Pakistan Could Be Left High and Dry Even If Nations Achieve Paris Climate Targets

The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change set the goal of keeping global, average  temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-Industrial Age levels, and hopefully below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This month, new research published by scientists from the University of Hamburg predicts how these temperature changes will affect water availability in Pakistan.They found that the timing and abundance of water availability in Pakistan will be much altered in warmer world, and that means of adaptation will be crucial.

The study, published in the September issue of Advances in Water Resources, assesses three Himalayan watersheds in Pakistan: the Jhelum, the Kabul, and the Upper Indus River Basin. The Indus River Basin is estimated to supply water for 90 percent of Pakistan’s food production, and glacier melt is responsible for 50-80 percent of water flow in the basin.

These watersheds are particularly vulnerable to changes in temperature because of their altitude, Shabeh ul Hasson, the lead author of the study, told GlacierHub. Mountains are warming faster than the rest of the world. A paper published in September of 2017 in the journal Nature predicts a loss of up to 56 percent of the glacial area of the Hindu Kush and Himalaya region by the end of the century—even if nations achieve the Paris agreement goal of keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Caption: The Kunhar River, which is in the Indus Basin watershed. (Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hasson and his coauthors ran 80 simulations of the watersheds under discrete temperature increases of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. Using HAPPI (Half a degree Additional warming, Prognosis and Projected Impacts), a resource which provides a selection of climate models, they predicted daily maximum and minimum temperatures, as well as average precipitations, for different conditions possible in the future. Rather than predicting changes in the region’s glaciers, the scientists envisioned water availability under five different scenarios: glaciers remaining intact and glaciers losing 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent, and 100 percent of their area. Of these situations, the most likely scenario, according to the study, is a 25 percent decrease in glacial cover in the Upper Indus Basin and a 50 percent decrease in Kabul and Jhelum. Together this amount of loss corresponds to a 38 percent decrease in the contribution of glacier melt to Pakistan’s water availability if global average temperatures increase 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

“We are definitely expecting that the temperature rise will be much, much more,” Hasson said.

As the glaciers melt, they will provide less reliable water. However, in the earlier stages of warming, the quick melting of ice and snow will create a dramatic increase of water influx in Pakistan, according to the study. Specifically, the researchers estimate median changes of a 34 percent increase in water availability under a 1.5 degree rise in temperature and a 43 percent increase under a 2 degree rise. “Hopefully we are talking about a century’s time,” Hasson said.

Water surpluses, along with droughts, are destructive to Pakistan’s agriculture, which forms the major portion of Pakistan’s economy, according to the nation’s Ministry of Water Resources.

“In recent years, there have been a lot of more frequent cases of flooding and more unmanageable amounts of water coming into the canals,” Ayesha Qaisrani, a research associate at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, told GlacierHub. “If the intensity of the water coming in is not right for the crop, then it really heavily damages the crops.”

Qaisrani authored a research paper, which was published last year in the journal Earth Systems and Environment, that evaluates the impacts of climate change on Pakistani farmers and assesses the ability of agricultural communities to adapt.

Irregular water availability is changing the crop cycles for many areas in Pakistan, she said. For instance, in some places the monsoons are becoming more intense but span shorter periods of time, destroying crops that thrive under more mild conditions.

Hasson’s research anticipates more precipitation from October to February, but a drier period from March to June, which will shorten the duration of snowpacks, making them a less reliable water source. The study also predicts a “substantial decrease in the monsoonal precipitation” from July through September.

The unpredictable nature of these changes—one year the monsoon might behave normally, for instance, and another it might not—makes it even more difficult for farmers to adapt, Qaisrani said, since they do not know which crops will thrive.

The situation is worse for small farmers, she said, because they often go into debt to buy feed, so if a crop fails, it affects subsequent crops, creating a vicious cycle. “There is a lot of out migration because of climate change,” she said.

Access to water sources is not equal among farmers either, Qaisrani explained. Although small farmers are larger in number, “the larger farmers that have acres and acres of land have more political power.” Those that can install groundwater pumps, for instance, get an edge over farmers that cannot afford them. Many farmers cannot afford products needed to adapt to climate change, such as drip irrigation technology, she said.

Caption: Pakistini farmers harvest wheat. (Source: U.S. Embassy Pakistan/Flickr

Hasson hopes his research will help policymakers in Pakistan prepare the country for changes in the climate. “We need to have more reservoirs to store the water,” he said. He is approaching stakeholders and policymakers to disseminate the information from his study.

Now that Hasson and his collaborators have predicted mean water availability under Paris agreement targets, they are working to study how increases in global temperature will affect hydrological extremes, such as floods and droughts.

Hasson is hopeful that policymakers in Pakistan will help the country adapt. “They have to listen some time,” he said. But, he added, “I don’t know when.”

Caption: The areas studied (Source: Shabeh ul Hasson)

Warming Rivers Are Causing Die-Offs Among Alaska Salmon

Dead chum salmon lined snow-fed and rain-fed rivers across Alaska, where lethally high temperatures and low water levels prevented migration. With their original habitat under threat by global warming, cold glacial water is becoming more necessary for the survival of salmon.

Salmon are born in freshwater rivers. They swim to the ocean to spend their adulthoods, and then return to the rivers to spawn four or five years later, Holly Carroll, a Yukon-focused biologist at Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, told GlacierHub.

Salmon felt the effects of July’s record-breaking temperatures in Alaska this summer as they struggled to reach their spawning grounds. They do not eat once they begin the journey back to the rivers, Carroll said, meaning that they have a limited amount of energy to make the trip. “So if they then encounter really warm water, it puts their body under much more stress,” she said. The heat speeds up their metabolisms so that salmon can run out of energy and die mid-journey.

As salmon suffer in Alaska’s warming snow- and rain-fed rivers, some scientists are looking to glaciers to predict the future of these fish. 

The Die-Offs

According to NPR, the largest die-off occurred in the Koyukuk River, a tributary of the Yukon River. The dead salmon count was in the thousands to ten thousands, Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, told GlacierHub. She put together a team of scientists and surveyed 200 miles of the river to count the salmon—they found at least 850 dead —and confirm, by cutting the fish open, that they had not spawned and had no signs of disease.

“The die-off coincided with record-breaking temperatures in Alaska,” she wrote in a Facebook post.  Some places on the Koyukuk reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit from July 7 to July 11—25 degrees above average. July 12, she noted, was when when locals began seeing dead chum salmon floating downriver.

Quinn-Davidson’s team examines salmon along the Koyukuk River. (Source: Stephanie Quinn-Davidson)

The Koyukuk is fed by snow and rain, Carroll told GlacierHub. This year, the snow melted quicker, leaving the river with record-high water levels earlier in the season and very low levels in the summer. The drought also deprived the river of much-needed rainwater.

The Bristol Bay area also experienced salmon die-offs, particularly in the Igushik River, which flows from Amanka Lake into Bristol Bay. Tens of thousands of fish were found dead in the Igushik, according to Timothy Sands, area management biologist of the Nushagak/Togiak region.

An early-melting snowpack led to low water levels, aiding in the rise of temperatures, Sands told GlacierHub. The snowpack usually continues to melt through June, he said, but this year it vanished in May. Lower water levels enhanced the heating of these waters which are already susceptible to warming as a muddy river in the tundra.

While Koyukuk salmon died of heat stress, the Igushik salmon died of oxygen depletion, Sands said. The river is prone to oxygen depletion due to its geography: The elevation drop in the river is minimal, and so the flow of the river is slow and tidal. This means less recycling of water and less replenishment of oxygen.

High temperatures increase a salmon’s metabolism, so that it increases its need for oxygen at a time when there is less of it in the water, Mary Catherine Martin, communications director for Salmon State, told GlacierHub.

Even with the die-off, Sands said, the river reached its escapement goal, which is the number of fish that are required to reach their  spawning grounds in order to ensure a new generation of fish. “It’s a healthy system,” he said, noting that this year’s run was the third highest since 1884. 

Dead chum salmon lined the Koyukuk River this July. (Source: Stephanie Quinn-Davidson)

Habitat in Danger

Sue Mauger, science director at Cook InletKeeper, has been monitoring stream temperatures in Alaska’s Cook Inlet since 2002. She told GlacierHub that she was surprised there weren’t more salmon die-offs this summer, considering that the waters reached temperatures that are considered lethal for salmon. In the Deshka River, she said, temperatures were warmer than those expected for 2069 under a worst-case climate model.

The fish survive by finding cold-water refugia, which are pockets of cold water in which the salmon can wait for temperatures to diminish. In the case of the Deshka, she said, a connected glacial area provided this space for salmon to wait out the heat.

In deep rivers, groundwater inflows, side channels and springs provide the same service. But when rivers experience low water levels, “you don’t have those deep cold refuges, then the salmon don’t have anywhere to hang out and wait until the temperatures start to drop,” Quinn-Davidson told GlacierHub.

Development also harms this habitat, Mauger told GlacierHub. Abstaining from building near rivers is “a decision that we need to make,” she said.

In Bristol Bay, the Environmental Protection Agency took a step towards the opposite decision this month by allowing a mining project to progress unopposed, despite the risks to salmon.

A New Glacial Habitat

“This summer has a lot of the components that we should expect to see in the future, and that includes having a warm spring, which means that however much snowpack we have is going to melt out earlier,” Mauger said.

Salmon are finding new spawning grounds in the vast habitat of cool streams that Alaska’s receding glaciers are leaving behind. In Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park, and other areas, salmon are beginning to inhabit these streams that benefit from ice melt all summer long.

But the situation is more complicated, according to Chris Sergeant, a researcher at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks who studies the effects of temperature and other stream conditions on salmon. “While a glacial river might protect salmon from warm water temperatures [in the summer], they may not necessarily be the best place for salmon to grow in rear during all the other months,” he said. In the winter, he told GlacierHub, young salmon grow faster in warmer waters. Since glacial streams are prone to flooding, spawning there also means a risk that the eggs will be swept away in water.

In the summer, he said, “some of these fish will live in the glacial systems for a few months, and then they’ll move into a smaller tributary fed by rain or snow” for the remainder of the year.

These are juvenile fish, though. After salmon spend their adulthoods in the ocean, they return to the exact rivers they were born in to spawn the next generation, for better or worse. “A lot of studies recently suggest that not only do they return to the same river where they were born, but they also spawn… within twenty feet of where they were born,” Martin said.

Glacial mainstem rivers (the brown water) mix with other habitats in the Taku River watershed, located between Alaska and British Columbia. Preserving a diversity of habitats will help ensure healthy salmon populations continue in the face of climate change, Sergeant told GlacierHub. (Source: Chris Sergeant for the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Montana)

Response to This Year’s Die-Offs

There is not much to be done about the die-offs besides collecting data, Carroll said. The locals—many of whom are native Alaskans—are key to this. With extensive tributaries, the Dept. of Fish and Game relies on locals to report natural events in the river.

In the case of the Koyukuk river, Quinn-Davidson said, the expedition she organized would not have happened without the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents over thirty federally recognized tribes along the Yukon River. “Alaska is currently experiencing a pretty major budget crisis,” she said. “It was good that our organization could step in, bring us all together, provide the funding to take us all out there, and more properly document what was going on.”

Salmon are of great importance to the local communities, who rely on the fish for food and their livelihoods. A commercial fishery for chum salmon is located on the lower part of the Koyukuk. “That fishery really helps the local economy because most people that live along the Yukon are native Alaskans and there’s not a lot of local jobs,” she said.

“People were able to meet their needs for salmon this year despite the die-offs,” Quinn-Davidson said. “Now the big question is, how much will this die-off impact future years of salmon returning—because those salmon didn’t end up spawning.”

According to Carroll, it’s likely that the next generation will not be negatively affected, since fewer young salmon can minimize  over-competition.

The die-offs did not pose an existential threat to salmon this year. According to Martin, the multitudes of dead salmon, along with the state’s wildfires, were a reminder that “climate change is happening, and it’s real, and it’s going to be an increasing part of the conversation here in Alaska.”

Photo Friday: An Art Exhibit 1000 Meters Above the Sea

The photography festival Alt. +1000 will return for its fifth run, this year with a theme of global warming and “the trace of man on the mountain.” The festival, which opens September 1st, will feature nearly eighty photographers from Switzerland and abroad. It will take place at three locations situated at an altitude of one thousand meters across the city of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Each location will host an exhibition inspired by the mountains and people’s interactions with them. In a sixteenth century farm house, the exhibit, “The Trace of Man” will visualize the mark people have made on the mountains. A guided tour through the Musée de Beaux-Arts Le Locle art museum will explore “the relationship between the physical landscape and the mental landscape.” And Project Pressure, a charity that funds artists to document climate change, will unveil its photographic project, “Warning Signs.”

Founded in 2008 by Danish photographer Klaus Thymann, Project Pressure sends photographers and visual artists, along with scientists, on carbon-offset journeys around the world to capture what global warming and the melting of glaciers look like. “Warning Signs,” which will be installed on the shores of Lake Taillères, will feature artwork and informative posters that visualize the climate crisis. The collective, whose aim is to “use art as a positive touch-point to inspire action and behavioural change,” is taking “Warning Signs” on an international tour.

This isn’t the first art exhibit in Switzerland to highlight the cryosphere. The country is also home to the glacier museum Glacier Garden, founded in 1873.

Check out these previews of the festival’s exhibits:

This piece, by Corey Arnold, is a part of Project Pressure’s “Warning Signs.” (Source: Alt. +1000)
“Glacier II” by Noémie Goudal. (Source: Alt. +1000)
Simon Norfolk’s depiction of Lewis Glacier, Mount Kenya. (Source: Alt. +1000)
France’s Glacier du Baounet, as captured by Scott Conarroe.

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Alaskan Glaciers Are Melting Twice as Fast as Models Predicted

Scientists from the University of Oregon recently found that the underwater section of a glacier in southeast Alaska is melting at rates up to two orders of magnitude greater than those predicted by theory.  The results, published in the journal Science, challenge the current models used to predict the melting of tidewater glaciers worldwide.

Tidewater glaciers play an important role in maintaining glacier stability, and their melting is accelerating overall ice loss in Greenland and in Antarctica. According to the study, no one has yet directly measured the melting of the underwater portion of a tidewater glacier. Instead, scientists have relied on untested theoretical models.

This diagram of a typical marine-terminating glacier in Greenland is from Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG), a project to investigate the extent to which the ocean is melting Greenland’s glaciers from below. (Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Glaciers that terminate in the ocean come in two forms: Ice shelves, which are horizontal slabs of ice that extend into the ocean, and tidewater glaciers, which end in relatively vertical ice faces, Rebecca Jackson, one of the study’s authors, told GlacierHub.

Jackson explained that observing tidewater glaciers from below is difficult. Ice shelves retreat horizontally, and this can be seen by satellites and other remote sensing techniques. But the horizontal retreat of a tidewater glacier’s vertical face is too slight to be detected with remote sensing.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, the University of Oregon scientists used a new method to directly observe tidewater glacier melt: creating and comparing sonar images of the glacier over time. They studied the melting of Alaska’s LeConte Glacier, mainly because of its accessibility, Dave Sutherland, the lead author of the study, told GlacierHub. The physics of the interactions between glacier and ocean at LeConte are the same as in other systems around the world, including tidewater glaciers in Greenland, Patagonia, and the west Antarctic, he said.

They made observations at the glacier six times from 2016 to 2017, Sutherland told GlacierHub.

The glacier-ocean boundary at LeConte. (Source: Dave Sutherland, University of Oregon)

The results were striking. “We have direct observations that show melt rates are much higher than we we expected,” Jackson told GlacierHub.

This doesn’t change the amount of glacier ice currently being lost to the ocean, she explained. “Right now we know, to a pretty good degree, how much glaciers are losing ice and raising sea level,” Jackson said. “That’s a pretty well-documented quantity and our results don’t change that.”

Instead, the study illuminates what portion of the glacier ice being lost to the ocean is the result of underwater ice melting as opposed to calving—the process by which chunks of the glacier break off and float into the ocean as icebergs. “The sub-marine melt rates are higher than we expect, which means that the amount calving off is slightly less,” said Jackson.

That means that the ocean is playing a larger role than expected in the loss of water-terminating glacial ice, Sutherland told GlacierHub.

With a warming ocean, this news suggests that tidewater glaciers could disappear quicker in response to climate change than previously thought, Jackson explained. “There’s a hypothesis that ocean warming can increase submarine melting and then that triggers a glacier acceleration that deposits more ice overall into the ocean,” she said.

In other words, if the portion of glacier submerged in ocean water melts quicker, then the rate at which the glacier flows toward the ocean will increase, and the rate of calving will increase as well.

“You could imagine that if sub-marine melting was depth-dependent, you could undercut the glacier and destabilize it, leading to increased calving,” Sutherland told GlacierHub. And indeed their study found that the melt rates of the glacier were depth-dependent.

A picture of LeConte Glacier taken during the study. (Source: Dave Sutherland, University of Oregon)

“Ultimately what we want to be able to do is start answering questions like, if the ocean warms by one or two degrees, how will that affect the glacier?” said Jackson. And in order to do that, the faulty model must be replaced by a more accurate theory. The same team of scientists is currently working on that new model, Jackson said.

Although the Science study does not address why the previous theory might be incorrect, the scientists involved have a hypothesis, Jackson said. The velocity of the water touching a tidewater glacier face affects its melting rate: A higher velocity means a higher melt rate, just as pouring hot coffee over an ice cube melts the ice cube faster than placing it into the hot coffee. The current theory takes into account how freshwater that seeps out from the bottom of the glacier increases the water velocity as it rises to the top of ocean along the surface of the ice. However, it doesn’t take into account other drivers of ocean currents near the glacier, including wind, tide, and waves. “Those can also enhance the velocity along the ocean ice boundary, and that can also enhance melt rate,” Jackson told GlacierHub.

Collecting data from glaciers with different fjord conditions and glacier characteristics will provide the scientists with the information needed to model tidewater glacier melt as a function of the physical properties of the glacier and adjoining ocean. Since ocean conditions vary from season to season, the team is continuing to collect data at LeConte Glacier throughout the year, with the same goal of discovering how oceanic properties affect glacier melt. “One thing we’re excited about is what we present is the new method for directly measuring sub-marine melting that hopefully can be used at many other glaciers around the globe,” said Jackson.

In the mean time, estimates of sea level rise might need adjustment.

Footage of LeConte Glacier taken during the study. (Source: Dave Sutherland, University of Oregon)

Video of the Week: An Animated History of Glaciers

NASA has published a time lapse video that recounts the history of Ice Age glaciers starting from 122,000 years ago. The animation is based on a new model of glacier movements and the response of the Earth’s land masses. The animation was created by scientists at the University of Toronto and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

According to an accompanying article, the model is helping scientists understand postglacial rebound, also known as glacial isostatic adjustment, which refers to the way land masses rebound when heavy glaciers melt and disappear from the surface. This factor is crucial in predicting the rise of sea level over time.

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Finger Lakes Residents Connect With the Region’s GlacialPast

Finger Lakes Residents Connect With the Region’s Glacial Past

Eighteen thousand years ago, the Laurentide Ice Sheet covered most of what is now New York State. Two glacial advances, or periods of growth in a glacier, formed Long Island.

Today, residents of Ithaca, New York, a city in the Finger Lakes region known for its gorges and for being home to Cornell University, remember the impact that glaciers had on their landscape and, in turn, their history.

Glaciers and Ithaca’s natural landscape

Millions of years ago, the Finger Lakes were streams running through narrow valleys. Glacial advances and retreats from what is now Canada deepened and widened the valleys, eventually forming the lakes within them. “The previous glaciers left the state anywhere from ten to eighteen thousand years ago, and whatever we see now is new landscape,” Anthony Grande, a geographer at Hunter College, told GlacierHub.

Ithaca boasts 150 waterfalls within ten miles, twelve of which are located in the city’s own Treman State Park.

Josh Teeter, an environmental educator at the park, gives presentations on Ithaca’s gorges in schools, in retirement homes, and within the park.“[Without glaciers], these parks wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t have these beautiful gorges all around us,” he told GlacierHub.

“Most people think that the glaciers created the gorges,” he said.

However, the gorges were formed by the interactions between the north-south river valleys, which were chiseled out by the glaciers, and smaller east-west streams, according to Ithaca’s Paleontological Research Institution (PRI).

Glaciers in Ithaca’s Museum of the Earth

PRI maintains the Museum of the Earth, located in northwest Ithaca, which educates the community on Ithaca’s geological and glacial past.

The museum is laid out as a walk-through timeline. Visitors start at 4.5 billion years ago and move through time as they explore rooms and corridors filled with fossils, rocks, videos and plaques that tell the story of the history of the Earth through local artifacts.

Rob Ross, associate director for outreach at PRI, told GlacierHub that the museum informs the public on both the Earth’s past and the impacts of human activity on the planet looking forward. An exhibit on glaciers ties these goals together. 

Featuring a plastic glacier, the exhibit represents the ice age world, known as the Quaternary Period, which we are still in, Ross said. “The idea is to give people maybe a little bit of a sense, even though it’s made out of plastic, what a glacier kind of looks like if you were to walk up to one,” he said, laughing a little.

The exhibit tells two stories, he said. At the entrance of the plastic glacier is information on how glaciers sculpted the Finger Lakes region. By the end of the tunnel the focus switches to the impact of global warming on glaciers.

Technically, we are still in an ice age, Ross explained. “If it’s defined as a substantial amount of ice at the poles, there have been substantial glaciers on Antarctica for at least thirty or forty million years.” But more recently, about two and a half million years ago, ice began a pattern of growing and receding over the Northern Hemisphere. The most recent glacial maximum—the point in time when the Earth peaked in its quantity of ice—was about 20,000 years ago. Assuming cycles of 100,000 years, “if it weren’t for current human activity, we’d probably be entering another one in 80,000 years or so,” he said.

This video explaining how glaciers sculpted the Finger Lakes is displayed on a screen within the walk-through glacier.

Signs throughout the museum detail what global warming is doing to the Earth’s ecosystems and landscapes. The museum is planning a new exhibit on climate change that will be the last stop at the end of the timeline.

A centerpiece of the exhibit will be a diagram showing temperature and carbon dioxide levels in the glacial periods (“ice ages”) and interglacial periods of the past 700,000 years. We have this data, Ross explained, from ice cores in Antarctica that indicate past carbon dioxide levels. The end of the diagram will show the carbon dioxide and temperature increase in the past hundred years, which will “completely dwarf” the other variations on the graph, Ross said. “The idea is to say basically in a picture, the change that we’re causing right now is really vast and significant even compared with the significant changes we’ve seen” between glacial and interglacial periods.

The Paleontological Research Institution’s climate advocacy

Ithaca’s Cayuga Nature Center, also run by PRI, already has an exhibit on local climate change. Ingrid Zabel, as climate change education manager at PRI, works to make climate science accessible through both the Cayuga Nature Center and Museum of the Earth.

She is also the lead author of PRI’s Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change. “We want to provide information and resources for teachers to help them teach about climate change  in the classroom,” Zabel told GlacierHub. The Institution is running a campaign to send the book, which discusses glaciers in the context of the indicators and effects of global warming, to high school teachers around the country.

More locally, PRI recently published a book, “Gorges History” (the title is a riff on Ithaca’s slogan, “Ithaca is Gorges”), which aims to be an accessible yet detailed introduction to the geology and landscape of the Finger Lakes, Matthew Pritchard, the force behind the completion of the book, told GlacierHub.

“Gorges History” was written by Art Bloom, a Cornell geomorphologist and professor, but was not completed in his lifetime.  Pritchard, who went on field trips with Bloom and encouraged his writing of the book, worked with others to “finish this labor of love,” according to the book’s acknowledgements.

Glaciers and Cornell University

The landscape left by glaciers has an impact on the experience of university students studying at Cornell University and Ithaca College. The glacial history inspired Cornell architecture student Ihwa Choi to design a model for a glacier-themed bridge and aquatic center that would cross through Ithaca’s Six Mile Creek, titled “The Glacier.”

“The textures and colors of the stream that I saw at the site were beautiful and I wanted to research about how those textures were created and from what they originated from,” Choi told GlacierHub. She went on to research the local geological history and create her project, which she calls an “interpretation of what a memory of a glacier could be.” She told GlacierHub, “I wanted to essentially pay homage to what created the site we were given to begin with.”

Choi’s model for a glacier-inspired bridge in downtown Ithaca. (Source: Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning)

The landscape left by glaciers has an impact on the experience of the students and residents of the region. Through museums, art, and gorges, residents of Ithaca have plentiful opportunities to connect with the region’s past and reflect on the planet’s present and future changes. 

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Rob Wallace Installed to Post in Department of the Interior

On June 28, the US Senate confirmed Robert Wallace as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks within the Department of the Interior, which oversees the country’s natural lands and resources. A Wyoming native, Wallace lives in Teton Village, near the partially glaciated Grand Teton National Park, where he has previously worked as a park ranger. He has also been a Republican staffer and a lobbyist for General Electric. In his new position, he will oversee the nation’s parks, including many of its glaciated regions.

Wallace’s appointment is the latest in a department whose appointees under the Trump administration, most of whom are ex-lobbyists from the energy industry, have raised alarm in the environmental community. Ties between energy interests and Department of the Interior officers are so ubiquitous that Western Values Project, an organization that advocates for national parks conservation, created a website called the Department of Influence that documents “the revolving door between special interest lobbyists and political appointees at the Department of the Interior.” 

Robert Wallace speaks before the Senate Environment and and Public Works Committee (Source: U.S. Senate)

The regulations and policies of the Department of the Interior have an impact on glaciers. The Interior approves and rejects proposals to open the country’s natural lands to oil and gas drilling. Drilling for and burning natural gas adds to global warming, harming glaciers. Allowing drilling near glaciers is even more hazardous, since the dust associated with these operations can darken the surface of glaciers and accelerate their melting.

“Depending on the estimate, anywhere from twenty to twenty five percent of remaining U.S. [fossil fuel] reserves are on federal public lands,” Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental NGO, told GlacierHub. “And the climate reality is that we cannot beat global warming if we burn those fossil fuels.”

Led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, an ex-lobbyist for oil and gas who carries a list of his conflicts of interest, the Department has already opened up 17 million acres of federal lands to be leased for oil and gas. Meanwhile the firm where Bernhardt worked, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schrek, has quadrupled its business related to the Interior since Bernhardt took office.

“We have given the keys to these agencies to people whose whole life mission has been to not promote the agency, but to profit off the agency and to have the agency weakened,” Bill Snape told GlacierHub. “This is the definition of the fox guarding the henhouse.”

With its powers over oil and gas projects on public lands, the Interior Department is the hot seat of the battle between those who want to drill for natural gas on public lands and those who would like to keep them off-limits, according to Snape. Rob Wallace is going to be sitting right in that seat.

The Interior Department is playing an instrumental role in opening up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil and gas leases by rolling back regulations, the New York Times reported.

“There are massive risks to drilling in the Arctic,” Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told GlacierHub. The Arctic National Wildlife Reserve provides a home for a variety of species, including polar bears and bearded seals. Drilling “risks oil spills that would be impossible to clean up,” devastating wildlife and landscapes. Arctic ice is especially important to protect since it reflects the sun’s energy back into space, making it critical for regulating the global climate.

Beyond the risks of an oil spill, drilling in the Arctic–and anywhere else–means more greenhouse gases. “Science tells us that all known fossil fuel reserves in the Arctic must stay in the ground if we are to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change,” Monsell said. Opening the Arctic to drilling will “add more fuel to the fire and increase sea ice loss.”

Wallace will be in a position to weigh in on this issue. His job will include taking a stance on whether to open up public lands to oil and gas leasing, and if so, where.

Additionally, it is the responsibility of the Department of the Interior to carry out research on climate change. But under the Trump administration, the Department has “established a clear pattern of suppressing science and scientific evidence, particularly when they run counter to the interests and priorities of the coal, gas, and oil industries,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Department’s strategic plan for 2018-2022 does not mention climate change at all

The Brooks Range Mountains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Snape, who has known Wallace personally for 20 years (their children were classmates in elementary school), has hopes that he might do his job differently than Bernhardt. Although the two disagree on various issues, Snape told GlacierHub, “I think that Rob Wallace is someone who believes in the truth… I do believe Rob will make decisions that he thinks are best for the country and best for the resources. I do think that he cares.”

The Department of the Interior did not respond to requests for a comment or an interview with Wallace.

Wallace graduated in 1971 from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in petroleum engineering. He worked as a park ranger at Grand Teton National Park before co-founding the Grand Teton National Park Foundation. He was Assistant Director of the National Park Service in the seventies, and in 2015 he co-founded the Upper Green River Conservancy, a pro-environmental organization that advocates for the protection of the habitat of sage grouse in the Upper Green River watershed in southwestern Wyoming. The Conservancy is a company of i2 Capital, an impact investment firm of which Wallace is an operating partner.

He has also had a political career as a staffer for several Republicans. He was chief of staff for Senator Malcolm Wallop, who was one of the few senators to oppose the 1987 Clean Water Act. He then worked as the Republican Staff Director for the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources from 1991 to 1994, and then as chief of staff for Jim Geringer, the Republican governor of Wyoming in 1995. Most recently, Wallace lobbied for GE Energy with the role of manager of U.S. government relations for 17 years, until 2012.

Michael Hindus, a retired partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP who has worked extensively with energy policy, has reservations about Wallace’s past career in lobbying. “I would be concerned,” he told GlacierHub. However, “he’s not representing GE anymore, and I just don’t know whether he sees himself still as representing the energy industry,” he said. 

Daniel Zimmerle, a researcher at Colorado State University’s Energy Institute, agrees. He told GlacierHub that when it comes to ex-lobbyists in government roles, “it really comes down to whether they sever ties with those prior connections and in particular provide equal access to all viewpoints.”

In a statement to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Wallace said that at GE he “led a policy team that advocated for the deployment of clean energy technologies in the United States and around the world.”

But, Hindus said, the fact that we need to question Interior picks for their past energy interests indicates a larger issue at the Department. “This whole revolving door business is no good. We shouldn’t even have to have this discussion.” There is no question that various agencies under the Trump administration are flooded with ex-industry lobbyists.

He told GlacierHub, “in the ideal world, people from the Sierra Club or Friends of the Earth ought to be considered for these positions as well, though I’m not sure they ever have been.”

Wallace was endorsed by the National Parks Conservation Association, which wrote, “Recognizing how long this important Department of the Interior post has been vacant, we applaud Mr. Wallace’s nomination and we look forward to his timely confirmation.”

Snape echoed concern about the position’s long vacancy. He told GlacierHub, “Fish and Wildlife service hasn’t had a director since Donald Trump took office…so what’s really been happening is that David Berhnardt and Todd Willens have been essentially running that agency.”

Snape is not optimistic about the Department of the Interior because of Donald Trump and David Bernhardt, he told GlacierHub. However, he is hopeful about the upcoming presidential election. “I think 2020 is going to be the first climate change election,” he said.

In the meantime, the Center for Biological Diversity is resisting the Trump administration’s pro-oil agenda. “We have sued [the administration] 144 times and counting. We’re commenting on every rollback that they have. We have a grassroots army that has been going to public meetings, whether it be for wolves, whether it be for public lands, whether it be for off shore oil leases,” Snape said.

It may not be possible to know yet how Wallace will play his role at the Department of the Interior. One can only hope along with Snape that Robert Wallace will make decisions that protect the country’s natural lands and avoid causing additional harm to the glaciers.

Roundup: Gold Mining in Peru, an Animated Film Featuring the Andes Mountains, and a Lunar Simulation in a Swiss Glacier

Gold mines in a receding Peruvian glacier

Photographer James Whitlow Delano captures the gold mining scene in the world’s highest permanent human settlement.

From The Washington Post:

“High up in the Andes, La Rinconada is a place where people go to seek whatever fortune they can muster in the gold mines nestled there. Delano describes it as a place with no running water or sewage system, populated by about 30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. It is a place, Delano says, where ‘for over 500 years, La Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty) has attracted first the Inca, then the Spanish. For decades, artisanal miners, mostly indigenous Quechua and Aymara, have followed a receding glacier up the valley hoping to find the mother lode, burrowing deep inside the mountain at over 17,700 feet.’”

The town of La Rinconada, Peru (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Animated Netflix film features Andean glaciers and environmentalism

From Animation World Network:

“14 years in the making, Pachamama, Juan Antin’s animated tale about a 10-year old Andean boy’s journey to reclaim his village’s irreplaceable treasure, premieres today on Netflix. Set during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and their South American incursions, the Cesar Award-nominated film is Antin’s homage to the indigenous cultures of the Andes, and takes its name for the concept of ‘Pachamama,’ both an earth mother goddess figure as well as a more general concept of living in harmony with the Earth, akin to the idea of ‘Mother Nature.’”

Swiss glacier provides a home for an experimental lunar habitat

After their inaugural 2019 campaign, Igluna, coordinated by the Swiss Space Center, is running their 2020 program to enable teams of students across Europe to work on technology that would help sustain human life on the moon. As in 2019, the technology will be tested in a Zermatt glacier.

From the Swiss Space Center:

“IGLUNA 2020 is an international student project to build a space habitat demonstrator for sustaining life in an extreme environment. Not only does it demonstrate technologies of the future, but also a new way of collaboration across universities, industry and the space community – while forming students in applied project work. In one year, student teams from various disciplines and different countries across Europe develop their demonstrator modules. Their common objective: to integrate the projects together in a test bed in Switzerland in July 2020. Through international collaboration and interdisciplinary team work, the students gain practical experience in project management, build life-long networks, and kick-start their careers.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Glacier Melt in Bolivia Exacerbates the Nation’s Water Crisis

Dispatches From the Cryosphere: Intimate Encounters with the Intricate and Disappearing Ice of Everest Base Camp

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Photo Friday: The Melting of Alaska’s Excelsior Glacier

Alaska’s Excelsior Glacier has been retreating since 1941, forming a lake named Big Johnston. The glacier’s melting rate has doubled since 1994, according to a blog post from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) website. The lake, in turn, has doubled in size in the past 24 years. With Big Johnston Lake now five times  the size of Central Park, Excelsior Glacier has completely separated into its eastern and western tributaries, according to a NASA article.

Mauri Pelto is the glaciologist at Nichols College who wrote the AGU post. “To see the amount of expansion and retreat in that amount of time is exceptional,” he told NASA.

According to Pelto, the high melting rate has been caused by warm temperatures and calving, the process by which ice at the edge of a glacier breaks off. This glacial breaking filled Big Johnston Lake with icebergs. But as Excelsior Glacier recedes farther away from the lake, icebergs are disappearing.

Since the glacier has retreated to a higher slope, it is no longer calving at a high rate. With this difference, the glacier “will still retreat, but it will slow down a lot—more on the order of tens of meters per year instead of hundreds,” Pelto told NASA.

Staff from the Johnstone Adventure Lodge, a local resort, captured images of the glacier that show its radical transformation from 2016 to 2019.

Excelsior Glacier and Big Johnston Lake, replete with icebergs, in 2016 (Source: Johnstone Adventure Lodge)
The glacier and lake in 2018 (Source: Johnstone Adventure Lodge)
A 2019 photo of the glacier separated into its eastern and western tributaries (Source: Johnston Adventure Lodge)
A shot of one of the tributaries, taken in 2018. (Source: Johnston Adventure Lodge)
The same tributary in 2019, a chunk of ice now separated (Source: Johnston Adventure Lodge)
Excelsior Glacier in June 2019 (Source: Johnston Adventure Lodge)

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East and South Asia Are the Largest Sources of Black Carbon Blanketing the Tibetan Plateau

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment suggests that black carbon and dust play a crucial role in the melting of Tibetan Plateau glaciers—and the researchers think they know the sources of that troublesome sediment.

“We believe that black carbon, dust, and other light-absorbing impurities must be important factors in accelerating … ice melting worldwide,” Yang Li, a coauthor of the study, told GlacierHub. And, according to the study, East and South Asia are the largest sources of black carbon emissions that are transported to the Tibetan Plateau.

Black carbon, also called soot, is a byproduct of the partial combustion of organic matter and fossil fuels.

Susan Kaspari is an associate professor at Central Washington University and worked previously with Shichang Kang, another one of the study’s authors. “When you see emissions coming off the back of a truck that’s really black, you’re seeing the black carbon,” Kaspari told GlacierHub.

Along with fossil fuels, an important source of black carbon is the burning of biofuels, such as wood or animal waste, she added.

“[Black carbon] doesn’t stay in the atmosphere a really long time,” Kaspari said. “Usually it will stay in the atmosphere on the scale of a few days to at the most, maybe two weeks.”

Gravity and precipitation eventually pull the black carbon back to earth. And that’s where the trouble comes in for glaciers.

Scientists describe black carbon, along with dust, as a light-absorbing particle, meaning that due to its dark color it absorbs more energy from the sun compared to other light-colored materials—especially the typically bright-colored surfaces of glaciers. When black carbon settles on snow and ice, “It absorbs more energy from the sun, and then that warms the snowpack or ice, and leads to accelerated melt,” Kaspari said.

Kaspari and Kang, among others, published a study in 2011 that detailed how black carbon concentrations in the Tibetan Plateau have increased dramatically. “We documented a three-fold increase from preindustrial to industrial periods, starting around the 1970s, relative to, prior to that period of time,” Kaspari said.

Various anthropogenic activities contributed to this increase, including the Kuwait oil fires set by Iraqi forces during the 1991 Gulf War.

Li’s new study focused on the Laohugou Basin on the northern slope of the western Qilian Mountains, which lie on the Tibetan Plateau. These mountains lost 20.9 percent of their glacial area—about 22 cubic kilometers of ice—in the past 50 years, according to a study conducted last year.

The accumulation zone of the glacier studied by Li and his coauthors (Source: Yang Li)

Li and his co-researchers sampled the ice, snow, and nearby topsoil of the Laohugou Basin glacier during the summer and winter of 2016 and measured concentrations of black carbon and dust. To determine the effect of the black carbon and dust on the amount of energy absorbed by the glacier, they used SNICAR, a model for determining the albedo of snow and ice surface.

They found large spaciotemporal variability in the concentrations of black carbon and dust. Still, they concluded that the concentrations of black carbon and dust on the glacier were “comparable to or higher than” concentrations on most other Third Pole glaciers. The concentrations, though, were lower than those of some select glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, specifically, including the Baishui No. 1 and Xiao Dongkemadi glaciers, which indicated, according to the study, “discrepancies in the deposition, enrichment, and re-exposure of [black carbon] over the Tibetan Plateau.”

Li and his coauthors found, however, that dust plays a more important role than black carbon in accelerating melting.

The researchers walk on a glacier in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau (Source: Yang Li).

Susan Kaspari found a similar result in her 2014 study that measured black carbon and dust on the glacier ice and snow of Solukhumbu, Nepal.

“Let’s say you had a hundred parts per billion black carbon, which would be certainly enough black carbon to cause a change in how much energy is being absorbed,” she said. “If you put that on a snow pack that was quite clean, that black carbon could have a really large impact.”

“If you took that same amount of black carbon and it was deposited upon a snow pack that already had a lot of dust,” she added, “the efficacy, or how effective that black carbon would be in absorbing energy, would be a lot less because the dust is already absorbing some of that solar radiation that could otherwise be absorbed by the black carbon.”

The Tibetan Plateau is a region that is “naturally dusty already,” said Kaspari, who added that the rising temperatures brought about by climate change exacerbate the situation. “As the glaciers are retreating,” she said, “you’re exposing more and more area that used to be covered with glacier that has a lot of dust.”

And that dust, she added, gets blown onto glaciers.

A shot of the Amphulaptsa Pass, Nepal, taken during a 2009 expedition that resulted in Kaspari’s 2014 study. The dark layers are a combination of black carbon and dust. (Source: Jesse Cunningham)

Li and his coauthors found local topsoil to be a likely source of not only the glacier’s dust, but also its black carbon. Urban activities, such as automobile exhaust and industrial pollution, release black carbon that pollutes the soil, according to the study.

To reduce the amount of black carbon released into the environment, Kaspari suggested more efficient combustion methods, more efficient engines, and the elimination of coal-fired power plants.

Natural sources of black carbon, such as wildfires, are more difficult to mitigate. And there’s no feasible way to remove black carbon that’s already settled across the surface of the world’s glaciers.

Li told GlacierHub that the results of his study do not speak to the possible concentrations of black carbon in other glaciated regions of the Tibetan Plateau. “The concentrations of black carbon and dust in the Tibetan Plateau glaciers must vary broadly, because of the spatiotemporal variability in wet, dry, and post depositional conditions,” he said.

Still, along with other studies that research black carbon concentrations in other glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, the work of Li and his coauthors adds to our evidence that human activity accelerates the melting of glaciers in Tibet and worldwide.

Read More on GlacierHub:

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Video of the Week: NASA Reports on the Third Pole

A recent video by NASA summarizes how the rapid melting of Asia’s high mountain glaciers, also know as Earth’s “Third Pole,” is affecting water availability. The video explains how NASA’s High Mountain Asia Team  (HiMAT) aims to help in adaptation efforts by providing data and tools.

The video accompanies a feature article that highlights the project, which is described as “the most comprehensive survey ever made of snow, ice and water in these mountains and how they are changing.” Now in its third year, the team studies “three decades of data on this region in three broad areas: weather and climate; ice and snow; and downstream hazards and impacts.”

Due to the difficulties and dangers of visiting these high glaciated regions, “for most of human history, a detailed scientific study of these mountains was impossible,” according to the article. But “the satellite era has given us the first opportunity to observe and measure snow and ice cover safely in places where no human has ever set foot.”

The goals of the program include creating “an authoritative estimate of the water budget of this region and a set of products local policy makers can use in planning for a changing water supply,” called the Glacier and Snow Melt (GMELT) Toolbox.

NASA’s video explains the mission of HiMAT and provides contextual information on the receding of glaciers of the Third Pole.

Read More on GlacierHub:

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Photo Friday: Jostedal Glacier–Europe’s Largest Glacier   

Study Assesses Efficacy of Artificial Glaciers in Alleviating Water Scarcity in Ladakh, India

This month, Regional Environmental Change published a study that analyzes the “socio-hydrology” of the artificial ice reservoirs, commonly called “artificial glaciers,” of Ladakh, a high mountain region located in the area known as the Trans-Himalaya. The study assesses the effectiveness of these structures as a strategy of adaptation to seasonal water shortages and to the effects of climate change on the glaciers of the Himalaya, which the Ladakhi rely on for water to irrigate agriculture.

Why Artificial Glaciers?

Ladakh has always experienced seasonal water scarcity, according to Marcus Nüsser, a co-author of the study. Nüsser told GlacierHub, “Water scarcity issues are frequent and an annual phenomenon in Ladakh because of the complete dependence of irrigated agriculture from meltwater, especially from the glaciers.” Since the glaciers reside at a much higher altitude than the villages, “the meltwater from these water sources comes quite late in the year. And so there’s a regular problem of severe water scarcity every year in those months when sowing of the cultivated plants starts,” that is, in early spring.

Climate change has increased water shortages in mountain regions worldwide, according to another study published last month. Artificial glaciers help to alleviate seasonal water shortages by storing meltwater from winter months in ice structures at an altitude lower than the natural glaciers and higher than the cultivated fields. There are several different types of artificial glaciers, which are described later in this article. Due to their lower altitude, these stores of ice melt earlier than the natural glaciers, “providing irrigation just in time for the start of the agricultural season,” as Nüsser writes in his chapter of the 2016 book Ethnic and Cultural Dimensions of Knowledge, titled, “Local Knowledge and Global Concerns: Artificial Glaciers as a Focus of Environmental Knowledge and Development Interventions.”

Artificial glaciers provide water right when farmers need it for irrigation. (Source: Marcus Nüsser)

How They Work

Constructed ice reservoirs, along with water management systems, have long been in Ladakh’s technological repertoire. According to Nüsser’s chapter of Ethnic and Cultural Dimensions of Knowledge, Ladakh “has a long history of water harvesting and community management of water resources.” This history includes tanks for storing meltwater, called zings, as well as an official called a Chudpon who “ensures equitable distribution of water.” The chapter notes the practice of “birthing glaciers” by placing pieces of glaciers in caves at high altitudes found in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan. The Regional Environmental Change study further mentions the tradition of “snow harvesting,” which involves building small barrier walls.

Since then, four types of modern ice reservoirs have been developed, as identified by Nüsser and his coauthors:

The types of ice reservoirs, as identified by Nüsser and his coauthors (Source: Regional Environmental Change)

Basin structures store ice similarly to how traditional zings store water. While zings are generally built around the same level as fields, basins for ice storage are located at altitudes higher than cultivated fields so that water can freeze. The advantage of ice basins over zings, and the advantage of ice reservoirs over water reservoirs, is that evaporation is minimized and so more water is retained.

A second type of ice reservoir involves building a sequence of loose rock walls into a river. This slows down water velocity enough that the water freezes in layers. This type of structure, called a “cascade,” was first created in 1987 and was the first structure to be called an “artificial glacier.”

A third type of artificial glacier diverts stream water to freeze in small, shaded side valleys. This strategy also relies on reducing the velocity of river water.

The most recently developed type of artificial glacier, the Ice Stupa, was highlighted in a New Yorker photo essay last month. An Ice Stupa uses piping to divert stream water. The water is shot upwards through a sprinkler and freezes in vertical layers in a conical structure that resembles Buddhist stupas. Due to their vertical shape, ice stupas have less surface area exposed to sunlight, and so they can reside at altitudes as low as the villages themselves while remaining frozen through the winter. A challenge of the Ice Stupa, Nüsser told GlacierHub, is that since they rely on pipes, “they need a relatively sophisticated intake system that is not blocked during the cold seasons.” Developed by Sonam Wangchuk, the Ice Stupa won the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2016.

Reception of Ice Reservoirs

Ice reservoirs are not always successful, according to Nüsser and the recent study. Success depends on “the situation during the wintertime, whether or not ice accumulation is successful,” Nüsser told GlacierHub. The study cites “high inter-annual climatic variability, frequency, and duration of freeze-thaw cycles together with variances in design” for this irregularity.

Further, Nüsser explained, artificial ice reservoirs are only implementable in a very specific environment–that is, a “cold, arid environment… where you have extremely low temperatures during the wintertime because of the high altitude, the position, and where you have on the other hand a very arid situation.” A local climate must include “frequent freeze-thaw cycles to have the successful formation of large quantities of ice. That’s why you cannot use such systems in every area where you have irrigated cultivation.” Still, there are enough places that meet this description that ice reservoir technology has the potential to spread to other locations. Nüsser told GlacierHub, “I’m sure there are possibilities to transfer this technology, for example, to other trans-Himalyan regions,” and possibly to “parts of Bolivia, maybe, parts of Peru, or northern Chile.”

However, as Nüsser and his coauthors point out, support for ice reservoirs is not unanimous. Storing meltwater in the form of ice to service upstream communities in Ladakh deprives downstream communities of this water. According to the study, “There have been protests against the [Ice Stupa] project as it abstracts water from the main stream, thereby reducing water availability for downstream communities and households.”

Presented as an appropriate method of adaptation to global warming, artificial glaciers have received considerable attention. The home page of the website for the Ice Stupa Project reads, “Join Ladakh as it gears up to fight climate change and melting glaciers.” The Regional Environmental Change study observes that although the Ice Stupa Project was the costliest ice reservoir initiative to date, the project was able to receive its funds through crowdsourcing by “promoting these structures in the context of global climate change.”

The authors of the study, though, do not see artificial glaciers as an appropriate method of adaptation to climate change. Nüsser reasonably suggests that the term “artificial glacier” be jettisoned in favor of “artificial ice reservoir.”

“It’s not really a glacier,” Nüsser told GlacierHub. “It’s just a seasonal storage of water in the form of ice to increase meltwater availability in the early season.” Unlike natural glaciers, ice reservoirs only remain frozen for part of the year, and so ice does not accumulate from year to year. “They can not replace the natural glaciers,” he said.

His study, of course, echoes this conclusion: “It is important to see them as site-specific water conservation strategies rather than climate change adaptation, which is neither their original function, nor something they are likely to accomplish.”

Although they do not match the expectations that the term “artificial glacier” may raise, artificial ice reservoirs do, overall, succeed in supplying much needed water to farmers at a critical point in the growing season, according to Nüsser and the study. Storing ice in these structures “helps the farmers to increase the number of irrigation cycles for the cultivated fields.” The aid in water supply allows farmers to “cultivate cash crops like potatoes, in the case of Ladakh, and they can make some more income from these agricultural productions.”

Ice reservoirs alleviate water shortages in upstream communities in the short term, the study concludes, but these ice structures will not slow the effects of climate change on natural glaciers. If glaciers disappear, then there will be no meltwater to be stored in the artificial ice reservoirs. Nüsser told GlacierHub, “In the context of global warming, we have to imagine a time when there is no meltwater available.” For now, though, these artificial ice reservoirs help the farmers of Ladakh and provide an example of creative adaptation to immediate strains caused by global warming.

This artificial glacier resides above the village of Igu in Ladakh. (Source: Marcus Nüsser)

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