This Antarctic Glacier is Gone, But It’s a Good Thing

The Royal Society Mountain Range in Victoria Land, Antarctica, where Matataua Glacier resides (Source: Pixabay).

Marchant Glacier in the Royal Society Range of Victoria Land, Antarctica, is no longer on the map, but in a break from the norm, climate change isn’t the culprit. Rather, the 7-mile-long glacier has been renamed Matataua Glacier after its former namesake, geologist David Marchant from Boston University, was found by the university to have sexually harassed at least one of his former graduate students and possibly several others.

Marchant was chosen to have the glacier named after him in 1994 in recognition of his field work in Antarctica since 1985. This included mapping the glacial history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, as well as his discovery of evidence to document paleoclimate change in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.

Boston University’s investigation of the harassment claims determined that Marchant engaged in both derogatory slurs and sexual comments that violated the university’s sexual harassment policy during a three-week Antarctic field research expedition in 1999-2000. The original complaint by his 22-year-old graduate student at the time, Jane Willenbring, was lodged in late 2016, as first reported by the magazine Science. The investigation into her allegations took a year to conduct. During that time several other complaints against Marchant were also lodged. However, university officials were not able to find enough evidence to support the additional allegations.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), an agency of the U.S. Geological Survey, made the glacier’s name change official earlier this month after reviewing an anonymous proposal sent to the agency that suggested the action, as well as the new name. “Matataua” was chosen due to the glacier’s proximity to Matataua Peak, which is a 3,013-meter summit along the ridge that separates Matataua Glacier and Ferrigno Glacier. The name is a Māori word meaning “a scout before the troops.” The glacier was given its former name before the instance of sexual harassment occurred.

According to Science, the anonymous letter to the BGN pointed out the unsuitable working environment that was created for female graduate students by Marchant. His behavior eclipsed his claim of making “outstanding contributions to scientific knowledge” in Antarctica, which the board requires as a part of its naming criteria. “Geographic names get changed more often than people think,” Lou Yost, the executive secretary of the naming board, told The New York Times. “Not so much for these kind of reasons. But it’s an honor we want to take seriously.”


Jane Willenbring on field research in Antarctica in 2008. She was just 22 years old when Marchant sexually harassed her during their field expedition in 1999-2000 (Source: Jane Willenbring/Adam Lewis).

Willenbring is now an associate professor and geologist at SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. She had focused her Ph.D. thesis on Antarctic research before changing to the Arctic after enduring the harassment from Marchant.

“At the time, I thought it would be a major career setback because I had been accepted at UC Berkeley to work on Antarctic glaciers and turned down that Ph.D. fellowship,” Willenbring told GlacierHub. However, she found that she “didn’t need the pedigree of UC Berkeley to succeed in science, and the breadth of multiple focus areas turned out to be useful in the end.” As the director of the Scripps Cosmogenic Isotope Laboratory (SCI-Lab), her research now aims to solve problems related to the Earth’s surface.

She has used her experience to help others by adapting the “Growing up In Science” conversation series for use at SCRIPPS. The series shares faculty members’ life stories and highlights the struggles and detours they faced, and how they overcame them. “At some point I decided I wanted to be who I needed when I was younger,” stated Willenbring.


Willenbring filed the complaint 17 years after the harassment occurred, once she had a tenured position at SCRIPPS, and therefore would not run the risk of jeopardizing her career. With networks being marketed as especially crucial to professional success for STEM graduate students, the lack of career security in reporting is a large barrier.

However, behavior such as sexual harassment during scientific investigations is not only harmful for the victims but detrimental to science as well.

The red circle denotes the location of the Royal Society Range, where Matataua Glacier is located, as well as Beacon Valley, where Willenbring conducted her field research with Marchant (Source: NASA).

“Everyone thinks more clearly and creatively when not burdened with worries of discrimination or harassment as they try to do their work,” Jessica O’Reilly, an environmental anthropologist at Indiana University who studies the decision making of scientists, told GlacierHub.

“I think the extremely hierarchical nature of academic training overall makes junior researchers, especially women, vulnerable to inappropriate behavior or harassment, and not enough has been done to address this in academic settings, remote or not,” she continued. O’Reilly warned about the militaristic and masculinist legacy of Antarctic field camps that is sometimes unofficially perpetuated in field training in an article for Environmental Humanities last year.

Even with such a crucial task ahead, O’Reilly remains hopeful. “My sense is that things are going to continue to get better,” she said, “and this renaming of Matataua glacier​ and the recent AAAS decision is emblematic of this.”

Others agree that breaking away from this legacy of behavior in research settings is indeed what is needed. “A narrow, patrolled take on science limits our range of possible—and we live in a time when we need to really start re-imagining what is possible,” M Jackson, a National Geographic Explorer and glaciologist, told GlacierHub.

Jackson stresses the importance of creating environments that encourage a wide breadth of individuals to partake in science.“We need diverse individuals from across a range of genders, races, identities, economic statuses, geographies, etc. participating in science because of the unique and valuable perspectives they can bring to science,” she continued. “This enriches us all.”


The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently adopted a policy that allows fellows to be stripped of their honors if they are found to have engaged in sexual harassment, as well as any other violation of professional ethics. And it’s not the only organization to take firmer action after the recent #MeToo national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) agreed that Marchant was found to have violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which is a federal law the prohibits federal funding to support any educational activity that discriminates against someone on the basis of sex. This led the NSF to cancel his funding, but only after some delay.

The NSF has since learned from its previous handling of the issue. It has published a new term and condition on September 21 regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. It concludes that “awardee organizations will be required to notify NSF of any findings/determinations of sexual harassment, other forms of harassment, or sexual assault regarding an NSF-funded Principal Investigator (PI) or co-PI.”

This includes placing a PI or co-PI on administrative leave, which is where Marchant currently stands at Boston University while he continues to appeal the school’s recommended sanction of termination. The NSF rule will be in effect on October 21, after the conclusion of the public viewing period.

A statement from NSF Director France Córdova stated that this action is meant to support the U.S. research community, while also recognizing that “at times, the scientific community has not sufficiently protected all of its members.” This is a welcome change, as the lack of support has only been solidified by studies of sexual harassment in academia. A recent study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that current policies are woefully underperforming in protecting victims, driving talented researchers out of their fields.

Willenbring told GlacierHub she was unexpectedly pleased with the rule, and how far it goes in comparison to other scientific institution rules, such as the National Institutes of Health. “Reasonable next steps should be to protect anyone harassed—men too—and for NSF to perform investigations themselves given obvious, and now exacerbated, conflict of interest of university Title IX office investigations,” she stated.

In the future, Willenbring would like to see the NSF and universities work together to protect and secure student funding when they experience and report harassment. “I hope that they figure out how to remove PIs and co-PIs who are harassers who have current funding as well,” she continued. “I hope we won’t just wait one to four years for those grants to end naturally.”

Photo Friday: World Nomad Games 2018

The World Nomad Games proclaims its slogan for all to hear: “United in Strength! United in Spirit!”

The 2018 iteration of the biennial games took place in the Kyrgyz Republic on September 2, nestled in the northeast of Centra Asia and the Tien Shan mountains. 90 percent of the country’s land is over 1,500 meters above sea level, and it’s almost entirely mountainous, so it is no surprise that the main source of water is from glacial meltwater.

The games were created in 2012 to revitalize and preserve nomadic culture. This year featured thousands of athletes from 77 countries competing in 37 types of ethnosports. “The mission of the World Nomad Games covers the revival, development and preservation of the ethnoculture, diversity and originality of the people of the world in order to foster a more tolerant and open relationship between people,” states the official website. The event is broken into three sections: ethnoculture, enthnosport, and science. It features diverse activities that range from folklore and traditional intellectual games to traditional wrestling and salbuurun, their form of hunting with local wildlife.

For this week’s Photo Friday, take a look at the 2018 World Nomad Games, as well as competitions from years past.

Promotional material for the 2018 World Nomad Games with the Tien Shan mountains in the background (Source: World Nomad Games).


A nomadic village congregating for the 2016 World Nomad Games (Source: Save the Dream/Flickr).


Athletes participated in traditional forms of wrestling, as featured in the promotional video for the World Nomad Games 2018 (Source: World Nomad Games).


Opening ceremony of the 2016 World Nomad Games (Source: Save the Dream/Flickr).


Nomadic children playing “Ordo,” a traditional game involving teams throwing cow and sheep bones at a coin in an attempt to knock out the other team’s playing pieces (Source: World Nomad Games).



India’s Glaciers Help Shape Climate Change Policy

A paper set to be published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources takes a critical view of the breadth of academic literature on climate change policy and politics in India. It evaluates not only the ideas and knowledge regarding climate change, but also recent shifts in domestic and international governance and policy. The authors underscore the ways that glaciers have played a role in shaping the trajectory of climate change responses in India.

Himalayan Glaciers in India as seen from the International Space Station (Source: Jason Betzner/Flickr).

India has a significant stake in the climate change arena with about 9,000 glaciers within its boundaries. In fact, it was recently named the most vulnerable country to climate change, in a report by HSBC bank earlier this year.

The Himalayan region has millions of people that reside in India and in the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. The residents depend on the glacial meltwater that sources rivers for drinking water, electricity generation, and irrigation. Snowfall from the monsoon season is able to replenish the glaciers to create the foundation for this hydrological system, but climate change disrupts this pattern and dramatically increases the vulnerability of all who depend on it.

India’s scientific community has closely studied monsoons and glacial melt. In this way, they have helped usher initial attention toward climate change action among the public and policy makers. However, this attention has not been without controversy.

The Himalayan glaciers were the subject of heated debate after the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Fourth Assessment Report claimed that they would completely disappear by 2035. This claim was later corrected after it was determined to be incorrect. While Himalayan glacier retreat may be substantial by the end of the century, models show that the glaciers will not completely disappear.

The issue of glacial melt is just one of the many factors that raised the importance of climate change policy action in India, which the paper highlights as shifting substantially over time.

Initially, India built its international negotiation strategy on a pillar of climate equity, bridging rich and poor nations. But the paper notes that the meaning of this term has broadened over time “to include not only disparities among nations, but also disparities within India and the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations.”

Although emphasis remains on the developed nation’s obligation to take responsibility for its contribution to climate change, India has stated its own national contribution to mitigation.

Its forest sequestration pledge to increase forest cover came with Indian advocacy for the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program, for example. This rewards increased sequestration of carbon, not just reduced deforestation, and was eventually adopted in Bali during the UNFCCC’s 15th Conference of the Parties.

The Institutional Structure of India’s Climate Governance (as on March 2018) that outlines the period in which engagement with climate change began. Abbreviations are offered in the journal article (Source: Annual Review of Environment and Resources).


Despite India’s push toward forest expansion, the paper emphasizes the remaining global concern over the country’s future role in carbon emissions, including black carbon, which is a significant factor in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers.

The literature has provided a range for future carbon emissions that is largely dependent on India’s energy future. Future demand and supply will shape how India will be able to contribute to global mitigation efforts, and the outcome of this is one of the main issues the paper discusses.

“India has made significant progress in mitigation measures but has not been able to take sufficient steps for including adaptation measures in its development policies,” Sumit Vij, a Ph.D. candidate researching public administration and policy at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, told GlacierHub.

The Bhagirathi River in the town of Gangotri, Uttarakhand, India at an elevation of 3,100 meters (Source: Atarax42/Wikimedia Commons).

This is a major problem for the vulnerable country, especially for those living in the Himalayan region, where coordinated efforts that work on the ecosystem level could be of benefit.

“The adaptation strategies are focused toward the local level. There has been no focus on transboundary or regional level adaptation measures from India,” Vij continued.

Of the adaptation policies that currently exist, they have been overly focused on the short-term, which inclines them “toward development or business-as-usual,” according to Vij.

“Conceptually, it makes sense that adaptation policies focus on long-term impacts of climate change, rather than on short-term development interventions,” he said.

Nevertheless, India has worked to strengthen its commitment to climate change, which represents a move in the right direction for the country. “However, given the overhang of immediate development challenges, climate change can only be salient to politics and governance if a robust analytical framework is developed to integrate climate considerations alongside and interwoven with pressing development challenges,” concludes the paper. This will remain the next frontier for future climate change research and responses in India.

Roundup: Snow Sublimation, Indian Hydropower, and Predators

The Importance of Snow Sublimation on a Himalayan Glacier

From Frontiers in Earth Science: “Snow sublimation is a loss of water from the snowpack to the atmosphere. So far, snow sublimation has remained unquantified in the Himalaya, prohibiting a full understanding of the water balance and glacier mass balance. Hence, we measured surface latent heat fluxes with an eddy covariance system on Yala Glacier (5,350 m a.s.l) in the Nepalese Himalaya to quantify the role snow sublimation plays in the water and glacier mass budget. Observations reveal that cumulative sublimation is 32 mm for a 32-day period from October to November 2016, which is high compared to observations in other regions in the world.”

Read more here.

Yala Glacier (left peak) in the Langtang Valley, Rasuwa, Nepal (Source: Scott Mattoon/Flickr).


Hydropower Production in India under Climate Change

From Nature: “Hydropower is a valuable renewable energy resource in India, which can help in climate change mitigation and meet the increasing energy demands. However, the crucial role of climate change on hydropower production in India remains unexplored. Here using the observations and model simulations, we show that seven large hydropower projects experienced a significant (p-value < 0.05) warming and a decline in precipitation and streamflow during the observed period of 1951–2007.”

Read more here.

Bhakra Nangal Dam in August, 2008 (Source: Kawal Singh/Creative Commons).


Resolving the Predator First Paradox

From Molecular Ecology: “Primary succession on bare ground surrounded by intact ecosystems is, during its first stages, characterized by predator‐dominated arthropod communities. However, little is known on what prey sustains these predators at the start of succession and which factors drive the structure of these food webs. As prey availability can be extremely patchy and episodic in pioneer stages, trophic networks might be highly variable. Moreover, the importance of allochthonous versus autochthonous food sources for these pioneer predators is mostly unknown. To answer these questions the gut content of 1832 arthropod predators… were screened molecularly to track intraguild and extraguild trophic interactions among all major prey groups occurring in these systems. ”

Read more here.

A map of the stydy locations, with yellow lines marking glacial positions (Source: Sint et al.).

Highest Plants on Earth Discovered Near Glacier

High above the sub-tropical forests and lush grasslands of Nepal, nestled between the scree and moraine from the glaciers of Mount Everest, plants are found braving the elements and surviving in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Rarely studied, these plants are key to solving the mysteries of plant growth at the world’s highest elevations.

Satellite images of the Mount Everest region with the locations of both the 1935 and 1952 expeditions samples (Source: Alpine Botany/DigitalGlobe/Google).

For over 60 years, three plant specimens collected near a glacier during a 1952 Everest expedition sat unstudied at the Conservatory and Botanical Garden of the City of Geneva in Switzerland. Research published last month in the journal Alpine Botany has unearthed these three specimens and details their identification as “novel taxa,” or new species.

The Swiss-led expedition that collected the specimens was one of two historical attempts to summit Mt. Everest and bring back plant samples. Its counterpart, a British-led expedition in 1935, collected two other high-altitude specimens. Together, at an elevation of well over 6,000 meters above sea level, these five specimens make up a collection of the highest vascular plants on Earth. No plants have ever been collected and identified at a higher elevation, the study notes.

According to the article, this taxonomic investigation contributes to our “knowledge of the biogeography of Himalayan flora and opens the way for future field-based investigations of mechanisms limiting plant growth on the roof of the world.”

During the time of the original collection, mountaineering was crucial to botanists in their quest for sampling biological data in high elevations, as there was no other way for scientists to acquire samples due to the harsh and dangerous conditions. Today it remains hard to identify the ecological conditions and physiological capacity of plants at the upper limits of their distribution. Elevation records alone cannot offer such information, and mountaineers do not extensively report on any of the surrounding conditions.

“Historical botanical data are very scarce but have an amazing potential to study changes of plant communities in altitude, especially facing global changes,” Cédric Dentant, the author of the study, told GlacierHub.

Khumba Glacier in Nepal, near where the three plants from the 1952 expedition were collected (Source: Ben & Gab/Flickr).

The importance of historical data is what led him to begin checking as many archives as possible over the years in an effort to find studies and reports of various expeditions. The Swiss expedition was the second in Nepal and well documented, so it was easy for Dentant to track down samples for his research.

“Actually, because of my request to study the 1952 Swiss expedition samples, the curators of the herbarium of the Geneva Botanical Conservatory rediscovered they had these samples,” Dentant admitted.

A botanist and alpinist who usually studies high-altitude plants in the European Alps, he ventured to the world of Himalayan flora when the opportunity arose.

Of the three specimens, Dentant was able to identify one as the previously-known species Arenaria bryophylla, which was encountered on scree and moraine (a mass of rock and sediment deposited by a glacier) on a cliff bordering the north side of the Khumba Glacier in Nepal. The glacier lies next to a key Everest climbing route. The mountaineers originally accessed the area from the south side of the glacier.

Saxifraga lychnitis var. everestianus. a Leaves forming rosette, with several stems and a short and thick axillary stem; b individual with loose rosette; c leaf with glandular hair on the margin and brown glands on surfaces (Source: Alpine Botany/C. Dentant).

The other two specimens from the expedition ended up being entirely new species. Both were found in rock crevices. Saxifraga lychnitis var. everestianus and Androsace khumbuensis were classified using standard methods of herbarium taxonomy. The latter was named after the Khumbu Glacier, where it was also found.

Interestingly, Saxifraga lychnitis var. everestianus had axillary stems, which the other varieties do not have. This “may represent an adaptation to the plant’s extreme habitat,” according to the article, since the stems “anchor the plant in the unstable substrate and may protect the base of the stem from freezing.”

As Dentant stated, in regard to the drive to produce scientific knowledge, “describing what is beyond the word ‘biodiversity’ is very challenging.” Today, he believes climate change may bring a renewed interest from mountaineers in collecting organisms for scientific purposes.

He explained that since mountaineers must grapple with climate change as the mountain environments change and adapt their techniques, this leaves them open to talking about related issues.

“They turn out to be more concerned about these incredible organisms and may try to help in gathering samples,” Dentant said.

Such efforts would help shed light on these under-studied species and leave open the possibility for the title of the highest vascular plant on Earth to be reclaimed once again.

Video of the Week: Alaskan Ice Caves

Do you need to cool off from the stifling August heat?

Video of the Week is just what you need! This week we explore the melting ice caves of Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. Currently about 13 miles long, Mendenhall Glacier has been retreating for hundreds of years, and its melt rate has increased in modern times due to climate change. This melting, paired with failing ice dams, has put Juneau residents at risk for flooding as Mendenhall Lake’s water levels continue to rise.

This has not stopped thousands of people from visiting the glacier every year, however. The Mendenhall glacier is a popular tourist destination that flows from the Juneau Icefield all the way to Mendenhall Lake. In fact, the tourist-accessible features of the glacier are in the planning stages of being redone to incorporate new facilities and trails. Unfortunately, the ice caves featured in the video are not as easily accessible to visitors who want to make the adventure themselves. Mendenhall Glacier’s ice caves typically form and melt away quickly, so this video might have to suffice for now to help you escape this summer’s temperatures.

To learn about how Mendenhall Glacier helps teach about climate change, check out one of our articles from earlier this year.

Read more glacier news here:

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Earth in Danger of Tipping into ‘Hothouse’ State, Scientists Warn

Photo Friday: Dodging Fires in Glacier National Park

Barsuwat Glacier Causes Flooding and Artificial Lake in Pakistan

The previously dry Barsuwat riverbed in Ishkoman, Pakistan, was inundated with flood waters from the melting Barsuwat glacier last month. The water triggered landslides that blocked the flow of the Immit River and formed an artificial lake. On July 18, a glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF) event originating from the artificial lake produced significant flooding in nearby villages in the Ishkoman Valley of the Ghizer district, Gilgit-Baltistan. Two people were killed during the initial rush of floodwaters, and around 1,000 people were evacuated to safer areas ahead of the GLOF by Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).

During the GLOF, the melting glacier released debris, including mud and stones, which damaged over 40 houses and cut off roadway access to upwards of 10 local villages. Part of the Karakoram Highway became submerged, while some smaller roads were washed away along with over a dozen vehicles and hundreds of cattle in the upstream areas.

Ishkoman Valley during the flooding event on July 18 (Source: Pamir Times/Twitter).

The Barsuwat glacier has been melting more rapidly than normal due to a May heat wave in the region that killed 65 people in Karachi, Pakistan. According to Dawn, an online Pakistani newspaper, the deputy commissioner of Ghizer, Shuja Alam, said that the glacier started melting on July 17, the night before the flooding event, at about 7 p.m. The floodwaters have since waned as the ice and debris have melted and washed away.

The evacuation of the villagers prior to the GLOF event was made possible by a community-based flood early warning system in Gilgit Baltistan developed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an organization that monitors glacier melt and the dams that can lead to lake formation and flooding.

Earlier in April, ICIMOD’s Director General David Molden had pledged “ongoing support to Pakistan’s government and community institutions” and highlighted the organization’s partnership in disaster risk management in Gilgit Baltistan as key to enabling locals to respond to the consequences of climate change, including an increase in glacial lakes and flooding events.

ICIMOD is currently collaborating with the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Management Authority and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat on disaster risk management in the area. These kinds of collaborations are becoming increasingly necessary as disasters like the one in July become more common. “Today, the fast melting glaciers pose the greatest disaster risk to Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. I see massive deforestation that the region has experienced over the decades as a major factor behind this situation,” Ghulam Rasul, director general of Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), told Dawn.

However, Ken Hewitt, professor emeritus of the department of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, who spent his career studying glaciers in Northern Pakistan, warns of a greater threat to the region. “Bigger risks come from ice dams, of which there have been seven or more in the upper Ishkoman (Karambar tributary) since late 19th century,” he told GlacierHub.

He added that there is potential for one of these ice dams and resulting GLOFs from a recent advance of Chillinji Glacier. “Its terminus has advanced across the Karambar River, but not sealed a dam to date—though it has in the past,” Hewitt said.

News outlets in Pakistan have likened the July 2018 artificial lake formation in Ishkoman to the formation of Attabad Lake in Hunza River Valley, Pakistan, in January 2010. Attabad Lake was created after a natural rock landslide buried the village of Attabad and dammed the Hunza River. The lake grew to 21 kilometers across and over 109 meters deep.

The Ishkoman Valley lake is different, however, in that it does not have the same blockage characteristics that could withstand warming temperatures and height of the rising waters to form a permanent lake.

As the region looks to the future, Hewitt is keeping his eye on the Hasanabad Glacier in Hunza, about 50 kilometers downstream from Attabad, which is currently undergoing a massive surge. “It had the longest, fastest surge on record a century ago and is a unique glacier in other ways,” he said. He remains doubtful it will reach the Hunza River, but he cautions that it could form a dam on its large tributary, risking another GLOF in the region.

Photo Friday: Glaciers as Symbols in Ecuador

Ecuador’s Independence Day, or “Día del Primer Grito de Independencia de Quito,” as it is known in Spanish, is celebrated on August 10. Today marks 209 years since the city of Quito declared independence from Spanish colonizers. It was the first Latin American country to declare independence from European rule, and even though short-lived, remains a major milestone in Latin American independence.

In honor of Ecuador’s National Day, we dedicate this week’s Photo Friday to looking at how glaciers have been used as national symbols in Ecuador. From the coat of arms to stamps, Ecuadorians have long recognized how important glaciers are to the country and its people. Glaciers can be found on Antisana, Cayambe, Chimborazo, and Cotopaxi in the Ecuadorian Andes. Ecuador is the only place on Earth where glaciers are found on the Equator. Unfortunately, the glaciers are rapidly receding due to climate change and may disappear completely before the end of the century. For now, they can still be seen residing on some of the tallest volcanoes on Earth and in the country’s national symbols.


Ecuador is the only Latin American country with a glacier peak on its coat of arms (Source: Wikimedia Commons).


The Ecuadorian Air Forces shield (Source: Wikimedia Commons).


The national flag of Ecuador (Source: Wikimedia Commons).


An Ecuadorean stamp from 1907 from the series of stamps celebrating the railroad from Quito to Guayaquil (Source: Wikimedia Commons).


The issuance of a series of stamps in Ecuador that commemorates glacier research (Source: Correos del Ecuador/Flickr).


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Anthony Bourdain Discussed Bhutan’s Glaciers in Season Finale

Anthony Bourdain’s Twitter bio simply reads “Enthusiast.” This succinct description captures the spirit of the television personality and chef who died by suicide in June. It was his aptitude for traveling, or simply experiencing, that brought Bourdain to Bhutan for the season 11 finale of his show, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” which aired on June 24, 2018. In this episode, like many others, Bourdain experienced the country, its culture, its people, and the food that tied them all together. For Bhutan, the environment cannot be fully acknowledged without understanding the impact of the region’s glaciers.

Darren Aronofsky and Anthony Bourdain in Bhutan in 2018 (Source: ZPZ/Twitter).

A mountainous country in the eastern Himalaya, Bhutan has a complicated relationship with its glaciers. On one hand, glacier water fuels the hydropower dams that account for Bhutan’s largest export; yet, climate-related impacts like glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) also threaten lives and have been responsible for some of the most catastrophic events in Bhutan’s recent history.

Bourdain did not overlook the impact of climate change on Bhutan’s glaciers during his travels. Along with his friend, filmmaker and writer Darren Aronofsky, he traveled to the Punatsangchhu hydropower dam in the final episode. The dam lies about 80 kilometers east of Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. High above the dam’s edge, with the rushing glacier water far below, the two were able to speak with Nawang Norbu, director of the School for Field Studies’ Bhutan program.

“There are many studies showing that the Himalayan glaciers will disappear in about 50 to 60 years,” warned Nawang Norbu, to which Bourdain appeared shocked. “Whoa, whoa, whoa— that’s soon!” he said.

Construction is underway for the Punatsangchhu Hydro Electric Project in Bhutan (Source: Ritwick Dutta/Flickr).

“Both Anthony and Darren were keenly aware of our connections to nature and were genuinely concerned about the fate of our planet,” Nawang Norbu told GlacierHub. “We were also acutely aware of how we were still so reliant upon nature despite our technological prowess.”

Nawang Norbu stated that they went on to discuss how Bhutan, as a small country, is dependent on nature and its cycles, recognizing that climate change will have a serious future impact on the region.

“I found Anthony to be a deep thinker, highly intelligent and very curious about our world and its cultures,” Nawang Norbu said.

It appears that Bourdain’s concern for such sobering topics was not limited to when the cameras were rolling. “I think he was truly taken away by the care and dexterity with which Bhutan has been able to conserve its culture, values and environment; he was genuinely concerned about how we may be better able to steward the wellbeing of our planet,” Nawang Norbu added.

This attitude toward the natural world is fitting in a country that is tied so heavily to its environment. Earlier in the episode, Bourdain’s narration explains that “policy-wise, Bhutan is something of an environmental wonderland.” He was referring, in part, to the constitutional requirement that 60 percent of Bhutan’s lands remain forested. The country is currently exceeding 70 percent. This, along with the country’s rapidly growing hydropower sector, has allowed it to become the first carbon-negative country, meaning Bhutan absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases.

“Respect for the natural world is fundamental to Bhutan’s spiritual identity,” continues Bourdain. This stems from the country’s official religion of Mahayana (tantric) Buddhism, a faith practiced by 75 percent of its people. Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) index is a further reflection of this identity. “The pursuit of happiness is collective,” according to the Center for Bhutan Studies, and happiness isn’t measured by subjective well-being.

“Our happiness is very much linked to our respect of, and the wellbeing of, our natural environment,” Benji Dorji, often referred to as Bhutan’s “Godfather of Conservation,” told GlacierHub. He discussed nature, Buddhism, and their connection in Bhutan during a home-cooked meal with Bourdain that consisted of recipes that had been passed down through generations of Bhutanese farmers. The conversation progressed from the dwindling number of days with snowfall to the disappearance of some glacier lakes before coming to the respect for nature seen in tantric Buddhism.

“You don’t mess with nature,” agreed Bourdain during the episode.

Clay Stupas that are used in the Bhutanese Death Ritual at Burning Lake, Bumthang (Source: Richard Furlong/Flickr).

Benji Dorji found Bourdain “most respectful of Bhutanese culture and traditions,” which carried throughout the show and culminated in Burning Lake, where Bourdain and Aronofsky took part in a Bhutanese death ritual.

“We debated the fate of the country, the fate of the world. He was perplexed as to how mankind’s endless hunger to consume could be curtailed,” wrote Aronofsky in an article for CNN following Bourdain’s death.

Bourdain spent his time in Bhutan witnessing the enduring beauty of the high glacier-covered peaks and Bhutan’s efforts to protect them. These efforts fall in step with the people’s gentleness and drive to create happiness wherever possible.

Bourdain captured the effect that traveling the world had on him in his book, “The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones.” “Travel changes you,” he wrote. “As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks—on your body or on your heart—are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

To read more about tracking glaciers and rivers in Bhutan, check out our previous article.

Video of the Week: Mount Baker Releasing Geothermal Steam

On the southern slope of Mount Baker in the North Cascades of Washington state lies Sherman Crater, an active vent where most of the mountain’s geothermal activity occurs. Sulfur-rich vapor often emerges from many locations within the crater, but when the weather is just right, onlookers are in for a treat! These cold, windless days allow the steam to condense and rise gracefully against the backdrop of the blue sky above.

Glaciers had commanding role in shaping Mt. Baker into what it is today, and it still remains heavily glaciated. The glaciers are relatively healthy thanks to heavy snowfalls that keep them from depleting, unlike the fate of many other United States glaciers.

Watch the slow swirl of steam rising and dissipating into the atmosphere around Mt. Baker in this time-lapse video of the week!


Read more glacier news from this week:

Climate Change Behind More Frequent & Powerful Avalanches in Alaska

Still Unresolved, Saga of Jumbo Glacier Resort Heads Back to Canadian Court

Roundup: Plant Life in Extreme Conditions, Freshwater in Tibet, and Alaskan Salmon


Film ‘Arctic’ Shot on an Icelandic Glacier

Mads Mikkelsen as Overgård, trekking across an Icelandic glacier (Source: Armory Films).

The endless expanse of white snow atop a glacier, framed by Icelandic mountains, served as the set for the new movie “Arctic,” which premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival in France. The film, a solo-survival thriller shot in 2017, is director and screenwriter Joe Penna’s feature film debut.

The only survivor of a plane crash in the highlands of Iceland, researcher and explorer Overgård must brave the frigid environment during his decision to either stay with the relative safety of the plane wreckage or venture into the unknown in search of help.

“Arctic” is the man versus nature genre in its purest form, with the story and imagery speaking in place of the film’s lack of dialogue. Mads Mikkelsen, who portrays Overgård, told Variety that the landscape “is the main character in many ways.”

The environment is more than just visually striking, as its physical challenges are not an easy hurdle. About 11 percent of Iceland is covered by glaciers, and the winter temperatures average around 14 degrees Fahrenheit but can drop well into the negatives. This climate, paired with sustained high winds made for a difficult shoot, but an intense portrayal.

Mads Mikkelsen (left) and Joe Penna (right) on the set of “Arctic” (Source: Armory Films).

Despite these challenges, Penna maintains that “the tundra is the precise place where ‘Arctic’ was to be shot— the harshest environment on Earth.”

The juxtaposition of a solitary human against the vastness of the Arctic allows the courage and determination of Overgård to shine through.

“Nothing represents as much the fragility of a human as the sight of a simple silhouette crossing an endless sea of snow,” he states. This scene, shot from above, specifically proved difficult when shooting in a snow-covered landscape. “With virgin snow everywhere you look, it was difficult to manage the sets so that they do not look like a construction site where 30 people came and went,” stated director of photography Tómas Örn Tómasson.

With winds 30 to 40 knots throughout the 20-day winter shoot, continuity was difficult with the weather in Iceland’s highlands, where the largest ice caps are located.

“Throughout the filming, weather conditions changed every hour, destroying the continuity of our catch,” said Penna in an interview.

The film, with a 97-minute run-time, was a “Golden Camera” nominee at Cannes. It claimed one of the midnight showings where it received an extended standing ovation. Reviews overall have been favorable. It received a 7.3 out of 10 on IMDB and a 100 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes by critics.

Director Joe Penna on the set of “Arctic” (Source: Armory Films).

The film will be released in the United States in 2019 by studio Bleeker Street where a wider audience will have the chance to witness the frozen, glacial world of “Arctic.”

Penna encourages the audience to “admire our main character’s silent performance,” which allows them to “take something different away from the film than the person sitting next to [them] in the theatre.”

Glaciers are an excellent way to achieve this effect, and filmmakers have taken notice of glacial settings for many years. Glaciers are able to stimulate the imagination of all those involved by providing a truly unique and striking environment sure to capture the attention of the audience.

Check out the first clip from the film below!


Photo Friday: Glacier Retreat in California

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement at age 81 on Wednesday, effective July 31, 2018. Originally from Sacramento, California, Justice Kennedy was confirmed to the court in 1988 after his appointment by President Ronald Reagan. Since then, glaciers in his home state have seen considerable retreat. Mount Shasta in the Cascade Mountain range has glaciers.. These glaciers have experienced some advances but ultimately retreat since a USGS survey in 1981, just several years before Kennedy took office. Whitney Glacier, the longest on Mt. Shasta, has lost over 20% of its length during Kennedy’s time on the Court.

This Photo Friday provides a look at the glaciers of California and the changes that have been seen during Kennedy’s time on the Supreme Court.

A 1993 Google Earth image depicts the advancement and retreat of Whitney Glacier (Source: Mauri Pelto).


Mount Shasta glaciers on September 20, 2012, as seen from the International Space Station (Source: NASA).


The Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park has lost over 80 percent of its surface area since the 19th century. (Source: National Park Service).


Darwin Glacier on August 14, 1908 (Source: G.K. Gilbert).


Darwin Glacier on August 14, 2004 (Source: H. Basagic).


Glacier retreat in the Sierra Nevada (Source: Hassan Basagic).