Using Film to Reduce Risk on Volcanoes

For people to cope with environmental hazards, they need to understand threats – a key step that can lead to behavior change. A recent paper by Anna Hicks et al., published in the International Journal for Disaster Risk Reduction, describes the importance of communicating glacier hazards and other risks. The authors made videos and then assessed their effectiveness for risk communication in volcanically-active communities. The films were used to communicate findings from the Strengthening Resilience in Volcanic Areas (STREVA1) project, led by the University of East Anglia in the UK, in order to apply effective volcanic risk assessments.

A view of La Soufrière on St. Vincent (Source: Kevin Gabbert/Creative Commons).

Hicks et al. selected two sites with histories of volcanic activity, Colombia and a Caribbean island, St. Vincent, as case studies for the videos. These sites were attractive for other reasons: St. Vincent has a high use of digital media, and Colombia has large at-risk populations across the entire country. As a result, film could be used to communicate across broad audiences in boith cases.

St. Vincent has one prominent volcano called La Soufrière. La Soufrière comprises about a third of the island’s area. It last erupted in 1979, but the eruption that occurred in 1902 was much more devastating, killing around 1,500 people on the island. Colombia, on the other hand, has 57 volcanoes. Many of them are stratovolcanoes (over 4000 meters), and a large number are glacier-capped. Hicks et al. focused on the glaciated Nevado del Ruiz during the film-making process.

Volcán Galeras in Colombia (Source: Josecamilom/Creative Commons).

Hicks et al. took a co-productive approach and made the intended audience the major focus of the films. The series of videos featured firsthand accounts from witnesses of previous eruptions and secondhand accounts shared by community elders with younger generations. The interviews were intended to create an emotional response from the viewers. The eruptions featured in the films occurred at least a generation ago, allowing Hicks et al. to explore how film can impact social memory. The series included reflections on eruptions that occurred in the past, and how to prepare for possible ones in the future.

By making the videos for St. Vincent, over a year earlier than the series for Colombia, the authors learned the importance of the filming process and the final product in improving people’s knowledge of risks and behavior change. Each film was designed to increase awareness of eruptions, while also maintaining and strengthening social and cultural memory of the events.

The films were screened in each community and then followed by in-person surveys. The films sought to dispel myths about the volcanoes and improve preparedness. The results of the survey indicated improvements in knowledge, as well as success at empowering people to act. For example, one of the participants in St. Vincent noted “the speed at which the flow can get to the Rabacca river and cut us off if we do not adhere to the early evacuation process.” As Hicks et al. describe in the paper, many of the attendees had never actively sought information on eruptions before and engaged for the first time during the film screening and consequent workshops.

A still of Guillermo Tapias, a resident featured in “Nevado Del Ruiz Remembering 1985” (Source: Streva Project).

In the paper, Hicks et al. explain that risk communication “will have more success if it is rooted in the socio-cultural context in which the risk is understood.” Adopting concepts from David Cash, the information should be credible (believable and trusted) and salient (relevant).

The authors chose film specifically because it is an effective way to communicate concepts or risks that are difficult to imagine or understand. Dr. Kerry Milch, a research associate at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University, explained to GlacierHub how film could convey these concepts. She described that film can be effective because it makes people react in visceral ways by targeting the emotional part of the brain, which can be very motivating. Milch explained that this needs to be connected to concrete actions to help individuals feel empowered. Hicks et al. also explain how film has the capacity to capture oral histories, which are culturally significant in many communities. Oral histories are often shared intergenerationally and are effective as a method of disaster risk reduction because they come from trusted individuals.

A resident featured in “Living with the volcano – La Soufrière St Vincent” (Source: Streva Project).

Skepticism of scientific projections around eruptions can be problematic. Dr. Erik Klemetti, a geosciences professor at Denison University, explained in an interview to GlacierHub that the 1985 eruption of Nevado Del Ruiz in Colombia caused a lot of mistrust of outside scientists within the community. Geologists monitoring the area struggled to convey the risk of eruption to the local community, and when the eruption led to many deaths, the community grew more mistrusting of scientists. Therefore, for Hicks et al., involving the community in the risk communication was crucial.

They used a co-productive approach in risk communication. The people in St. Vincent and Colombia featured in the videos also helped select the sites used in filming, as well the film’s content. This process gave a voice to the communities. Hicks et al. recommend the co-productive method be integrated into a comprehensive disaster risk reduction plan. While not feasible for every community or climate-related risk, films could be a successful risk communication tools in many other regions.

Don’t Step on the Crack at Petermann Glacier

A satellite image of the crack in Petermann Glacier (Source: Stef Lhermitte/Twitter).

Cracks in ice shelves have appeared in disaster movies as ominous signs of global warming. One memorable instance occurs in The Day After Tomorrow when a paleoclimatologist is drilling ice cores at the Larsen Ice Shelf. The shelf breaks apart, leading to a series of cataclysmic climate events that disrupt the North Atlantic Ocean circulation. In July, a real- life crack appeared at Petermann Glacier in Greenland and has been growing steadily ever since. Two scientists, Andreas Muenchow and Keith Nicholls, are investigating the crack and hypothesize that it is caused by an increase in air and ocean temperatures.

An image of ice breaking off the Petermann Glacier in 2012 (Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr).

Petermann Glacier connects the Greenland ice sheet to the Arctic Ocean at 81°N. It is approximately 43 miles long and nearly 10 miles wide. This is not the first crack or full break of ice at Petermann Glacier, according to a Washington Post article by Chris Mooney. Since 2010, entire slabs of the Petermann glacier have broken off.

In fact, during two occasions, the glacier lost an area of ice six times the size of Manhattan, according to Mooney. This loss raises enormous concern because the glacier serves to slow down the flow of ice downhill from the Greenland ice sheet into the ocean. For this reason, experts call Petermann a “floodgate.” If the glacier that sits behind Petermann melts, it could raise sea levels by about a foot.

A close-up view of the new crack in the Petermann Glacier (Source: NASA Operation IceBridge/Facebook).

A recent paper published in the Geophysical Research Letters describes this type of calving at Petermann as common. The authors explain that it is usually assumed that ocean-ice dynamics are not involved. However, evidence from the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica found that ocean forcing can play a role in the melting.

Muenchow and Nicholls expect similar dynamics are occurring with Petermann Glacier. They have been on several expeditions to the glacier in order to measure ocean temperatures underneath the shelf itself. They want to see if rising ocean temperatures are also detrimental to the glacier and causing the melting from below.

If warm ocean water were melting the base of the glacier, it would only accelerate the destruction of Petermann. While it is extremely difficult to know definitively, they hypothesize Petermann’s river and the channel beneath it are playing a role in the melting.

Data from 2015 and 2016 demonstrates that the temperatures of the warm Atlantic layer in the ocean have increased. With both air and ocean temperatures getting warmer, it is unclear how much longer Petermann Glacier will be intact, leaving frightening implications for the melting of the enormous glacier behind it. The crack in the Petermann Glacier and the possible ensuing events show that news from the ice can sometimes be just as scary as the scenes in disaster movies.

Photo Friday: Peder Balke’s Mountain Landscapes

Peder Balke (1804 – 1887) is often known as the “Painter of Northern Light.” A painter firmly rooted in the Romanticism movement, which flourished from 1800 to the 1860s, his landscapes and seascapes portray the power and majesty of nature. His work depicts the wildness of Norwegian seascapes and the potential nature has to destroy.

Balke’s talent has recently been rediscovered by collectors and museums alike. A collection of his work is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City until July 9, some of the paintings featuring depictions of glaciers.

“Le Jour ni l’Heure” by Peder Balke (Source: Renaud Camus/Flickr).


“Vardøhus festning” by Peder Balke. (Source: Jorunn/Creative Commons).


An oil painting by Peder Balke entitled “Stetind in Fog” (Source: Peter Balke/Creative Commons).


“Les Sept Soeurs” by Peder Balke. (Source: Chris Waits/Flickr).


“Ceci n’est pas le Cap Nord” by Peder Balke (Source: Bosc d’Anjou/Flickr).

Meltdown in Canadian Ice Core Facility

A view of an ice core in a repository (Source: Fred W. Baker III/USDoD).

The Canadian Ice Core Archive in Edmonton, run by the University of Alberta, recently lost almost 13 percent of their ice cores in a perfect storm of system and equipment failures. The freezer containing thousands of precious ice core samples malfunctioned one weekend in April and the alert that was meant to sound if the freezer failed also faulted. To make matters worse, the system then tried to correct itself, which meant it blew hot air into the room, accelerating the melting of the cores. The temperature in the room rose so high that it set off the fire alarm in the building.

Ice cores at the Canadian Ice Core Archive are typically kept at -37°C. But over the weekend, temperatures increased to upwards of 40°C, leaving inches of water on the floor by Monday morning. In the meltdown, the archive lost some of its oldest and most precious ice cores from Northern Canada that glaciologists have been collecting since the 1970s. In total, 4,000 ice core samples were destroyed overnight, sending ripples of concern through the science community.

The lost ice cores held 22,000 years of data within their layers and came from such diverse locations as Mount Logan, the tallest peak in Canada, and Baffin Island’s Penny Ice Cap, among other locations.

A view of an ice core sample and its layers (Source: Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr).

It is no surprise that climate scientists and glaciologists value ice core data for what it can tell us about past climate. Glaciers start as layers of snow, which slowly accumulates, forming ice. Dust, pollen, and bubbles of trapped air in each layer of snow becomes a part of the ice. Ice cores are drilled samples of these layers, each sample telling a story of historical atmospheric and temperature conditions. Thus, storage of ice cores in repositories is extremely important.

A scientist preparing and measuring an ice core sample in the field (Source: NASA/Flickr).

Replacing the 4,000 lost ice cores in Edmonton is essentially out of the question. Each sample would cost upwards of $1 million dollars to replace and presents massive logistical issues in obtaining new ones due to the remote location of the Arctic. The process of drilling ice cores is extremely time consuming and technically demanding. Ice cores are either drilled with a thermal or mechanical drill, and samples range from one to six meters in length. 

It seems the only way forward from this ice core catastrophe is to ensure that the Canadian Ice Core Archive does not have another failure. This involves sharing lessons learned from this incident and other ice core repositories.

In times like these, the last thing the world needs is more lost climate data. Fortunately, the archive’s oldest ice from the last continental ice sheet was not in the malfunctioning freezer, a small wrinkle in an otherwise tragic tale.


Roundup: GLOFs, Iron, and Soil Stability

Roundup: GLOFs, Iron, and Soil


Observations of a GLOF near Mt. Everest

From The Cryosphere: “Glacier outburst floods with origins from Lhotse Glacier, located in the Everest region of Nepal, occurred on 25 May 2015 and 12 June 2016. The most recent event was witnessed by investigators, which provided unique insights into the magnitude, source, and triggering mechanism of the flood. The field assessment and satellite imagery analysis following the event revealed that most of the flood water was stored englacially and that the flood was likely triggered by dam failure.”

Read more about the GLOF events in Nepal here.

Image of a GLOF from the Lhotse Glacier in June 2016 (Source: Caroline Clasoni/Twitter).


Transfer of Iron to the Antarctic

From Nature: “Iron supplied by glacial weathering results in pronounced hotspots of biological production in an otherwise iron-limited Southern Ocean Ecosystem. However, glacial iron inputs are thought to be dominated by icebergs. Here we show that surface runoff from three island groups of the maritime Antarctic exports more filterable than icebergs. Glacier-fed streams also export more acid-soluble iron associated with suspended sediment than icebergs. Significant fluxes of filterable and sediment-derived iron are therefore likely to be delivered by runoff from the Antarctic continent. Although estuarine removal processes will greatly reduce their availability to coastal ecosystems, our results clearly indicate that riverine iron fluxes need to be accounted for as the volume of Antarctic melt increases in response to 21st century climate change.”
Learn more about iron transfer here.
Iron ore on an Antarctic glacier (Source: jpfitz/Twitter).


The Role of Vegetation in Alpine Soil Stability

From International Soil and Water Conservation Research: “One fifth of the world’s population is living in mountains or in their surrounding areas. This anthropogenic pressure continues to grow with the increasing number of settlements, especially in areas connected to touristic activities, such as the Italian Alps. The process of soil formation on high mountains is particularly slow and these soils are particularly vulnerable to soil degradation. In alpine regions, extreme meteorological events are increasingly frequent due to climate change, speeding up the process of soil degradation and increasing the number of severe erosion processes, shallow landslides and debris flows. Vegetation cover plays a crucial role in the stabilization of mountain soils thereby reducing the risk of natural hazards effecting downslope areas.”
Read more about soil stability here.
Vegetation on Mount Rainier (Source: National Park Service).

First-time Visits to an Alaskan Glacier Just Got More Expensive

A view of the snout of Matanuska Glacier (Source: Frank K./Creative Commons).

The thought of being able to drive right up to a glacier seems strange to most people. However, that is how visitors have accessed Matanuska Glacier in Alaska thanks to a privately-owned road that leads to a parking area near the glacier’s debris-covered section.

For years, visitors with various experiences and interests have been able to enjoy first-hand the majesty of Alaska’s largest glacier, measuring 26 miles in length. Yet, the company that owns the road and runs one of twelve independent enterprises that offer tours of Matanuska recently required that all first-time visitors pay a $100 fee for a guided tour if they want any first-time access to the glacier.

A view of a visitor to Matanuska (Source: Alaska Dispatch News/Twitter).

This new requirement has some locals and tourists up in arms. While the company Matanuska Glacier Park LLC cites safety issues as the main reason for this new requirement, some visitors remain unhappy that the $100 guided tour is now the only option offered to first-timers. After their first visit, guided tours are no longer necessary, and visitors have the option of buying a ticket for $20.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Bill Stevenson, the owner of Matanuska Glacier Park LLC, which operates Matanuska Glacier Adventures, explained that the three-hour guided tour has been $100 for quite some time, despite more recent controversy.

He acknowledged that the new requirement that first-time visitors must pay for the guided tour is one that upsets visitors. However, there are many admission options, he says, including $20 tickets. He maintains that the guided tour with an experienced guide provides a lot of information about a “fascinating part of nature” for first-time visitors. He describes the glacier as “very user-friendly” and the sloping toe of the glacier as very gradual, making it easy to walk around.

However, not all visitors and locals are convinced the steep fee for first-timers is the right course of action. “One of the most special things about living in Alaska is having incredible access to nature,” Alaskan resident Rachel Kaplan explained to GlacierHub. “Putting a high fee on that access limits who can visit.” While she does understand the potential safety concerns, she went on to say that “having a high fee to access the glacier really bothers me.”

Ice climbing on Matanuska Glacier (Source: BD/Twitter).

Stevenson made it clear to GlacierHub that the tour company is not the sole source of income for his company. As the leaseholder for the road, he plays many roles. His company has chosen to share the glacier with 11 other independent tour companies in the area, he noted, providing more than enough business to go around with 20,000 annual visitors to the glacier.

The fees for guided tours at other tour companies in the area also vary for visitors, including those for first-time visitors. While fees at Matanuska Glacier Adventures is on the expensive side, some of the other tour companies are charging higher fees for access.

Climate change further complicates matters. Stevenson told GlacierHub, “No question, we’ve had a decline in the mass of ice.” He estimates that Matanuska loses about 30 feet per year in length. Perhaps, as glacier recession continues, a $100 price tag for admission to one of the world’s disappearing resources will seem less significant. The drive-up location itself may be worth the fee.

OMG: An Artist Flew over the Greenland Icesheet

In a recent article in Nature Climate ChangeSonja van Renssen describes various mediums through which visual artists and musicians represent climate change. She argues that illustrating climate change through art can ground it in our culture and open up new dialogues. She offers several examples, including Justin Brice Guariglia, who recently became the first artist in history to be involved in a NASA mission. He is in the midst of a five-year commitment to join NASA flights over Greenland from 2015 to 2020 in order to visually document changing climate.

Justin Brice Guariglia in front of his piece “APR 23, 2015 19:08:026 GMT.” (Source: Science Friday/Twitter).

Guariglia’s work is inspired by scientific data, but it is not featured directly in his art. His prints focus on the connection between humans and nature during the Anthropocene, the current geologic age of the Earth. As Renssen explains in her paper, the Anthropocene is the time period when “human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment.”

Guariglia’s enormous pieces dwarf the viewer. Jakobshavn I, a recent project, is an acrylic print on polystyrene that represents a glacier in Greenland. He prints his large-scale photographs on durable materials. Guariglia’s hope is that while the glaciers themselves may not last, his art will endure, according to Renssen.

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One of Guariglia’s pieces on display at TwoThirtyOne Projects in New York City (Source: Justin Brice Guariglia/Instagram).

Guariglia is a member of the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) project, which researches the effects of ocean warming on Greenland’s glaciers. The project takes high resolution elevation measurements of these glaciers each year during the spring to measure annual glacier retreat. In addition, a second mission takes place each summer, during which 250 temperature and salinity probes measure the temperature and salinity of water in the Atlantic Ocean. These combined datasets will improve modeling of sea and ice interactions, helping to improve estimates of the contribution of Greenland’s ice to global sea level rise.

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A land art piece in Sante Fe. Participants covered in blue tarp in the dry riverbed are meant to illustrate how climate change affects people at local levels (Source: Don Usner and 350 Earth).

In an interview with GlacierHub, Josh Willis, the principal investigator for the OMG NASA mission, explained that he is “excited by the collaboration with Justin because it means we might be able to connect with people who have a hard time relating climate change to their own daily lives. That’s important to me because climate change is a big deal, and I think we’ve been slow to accept it.” Other scientific organizations like the National Science Foundation agree with NASA’s investment in blending climate change and art. The Antarctic Artists and Writers Program sponsors individuals in the humanities, including painters and photographers, to be inspired by and help document the heritage in Antarctica.

The trend in using art to portray the detrimental effects of climate change could be a creative alternative to communicating environmental risks. For example, alumni and faculty from the University of Miami recently used film, photography, and land art to illustrate climate change issues. Like Guariglia and Willis, this intersection of science and art could be uniquely effective in communicating these risks.

Photo Friday: Glacier Tattoos

The beauty and grandeur of glaciers inspire some people to get tattoos of these natural wonders on their skin. Despite the vastness of glaciers, their presence on Earth may be less permanent than those tattoos, due to increased melting caused by global warming. The ways in which people choose to immortalize glaciers also vary. Some designs capture the simple beauty, while others focus on memories or experiences on glaciers.

See images of these fascinating tattoos below:

A delicate inner arm tattoo of glacier-covered peaks (Source: Small Tattoos/Twitter).


A tattoo inspired by Kokanee Glacier in British Columbia (Source: Ojas Cats/Twitter).


A ribcage tattoo inspired by Icelandic glaciers (Source: Little Tattoos/Twitter).


Before and after photos of a sleeve tattoo of a climber ascending a peak (Source: Owlcat Artists/Twitter).


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An upper arm tattoo of Mount Rainier (Source: Paolo Mottola Mastroianni/Flickr).


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A large side tattoo of a mountain range (Source: Jeff Tarinelli/Flickr).


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A tattoo of Tahoma’s Glaciers and the Wonderland Trail (Source: Phillip Martello).


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A small wrist tattoo of glaciers (Source: Station de FLAINE/Twitter).


World Bank Study Proposes Solutions to Bolivia’s Water Crisis

A recent photo of drought conditions in La Paz, Bolivia (Source: Alan Farago/Twitter).

Bolivia is currently in the midst of the worst drought in twenty-five years following decades of intense water crises, including an infamous “water war” in 2000 in the city of Cochabamba in which tens of thousands of Bolivians protested the privatization of water. To cope with the current situation, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has declared a national state of emergency, imposed stricter water rationing, and even fired a top water official, but can more be done to alleviate the crisis?

In a recent report for the World Bank Group, Sarah Botton et al. cover the current crisis and explain how a blend of “big system” water infrastructure, in which a single operator manages the piped system, and “small system” infrastructure, in which individuals informally control water resources, can help conditions in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, and El Alto, a large adjacent city known for its high elevation and largely indigenous population. 

Botton et al. present a case study of water management in La Paz and El Alto to consider the benefit of future water management strategies in the region. The central and oldest neighborhoods of these Bolivian cities have traditionally had better access to water, with poorer communities suffering from noteworthy shortages or decreased access, according to Botton et al. As a result, both cities have gone through cycles of public and private management before changing back to a public management system in 2007. 

Dirk Hoffmann, a professor at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences in Germany and an expert in glacier change and glacier lake outburst flood risk in the Bolivian Andes, explained in an interview with GlacierHub that the immense population growth in La Paz and El Alto further complicates water management issues in the area. He indicated that the urban area of the metropolis of La Paz and El Alto is growing 40,000 to 50,000 people each year. 

“The water supply system in La Paz and El Alto has not kept up with the population growth,” Hoffmann told GlacierHub. To make matters worse, Hoffmann explained that there is a 40 to 50 percent loss of water as it travels from the source due to old water pipes, open canals, infiltrations, and (illegal) access by users.

In 1997, while under public management, 95 percent of the La Paz population was connected to the drinking water system and 80 percent to sewers, according to Botton et al. In El Alto, where the population is poorer and more heavily indigenous, only 65 percent of the population was connected to drinking water and 25 percent to sewers. In order to provide more dependable water to the indigenous people, the decision was made by the government of El Alto in July 1997 to move the governance of the water system to a private company. La Paz similarly made the decision to privatize.

A contract was signed by both cities with Aguas del Illimani, a subsidiary of the French company Suez. However, problems with privatization arose because the company lacked the resources to equip the poorest households with water. Aguas del Illimani was ultimately replaced in 2007 by Empresa Pública Social de Agua y Saneamiento (EPSAS), a public utility.

EPSAS dealt with a major setback in 2008 in which a landslide caused by heavy rain destroyed the pipes in the Pampahasi system, which supplied water to the southern and eastern part of La Paz. The area went without water for three weeks because repairs were delayed and EPSAS could not afford the US$450,000 s to repair the damage. They required a loan from the municipality and the national government.

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A photo of a public faucet that serves 1,000 families in El Alto, Bolivia (Source: Stephan Bachenheimeri/World Bank).

President Morales and water experts maintain that climate change has contributed to and continues to exasperate the current water crisis in Bolivia. Bolivian glaciers have shrunk by 43 percent between 1986 and 2014, according to a study recently published by the Geosciences Union journal. Meanwhile, glacier meltwater in the region remains a crucial source of drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower, with two million residents in La Paz and El Alto reportedly receiving about 15 percent of their water supply from glaciers.

As water resources diminish in Bolivia, conflicts over their allocation will only intensify, Botton et al. explain. Hoffman emphasized to GlacierHub that, ironically, Bolivia is a big contributor to climate change due to deforestation in its lowlands, when counted on a per capita base. Deforestation brings smoke particles to the glaciers, accelerating their melting (although the exact magnitude still has not been established). In this sense, Bolivia continues to contribute to climate change, which has negatively impacted it own water supply.

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La Paz residents wait in line to fill water buckets (Source: Water Mark/Twitter).

Botton et al. analyze the differences between “big systems,” like the ones used in La Paz and El Alto, which are maintained by a single operator that manages the pipes of the entire municipal water system, and “small systems,” which offer an alternative management option.

In small systems, inhabitants of a rural area informally control the system and turn the resource into a service for the community. The operators are required to register with the Ministry of Water, but many currently do not because of onerous procedures involved.

In La Paz, small systems are located on the western slopes, which are considered “non-constructible” for big systems. These small systems provide water without undermining the big system, which lacks options for expanding. Another positive of small systems is that they rarely need repairs, and when they do, those repairs are done more easily with a technically simple approach. Botton et al. concur that future solutions for La Paz and El Alto water issues will require coordination between big and small systems.

Hoffmann agrees that there needs to be more coordination among all of those involved and that there remains significant disagreement on who should have access to water or how it should be utilized. Many of the reservoirs used in La Paz and El Alto are on rural lands belonging to indigenous people, for example, who want to use the water for irrigation purposes. The indigenous people claim these natural resources are theirs. However, Bolivians living in the city want to use the water for drinking. 

Hoffmann concluded, “The many actors involved are slowly becoming more convinced that they need an agreement between urban and rural populations.”

Hardangerjøkulen: The Real-Life Hoth is Disappearing

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An image from the set of the Empire Strikes Back (Source: Brickset/Flickr).

Any Star Wars fan will recognize the remote ice planet Hoth, the location of some of the most iconic scenes from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, including the attack on the Rebel Alliance’s Echo Base by Imperial Walkers and Han Solo’s daring rescue of Luke Skywalker after his tauntaun was attacked by a wampa. Not many people, however, would know that those legendary scenes were filmed on a Norwegian ice cap called Hardangerjøkulen.

When the movie was filmed in 1980, the crew had to cope with subzero temperatures and freezing winds. However, nearly forty years later, the real-life Hoth is disappearing. According to a recent paper by Henning Akesson et al., published in The Cryosphere, the ice cap is extremely sensitive to small changes in temperature, and therefore vulnerable to climate change as global temperatures continue to increase.

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An edge of the Hardangerjøkulen ice cap (Source: Ingolf/Flickr).

Akesson explains in an article for ScienceDirect that due to increasing temperatures, it is feasible that Hardangerjøkulen could fully melt by 2100 if the trends continue. Once it melts, he and his team maintain that the ice cap will never return.

As the authors of the study explain, Hardangerjøkulen is located in southern Norway and measured 73 square kilometers as of 2012. It is generally flat in the interior and has several steeper glaciers along the edge of the ice cap that drain the plateau. Two of these glaciers, Midtdalsbreen and Rembesdalsskaka, have retreated 150 meters and 1386 meters respectively since 1982. Akesson et al. base their study of Hardangerjøkulen on modeling, as opposed to measurements or observations.

The team used a numerical ice flow model to produce a plausible ice cap history of Hardangerjøkulen thousands of years before the Little Ice Age. Using a modelled history of the ice cap, they examined the sensitivity to different parameters. They found that it is “exceptionally sensitive” to changes in temperature. These changes in temperature impact the ice cap’s surface mass balance, which is the gain and loss of ice from a glacier system.

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A sunny view near the summit of Hardangerjøkulen (Source: Martin Talbot/Flickr).

The possible disappearance of Hardangerjøkulen has many implications, including impacting Norway’s tourism and hydropower industries. 99 percent of all power production in Norway comes from hydropower, which depends on glaciers’ water storage and seasonal water flow. Glaciers help contribute to water reservoirs used for the hydropower, and Norway itself contains nearly half of the reservoir capacity in Europe.

The ice cap is also a popular destination for hiking and glacier walking, as well as for Star Wars fans hoping to visit the location of Hoth scenes.

Local residents have remarked on noticeable differences in Hardangerjøkulen. Grete Hovelsrud, a senior researcher at the Nordland Research Institute and vice-president of the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research, told GlacierHub that the potential loss of Hardangerjøkulen is “very sad.” She added, “It is such a beautiful place. I skied across it last spring, and it really feels like being on top of the world.”

Roundup: Penguins, Antarctica, and Geological Games

Roundup: Penguins, Antartica, and Geology Board Games

Looking for New Emperor Penguin Colonies

From ScienceDirect: “Knowledge about the abundance and distribution of the emperor penguin is far from complete despite recent information from satellites. When exploring the locations where emperor penguins breed, it is apparent that their distribution is circumpolar, but with a few gaps between known colonies. The purpose of this paper is therefore to identify those remaining areas where emperor penguins might possibly breed. Using the locations of emperor penguin breeding colonies, we calculated the separation distance between each pair of geographically adjacent colonies. Based on mean separation distances between colonies following a circumpolar distribution, and known foraging ranges, we suggest that there may yet be six undiscovered breeding locations with half of these in Eastern and the remainder in Western Antarctica.”

Read more about it here.

A group of Emperor penguins and their chicks (Source: Jenny Varley/Creative Commons).


Patterns of Plant Succession in Antarctica

From Infona: “Maritime Antarctica is severely affected by climate change and accelerating glacier retreat forming temporal gradients of soil development. Successional patterns of soil development and plant succession in the region are largely unknown, as are the feedback mechanisms between both processes. Here we identify three temporal gradients representing horizontal and vertical glacier retreat, as well as formation of raised beaches due to isostatic uplift, and describe soil formation and plant succession along them.”

Learn more about it here.

King George Island, Antartica (Source: Acaro/Creative Commons).


19th Century Geology Board Game

From : “Wonders of Nature in each Quarter of the World was an early nineteenth century educational board game designed to teach children about some of the natural wonders of the world, such as volcanoes. The game was produced at a time of advances in geological thinking and geographical expeditions and this study places such changes and events within the context of the pastime, and presents an interesting window on the way geology was perceived almost two centuries ago.”

Learn more here.

A view of the Wonders of Nature board game (Source: Jane Dove/Geology Today).

New Report Documents Pakistan’s Water Insecurity

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A map of the mean annual precipitation in Pakistan, illustrating the country’s aridity (Source: United Nations Development Programme).

Water security is a pervasive issue in Pakistan, a largely arid country. The majority of the country receives less than 300mm of rain per year, while a small region in the north receives upwards of 1000 mm per year. The Indus River provides much of the water to the area, but its flow is irregular due to the variable precipitation. Moreover, the river originates partly in Pakistan and partly in India, creating additional political challenges that stem from the decades-long history of tension between the two countries.

Last month, the United Nations Development Programme released a Development Advocate Pakistan report that describes the uncertain future of water in Pakistan, which is impacted by changing climate and melting glaciers, as well as political issues with neighboring India. The report’s editors suggest several ways to increase water stability in Pakistan. They advise increasing public awareness because the lack of trust stems in part from incomplete access to data and information. They also recommend high efficiency irrigation systems and updating academic curriculum in the country to include sustainable development.

A road passes through Tharparkar, a region in southern Pakistan (Source: Rcbutcher/Creative Commons).

As the report describes, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan provides most of the water in the glaciated parts of the country. Altitudes exceed 5000 meters with annual snowfall of approximately 5000 millimeters in the highest regions. This zone is the largest area of perennial glaciers outside the polar regions; nearly one third of the Gilgit-Baltistan area is glaciated. The meltwater of these glaciers contribute a massive volume of freshwater, which forms a significant component of the flow into the Indus River.

The variability of river flows as a result of monsoon seasons has led to water crises and conflicts between provinces, as well as neighboring countries. The Indus Water Treaty has allowed for peaceful relations between Pakistan and its neighbor India for the past 40 years. As Justin Rowlatt describes in his BBC report from September 2016, the Indus Water Treaty has survived two wars and numerous military impasses between the two countries. However, the increased water stress in the Indus River basin since the early 1990s has strained the treaty. 

Coverage of the UNDP report in Indian and Pakistani newspapers has unsurprisingly varied. A recent article in the Times of India covering the report emphasized Pakistan’s negligence and delays in presenting cases to the Indus Water Treaty. An article in the Hindustan Times reports that, “Pakistan has cleverly employed the IWT to have its cake and eat it too” by receiving the larger amount of water the treaty allots for downstream States, while also using the treaty to sustain conflict with India.

The coverage of the issue by Pakistani newspapers is sparser. In one editorial published in Pakistan Today, the author calls the UNDP report a “wake-up call” and urges cooperation between Pakistan and India to resolve the dispute.

The treaty itself fails to address two important issues. The first is that it does not provide for a division of water during shortages in the dry years between India and Pakistan. The second is that it does not discuss the cumulative impact of reservoirs on the flows of the Chenab River, a major tributary of the Indus, into Pakistan.

On a fundamental level, the government of Pakistan does not think the Indus Water Treaty is effective because its people are not satisfied with the amount of water received, but the government of India does not wish to amend the treaty or address water conflict between the countries in other contexts. The treaty allows India to create reservoirs on nearby rivers to store water for hydropower and flood shortages. This provision has created conflicts between Pakistan and India, since India controls the flow of most of these dams and reservoirs.

The Jhelum River in Pakistan (Source: Myasinilyas/Creative Commons).

The Jhelum River also presents a problem to Pakistan’s water security. The river is controlled by India, but is a major source of irrigation and hydropower for Pakistan. If India were to close the gates of the river for long periods, it would have a detrimental impact on Pakistan. As relations between Pakistan and India continue to decline, India has threatened to use water as a political weapon. The “possibility of turning off the taps has been raised before, but never as forcefully as this,” explains Rowlatt in his BBC article,

Pakistan itself contributes to the dysfunction of the treaty. As the editors explain in the UNDP report, “Pakistan’s negligence in conducting sound analysis and delays in presenting cases to the Indus Water Commission of World Bank” has slowed progress.

The Times of India reports that following the release of the UNDP report, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with the World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva to discuss the dispute over the Indus Water Treaty. Sharif hopes that a Court of Arbitration helps solve the dispute, while the government of India requested the World Bank nominate a neutral expert to solve the disagreement. The World Bank Group is a signatory to the Treaty and has encouraged both India and Pakistan to agree to mediation on the issue. It is clear that without some sort of institutional change, Pakistan’s water security will become less certain as climate continues to change and tensions with India escalate.