Major Conference Attracts Continuing Attention to Black Carbon

This past month, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Nepalese Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment hosted the International Conference on Mountain People Adapting to Climate Change. The large attendance and extensive coverage of this conference brought a great deal of attention for the Hindu Kush Himalaya region and its specific climate vulnerability. One of the central topics of discussion during the conference was the effect of black carbon deposits on the region’s glaciers. Although there is some lingering uncertainty about the precise magnitude and reach of the effects of this substance, members of the conference agreed that evidence is sufficient to begin the creation of  goals to reduce it in the near future.

Reaching this consensus is important, because the Hindu Kush Himalaya range is essential to the health of the greater Asian continent. The range spans eight countries, covers 3 million square kilometers, and is the source of ten of Asia’s major river systems. The effects of black carbon on the region’s glaciers could have broadly negative consequences for ecosystems and livelihoods. Black carbon has a double impact. Primarily, it darkens snow and ice. The dark color allows more sunlight to be absorbed by the snow and ice, which increases melting. Secondarily, black carbon is an air pollutant,. Although the tiny particles do not remain in the air for long periods, they can be inhaled by humans and cause serious respiratory problems.

Though they remain currently unrestricted, black carbon emissions are becoming an increasing concern in the region. Sources of black carbon in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region include cook-stoves, diesel vehicles, and the industrial burning of coal. In fact, one third of the black carbon suspended in the atmosphere hovers over India and China, and these particles cause at least 30% or more of the melting of glaciers in the region. Many of the gravest effects of black carbon have been well established in scientific literature, but some aspects of the substance remain up for debate. Nonetheless, “it is never wrong to start to reduce emissions of black carbon as soon as possible and as vigorously as possible,” concludes Dr. Arun Shrestha, Senior Climate Change Specialist at ICIMOD. Shifts to other forms of energy use could reduce black carbon significantly.

The conference was a clear step toward covering these critical topics in meaningful ways. “The conference’s outcome will not change everyday life of mountain people right from tomorrow,” stated Dr. David Molden, the ICIMOD’s Director General, to Xinhuanet, “but it will help us formulate policies for better adaptation solutions.” The conference marked a shift in decision-making practices, because it brought together environmental and health experts. Their efforts are bringing black carbon to a more prominent position in adaptation planning.

Photo Friday: 71 Performers, 1 Unforgettable Affair

Requiem for a Glacier Excerpt: Gradual from Paul Walde on Vimeo.

This week’s slideshow features live action shots of Requiem for a Glacier, the sound performance and video installation by intermedia artist Paul Walde. The purpose of the work is to pay tribute to British Columbia’s Jumbo Glacier area, comprised of five glaciers. Recently, the area has come under numerous threats including global warming and the possibility of a resort development. The project takes three main forms a) a site specific outdoor performance; b) an exhibition/installation featuring audio and video footage of the performance; and c) a multimedia sound indoor performance.

Click here for more information on this innovative masterpiece.

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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 glacierhub@gmail.com.

 

Glaciers + Algal Blooms = Good?

James Bay, the southern end of Hudson Bay in Canada, is shown here in an image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite's VIIRS instrument around 1825Z on September 17, 2013. Sediment flow from rivers and algal blooms can be seen well in this clear view. (NOAA/NASA)
James Bay, the southern end of Hudson Bay in Canada, is shown here in an image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite’s VIIRS instrument around 1825Z on September 17, 2013. Sediment flow from rivers and algal blooms can be seen well in this clear view. (NOAA/NASA)

The pros and cons of algal blooms, high concentrations of phytoplankton in the oceans, are a subject of much debate. But several studies in recent months have examined links between changing polar environments, exponential growth of algal blooms, and potential for carbon reduction.

One study, appearing in the journal Nature Communications in May 2014, suggests that ocean iron from glacial melt could have positive effects for polar regions in the face of global warming because of the nutrient quality for algae. “The theory goes that the more iron you add, the more productive these plankton are,” John Hawking, a doctoral student at the University of Bristol and lead author of the study, told Scientific American in May.

The University of Bristol study examined the amount of a specific type of iron (bioavailable ferrihydrite) released in glacial melt water from the Leverett Glacier in Greenland. The levels of this form of iron found in the glacier allowed Hawking to estimate that an iron flux of up to 400,000 to 2.5 million metric tons could be flowing from Greenland annually. These releases have the potential to be transported up to 900 km from the site of origin and to greatly affect the global iron cycle.

The ICESCAPE mission, or "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," is NASA's two-year shipborne investigation to study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. The bulk of the research takes place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. (Kathryn Hansen/NASA)
The ICESCAPE mission, or “Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment,” is NASA’s two-year shipborne investigation to study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean’s chemistry and ecosystems. The bulk of the research takes place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. (Kathryn Hansen/NASA)

New findings coming out of a NASA-sponsored expedition off the coasts of Alaska discovered a massive algal bloom in this polar region as well. Contrary to Hawking’s study, the ICESCAPE expedition conducted by NASA in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas determined the growth in algae was a product of younger and thinning ice. Because of the changes in ice density due to Alaska’s warming climate, more sunlight is able to reach the water underneath the ice packs, according to researchers on the expedition. Therefore, the environment is more favorable for the phytoplankton.

Historically, expanding algae populations in other parts of the globe have generated many negative side effects. For example, the decay of algae during a bloom can suck nutrients and oxygen out of the water creating a dead zone. These low-oxygen areas reduce the productivity of wildlife, decrease their productive capacity, and can even kill them. Further, humans experience the effects of algal blooms through the ingestion of toxic substances via shellfish.

Yet, in the wake of information about the connection of algae growth and a warming world, studies are taking more effort to explore the positive consequences of algal blooms. A study conducted by the USGS Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution proposes that increases of phytoplankton in polar regions will serve as a new food source for wildlife and will offer increased carbon capture in these areas. The greater numbers of phytoplankton, the greater volume of carbon the population will consume during photosynthesis. Some scientists believe an increasing number of algal blooms will deplete carbon stores in the ocean, resulting in greater absorption of atmospheric carbon by the sea. Additionally, when the phytoplankton die, they often retain much of the stored carbon and carry it down to the ocean floor.

Scientists are not certain how the interplay between phytoplankton and ocean carbon will develop because ocean uptake of carbon (especially, in the deep water) can occur on a long timescale, and because it is not yet clear how much carbon is retained versus released during algae death.

With all of this in mind, scientists are hopeful that the correlation of glacial melt, encouraging environments, and algal growth will have a net-positive effect. Further study of this natural bioengineering project will definitely aide scientists in understanding climate change trends.

 

Roundup: Mars Glaciers, Tourism Up and Body Found

Second Body found on Siachen Glacier in Two Months

“It has been 18 years since Gaya Prasad, a Sepoy in the Indian Army, was proclaimed dead in December 1996. His team was trapped in a minor avalanche on the Siachin Glacier and he was declared dead after prolonged searches couldn’t help in tracing him.”

Read more in India Today.

 

Record Breaking Glacier Tourism

“With three months left in the year, Glacier National Park already has had the busiest year in its history. Through September, Glacier had 2,238,761 visitors, topping the 2,200,048 visitors for all of 2010, which the park considers the busiest year in its 104-year history.”

Read more here.

 

New Evidence of Glaciers on Mars

“The morphology and geologic context of the Ius deposit are unique on Mars, and difficult to explain with an evaporative or groundwater mechanism. We propose instead that it was deposited along the margins of a past glacier. Such acid-ice interactions would be similar to those reported along the margins of Svalbard glaciers (arctic Norway), and would represent a new style of acid-sulfate formation on Mars.”

Read the study in the journal Geology. Learn more on GlacierHub about Martian glaciers here.