Wildfires Melt Glaciers From a Distance

Scientists have begun to trace a link between climate change, an increased number of wildfires and glacier melting.  Particles emitted by wildfires and then deposited on glaciers are thought to darken the ice’s surface, and may lead to more rapid melting.

Natalie Kehrwald, a geologist from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is currently studying the levels of wildfire particles deposited on the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. Kehrwald and her fellow USGS geologist, Shad O’Neel,  who is tracking the retreat of glaciers in the Juneau Icefield, are working together to document the contributions of wildfires to glacier melting.

Collecting ice cores on the Juneau Icefield (Source: Natalie Kehrwald).

“In the past two to three years there have been huge wildfires [in Alaska]… I am trying to see if there are aerosols being deposited on the Juneau ice field and if they are accelerating the melting,”  said Kehrwald in an interview with GlacierHub.

According to multiple sources, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the non-profit research and news organization Climate Central, rising Arctic temperatures are creating longer and more severe wildfire seasons, with larger and more frequent fires.  Kehrwald proposes that an increase in wildfires has led to a greater volume of aerosols, a mixture of carbon and other particles, deposited onto glaciers.  There may be a minor feedback as well. Since glaciers act as large mirrors and keep the planet cooler by reflecting solar energy back into space, the loss of glaciers could also accelerate the rise in temperaturse.

In early August, Kehrwald and O’Neel led a team of student researchers from the Juneau Icefield Training Program into the field, where they gathered ice cores.  They will later analyze these cores for wildfire indicators in a lab.  

Natalie Kehrwald’s team of Juneau Icefield Research Program students (Source: Natalie Kehrwald).

“We take samples from the highest, flattest parts of the glacier in specific locations that are impacted by air masses.  We drill down 7-9 meters, which date back about two to three years,” said Kehrwald, summarizing their trip.

The carbon deposits from wildfires can be grouped into a larger category called black carbon, which have been linked to rapid glacier melting.  Black carbon refers to carbon released from both biomass burning and fossil fuel emissions.  In order to determine whether the carbon on the Juneau Icefield is from wildfires, Kehrwald will look for a specific molecular marker in the ice.  

“It is a sugar called levoglucosan and it is only produced if you burn cellulose at a temperature of about 250 degrees Celsius,” said Kehrwald.  “So if you see high concentrations of that molecule you know the origin is biomass burning, which is generally wildfires but could be a big compilation of household fires.”

A team of Alaskan  firefighters marches down to meet the flames (Source: BLM Alaska Fire Service/Facebook).

Although the Alaskan wildfires occur predominantly in the boreal forest located in a drier region far north of the Juneau Icefield, smoke from wildfires have been known to travel great distances.  The phenomena of darkening glaciers due to particles from wildfires was well documented last year when large wildfires in British Columbia deposited particles on glaciers across the North American Arctic and as far as Greenland.

According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, three of the top ten largest Alaskan wildfires since 1940 occurred in the last decade.  In 2015, Alaskan wildfires burned over 5 million acres of land.  Alaska’s burnt acreage represented five-sixths of the national total land consumed by wildfires in that year, according to The Washington Post.  The acreage of wildfire burned land in 2015 is second only to the approximately 6.5 million acres burned in 2004.

A 2015 report, The Age of Alaskan Wildfires, produced by non-profit group Climate Central stated that large Arctic wildfires are no longer rare.  

Satellite image showing Alaskan wildfires on June 25, 2015. Actively burning areas are outlined in red. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner (Source: nasa.gov).

“We found the number and size of areas burnt by large wildfires [in Alaska] is on the rise since the 1950s,”  stated Todd Sanford, climate scientist at Climate Central.  “Looking at the length of the fire season in Alaska we found, like in the western US, the length of the season is increasing each year…. Wildfire seasons are over a month longer than they were in the 1950s.”

Additional research will further expand understanding of how much wildfires may affect glacier melting.

“In regards to the glaciers in southeast Alaska,” Kehrwald told GlacierHub “we don’t know if it [the reason for the rapid melting of the Juneau Icefield] is temperature only… or if it’s also due to imputes from outside components such as wildfires.”
Kehrwald and O’Neel plan to test their ice core samples in the lab and by later this year have a clearer view of how a greater number of wildfires due to rising temperatures can contribute to glacier melting.

Glimpsing the Arctic: A Conversation with Artist Mariele Neudecker

Many people may never see a glacier or an iceberg up close, given issues of cost, inaccessibility and environmental changes. Yet artist Mariele Neudecker is making the experience a bit more accessible, as she transports a vision of the Arctic to galleries and museum floors.

Mariele Neudecker photographing glacier ice in Greenland (Source: Neudecker/Spikeworld).

Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, the 51-year-old lifelong artist now resides in Bristol, where she creates sculptures, photographs, films and paintings.  Over the past 20 years, Neudecker has produced a wide range of landscape and still life artwork, much of which seeks to capture the essence of glaciers and icebergs.

Recently, a selection of Neudecker’s Arctic-focused art was the center of her exhibit, Some Things Happen All At Once, at the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  Additionally, four copies of her photographs were featured at Project Pressure’s Outdoor Installation, which GlacierHub recently covered in August.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Neudecker walks us through the journey behind her glacier artwork.  A condensed and edited version of the conversation follows.


GH:  I understand the Zeppelin Museum installation is not the first project you have done focusing on glaciers.

MN: I have done a lot of work with [19th century landscape painter] Caspar David Friedrich paintings and converting them into 3D tank pieces.  The first one I did in 1997 was clearly using ice in a reference to his painting “Sea of Ice.”


Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Sea of Ice” (Source: Web Gallery of Art/CC).

GH: What attracted you to ice and glacier themed art back in 1997, when you first incorporated Arctic ice elements into your artwork?

MN: It [my work] was more of an exploration of landscapes. I looked at mountains, forests and the ocean.  However, I always thought the remoteness and difficulty to imagine the Arctic created an interesting perception… It is about the subject of glaciers and the Arctic, but fundamentally it’s about perceptions and how we have longings to be somewhere else.  You can transport people to other places through paintings, films and all sorts of artwork.

The Arctic has always been a metaphor for climate change and human shortcomings, so there are a lot of cliché images of glaciers representing the environment.  That has provoked me to add other layers to that representation.  The challenge is to avoid the clichés.


3D tank pieces displayed at the Zeppelin Museum (Source: Neudecker/Thumm/Zeppelin).

GH:  What was the most difficult feeling to capture that you wanted to convey to viewers?

MN: I wanted to hint at the unknown and to highlight that all we see are little fragments of something much bigger.  It’s hard to capture the feeling of standing in massive open spaces where you are trapped in your eye sockets and you must turn your head to take it all in.

It’s similar to deep sea projects I have done, where the camera is in the black depths of the ocean and only with artificial light can you see a fraction of the spaces. You know how massive the space is, but you only see a tiny piece of it.


GH: What was the most surprising to you when you were out in the field capturing glaciers?

MN: The sound! That really threw me. I had no idea how loud they were.  Camping on the side of a glacier the silence and then the sounds that interrupted that silence were so powerful.  I’ve seen a million images of glaciers, but no one told me about the sounds.

I tried to record them but I wasn’t able to capture it well.  That would be a future project I would love to do.


Mariele Neudecker in Greenland (Source: Neudecker/Spikeworld).

GH: Before you went to Greenland, all of your Arctic work was derived from images and paintings.  What sparked your first trip to Greenland in May of 2012?

MN:  I was lucky to spend a week with the American writer Gretel Ehrlich, who has written beautiful books about Greenland and ice.  Before my experience with her I felt I could do my work with my imagination and images, but after [that week] I wanted to have the experience of being out there in the open space that her books described so amazingly well.

I was in Greenland for a month, but I spent a week with Gretel and two subsistence hunters and two teams of sled dogs.  A major component [of my project] was to experience the history of photography in reverse as I made my way through the trip.  I started with HD digital… all the way back to a pinhole camera at the end.  I had 12 cameras in total.  I spent the following few weeks on my own [not counting the guides], traveling to fjords and far northern reaches of Greenland.  There were these very remote places with villages of only 12 inhabitants.  It was extraordinary seeing how those people lived.


GH: What was your favorite camera to shoot with?

MN: I like the Polaroid.  It was slightly unpredictable and it produced tiny pictures.  I liked the absurdity of capturing immense spaces in tiny pictures.


Ship in the ice displayed at the Zeppelin Museum (Source: Neudecker).

GH: Could you give me an overview of the Zeppelin Museum exhibit and walk me through some of the main pieces?

MN:  I will start with most recent piece of the exhibition, which is the afterlife piece of the boat in the ice.  The whole thing started with the ship… it struck me as looking like one of those early Arctic explorer ships.  I didn’t want to be too literal in following Casper David’s ship stuck in the ice, so I kept it abstract and cropped the ice around where the ship is set in.  I also decided to add [videos] in the whole exhibition to give an element of space and constant moving and change.  I then added layers with the 3D effects with the blue and red separation, which I had never done before… it took me a while to dare myself to do it but I sprayed one side of the boat red and the other blue to link it to the 3D images that were on the wall.


GH:  How did you use the 3D images and the videos to create the moving effect?

MN: When you walk into the space the white ice surface stretches all the way to the sidewalls and the back walls and monitors with the film and moving images are synchronized, so that the images are either pushing towards you or moving away.  There is a constant feeling of washing in and out.


Red and blue photo of Qôrqup Glacier, Greenland_Mariele taken with 3D camera (Source: Neudecker).

GH: What was the process behind the 3D and stereoscopic images of the glaciers?

MN: It is disappointingly easy – you just point and shoot.  I have a camera with two lenses, and it creates these double files, so in 3D stills it generates two images.  Then you have the choice of either using the two images for stereoscopic viewings or putting it into Photoshop, which generates these red and blue color images.


GH: It seems that you are trying to immerse the viewer in the Arctic world with the swaying room and various 3D pieces.
MN: That is true, but at the same time I aim to make that experience last only so long.  Inevitably, you realize that you are standing on the floor of a museum and the illusion collapses.  The art is interesting when your imagination takes over, but there is no way to simulate actually being on the glacier.



More photos of Mariele Neudecker’s work:

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Roundup: Pakistan’s Glaciers, Jobless Sherpas, Ancient Rivers

This Week’s Roundup:

Pakistan has more glaciers than almost anywhere on Earth. But they are at risk.

From The Washington Post:

Mohammad Idrees, 11, eats ice that has been hacked from the mountain peaks by vendors and offered for sale along a road in the Chitral Valley last month (Source: Insiya Syed /For The Washington Post).

“For generations, the glacier clinging to Miragram Mountain, a peak that towers above the village, has served as a reservoir for locals and powered myriad streams throughout Pakistan’s scenic Chitral Valley. Now, though, the villagers say that their glacier — and their way of life — is in retreat….

With 7,253 known glaciers, including 543 in the Chitral Valley, there is more glacial ice in Pakistan than anywhere on Earth outside the polar regions, according to various studies. Those glaciers feed rivers that account for about 75 percent of the stored-water supply in the country of at least 180 million.

But as in many other parts of the world, researchers say, Pakistan’s glaciers are receding, especially those at lower elevations, including here in the Hindu Kush mountain range in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Among the causes cited by scientists: diminished snowfall, higher temperatures, heavier summer rainstorms and rampant deforestation.”

Read the full story here.


Sherpas Denied Summit Certificates

From The Himalayan Times:

Climbers ascending the Lhotse face on Mt Everest. Photo credit: Garrett Madison
Climbers ascending the Lhotse face on Mt Everest (Source: Garrett Madison/THT)

“The Department of Tourism, under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, has refused to award high-altitude workers summit certificates, citing a clause of the Mountaineering Expedition Regulation that bars them from obtaining government certificates….

He said DoT couldn’t issue certificates to Sherpas as per the existing law, claiming that high-altitude workers are not considered a part of the expedition as per the Mountaineering Expedition Regulation that was framed in 2002. ‘The regulation considers only those who obtain climbing permit by paying royalty to the government as members of an expedition’ [Laxman Sharma, Director at DoT’s Mountaineering Section, told THT].

This is the first time in the country’s mountaineering history that Sherpas have failed to obtain government certificates despite successfully scaling mountains.”

Read the full article here.


Ancient Rivers Beneath Greenland Glacier

From Live Science:

Image from the research article published in Nature (Source: Cooper et al, 2016/Live Science).

“A network of ancient rivers lies frozen in time beneath one of Greenland’s largest glaciers, new research reveals.

The subglacial river network, which threads through much of Greenland’s landmass and looks, from above, like the tiny nerve fibers radiating from a brain cell, may have influenced the fast-moving Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier over the past few million years.

‘The channels seem to be instrumental in controlling the location and form of the Jakobshavn ice stream — and seem to show a clear influence on the onset of fast flow in this region,’ study co-author Michael Cooper, a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, told Live Science. ‘Without the channels present underneath, the glacier may not exist in its current location or orientation.”

Full story continued here.

New Study Offers Window into Glacial Lake Outburst Floods

A recent geological study has shed some light on the cause of a major, yet elusive destructive natural hazard triggered by failed natural dams holding back glacial lakes. The findings show how previously unrecognized factors like thinning glacier ice and moisture levels in the ground surrounding a lake can determine the size and frequency of Glacier Lake Outburst Floods, or GLOFs.

Palcacocha Lake in 2008, showing its enclosing moraine; the 1941 breach is visible in the lower right (Source: Colette Simonds/The Glacial Lake Handbook).

The risks of these glacial floods are generally considered increasingly acute across the world, as warming atmospheric temperatures prompt ice and snow on mountain ranges to retreat and to swell glacial lakes.

Landslides in moraines as triggers of glacial lake outburst floods: example from Palcacocha Lake (Cordillera Blanca, Peru), published in  Landslides in July 2016, centers its study on Lake Palcacocha in the Cordillera Blanca mountain region of central Peru.  Since Palcacocha is one of almost 600 lakes in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range dammed by glacial moraines, the population of the region lives under serious threat of GLOFs.

The Landslides article is a step in understanding a previously understudied geological phenomenon.  As little as five years ago scientists acknowledged the lack of research on the subject.

“We don’t really have the scientific evidence of these slopes breaking off and moraine stability… but personal observations are suggesting there are a lot of those…” said Ph.D. environmental historian Mark Carey in a 2011 video where he describes GOLFs.


Glacial Lake Outburst Flood risks do not always emanate from mountain glacier meltwater that flows downstream. As this study shows,  in some instances, trillions of gallons of water can be trapped by a moraine, a formation of mixed rock, which forms a natural dam.  A weakening over time, or a sudden event, such as a landslide, could then result in the moraine dam’s collapse.

The massive amount of water is suddenly then released, and a wall of debris-filled liquid speeds down the mountainside with a destructive force capable of leveling entire city blocks.

GLOFs have presented an ongoing risk to people and their homes dating back to 1703, especially in the Cordillera Blanca region, according to United States Geological Survey records.  In December of 1941, a breach in the glacial moraine restraining Palcacocha Lake led to the destruction of a significant portion of the city of Huaraz and killed approximately 5,000 people.

Looking north over Huaraz towards the highest region of the Cordillera Blanca (Source: Uwebart/CC).

Scientists and government agencies, like the Control Commission of Cordillera Blanca Lakes created by the Peruvian government following the 1941 GLOF, have recognized the need to better understand and control GLOFs.  The study found that as global temperatures rise and glaciers retreat, greater amounts of glacier melt water will continue to fill up mountain lakes, chucks of ice will fall off glaciers, and  wetter moraines will become  more prone to landslides.

The team of mostly Czech geologists and hydrologists (J. Klimeš; J. Novotný; I. Novotná; V. Vilímek; A. Emmer; M. Kusák; F. Hartvich) along with Spanish, Peruvian and Swiss scientists (B. Jordán de Urries; A. Cochachin Rapre; H. Frey and T. Strozzi) investigated the ability of a glacial moraine’s slope to stay intact, called shear strength, and modeled the potential of landslides and falling ice to cause GLOFs.

After extensive field investigations, calculations and research into historical events, the study found several causal factors that can determine the severity of a GLOF.  These include size and angle of entry of a landslide,  shape and depth of the glacial lake, glacier thickness and human preventative engineering such as canals and supporting dams.  Frequency and size of a landslide is determined by the stability of surface material, a characteristic called shear strength, which can be influenced by something as subtle as the crystalline shape of the predominant mineral in the rock.

The terminal and lateral moraines that contain Palcacocha Lake, showing the 1941 breach that released a GLOF that devastated the city of Huaraz (Source: John Harlin/The Glacial Lake Handbook).

The scientists determined that waves caused by moraine landslides and falling ice would most likely lead to over-toppings of the natural dam.  An example would be the 2003 Palcacocha Lake GLOF, which was caused by falling ice.  No one died in this flood, but sediment from the floodwaters blocked the Huaraz’s main water treatment facility, leaving 60 percent of the population without drinking water for six days.  Additionally, small events like the one in 2003 weaken the natural and manmade dams, which without monitoring could eventually give out and result in a more catastrophic occurrence.

Most recent measurements estimate Palcacocha Lake holds 4.5 trillion gallons of glacier meltwater, which is enough to fill approximately 6,800 olympic size pools.  The potential of a catastrophic flood following the collapse of the moraine dam is a serious threat to the growing city that lies beneath it.
“Climate-driven environmental changes may critically affect stabilities of slopes above glacial lakes, possibly triggering large moraine landslides,” write the authors in the article.  They call for continued monitoring of glacial lakes.

Photo Friday: Scott Conarroe’s Shifting Borders

Scott Conarroe’s photography exhibit Frontière, Frontiera and Grenze, displayed at Fine Art Lugano in Switzerland from May 19 to July 29, is in its last week.

The title of the work translates to the word border in French, Italian and German. Conarro’s photographic study of the glaciers was inspired by the shifting borders between European countries that were drawn based on glacier boundaries. Global warming has caused retreat of the glaciers and melting of permafrost, which has lead to collapse of the ground below and a shifting of the mountain surfaces and their historic borders.

The exhibit is a part of Project Pressure, a charity documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers.  See more of Conarroe’s photographs here.


Chaltwasser Gletscher in Switzerland: 2014 (Source: Scott Conarroe)


Sulzenauferner in Austria/Italy: 2015 (Source: Scott Conarroe)


Sella’s photograph of Siniolchu in the Himalayas, taken from the Zemu Glacier (Source: Sella/CC).

From Fine Art Lugano:

“Photographica FineArt is proud to present, together with the Alpine glaciers’ photographs by Vittorio Sella (1859 – 1943), the latest work by the Canadian photographer Scott Conarroe (1974) that was inspired by the continuous movement of boundaries along the Alps due to the glacial melting and watershed drift.”


Waxeggkees, Austria: 2015 (Source: Scott Conarroe).

Polar Ecology in Flux Due to Climate Change

Glacial melting and rising ocean temperatures are affecting the feeding, breeding and dispersion patterns of species, such as krill, cod, seals and  polar bears, in the polar regions, according to two recently published research articles. This climatic shift could create an imbalance in the regional ecology and negatively impact numerous species as the effects of climate change worsen.

The first article reflects on how a threat to a key species in Antarctica may shake up the food chain, while the other considers how a changing habitat in the Arctic could skew the population trends of several interconnected species and create a systemic imbalance in the ecosystem.

Glacier-originated melt-water creek carrying large amounts of particles. (Source: V. Fuentes/Nature)

After a nine-year study of krill in Potters Cove, a small section of King George Island off the coast of Antarctica, a team of South American and European marine biologists published their research this past June in the scientific journal Nature.

Krill are shrimp-like sea creatures that feed mostly on plankton.  Since they extract their food from the water by filtering it through fine combs, they are known as filter feeders.  Krill are found in all oceans and are an abundant food source for many marine organisms.  In the polar regions, predators such as whales often rely on krill as their only consistent food source.

The authors of this first piece found that a destruction of the krill population could extend undermine the Antarctic food web that relies on the presence of the small creatures.

 The study launched after stacks of dead krill washed ashore at Potters Cove in 2002, lining the coast. The article’s nine authors, Verónica Fuentes, Gastón Alurralde, Bettina Meyer, Gastón E. Aguirre, Antonio Canepa, Anne-Cathrin Wölfl, H. Christian Hass, Gabriela N. Williams and Irene R. Schloss, suggest the first observed  and subsequent stranding incidents are connected to large volumes of particulate matter dumped into the ocean by melting glaciers. The high level of tiny rock particles carried by the glacial melt water may have clogged the digestive system of filter feeders like krill.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they exposed captive krill to water with varying amounts of particulates. The krill’s feeding, nutrient absorption and general performance were all significantly inhibited after 24 hours of exposure to concentrations of particles similar to those found in the plums of glacial runoff.

Stranded krill along the southern shore of Potters Cove, King George Island (Source: V. Fuentes/Nature).

Although krill are mobile creatures and can usually avoid harmful environments, exposure to the highly concentrated particles interfered with their ability to absorb nutrients from their food.  The krill became weak, which resulted in their inability to fight local ocean currents and their subsequent demise.

About 90 percent of King George Island is covered in glaciers that are melting and discharging particles into the surrounding marine ecosystem, according to the article.  Similarly, an overwhelming majority of the 244 glacier fronts, a location where a glacier meets the sea, studied on the West Antarctic Peninsula have retreated over the last several decades, which suggests that high particulate count from glacial meltwater may be occurring in other parts of Antarctica.

Since much of the Antarctic coast is not monitored and most dead krill sink to the bottom of the ocean, the authors caution that these stranding events likely represent a small fraction of the episodes.  

In another recent study on climate change’s impacts on wildlife, scientific researchers with the Norwegian Polar Institute focus their attention on the high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway.  They found that glacial melting and changes in sea ice have impacted numerous land and sea animals in the Arctic. These shifts have the potential to influence more creatures. The study, by Sebastien Descamps and his coauthors, was published this May in the scientific journal Global Change Biology.

Tidewater glacier in Greenland, taken from helicopter (Source: Brocken Inaglory/CC)

Some species, such as the pink-footed goose, are benefiting from the warming Arctic climate, however. Lower levels of spring snow cover and earlier melting has expanded the time for its breeding and the area of available breeding grounds, which will likely lead to an increase in the geese population.  

However, the success or the overpopulation of one species can cause an imbalance in the ecosystem and negatively affect numerous other organisms.  As the authors explain, “An extreme increase in a herbivore population [like the geese] has the potential to affect the state of Svalbard’s vegetation substantially, with possible cascading consequences for other herbivorous species and their associated predators.”

The authors conclude, “even though a few species are benefiting from a warming climate, most Arctic endemic species in Svalbard are experiencing negative consequences induced by the warming environment.”

Polar bears and the Arctic ringed seal are among the species which are suffering the impacts of a warming Arctic.  Seals breed on sea ice and depend on snow accumulation on the ice in order to form lairs for their pups.  The snow lairs provide protection from the harsh winter and predators.  As ocean temperature warms and the season of sea ice formation shortens, there is less time for accumulation of snow.  Thus, many seals are giving birth on bare ice, which leads to a much higher pup mortality rate.

Weddell seals (Source: changehali/CC).

This  article also points out that tidewater glaciers have become increasingly important foraging areas for several species, including seals, seabirds and whales.  Additionally, these creatures’ presence makes the glacier fronts fruitful hunting grounds for polar bears. Icebergs drifting near the glacier fronts create valuable resting areas in the hunting grounds for many of these animals.

The authors hypothesize that the increase in icebergs calved from the glacier fronts could counterbalance the ecological loss resulting from the disappearance of sea ice. Yet this may only offer a brief reprieve for the Arctic species that depend on the ice.  

“Continued warming is expected to reduce the number of tidewater glaciers and also the overall length of calving fronts around the Svalbard Archipelago.  Thus, these important foraging hotspots for Svalbard’s marine mammals and seabirds will gradually become fewer and will likely eventually disappear,” wrote the authors.

Taken together, these two recent articles show that glacier retreat, as well as other forms of loss of ice, have negative impacts on high-latitude ecosystems, both in the Arctic or in Antarctica. There are strong similarities between these two cases, distant from each other in spatial terms but close to each other in their shared vulnerabilities.

Roundup: Changing Waterways, Hotter Parks, Glacier Music

As a Glacier Retreats a Major Water Source Dries Up

From CBC News:

Looking up the Slims River Valley, from the south end of Kluane Lake. The river used to flow down the valley from the Kaskawulsh glacier (Source: Sue Thomas/CBCNews)

“It’s [the Kaskawulsh glacier] been the main source of water into Yukon’s Kluane Lake for centuries, but now the Slims River has suddenly slimmed down — to nothing.

‘What folks have noticed this spring is that it’s essentially dried up,’ said Jeff Bond of the Yukon Geological Survey.

‘That’s the first time that’s happened, as far as we know, in the last 350 years.’

What’s happened is some basic glacier hydrology, Bond says — essentially, the Kaskawulsh Glacier has retreated to the point where its melt water is now going in a completely different direction, away from the Slims Valley.”

Check out he full story here.


Rising Temperatures in National Parks Like Glacier Bay

From Climate Central:

Temperature change in Glacier Bay National Preserve (Source: Climate Central)

“With such a wide variety of climates across the park system, the country’s 59 National Parks all have different challenges to manage in the changing climate. Some parks have experienced dramatic temperature changes, and these shifts can lead to water shortages (or too much water), ocean acidification, and species migration…. Glacier National Park — The number of glaciers has been cut in half since 1968, and the largest glaciers are expected to be gone within the next 15 years.”

Look at temperature trends in national parks here.


Hosted by Greenpeace: Professional Pianist Plays on Glacier

From Greenpeacespain on YouTube:

“Through his music, acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi has added his voice to those of eight million people from across the world demanding protection for the Arctic. Einaudi performed one of his own compositions on a floating platform in the middle of the Ocean, against the backdrop of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier (in Svalbard, Norway).”

Ice Cold Beer: Icebergs Take New Form at Brewery

There are four basic ingredients in beer: grain, hops, yeast and water.  Brewers routinely experiment with barley and wheat to distinguish their products in their competitive, creative field.  In Canada, one brewery uses one especially unexpected product to create a natural, pure taste: icebergs.

The blue bottle of Quidi Vidi’s Iceberg Beer (Source: twitter @QuidiVidiBeer)

The St. John’s, Newfoundland-based Quidi Vidi Brewing (QV) is capturing media attention for its beer that is brewed with the water from 25,000-year-old icebergs.

This past month a reporter from Vice’s Munchies toured the operations and sampled the “clean, crisp refreshing North-American style lager.” The company, the largest craft brewery in Newfoundland, also held brewing tours in July.

David Fong and David Rees, both engineers in the offshore oil industry, founded QV in 1996.  The two men converted an old seafood plant into a full-fledged brewery.  Not long after their start, the same year an iceberg drifted up the harbor that sheltered QV, the brewery brought their Iceberg Beer to market.  In March of 2011, QV changed the Iceberg bottle to the dark blue it is today.

After 10,000 to 25,000 years of formation on glaciers in Greenland, the calved icebergs drift southwest on ocean currents and then are harvested off the eastern coast of Canada.  The natural preservation and delivery of the pre-industrial water ensures that it is some of the purest in the world, the brewers have said.  

Harvesting icebergs (Source: Douglas Sprott/Flickr.com)

As QV brewer Les Perry told Munchies,“This is what water should taste like. This could be anything up to 25,000 years old…. By the time it [the iceberg] gets to Newfoundland, it’s shrunk in size, so we’re getting closer to the core, made thousands of years ago, long before we had any contaminants.”

Ed Keanone of the few men licensed to harvest seaborne glacial ice, supplies QV with icebergs.  Every summer Kean heads up the coast of eastern Canada to an area known as “Iceberg Alley.”  There, according to an interview between Kean and Canadian news talk show Breakfast Television, he harvests approximately 1.5 million liters of iceberg water to satisfy his buyers. They include QV, a winery and the Newfoundlander distillery Iceberg Vodka.

In a conversation with GlacierHub, Kean said it takes him and his crew of six roughly four to six weeks to get a full harvest of iceberg water. Kean says demand for iceberg water is growing at roughly 10 percent each year.

Obtaining a reliable supply of iceberg water for a commercial product seems no easy task, but Iceberg Vodka’s Brand Marketing Lead, Rachel Starkman, said differently in an email to GlacierHub: “Because there are a limited number of harvesting licenses available and Mother Nature has continued to bless us with fruitful harvests each year, acquiring iceberg water has not posed any difficulties.”

Despite legal disputes between the two founders that began in February of 2014, Quidi Vidi continues to produce its flagship Iceberg Beer and maintains a strong local following. QV did not respond to GlacierHub’s request for comment on its Iceberg Beer by time of publication.

QV has been in operation for 20 years and they have fought long and hard to gain their customers…. Right now they are in the middle of some challenges but all of their fans are hoping they clear soon and Quidi Vidi will be free to stretch their legs and start brewing new beers in line with many other craft breweries,” said Newfoundlander and beer critic Mike Buhler.

Quidi Vidi brewhouse in St. John’s, Newfoundland (Source: DPJanes/CC)

Buhler, aka “Beerthief,” and his wine connoisseur partner, Tom Beckett, founded the NL (Newfoundland) Artisanal and Craft Beer Club in 2012 and then in 2014 began writing a beer blog for the St. John’s daily newspaper, The Telegram.  The Beer Club hosts beer-centric events all year round and comments on all Newfoundlander brews.  In an email correspondence with GlacierHub,  Beerthief described Iceberg Beer as, “a clean refreshing lager that has earned a very loyal following making it QV’s number one seller.”

Some beer lovers disagree with Beertheif’s positive take on Iceberg Beer.  

Online reviewers give the beer an “okay” rating, saying the gimmick does not necessarily live up to expectations.  The beer received only a 2.75/5 on BeerAdvocate, a global beer review website. With the a price of approximately $20 (Canadian) on the NLC Liquor Store website, some reviews say the beer is overpriced for its quality.  However, most of the beer reviews fall under the neutral category of this BeerAdvocate’s comments when he says, “Overall an alright beer, though certainly one I will not jump to drink. Certainly a must-try for anyone visiting Newfoundland at the same time, as the use of iceberg water in brewing definitely makes for a unique experience.”

This author suspects that Iceberg Beer will be around as long as there are icebergs to harvest.

Walk through the Glacial History that Shaped New York City

New York City is often referred to as the concrete jungle.  However, a few hundred years ago this artificial forest was an actual forest, and 20,000 years ago Manhattan was covered in hundreds of feet of glacial ice.  The city’s natural history has shaped our modern landscape. Understanding that urban connection to the natural world was the purpose of CALL WALK, a recently held environmental education walking tour in Manhattan, New York.

From left to right: Ben Orlove, Mike Kaplan and Marshall Reese discuss evidence of glaciers on rock (bottom left) in Riverside Park. (Source: CALL)

CALL WALK was created in affiliation with City as Living Laboratory (CALL), a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading environmental awareness through artwork and tours that show how modern life has been defined by the natural world. The organization recently released a new video capturing the walking tour.

The tour was presented in conjunction with a two day conference hosted by Columbia University, Ice Cubed: An Inquiry into the Aesthetics, History, and Science of Ice.  The conference explored the use of ice as medium to express concerns over global warming artistically as well as academically.

CALL’s artistic director, Mary Miss, founded the the non-profit  in 2009 with a mission stated on CALL’s website to, “Increase awareness and action around environmental challenges through the arts.”  Miss’ work with CALL is a continuation of over four decades of projects that she has completed in cities all across the country.  These include 2007’s Connect the Dots in Boulder, Colorado, where she created a citywide map of the changing waterways.

Ben Orlove touching Manhattan bedrock bricks of Broadway Presbyterian Church on Broadway and West 111th St. (Source: CALL)

Recently, Miss and her staff of four have designed several art installations and WALKS that call public attention to the link between natural and man-made systems.  CALL WALK was an extension of a current project, BROADWAY: 1000 Steps (B/CALL)

Anthropologist Ben Orlove, also founder and editor of GlacierHub, lead the CALL WALK along with and poet and artist  Marshall Reese.  The artist is known for his work with ice sculptures with which he uses melting ice that has been fashioned into keywords as social commentary. He and his collaborator Nora Ligorano will bring large ice sculptures of the words “The American Dream” to the Republican and Democratic conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia later this month, where they will melt and disappear.

Along the way, the two guides and their geology expert, Mike Kaplan of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, commented on remnants of the mighty glacier that covered Manhattan during the last ice age.

He [Kaplan] pointed out some glacier erratics in Riverside Park, pieces of rock from the Palisades, the cliffs on the other side of the Hudson. He showed that they could have been transported by the ice sheets back in the last Ice Age,” Orlove said in an interview following the mid-April CALL WALK. “I was surprised because I have visited the park many times, but I had never stopped to look closely at those boulders and to wonder where they came from.”

Connecting the present to the undiscovered past in our backyards is what makes events such as CALL WALK and B/CALL intriguing and important.

“Through exploration of the Broadway corridor, viewers will become aware that nature is everywhere and in action at all times, that the city is an urban ecosystem, that innumerable numbers of small decisions over time have shaped the environment we inhabit today and that our decisions today (behavioral choices) will impact the future of all of nature,” said CALL manager Christine Sandoval.

Section of the Sanitary and Topographic Map of New York, published in 1865, which highlights the area of the CALL WALK. (Source: CALL)
Section of the Sanitary and Topographic Map of New York, published in 1865, which highlights the area of the CALL WALK. (Source: CALL)

Participants followed a bygone creek that now manifests as a puddle that forms in the subway, or as a patch of moss in Riverside Park.  They were also led to touch smoothed bedrock and massive boulders transported by ancient glaciers that melted and produced massive floods, changing the course of the Hudson River.  In years to come, when walking around their neighborhood, they may realize the rock that their building is made of was quarried from the Manhattan bedrock right under their feet, just like the church they saw on CALL WALK.

The walk concluded with a moment of silence at Straus Park, a small patch of green between W 106th & 107th streets.  The park is dedicated to Ida and Isador Straus, who lost their lives on the Titanic after it was struck by a floating iceberg, calved from a glacier in Greenland.  As the group took in the sounds of traffic and birds, they were asked to imagine the unsinkable ship crashing into the large chunk of erratic glacial ice, and to picture the immense ice sheet that molded much of New York’s urban landscape.

Photo Friday: Designing an Art Park for a Greenland Fjord

Talented artists and architects competed for the honor of designing the new Icefjord Centre in Ilulissat, Greenland.   The Danish architectural group Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter  presented an elegantly curving building design which won the competition.  However, another one of the finalists, the entry by Studio Other Spaces, founded by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, was nothing short of spectacular itself.


Town of Ilulissat, Greenland (Source: Flickr.com)


Studio Other Spaces says, “The Ilulissat Icefjord Park uses the melting of ice to shape space. Studio Other Spaces has created a unique design strategy where ice is at once the formwork of a concrete structure and the focal point of the resulting space. For the Ilulissat Icefjord Park, Studio Other Spaces uses naturally calved icebergs harvested directly from the nearby ice fjord to create an exhibition building, called the Ice Void, which harbours in its walls the memory of the ice that was used to shape it. Together with the Ice Void, and linked to it outdoors by a 360-degree path, the Sun Cone building defines the Icefjord Park. The light glass structure of the Sun Cone positions the visitor centre directly in the landscape and offers guests a spectacular panoramic view of the surroundings and the Arctic sun. The park helps make the overwhelming experience of visiting the ice fjord comprehensible – providing visitors with a scale for contemplating and relating to the awe-inspiring ice fjord.”


The proposed design inhabits the landscape in the form of a park. (Source: Studio Other Spaces)


Inside the ice. (Source: Studio Other Spaces)


In 2004, 4000 square kilometers of the Ilulissat Icefjord was declared a Word Heritage site because of its unique geology and natural beauty.

Inside the Ice Void. (Source: Studio Other Spaces)
Interior of proposed Sun Cone building. (Source: Studio Other Spaces)

1,400-Year Old Sledge Thawed Out of Norwegian Glacier


Vossaskavlen snowdrift glacier plateau (source: Øystein Skår/J Glac Arch)
Vossaskavlen snowdrift glacier plateau (source: Øystein Skår/JGA)

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Glacial Archaeology (JGA), a team of Norwegian scientists from the Hordaland County Council and University Museum of Bergen announced their discovery of a prehistoric sledge freed from the ice.  The discovery, announced in the 2015 article, followed significant melting of the Vossaskavlen Glacier in western Norway.

A team of Norwegian surveyors discovered the artifact, after they spotted what appeared to be poles marking a route over the glacier, approximately 50 meters from the ice edge at an altitude of 1500 meters.  Upon further examination, the team of archaeologists found 21 wooden fragments with signs of craftsmanship.

Radiocarbon dating puts the age of the pine wood sledge fragments between 545-655 AD, or to the beginning of the Late Iron Age. This makes it the oldest sledge ever found in Norway.

Some of the pieces that are interpreted as the vertical poles that go between the runners and the deck of a sledge. (source: Svein Skare/J Glac Arch)
Some of the pieces that are interpreted as the vertical poles that go between the
runners and the deck of a sledge. (source: Svein Skare/JGA)

According to the article, the archaeologists determined the wood originated from a sledge by way of several clues, such as rounded notches on several pieces. These notches indicated that the pieces were likely used as supports between the runners and the deck that stored cargo.

Previous archaeological finds in the northern part of the Vossaskavlen, including skis dating back to the medieval period, a spearhead from the Early Iron Age, and arrowheads from the Late Iron Age, support the notion that the area was frequently used as an east-west crossing route, as well as for hunting.

The archaeologists hypothesized the region could have once been used to transport trade goods over a two kilometer stretch of the glacial plateau in the warmer months, or employed by hunters to carry large prey, such as reindeer, back to their villages during the cold months.

The archaeologists from Hordaland County Council and University Museum of Bergen were not able to be reached GlacierHub regarding queries on the specifics of the expedition and further comments on the historical significance of the find by time of publication.

Approximately eight kilometers east of the archaeological site lies a mountain village named Hallingskeid, which is believed to have been a meeting point for trade and festivities between the people of east and west Norway. Historians speculate the trade route was only in use when the weather was warm, as the inclement winter climate hampered trade and other social and professional activities.  

This drawing illustrates the interpreted function of some of the recovered wood pieces. The pieces have been marked red on the drawing. (source: Monika Serafinska/J Glac Arch)
This drawing illustrates the interpreted function of some of the recovered wood pieces. The pieces have been marked red on the drawing. (source: Monika Serafinska/JGA)

However, the artifacts were found at the edge of a flat two kilometer section of the glacier, and would have made transporting goods across that distance significantly easier.  The archaeologists hypothesize the sledge could have been left each season to help in the transportation of trade goods, then forgotten or abandoned, and finally buried under the ice for the next 1,400 years.

The article states two types of sledges were historically used.  One was lighter, equipped with ski runners, and pulled by humans.  The other was stronger, heavier, outfitted with sleigh runners, and pulled by horses.  The remnants discovered in 2014 appear to have originated from the lighter variety.

Until a major melting event in the summer of 2006, most of the plateau was covered in glacial ice and snow.  Additional melting between 2006 and the time of discovery released the remains of the sledge from the ice that preserved it for nearly one and a half millennia.

According to the Archaeological Institute of America, between 2006 and 2013 more than 1600 artifacts have been found in Oppland County, Norway, which is northeast of Vossaskavlen, alone.

This explosion of artifacts brought on by rapid melting of glaciers and ice patches brought on by rising global temperatures presents an opportunity for archaeologists to locate well preserved objects that likely would not have survived through the ages if not for the ice.  However, once freed from their cryogenic state, the objects can quickly deteriorate.  Wood, like the sledge remnants, is very fragile.  After surviving thousands of years in the ice, wood can degenerate in a matter of years.

With the speed that glacial ice is melting, it is a race against time for archaeologists to collect the historical treasures before they are lost forever.

Roundup: Drought Warning, A Plane Crash, An Eruption

Melting of Glaciers Threaten Water Supply of Billions

Tibetan yak. (Source: Wikipedia.com)

From The Columbus Dispatch: “A consortium of scientists from around the world have gathered in Columbus at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center for the first U.S. meeting about climate issues facing the Tibetan Plateau, a region that includes about 100,000 square kilometers of glaciers that provide drinking water to nearly a third of the Earth’s people. ‘It has to do with water resources, it has to do with the atmospheric processes that drive the monsoon system in that part of the world, which is so important for water, for agriculture,’ said Lonnie Thompson, distinguished university professor and one of the organizers of the consortium.” “


One change, Thompson said: The glaciers are melting faster than they should, which could limit water in that region in the future.”

Read on here.



Never Too Old to Crash Land on a Glacier



From The Weather Network: “A pilot and his two passengers are safe after a wrong turn forced the trio to make an emergency landing on a glacier. Vern Hannah, 81, was flying his single-engine Beechcraft plane from Pitt Meadows to Whistler in British Columbia, along with two passengers, when they took a turn down the wrong valley Sunday. ‘It was too late to turn back, so all we could do was try and out climb the valley, so we flew up the valley,” Hannah told the CBC Tuesday. “But we kept losing airspeed and there was a terrific downdraft that kept us from climbing…pretty soon we were right close to the rocks….’ Hannah was skilled enough to keep the plane climbing without stalling, long enough for them to reach the nearby Pemberton Icefield glacier, where Hannah managed to put the plane down safely.”

Read the full story here.



Highest Active Volcano with Glacier is Acting Up

NASA photo of  Klyuchevsky volcano in northeastern Russia (Source: Volcano Discovery)

From Volcano Discovery: “As had been previously suggested, the volcano’s most recent eruptive phase had become both effusive and explosive: in addition to ash-generating strombolian explosions from the summit vent, a new, but short-lived lava flow appeared during 23 or 24 April and descended approx. 800 m on the south-eastern flank of the volcano ….Kliuchevskoi is Kamchatka’s highest and most active volcano. ”

Check out the volcanoes here.