Sensing the Divine: Frankenstein’s Creature and the Mer de Glace

The Ice Snake of Mer de Glace, the valley glacier located on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif. Photo taken August 10, 2005 (Source: Pedro Albuquerque/Flickr).

In celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus,” Glacierhub examines how glaciers are often experienced as consecrated ground, connecting us to our creator, purpose and reason for existing.

This is the final article of the GlacierHub four-part series on “glaciers in the symbolic domain”. Looking back, we began with “The Myth of Glacial Safety,” which analyzed perceptions of unstable glacial environments and how humans frame them as stable and safe climes. Secondly, we observed the transformation of a relationship in response to a glacial environment and a planet’s cryosphere in “Journey Over Gobrin Glacier: Le Guin, Environmentalism and Science Fiction.” The third article in the series examined how glacial environments are used to connect us to both the past and the future in “A Glacial Escape: Connecting Past, Present & Future in the Novel “Antarctica.” Our final article is about experiencing the sublime in glacial environments.

Original cover of “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” (Source: Amazon).

In “Frankenstein,” first published in 1818, Shelley writes about a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein who, through his experiments, creates a grotesque creature with developed self-awareness and perspicacity. Historically, scholars have considered “Frankenstein” to be the first science fiction novel. It is also believed to have inspired the entire literary genre of horror.

The crux of the novel rests in Victor Frankenstein’s abandonment of his creature. Upon bringing his creation to life, Victor is repulsed and runs away to escape his creature. The creature also flees to the forest where he begins a process of educating himself and learning about the world around him. As time passes, Victor and the creature cross paths with one another several times. Their most notable meetings occur on top of the highest mountain in the Alps: Mont Blanc.

Mer de Glace in Chamonix (Source: Edwin.11/Flickr)

Mont Blanc, which means “white mountain,” is the tallest mountain in the Alps at 15,772 feet. It stands between Italy and France in the Graian Alps, a mountain range located near the western side of the Alps. Mont Blanc is also known to be the deadliest mountain in Europe. Mer De Glace glacier sits at the top of Mont Blanc. Mer De Glace means “Sea of Ice” and is considered to be the largest and longest glacier in France.

Recently, climate change has dramatically impacted the Mer De Glace glacier. The glacier has retreated more than 1000 meters since 1870, and the surface has dropped approximately 100 meters since its position was measured in 1909. If the history of Mer De Glace’s retreat appears dramatic, its future looks apocalyptic. A recent study demonstrated the Mer De Glace glacier is expected to retreat another 1200 meters between now and 2040. With a significant acceleration of the melt rate occurring, this may be the last century to see the Mer De Glace.

Mer de Glace comparison: 1909 and 2017 (Source: Eduard Spelterini/Dr Kieran Baxter).

A paramount scene in “Frankenstein” is when Victor ascends Mont Blanc to assuage his melancholy spirit aside the Mer De Glace glacier. Victor believes, “The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect of solemnising my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life.” Upon reaching the summit of Mont Blanc and carefully crossing the Mer De Glace, he further acknowledges, “My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy.”

As Victor basks in the glory of the glacial sublime, he notices a man bounding toward him with “superhuman speed.” While Victor’s crossing of the ice had been difficult and time-consuming, the creature running toward him “bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution.” Victor understands the creature to have murdered his young brother and framed an innocent friend who was subsequently hanged for her crimes.

It is here, on the Mer De Glace, where Victor experiences the divine. He recalls how the glacier fills him with “sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy.” Victor’s emotional state vacillates on the ice; moving through gratitude and awe to terror and fear. He is all things at once, representing the omnipotent and totalizing ways of God. Through his actions, we see how Victor struggles with his comprehension of the divine, just as he struggles crossing the ice of the Mer De Glace. While on the ice, he reflects on his own attempt at being Creator and the monster he produced as a result.

An ice cave in the Mer De Glace glacier (Source: Sarah/Flickr).

The story continues with Victor accompanying the creature to a nearby ice cave, where the creature narrates his life’s events to his earthly creator. During this lengthy scene, the creature compares himself to Adam: “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence… He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator”.

The creature tells of acquiring knowledge of Adam and Eve by reading Milton’s 1667 epic poem “Paradise Lost,” which recounts the biblical story of Genesis, the creation of the universe and the exiling of its first human inhabitants from a garden. To the creature, “Paradise Lost” had “moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting.” The creature thus fashioned himself and his actions through the words of Milton’s portrayals of the divine.
The way in which the creature bounded across the ice and lived in peace on the glacier can also be viewed as representing his connection with the divine. Whereas Victor struggled to understand the consecrated supernatural and failed in his attempts at being God-like himself, the creature’s embodiment of divine insight is demonstrated through his comfortable connection with the Mer De Glace.

Photo Friday: Illustrators Remember COP24

This Photo Friday, we have several cartoons referencing COP24, or the 24th meeting of the “Conference of Parties,” brought together by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP24 recently took place in Katowice, Poland, from 2-14 December.

This particular cartoon, created by French illustrator Faro Dessinateur, points to ongoing tensions in climate change policy. In it the man in the suit says, “Soon the end of the world,” whereas the man in the yellow vest, representing the demonstrations over economic issues currently occurring in France, says, “Soon the end of the month.” In France, a new gasoline tax designed to bring down France’s emissions did not include any social or economic justice positions. Faro captions this cartoon with “Retour de … retour de !!!” or “Return of #COP24…return of #demonstration #fear !!!”

“Retour de … retour de !!!” (Source: Faro Dessinatour/Twitter).


This next cartoon, created by “stephff cartoonist,” who is a “full-time professional political cartoonist living in Bangkok,” references the tensions at COP24 between the throngs of youth activists, including one particularly moving speech by a young activist, and the implied message to them by world leaders.

This cartoon was created by “stephff cartoonist” (Source: stephff cartoonist/Twitter).


Next is New York Times’ cartoonist Patrick Chappette, who integrated human inaction directly into the human activity causing climate change.

A cartoon by New York Times’ Patrick Chappette (Source: Chappatte Cartoons/Twitter).


Lastly, here is a cartoon from Brandan E. Reynolds, showing us his perspective on the futility and lack of progress he witnessed at COP24 by representing Earth as a bomb with its’ fuse lit, relying on a gas mask to breathe.

A cartoon from Brandan E. Reynolds (Source: Brandan E. Reynolds/Twitter).



A Glacial Escape: Connecting Past, Present & Future in the Novel “Antarctica”

Scientifically, we know glaciers as slow-moving bodies or rivers of ice, formed on mountaintops and near the poles by repeated processes of snow accumulation and compaction over lengthy periods of time. Through science we attempt to maintain an objective distance from the world’s glaciers, positing them as objects unconnected and detached from human experience. However, humans give meaning and purpose to glacial environments. We do this by attaching symbols, metaphors and analogies to the natural world in our literature and observations as we make sense of environments outside ourselves.

This GlacierHub series on “glaciers in the symbolic domain” began with “The Myth of Glacial Safety,” which examined society’s propensity to attach perceived safety to unstable glacial environments. Next, we considered the influence of glacial environments on human relationships in Journey Over Gobrin Glacier: Le Guin, Environmentalism and Science Fiction. Today’s article spotlights author Kim Stanley Robinson’s 1997 novel, “Antarctica,” which explores how humans utilize glacial environments to escape from modern-day living and connect to past and future, transcending their own lifetimes.

Gerlache strait and Andvord Bay, Antarctica (Source: Rita Willaert/Flickr).

Robinson is a revered American science fiction writer, best known for his “Mars Trilogy” chronicling the settlement and eventual terraforming of the planet Mars through powerful personal relationships and perspectives. The novel ultimately won Robinson a Nebula Award (1993) and Hugo and Locus Awards (1994 and 1997). Mars Trilogy pre-dates and subsequently foregrounds his novel “Antarctica,” which shifts the focus from alien worlds to seemingly alien worlds on Earth. The main themes found in his work are preservation of nature, ecology, sustainability, environmental justice and climate change.

On its surface, “Antarctica” is a novel of societal progress and scientific exploration. Its three main characters, X, an American college graduate named for being extra large; Valerie Kenning, a tour guide; and Wade Norton, a politician’s assistant, take turns telling the story from their own perspective.

Glaciers in the foothills of Royal Society Range (Source: Earth Reference).

X, who arrived in Antarctica for adventure and exploration, is the first character to develop a unique relationship with the glaciers around him. His frequent diversions from his group, often alone, take him both under and atop many of Antarctica’s real glaciers featured in the novel.

“X’s nighttime ascent of the Skelton [glacier], through the spectacular peaks of the Royal Society Range, had been the most exciting part of his trip so far, crunching up causeway after causeway of crushed ice concrete, with serac fields like dim shattered Manhattans passing right to left,” the text reads.

The Skelton glacier, one of X’s preferred travel routes, is also historically the glacier chosen as the passageway for mountaineer Vivian Fuchs’ legendary first overland crossing of the continent in 1957. X’s excursion up the glacier also featured “seracs,” which are columns of glacial ice formed by intersecting crevasses on a glacier. Because of their instability and propensity to collapse, seracs are typically viewed as dangers to mountaineers; however, X is unafraid of their presence and likens them to a “shattered Manhattan.” This representation of a glacial phenomenon as a destroyed city makes X feel as though he has escaped the man-made “built” world and connects him to a time, presumably in the future, when cities will no longer be a dominant feature in the geography of the planet.


The purpose for Wade’s Antarctica travels were to evaluate political conditions for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty System for Wade’s politician employer, a U.S. Senator. During intense moments in the novel, Wade often reflected on the glaciers around him. “To distract himself he looked at the brilliant white glacier pouring down from the head of the valley. It was the middle of the night, and yet the mass of ice was glowing in the sunlight like an intrusion from some brighter dimension,” Robinson writes. In this moment the glacier allows Wade to step out of time. Wade’s reference to the glacier being from “another dimension” helps him experience a time that existed before him, and will continue to exist after his own lifetime. The glacier is a welcome distraction and escape from the stresses of his relationships and modern-day living.

The specific glacier distracting Wade in the narrative is the Wright Upper glacier, a place known as “the  labyrinth.” This particular glacier features an ice flow called the Airdevronsix Falls that is buttressed by harsh, dry rock peaks. The juxtaposition between the crystalline falls and brown rock peaks is striking.

Wright Upper Glacier, Airdevronsix Falls from the polar plateau. The falls are over 1500 feet high (Source: brookpeterson/Flickr).

While the narratives in the novel focus on the work and relationships of each of the characters, many scholars agree that the real main character is the frozen, inhospitable environment of Antarctica itself, including the glaciers that the characters frequently travel through, on and around.

In their quest for new knowledge as well as scientific and political breakthroughs in the frozen and inhospitable landscape, these characters are given an escape from their worldly pursuits through their experiences with the glaciers. Robinson purposefully utilizes Antarctica’s real glaciers, history and topography in his novel to give readers the same experience. The glaciers in the novel symbolize how each character transcends their current time. Robinson’s literature uses these symbols to aid people in making sense of the world around them.






Roundup: Methane Production, Himalayan Dams and Postcards for a Swiss Glacier

Evidence from Beneath a Temperate Glacier

From Nature: “Contemporary glaciers and ice sheets are rarely accounted for as methane contributors through field measurements. Here, we present direct field-based evidence of methane production and release from beneath the Icelandic glacier Sólheimajökull.”

Read more about the study here.

Sólheimajökull glacier. The black stuff is volcanic ash (Source: Mark Turner/Flickr).


The Race to Dam the Himalayas

From The New York Times: “More than 400 dams are under construction, or planned for the coming decades, in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan; at least 100 more have been proposed across the Chinese border in Tibet. If the plans come to fruition, this will be one of the world’s most heavily dammed regions. But these projects will aggravate international tensions. They carry grave ecological risks. To understand why their backers cast caution aside, it helps to look to history.”

Read the article here.

Thajiwas Glacier, Sonamarg, Kashmir, India (Source: Chai Siew Yap/Flickr).


Shrinking Swiss Glacier Gets a Climate-Change Postcard

From Reuters: “The Alpine glacier [was] the site of a publicity stunt on Friday: the creation of what organizers say is the world’s largest postcard. Climate change activists hope it will convince more young people to get involved in keeping rising temperatures in check. In all, 125,000 postcards with messages against climate change and sent by young people from all over the world have been assembled around 3,400 meters up on the Jungfraufirn, the upper reaches of the Aletsch glacier.”

Read more about the postcard to the Aletsch glacier here.

The Aletsch Glacier (Source: Andrew and Anne Marie/Flickr).


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

Two beings from different worlds rely on each other for safety and survival as they traverse one of science fiction’s most famous ice sheets: the Gobrin Glacier. First, we meet the envoy, Genly Ai, an Earthling whose cultural blindness repeatedly endangers him on an icy, remote planet. His rescuer is Estraven, the androgynous Gethenian and exiled politician from Karhide. Their journey through Ursula Le Guin’s fictional universe demonstrates how glacial settings inform fictional narratives, prompting readers to greater understandings of both science and themselves.

The original cover art for “The Left Hand of Darkness” (Source: Alex Ebel/”The Left Hand of Darkness“).

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) was one of the most admired American science fiction novelists. Born and raised in Berkeley, California, Le Guin earned an M.A. from Columbia University before briefly embarking on her doctoral studies in French, only to choose marriage instead. Many consider “The Left Hand of Darkness,” published in 1969, to be her greatest novel. She became the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Hugo Award (1969) and the Nebula Award (1970) for the work.

Many audiences read “The Left Hand of Darkness” as a story of gender. Indeed, one prominent and consuming plotline is the internal transformation of the Earth-born main character in response to the cyclical gender-changing, yet primarily androgynous alien he encounters and develops a relationship with. However, some scholars are now focusing on the intersection of environmentalism and science fiction. In the genre of science fiction, we are able to see ways in which the natural world imbues human nature.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Gerry Canavan, professor of English at Marquette University and author of “Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction” (2014), discussed the role of the environment in science fiction. “Once you understand that the environment is something that shapes the horizon of what is possible for a society to achieve, and something that is being put under dire threat by the negative externalities of industrial capitalism, it becomes a major concern for speculation about the future,” Canavan said.

Le Guin’s map of Gethen, as it appears in the endpapers of the first volume of “The Hainish Novels & Stories” (Source: BigThink).

“The Left Hand of Darkness” is primarily set on the planet “Gethen,” nicknamed “Winter” for its bitterly cold and unchanging climate. The main character, Genly Ai, is an envoy to Gethen representing the “League of All Worlds,” whose purpose is to persuade the Gethenians to join their coalition. During his travels, Ai finds himself imprisoned in a hostile country. When Estraven breaks Ai out of prison, the two realize their only way back to safety is over 800 miles of glacier ice.

The “magnificent and unspeakable desolation” of Gobrin Glacier provides total isolation for Ai and Estraven. The glacier itself is described as “blinding and horizonless to the utmost north, a white, a white the eyes could not look upon.”

In the novel, the glacier is represented metaphorically as an unknowable, unseeable landscape enabling Ai and Estraven to transcend the material world. The glacial winds, “blowing north to south, off the glacier,” continually bore down on the characters from their left, eventually freezing Ai’s left eye shut and prompting physical intimacy between the two when Estraven “thawed it open, with breathe and tongue.”

Psychological intimacy followed when for many nights the glacial storms made incredible noise, and the characters “could not converse by voice, unless we shouted with our heads together.” To continue their conversations non-verbally, Ai teaches Estraven his “Mindspeech” skills, through which they “shared whatever we had worth sharing.” Together, their physical and psychological journey over the glacier catalyzes their journey inward; a journey toward a greater self-determination and awareness of each other.

“A quiet night on the Gobrin Glacier” (Source: KisTithen/Tumblr)

What follows is a narrative where trust, care and understanding flourish between Ai and Estraven on the glacier. They protect one another while subtly revealing their vulnerabilities, teach each other their respective cultures and languages, and through their learning, find themselves to be more alike than different. The intensity of the whiteness surrounding them leads to a mutual “dark night of the soul.” Thus, the frigid, inhospitable, unforgiving conditions of the glacier melt the otherness that once existed between them.

In “The Left Hand of Darkness,” we view the glacier as both a setting and a character; the Gobrin Glacier is the preeminent force that shapes Ai and Estraven. The glacier contextualizes the meanings that both characters give to their experiences of each other and ultimately to their journey over the ice.

Of Le Guin’s environmentalism in science fiction, Canavan says, “She understands the way that human societies are embedded in a natural context rather than existing apart from it. So her speculative societies are places that really exist in a natural context and which make sense given that distribution of living things and natural resources.”

By placing Ai and Estraven on a glacier, Le Guin does more than provide a location for each character’s self-defining trials, she utilizes the environment— the glacier— as a metaphor for Ai and Estraven’s journey to their most true and authentic selves.

The Myth of Glacial Safety: From Fortitude to Svalbard

In the new book, “Nordic Narratives of Nature and the Environment,” author Lauren LaFauci analyzes the perceived safety and stability of remote, glacierized locations of the northern Arctic. Her chapter, “The Safest Place on Earth: Cultural Imaginaries of Safety in Scandinavia,” begins its inquiry into this subject by examining the fictional Arctic town of “Fortitude,” popularized by the Sky TV/Amazon television series of the same name.

The fictional town of “Fortitude” from the Sky TV/Amazon original series (Source: Sky Atlantic).

Fortitude is revered by its community for its safety, due to both its seclusion and the way it is ensconced in a serene, quiet glacier. Because of Fortitude’s recognized safety, it becomes a metonym, or symbol, for the perceived safety of a northern Arctic glacial environment.

Longyearbyen, Norway (Source: Christopher Michael).

Fortitude’s invulnerability is absolute, extending its security all the way to the preservation of life itself. It’s a place where people aren’t allowed to die, and resembles the real-life northernmost Arctic town of Longyearbyen, Norway. The reasoning for this is because deceased bodies remain preserved in extreme cold, their inability to decay rendering any infectious diseases still viable. With the cemetery of Fortitude filled with decay-resistant, plague-infested bodies from the early 1900s, it is evident that Fortitude isn’t as safe as it’s purported to be.

Even the town name, Fortitude, synonymous with terms such as endurance, resilience and grit, signals the hardships endured in order to live there. This imagined safety demonstrates how human order is often privileged over the dangers of the Arctic wild. In her chapter, LaFauci tells how humans use the snow as a blank slate in order to re-write themselves and design new meanings. “The town’s isolation in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago marks the place as a character in its own right, albeit one inscribed with these conflicting human meanings,” she writes.

Svalbard Island, Norway (Source: Global Crop Diversity Trust).

LaFauci then turns her reader’s attention from fiction to reality as she explores the Global Seed Vault in the Svalbard archipelago, which houses copies of seeds from over 1,700 different crop gene banks from around the world, as well as the Future Library Project in Oslo, a collaborative anthology of books to be published in the year 2114. Both projects take place in similar climates to Fortitude; locations believed to be safe from a Doomsday event due to their glacierized geographies, thereby providing for the conservation of biological and cultural knowledge.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault with the vault entrance in the background (Source: Global Crop Diversity Trust)

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on a remote island halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Crop Trust, the managing organization for the Global Seed Vault, asserts that its location is ideal for long-term seed storage due to its stable geography with low humidity, its location above sea-level where it is safe from flooding and sea-level rise, and the fact that the permafrost ensures natural freezing, which will continuously preserve its contents in case of power loss.

Climate change, however, recently had other plans for the Global Seed Vault’s imagined safety, LaFauci notes. In 2016, increased Arctic temperatures— the average for 2016 was over 7 degrees Celsius— along with frequent heavy rain led to a melting of the permafrost around the vault. This caused flooding within the vault’s entry chamber, putting humanity’s crop insurance at risk.

This warming in the Svalbard archipelago, also known as polar or Arctic amplification, is two to four times greater than warming observed in other areas of the planet. The whiteness of the sea ice in the Arctic typically reflects the sun’s incoming radiation back out into space; however, the rapid rate of melting sea ice changes its ability to reflect radiation. Instead, the darker ocean left after the sea ice melts absorbs heat from the sun. The more heat absorbed, the more sea ice melts, which results in a feedback loop of continual increased warming, ice melt, thawing permafrost and glacial runoff.

Arctic amplification model shows increased warming at the poles (Source: NASA).

After investigating “safety” of the Global Seed Vault and the science around our melting Arctic, LaFauci returns to the fictional story of Fortitude and asks, “How do we tell stories that resist this utopic imaginary rather than reinforce a false sense of security?”

She further encourages narrative to propel us to act when she writes, “As a problem of story-telling, of narrative—what stories can we tell that will move others to action?—the urgency of communicating climate change thus becomes a problem, not only for climate scientists, but for the environmental humanities.”

The University of California, Los Angeles describes the environmental humanities as a “concept for organizing humanistic research, for opening up new forms of interdisciplinarity both within the humanities and in collaboration with the social and natural sciences, and for shaping public debate and policies on environmental issues.” LaFauci believes the cultural stories we tell ourselves can either aid us in embracing or ignoring the hard truths about our changing climate and planetary crisis.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadstar driven by “Starman” was launched into space on February 6, 2018. (Source: Kevin Baird).

She calls our tendency to ignore harsh realities in storytelling “Anthropocentic folly.” Told differently, these stories can therefore reframe the warming Arctic regions as unstable and unsafe— consistent with the reality of Arctic amplification.

So what does humanity do to store our biological crop library safely in case of an apocalypse? How do we ‘back up’ life on earth ahead of a doomsday event that renders all of our geographies unsafe?

Perhaps the obvious place to backup humanity is in outer space or even on the moon. It’s time to begin having conversations about how we’ll load our biological humanity into the proverbial trunk of our car, spurned by the fictional stories we tell ourselves.









Photo Friday: The Mendenhall Ice Caves

This Photo Friday features the Mendenhall Ice Caves, located inside the Mendenhall Glacier of Juneau, Alaska. This particular glacier is one of 38 glaciers that is part of the 1500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field, which runs for 13 miles into the Mendenhall Valley, ending at Mendenhall Lake. These ice caves are difficult to access. To get inside, one must kayak around and then climb over the glacier. This glacier is monitored by the Juneau Icefield Research Program, and their research has shown that this glacier has receded almost two miles since 1958. It previously receded only half a mile in the years between 1500 and 1958.

(Source: Gillfoto [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]/Creative Commons).
Entrance to the Mendenhall Ice Cave (Source: Gillphoto/Flickr).


Inside the Mendenhall Ice Cave (Source: Gillfoto [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]/ Wikimedia Commons).

Irony in Big Piney: On Karen Budd-Falen and the Wind River Glaciers

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s new pick for the department’s Deputy Solicitor for Fish, Wildlife and Parks is Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming-based property rights attorney known for challenging federal land policy. GlacierHub provides an ecological perspective on the glaciers, rivers and lakes of Budd-Falen’s home community in Big Piney, Wyoming.

Budd-Falen and the Wind River Glaciers

In remote Wyoming, the Wind River glaciers span 10,000 acres and contain over 100 different glaciers proliferated throughout the great continental divide, according to a recent study by Portland State University. The western slope glaciers, with names like Minor, Mammoth, Sourdough, Grasshopper and even Sacagawea, form the headwaters of Wyoming’s largest river, the nearly 4,000 square mile Green River BasinDownstream, the Green River meanders through the wilderness, flowing between public and private lands as it makes its way to the Utah border.

The Green River where it meets the Seedskadee National Wildlife Rescue (Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Private, working ranches benefit from this glacial surplus in the Wind River Range. One ranch in particular, located in Big Piney, Wyoming, has been held by the same family for five generations. Budd-Falen calls this ranch home.

If you haven’t heard of Karen Budd-Falen, you’ve probably heard of her most notorious client, Cliven Bundy, the Nevada cattle rancher at the forefront of the 2014 armed standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over cattle grazing rights on federal land. Budd-Falen has repeatedly argued against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in court, and in favor of ranchers, landowners and corporations garnering unfettered rights for the private use of public lands.

Budd-Falen has also attempted to sue individual BLM employees under RICO for upholding federal law.

Bears Ears National Monument was reduced 85% by President Donald Trump on December 4, 2017 (Source: Creative Commons).

In her new DOI position, beginning 1 November, she will be an integral part of the DOI’s policy-making, working with the Justice Department to defend federal policy while providing counsel regarding legal issues surrounding government positions on public parks and wildlife policy.

Policy analysts are concerned she’ll endorse regulations undermining the Endangered Species Act, shrinking national monuments, and opening up more federal lands to oil, gas and mining industries.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Michael Burger, executive director for the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, commented there is nothing surprising about Budd-Falen’s appointment. It is “perfectly in line with what Trump has been doing with regards to appointments surrounding the environment. Choosing people who stand for the opposite of what the agencies missions are,” he said. Burger added that the appointment of Budd-Falen makes it clear that “Zinke is seeking to conduct a fire sale on the nation’s mineral rights to public lands.”

Irony in Big Piney

Glacier National Park in Montana (Source: Creative Commons).

Recently, Budd-Falen was hired to represent the Stillwater county commissioners in the Beartooth Front lawsuit, arguing against Montana landowners and their desire for citizen-initiated zoning. Citizen-initiated zoning is a process where landowners guide the development of their own land-use plans. In this case, it’s about the Montana landowners wish to guide the mineral rights on their own properties. However, now Budd-Falen represents the government’s desire for control over mineral rights.

Herein lies the dichotomy of Karen Budd-Falen. Above ground, her track record shows she solidly supports unrestricted private land use, especially for landowners, so they may go about their businesses without federal rules or intervention. Below ground, she works for the mineral rights owners, disallowing surface owners’ local input and opening these areas to the oil and gas industries.

Ironically, opening up Beartooth Front to oil, gas and mineral drilling and exploration may deposit dust or other particles on the surface of nearby glaciers in the Absaroka range. Should this drilling and exploration extend only a few hundred miles eastward, the debris have the potential to land on the same glaciers that feed the Green River Basin in Wyoming, and subsequently Budd-Falen’s own ranch in Big Piney.

Field studies have shown that a thin debris layer causes glaciers to melt faster, bad news for the Wind River Range of glaciers in Wyoming, which have already retreated nearly 40 percent since 1966.

Budd-Falen’s views and her stances on landowner and mineral owner rights have the potential to put her fifth-generation Big Piney home at risk. Because the glacial melt supporting her home community is a finite resource, accelerating glacial retreat through the inception of drilling, mining and natural resource exploration impacts the natural landscape and ecological viability of her ranch’s activities.

Interestingly, when Budd-Falen was originally being considered by the Trump administration for a top position in the DOI, she was asked to sell her ranch— which she refused to do so— quelling her early nomination. However, her ongoing defense of individual land and mineral right freedoms continues to jeopardize the Wind River glaciers’ capacity to support her family home into a sixth generation.





Roundup: Disappearing Ice, Italian Hydropower, and Surface Energy

Unprecedented Ice Loss in Russia

From “In the last few years, the Vavilov Ice Cap in the Russian High Arctic has dramatically accelerated, sliding as much as 82 feet a day in 2015, according to a new multi-national, multi-institute study led by CIRES fellow Mike Willis, an assistant professor of Geology at CU Boulder.”

Read more about ice loss in Russia here.

Depiction of ice loss in Russia (Source: Whyjay Zheng/NASA/USGS).


Glacier Retreat Drives Reduction in Italian Hydropower

From Applied Energy: “We assess the impacts of nine climate-change scenarios on the hydrological regime and on hydropower production of forty-two glacierized basins across the Italian Alps, assumed exemplary of similar systems in other glacierized contexts.”

Read more about hydropower in the Italian Alps here.


Debris-Covered Glaciers in Nepal

From Frontiers in Earth Science: “We present measurements collected between 26 September and 12 October 2016 from an eddy correlation system installed on the debris-covered Lirung Glacier in Nepal during the transition between monsoon and post-monsoon. Our observations suggest that surface energy losses through turbulent fluxes reduce the positive net radiative fluxes during daylight hours between 10 and 100%, and even lead to a net negative surface energy balance after noon.”

Read more about debris covered glaciers here.

Debris below lake on Langmale Glacier (Source: Alton Byers).


A Collaboration on Mustang, Nepal: Capturing Its Culture and History in Black and White

PLATE 23 CHUKSANG Even in stillness, the memory of wind Image# 1227 (Source: Kevin Bubriski/Mustang: In Black and White“).

Forty-three years ago, Kevin Bubriski joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Nepal. He’d recently graduated from college and was looking for adventure, yet was unaware of the lifelong relationship he’d develop with the country. Over time, his infatuation with Nepal grew into a deep attachment to its culture, language and geography, with a special interest in the far northwest of the country.

Through his travels— Bubriski visits Nepal yearly, often for months— he’s witnessed significant changes in the landscape and culture due to climatological shifts, including deglaciation and a nearly 25 percent reduction in Himalayan glacier mass over the past 30 years. A professional photographer, Bubriski’s primary focus has been capturing the lifestyle and experiences of the Nepalese people within the context of climate change. His work exposes a raw, organic and moving perspective of the people who inhabit Nepal.

PLATE 52 GHAMI TO DHAKMAR One chörten of many in a field of merit Image #1998 2 (Source: Kevin Bubriski/”Mustang: In Black and White“).

It was a fateful email sent to Bubriski from Sienna Craig, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, that inspired a new collaboration between the two on Nepalese photography, culture and history, “Mustang: In Black and White,” published by Vajra Books in 2018.  

Their book displays Bubriski’s artistic and antiqued photographs juxtaposed with Craig’s poetic and evocative text. Much of Craig’s research has focused on Nepal and the Tibetan areas of China, where she studies “traditional” medical systems and their cultural meanings. Bubriski’s framing of images exposing the intimate spaces of Mustang elucidate Craig’s cultural and historical framing in the text.

Alluding to the interplay of Bubriski’s photography and her own research in Mustang, Craig writes, “When you enter the inner passages of this place, you are framed by history.”

PLATE 66 TSARANG Fluted cliffs hang like a canopy above the village Image# 2584 (Source: Kevin Bubriski/”Mustang: In Black and White“).

When Bubriski first began photographing Nepal, he documented his travels with a conventional 35mm black and white camera, eventually moving on to a much larger 4×5 inch format in the 1980s. By 2015, though Bubriski’s photographic style remained consistent with his past work, he’d embraced new technological advances in photography: he began using an iPhone.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Bubriski said much of his invariable photographic style, as expressed using multiple photographic methods over time, was driven by how the eye views composition and arrangement naturally; how the eye is accustomed to the square and how he intends his photographs to contain an “interplay between all parts of the image area.”

Reflecting on his previous photographic methods, Bubriski recounts, “Upon returning to my darkroom in the United States, I would see the images on the film brought to life through the tedious meticulous development process.” Alluding to the transition from one process to another, he writes of his conversion to the iPhone, “Now we have the incredible magic of the smart phone delivering our photos to us as we make them.” Seizing on the immediacy made possible by the iPhone, for this new book, Bubriski set out to photograph Nepal once again, mimicking the style of the old, with the technology of the new.

“Virtually every object in Mustang bears the sign of ritual activity: from hand-dug cave systems to ruined hilltop castles, from densely clustered villages to isolated temples, from propitiatory piles of yak horns to the sophisticated cosmology of the chorten.” — Robert Powell, Earth Door, Sky Door: Paintings of Mustang Image # 1176 (Source: Kevin Bubriski/”Mustang: In Black and White“)

Historically, Mustang used to be a kingdom unto itself, maintaining its own governance and monarchy. In 2008, the monarchy of Mustang, historically called the “Kingdom of Lo,” was abolished by the government of Nepal when the country became a federal democratic republic. Despite this change in status, the people of Mustang revere their history and culture of independence. They now exist at the border between their old world and the new one thrust upon them.

Of this cultural duality, Craig writes “there is an unevenness to this part of Mustang, a feeling of liminality and insularity. Perhaps this sense is some affective correlate to geographic and social reality.”

This theme of connecting time and space is also drawn out in Bubriski’s photography. He admits to being fascinated by photographing ladders. He says ladders “thematically connect space,” and we see in one photo how the ladders connect the inner world of the cave, up to the outer world of the community. Much of the mountainous geography of Mustang, Nepal, is accessed and bounded by ladders in and out of different spaces— just as the community moves in and out of cultural spaces forced by changing politics, changing borders and changing climate.

Up and through an ancient cave complex. Image #3149 (Source: Kevin Bubriski/”Mustang: In Black and White“).

Bubriski and Craig’s journey, recorded in text and image, implores readers to reconsider how they see the world. Nothing is lost through their colorless photographs and text. Instead, much is revealed. Through the absence of color, we become privy to a secret world colored by the minds of its readers.

Their book can be ordered from Vajra Publications.