Worms Contribute to Soil Ecology After Glacier Retreat

Nematodes under a microscope, courtesy of snickclunk/flickr.
Nematodes under a microscope, courtesy of snickclunk/flickr.

The rock, gravel, sand and fine particles that are trapped under glaciers for millennia undergo major changes as glaciers retreat. Once they are exposed to the atmosphere, they are colonized by a variety of organisms and develop soils. They shift from having relatively few species of bacteria to developing more complex ecosystems.

Studying nematodes — or roundworms — communities in these soils can provide insight into the stages of ecosystem development as the worms respond differently to vegetative changes from grasslands to forested areas, a recent study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences found. The types of nematodes found in soil can also give insights about soil health, the authors found.

Though they may not look very impressive, nematodes are complex creatures. More than 25,000 species have been identified and have been known to adapt to a large variety of environments — from terrestrial to watery ecosystems, from salty to fresh habitats, and from northern to southern longitudes.

Collecting samples in glacier forelands (source: LTERNET)
Collecting samples in glacier forelands (source: LTERNET)

The Hailuogou Glacier on the southeastern Tibetan Plateau in China has retreated 1.8 kilometers in the 20th century, according to glaciologist Mauri Pelto. Because of the glacier’s rapid retreat, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences were able to observe 120 years of plant regeneration in seven different stages. In phase one–the first 3 years after soil is initially exposed–mosses, small plants and grasses begin to grow. During phases two, three and four, or years 3 through 40, grasses eventually become replaced by shrubs and low trees. In phases five, six and seven, from 40 to 120 years after exposure, mature forests develop. Samples of these phases were taken from seven different sites and analysed for pH balance, phosphorus and nitrogen content. Nematodes were extracted from the samples.

The researchers found that while all these changes were occurring above ground, dynamic changes were also occurring beneath the surface. As the soils first developed, levels of soil phosphorous increased, and fungi-eating nematodes were dominant. In later stages, these nematodes were replaced with bacteria-eating nematodes; this shift is likely a response to the improvement of soil quality.

Hailuogou Glacier, courtesy of Mykle Hoban/Flickr.
Hailuogou Glacier, courtesy of Mykle Hoban/Flickr.

But by the seventh phase, soil health began to decrease, and the researchers noticed the return of fungi-eating nematodes, species that survive well in poor soil conditions. Nutrient availability at this later phase began decreasing, suggesting that the ecosystem was entering a retrogressive phase.

“Further research should be conducted to determine the most efficient approach to integrate plant succession, nutrient availability, and soil bacterial and invertebrate community dynamics into models of ecosystem development and succession,” the researchers concluded. “These models would be helpful for prediction and management of nutrient limitation during long-term soil development.” It will be interesting to see whether the patterns of changing nematode populations in the glacier forelands in China are similar to those in other areas. It will also be of importance to framing climate change policy, since the expansion of vegetation in areas formerly covered by glaciers has the potential to sequester carbon dioxide.

Second US Presidential Visit to a Glacier

Exit Glacier Trail, Alaska. Courtesy of Brian/Flickr.
Exit Glacier Trail, Alaska. Courtesy of Brian/Flickr.

United States President Barack Obama visited a glacier near Seward Tuesday during a trip to Alaska, making him the second American president to make an official visit to a  glacier. On his trip, Obama took the opportunity to discuss the effects of climate change with Alaska Natives, fishermen and residents of the northernmost state.

“We view this as part of a broader and longer-term effort by the president and the administration to speak openly, honestly and frequently about how climate change is already affecting the lives of Americans and the strength and health of our economy, and also what we can do individually and collectively to address it,” Brian Deese, Obama’s climate, conservation and energy adviser said.

The President and his staff hiked to the Exit Glacier, where markers show the glacier’s retreat in recent decades. Climate change has caused the glacier to retreat an estimated 1.25 miles.

Throughout Alaska, Native communities are struggling to adapt to the effects of climate change. Communities that rely on subsistence hunting find that their ability to harvest meat is dramatically declining as sea ice thins. Dozens of communities are forced to consider relocating as sea level rise  and increased storm surge threaten their towns, a move which would cost millions of dollars.

President and Mrs. Harding at Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska. Courtesy of Alaska State Library.
President and Mrs. Harding at Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska. Courtesy of Alaska State Library.

In many ways, Obama’s visit to the Exit Glacier is a marked contrast from the visit that brought President Warren G. Harding to Alaska in 1923. During Harding’s visit, 5-inch shells were shot into the Taku Glacier to trigger glacial calving. But there are some parallels. Both presidents promoted an extension of transportation into new areas.  Harding pounded the golden spike that completed the Alaska Railroad that linked Seward and Anchorage on the coast with Fairbanks and other towns in the interior. Obama proposed an expansion of the US Coast Guard’s fleet of icebreakers, to help the US keep up with other countries, such as Russia and China, which are increasing their presence in the Arctic Ocean.

Petroleum issues may be the strongest connection between the two visits. Harding’s visit came a year after one of the best-known events in his administration, the Teapot Dome Scandal, in which private oil companies were granted very favorable leases to drill on government lands in the West. The secrecy of the leases caused a public uproar, as did the allegations of bribery. Obama’s visit comes at a time when issues of drilling are once again attracting considerable attention, this time in the Arctic Ocean, and when concern has been expressed over the influence of campaign contributions by energy companies.

Presidents and prime ministers from other countries have also visited glaciers on official trips. Anote Tong, president of Kiribati traveled to a glacier in Norway ahead of Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit in New York in September 2014. The island-nation is rapidly disappearing under water as sea levels rise.

Other presidents have visited glaciers for reasons not related to climate change. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Siachen Glacier, the site of an old battlefield in disputed territory between India and Pakistan.

In 2013, Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera Echenique visited the Union Glacier in Antarctica. There, Echenique expressed his interest in contributing to scientific development and tourism on the southernmost continent.

Obama 2
President Obama, courtesy of John Althouse Cohen/Flickr.

Obama’s recent visit to Alaska came with a strong message about climate change.

“We are not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough,” he said at the GLACIER conference in Anchorage, Alaska, on Monday. “The time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. It’s not enough to just have conferences. It’s not enough to just talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk.”


Roundup: Glacial Sounds, Rhythms and Reactions

Flutist Claire Chase Captures Glaciers in Music

Claire Chase performs “Glacier,” a piece by Japanese composer Dai Fujikura. “…in Chase’s performance of “Glacier” (2010), a solo for bass flute by Dai Fujikura, her breath floated audibly above much of the music, giving it a ghostly quality,” New Focus Recordings writes. “With subtle changes in the angle of the mouthpiece, she was able to invoke the sound of more ancient types of flutes made out of wood, bamboo and stone.”

Check out the rest of the album here.

El Niño Linked to Glacier Mass Balance in Peruvian Andes

“The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a major driver of climate variability in the tropical Andes, where recent Niño and Niña events left an observable footprint on glacier mass balance […] We find a stronger and steadier anti-correlation between Pacific sea-surface temperature (SST) and glacier mass balance than previously reported. This relationship is most pronounced during the wet season (December–May) and at low altitudes where Niño (Niña) events are accompanied with a snowfall deficit (excess) and a higher (lower) radiation energy input.”

Read more here.

Peruvian Andes, courtesy of Michael McDonough on Flickr.
Peruvian Andes, courtesy of Michael McDonough on Flickr.

Communities in Tajikistan Threatened by Glacier Retreat

“The rapid loss of small glaciers worldwide might result in mountain villages changing from having plenty of water during the growing season, to facing a scarcity even in scenarios with adaptation […] A 2010 participatory case study in the Zerafshan Range, Tajikistan, disclosed a local lack of awareness of climate change and its consequences […]The case study revealed high risks of massive out-migration from mountain villages if adaptation starts too late: countries with a high proportion of mountain agriculture might see significant losses of agricultural area, a reduction in food production and an increase in conflicts in areas where immigration occurs.”

Read the full study here.

Mountain side and village. Tajikistan. Photo: Gennadiy Ratushenko / World Bank
Mountainside and village. Tajikistan. Photo: Gennadiy Ratushenko / World Bank

Mines in Kyrgyzstan Exacerbate Glacier Advance

Kyrgyz Horse walking on the ice of the Glacier, Lenin Peak climbing, Kyrgyzstan. (Courtesy of Twiga, Flickr)
Kyrgyz horse walking on glacier ice, Lenin Peak , Kyrgyzstan. (Courtesy of Twiga, Flickr)

Mines in Kyrgyzstan contribute to increased glacier advance, according to a new study from Durham University. Over 15 years, the Kumtor gold mine dumped debris in layers as much as 180 meters thick on parts of glaciers. For comparison, 180 meters is about twice the height from the base of the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty sites to the top of its torch.

Researchers looked at glaciers covered by debris from landslides and debris from mines to better understand the impact of glacial processes in the Central Asian country. They found that two glaciers, the Lysii Cirque Glacier and the Davidov Glacier near the Kumtor mine, advanced by 1.2 and 3.2 kilometers, respectively. Most of this movement can be attributed to internal deformation of the ice from the pressure of the added material, rather than to increased sliding at the base of the glacier, where the ice is in contact with the bedrock.

“We used high-resolution satellite imagery to map the terminus advance of two glaciers and to map the evolving distribution of mining spoil on the surface of these glaciers,” the authors wrote. “We find not only that glacier ice can have a significant impact upon mining activities, but more importantly, that mining operations can drive significant changes in glacier behavior.”

Between 1997 and 2012, the mines dumped more than 775 million tons of rock and ice waste on the surrounding landscape. Under the heavy load of debris, glacial ice became deformed, enhancing ice flow.

 Saruu village community activists in the summer of 2013 when they went to inspect the Kumtor mine with local Kyrgyz government officials. (Courtesy of Ryskeldi Satke)
Saruu village community activists in the summer of 2013 when they went to inspect the Kumtor mine with local Kyrgyz government officials. (Courtesy of Ryskeldi Satke)

The new study isn’t the first time the Kumtor mine has been associated with environmental damage. The mining project has been criticized by local communities for contaminating ground and surface water in addition to other negative environmental impacts. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development involved with the project has denied these claims.

“Understanding the impact of debris upon glaciers is important not only for gaining insight into past and present glacial response to landslides but also in assessing and mitigating the glaciological, environmental, and infrastructural consequences of mining in glacierized terrain,” the authors wrote.

“Increasingly, large-scale mining operations are being developed in glacierized areas, either as glaciers retreat or through and beneath glaciers whilst they are in situ,” they added. “The loss of ice and rock glaciers as a result of mine excavation is a central environmental concern surrounding these developments.”

Mining companies in Chile have also dumped waste on glaciers, the article reports, and firms in Canada and Greenland are planning to do so as well. These risks to glaciers may become more frequent, if regulations to protect against them. are not established and enforced.

Ecuadorean Eruption Sparks Fears of Glacier Floods

Ash erupted from Ecuador’s glacier-covered Cotopaxi volcano last week after seventy quiet years. The debris shot five kilometres into the air, covering homes, cars, fields and roads as it descended, according to the Independent.

Patricio Ramon, of Ecuador’s Instituto Geofísico, said the eruption was phreatic, meaning that molten rock encountered water, creating a forceful release of steam.

“[I felt] in shock, not knowing what to do when I saw everything was moving. Then a strong smell of sulfur filled the mountain. Tourists were also concerned and wanted to leave as soon as possible,”  resident Franklin Varela told Ciudadana, an Ecuadorean radio station.

Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second highest volcano, peaks at 5,897 metres and lies 45 kilometres from the capital, Quito. Its glacier, also named Cotopaxi, is considered to be of significant economic, social and environmental importance, according to reports of the United Nations Environment Programme. Meltwater from the glacier provides Quito with water and hydroelectric power, but in the last 40 years, the ice has thinned by more than 38 percent.  Most of this retreat is attributed to climate change, but eruptions can exacerbate glacial retreat by rapidly melting ice and triggering floods. Researchers from Instituto Geofísico told El Universal they considered Cotopaxi one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its potential for lahars, or mudflows, often triggered by glacial melt. When Cotopaxi erupted in 1877, lahars travelled as far as 100 kilometres from the volcano.  

The most recent ash eruptions led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents and livestock from El Pedregal, a community close to the volcano, reported La Hora. Farmers have expressed concerns that the ash that fell on their livestock feed will harm their animals.

Residents have been warned to avoid inhaling ash. Quito’s Mayor, Mauricio Rodas, told citizens he would hand out masks and told the city to remain calm.

Researchers continue to observe Cotopaxi’s activity as the volcano’s activity increases. On Saturday, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, declared a state of emergency.

The president’s announcement comes the same week as a series of strikes against his government’s labor policies and changes to the constitution that would allow him to run for president at the end of his term. The army and police have been dispatched and civil guarantees are temporarily suspended.

“We declare a state of emergency due to the unusual activity of Mount Cotopaxi,” Correa said. “God willing, everything will go well and the volcano will not erupt.”

Volcanoes and Glaciers Shape Alaskan Landscape

Alaska's Pavlof Volcano, courtesy of NASA Goddard  Space Flight Center
Alaska’s Pavlof Volcano, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Volcanic eruptions mark the beginnings of new landscapes. Ash and lava cover existing vegetation and map out a fresh terrain. Though researchers understand how volcanic landscapes evolve over centuries, there is little understanding of how volcanic eruptions have influenced the geomorphology, or the relationship between the Earth’s surface and geological structures, according to Christopher F. Waythomas, from the United States Geological Survey.

In a new review of historic volcanic eruptions, Waythomas laid the groundwork for interpreting the effects of volcanic eruptions on shaping the Alaskan landscape. He examined four volcanoes, Redoubt, Katmai, Pavlof and Kasatochi, and found that the volcanoes played a major – if not dominant – role in shaping the ecosystems and landscapes of southern and southwestern Alaska.

Alaska, especially the state’s Aleutian arc, experiences volcanic eruptions every one or two years. Most of the time, these eruptions affect the region’s extensive glaciers.

Following an eruption, melting glacier water can pick up debris and result in dangerous mudslides, or lahars. Lahars can be so powerful that they change the shape of the landscape they travel through, Waythomas found. They can also change sediment flux in the sea and create lahar blocked lakes.

Cleveland Volcano, Alaska, courtesy of NASA
Cleveland Volcano, Alaska, courtesy of NASA

“Given the significant magnitude of many Alaska eruptions and the high frequency of occurrence of eruptive activity, it is worthwhile to examine how eruptive activity and the products of this activity have affected the geomorphic evolution of landscapes throughout the Aleutian arc,” wrote Waythomas.”This task is practical and academic because of the obvious implications for hazards to people, infrastructure, and the environment and for understanding how volcanic systems evolve in an area that is as geologically dynamic as Alaska.” 

Because Alaska’s volcanoes erupt fairly frequently, they tend to be covered by a mantle of loose debris, which is easily dislodged by water flows following an eruption.

However, the varying nature of eruptions makes understanding the consequences of eruptions and lahars difficult. The state experiences both mild eruptions that spread ash across the surrounding areas and extreme events with heavy lava flow.

“The size, characteristics, and unpredictable occurrence of such flows present significant challenges for incorporating large lahars into conventional flood-hazard analyses,” wrote Waythomas.

By further studying the secondary effects of volcanic eruptions in Alaska, researchers will have a better understanding of how the events influence the hydrology, biology and form of the landscape, Waythomas added.

Rockslide on Glacier Exacerbates Flooding in New Zealand

New Zealands Southern Alps Courtesy of Geee Kay, Flickr)
New Zealand’s Southern Alps Courtesy of Geee Kay, Flickr)

On 2 January 2013, large piles of rock tumbled down Mt. Evans in New Zealand. The avalanches, set off by the collapse of the mountain’s west ridge, sent rocks onto the Evans and County Glaciers and eroded snow and ice. As the rocks tumbled down, they triggered flooding in the Wanganui River.

The event was not the first time rock avalanches caused severe damage in the region; glaciers, landslides and rivers are the main cause of erosion in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  Historically, rockslides such as these occurred once every hundred years, according to a new report by authors J.M. Carey, G.T. Hancox and M.J. McSaveney, but have increased in recent decades. There were 4 per decade between 1976 and 1999 and more than 20 per decade since 1999.

Some, the report found, are caused by the region’s frequent earthquakes, but many of these rock avalanches cannot be attributed to one factor alone. Instead, factors including heavy rainfall, high slopes and fractured rock each contribute to avalanche-prone rock conditions.

Understanding the underlying causes and effects of rock avalanches can help researchers assess the likelihood of future rock avalanches and the potential damage they will cause. Already, researchers expect boulders above the Evans Glacier to collapse at any time onto the ice.

“The increase may relate to accumulating geodetic strain in the region as the change in occurrence rate correlates closely with change in accumulating seismic moment release in the New Zealand region,” wrote the authors. “It also has been linked to global climate change which is likely an additional rather than an alternative influence.”

The consequences of frequent rockslides can be severe. In the case of the most recent event on Mt. Evans, rocks travelling at 35 meters per second, or 78 miles per hour, set in motion cascading events which inundated farmland, cut off a road and severed a fibre optic cable. The floods were initially attributed to heavy rainfall, but a reconnaissance mission five and a half months later revealed that the landslide onto the Evans Glacier was the main trigger. Heavy rains exacerbated the flooding in the Wanganui River.

“The rock avalanche onto Evans Glacier ran out at high speed onto a broad flooded river flat over a kilometre long,” the authors wrote. “The rock avalanche significantly bulked up with snow and flood water and also may have bulked up with alluvium [deposit left by flood water] and possibly old glacial deposits.”

Artist Diane Burko Ties Together Art and Science

Diane Burko on Viedma Glacier, South America (2015)
Diane Burko on Viedma Glacier, South America (2015)

The nexus between art and science first featured in artist and photographer Diane Burko’s work in 2006. Since then, Burko has traveled around the world to capture monumental landscapes and features. She has spent time in Norway, Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula, documenting and bearing witness to the global disappearance of glaciers. 

Burko agreed to an interview with GlacierHub, where she discusses her journey to communicate science and dispel doubt through art.

GH: What first inspired you to draw connections between art and science?

DB: I think I am “science curious”.  As a landscape artist, monumental geological environments, dramatic vistas, aerial views, have always captured my imagination. Perhaps growing up in a New York City apartment may be why…  The Grand Canyon was one of my first subjects in the 70’s. Understanding its deep history – how it was formed was crucial. When I did a series on Volcanoes in 2000, learning about plate tectonics was part of my process. Knowing how a landscape is put together, the geology, is as important to me as experiencing it by walking, climbing or flying over it…

Grinnell Mt. Gould Quadtych, 2009, 88” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Grinnell Mt. Gould Quadtych, 2009, 88” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Why is it important to bring together art and science?

DB: I believe that art can communicate science. My obsession with nature at its most awe-inspiring naturally leads me to want to preserve and protect it.  That’s why I want to show how our environment is being threatened by climate change. My strategy is to seduce with beauty and then subtly insert awareness in the viewer by utilizing visual/scientific prompts I’ve garnered through my interactions with climatologists, my observations in the field and my own research.

The visual devices (literal and metaphoric) employed are as simple as presenting chronological images of glaciers receding in multiple panels. Or more mysterious and abstract images redolent with the idea of the landscape as body –  as mortal with potential to decay, contrasting ancient rocks with melting ice.

Landsat maps and geological diagrams, and recessional lines are also strategic devices I’ve employed.

Deep Time Diptych (Glacial History Eqi and Looking into Viedma 2), 2015, 40” x 60” each (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Deep Time Diptych (Glacial History Eqi and Looking into Viedma 2), 2015, 40” x 60” each (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Tell us about your trip to Argentina and Antarctica. What challenges did you face? What part of the trip struck you the most?

DB: In January 2015 I was invited to join 26 educators with “Students on Ice” a nonprofit organization offering student expedition experiences to Antarctica and the Arctic. This was my second expedition there – the other in 2013. After the voyage we landed back in Ushuaia and boarded a plane to El Calafate. Having been to the two largest ice fields in the world (Antarctica and Greenland) I was eager to see the third largest one in Patagonia.

Initially my goal was to go to climb on Perito Marino, which has a 3-mile front glacial front. Ironically this is one of the few glaciers that is not receding

However it was Viedma Glacier that totally took my breadth away.

Wearing crampons we climbed very carefully on top of this glacier for hours because it was really treacherous.

Crevasses were everywhere around me as I captured some incredible images

Back in the studio, I am working on a series on Upsala, which was the third glacier we visited – also receding.

Columbia Quadtych, 2011, 60” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Columbia Quadtych, 2011, 60” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: How do people respond to your work?

DB: They seem to respond at the exhibitions. And they participate when I give talks on my artistic practice at the intersection of art and science.

GH: The world of ice is at times colorless, white ice and dark rock, but the blue keeps appearing. How do you work with the color?

DB: I just embrace it – attempting to capture it’s magic through my photographs. My paintings, I tend to interpret from the experience and memory when back in the painting studio.

Perito Moreno’s 3 Mile Front, 2015, 40” x 60”  (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Perito Moreno’s 3 Mile Front, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Can you tell us a bit about your choice of mediums? Do you use different mediums to convey different messages or evoke different emotions?

DB: As a painter in oils I strive to make that medium represent the ideas I wish to convey. Here are two examples that might answer the question:

GH: Ice accumulates where snow falls, and snow falls from clouds. Being close to glaciers often means being close to cloud and mist. Does the photographer hope for sun, or accept the cover?

DB: Clouds, fog, all present many more possibilities.

Morning Sail 2, August 6, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Morning Sail 2, August 6, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: The glaciers of Argentina are huge, but Antarctica is absolutely enormous. Does this contrast influence your selection of images to include in a record of your trip?

DB: No I just include whatever captivates me visually, whatever is presented in front of me.

It is always serendipitous because one cannot predict the weather- the winds or where we actually wind up landing in Antarctica.   And in Patagonia I only was able to visit three of the many glaciers in the Argentinian ice field. I would love to return to Chile and explore more.

Artist Reawakens Glacial Past In Central Park

In the northeast corner of Central Park by the Harlem Meer, a large billboard hints at Manhattan’s icy past. The piece, commissioned as part of the Drifting in Daylight art exhibition celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Central Park Conservancy, was designed by Karyn Olivier.

Olivier chose to depict a glacier that covered Manhattan 20,000 years ago. The glacier shaped many parts of the island in ways that are both familiar and taken for granted by New Yorkers. Through her piece she also leaves a trace of Seneca Village, a mostly forgotten African American settlement from the 1800’s.

Olivier, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, is an artist and associate professor of sculpture at Tyler School of Art. She spoke to GlacierHub about her piece, titled “Here and Now/Glacier, Shard, Rock.”

Here and Now/Glacier, Shard, Rock by Karyn Oliver
Here and Now/Glacier, Shard, Rock by Karyn Oliver

GH: Why did you choose to depict the glacier that used to cover New York?

KO: The task to create an artwork for a place like Central Park, a place already filled with so much beauty, was daunting—what can compete with such an amazing landscape? So I decided to focus on the site of Central Park and reveal what existed at that location—perhaps allowing for a reflection on what stands there today. I was reading about the Wisconsin Glacier that travelled through what is now New York City, 20,000 years ago. It created valleys, moved boulders, formed rock outcroppings, carried alluvial debris that was eternally stranded in new locations when the ice sheet melted. I was interested in this physical evidence, this geological diaspora, that can be found throughout Central Park—it’s both everywhere, in plain sight, but also hidden by our lack of knowledge and awareness. I was also interested in the more recent history of the site—Seneca Village—and the fact that there is little evidence left of this once vibrant community. This settlement of mostly freed African American residents in the 1800’s was displaced, scattered wholesale throughout the city, with few traces of their tenancy left in the bucolic park. The billboard depicts an image of a glacier, but also a pottery shard that was found on the site of the village. I saw a literal and metaphoric connection between the subtle residual artifacts of both the glacier and village.


GH: What meaning do glaciers hold for you?

KO: One of the most awe-inspiring experiences I’ve had was coming upon a glacier while visiting Iceland 14 years ago. It took my breath away—its vastness, its enormity, its visual reminder of the immensity of time and a vanished epoch that it holds and bears witness to.

Karyn Olivier
Karyn Olivier

GH: Can you tell us a bit about your choice of medium for this piece?

KO: I decided to use a lenticular photographic process to create the billboard display. In addition to featuring an image of a glacier and an artifact found from Seneca Village, I embedded a photograph of the landscape that currently exists directly behind the billboard structure. Depending on the viewer’s vantage point, multiple iterations of the three images can be seen. At moments each image is distinct; at other times they reveal themselves as fragments; at varying distances the three images overlap and are compressed—in a sense, conflating thousands of years of time in a single image. When a viewer moves from one end of the billboard to the other, the glacier will seem to move and morph into another time period—transformed as if the park goer on some level is controlling time or her understanding of it. The glacier mutates into a shard from a ceramic vessel—a domestic object made from clay dug from the same earth the glacier traversed before it also vanished. I hoped the image would be arrestingly beautiful, mysterious and thought provoking, as the viewer ponders the connection between the park and the display, the display and himself. I hoped it might spark the viewer’s recognition of the circularity and cyclical nature of time and history and his brief existence in this continuum.
GH: What emotions, thoughts or experiences are you hoping to trigger in passers by?

KO: My aim is for the viewer to have a visceral response to the piece. I want the expansiveness of the glacier to be felt in contrast to the scale of a ceramic plate fragment. I hoped to somehow equate the two—the massive and larger-than-life physicality of the glacier with the smallness and intimacy of a domestic object, a kitchen plate. What does it mean to position these two opposing scales and physicalities into the same image? I wanted to raise more questions than answers.


GH: Have you depicted glaciers before?

KO: I haven’t, but this project is inspiring me to continue this exploration.

Artist Emma Stibbon Talks Glaciers and ‘Bearing Witness’

For award winning artist Emma Stibbon, connecting with the landscapes she draws is a crucial part of her artistic process. Her travels have taken her to both poles and in between, where she has witnessed the impacts human activity has in some of the most isolated parts of the world.

Stibbon, who is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Brighton, creates large, generally monochromatic works that evoke expansive and lonely landscapes. She agreed to do an interview with GlacierHub to discuss glaciers, her role as a witness of human imprints on the world, and the importance of capturing the ephemeral nature of the world’s icy landscapes.


Snow Field  154 x 215 cms ink and charcoal dust 2014, courtesy of Emma Stibbon
Snow Field 154 x 215 cms ink and charcoal dust 2014, courtesy of Galerie Bastian, Berlin

GH: What drew you to glaciers and ice bergs – specifically in the Antarctic Peninsula – in the first place?

ES: I have long been interested in the effects of snow and ice on a landscape. My first trip to Antarctica in 2005 was extraordinary: watching the full cycle of ice moving and calving into bergs right in front of me; there is something mysterious about such a large gleaming mass on the move. I am interested in glaciers both as dynamic features and as places of psychological imagining, and their evident retreat in the Peninsula area are of urgent environmental concern. I’ve been committed to it as a project ever since with projects in the Alps, Iceland, the High Arctic and Antarctica.


GH: Why do you feel it is important to depict them?

ES: Ice sheets and glaciers face a precarious future and their evident retreat in the Polar Regions is of environmental concern. One of the reasons I was provoked to visit the Antarctic Peninsula was reading about recent scientific assessments that show increasing instability in the Polar ice sheets confirming that the vulnerability of the Polar Regions will have profound effects upon our global environment. I see my work fitting within a North European Romantic tradition of the Sublime. In a contemporary context this is both a landscape under threat but also a dynamic powerful force that puts a perspective on our own existence and other species.


GH: What difference does it make for an artist actually to visit the ice, rather than to draw from photographs?

ES: Being ‘in the field’ allows me a sense of bearing witness to something, I require that physical experience of place in order to make my studio based work. Once on location I usually gather information, either through drawing from observation or the camera. I believe that a human response to place is still meaningful, that the tactile quality of drawing connects with people on an emotional, visceral level.

Summit 20 x 152 ink and charcoal dust 2014, courtesy of Emma Stibbon
Summit 201.5 x 152cms ink and charcoal dust 2014, courtesy of Galerie Bastian, Berlin

GH: Why do you select particular media (drawing and prints rather than oils or watercolors)?

ES: The drawing process is fundamental to my work. I struggle to establish a correspondence between the drawing media and the subject and to equate an experience of place with a drawn mark. I often use delicate drawing media; watercolour, graphite, carbon and aluminium powder to try to both render an image and use the media as metaphor for the subject. The scale of the work is important, I want to create immersive drawings that communicate something of the sensory qualities of the place – to connect viewers with the Polar environment. For me the act of drawing has almost magical qualities, allowing me to connect the physical world with memory.


GH: Does your art emphasize the ice itself or the broader environment?

ES: A bit of both. I have a formal interest in the complex, physical shapes of the ice and the extraordinary light of Antarctica, bergs can appear almost like a mirage. Passing through the strange, ethereal light certainly felt like one was travelling into an internal world. I wanted the work to reflect a feeling of reverie or introspection. However although my work relies on an aesthetic response there is usually a political underpinning indicating an unstable terrain. My interest is in rapidly changing landscape, we may be one of the last generations to see these giants of ice – I want to witness them now. I am interested in whether drawing can connect the viewer with the contemporary urgencies of our relationship with environment through a visual immersion in the image.


GH: What does your work convey?

ES: I am attracted to places that are undergoing formation or transformation and how the apparently monumental can often be so fragile. I position my work and interest in landscape around themes of awe and an awareness of the power of Nature. But what also preoccupies me is that despite the apparent monumentality of place, there is always that contingency and inevitable frailty of change. We seem to be in denial about this as a human species, we want to believe that our surroundings are immutable and resilient, that there’s a solidity to the ground we walk on. For me the challenge is rendering this view, to try to represent and ‘stage’ the subject through the composition and material construction of the pictorial space.

Sea Ice 152.8 x 167cms watercolour, graphite and aluminium powder 2014, courtesy of EMma Stibbon
Sea Ice 152.8 x 167cms watercolour, graphite and aluminium powder 2014, courtesy of Galerie Bastian, Berlin

GH: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming exhibition?

ES: From 11 June – 5 September 2015, I will be showing the outcome of my recent Polar fieldwork in the exhibition Ice Limit at the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. The exhibition will include large-scale drawings and prints focusing on wilderness and the remote and how this occupies our imagination, in particular taking the idea of glaciers and ice shelves as symbols of change and transition.


Picture Man: An American Legacy

In the early 1970s, Carol Diereck invited the Powell family over for dinner. The invitation wasn’t purely a friendly meal. Carol had uncovered something in the attic of the house she was inhabiting in Yakutat, a town in southeast Alaska.

Carol led her friends to the attic, where a shattered scene awaited them. Glass plates littered the floor, as though children had used them as ice skates, the guests said. More of the glass plates were packed in wooden boxes. Close inspection revealed the plates were glass negatives, a legacy of Shoki Kayamori, a man whose life was shattered like many of the negatives the Dierecks and the Powells encountered.

Seiki (Shoki) Kayamori
Seiki (Shoki) Kayamori

Japanese-born Kayamori arrived in Yakutat in 1912, where he lay his roots for three decades before taking his own life in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. His story, or the pieces that are left of it, are recounted in Picture Man: The Legacy of Southeast Alaska Photographer Shoki Kayamori, written by Margaret Thomas, a librarian and journalism professor at the South Puget Sound Community College. Her book was published by the University of Alaska Press.

Thomas traced Kayamori’s journey from Japan, to the West Coast and eventually to Yakutat, Alaska.

“I felt really lucky [to tell this story]. It was piecing together a puzzle,” she said. “The most satisfying part for me was to resurrect this person who was otherwise forgotten.”

Through around 30 years of photographs, uncovered decades after they were taken, Kayamori documented the daily life of the Native Tlingit community and the migrants who moved to Yakutat to aid in the fish canning industry. He became locally known as “Picture Man,” but it was his passion for photography that set in motion the events that led to his suicide. As World War II rattled America, Kayamori was accused of being a potential Japanese spy. Following the accusations, he took his own life.

The first plane landing in Yakutat, April 16, 1931. Pilot Bob Ellis took townspeople for rides, according to the collection guide. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, ASL-P55-679.
The first plane landing in Yakutat, April 16, 1931. Pilot Bob Ellis took townspeople for rides, according to the collection guide. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, ASL-P55-679.

Thomas’ book captures the complex racial relations in America at a time when Asian immigrants could not own property and were forced to endure extreme racism.

“He had been such a part of this community, but when things got bad some of his friends may have turned their back on him — the circumstances were extreme and frightening,” said Thomas. “This is a story about immigrants. We do this again and again with each wave of immigrants. I would hope people would think twice about ‘us vs. them’.”

What remains of Kayamori is a testament to his experience: becoming integral to the Yakutat community. He photographed the young and the old, community events, funerals, and the beautiful surroundings. One of Thomas’ favorite pictures taken by Kayamori is an image of the serpentine Nunatak Glacier. Describing the landscape she writes, “there are places where the ancient ice appears to edge within earshot,” making reference to a Tlingit elder warning to children, “speak respectfully…the glaciers can hear.”

Unidentified children sitting on porch. Courtesy of Seiki Kayamori Photograph Collection, Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives, SHI-72-9
Unidentified children sitting on porch. Courtesy of Seiki Kayamori Photograph Collection, Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives, SHI-72-9

Glaciers are integral to the Tlingit community, according to Thomas. Much of the community’s hunting and harvest culture depends on these immense sheets of ice.

But the relationship between the Tlingit and the glaciers has not always been peaceful. Powerful natural forces have overpowered Yakutat and threaten to do so again in the near future. The town lies near the Hubbard Glacier. In the past, the glacier’s gradual movement has blocked off the mouth of the Russel Fjord, resulting in flooding of biblical proportions once the ice dam finally broke. These events occurred twice – once in 1986 and again at a smaller scale in 2002. Residents keep a close eye on the glacier to prevent further devastation.

This relationship with nature — one of deep respect and wariness at its unpredictability — epitomizes the story captured in Kayamori’s photographs. “By preserving what he found interesting, beautiful, or important, Kayamori left an enigmatic portrait of himself,” wrote Thomas.

Courtesy of the  Alaska State Library.
Courtesy of the Alaska State Library.

To learn more about the book, and to order a copy, please visit the website of the University of Alaska Press.

Volcanic Eruption Leaves Dogs Stranded and Hungry

As communities pick themselves up from a series of volcanic eruptions in southern Chile, stories of heartbreak and happy reunions emerge.

Satellite imagery of Calbuco erupting. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Satellite imagery of Calbuco erupting. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Last week, glacier-covered Calbuco erupted three times, displacing thousands of local residents and animals. The eruptions sent ash 20 kilometers into the air, according to the BBC,  and triggered a series of mudslides, which followed the melting of glaciers and recent rainfall in the region.

Hundreds of families were forced to leave behind their pets and efforts have since been launched to rescue lost animal companions. Many zones were deemed unsafe and families were unable to return, but in some cases, there have been happy reunions.

“Our government’s commitment is not only to be concerned, but to actively meet the needs [of communities], so that they can return and resume normal life as soon as possible,” Chile’s president Michele Bachelet said at a press event.

Some families are gradually returning to their towns to inspect the damage and see if anything can be salvaged. Residents are documenting their experiences on video and social media.

One such video, shot in Ensenada by Claudio Domingo Hernandez Matamala and viewed more than 200,000 times on Facebook, shows an emotional reunion between one abandoned pet and his worried owners. The dog sustained some minor burns on his back but was otherwise alive and well.

Watch the reunion here:

Other reports haven’t been as joyous. Feral dogs attacked and killed five sheep evacuated from exclusion zones surrounding the Calbuco volcano.

The local government has taken measures to protect animals and keep them in trailers away from dangerous dogs, but many animals are still stranded near volcanic activity. Officials say they are uncertain about how much livestock has died from inhaling volcanic ash, though reports suggest some have died from contaminated water.

But not all dogs have taken to attacking livestock in their hunger. One dog, now nicknamed “Ceniza” or “ash,” was adopted by the military after contributing to rescue efforts. Ceniza boosts the moral of troops as they work to rebuild communities.

Meanwhile, locals are scrambling to clean out the ash that covers their towns. There are concerns that the ash will hurt crops and take a toll on residents’ livelihoods.

“Now we have to think about the future,” Piedro Gonzáles, a resident of Ensenada, told Agence France-Presse. “We hope that in two months Ensenada can returnto normal. But it depends on whether the volcano can leave us alone.”