source: Waqas Usman/Creative Commons).


Glaciers, Geoheritage and Geotourism

Painting of The Great Eiger, as seen from Wengernalp in Valais (Source: Maximilien de Meuron/Creative Commons).
Painting of The Great Eiger, as seen from Wengernalp in Valais (Source: Maximilien de Meuron/Creative Commons).

The Valais in southern Switzerland is a mountainous canton that draws tourists each year for its spectacular scenery, including some of the largest glaciers in the central Alps. From a recent article written by Emmanual Reynard in Geoheritage and Geotourism, we learn that more than half of the canton’s workforce are employed by the tourism sector. Valais has long been a tourist hub in Switzerland, attracting sightseers and skiers to the two alpine ranges that lie on either side of the canton. This landscape played an important role in European art and literature, and Valais is also known as a key site for the development of glaciology. Tourists venture to the province not only for a glimpse of frosted peaks such as the famous Matterhorn and Weisshorn, but also to engage with the canton’s long history of geotourism and geoheritage which dates back to the 1800s. 

Winter Tourism, 1900-1910 - Mediatheque Valais
Winter tourism in Valais, 1900-1910 (Source: Mediatheque Valais).

The word geoheritage originates from the term “geological heritage,” and is defined by the diversity of geological features within a region. The Geological Society of America (GSA) applies the term to scientifically and educationally significant sites or areas with geologic features such as distinctive rocks, minerals and landforms. Geotourism is the exploration of such places.

Sarah Strauss, an anthropologist at the University of Wyoming, has conducted extensive research in the Valais region. She believes that geoheritage is “very similar to landscape and a sense of place that is specific to the geologic rather than the broader environmental context.” Moreover, geoheritage is valuable because it permits geotourism. Canton Valais’s long history with tourism has reinforced its status as a geotourism hot-spot as climbers and hikers come to experience this glacial history for themselves.  

Painting depicting geotourism, 1868 (Source: Médiathèque Valais).
Painting depicting geotourism, 1868 (Source: Médiathèque Valais).

As the GSA explains, “geological sites are critical to advancing knowledge about natural hazards, groundwater supply, soil processes, climate and environmental changes, evolution of life, mineral and energy supplies, and other aspects of the nature and history of Earth.” These sites should be protected and cherished for their natural beauty and importance. The tourism industry in Valais continues to celebrate its geoheritage through geotourism.

The complex geology of Valaisthe result of uplift and compression when the Alps first formed 20 to 40 million years ago has made it a site of geoheritage throughout the centuries. Today, tourists and hikers can view crystalline and carbonate rocks formed millions of years ago on trails rising 800 to over 4,200 meters in elevation. Moreover, the region contains glacial valleys and horn peaks, as well as moraines, the masses of dirt and rocks deposited by glaciers.

The Aletsch region of Valais is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is heralded as a site of outstanding natural and cultural importance. This region makes up the most glaciated part of the High Alps along with Jungfrau and Bietschhorn. The Aletsch is also home to the largest glacier in Europe. “While the Matterhorn is impressive, the Aletsch region is equally remarkable,” Strauss recalled to GlacierHub. “There were chapels and hotels built at the tongue of the glaciers.”

Chapel (lower left quadrant) was built in 19th c. next to glacier in Dalatal. By 2003, it was far from the remnants of the same glacier (the upper right quadrant) (Source: Sarah Strauss).

Tourists that journey to Canton Valais will not be disappointed by the geologically significant province which embraces its geoheritage wholeheartedly. If you are unable to make the journey to Switzerland any time soon, enjoy pictures from the Valais tourism website here.

Cape Farewell and The Farewell Glacier

Artist David Buckland cares deeply for the health of the planet and believes the rest of the world should care as well. In 2001, he founded the Cape Farewell Project, an international non-profit based at the University of Arts London in Chelsea. He recently co-authored an article titled, “The Cultural Challenge of Climate Change,” along with authors Olivia Gray and Lucy Wood, which provides his reasoning for launching Cape Farewell. He hoped his nonprofit would spark a cultural reaction from artists, scientists and educators on the impacts of climate change. Cape Farewell has accomplished this goal many times over.

Beginning in 2003, Cape Farewell has invited educators, scientists and artists to voyage to the Arctic, the Scottish Islands, and the Peruvian Andes, to comment on what they see and experience. As Cape Farewell’s website highlights, “one salient image, a novel or song can speak louder than volumes of scientific data and engage the public’s imagination in an immediate way.” Cape Farewell’s ultimate goal is to elicit a human response to climate change, by engaging the public to build a more sustainable future, one that is less dependent on fossil fuels. To date, 158 artists, including film-makers, photographers, songwriters, novelists and designers have journeyed with Cape Farewell.

David Buckland deciding on the sailing route. (Source: Cape Farewell).
David Buckland deciding on the sailing route (Source: Cape Farewell).

One such artist is Nick Drake, a poet, screenwriter and playwright, who recently wrote the poem “The Farewell Glacier” in response to a 2010 Cape Farewell expedition to the Arctic. From Drake’s perspective, a more sustainable future involves taking action before this ecosystem disappears forever. His first expedition (and Cape Farewell’s ninth), led him to Svalbard in Norway on a ship named the Noorderlicht, for 22 days. He was exposed to the threatened environment, examined retreating glaciers, and explored scientific research about the region. Research is conducted aboard the ship during each expedition.

In this excerpt from Drake’s poem, he calls on the other artists not to forget what they witnessed in the Arctic:


Farewell 3


Drake also states, “Sailing as close as possible to the vast glaciers that dominate the islands, they saw polar bear tracks on pieces of pack ice the size of trucks. And they tried to understand the effects of climate change on the ecosystem of this most crucial and magnificent part of the world.” His poem portrays the urgency of the “climate challenge.”

Ecotourism at Svalbard in Norway (Source: Woodwalker/Creative Commons).

Two films were also spawned from the Project – “Art From the Arctic” and “Burning Ice.” Both films visually represent some of the Cape Farewell journeys to the High Arctic. “Art From the Arctic” was seen by over 12 million viewers. All the artwork that stems from Cape Farewell expeditions is expected to inspire a public conversation around climate responsibility. Other works generated from Cape Farewell expeditions include exhibitions such as “u-n-f-o-l-d,” an exhibit featuring twenty-five creatives who sailed to the High Arctic, and music festivals such as “SHIFT,” an eight-day music and climate festival held in London’s Southbank Centre.

Svalbard, Longyearbyen Isfjord (Source: Banja&FransMulder/Wikimedia Commons).
Svalbard, Longyearbyen Isfjord (Source: Banja&FransMulder/Creative Commons).

As these voyages occur, the public is kept abreast virtually, through expedition blogs by the artists. The first expedition began with a journey to Svalbard in the High Arctic, chosen as a starting place because of the visible impacts of climate change on the scenery and wildlife, with climate change in the Arctic occurring more rapidly and severely than in other regions of the world.     

Cape Farewell is continuing its mission to engage the public in climate change discussions, with each work created to inspire others to work toward a healthier environment. Current projects include “Space to Breathe,” a response piece to air pollution in urban settings. You can track Cape Farewell’s progress on their website and follow them on twitter @capefarewell.

Listen to Nick recite his poem “The Farewell Glacier” below: