New Weather Stations Aid Denali Researchers and Climbers

New weather stations provide live updates of conditions on Alaska’s Denali, the tallest peak in North America. The weather stations sit atop the mountain on the Kahiltna Glacier and provide important weather information for climbers and scientists alike. They allow scientists to track snowpack and provide the climbing community with a better sense of weather conditions on the 20,310 foot mountain.

Michael Loso, a National Park Service geologist, started the project in order to better understand weather patterns at higher altitudes. GlacierHub spoke with Loso to get a better understanding of the project and its impacts.

GlacierHub: How do these new weather stations on Denali help climbers and help researchers assess glacial retreat?

Mike Loso: We’ve established three new weather stations in the accumulation zone of Denali’s Kahiltna Glacier. These stations, at approximately 7,000, 10,000, and 14,000 feet, continuously measure air temperature and snow accumulation and melt on a year-round basis. In addition, the highest and lowest stations measure wind speed and direction, incoming and outgoing solar radiation, and send those measures via satellite telemetry back to publicly available servers on a continuous basis. They provide critical information for mountaineers, for weather forecasters, and for National Park Service climbing/rescue rangers. The fact that two of these stations are providing regular, real-time, hourly, year-round weather information means that climbers can plan their trips wisely.

Glaciologists like me use the data from these stations to understand the year-round patterns of snow accumulation and melt, and to compare those measurements with existing measurements we have been making for decades at lower elevation sites on the Kahiltna. Together, all these measurements allow us to measure not only the net shrinkage of Kahiltna Glacier, which is ongoing, but more importantly to understand how that shrinkage is controlled by the detailed changes in our climate.

GH: How are these measurements different than how researchers typically observe a glacier’s status?

ML: Most glacier mass-balance studies have traditionally focused on glaciers that are fairly small, or in the cases of larger, higher-elevation glaciers they favor measurements in the lower elevations. There are very few studies of snow accumulation and melt at high elevations of large glaciers because it is too difficult to install and maintain on-glacier weather stations in such inhospitable environments. But those high elevation sites are usually the very places where most snow accumulation occurs, even in the summertime during what would be considered the “melt season” at lower elevations. So glaciologists still have uncertainty about year-round patterns of snow accumulation, and the only way to measure that is to measure it continuously. But that’s difficult. If you place the weather station on a rocky outcrop near the glacier, then you are definitely not getting a “true” signal of snow accumulation because rocky outcrops are by definition wind-scoured and atypical of the glacier’s accumulation zone. If you place a normal weather station on the glacier itself, it will promptly get buried by ongoing snow accumulation. So our strategy is to place the stations on very tall masts that are anchored in the glacier surface and then to periodically dig the stations out and “reset” them when the snow threatens to bury the existing station. We couldn’t accomplish this without a lot of logistical support, and that is possible on Denali only because of the substantial operation run by the National Park Service mountaineering rangers. They establish and maintain rescue camps at 7,000 and 14,000 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier, and their presence (along with the aviation assets required to support that operation) allow us, in partnership with them, to maintain these stations.

GH: What makes the Denali glacier unique in terms of climate change?

ML: Denali is the tallest mountain in North America, and it is located in a fairly high latitude, by US standards. So the top is a really cold place, even by the standards of most glaciers. That cold (and windy) climate results in patterns of snow accumulation and snow and ice melt that are not typical of most glaciers in the US. typically glaciers accumulate more snow as you go higher with maximum accumulation near the summit. But anecdotal observations suggest that this pattern does not apply at Denali. Instead, it appears that snow accumulation is actually highest at the mid-elevations of the Kahiltna Glacier and that snowfall diminishes as you go higher. That’s unusual, and is probably due in part to the inability of very cold air to hold much moisture. Interestingly, some of our colleagues recently published findings that snow accumulation rates on nearby Mount Hunter appear to have actually increased over recent centuries. We hypothesize that some of that increase may be due to the enhanced ability of warmer air to hold and then release moisture—a process that might lead to more snowfall on the Kahiltna Glacier as climatic warming continues. Our data will allow us to test this intriguing hypothesis.

GH: Are there any other parks that are using these types of weather stations

ML: Some of the technology (sensors, power supply, data-loggers) are in common use, but this particular application in a high-glacier, snow-accumulation environment is not presently being done anywhere else that we’re aware of. That said, similar designs have been applied sporadically in the past, and we have benefitted from lessons learned during those experiences.

Scientists Pam Sousanes, Dom Winski, and Michael Loso program a Denali weather station. (Source: National Park Service/Tucker Chenoweth)

GH: What inspired the project?

ML: In addition to the desire to understand glacier environments better, to better predict mountain weather, and to provide real-time information for climbers and rescue rangers, I was especially motivated to tackle this project by my own history on Denali. Fresh out of college I worked for a couple seasons as both a guide and a mountaineering ranger on Denali, and then over the subsequent 20 plus years I’ve stayed involved there as a volunteer rescue patrol member, as a scientist, and as a recreational skier and climber. Through those experiences, I’ve come to know the mountain well, but also many of the long-term professionals working on the mountain (guides, rangers, pilots). So I’ve come to really love the place and to have a fairly broad knowledge of the scientific and societal challenges posed there by climate change. In light of all that, this project really excited me and continues to be a pleasure to work on.

GH: What does the future look like for this technology?

ML: The technology itself is not anything unusual. We are just deploying that technology in a somewhat unusual way and place. I would call our work experimental, in the sense that we expect to see challenges and damages related to the extreme climate. But as we learn from those failures, I would expect that we will capitalize on opportunities to apply this technique in other places.

Read More on GlacierHub:

UNESCO-Recognized Glaciers Could Shrink 60 Percent by End of Century

Scientists Catch Tibetan Snowcocks on Camera in their High-Elevation Habitats

GlacierHub Seeks Contributors for Its New, International Feature Series

Illustrating the Adventures of German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt

Author Andrea Wulf and illustrator Lillian Melcher’s graphic novel The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt brings to life the travels of the 19th century German explorer and naturalist. Von Humboldt was one of the first scientist to make the connection between human activity and its impact on the environment. He first recognized this connection during an expedition to Venezuela, where he witnessed intense deforestation. The impact of human activity was not limited to destruction of forests, since human pollution also impacted glaciers in the area.

The illustrations depict Humboldt’s five-year expedition to South America. Glacier Hub had the opportunity to connect with Melcher for a Q&A to discuss the scientist’s enduring relevance and his emphasis on using images along with text.

GH: What led you to focus on the work and life of Humboldt?

LM: Andrea Wulf had just finished her fabulous best selling book [about Humboldt] “The Invention of Nature.” It was 2014 and it was going through the final editing process. That same year Humboldt’s manuscripts were made accessible to the public. This was huge for Andrea. She was looking through the journals and saw all of Humboldt’s drawings. He drew everything from llamas and penguins to tents and pulley systems. These drawings were what sparked the idea of an illustrated book. In 2016, we found each other through Lauren Redniss who was one of Andrea’s favorite artists and my professor at [Parsons School of Design in New York City]. Andrea and I really clicked and my style fit alongside Humboldt’s writing and the etchings in his books. It was just one of those meetings where we kinda knew it had to be us. I had no Idea who Humboldt was before I read the Invention of Nature. He is just completely erased from history classes here in the states. Because of this, it became a sort of personal vendetta for me. I needed to get Humboldt’s story into as many hands, especially American hands, as possible.

GH: What do you think the advantages are of  bringing Humboldt’s work to life through a graphic novel?

LM: Humboldt was a visionary, and his work bounces around so much from subject to subject. I have always felt like his true north was to make natural science accessible to all. He did this by making his books a pleasure to read with poetic language and long descriptions of nature. He also, whenever he could, used imagery to express his ideas. Really his infographics are comics in the sense that they are words and pictures that work together to express a single idea. I like to think that if Humboldt were alive today he would be very interested in the current state of comics. They are being used to tell so many nonfiction stories and I think we will continue to see this. In our case, I think it was the best way to express what was going on in his manuscripts. The stories he tells in them are so human and emotional, even when he is recording data or recounting a climb on a volcano. I don’t think just words do these moments justice. Because of the number of lush illustrations Humboldt commissioned for his books, I think Humboldt understood that as well. Besides the fact that Humboldt was a visual thinker, I think it was about time his important work became accessible to a new audience. My goal was to show a new perspective on a story that has too often been forgotten in hopes to refresh the past. His story and way of thinking are too important to today’s conversations on climate change to be left behind again.”

GH: When Humboldt traveled to South America, he witnessed deforestation and the destruction of many ecosystems. What can we take away from Humboldt’s exploration? How can it be applied to  the modern world?

LM: Humboldt was the first to warn us about what is happening today.  My personal take away is that, in Humboldt’s time, his way of thinking worked. In the 19th century, there was a major swell of conservational efforts and a new understanding of our natural world. Scientists, artists, and politicians were working together to understand and preserve the natural world. This is the Humboldtian legacy and a way of thinking that is imperative for today.

GH: What are some of your favorite panels, and what do you like about them?

LM: My favorite panels by far are these four panels of Humboldt explaining the theories of vegetation zones to [French explorer and botanist Aimé Bonpland]. I think it really distills their characterizations to a T. Humboldt speaks over Bonpland’s inquiries simultaneously answering him and disregarding him, and Bonpland accepts Humboldt for the way he is. Relaying the friendship between the two naturalists was personally important to me. I feel like it’s a great vehicle to carry the reader through the often busy maze of Humboldt’s mind.

Besides this moment I loved trying to figure out how to depict the climbing scenes. They are constantly climbing mountains and volcanoes. I remember Andrea very early on presenting this challenge and saying something along the lines of: “you know, you need to figure out different ways to draw each one right?” You have to keep in mind this was my first book, and I was fresh out of college. This challenge was, well—mountainous.

I remember I actually walked the track at McCarren Park in Williamsburg [in Brooklyn, New York] near my studio for a day trying to envision what it would be like to walk that long and that far. I would climb up and down on benches trying to figure out a way to draw an upward motion. I read a bunch of Tin Tin. I looked at engravings of mountain climbs from the period. It was so hard to put together because you read a page downward but the motion of the characters had to go against that. Finally, I settled on using the mechanics of Humboldt’s instruments to show distance. So when they are at the peak of Chimborazo everything is in circles because they are so far up the only way the audience could see them is to look through a telescope. I love these pages showing different climbing sequences because I remember how complex it was to make such a 3D action 2D.

I also love our rest pages. They usually happen in transit. They give the audience a chance to reflect and digest while transitioning to the next sequence.”

GH: What are the benefits of bridging the arts and sciences?

LM: The main motivation behind any artistic collaboration is accessibility. Humans understand visual symbolism unlike any other language. By explaining complex scientific concepts twice, once with text then again with an image, one can more fully understand an idea.

All of the above illustrations were rendered by Lillian Melcher.

Read more on GlacierHub:

North Cascade 2019 Winter Accumulation Assessment

Planning Meetings to Focus on Water Management in the Andean Region

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Round Up: Ice Thickness, Volcano Impacts on Glaciers, and Biodiversity in Antartica

A consensus estimate for the ice thickness distribution of all glaciers on Earth

From Nature Geoscience: “Projections of future glacier change, estimates of the available freshwater resources or assessments of potential sea-level rise all need glacier ice thickness to be accurately constrained. Previous estimates of global glacier volumes are mostly based on scaling relations between glacier area and volume, and only one study provides global-scale information on the ice thickness distribution of individual glaciers. Here we use an ensemble of up to five models to provide a consensus estimate for the ice thickness distribution of all the about 215,000 glaciers outside the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.”

Accurate estimates of ice mass and melt rate in the Himalayas will help surrounding communities anticipate the impacts of climate change. (Source: Pixabay)

A risk assessment of the area surrounding the Popocatépetl volcano

From Geofísica Internacional: “In the areas of highest risk, 20 towns in Puebla State, 8 in México State, and 2 in Morelos State were evacuated; in areas of intermediate risk, also were evacuated 5 towns in México State, 1 in Puebla State, and 2 in Morelos State. In addition, the San Buenaventura Nealtican community in Puebla was evacuated, because it was in the lahar flow path along the Huiloac ravine, which originates on the north side of the volcanic cone, at the glacier which potentially could be eroded and melted by pyroclastic flows. “

The Popocatépetl volcano is located in central Mexico. (Source: Mirella/Flickr)

Degradation of macroalgal detritus in shallow coastal Antarctic sediments

From Limnology and Oceanography: “The western Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming areas on Earth (Ducklow et al. 2007). As a result, its glaciers are melting and retreating at unprecedented rates (Rückamp et al. 2011; Cook et al. 2016). The retreat of glaciers opens up new habitat for marine benthic organisms (e.g., Lagger et al. 2018), such as sublittoral rocky substrates that are increasingly colonized by macroalgae (Quartino et al. 2013; Mystikou et al. 2014; Campana et al. 2018). Macroalgal communities play an important role in the Antarctic coastal ecosystem. They dominate shallow benthic communities on hard substrates along the western Antarctic Peninsula, often covering > 80% of the bottom, with standing biomass levels comparable to temperate kelp forests (Wiencke and Amsler 2012). A global average of 82% of the local primary production from kelp is estimated to enter the detrital food web where it can be exported to adjacent communities (Krumhansl and Scheibling 2012).”

An image of red seaweed, one of the species threatening Antarctica’s biodiversity (Source: Peter Southwood, Creative Commons)

Read More on GlacierHub:

The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day

Glaciers Account for More Sea Level Rise Than Previously Thought

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Over 300 glaciers in North Cascades National Park were at risk of mining contamination, but they will now receive increased federal protection aimed at better preserving them.

The largest public lands bill in decades was passed in February by the US Congress with bipartisan support. In the House, the vote was 363-62 and in the Senate 92-8. President Trump signed the bill in mid-March. The Natural Resources Management Act sets forth provisions that aim to protect land, rivers, and ecosystems across US public lands. The bipartisan effort extends protections to over 300,000 acres of land in areas around North Cascades and Yellowstone National Parks. The measure also adds 1.3 million acres of wilderness to the western United States, protecting those areas from resource extraction, such as oil and gas drilling. Utah will be granted 661,200 acres of wilderness land, California 375,500 acres, and New Mexico 272,900. A full list of the expansions of national parks, wilderness areas, and trail extensions can be foundhere.

Doubtful Lake as seen from Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascade National Park (Source: Brew Books/Flickr).

Advocates for the legislation, including national park visitors, conservationists, and environmentalists, hope that it will reduce or prevent harmful impacts of climate change and water contamination on sensitive environments, such as the glaciers in North Cascades. Mining creates soot that falls onto glacier surfaces, reducing their albedo, which in turn causes greater amounts of melting.

According to the National Parks Service, North Cascades is among the snowiest places on Earth and is the most heavily glaciated area in the United States, outside of Alaska. Glaciers in the park are shrinking due to the impacts of climate change—20 percent of North Cascade National Park’s Boulder Glacier has been lost to glacial retreat. North Cascade Glacier Climate Project (NCGCP) has tracked changes on the glacier since 1988. According to NCGCP, Boulder Glacier has retreated about 20 meters per year from 1984-2009, a total of about 515 meters.

The Natural Resources Management Act will provide a larger buffer zone between mining sites and the park.

After the bill was passed in February by the US Senate, Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservancy Association stated: “We are one step closer to adding over 2 million acres of parks, wilderness, and conservation lands into protected status.”

Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican representing Utah, opposed the bill, fearing land in his home state would miss out on development opportunities.

The bill protects Yellowstone National Park from mining around the area. (Source: Frip/Flickr)

Lisa Dale, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has extensive experience with wilderness designation. Dale, who worked for the Wilderness Society, which was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 National Wilderness Act, explained to GlacierHub the process for expanding wilderness protections on public lands.

The land must not have any roads and must be a minimum of 5,000 acres. And the areas under consideration should, according to Dale, “provide an opportunity for solitude … and not have any presence of modern life.” The presence of modern life includes noise and light pollution from nearby cities and towns.

Land under considered for protection must be deemed a valuable and unique ecosystem—North Cascade National Park, for example, which hosts awe-inspiring terrain and hundreds of glaciers.

The process for granting wilderness status is not typically fast or easy. First, it is important to note that land turned into wilderness is not taken from the private sector. Rather, wilderness comes from land that the federal government already possesses. What makes it wilderness, however, is added protection and restrictions of the land. After the land is constituted as wilderness, the area is designated for recreation—fishing, hunting, backpacking, and finding solitude. Mechanized vehicles are prohibited.

Dale said the process often starts with a small, grass-roots organization that has a substantial amount of data on federal areas. These areas are usually designated Wilderness Study Areas. In order to be considered a Wilderness Study Area, it must have been identified by the Land Management Agency, Forest Service, Park Service, or Bureau of Land Management as having “wilderness quality.” This wilderness quality will be maintained by organizations such as the Wilderness Society as they wait for wilderness approval.

Colorado’s Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness – White River(Source: Colorado Sands/Flickr).

There is much to celebrate with the passing of this bill, and with it comes the protection and conservation of sensitive ecosystems like the glaciers of Northern Cascade National Park.

“To have all of these things happening at once happening in one bill is pretty exciting and worth celebrating because of the bi-partisan nature of the support that came around to support these actions,” Dale said.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Not All Iceberg-Generated Tsunamis Are Alike. Here’s How They Differ

Measuring the Rise and Fall of New Zealand’s Small and Medium Glaciers

Glacier Lessons as a Glacier Lessens

Photo Friday: Losing Ice and Ecosystems

A recent New York Times interactive article documents the changes of glaciers around Washington State and Alaska. The melting of these glaciers has a heavy impact on more than just sea level rise. It impacts salmon spawning, river and stream patterns, and nearby landscapes. Changes to glaciers also impact the nutrient balance and temperature of glacier-fed watersheds. These disruptions can shift a whole ecosystem.

Climate reporter Henry Fountain and photographer Max Whittaker ventured to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to evaluate the impacts of melting glaciers on local ecosystems.

Glacial ecosystems have adapted to fit this cold water environment. As the temperature of the water rises, it becomes more difficult for smaller species to remain in their habitat and could potentially cause them to die out.

The impact on glacial melt on salmon, however, is more complex. Salmon are major income source in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Though temperature is also important to salmon migration and reproduction, there could be some temporary benefits for salmon in terms of glacial melt. The melt brings rocks and boulders that were not in the river bed before, providing excellent spawning sites. Because of this, some areas could actually see an increase in salmon populations.

Read more on GlacierHub:

Drying Peatlands in the Bolivian Andes Threaten Indigenous Pastoral Communities

Measuring the Rise and Fall of New Zealand’s Small and Medium Glaciers

Advances in Developing Peru’s National Policy for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems

Video of the Week: A Glacier in Greenland Is Growing—But Probably Not for Long

Famous for being the largest and fastest-thinning glacier in Greenland—and creating the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier has recently increased in size. For the past 20 years it has been melting, but during 2016-2017 it grew vertically about 100 feet, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

With so much news about global warming, it’s rare to hear about a glacier that’s expanding. It is crucial to note, though, that the glacier’s growth is not because climate change has suddenly stopped. Rather, it’s expansion can be attributed to cooler temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. The cooling occurred in 2016 and is likely due to the natural variability of North Atlantic Oscillation.

The waters of the Atlantic will eventually warm again and could bring about renewed melting of the Jakobshavn Glacier—and higher sea levels.

“At first we didn’t believe it,” NASA’s Ala Khazendar said. “We had pretty much assumed that Jakobshavn would just keep going on as it had over the last 20 years.”

NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland studies the impact of ocean temperatures on Greenland’s ice sheets and glaciers.

Last week we brought you a video of a thinning glacier; this week watch NASA’s video explaining the recent growth of the Jakobshavn Glacier.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Nevado Ausangate Glaciers, Peru Retreat, and Lake Formation

Rising Temperatures Threaten Biodiversity Along the Antarctic Peninsula

Ragnar Axelsson Documents Iceland’s Disappearing Glaciers

Supraglacial Lakes Are Not Destabilizing Greenland’s Ice Sheet, Yet

Inspiring Girls Expeditions: Encouraging the Next Generation of Women Scientists

Women made up less than a quarter of those employed in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in 2015 in the United States. Only 35 percent of students who pursued these fields, whether at the undergraduate, masters, or Ph.D level, were women. For women of color these numbers are significantly lower—about 10 percent

An organization called Inspiring Girls Expeditions has spent the last 20 years encouraging girls to pursue STEM-related fields. This outdoor-education program provides 16 and 17-year-old girls an opportunity to create and learn in the outdoors. Erin Pettit, the group’s director and founder, began one the group’s core programs, known as Girls on Ice, in 1999. As a graduate student, Pettit lead a field course at the University of Washington where participants navigated unmarked trails and made their way to the South Cascade Glacier. After the first semester, only women were registered and Pettit liked the dynamic. Pettit and others began writing grants to provide a free course to women who wanted to go out and explore nature and conduct scientific research. Thus, Girls on Ice Washington began.

Participants rope up as they venture into the accumulation zone of the Gulkana Glacier in the Alaska Range (Source: Joanna Young/Inspiring Girls Expeditions).

Inspiring Girls Expedition now sponsors programs in Washington, Alaska, Canada, and Switzerland. The excursions explore not only glaciers; girls have an opportunity to apply for Girls on Water, a kayaking trip in Kachemak Bay, Alaska, as well as Girls on Rock, a climbing-focused trip in White River National Forest in Colorado.  

All trips are free and participants are provided all of the equipment they will need: backpacks, helmets, and crampons, for example. Inspiring Girls Expedition asks applicants about their day-today lives so they can get an idea of who might benefit most from exploring science outside of the classroom. Those applicants might be girls who work to help support their families, are the first in their family to pursue college, or have never left their hometowns.

A participant measures the temperature of sub-debris ice as part of a field experiment. (Source: Joanna Young/Inspiring Girls Expeditions)

Inspiring Girls Expedition programs typically run for about 10 days. During the trips, girls work with field researchers, glaciologists, kayak guides, mountaineers, and artists. From the moment they meet on the first day, they are surrounded solely by women. By showcasing women in STEM fields, the program hopes that participating girls can imagine themselves being able to succeed in these fields.

Joanna Young, cofounder of Girls on Ice Alaska, is an example of the gender shift the group seeks to encourage. Growing up looking at the night sky, Young always had an appreciation for science. She pursued physics and astronomy as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia. She recalls that about 10 percent of her cohort were women, and just 5 percent of the faculty were women. In many of her classes, she said, women stuck together, often working on group projects together.

“The men had numbers on their side and role models to look up to even if those people were not mentors,” Young said. “They had a lot more evidence by looking at the faculty and professors that people like them could probably succeed in this field if they want to.”  

Inspiring Girls Expeditions provides a space for girls to see what real field work looks like.  Young said the girls’ awareness of the discrepancy between men and women in the field often brings up questions about what it looks like to be a woman in science. Young explained that that there are no taboos with the girls; the women share their experiences, the good and the bad. What is more important is “creating this network of women who are there to support each other in the long term. Ten years from now if one of them contacts us, we absolutely remember them and are still there to help.”

A participant takes a break during a bid for an Alaska Range summit. (Source: Joanna Young/Inspiring Girls Expeditions)

Though the program is still developing ways to track how many girls actually go on to purse a career in the science, it is clear that it has made an impact on many alumni. Two graduates of the program are now instructors, while others have embarked on careers in wildlife biology, engineering, and environmental science. Young recalls one girl in particular who decided to pursue a Ph.D in glaciology, noting that Girls on Ice was critical in choice.

“A lot of the mission designed around showing girls that STEM is accessible to them,” Young explained. “This is an opportunity to break down stereotypes and show that scientist are real people too. We can tell our stories about how we ended up in science.”  

Read More on GlacierHub:

Increased Focus on Mountains in the IPCC’s AR6 Report

What Glacier State Congressmembers Think of a Green New Deal

Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Outlines Potentially Dire Impacts of Climate Change

Roundup: Snow Algae, Dams in Ecuador, and Patagonia’s Cashmere

Snow Algae and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

From Science Direct: “Most of what is known about snow algae communities has been learned from studies centered on glaciers and snowfields located on sedimentary or metamorphic bedrock, but little is known about snow algae systems hosted in volcanic bedrock (Hamilton and Havig, 2017). Recent work has quantified primary productivity as predominantly phototrophically mediated, and demonstrated inorganic carbon limitation of primary productivity by snow algae communities on PNW glaciers (Hamilton and Havig, 2017Hamilton and Havig, 2018) suggesting increasing productivity with increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations.”

Read more about the study here.

Pink Snow Algae (Source: James St John /Flickr)


From the New York Times: “This giant dam in the jungle, financed and built by China, was supposed to christen Ecuador’s vast ambitions, solve its energy needs, and help lift the small South American country out of poverty. Instead, it has become part of a national scandal engulfing the country in corruption, perilous amounts of debt—and a future tethered to China. Nearly every top Ecuadorean official involved in the dam’s construction is either imprisoned or sentenced on bribery charges. That includes a former vice president, a former electricity minister and even the former anti-corruption official monitoring the project, who was caught on tape talking about Chinese bribes.”

Read more about China’s role in Ecuadorian dam construction here.

Ecuador’s Coca Codo Sinclair Dam (Source: Ministerio de Turismo Ecuador/Flickr)

Recycled Cashmere Sweaters by Patagonia

From Business Insider: “The process of creating cashmere is so inherently detrimental—requiring lots of resources and incurring lots of environmental degradation—that any claim of sustainability is pretty much moot. It may make us happy to have, but it sure isn’t preserving the grasslands of Mongolia. Patagonia’s cashmere line is the best no-compromise option I’ve found. Each piece is made out of 95 percent cashmere scraps collected from European garment factories, plus 5 percent virgin wool for strength. Altogether, it’s a line of durable, warm, guilt-free cashmere sweaters, hats, and scarves with way less ecological impact, plus the added benefit of Patagonia-level quality and design. You can also view “The Footprint Chronicles” to learn about their supply chain and the sewing factory that made your sweater.”

Read more about Patagonia’s cashmere sweaters here

Patagonia Logo (Source: /Wikimedia)


Read More on Glacier Hub:

Ecuador Presents High Mountain Projects at World Water Week

“Red Snow” Algae Accelerating Glacier Melt in the Arctic

“Reconstructing Norway’s Oldest Garment: The Tunic of Lendbreen



Crash, Boom, Blast: Heavy Snowfall and the Threat of Avalanches

Many areas around the world have experienced extremely high snowfall this winter season. Although outdoor enthusiasts might be excited about this, with high snowfall, the risk of avalanches is much higher. This season alone there have been 11 avalanche-related deaths recorded in the western United States.

In January, officials dropped a series of controlled explosives to set off avalanches on mountains near the Moiry Glacier in southern Switzerland due to an increased amount of snowfall during the month. According to National Geographic: “Avalanches are most common during and in the 24 hours right after a storm that dumps 12 inches (30 centimeters) or more of fresh snow. The quick pileup overloads the underlying snowpack, which causes a weak layer beneath the slab to fracture.” 

Communities are directed to stay inside (or preferably go into a basement) while the avalanches are triggered and close all shutters. Controlled avalanches are intended to reduce the severity of an avalanche as well as collateral debris from an avalanche, making it safer for adventurers to romp around the backcountry. The use of explosives to mitigate avalanche risk is used throughout many mountain communities, especially when areas experience above average snowfall.

Switzerland isn’t the only place where the risk of having an avalanche is high. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIF), a non-profit organization that aims to provide avalanche forecasts and education, Colorado has the highest amount of casualties due to avalanches in the United States, with 59 deaths from 2008-2017. Washington and Montana also had significant fatalities with 39 and 34 respectively.

Advanced technology, however, is helping researchers find new ways to prevent such severe avalanches. The Obell’x gas exploder is a spaceship-looking device that mixes oxygen and hydrogen gases. It is put into place by helicopters and can be triggered remotely, which enhances the safety and protection of avalanche workers.

Jamie Yount of the Colorado Department of Transportation explained the technology to CGTN America. “There’s a little spark plug that goes off, so you get that initiation of the explosion,” he said. “And then the shock wave comes out of the explosion chamber and triggers an avalanche in the starting zone.”

Debris after an avalanche in Yellowstone National Park. (Source: Yellow Stone National Park/Flickr)

Avalanches pose risks to more than just people in the backcountry. Towns and villages located at the base of a mountain can be put in jeopardy. During an avalanche, falling snow and debris can reach speeds of 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour), presenting a threat to people as well as buildings and roads.

In the case of one-road towns, avalanches can threaten tourism. Two avalanche gullies, for example, can shut down traffic into Zermatt, Switzerland, a popular tourist hub.

Backcountry activity can be a dangerous game. But lovers of the outdoors can take precautions, such being mindful of weather conditions and always have a partner. And, before heading out, make sure to know what to do in case of an emergency.

Read More at GlacierHub:

Avalanche on Ama Dablam Claims Life of Sherpa Guide

Climate Change Behind More Frequent $ Powerful Avalanches in Alaska

Avalanche Strikes Near Russian Glacier

Photo Friday: Glacial Surfers in Iceland

Typically surfing brings to mind sandy beaches, warm water, and blue waves. The Arctic Surfers, however, put surfing in a new light. The group provides stand-up paddle board and surf retreats in Iceland, including in the Glacier Lagoon and on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Surfers wait for the perfect moment to ride the waves that occur when part of a glacier calves into the ocean, creating Arctic-style big-wave conditions. Garett McNamara and Kealii Mamala, two surfers, set to be the first people to surf a glacier.

This photo Friday enjoy some photos from the Arctic Surfers’s adventures in Iceland.

Two stand up paddle boarders adventure in Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon (Source: Arctic Surfers/Instagram).


Surfer gets ready to paddle out in the cold in hopes for some waves (Source: Arctic Surfers/Instagram)


Surfers get ready to paddle out in freezing conditions (Source: Arctic Surfers/Instagram).


Check out more stories from GlacierHub:

Going to Extremes: Glacier Boarding, a New Sport

Exception or Rule? The Case of Katla, One of Iceland’s Subglacial Volcanoes

Horn Signaling at a Medieval Icelandic Monastery



Then and Now: Understanding John Muir’s Ideology

A recent article in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism by Emily Brady explores John Muir’s engagement with the natural world. The article, “John Muir’s Environmental Aesthetics,” emphasizes Muir’s interest in the sublime; his interlaced world view of religion, science and aesthetics; and his belief that fully immersive experiences provide an opening to the natural world.

John Muir (Source: Library of Congress).

Brady, a professor of environmental philosophy at Texas A&M University, argues that Muir creates a pluralistic aesthetic bringing together aesthetic, scientific and spiritual ideas. This bridge is connected to Muir’s deep roots in environmental protection and ethics. In order to be a modern steward of the environment, Brady argues that this world view retains its importance.

A Scottish-American naturalist, author, glaciologist, and advocate for wild spaces, Muir has an enduring ideology of “wildness” and what “wild” spaces look like: scenery untouched, undeveloped, and undisturbed by humanity. Over a century after Muir’s death, the very existence of such places has come into question.

In the Muirian framework, we can distinguish what is and is not the “natural world.” There are varying perceptions of what “wilderness” is. A lot of the time it refers to spaces devoid of people, though historically-speaking this would be incorrect since many so-called wilderness areas have been inhavited and modified by indigenous people. Recently, with the age of the Anthropocene, there is an emerging view that humans have commandeered all of the world’s wild spaces.

Brady disagrees with this view. “This idea takes agency away from the natural world. If everything has been affected, it negates the life of all other creatures,” she told GlacierHub. “Nature has the ability to renew itself, so it seems unfair to assume that we have complete control over it.” Though humans have a pervasive impact on the environment, Brady emphasizes that it is crucial to remember that, if given the opportunity, the natural world has the ability to regenerate.

Muir’s writings demonstrate an optimism and enthusiasm when it comes to the regenerative power of wild spaces. In his writings such as his journals and letters, we can see that he does not experience the sublime solely as a spectator; rather, he finds this feeling through the bridge of scenery and immersion in these spaces.

Brady talked to GlacierHub about this relationship. “There is the scenery, but there also is the embodied aspect, which is kind of unusual,” she said. “A lot of people will just see scenery, and experience the natural world from a car window or a scenic outlook. But Muir was such an incredible mountaineer, that he had a distinctive ability to get into glaciers and mountains.”

Alaska’s Glacier Bay, where much of Muir’s “Stickeen” takes place (Source: Ann/Flickr).

These remote and often unpredictable landscapes are places in which many people would likely feel a strong sense of danger. But Muir sought out these spaces, and once in them, he celebrated their beauty despite the hazards. We see this clearly in Muir’s short story, “Stickeen,” which recounts a visit to Alaska’s Glacier Bay. In the story, Muir describes the experience of nearly spending the night on the glaciers. “Doubtless we could have weathered the storm for one night, dancing on a flat spot to keep from freezing, and I faced the threat without feeling anything like despair,” he writes. But Muir was not necessarily inexperienced or ill-equipped.

These landscapes were accessible to Muir because of his ability to explore and experience wild spaces. Muir had the privilege of access and time to become comfortable in these “untouched” settings. In Muir’s lifetime and even now, there remains a lack of diversity in the experience of the outdoors. According to a National Park survey released in 2011, the majority of visitors to National Parks are white, with minorities making up only 22 percent of the 292.8 million annual visitors. Moreover, instead of focusing on reserving the natural world for “wild” spaces, many people are now connecting with nature through urban green space or rural landscapes. Green spaces within cities allow people the opportunity to receive the benefits of connecting with nature, such as reducing stress and perhaps even making us more empathetic.
Named after John Muir, Muir Beach is a popular tourist destination (Source: Kuronakko/Flickr).

Muir, who spent so much time in the West and California, that several places are named after him. These places now receive many visitors each year. What would Muir think of these places like Muir Woods and Muir Beach, for example- Though they bear his name, they are littered with people and human-made paths to guide visitors through them.

The evolution of wild spaces may not have been what Muir expected or wanted, but these areas do provide access to people who may not have otherwise been able to trek across terrain to see the ancient redwoods and beautiful Northern California coastline.

Not to discredit the importance of wild spaces with humans; these areas still need to exist. But in an ever-expanding and changing world, the Muirian world view remains of deep value while allowing alternate spaces for connection with the natural world.

Video of the Week: Sherpa Rap

This Video of the Week, watch Tsangpa Sherpa perform Nga Sherpa Hyin, a rap about cultural pride, preservation of language and the importance of protecting culture. Tsangpa calls for parents, grandparents, sherpas, and the wider community to teach their language to children and youth in order to maintain their cultural heritage.

Though food and dress are part of what makes up a culture, they are not the only parts. In his rap, Tsangpa argues that culture is lost without language; language is what binds community and keeps it alive. Through language, Tsangpa finds a way to conserve cultural pride and heritage in a rapidly changing world.

Enjoy the video below. 


Discover more glacier news at GlacierHub:

Inside the Gut of the Patagonian Dragon

Journey Over Gobrin Glacier: Le Guin, Environmentalism and Science Fiction

The Future Disappearance of Quelccaya Ice Cap