Iceberg Melt Rates and Glacier Frontal Ablation: Seller and Heim Glacier, Antarctica

This post originally appeared on the AGU blog From a Glacier’s Perspective and was written by Mariama Dryak.

Figure 1: Study sites considered in this article: Seller Glacier and Heim Glacier. Landsat-8 image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Iceberg melt is caused by the temperature of the water in which an iceberg floats and the velocity of the water flowing around the iceberg. As a result, iceberg melt is an excellent indicator for the ocean conditions in which an iceberg resides. Given the remote location of Antarctica, and the difficulty in taking direct oceanographic measurements immediately in front of glacier termini in Antarctica, icebergs near glacier fronts can act as a useful proxy for what the ocean conditions are in these areas, especially under changing climate.

Dryak and Enderlin (2020) compared remotely-sensed iceberg melt rates (2013 – 2019) from eight study sites along the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) to glacier frontal ablation rates (2014 – 2018) where they overlapped in time and found a significant positively correlated relationship between the two. In general, iceberg melt rates were found to be much lower on the eastern AP where ocean waters are characterized as very cool relative to the heterogeneous, but generally warmer, waters on the western AP–where iceberg melt rates were higher. When we take a closer look at the data and consider what this means in the context of a stratified water column, the iceberg melt rate magnitudes also make sense relative to one another and what is known of regional ocean conditions.

Here we take a look at the results from two of those study sites: Seller Glacier and Heim Glacier.

Seller Glacier is the southernmost study site considered in our study on the Antarctic Peninsula, and produces very large, sometimes tabular icebergs with relatively high mean melt rates. Figure 2 indicates the changes in the same iceberg at two points in time. These icebergs are larger than and different in style to all of the other study sites, with the Seller Glacier terminus also being the widest of all the glaciers considered in the study. Due to the large area of the icebergs produced, we know that the keel depths of these icebergs also extend deep into the water column (See Table 1, Dryak and Enderlin, 2020), contacting warm subsurface waters (and some contacting Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW)) as characterized by Moffat and Meredith (2018) in Figure 3 below. In the upper layers these icebergs also sit in the very cold Winter Water (WW) layer and expanded section of Antarctic Surface Water (AASW) prevalent in the Seller region.

Figure 2: An iceberg from Seller Glacier in 2014 and later in 2016. Mean submarine melt rates for the Seller Glacier icebergs from this time period were 6.54 cm/day. Imagery © [2019] DigitalGlobe, Inc.

Frontal ablation rates at Seller Glacier are higher than expected given iceberg melt rates at the other sites on the western Antarctic Peninsula (Figure 4). Dryak and Enderlin (2020) suggest this to be because of a long-term dynamic adjustment of the Seller Glacier in response to the collapse of the Wordie Ice Shelf, which occurred between 1966 and 1989 (Vaughan, 1991)-a similar case to the sustained elevated velocities witnessed at Crane Glacier on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula following the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002.

In contrast, the study site at Heim Glacier, north of Seller Glacier, contains smaller, shallow icebergs with low iceberg melt rates on par with iceberg melt rates found on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula. The glacier that produced the sampled icebergs, though not the smallest of the sites sampled, produces icebergs small in area that often do not last from one season to the next. The keel depths of the sampled icebergs at Heim Glacier likely do not reach below the cold WW layer (Table 1, Dryak and Enderlin, 2020), terminating in the very cold water layer or above in the compressed and comparatively cool AASW. However, the Heim study site is also located near the Marguerite Trough, an area of deep bathymetry known for the presence of warm waters, so the low melt rates here may be surprising to some without taking a closer look at the specific locale. Our study suggests that the bathymetry of the area in which the icebergs reside might be sheltered due to the presence of Blaiklock and Pourquoi Pas Islands, which may deflect warmer waters from reaching the Heim Glacier.

Figure 4:  Scatterplot of iceberg melt rates and frontal ablation for nearby glaciers over near-coincident time periods. Symbols indicate median frontal ablation rates. Figure 8 from Dryak and Enderlin (2020)

Frontal ablation rates at Heim Glacier are low, and of a similar magnitude to eastern Antarctic Peninsula sites, corresponding in magnitude to the low iceberg melt rates for the site as well (Dryak and Enderlin, 2020; Figure 8).

Overall, this paper re-emphasizes the importance of considering the ocean’s role in forcing changes on glaciers that terminate in the ocean around Antarctica, especially under changing climate. With the ocean acting as a large sink for excess heat in the atmosphere, evaluating the consequences of the storage of this heat in the ocean is essential when attempting to understand the feedback mechanisms associated with such change. The moral of the story is that we must keep one eye on the ocean going forward and how it could lead to changes in glacier dynamics, which could lead to changes in the contributions of glaciers to sea level and the marine ecosystems that exist within the ocean.

For full results and discussion of all of the study sites considered along the western and eastern sides of the Antarctic Peninsula, read the full Dryak and Enderlin (2020) article in the Journal of Glaciology.

*Note the Seller Glacier like many others in the region have experience rapid retreat in the last 30 years, Fleming Glacier, Sjogren Glacier and Boydell Glacier.

Read More on GlacierHub:

A Minority of Peruvian Mountain Farmers Benefit From Government Pandemic Programs

No Change in Black Carbon Levels on Peruvian Glaciers, Despite Pandemic Quarantine

Video of the Week: Coronavirus Protests in Pakistani Karakoram

Roundup: Melting Glaciers Move Borders, Peruvian Study Opens Door for Glacial Research, and Glacier Meltwater Acoustics

As The Climate Shifts A Border Moves

Not all natural boundaries are as stable as they might appear. Italy, Austria, and Switzerland’s shared borders depend on the limits of the glaciers and they have been melting at increased rates due to climate change. This has caused the border to shift noticeably in recent years. The border lies primarily at high altitudes, among tall mountain peaks where it crosses white snowfields and icy blue glaciers.

Read the story by Elza Bouhassira on Glacierhub here.

Rifugio Guide Del Cervino. Source: Franco56/ Wikimedia Commons

Peruvian Study Opens Doors for Glacial Research

A study published in March of this year by researchers from the University of Quebec presents a new avenue for glacier retreat research. While most water-related glacier studies are concerned with water availability, the research presented in this article is distinctive in that it draws a link between glacier retreat and water quality. This work has important implications for populations in the study area and others living in glacierized regions around the world.

Read the story by Zoë Klobus on GlacierHub here.

Dissolved pyrite causes red deposit on rocks along a river in the Rio Santa watershed (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Acoustics of Meltwater Drainage in Greenland Glacial Soundscapes

Remember the age-old adage, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?” For centuries philosophers have tested our minds with such questions, and certainly the answer depends on how the individual chooses to define the word sound. Scientists would say that if by sound, we mean the physical phenomenon of wave disturbance caused by the crash, we would undoubtedly concur. Indeed, in recognizing the uniqueness of audio frequencies, the scientific practice of studying environmental soundscapes has proven effective at providing information across a varied range of phenomena. But glaciers represent a relatively new soundscape frontier. 

“Glaciologists just opened their eyes to studying glaciers about 150 years ago. We started to look at glaciers from different angles, perspectives, satellites — but we forgot to open our ears,” said Dr. Evgeny Podolskiy, an assistant professor at the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. “I’ve been studying glacier geophysics for quite some time and I found that there is this kind of natural zoo, or a universe, of sounds which we kind of totally ignored until recently.”

Read the full story by Audrey Ramming on GlacierHub here

Dr. Evgeny Podolskiy daily work at the calving front of Bowdoin Glacier. Source: Evgeny Podolskiy

Q & A with Artist Activist Diane Burko

Diane Burko, Coral Life Cycle 4, version 2, 2018, Acrylic on Canvas, 20″ x 20″

Diane Burko is an artist whose practice is situated at the intersection of art, science and the environment, embracing issues of climate change. Burko began almost 15 years ago by investigating glacial melt and sea level rise and now focuses on our oceans and coral reef ecosystems.

“The impact of climate change all of over the planet interests me, as a research-based artist, I collaborate with scientists by visiting their labs, studying and incorporating their data in my work. I also bear witness. I’ve investigated the ice fields of Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard and Alaska as well as the southern polar regions of Antarctica, Argentina’s Patagonia, and the melting glaciers in New Zealand’s southern alps. I’ve investigated our ocean’s coral reef eco-systems in Hawaii and American Samoa. In October 2019 I explored Chile’s Rapa Nui and Atacama Desert – other areas of the world also threatened by climate change.”

Burko’s inclination is to witness, translate, and communicate scientific information through her paintings, photographs and time-based media. “It’s how I personally and professionally counter climate doubt – my way of entering into the public discourse with the goal of moving the viewer to reflect, take responsibility and act.”

Left: Diane Burko, Grinnell Glacier Overlook #3 1920 NPS Archive, 2010, oil on canvas, 24″ x 48”
Right: Diane Burko, Grinnell Glacier Overlook #4 2008 after Steven Mather, 2010, oil on canvas 24″ x 48”

As you began your early career as a painter, what was the defining moment that led to the leap into photography and presenting your work through both mediums?

The camera has always been part of my tool kit. As a landscape painter who’s attracted to large monumental geological phenomenon – taking photographs onsite and from the air is my main method of recording the experience.  Those images along with on-site sketches are the sources I reference back in the studio.

Around 2000, I realised that some of my photographs were strong enough images themselves, and so I began to print from slides and then later process 4×5 film. I became more enthusiastic and productive when digital processing became available. Recently I’ve added time-based media, lenticular’s and video to my practice.

Diane Burko, EQI SERMIA CALVING 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2014
Diane Burko, Morning Sail, August 6, 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2014
Diane Burko, Spert 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2013

Having visited so many isolated areas of the world within your field of work, what has been the most alarming viewpoint or information you have gained whilst documenting the areas you have visited?

The glaciers retreating is so obvious and compelling as evidence of global warming. All you have to do is just reference earlier views of the same spot to see it before my eyes.

Diane Burko, Nunatak Glacier 1, 2, 2010, oil on canvas 60″ x 134”

Is there a pivotal moment within your career that led you to create informative art?

My art always informed the viewer of the landscape which enthralled me. But connecting that site with issues of climate change first occurred to me in 2006 after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s book: Notebook on a Catastrophe, and having seen Al Gore’s movie: Inconvenient Truth, all in the same year. Because I had painted many images of the alps way back in the ’70s, I wondered if the snow and ice was still there. I began to seriously read and study more about global warming. 

Diane Burko, UNESCO National Heritage 2, 2015, oil and flashe paint on canvas 42″ x 72”

Can you explain your relationship with scientists and how you use their information to influence your art?

I see scientists as kindred spirits. We are each involved in a creative process:  curious, wanting the challenge of solving problems, making connections and discoveries, trying new methods/materials, thinking outside the box, connecting the dots and taking risks.

While both Art and Science are basic for a civilisation to thrive, I see Science to be more crucial. It has advanced our lifespan through vaccines, life-saving drugs, and implants, taken us to the moon and given us the internet, although we need Art to help keep us human, empathetic beings.

I am a “science-curious” person. Caring about our planet requires more than an emotional desire – it requires knowledge. Scientists provide that for me by sharing research, which I deeply appreciate. They in turn appreciate how I fold that into my work and into my public engagement. We have a symbiotic relationship.

Main Rongbuk Glacier Series, 1-3, 2010, oil on canvas, 48″ x 74”, 48″ x 74”, 48″ x 60”

Who are your biggest inspirations within your areas of work, as an activist and as an artist?

As an activist: people like Greta, Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Naomi Oreskes, Elizabeth Kolbert, Rebecca Solnit, Lucy Lippard.
As an Artist: Mel Chin, Mary Frank, Ólafur Eliasson, Helen and Newton Harrison, Eve Mosher, Edward Burtynsky and James Balog

Arctic Peninsula, 2015, oil and flashe paint on canvas, 20″ x 20”

Explain your thought & process behind the lenticular series.

This lenticular medium is basically made from an animation comprised of 30 frames from videos of liquid paint moving and flowing on a surface. That animation is then digitally interlaced and printed onto film laid over a lenticular lens. That’s what makes it appear to move as one passes by, thus being an interactive experience inviting the viewer to wonder and engage.

It is the perfect format to communicate the fluidity of my underwater experiences as well as the multiple perspectives from which I observed the reefs. It allows me to express the various colour experiences collected on my expeditions in the Polar regions as well as the Pacific.

These circular images provide multiple interpretations, ranging from a “portal” view underwater to the aerial perspective of a satellite, to a microscopic glance into the movements of polyps – the living organisms of a coral. The series was created in collaboration with Anna Tas, an artist whose métier is “lenticular”.  Together we combined Anna’s technical knowledge as well as aesthetic skills with my on-site impressions.

Diane Burko, Kumimi Beach, Molokai, video simulation of a lenticular print and lightbox, 13.5″ x 13.5″ framed

A note from the artist, Diane Burko

This series was created in collaboration with Anna Tas, an artist whose métier is “lenticular.” Together we combined her technical knowledge as well as aesthetic skills with my on-site experience.

This series invites the viewer to wonder and engage by utilizing this time-based, lenticular medium to provide visual references to my experience bearing witness in the field and in the lab. Thus each circular image provides multiple interpretations, such as a “portal” view underwater, the aerial perspective of a satellite, a reenactment of melting glaciers, or a microscopic glance into the movements of polyps – (the living organisms of a coral.)  The interactive quality of these metaphors invite the viewer to contemplate and discover.

50% of all proceeds from this collaboration will be donated directly to, an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.

This post originally appeared on Tomorrow Creates and was republished with permission.

Fogo Island’s Icebergs

This story was written for GlacierHub by Bonnie J. McCay, Ph.D, of Rutgers University. If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at or @glacierhub on Twitter. 

My partner Roger Locandro and I like to come to our home on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, for a week or two in early March to enjoy a Newfoundland winter and particularly the vistas and dramas of “pack ice,” the local term for Arctic sea ice. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic led us to stay through April and possibly on to the summer, and so we have been able to witness the longer pattern of seasonality in the sub-Arctic NW Atlantic.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice, Tilting, Fogo Island, April 17, 2020 (Photo: Bonnie McCay).

Here on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, what looks like spring on the standard calendar—April month––is better known as a time when Arctic sea ice dwindles and icebergs begin to show up. The northern coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador constitute the southern extent of Arctic sea ice, which begins to shrink in March and, in this region, disappears from coastal areas in April or thereabouts (National Snow & Ice Data Center, Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis). Pack ice moves into and out of the harbors of Fogo Island with changes in tide and wind but can stay packed solid for long periods of time, stretching out to the horizon (Figure 1).

Figure 2. Iceberg off Joe Batt’s Arm, April 23, 2020 (Photo: Bonnie McCay).

The Arctic sea ice brings harp seals, who migrate southward in the spring, breeding and delivering pups at the edge of the ice off the coast of Newfoundland. For generations seal hunting was part of the annual cycle for Newfoundland fishers, and Fogo Island is close to “the front” of the harp seal fishery. This year the seal hunt has been called off because of the pandemic. Sometimes polar bears come this far south, too, following their prey. On April 5, 2020, a young polar bear was sighted close to our home in Tilting but, to our relief, was last seen at a nearby beach looking as if it was about to swim away.

Figure 3. Iceberg and boat off Fogo Head, Fogo Island, April 16, 2020 . Possibly the same iceberg as in Figure 2 (Photo: Bonnie McCay).

As the sea ice melts and retreats, icebergs are freer to move around and some arrive close enough to shore to be visible from land (Figure 2, 3). In recent years, Newfoundland tourist sky-rocketed based on the opportunity to see icebergs, which in some years are exceptionally numerous and large. We don’t know what this season will bring but so far, late April, we have seen half a dozen sizeable bergs, and in most years one can anticipate seeing icebergs well into June). Unfortunately, because of the pandemic they will not bring tourists.

Figure 4.  Iceberg off Joe Batt’s Arm, Fogo Island, April 15, 2020 (Photo: Bonnie McCay).

Some of the bergs we’ve seen so far this year look quite worn-out (Figure 4, 5), which is no surprise given the life history of the typical iceberg.

Figure 5.  Iceberg off Barr’d Islands, Fogo Island, April 23, 2020 (Photo: Bonnie McCay).

Those that make it to the waters of northeastern Newfoundland are probably from glaciers of the west coast of Greenland. They break off from glaciers such as Jakobshavn, where they form a dense river of pieces of ice that get swept north in the Baffin Bay current (Figure 6), and then drift southwards in the Labrador current, ending up in “Iceberg Alley,” which includes Fogo Island.

Figure 6.  Icefjord, Ilulissat, Greenland, August 18, 2015(Photo: Bonnie McCay).
Source: Canadian Ice Service

Their drift ends when they meet the warm waters of the Gulf Stream around the Grand Banks, some distance south of Fogo Island. It usually takes two or three years to make that trip, and so it’s no wonder that some of the icebergs look travel-worn when we see them.

Nevertheless, they are special and wondrous visitors (Figure 7), and we are happy to have the privilege of being here to see them.

Figure 7. Iceberg off Oliver’s Cove Head, Tilting, Fogo Island, April 17, 2020 (Photo: Bonnie McCay).

Read More On GlacierHub:

North Atlantic Icebergs: Hubris, Disaster, and Safeguards

A trip down Canada’s “Iceberg Alley”

Photo Friday: Eastern Canadian Glaciers

Roundup: Glacier Regions Coronavirus Update From Ecuador, Pakistani Karakoram, the Caucasus, and the US

In Ecuador…

Small-scale food vendors, eager to sell their products, broke into the major food market in the town of Riobamba last week. Government regulations restrict access only to larger-scale vendors––the owners of shops and minimarkets, who have official documents registering them as commercial enterprises. Such small-scale vendors, often of Indigenous peasant background, are an established tradition in the highlands, and a key element of food supply networks that have been choked by the shutdown.

Below, a video posted on Twitter shows vendors entering the market in Riobamba:

Quechua Indigenous communities Facundo Vela and Simiatug near Chimborazo put up a roadblock to prevent infected people from entering.
There are concerns of infection both from tourists (some French tourists, who were infected with Covid-19, attended a village wedding, placing local people at risk), and from local people who are returning from the coastal city of Guayaquil, the center of the pandemic, to which they migrated for work.

In Pakistan…

Much as mountain residents in Ecuador seek to return from lowland cities with high rates of infection––the same is true in Pakistan. In the Broghil region, a high mountain pass in the Hindu Kush, the Pamir Times reports food insecurity issues as workers return to the area after the lockdown.

The Pamir Times reported around 7,000 residents of Gilgit-Pakistan are stranded in Karachi due to the pandemic.

Hunza is a mountainous valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, where women artisans are producing masks for nearby communities in the country’s mountainous north.

Ramazan 2020 (also spelled Ramadan), began on April 23, with some modifications. Clerics of Baltistan decided not to hold Friday prayers in Mosques.

A response from the local religious leaders in Gilgit-Baltistan urging people to listen to medical professionals and adhere to science and to “Pray at home, stay safe, keep others safe.”

In the Caucasus

The WHO reports 485 cases in the country of Georgia and five deaths.

Protests among farmers are growing as frustration mounts over emergency restrictions:

In their continued effort to stop the spread of the virus, Forbes reports the Government of Georgian announced today the country’s likely extension of the state of emergency through May 22.

In Armenia, the WHO reports 1746 cases and 28 deaths. A television tower in Tbilisi, Georgia was illuminated with the colors of the Armenian flag––a sign of solidarity for the neighboring nations.

Meanwhile, in the US the lockdown is pushing into the remaining days of April. People continue to find ways to support local businesses while adhering to social distancing orders. In the city of Concrete, Washington, a local movie theater organized a popup popcorn parade. Last Saturday night, cars wanting popcorn were instructed to stop in front of the theater, turn on headlights, honk, and request butter or no butter and number of tubs and toppings.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: A Digital Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Mount Everest

Dolomites, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Center of Mounting Controversy

Video of the Week: GlacierHub Celebrates Earth Day 50th Anniversary

Video of the Week: GlacierHub Celebrates Earth Day 50th Anniversary

Earth Day is the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement, which began in 1970. Fifty years later, “Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.”

Since the inaugural Earth Day, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased from 324 parts per million in 1970, to more than 414 ppm today. Scientists expect 2020 to be the warmest year on record for the planet and climate-caused natural disasters have placed the climate crisis front and center. Public demonstrations demanding climate action had seemed to be gaining traction over the last year, leaving activists hopeful 2020 would be a year of positive development.

Earth Day 2020 celebrations had planned to be a significant worldwide event––until coronavirus. Many of the shows will still go on, just online. The GlacierHub staff decided to acknowledge the semicentennial with a personalized video tribute. In each clip you can meet the faces behind the by-lines, hear what Earth Day means to each of us, and revisit our favorite stories we’ve researched.

Read GlacierHub staff writer Audrey Ramming’s pick for her favorite GlacierHub story, “Acoustics of Meltwater Drainage in Greenland Glacial Soundscapes.”

Read GlacierHub staff writer Grennan Milliken’s pick for his favorite GlacierHub story “Tlingit Song Recalls Glacier Bay and Time Gone By.”

Read GlacierHub staff writer Zoë Klobus’ pick for her favorite GlacierHub story “Congressional Hearing Focuses on Earth’s Changing Cryosphere.”

Read GlacierHub staff writer Elza Bouhassira’s pick for her favorite GlacierHub story “At Glacier’s End: Protecting Glacial Rivers in Iceland.

Read GlacierHub senior editor Peter Deneen’s pick for his favorite GlacierHub story “Massive Impact Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland Glacier.”

Read GlacierHub managing editor Ben Orlove’s pick for his favorite GlacierHub story “An Abundance of Yaks.”

Does Debris Cover Offset Glacier Retreat In The Greater Caucasus?

Figure 1: Supra-glacial debris cover (SDC) change on the Elbrus Massif from 1986 to 2014. A SPOT-7 image is used as the background. Blue shows retreat of clean-ice parts. Clean ice in 1986 consists of the clean ice in 2014 (grey, transparent) plus clean-ice area that retreated between 1986 and 2014 (dark blue). Credit: Tielidze et al., 2020

In this week’s blog, Levan Tielidze tells us about supra-glacial debris cover change for the Greater Caucasus. His recent study indicates more than a doubling in the area of supra-glacial debris cover for the Elbrus Massif‘s glaciers from 1986 to 2014, the largest glacierized massif in the whole region. Glaciers on the western slope of the Elbrus Massif are affected by avalanches and thus are partially debris-covered. But the most significant increase of supra-glacial debris cover occurred on the eastern oriented glaciers. Overall, supra-glacial debris cover increased from ~2% to ~4.5% on the Elbrus Massif between 1986 and 2014.

The Greater Caucasus

The Greater Caucasus is one of the world’s highest mountain systems, and the major mountain range of the Caucasus region. The Greater Caucasus contains over 2,000 glaciers, adding up to a total area of about 1,200 square kilometers, with many more glaciers located on the northern slopes than on the southern slopes (Tielidze and Wheate, 2018). To give you an idea of size, the glaciers of the Greater Caucasus are about four times the size of the Republic of Malta. The melting of the ice and snow contained in the Greater Caucasus’ glaciers represents a major source of fresh water for populated places in many parts of the Caucasus region.

Supra-glacial Debris

Supra-glacial debris is the general term for the rocks, soil and dust found on the surface of glaciers, which come from rockfalls and avalanches (see a previous blog on features of supra-glacial debris covered glaciers here). Supra-glacial debris cover is an important control on the ice loss rate of glaciers, and therefore an important component of the glacier mass balance in this region (mass balance is the total net gain or net loss of mass of a glacier). Therefore, correctly estimating supra-glacial debris cover is important to correctly model future glacier evolution in the Greater Caucasus. Until now, studies had been restricted to smaller regions or individual glaciers in the Greater Caucasus, so there was a clear need to provide improved estimates of supra-glacial debris cover and its evolution for this region.

Satellite Imagery

A total of nine Landsat images were used in our study, in order to select nearly 700 glaciers, adding up to a total area of ~590 square kilometers. We also used the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission Digital Elevation Model (SRTM DEM) over our study area to evaluate the debris cover in 500 m altitude bands. The Landsat images were used to make an initial assessment of the supra-glacial debris cover and the SPOT-7 image was then used to correct supra-glacial debris cover over the Elbrus Massif specifically.

Debris Cover Change From 1986 to 2014

The largest glacier in the Greater Caucasus is the Bezingi Glacier. The area covered by supra-glacial debris for the Bezingi Glacier increased from ~11% to ~ 20% between 1986 and 2014. In contrast, there was a reduction in the total glacier area by ~6% during the same period, and the glacier tongue became ~374 m shorter (Fig.2). In comparison, the debris-free Karaugom Glacier (third largest glacier of the Greater Caucasus), located in the same region, shrank in length by ~18% (i.e. 1366 m shorter, Fig.2). This suggests that the debris-covered glaciers in the Greater Caucasus are not shrinking as quickly as the debris-free glaciers.

Figure 2: Debris-covered Bezingi and debris-free Karaugom glacier retreat in 1986-2014. Blue color corresponds to the glacier. White and yellow lines correspond to the glacier terminus in 1986 and 2014. A Landsat 5 image for 6/08/1986 and a Landsat 8 image for 03/08/2014 are used as background. Credit: Levan Tielidze.

The Elbrus Massif contained the smallest percentage of supra-glacial debris cover in our entire study region back in 1986. Since then, the debris-covered area more than doubled between 1986 and 2014. Between 1986 and 2014, the supra-glacial debris cover area was highest on the eastern slope of the Elbrus, while it was lowest on its western slopes. Over that same period, we observed that the glaciers located on the eastern slopes showed the strongest decrease in surface area while the glaciers on the western slope showed the weakest decrease in surface area (Fig.3). This confirms the importance of debris cover for reducing glacier loss.

Figure 3: Total glacier area and supra-glacial debris cover area (in yellow) change on the Elbrus Massif between 1986 and 2014. A Landsat 5 image for 26/08/1986 and a SPOT-7 image for 20/08/2016 are used as background. Credit: Tielidze et al., 2020

Overall, we found an increase in supra-glacial debris cover for all investigated glaciers from ~7% in 1986 to ~13% in 2014. For all regions investigated in the Greater Caucasus, the area of supra-glacial debris cover increased, although the rate of increase varied between the western, central and eastern sections of the mountain range (Fig.4). The cause for this increase in supra-glacial debris cover is still being studied. It could be controlled by climate, lithology of the relief (i.e. the types of rock the relief is made of), as well as the different tectonic and ongoing mountain building (uplifting) processes.

Figure 4: Study area with percentage change of supra-glacial debris cover in the Greater Caucasus by region. The SRTM DEM is used as background. Credit: Tielidze et al., 2020

The glaciers in the Greater Caucasus have retreated continuously since 1960, suggesting that the shielding effect of increased supra-glacial debris cover may only partially offset the glacier loss. Other glaciers in the world also show a similar behavior, such as the Zmuttgletscher, in the Swiss Alps (see this study) or the debris-covered and debris-free glaciers in the Himalayas (see this study).

Given the increasing supra-glacial debris cover in the Greater Caucasus region, and its effect on glacier response to climate change, close monitoring of the glaciers in this part of the world should continue. The recent observed increase in the supra-glacial debris cover area in this region may alter the mass balance of the glaciers, depending on debris thickness and properties. Feedbacks between the ice and the debris overlying it will certainly affect the future evolution of these glaciers and should be considered when modelling these glaciers in general.

This post was written by Levan Tielidze originally published on the blogs of the European Geosciences Union.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Outlet Glaciers of Greenland

Acoustics of Meltwater Drainage in Greenland Glacial Soundscapes

Video of the Week: Nepali Celebrities Take Part in Coronavirus Song

Roundup: Glacier Regions Coronavirus Update From Italy, Ecuador, and Pakistan

In Italy…

The worst of the coronavirus outbreak appears to be over, for now. Last week The New York Times reported that thanks to the nationwide lockdown, the number of I.C.U. patients had dropped to 2,812 by Friday, and coronavirus hospitalizations had fallen from a high of 29,010 patients on April 4 to 25,786. Those figures reflect “a steady decline in one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.” GlacierHub has kept up with dispatches from South Tyrol, one of the most impacted glacier regions in the world. A post in Sepp Laner’s fourth corona diary, “Horses Rather Than Guests,” was published in the Schlanders-based media outlet der Vinschger, in the Italian Alps. The stirring post (translated from German) reads:

Everything will be fine? Yes, everything will be fine. “Alles wird gut.”
The only question is when. Nobody knows the exact answer yet. But we hope and believe that it is clear that everything will be fine again.
The message hangs from balconies of houses and apartments, on the social support agency, at the community center and in many other places. Besides saying that everything is fine, the colors of the posters also stand out. There are bright and happy colors that convey hope. There is silence in the air.
Quiet, that actually fits well with today’s Holy Saturday, the day of the Lord’s rest in His grave.  And when it gets quiet all around, we listen and we can observe things that otherwise almost always go unnoticed. On the meadow in front of the local hotel that I see from the balcony, it was always teeming with children who were playing there, taking part in their Easter vacation brimming with holiday kids playing. Now it’s the horses of the nature-based riding school, who graze there and chase flies away with their tails.

Lake Garda, where thousands of vacationers, including some from our province, rush around each year at this time, there is nothing. Also the international three-country race at Schöneben (a ski race right at the point where Italy, Austria and Switzerland meet, with a route that includes all three countries), which is always takes place on Easter Monday has been, swallowed by the coronavirus, like the Haflinger horse race in Meran and countless other fixed events. Social, sporting, cultural, religious and economic life has had a veil put over it. Everything is covered. Almost nothing is fixed. Everything flows, said Heraclitus. What will flow after this year and beyond, nobody can say. It will be years, if not decades, until the
material and spiritual wounds that the virus is tearing open around the world will heal.  I can’t give up the hope that we have a better world. “Everything will be fine,” old Max calls out from the top floor of the civic center. He holds up four fingers up, and with this gesture  says, “We’ve been ‘locked up’ here for 4 weeks.” Nobody is allowed in, nobody out. It is certain is that this time will find its end. In this sense, every day we allow to pass in a disciplined and “well-behaved” way is a small success. The countdown is running.

In Ecuador…

As of April 19, reported cases are concentrated in the Pacific Coast region. In the highlands, where there are a number of glaciated peaks, cases are primarily in the larger towns. Only two largest cities have more than 100 cases––the capital city of Quito with 757, and Cuenca, with a population of 1.6 million, has 193 confirmed cases. The coastal city of Guayaquil, by comparison, has 4,822 out of a population of 2.3 million––Ecuador’s largest city.

Lack of tests and challenges to organizations that report deaths show significant undercounting and large demand at funeral homes in Ecuador. Preference of some families to bury their dead in hometown ceremonies has challenged lockdown efforts. Police checkpoints on roads to limit movement have complicated efforts of families to bring the bodies of relatives home for burial. In the tweet below, police inspect a truck transporting hidden bodies of people from Guayaquil home to mountain provinces of Chimborazo and Tungurahua.

In Riobamba, the situation in hospitals is difficult. Below, a tweet reports a patient with suspected coronavirus symptoms fled the government hospital and police tracked him back to his house.

The Ecuadorean government is conducting food deliveries to elderly people facing food insecurity, where proximity to paved roads and accessibility is a determinant of aid.

In Pakistan…

In the tweet by the deputy commissioner of Nagar, in the northern part of Gilgit–Baltistan, the community is commended for their resolve to maintain social distancing:

“India give us food, Imran is killing us,” said the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, referring to the prime minister of Pakistan. Food shortages have resulted in runaway prices in the region.

Though Gilgit-Baltistan is the second-most tested province in the country, the chart below indicates disproportionate rates of testing. “Islamabad maintains its crown of ensuring it comes first,” one Twitter user said.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Roundup: Covid-19 Reports From Glacier Regions

Photo Friday: Coronavirus Shutdown Brings Clean Air, Clear Mountain Views

The Covid-19 Pandemic Complicates Tourism in the Everest Region

Court Blocks Trump Logging Plan for Mt. Hood

Photo: John Eklund

April 3, 2020: A federal court today ruled against the Trump administration and in favor of Oregon Wild and our allies in a long-running legal battle over the Crystal Clear logging project on the eastern slopes of Mount Hood. The logging project encompassed nearly 12,000 acres of public land in the Mount Hood National Forest, and included almost 3000 acres of logging of mature and old-growth forests along with plans to build or re-open 36 miles of roads.

Oregon Wild, Bark, and Cascadia Wildlands have fought this logging project for several years, highlighting the significant harm it would cause to fish and wildlife (including Mt. Hood’s tiny population of gray wolves), its negative effects on carbon sequestration and climate change, and the reality that logging older, larger, and more fire resistant trees would likely increase the risk of destructive forest fires. 

The court found the negative fire consequences of this logging project compelling, and cited Oregon Wild’s arguments in the ruling:

Oregon Wild pointed out in its EA comments that “[f]uel treatments have a modest effect on fire behavior, and could even make fire worse instead of better.” It averred that removing mature trees is especially likely to have a net negative effect on fire suppression. Importantly, the organization pointed to expert studies and research reviews that support this assertion.


Oregon Wild also pointed out in its EA comments that fuel reduction does not necessarily suppress fire. Indeed, it asserted that “[s]ome fuel can actually help reduce fire, such as deciduous hardwoods that act as heat sinks (under some conditions), and dense canopy fuels that keep the forest cool and moist and help suppress the growth of surface and ladder fuels . . . .” Oregon Wild cited more than ten expert sources supporting this view.

This ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stems from an appeal that Oregon Wild and our sister groups filed over a previous judge’s findings.  The court ordered this project be sent back to the Forest Service for preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to address the scientific controversy over logging to reduce fire hazard. It isn’t the end of the fight, as the Trump administration and the Forest Service could appeal this ruling, or re-work the logging sale and offer it again. But it is a huge victory for the fish and wildlife of Mount Hood, and the Oregonians who cherish these magnificent public lands.

The long term solution will require Congress establishing a plan for Mount Hood that better protects the Wilderness, Wild & Scenic Rivers, trails and recreation from destructive logging. We’ll be looking to Senator Wyden and Congressmen Blumenauer and Walden for leadership on this front. 

It’s also a victory for the thousands of Oregon Wild members and supporters who make our work possible through their activism and financial support. Your contributions make it it possible for Oregon Wild to fight the Trump administration, and to stand up for the wildlands, wildlife, and waters that make Oregon a special place.


This post was written by Arran Roberston and was originally published by Oregon Wild.

Celebrating Women in the Cryosphere

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we selected five of our favorite stories of women in the cryosphere:


Source: Tabei Kikaku

On May 16, 1975, Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848 m. Tabei is also the first woman to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

GlacierHub spoke with Helen Rolfe, co-author of “Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei,” a 2017 memoir published by Rocky Mountain Books that honors Tabei’s life experiences— inspiring readers to “Ganbatte,” a Japanese word used to encourage someone to “do your best.”

Continue reading Japan’s Leading Woman Climber by Maria Dombrov.


Source: ICCA Consortium

For centuries the Qashqai people of Iran have been stewards of the pastures and forests of their mountain homelands. Last week, researcher and PhD student Ghanimat Azhdari, a global steward of Qashqai culture as well as mountains, perished when Iranian security forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people on board. The accident occurred during the most recent period of military provocation between Iran and the United States.

The Qashqai are an Indigenous group of nomadic pastoralists in southwestern and central Iran that tend to herds of goats and sheep. Born the daughter of a local Qashqai leader, Ghanimat Azhdari was a PhD student at Canada’s Guelph University, where she worked on using satellite imagery to map Indigenous cultural sites. She hoped this would foster bottom-up conservation efforts centered on Indigenous knowledge and support. She was 36 years old.

Continue reading Indigenous Activist Among Those Killed by Grennan Milliken.


Mujer Montaña—“Woman Mountain” in Spanish—participated in a recent project of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), in which women climbers from Latin America and Europe carried out ascents of peaks in two mountain ranges in the Bolivian Andes. They established mountaineering records, achieving first all-female ascents and opening new routes. They met another goal as well,  promoting exchanges between people of different cultures and worldviews. And, in their distinctive way, they built awareness of mountains in the context of climate change—a key goal of the UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award Platform, which supported the project.

This project, supported by a number of government agencies and tourism firms in South America and Europe, brought together the members of Mujer Montaña, a Latin American group founded in 2013, with representatives of the Women’s High Mountain Group of the French Federation of Alpine Mountain Clubs (a UIAA member since 1932). In total, four women from South America and eight from Europe took part in the project.

Continue Reading An All-Woman Climbing Team in the Andes by Ben Orlove.


Source: Alexandra Ravelo

One day last June, something rare took place on Interior Alaska’s Gulkana Glacier— a dance party. As a treat for the final day of Girls on Ice, a glacier-based science education program for teenage girls, instructors lowered each of the nine girls into a crevasse, two at a time, and they used ice axes and crampons to climb out. The day was chilly and the winds were picking up, and the girls started dancing to keep warm. “They were dancing and laughing and shining,” said glaciologist and Girls on Ice instructor Aurora Roth. “I want to hang on to that forever. That’s why I do what I do, to see girls shining in the outdoors.”

Girls on Ice began in 1999 when a team of two instructors and five teenage girls spent a week exploring the South Cascade Glacier in Washington. In 2012, a group of graduate students from the University of Alaska Fairbanks decided to adapt the program to Alaska. Each June, eight or nine girls join up with female mountain guides, scientists, and artists to spend a week on the Gulkana Glacier studying glacial processes, creating art, and exploring themes from climate change to socially-prescribed gender roles. “The wilderness setting and single gender field team inspires young women’s interest in science and provides a challenging environment that increases their physical and intellectual self-confidence,” states the program’s mission statement.

Pervasive and dangerous gender imbalances in the geosciences necessitate this focus on girls’ physical and intellectual self-confidence. M Jackson, a glaciologist and environmental educator, is troubled by gender dynamics in the sciences today. “While there are women in glaciology, it is not simply an issue of metrics, the number of women in the field, or the number of women-authored publications. I can tell you from personal experience that out in the field on glaciers, in years past, I have almost always been the only woman on the team. This is changing today,” she said.

Continue reading Shining on a Glacier by Rachel Kaplan.


Robin Bell is a renowned geophysicist, the natural science which concerns itself with the physical processes and properties of the Earth. She has accumulated many accolades for her discoveries in Antarctica and Greenland, which include sub-glacial lakes, rivers that flow uphill, and a volcano beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Bell is the current president of the American Geophsyical Union. The AGU is an international organization, which includes 62,000 scientists from 144 countries, making her the de facto top earth scientist in the world. The sensitive polar regions Bell studies are warming quickly, a symptom of climate change wrought by emissions from mankind’s activities. She is acutely aware of her personal contributions to the problem; her fuel-intensive polar research and a demanding travel schedule.

 “I just want to set an example. If I am telling people this is an issue, I should be acting like it’s an issue.”

For many Americans, even those convinced of the science, climate change is a problem requiring collective action and thus excuse themselves from making personal sacrifices to reduce their personal emissions. Some say individual efforts to curb climate change, like eating less meat or cutting down on their air travel, are largely symbolic and too small to make any meaningful impact. It is notable, however, that the world’s leading earth scientist is not allowing collective inaction to absolve her of personal responsibility.

Continue reading Robin Bell Walks the Walk by Peter Deneen.

Read More on Women in the Cryosphere on GlacierHub:

GlacierHub Writer Tsechu Dolma Wins Major Award

Samar Khan Becomes First Woman to Cycle on Biafo Glacier

A Woman’s Place Is at the Top: Interview with Hannah Kimberley

Diane Burko’s New Exhibit, New Book, New Focus

Request for Submissions to the Global Report of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020

Indigenous issues in high mountain areas is a primary raison d’etre for GlabierHub and has been since the site began in 2015. GlacierHub strives to communicate the essentiality of indigenous knowledge to climate crisis solutions and sustainable practices related to glacier communities. With that goal in mind, we invite our readers to submit materials and to pass this invitation to submit papers to the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020 on to others as well. The deadline to submit is May 31, email to

The importance and relevance of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge in responding to the challenge of anthropogenic climate change is recognized by policymakers and academics. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in its recent Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services underscores the key contributions of Indigenous peoples and local communities to conservation and fostering of biodiversity. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges the importance of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge (IKLK), the inclusion of non-published IKLK remains beyond the scope of the Sixth Assessment Report.

This request for submissions seeks contributions from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to the Global Report of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020. We expect that this report will document, among other things, how holders of IKLK observe, forecast and respond to anthropogenic climate change. In doing so, the report will constitute an invaluable input to be considered in the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.

Evenki woman on the move, Eastern Siberia, Russia, Snowchange. Used with permission.

Working Group II of the IPCC assesses the impacts, adaptation and vulnerabilities of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change and options for adapting to it. The assessment is undertaken from a global to a regional view of ecosystems and biodiversity, and of humans and their diverse societies, cultures and settlements. It considers the vulnerabilities, capacities and limits of these natural and human systems to adapt to climate change, and thereby reduce climate-associated risks together with options for creating a sustainable future for all through equitable and integrated approaches to mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The Global Report Indigenous and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020 is not an official IPCC product. It is, however, a stand-alone yearbook report documenting Indigenous Knowledge and Local knowledge contributions about climate change that will inform the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.

Photo: Fisherman on lake Phayao, Northern Thailand, Snowchange. Used with permission.

We envision that the core of the report will be the contributions of holders of IKLK, which will be preceded by an introductory chapter framing the report. Finally, there will be a concluding chapter highlighting the main findings and key messages to policymakers and academics.

A group of eight academics involved in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report have been chosen to facilitate, edit and produce the Indigenous and Local Knowledge Report 2020 on Climate Change. They receive no benefits from the process and in order to maintain global equity and remain unbiased, no organisation will be affiliated with the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge Report 2020 on Climate Change. It will be released online as an open-access PDF in December 2020 to global and local audiences.

We invite all relevant stakeholders to contribute to the Indigenous and Local Knowledge Report 2020. Submissions are especially welcomed from Indigenous and local knowledge holders, organisations and communities. All submissions are following free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Submissions will remain the intellectual property of the authors, but by submitting to this initiative, author(s) agree to share their contributions universally for the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge Report 2020.

Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) in NE South Africa, a symbol of peace in many cultures. Antoine Scherer, used with permission.

We welcome 2-3 page submissions (max. 2000 words) on all aspects of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge related to climate change. Submissions may include, but are not limited to, oral history, worldviews, observed changes, forecasts, impacts, responses, human and Indigenous rights, ecological restoration, conflict, equity issues, and so on. Submissions should include the location, community, and name(s) as well as communications details of the submitting entities and/or individuals.

Submissions can be made in the official UN languages in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. However, the report language will be in English. Primary submissions will be translated. The submissions, after editing, are planned to be published in the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge Report 2020 in December 2020.

The deadline for submissions to the Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020 is 31st May, 2020. All submissions should be sent via email to (an email repository accessed only by the report editors).

Information can be received from editors at

Read More on GlacierHub:

Indigenous Activist Among Those Killed In Iran’s Takedown of Civilian Airliner

What the Yak Herders of Northern Bhutan Are Saying About Global Warming

These Indigenous Communities are Models for How to Adapt to Climate Change

A Catastrophic Glacier Collapse and Mudflow in Salkantay, Peru

On 23 February 2020 (corrected – this was erroneously reported as 24 February 2020) an enormous, catastrophic debris flow tore down the Salkantay River in Santa Teresa, Peru. This event has killed at least four people, with a further 13 reported to be missing. Given the magnitude of the flow, this number is probably uncertain.

The mudflow was captured in an extraordinary video posted to YouTube:

A mudflow on this scale usually requires an extraordinary cause.  Diario Correo in Peru has an explanation – this event was caused by glacial collapse on Salkantay mountain.  This hypothesis is proposed by Oscar Vilca Gómez, who the article describes as a specialist in Hydrology and Glaciology.  He visited the site site of the detachment as part of a research team from the National Institute for Glacier Research of the Ministry of Environment.  They propose that an ice / rock avalanche detached from the mountain, crossed the Salkantay Cocha lake, and generated the huge debris flow.

The article includes the following image of the site:

The site of the rock / ice avalanche at Salkantay in Peru. Image by Benito Moncado via Diario Correo Peru

In first inspection this appears to be a wedge failure in the rock mass that has fragmented to generate the rock / ice avalanche. The photographer appears to be standing on the landslide deposit.

Salkantay (which also appears to be named Salcantay at times) is located at -13.340, -72.540.  Salkantay Cocha lake appears to be at -13.342, -72.569.  At the moment it is not clear as to which slope has failed to generate this ice-rock avalanche and debris flow.  There is excellent Google Earth imagery of this area, so it should be possible to get a better understanding in due course.

At the moment details of this very significant event are somewhat unclear; I hope that more details will emerge. This event is reminiscent of the 2012 Gayari ice and rock avalanche in Pakistan and the 2017 Villa Santa Lucia landslide in Chile.

UPDATE: 28 February

Over the last 24 hours more information has become available about the Salkantay landslide and mudflow. Oscar Vilca has kindly contacted me to say that the event occurred on 23 February 2020, and not 24 February as had been widely reported.

The triggering event is being described as an ice/rock avalanche with an initial volume of 400,000 cubic metres. This has clearly bulked up to form a mudflow with a much higher volume, presumably through entrainment of ice and saturated debris in the channel. This is similar to the Seti River rock avalanche and debris in Nepal in 2014, which also had devastating effects.  On this occasion the initial collapse may have been smaller, but the mudflow was on a similar scale.

On Twitter, Julio Montenegro G. has posted an interpretation of the event, based upon an image of the scar, which has then been located on pre-event imagery:

I am not sure as to the origin of the image that shows the scar of the initial failure, but a better version was posted to Twitter by Turismo Peru:

The scar of the Salkantay landslide, posted to Twitter by Turismo Peru.

If this is indeed the scar then my interpretation is that this is a classic wedge failure in the rock mass, with a near vertical fall onto the ice and moraine at the toe of the slope. The rock slope would have been a mixture of rock and ice, both on the surface and within fractures. On impact the mass has probably fragmented to form an ice/rock avalanche, which has then entrained debris and ice/snow/water, transitioning to become the mudflow seen in the videos. This has behaved in a manner that is akin to a lahar, with a large volume, high velocity and long runout.

Reports suggest that Salkantay Cocha lake remains intact, but that waves within the lake, generated by the landslide, have caused some erosion of the moraine dam.  This now needs to be monitored. There are of course some real human tragedies in this disaster.  The estimated human cost appears to be 13 people.

This post was written by Dave Petley and originally published on The Landslide Blog, an American Geophysical Union Blog.