Does Glacier Retreat Promote Invasive Species?

Didymosphenia geminata, also known as "rock snot" (source: Hoddle/UCRiverside)
Didymosphenia geminata, also known as “rock snot” (source: Hoddle/UCRiverside)

A recent study suggests that glacier reatreat may contribute to spread of a noxious invasive algae species in Chile. The particular species is a kind of algae, Didymosphenia geminata, commonly called “didymo.” Since this microscopic organism, a kind of planktom, forms thick dense mats that coat rocks, it is also known as “rock snot.”

Vivián Montecino and her co-authors report on the spread of this species in a paper published earlier this year in the journal Science of The Total Environment. They discuss a recent bloom of this species that occurred in 13 river basins in Chile between 2010 to 2015, extending over 1800 kilometers in central and southern Chile. Didymo has been found around the world. The dense algae mats are a problem because they are unpleasant, creating problems for tourism and sport fishing. Moreover, they interfere with local ecology, since they cover rocks that are the habitat for larve of aquatic insects, disrupting aquatic food webs.

Didymo is native to the northern hemisphere, but recently has extended its range to the southern hemisphere, including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and, as this study shows, Chile. It spreads rapidly and has proved very difficult to eradicate.

Baker River in southern Chile (source: Straessler/Flickr)
Baker River in southern Chile (source: Straessler/Flickr)

The researchers gathered water samples at over 300 sites between 2010 and 2015 in 13 river basins, assessing physical and chemical characteristics of the samples and checking for the presence of didymo. They found that in Chile, as in other regions, it is concentrated at site with low water temperatures and in streams that have low concentrations of phosphorus. They noted the presence in didymo in nearly all the rivers in Chile with these characteristics, suggesting that it may not continue to spread in the future. They note that didymo took a similar amount of time, about 6 years, to spread across the South Island of New Zealand, reaching its full extent in that time.

The authors note that the spread of didymo to the south may be associated with glacier retreat. They comment that glacier retreat in the watershed of the Baker River is associated with increased stream flow in the summer, leading to a lowering of phosphorus concentrations which favor the species. The Baker River drains the rapidly shrinking Northern Patagonian Icefield.

The Northern Patagonian Icefield (source: NASA)
The Northern Patagonian Icefield (source: NASA)

This research demonstrates the complex consequences of glacier retreat. It seems paradoxical that the dilution of nutrients such as phosphorus associated with increased stream flow could favor invasive species, but dense mats of rock snot that cover the rocks along stretches of the Baker River demonstrate this association. As glaciers change, the ecosystems in the rivers fed by their meltwater also change, often for the worse.

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Photo Friday: Kronebreen Glacier in Svalbard

This week’s Photo Friday features images from a research project in Svalbard. GlacierHub has interviewed two members of the research team.

Nick Hulton, a team member, explained:

Kronebreen is one of the fastest flowing glaciers in Svalbard, which is an Arctic archipelago situated north of mainland Norway. The glacier drains a large ice cap, transferring ice down a narrow valley that terminates within a fjord, producing a dramatic 3 km-wide ice cliff. The CRIOS (Calving Rates and Impact on Sea Level) research group, headed by Prof. Doug Benn, has been working there for a number of years to better understand how and when ice will be transferred to the oceans, and how this will affect future global sea levels.

Two CRIOS members, Penny How and Nick Hulton from the University of Edinburgh and the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), are using time-lapse cameras to understand how this glacier is changing and the processes that cause icebergs to break off into the ocean. The cameras take high-resolution pictures every thirty minutes, and by tracking individual features form image to image, can be used to measure how fast the glacier is flowing.

Penny How, a research student in the team, added “We are currently putting 11 time-lapse cameras at Kronebreen, in an attempt to generate sequential digital elevation models using Structure from Motion (i.e. three-dimensional time-lapse).”

Videos produced from these images give a good impression of how the glacier moves and can be seen here:

This one gives a taste of the fieldwork involved to install these time-lapse cameras:

Images from Penny How and Nick Hulton

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The Humble Tour Guide, Bridge to the Natural World

Tour guides play an important role in visitors’ interactions with the natural world. Harald Schaller, a graduate student at the University of Iceland studying geography, argues in a chapter in the book, Tour guides in nature-based tourism: Perceptions of nature and governance of protected areas, that the tour guide is a key stakeholder in protected areas.

Schaller shows in this chapter that tour guides not only translate, or help visitors find their path, but also shape visitors’ perception of nature. Furthermore, they guard fragile natural tourist sites, like glacial areas.

Tour guide using ice axe to make steps on glacier (source: Flcikt/Gregpoo)
Tour guide in Iceland using ice axe to make steps on glacier (credit: Flickr/Gregpoo)

“Tour guides are important in understanding the dynamics of the interaction of humans with nature and with each other,” Schaller wrote. Understanding the interaction between humans and nature helps decision-makers get insight into visitors’ perception of nature’s vulnerability and the way nature changes over time. For instance, tour guides working in many areas in Iceland areas have the opportunity to witness glacier retreat.  

Schaller provides insight into the position of tour guides in vulnerable tourist sites. He shows how they play a role in visitors’ perception of the environment, and concludes that  tour guides should be seen as stakeholders in the decision-making process of protecting vulnerable tourist areas.

His chapter begins with the author’s journey to Iceland, talking with local tour guides and exploring how other tour guides view the environment in which they are guiding the tourists. Tour guides have a long history. They are both pathfinders and mentors; they interpret information. The information they provide for people make their journey more safe and interesting. With the boom of tourism industry, the need for tour guides is also increasing.

The individual concept of the environment is often linked to someone’s personal background, such as culture, experience, and beliefs. Therefore tour guides’ personal background could affect the guiding service they provide.

Glacier hike from Skaftafell(Credit: Wikimedia)
Glacier hike on Skaftafell (Credit: Wikimedia)

According to World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 2013, tourism creates one out of eleven jobs globally. The tourism industry in Iceland is expanding, so there is tremendous need for guides. However, in Iceland the quantity and stability of the labor supply is fluctuating, because many of the tour guides are migrants and seasonal workers. This poses risks for the sustainability of Iceland’s tourism industry, since the quality and consistency of guiding service suffers when there are not enough professional and experienced tour guides.

As the growth of tourism continues, the expanding number of visitors threaten the future of this nature-based tourist industry. “[P]eople are more concerned with ticking Iceland off their bucket list and with sharing more of their experience online, rather than caring for the delicate environment,” Schaller writes in his article.  In an email message to GlacierHub, he mentioned his concern for what he terms “the fragility of Icelandic environments.” He added, “Due to the increased visitation (beyond expectation for many), degradation of the natural environment happens. This, in turn, threatens the future of tourism, since the image of a wild and untouched environment is affected by this increase.”

Human cognition of the environment is not merely influenced by the physical existence of surroundings, such as lakes, mountains or animals, but also through their interaction with these natural surroundings. Schaller cites other sources who share this view. Lund (2013) and Ingold (2011) agreed that the environment is not a passive being. Instead, as one engages with the environment, it appears more clearly, and changes as physical interactions with it continue. So the natural environment could be seen as part of the personal experience within us as well as the objective existence of the environment.    

Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland(Credit: Flickr)
Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland (Credit: Flickr)

A person’s conception of an environment is shaped by the visitors’ own memories, values and cultural background before they even step foot on the ground. Thus, there are two forces intertwining with each other: nature shapes the experience of the visitors and their understanding of it, and the visitors’ prior experiences also influence their thoughts. This tangled relation shows that tour guides are key stakeholders in understanding how visitors’ perception of nature-based sites, such as glacial areas, shape visitors’ perceptions. Schaller’s work demonstrates the centality of these guides to research on glacier tourism and, more broadly, on environmental perceptions.

A number of images of glacier tours in Iceland are available here.

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On Glaciers, Moss Become Asexual

A recent study from the journal Czech Polar Reports presents interesting findings about a rarity on glaciers: moss.

Glacier Mosses(Credit: Flickr)
Glacier Mosses(Credit: Flickr)

When glaciers have a certain amount of moisture and cryoconite—a base layer that consists of small rock particles, soot, and microbes that have accumulated on glaciers— sometimes mosses can grow on them. While it is not common to see moss on glaciers, according to a paper by Olga Belkina, a researcher at the Institute of the Kola Science Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, they have been found on a few glaciers in Alaska, Iceland, and Svalbard, Norway.

There are some moss attributes that contribute to the mosses’ tolerance of the brutal living conditions found on glaciers. First, moss do not absorb nutrients from the substrate, the layer to which they are attached, since mosses do not have roots. They absorb water and nutrients directly through their leaves. Mosses only have rhizoids–threadlike tissues which look like roots, but function only to attach to the surface they grow on and can’t absorb water or nutrients from soil or any other substrate.

Second, mosses have have the ability to adapt to a wide range of light levels, which means some types of mosses can survive under massive exposure to sunlight. Some mosses are found in the desert, and some can survive with the low intensity of sunlight found in polar areas.

Glacier Mosses(Credit: Flickr)
Glacier Mosses(Credit: Flickr)

Although glacial areas aren’t the ideal living conditions for mosses, there are still the minimum living requirements for them to grow. There is enough moisture and little competition from other plants, allowing them to survive.

One mystery of the development of mosses found on ice is that how they reproduce in such cold areas. “Failure of sex reproduction of many mosses is widespread in the high polar regions,” the study reports.

The alternative is asexual reproduction. Reproduction strategies for most species fall into two categories, sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction. The offspring of the asexual reproduction process are identical to a single parent, while the offspring from sexual reproduction received genetic information from both parents.

An interesting finding, according to Belkina’s study, is that Schistidium abrupticostatum, a type of moss found on the ice of Bertilbreen, Svalbard, produces gametangia–an organ which produces gametes that can fuse with another cell during fertilization to sexually reproduce. However, the mosses do not evolve into sporophytes, or the non-sexual phase of a plant.

 

Glacier mice(Credit: Wikimedia)
Glacier mice(Credit: Mental_Floss)

Normally plants would alternate between a sexual phase (gametangia) and a non-sexual phase (sporophyte). During the non-sexual phase, plants grow larger and taller to produce spores through meiosis. Then the spores divide into gametes, or sex cells. A gamete from one plant can merge with another gamete, completing a set of chromosomes to start the next round of reproduction.

Generally, mosses do not develop into gametophytes in harsh conditions like glaciers, even though they do in areas that are near the glaciers. Many mosses can be brought to the glaciers by wind and then settle on surface and substratum, yet only a few have the chance to create long-lived populations in such cold conditions.
Each clump of moss on glaciers consists of genetically identical individuals, and the populations grow by the asexual method, which means new mosses can regenerate from a small section of existing moss plants.

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Roundup: Satellite Images, Plane Accident and Colonial Antipolitics

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

Satellite Images Reveal Dramatic Tropical Glacier Retreat

From Plymouth University news:

SATELLITE IMAGES REVEAL DRAMATIC TROPICAL GLACIER RETREAT(Credit: Digital Globe)
SATELLITE IMAGES REVEAL DRAMATIC TROPICAL GLACIER RETREAT (Credit: Digital Globe)

“Scientists have obtained high resolution satellite images that paint a stark picture of how tropical glaciers in the Pacific have retreated over the past decade. The images taken from the Pleaides satellites reveal that the formerly extensive Carstenz Glacier of West Papua has almost completely disappeared, while the once continuous East North Wall Firn has split into a number of much smaller fragments.

The findings have been released by scientists at Plymouth University and the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth (BRNC) and come on the heels of record-breaking temperatures around the globe.

Dr Chris Lavers, Lecturer in Radar and Telecommunications, based at BRNC, said:

‘The years 2011-2015 have been the warmest five-year period on record, with many extreme weather events influenced by climate change. So it is not surprising then that the present observed speed of glacier retreat world wide has been historically unprecedented. This is visual confirmation of the ablation of equ atorial glaciers, with the Carstenz Glacier revealed to have almost completely melted away in the last 15 years.'”

Learn more about the story here.

Failure to use carb heat while flying by glacier leads to accident

From General Aviation News:

Cessna 182(Credit: Wikimedia)
Cessna 182 (Credit: Wikimedia)

“The Cessna 182 pilot was flying down a glacier near Cooper Landing, Alaska, for an extended period of time at a low power setting without the carburetor heat on. Near the toe of the glacier, he attempted to add power to level the plane, but the engine did not respond. He said that their altitude was low and he landed on the glacier moraine. The plane nosed over, sustaining substantial damage to the wings and fuselage.

The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to correctly use carburetor heat, resulting in a loss of engine power and collision with terrain.”

To read more about the news here.

“They could take you out for coffee and call it consultation!”: The colonial antipolitics of Indigenous consultation in Jasper National Park

From Sage Journals:

Jasper National Park(Credit: Wikimedia)
Jasper National Park (Credit: Wikimedia)

“Although Canada has been applauded for its co-management arrangements in recently established national parks, it continues to struggle with its legacy of colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples, especially in its older and more iconic parks. First Nations were evicted from the earliest parks such as Banff and Jasper in a process of colonial territorialization that facilitated a “wilderness” model of park management and made space for capitalist enterprises like sport hunting and tourism. In Jasper National Park today, private tourism development proposals trigger a duty to consult with nations whose Aboriginal or Treaty rights may be impacted by development.”

Learn more about the study here.

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In Argentina, Tensions Remain Between Mining and Glacier Protection

A recent article “Defending Glaciers in Argentina” in the journal Peace Review, written by Asmaa N. Khadim, explores the history of one of the world’s largest mining companies, Barrick Gold Corporation, and its conflict with Argentina’s environmental protectors. Many of its mining projects are in proximity to glaciers, which are a crucial water source for local residents.

Argentina mining (Credit: Wikimedia)
Argentina mining, province of San Juan (Credit: Wikimedia)

In recent years, to bolster its economy, the Argentine government created incentives to attract foreign capital to invest in mining, which includes lower royalties, favorable foreign investment laws, and a competitive tax regime. But it has not always paid attention to environmental issues.

Many multinational companies want a share of Argentina’s natural resources, like Barrick Gold, Strata, and Meridian Gold, all which have invested heavily in the country’s mining industry. Many of their gold mining operations lie in the Andes, and this region is considered to be one of the most important gold and silver districts across the world. However, many ore deposits lie near glaciers. This location creates risks of water pollution and of mismanagement of water resources, including groundwater. Mining operations could also create soil and air pollution in these settings.

The Perito Moreno glacier in southern Patagonia
The Perito Moreno glacier in southern Patagonia (Credit: Wikimedia)

Two particular projects, Veladero and Pascua Lama, in this region have caused many of the disputes, because of their proximity to numerous glaciers high in the Andes. These two projects are run by Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian company. The Andes are environmentally sensitive, not only because it is home to massive glaciers, but also because of the significance of glaciers as a source that contributes to Argentina’s water supply.

In 1987, the Brundtland Commission released the paper Our Common Future defining sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This paper reframed the vision of environmental rights, which led many countries, including Argentina, to add environmental protection to their constitutional frameworks.

In late 1990s, local environmental organizations saw the risks of mining development in the Andes. They started to press the Argentine government for a law to protect glaciers. As the paper in Peace Review recounts, “The first bill was approved by Congress in 2008, but was subsequently vetoed by President Cristina Fernandez on the basis of economic development arguments.”

Later, in September 2010, a new version of the glacier protection law, the National Glacier Act, was ratified by the Argentine senate. The role of this law is to act as an inspector to identify areas that require protection. This law faced significant resistance from mining companies. The companies allocated funds to lobby legislators to oppose the  bill. They also paid for nationwide advertising campaigns which opposed this bill and its enforcement. Jorge Daniel Taillant, an Argentine researcher, has documented these efforts in his book Glaciers: The Politics of Ice.

As a result of the pressure from powerful mining companies, a federal court judge suspended the implementation of the 2010 glacier protection law within the province of San Juan, where many mining projects are located. It was not until 2012 that Argentina’s Supreme Court overruled this decision and restored the application of the law to this province.

Environmental law in Argentina (Credit: Wikimedia)
Environmental law in Argentina (Credit: Wikimedia)

The tension between mining interests and environmentalists has become more severe as the mining projects continue. Mining brings negative impacts on ecosystems and  biodiversity, water quality, and human health. Khadim describes how Barrick Gold Corporation has hired private security and pressured local provincial police to repress the environmental organizations. Violence and riots have resulted.

It remains a question whether the 2010 law will protect glaciers and water resources. “While constitutional entrenchment alone may not be sufficient to achieve the protection of environmental rights, it appears to be a core foundational step upon which an effective regulatory system may be built,” Khadim states. The outcome of this conflict will have consequences not only in Argentina, but in other areas of the world, such as Central Asia, where mining companies seek to expand into environmentally sensitive mountain areas with glaciers.

 

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Watch This Dramatic Glacial Ice Collapse

An ice bridge collapsed at Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina earlier this month. Hundreds of tourists and locals gathered to witness the dramatic event.

 

Huge glacier collapses in Argentina:

 

On March 9, huge masses of ice broke up into pieces and fell into Argentino Lake, the largest lake in the country. This is a periodic process that happens every three to four years; the last one happened in 2012.

“The Perito Moreno Glacier began its breakup process. We’re waiting! (We) came to experience it firsthand!” the Tourism Secretariat of El Califate said, according to Fox News Latino.

There is no precise calculation as to when the breakups happen, but based on the history it starts when the glacial outflow begins to occur, during which water constantly flows out through an opening at the bottom of a glacier.

The Perito Moreno ice field generates pressure and forces the glacier to grow toward the southern arm of Lake Argentino, forming a dam. As the amount of water increases within the dam, the flow of water creates a tunnel through the glacier. Gradually the water flow washes out the exterior of the ice wall and creates the famous ice bridge. When the ice bridge can no longer hold the weight of ice above it, the spectacular collapse happens. The bridge structure is believed to have consisted of several thousands tonnes of ice.

Perito Moreno glacier's ice bridge collapse (Credit: Wikimedia)
Perito Moreno glacier’s ice bridge collapse (Credit: Wikimedia)

In 2008, the ice fell apart in winter in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, according to Reuters. There were concerns as to whether global warming had an impact on the collapse. However, experts said the collapse only happened because of natural physical processes and no climate change factor was involved.

In fact, Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier is one of a few glaciers that are growing in spite of global warming, according to NBC News.  

“We’re not sure why this happens,” a glaciologist, Andres Rivera, with the Center for Scientific Studies, in Valdivia, Chile said according to NBC News. ”But not all glaciers respond equally to climate change.”

The Perito Moreno Glacier, located in the Los Glaciares National Park, is one of the most important tourist sites in Argentina and is the world’s third largest freshwater reservoir as well.

A spokesman for Los Glaciares National Park Matilde Oviedo told The Daily Mail there was a “tremendous noise” when the bridge fell, according to a report.

“There were a lot of people but we were expecting it to happen a little later.”

 

Video of Argentina’s ice-bridge collapse:

 

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For Jill Pelto, Science Intersects With Art

Jill Pelto aspires to use art, especially screen printing, to communicate climate change, rising sea levels, and the state of threatened species to the world. She has a background in both art and science— she graduated from the University of Maine in 2015 with a double major in Studio Art and Earth Science— and says on her website that ”art is a uniquely articulate lens: through it I can address environmental concerns to raise awareness and inspire people to take action.”

Jill Pelto: Landscape of Change
Jill Pelto: Landscape of Change

 

Pelto witnessed glacier retreat first-hand as a teenager, and since then images of glaciers have left her with a strong impression. She’s visited glaciers on many occasions. She has accompanied her dad, a glaciologist, to the North Cascade Glaciers of Washington state, and has assisted with research conducted on mountain glaciers in that state. Pelto’s recent work was featured at the University of Maine Art Department’s senior studio art exhibit, “The Ghosts of Carnegie Hall.” Now she is a graduate student at the University of Maine, studying in the Earth Science Program. She spoke to GlacierHub by email. 

Jill Pelto: Decrease in Glaciers
Jill Pelto: Decrease in Glaciers

GlacierHub: Are there any interesting stories or particular feelings you would like to share from you previous visits to glaciers?

Jill Pelto: Working in the field is perhaps my favorite part about working as an Earth Scientist; these trips also lead to a lot of interesting stories. I think it’s very important to note the rate of change that is occurring on Earth. We hear a lot of people state that change in the climate are natural and so on, yet they do not realize that unprecedented rate that has led us to call this a global warming. I think it is important that more people understood why the current changes are not like any in the past, and that they are caused by human influence. I have worked with the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project on a group of glaciers in Washington for the past seven years. This is not a long period of time, yet over this interval I have seen huge changes to the glaciers and ecosystems, including the creations of a new meltwater lake.

This past field season, August 2015, I was stunned and saddened by the effects of the drought: almost no snow on the glaciers, huge ice volume loss and retreat, reservoirs and streams depleted, a new lake beneath Columbia Glacier, and forest fire smoke engulfing the sky. When I returned from the field I was inspired to create a series that used data to show people: look, this is happening! It is going to be difficult to change our relationship with the environment, but it is essential that we do so now! I hope that my artwork will communicate both this sense of loss that is occurring, yet also inspire hope and action.

Jill Pelto: Salmon Population
Jill Pelto: Salmon Population

 

GH: What component do you consider the most important when communicating science to public?

JP: I am really still figuring out how best to share science to a broad audience, but I have always thought artwork was an excellent form of communication. I think this is because the aesthetic visual quality often evokes an emotional reaction. I am trying to use my artwork to share with people the emotions I feel about environmental issues: worry and anger, but also hope and the belief that we can change our relationship with nature for the better. Using research and data in my art has helped communicate well because it informing people about a topic and showing a trend, yet it does not rely on the graph by itself to tell a story. Right now I think the key to communicating science to the public may lie in combining the intellectual to the emotional. One without the other is a much less effective way to bring about change. You need the intellectual so that people know what is happening, but without the emotional they may not pay attention, or may not care enough. The emotional is key for getting people to care, yet without the information they would not learn about why the topic is important, or how and why they can make a difference.

 

GH: Can you tell us a bit about screen printing?

JP: Screenprinting gives me the unique ability to create an edition of original artworks that are handmade. The whole process is quite complex, yet I am able to turn one work of art into a series that varies in color palette. I use the photoemulsion process for my series and work in the University of Maine print shop run by Susan Groce. I first create a watercolor that will serve as my image. I then scan it and use Photoshop to separate it into its four color layers: Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black (CYMK). These are printed on four separate acetate positives. I can then use a special emulsion and the Print Shop’s UV Light Exposure Unit to expose my images to the screen. The emulsion washes out wherever my image is, allowing the ink to transfer through the screen and onto my paper in this those areas; it is extremely precise.  

Jill Pelto: Habitat Degradation
Jill Pelto: Habitat Degradation

GH: How do scientific research and data motivate your artwork?

JP: For each piece of artwork I research the topic that I wish to communicate. My piece Habitat Degradation: Ocean Acidification, for example, is inspired in particular from two sources that I will share below. The watercolor contains ocean pH data from 1998 to 2012. I wanted to depict the decrease in pH, which is due to atmospheric carbon dissolving into the ocean and creating carbonic acid; this has harmful effects on all marine life. I wanted to include this intellectual content but also portray the emotional response I had when I read that studies on clownfish show that more acidic water alters how their brains’ process information. This affects their ability to avoid predators by detecting noises and find their way home. Ocean water has a lower pH than a fish’s cells, so they take in carbonic acid in order to be in harmony with their environment. Even a small drop in pH requires fish to expend much more energy in order to equilibrate, and this energy is taken from other necessary functions. The clownfish in my watercolor are grouped in confusion, separated from the anemone in which they live. The oceans may be vast, but if pH drops globally, there is literally nowhere marine life can go. They are confined to the water.

Pelto’s artwork covers more than just glaciers. Explore more of it here.

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Roundup: Glacier Lakes, Crevasses and Laws

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

Decreasing Diversity in Glacier Lakes

Glacier lake
Glacier lake (Photo: Flickr)

From Universität Innsbruck:

“Professor Ruben Sommaruga from the Institute of Ecology, and Hannes Peter from the research group Lake and Glacier Ecology have studied shifts in diversity during the transition from turbid glacial to clear mountain lakes and now report on their surprising findings. Their research work has been published in the Nature Publishing Group’s journal ISME Journal.”

 

Learn more about the research here.

Glacier Crevasses: Observations, Models, and Mass Balance Implications

huge crevesse on the fitzsimmons glacier
huge crevasses on the fitzsimmons glacier (Photo: Flickr)

From AGU publications:

“We review the findings of approximately 60 years of in situ and remote sensing studies of glacier crevasses, as well as the three broad classes of numerical models now employed to simulate crevasse fracture. The relatively new insight that mixed-mode fracture in local stress equilibrium, rather than downstream advection alone, can introduce nontrivial curvature to crevasse geometry may merit the reinterpretation of some key historical observation studies. In the past three decades, there have been tremendous advances in the spatial resolution of satellite imagery, as well as fully automated algorithms capable of tracking crevasse displacements between repeat images.”

Read more about Glacier Crevasses here.

Defending Glaciers in Argentina

Glaciers in Argentina
Glaciers in Argentina

From Taylor & Francis Online:

“Constitutional law has been utilized in many countries to promote the protection of environmental rights, with varying degrees of success. This essay offers gold mining in Argentina as a case study for examination of the tensions that exist between economic interests and the need to protect the environment, notwithstanding the provisions made for environmental rights within the National Constitution. Due to the significance of the country’s glacier region, the Argentine public has resisted mining developments that threaten this natural resource by taking a multipronged approach.”

Read more about Argentina’s law to protect glaciers here.

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Photo Friday: Arctic Sea Ice Extent Reaches a New Low

As global warming continues, Arctic sea ice broke the record this year, reaching a new low extent for the month of January. January is typically a month of relatively large sea ice extent, with the annual maximum occurring between February and April. A low sea ice extent in January suggests that the annual maximum, coming in a month or so, will also be low.

Temperatures across most of the Arctic Ocean were around 13 degrees F (6 degrees C) according to a recent report.  This was due to Arctic Oscillation, a cyclical pattern of atmospheric pressure in the Northern Hemisphere. The Arctic Oscillation has entered into a negative phase during the first few weeks of the month according to National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Under such an impact, warmer air would extend further north.

The ice extent retreating in Arctic might have some correlated effects on Antarctic ice shelves. Antarctic sea ice extent also was below average in January, although it just hit the record of reaching a maximum extent in 2014 according to a NASA report. In general, the Arctic sea ice is decreasing, and yet the Antarctic ice continues to grow despite the ocean around it is warming. 2015 is the hottest year on record according to researchers. Would it be the last straw to end the growing trend of Antarctic ice shelves?

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Days After Surviving Avalanche, Indian Soldier Dies

The only surviving member of a group of 10 Indian soldiers that was hit by a Himalayan avalanche on February 3 has died from his injuries, the BBC reported. The soldier, Hanumanthappa Koppad, was found alive on February 8 deep under the snow at an altitude of about 19,600 feet, days after the deadly avalanche happened on a glacier in Kashmir. He succumbed to his injuries on February 11.

Siachen Glacier (Credit: Thehindu)
Siachen Glacier (Credit: Thehindu)

The avalanche buried the soldiers after it hit a camp located in the northern part of the Siachen glacier. Rescue operations were conducted by specialized teams from the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. There were over 150 personnel with radar, snow-cutting equipment, medical equipment, and thermal detectors engaged in the rescue work. Koppad was detected using radar and thermal imaging. He was weak and disoriented when he was rescued.

The soldier was airlifted to a hospital in Delhi and was being taken care of by special medical teams. “We hope the miracle continues. Pray with us,” the Army said, according to NDTV, when he was in a coma.

Kopad was given full state honors during his funeral on February 12, in his home village of Betadur in the Dharwad district. Hundreds of people went to the funeral and the whole village was immersed in sorrow. The Chief Minister in India guaranteed approximately $37,000 for the family, according to a report in The Indian Express.

Funeral of the Indian soldier (Credit: Thehindu)
Funeral of the Indian soldier (Credit: Thehindu)

The Siachen glacier is considered to be the world’s highest battlefield. It’s located in a disputed region, and both India and Pakistan send troops to patrol it, hoping to gain sovereignty. The avalanche that killed the soldiers spurred discussions about the conditions of the soldiers who have been patrolling this region, and must work in hazardous conditions and thin air. In January 2016, four Indian soldiers were killed by an avalanche in the same area, according to a BBC report. Prior to 1984, neither India nor Pakistan had any permanent settlement in the area.

In 2003, India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control, which is a line between the areas claimed by the two countries and serves as the de facto border. However, soldiers from both India and Pakistan stationed in this area have died  because of the extreme weather conditions. In fact, over 870 soldiers have lost their lives due to the weather conditions since 1984, according to The Hindu.

Pakistan proposed on February 11 that both countries should mutually withdraw troops from the world’s coldest battlefield to avoid future tragedies, according to a report. This proposal has been turned down by the Indian Army.

“No question of troops withdrawal from Siachen as proposed by Pakistan unless Indian position on ground is authenticated,” an Indian military official said, according to The Indian Express.

He added: “I see no reason at all to connect this to any withdrawal from the Glacier. That being absolutely clear to us, we are committed to defending our borders and we will continue to do that.”

Although India has been continually improving the equipment for soldiers who are stationed at Siachen, future injuries and deaths seem likely due to the hazardous conditions at the top of the world.

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Roundup: Gender, Dust and Pacific Glaciers

Glaciers, gender, and science

“Glaciers are key icons of climate change and global environmental change. However, the relationships among gender, science, and glaciers – particularly related to epistemological questions about the production of glaciological knowledge – remain understudied. This paper thus proposes a feminist glaciology framework with four key components: 1) knowledge producers; (2) gendered science and knowledge; (3) systems of scientific domination; and (4) alternative representations of glaciers. Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions.”

To learn more about the research, click here.

The dark biological secret of the cryosphere

“Cryoconite is granular sediment found on glacier surfaces comprising both mineral and biological material. Despite long having been recognised as an important glaciological and biological phenomenon cryoconite remains relatively poorly understood. Here, we appraise the literature on cryoconite for the first time, with the aim of synthesising and evaluating current knowledge to direct future investigations. We review the properties of cryoconite, the environments in which it is found, the biology and biogeochemistry of cryoconite, and its interactions with climate and anthropogenic pollutants. We generally focus upon cryoconite in the Arctic in summer, with Antarctic and lower latitude settings examined individually. We then compare the current state-of-the-science with that at the turn of the twentieth century, and suggest directions for future research including specific recommendations for studies at a range of spatial scales and a framework for integrating these into a more holistic understanding of cryoconite and its role in the cryosphere.”

summit region of Devon Ice Cap, NU
Summit region of Devon Ice Cap, NU(Credit: Awenda-Geomatics/flickr)

To read more about the research, click here.

Hooker Glacier Retreat, 1990-2015

Glacier change revealed in Landsat images from 1990 and 2015.  Mueller Glacier (M) and Hooker Glacier (H).  The red arrow indicates 1990 terminus location, the yellow arrow indicates 2015 terminus location and the purple arrow indicates upglacier thinning.

“Hooker Glacier parallels the Tasman Glacier one valley to the west draining south from Mount Hicks and Mount Cook.  Hooker Glacier is a low gradient which helps reduce its overall velocity and  a debris covered ablation zone reducing ablation, both factors increasing response time to climate change  (Quincey and Glasser 2009). Hooker Lake which the glacier ends in began to from around 1982 (Kirkbride, 1993).  In 1990 the lake was 1100 m long (Figure 11.2).  From 1990 to 2015 the lake expanded to 2300 m, with the retreat enhanced by calving. The 1200 m retreat was faster during the earlier part of this period (Robertson et al.,2013).”
Landsat images from 1990 and 2015(Credit: American Geophysical Union)

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