Observing Flora Near a Famous Norwegian Glacier

On a temperate afternoon last July, I arrived at a Norwegian National Park visitor center called the Breheimsenteret. Located in western Norway, the visitor center is often used as a meeting place for glacier walks, white water rafting, and glacial lake kayaking. Some visitors say that the exterior of the building resembles a giant Viking helmet, making it easy to spot. 

The Breheimsenteret is close in proximity to Jostedalsbreen, which is continental Europe’s largest glacier. Covering a total of 188 square miles, Jostedalsbreen is roughly 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C. 

As I looked into the distance to the right of the visitor center, I noticed a steep mountain landscape featuring a magnificent, snaking portion of ice down its center. This piece of ice, or best-known as Nigardsbreen, is one of Jostedalsbreen’s most famous glacial arms. 

Nigardsbreen is easily accessible by car or on foot. There’s a narrow road, which begins near the visitor center and continues all the way near the glacier’s edge. 

On this sunny day, the stark contrast between the light-colored ice against the dark, grey-colored mountains and the green vegetation below was mesmerizing. At this moment, I decided I needed a closer view. I grabbed my camera and started walking.

The Road to Nigardsbreen 

Map lichen on a marble rock (Source: Maria Dombrov)

While walking along the road, I captured some images of the local flora. Because of my undergraduate degree in biology, I often take interest in understanding local ecosystems and species’ interactions. 

This particular mountain ecosystem has a lot to offer. To the left of the road, there’s lake Nigardsbrevatnet, and to the right, there’s a flourishing forest. As I walked along, I found a break in the trees and a short path that had full visibility of the glacier’s tongue. The tongue is the portion of the glacier that extends downward into the valley. 

A close up of Melancholy thistle (Source: Maria Dombrov)

During my short exploration of the mountain ecosystem, I came across an abundance of green-colored lichen growing on top of the rocks. Despite their simplistic appearance, lichen is the mutually beneficial relationship of a fungus and algae or cyanobacteria. 

While on the path, I stepped onto a small hill to get a few close-ups of Nigardsbreen. Cold winds were blowing from the glacier, making this vantage point particularly chilly.

I snapped a few photos, and then, I just stared at it for a bit. I was so used to seeing towering skyscrapers all around me in New York, but in this instance, I was fascinated by the change of scenery. 

Wild crowberries scattered in the landscape (Source: Maria Dombrov)

I also came across some wild crowberries growing along the rocks, which are edible berries. Crowberry shrubs can live up to 20 years and have the ability to grow in nutrient-poor locations. 

Additionally, I found colorful, flowering plants all over the place. Both melancholy thistle and goldenrod are native to Scandinavia. 

Sadly the closer I walked, the more I noticed how dirty the glacier appeared, which is often an indication of melting. 

Goldenrod along the road (Source: Maria Dombrov)

Now, it was time to rejoin society. I reached the car park at the end of the road.

Looking back on this experience, I’m thankful that I was able to see Nigardsbreen while it’s still easily visible from the road. And after this trip, I understand the added value in experiencing firsthand what I read and study. 

This post is the final in a series of posts about firsthand experiences visiting Norwegian glaciers, famous fjords, and well-known hiking destinations. Thanks for reading. 


Additional Reading on GlacierHub:

Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds ‘Shocking Loss’ of Volume

Roundup: Alpine Hydropower, Water Availability in Pakistan, and Measuring Black Carbon

Warming Rivers Are Causing Die-Offs Among Alaska Salmon

Roundup: Pollen in Ice Cores, Melting in Greenland, and Water Usage in Switzerland

Pollen found in ice cores

From Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research: “Pollen grains are commonly found in ice cores, particularly those from mountain glaciers at low to middle latitudes … We analyzed major pollen grains in an 87-m-deep ice core drilled at the top of the Grigoriev Ice Cap (4563 m.a.s.l.) in the Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyz Republic. Microscopy showed that mainly five pollen taxa were contained in the ice core.”

Read the full research article here.

Tien Shan Mountains (Source: Piotr Gaborek, Flickr)

Glacial meltwater’s influence on biogeochemical cycles in greenland

From Frontiers in Marine Science: “Greenland fjords receive considerable amounts of glacial meltwater discharge from the Greenland Ice Sheet due to present climate warming. This impacts the hydrography, via freshening of the fjord waters, and biological processes due to altered nutrient input and the addition of silts … Our results imply that glacially influenced parts of Greenland’s fjords can be considered as hotspots of carbon export to depth. In a warming climate, this export is likely to be enhanced during glacial melting.”

Read the full research article here.

Meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet (Source: YangTS, Flickr)

Water usage in Oberhasli, Switzerland

From Environmental Science and Policy: “Incoherent institutional regimes are among the most critical barriers to adapt water governance under climate change. However, it remains unclear how different governance processes can coordinate competing resource uses despite incoherence of institutional resource regimes. This paper examines how institutional resource regimes and polycentric governance processes are co-evolving and to what extent these processes coordinate competing resource uses in incoherent resource regimes. ”

Read more about the research here.

Oberhasli, Switzerland (Source: Rolf & Beate, Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: The Power of Stories by the Global Oneness Project

Kathmandu Event Highlights Deepening Interest in Hindu Kush Himalaya Region

Video of the Week: An Animated History of Glaciers

Sitting on the Edge of a Troll’s Tongue

Dating back to roughly 800 A.D., the Vikings sailed around Scandinavia, spreading folklore about wicked creatures and mountain trolls. In the accounts, trolls were seen as unfriendly beings and dangerous to humans. Additional tales declared that trolls turned to stone when caught out in the sunlight. These stories served as a warning to all people that entered the treacherous mountains.

Over time, Norse mythology has evolved, and people’s opinions have changed. Trolls are now seen as an attraction. In Norway, gift shops are scattered with figurine trolls, and some tourist destinations feature large, troll sculptures. 

Norwegians remain proud of their folk traditions. And now, I was hiking a trail that was named after these legendary, mythological creatures. 

Troll’s Tongue, or Trolltunga in Norwegian, is a famous rock formation that is located next to Folgefonna National Park in western Norway. The unique, geological landform is named because it resembles a troll’s tongue. 

View of Lake Ringedalsvatnet (Source: Maria Dombrov)

The hike to the rock formation takes anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to complete and is only recommended for those with high physical endurance. Despite the trial’s difficulty level, hundreds of hikers climb this trail daily during the summer season. My dad, whose name is Serge, and I were among the crowd. 

We arrived at the car park at 8 in the morning. It was misty and cool, and an intense fog covered the mountains all around us. We put on our backpacks filled with lots of water, freshly made sandwiches, and ample snacks. I also lugged along my camera, which added a few pounds to my backpack. Later on, though, I knew it’d be worth carrying to get the highly acclaimed photo – sitting at the edge of Trolltunga. 

Full of energy and unaware of the exact journey ahead, we began walking. About a mile into the hike, we came across a giant wall of stairs made out of rocks. The stairs go up about a half a mile. It was extremely intimidating to look at and even more demanding to climb. We pushed on, took multiple breaks, and finally made it to the top of the stairs about an hour later. During this section of the trail, we came across several signs that read “Non-potable water. Do not drink.” 

The green troll has a stern warning for hikers. He says, ” Don’t pollute the nature!!” (Source: Maria Dombrov)

For the next few hours, my dad and I hiked up and down some steep hills. The mountain landscape was green and rocky. As we walked, on our right-hand side, a deep valley appeared. The blue, shimmering waters of Lake Ringedalsvatnet filled the valley floor.

Despite warnings from a sign featuring a troll, we came across some not so beautiful views as well. Along the hike, I saw cigarette butts, cans of Red Bull, plastic water bottle caps, and plastic sandwich bags. Seeing all of the litter along the way undermined the beauty of the mountain landscape. 

In the last hour of our hike, the scenery changed slightly. The trail underneath our feet transitioned from dirt and mud to only rock. At this point, we could sense that we were getting close to the rock formation due to an increase in the number of people.

Stepping onto Troll’s Tongue

After one final push over a rocky hill, we reached our destination. The rock formation wasn’t visible at first. So we walked over near the crowd of people and looked down. And there it was—the enormous, 10,000-year-old cliff that we had traveled so far to see. 

After stretching my legs and eating a soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I walked over to the cliff and climbed down a few steel steps that were embedded into the rock. I joined the line of other hikers that were waiting for their moment of fame on the edge of the rock. After about 20 minutes of waiting for my picture, I walked out onto the rock, smiling and excited. I sat down near the edge and scooted up so that my feet could dangle off the cliff. Trolltunga hangs over 2,200 feet above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. 

It was a truly geeky moment when I thought to myself how cool it was to be sitting on top of a solid piece of bedrock that was formed during the glacial recession at the end of the last Ice Age.  

GlacierHub writer, Maria Dombrov, sitting at the edge of Trolltunga

I breathed in and looked at the extraordinary viewpoint from Troll’s Tongue. I saw the lake below me and the mountains above me. Even, Folgefonna Glacier began to peak out in the cloudy distance. Folgefonna is Norway’s third-largest glacier. 

I realized quickly that it was time to give someone else a turn and head back, first to the trail and eventually to our car. My dad and I took it slow and steady on our hike back. We were pretty tired at this point but carefully navigated through the trail. When we reached the halfway point, a friendly, first-aid guide suggested that we eat some snacks, be careful of our footing, and fill up our water containers at a nearby stream. 

After about ten-and-a-half grueling hours of hiking, we finally reached the car park. Let me tell you, I’ve never been so happy to see a car. 

Reflecting on this journey, I have a piece of advice to all adventurers, tourists, and hikers. Please, don’t leave your trash behind. The mountain doesn’t need it, and future hikers after you shouldn’t have to deal with it. 

This post is the third in a series of posts about firsthand experiences visiting Norwegian glaciers, famous fjords, and well-known hiking destinations. Check back to GlacierHub in upcoming weeks to read more about my travels in Norway. 

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Aerial Images of Norway

Finger Lakes Residents Connect With the Region’s GlacialPast

Video of the Week: Grizzlies in Glacier National Park

Photo Friday: Aerial Images of Norway

This week’s Photo Friday features scenic, aerial images from Geirangerfjord, Norway. Geirangerfjord is one of Norway’s most famous fjords and holds a spot on the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage List. Over 800,000 tourists flock to Geirangerfjord annually to take in the beautiful landscape.

The last photo highlights “The Man”, an unstable mountainside located in the region. If this mountainside were to fall into the fjord, it could create a tidal surge of up to 80 meters high. Fortunately, Norwegian researchers at The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate are constantly monitoring the mountainside.

Fjords are long, narrow inlets of the sea, situated between mountainous coastline on either side. Fjord formation occurs when significant glacial retreat reaches bedrock level. The glacial retreat then leads to land erosion and the creation of a U-shaped valley, which fills with seawater, resulting in unique geological features such as Geirangerfjord.

Aerial shot of Geirangerfjord (Source: Maria Dombrov)
Aerial shot near Geirangerfjord (Source: Maria Dombrov)
Aerial shot near Geirangerfjord (Source: Maria Dombrov)
Geirangerfjord, Norway (Source: Maria Dombrov)
“The Man”, or Mannen in Norwegian (Source: Maria Dombrov)

This post is the second in a series of posts about firsthand experiences visiting Norwegian glaciers, famous fjords, and well-known hiking destinations. Check back to GlacierHub in upcoming weeks to read more about my travels in Norway. 

Additional Reading On GlacierHub:

Finger Lakes Residents Connect With the Region’s Glacial Past

Video of the Week: Grizzlies in Glacier National Park

Swing, Kick, Swing: Ice Climbing on a Norwegian Glacier

Video of the Week: Grizzlies in Glacier National Park

Full speed ahead! In today’s Video of the Week, watch an energetic grizzly bear slide down a snowfield in Glacier National Park. In the video, the grizzly runs from the top of the snowfield and at some point, loses its footing. Then, it slides down a portion of the snowfield. By the end, the grizzly safely makes it to the bottom and continues on with its daily activities.

Glacier National Park is a 1,583 square mile wilderness area that includes over 700 miles of hiking trails. Located in Montana, the park contains a total of 25 glaciers including Grinnell and Sperry glaciers. Both grizzlies and black bears call this park their home.

Additional Reading on GlacierHub:

Swing, Kick, Swing: Ice Climbing on a Norwegian Glacier

Roundup: Antarctic Species Diversity, Credit Ratings, and an Alaskan Podcast

Photo Friday: Images of Europe’s July Heat Wave

Swing, Kick, Swing: Ice Climbing on a Norwegian Glacier

On a windy, rainy morning in July, I approached Austerdalsbreen bundled in full winter apparel. Located in Norway, Austerdalsbreen is an accessible side branch of Jostedalsbreen, mainland Europe’s largest glacier. 

In previous GlacierHub posts, I’ve written about last chance tourism, but now, I was actually living it – traveling to a destination threatened by climate change, a place that may not exist in 100 years. 

For a few hours, we had Austerdalsbreen all to our ourselves. Our small group included Icetroll guide Jonas Henreksen, my Dad, and me. 

On the boat ride towards the glacier

Following a short, exciting boat ride across the dammed lake, I stepped onto the rocky shoreline. I couldn’t help but stare at the massive, jagged wall of ice in front of me. Its icy blue color and sheer size were mesmerizing. I looked around and saw a rushing glacial river flowing from a nearby peak and scattered boulders along the coastline. 

But enough looking. It was time to start climbing. Jonas instructed us on how to fasten spiked attachments for our boots, called crampons. Next, he helped us get into our harnesses and secured a climbing line at the end of the glacier, where there was a 15-foot-wall. 

Then, Jonas demonstrated the basics of ice climbing. Swing with the axes; kick straight in with the feet. And, make sure three out of four points into the ice are always secure. 

In the beginning, it was challenging. I had never done anything like it before, but now I was hooked. 

Practice Makes Perfect

After a few practice rounds on the edge of the glacier, we decided to walk up onto the glacier to find additional climbing spots. Once on the glacier, we noticed it was a little “dirtier” than expected. Jonas pointed out that the dark debris was actually volcanic ash transported by a powerful Icelandic eruption in 2010. 

When I asked Jonas if he had noticed any other changes to the glacier, he pointed out two human-related impacts. “When we have more tourists, we see more pollution of plastic … on the glacier, ” said Jonas, who studies Outdoor Life at the University of South-Eastern Norway

Therefore, it is important to adopt a leave no trace motto when exploring all that mother nature has to offer. 

My Dad, Serge, climbing above one of Austerdalsbreen’s crevasses

He added, “Last year was a very warm summer, the glaciers melted more than we were used to seeing,” revealing that Austerdalsbreen is one of the many worldwide glaciers impacted by warming temperatures. He also mentioned that last year was one of the earliest years that they were able to access an ice-free lake to get to Austerdalsbreen. 

Next, we walked on top of the glacier. While we were walking, we heard a very loud rumble. Jonas calmly pointed out that it was probably a large piece of ice breaking off at the edge of the glacier. At this point, I knew that I wasn’t in danger, but it was unfortunate to see the glacier melting right in front of me.

After about 15 minutes of wandering around on this maze of ice, Jonas located an opportune spot to test our newly learned ice climbing skills.

Our next climb was up a crevasse, or open crack in the glacier. Ultimately, it was the same application of skills just a little more nerve-wracking due to the dark, “bottomless” hole beneath our feet. 

Finally, we went on a site-seeing tour around the top of the glacier. We snapped a few pictures and saw some red algae on the snow and several, deep crevasses. 

But ultimately, it was time to say see you later to Austerdalsbreen. Fortunately, by this point, I didn’t really mind because I was exhausted from the day’s efforts. 

Jonas points out that this is the deepest crevasse he’s ever seen.

Back at the carpark, I asked Jonas what he found most rewarding about his job. He responded by saying that he’s grateful to be outdoors all the time, guiding people that do not have the skills to walk alone on the glacier. 

“Sometimes I’m lucky having people with disabilities [visit the glacier] … I had a woman with a prosthetic leg and getting her up there was a struggle, but she was so glad afterward that we took the time to almost carry her up there. So, seeing people who aren’t normally used to doing adventures like this be able to do it [is a rewarding part of his job],” shared Jonas.

He added, “ It’s just so popular to go to Norway and see all the tourist attractions.” 

Ultimately, as it becomes more common to travel to endangered locations such as glaciers, hold yourself accountable for your travel emissions. And remember to be aware of how humans are impacting our planet.

This post is the first in a series of posts about firsthand experiences visiting Norwegian glaciers, famous fjords, and well-known hiking destinations. Check back to GlacierHub in upcoming weeks to read more about my travels in Norway. 

A special thank you to Jonas and Icetroll for a once in a lifetime experience on Austerdalsbreen.

New Heights in the Himalayas: High-Altitude Weather Monitoring

Through recent installation of automatic weather stations, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) aims to increase data collection on high mountain glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region. Data collection on these glaciers is essential to understanding how climate change might affect the region’s water resources, which are crucial for fresh water supplies and agricultural production. 

The HKH region spans 3.5 million square kilometers across eight countries, and its extensive river basins provide water to nearly two billion people. Of the 54, 252 identified glaciers in the HKH, only seven are monitored by ICIMOD researchers. ICIMOD, which is based in Kathmandu, is an intergovernmental knowledge sharing organization that focuses on ecosystem conservation in the HKH region.  

Monitored sites, all located in Nepal, include the West Changri Nup, Langtang valley, Ponkar, and the Rikha Samba glacier. 

Automatic weather station atop 1 of the 7 ICIMOD sites (Source: ICIMOD Kathmandu, Flickr)

Installation and management of automatic weather stations at high altitudes requires carefully led expeditions and immense energy to carry research equipment up mountain. “Cryosphere monitoring is a highly resource-intensive activity, especially in the HKH, as research involved at least a week-long trek to the glacier sites across rugged terrain,” ICIMOD researchers said in a report called Reaching New Heights

Created by ICIMOD designers Willemien van der Wielen and Chimi Seldon, Reaching New Heights is an online story map that highlights the extensive fieldwork on Rikha Samba glacier. Rikha Samba is located in the Mustang District of Nepal and feeds the Kali Gandaki River, which contributes to the larger Gandaki River basin. 

More About the Research 

On Rikha Samba, the automatic weather station was installed at an elevation of 5,800 meters above sea level and is currently the highest-altitude installed station. The research team on Rikha Samba includes scientists from both ICIMOD and Kathmandu University. Annually, it takes the researchers and sherpas a total of 7 days to reach the destination due to steep slopes, atmospheric oxygen changes, and harsh weather conditions. 

ICIMOD and Kathmandu researchers on Yala glacier (Source: ICIMOD Kathmandu, Flickr)

Once installed, automatic weather stations collect data hourly without human intervention. Meteorological measurements include temperature, precipitation (rainfall and snowfall), wind speed, humidity, and cloud patterns. Over time, the data will likely reveal glacial snow and ice changes due to climate forcings. 

“Automatic weather stations provide essential data which allows us to model snow and glacier melt (and thus river flows), predict shifts in trees upslope, monitor microclimates in mountains which may be critical for individual species survival (refugia), and even can allow us to predict processes such as rock falls before they happen,” University of Portsmouth climate scientist Nick Pepin told GlacierHub. 

In addition to weather stations, researchers use density kits, and bamboo stakes to measure glacial changes over time. By digging into the snow using a hand-operated coring mechanism, researchers measure the amount of water in the snow and black carbon deposits. Additionally, steam-driven drills and ice corers allow a network of bamboo stakes to be installed into the glacier. The network of stakes, located across Rikha Samba, record glacial mass changes over time. 

Early data analysis thus far shows that Rikha Samba glacier has lost substantial glacial mass between 2010 and 2018, specifically at lower altitudes where atmospheric temperatures are warmer. 

Additional Readings on GlacierHub

Roundup: Contaminated Arctic Spiders, Sand Abundance in Greenland, and Cryoconite on the Tibetan Plateau

Photo Friday: The Summertime Lure of the World’s Iconic Glaciers

East and South Asia Are the Largest Sources of Black Carbon Blanketing the Tibetan Plateau

Roundup: Alaska’s Heat Wave, Black Carbon in Tibet, and Artwork at The Met

Heat Wave in Alaska Results in Record Temperatures, Wildfires, and Glacial Melt

From Yereth Rosen at Reuters: “Alaska’s heat wave is driving wildfires and melting glaciers, choking the state’s biggest cities with smoke and bloating rivers with meltwater. Melting glaciers and mountain snowfields are bloating rivers and streams across a large swath of south central Alaska, the [National Weather Service] said. The melt has brought water levels to flood stage at the Yentna River northwest of Anchorage on [June 30].”

Read the full story here.

Recorded water levels at Yentna River, Alaska (Source: NOAA/National Weather Service)

Black Carbon Measured in the Northeastern Tibetan Plateau

From Science of the Total Environment: “Black carbon (BC), which consists of the strongest light-absorbing particles (LAP) in snow/ice, has been regarded as a potential factor accelerating the melting of glaciers and snow cover over the Third Pole. During the winter and summer of 2016, snow, ice and topsoil were sampled from the Laohugou basin located on the northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Concentrations of BC in Laohugou Glacier No. 12 (LG12) and snow cover in this basin.”

Read more about the research study here.

Eastern Tibetan Plateau (Source: Nicolas Marino, Flickr)

Contemporary Artwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Features Icelandic Artist Ragnar Kjartansson

From The Met: “As part of a new series of contemporary installations, The Met presents the world premiere of a major new work: Death Is Elsewhere (2019), a seven-channel video installation by the acclaimed Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Provocatively rethinking the possibilities for performance and video art, Kjartansson makes work in which he simultaneously evokes Romantic clichés while using irony, nihilism, and absurdity to undermine them.”

Read the full exhibition overview here.

Contemporary art installations featuring Ragnar Kjartansson (Source: The Met)

Photo Friday: Jostedal Glacier—Europe’s Largest Glacier

Spanning a total area of 193 square miles, Jostedal Glacier is mainland Europe’s largest glacier. Jostedal Glacier is located atop a plateau in western Norway and features several glacial arms, or valley glaciers. Some of the valley glaciers are named Nigardsbreen, Austerdalsbreen, and Briksdalsbreen. All are notable, Norwegian ecotourist destinations.

Jostedal’s highest peak, referred to as Lodalskåpa, has an elevation of 1.3 miles. Wildlife around Jostedal Glacier includes eagles, red deer, lynx, and wolverines.

This week’s Photo Friday highlights Jostedal Glacier’s scenic landscape and sublime beauty.

Jostedal Glacier, Norway (Source: A.Rueland, Flickr)
Jostedal Glacier, Norway (Source: stephan zurbuchen, Flickr)
Jostedal Glacier, Norway (Source: Felix Richard, Flickr)
Jostedal Glacier, Norway (Source: Christian Nesset, Flickr)
Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway (Source: John6536, Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Study Assesses Efficacy of Artificial Glaciers in Alleviating Water Scarcity in Ladakh, India

Video of the Week: Work Inspired by John Ruskin

Project Pressure Exhibition Explores Climate Change and Glaciers

Video of the Week: A Stroll Through Myvatnsjokull Glacier

In this installment of GlacierHub’s Video of the Week, tour guide Halldor Sigurdsson walks through an ice tunnel inside the Myvatnsjokull Glacier, which is located in southern Iceland and is a well-known snowmobiling and hiking destination.

In the short video, Sigurdsson’s whistling and singing echoes throughout the tunnel, while a stream of melt water trickles over the tunnel floor.

On Twitter, one of his followers commented, “Your voice sounded like folk art … like it belongs in the glaciers. It just touched me in a way that felt real. Leaves me wanting to make a quick jaunt up to the glaciers where I live.”

Sigurdsson’s video provides a glance at the inside of Myvatnsjokull. The tunnel walls appear wavy and course; their color, blackish and dark blue. Water can be seen dripping from the top of the ice tunnel.

Overall, the video provides viewers with a glimpse of the beautiful and rarely seen interior of an Icelandic glacier.

Read More on GlacierHub:

New Funds Help Girls On Ice Canada Expand Access to Glacier Expeditions

China’s Asejiaguo Glacier Is Retreating

The Impact of the GRACE Mission on Glaciology and Climate Science

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

In a recently published Earth’s Future study, researchers from Swiss research institutions inventory and analyze a total of 19,039 glaciers found within 46 World Heritage sites. The research team, led by glaciologist Jean Baptiste Bosson, is the first to catalog and examine glaciers located within UNESCO World Heritage sites. Bosson serves as a scientific officer for the world heritage program at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Bosson told GlacierHub: “Theoretically, the World Heritage status is the most important commitment to protect the integrity of cultural and natural features on Earth.”

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Source: Patrick Harvey, Flickr)

In 1972, UNESCO created World Heritage sites in order to identify and preserve areas of significance. Today, there are a total of 1,092 World Heritage sites around the world. Some of UNESCO’s world heritage locations include the Great Barrier Reef, Machu Picchu, the city of Venice, and Yellowstone National Park. World Heritage sites can range from places of cultural significance to areas containing natural value.

More About the Study

Using climate modeling techniques and greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, the researchers calculated the total volume of glaciers located within World Heritage sites and project glacial mass volume changes over time.

The researchers found that the largest proportion of ice-covered areas within world heritage locations are in New Zealand (76 percent), Alaska (44 percent), and northern Asia (26 percent).

In a “business as usual” emissions scenario (RCP8.5), the researchers calculate that 60 percent of total glacial mass volume within world heritage glaciers will be lost by 2100. Additionally, 21 of the 46 sites examined in the study will likely suffer from complete glacial extinction. Glacial loss of this magnitude would likely threaten the integrity of ecosystems, alter large-scale hydrology, and reduce species’ diversity.

Mount Cook, Canterbury, New Zealand (Source: Dave Wong, Flickr)

Reduced emissions scenarios, such as RCP4.5 and RCP2.6, project lessened environmental impacts but require immediate action on curbing greenhouse gas pollution. Unfortunately, all emissions scenarios project future ice loss.

“The key message is that we have to make utmost efforts to conserve glaciers because if they disappear, the current earth system and the life [on] its surface will be completely modified,” Bosson said.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Chickamin Glacier Retreat Generates Separation and Lake Expansion

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

GlacierHub Seeks Contributors for Its New, International Feature Series

Mercury from Melting Glaciers Threatens the Tibetan Plateau

Often referred to as “the Roof of the World,” the Tibetan Plateau is known for its unspoiled environment and plentiful water resources. The Tibetan Plateau is an expansive region with an average elevation of 2.8 miles and an area of 965,300 square miles. The plateau is estimated to provide water to more than 1.35 billion people throughout Asia.

Due to increasing anthropogenic aerosols in the atmosphere, the scientific community has become increasingly concerned about the plateau and its critical water supply. Anthropogenic aerosols are small, atmospheric particles of carbon, sulfur dioxide, and mercury that are released through the burning of fossil fuels—more specifically, coal. Aerosols can be transported by wind from one location to another all across the world.

Jyekundo, Tibetan Plateau, China (Source: reurinkjan, Flickr)

A research team, led by Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher Rukumesh Paudyal, sought to learn more about mercury concentrations on the Tibetan Plateau. They published their findings in the journalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research.

Paudyal and his colleagues traveled to the remote location of Mt. Yulong, which is located in the southeastern region of the plateau. There, they collected various snow and water samples from Baishui Glacier, Lashihai Lake, and Luguhu Lake at different altitudes.

Uncovering the Study’s Findings

Once back in the lab, the researchers completed chemical analyses on the samples using ion chromatography and fluorescence spectrophotometry. These research methods are used to measure the chemical components and concentrations of the collected sample.

The results of the chemical analyses indicated that mercury is sourced from the earth’s crust as well as anthropogenic aerosol sources. Additional findings revealed that mercury concentrations were consistent with concentrations at other sampled regions on the Tibetan Plateau, but concentrations were noticeably higher than in previous years.

Lashihai Lake, Tibetan Plateau, China (Source: Patrick J, Flickr)

“Temporal variation of Hg [mercury] concentration suggested that the highest concentration of Hg [mercury] was found in the fresh snow, possibly have been carried from the source regions (industrial regions) by long-range transportation,” the researchers wrote.

Mercury concentrations were also higher at lower elevations, possibly due to glacial surface melting. During melting, mercury particles become exposed on the snow’s surface, forming dirt cones and resulting in higher concentrations.

Unfortunately, high mercury concentrations at low elevations present problems to the communities and countries that rely on the plateau for drinking water. Release of mercury into the local ecosystem will likely result in negative implications to both human health and wildlife. At high exposure levels, mercury can become toxic to humans and alter vital organ functioning.

Shichang Kang, a co-author of the study and researcher with the Chinese Academy of Science, told GlacierHub: “As discharge of glacier melt has been increased recently, Hg [mercury] stored in glacier[s] will be released faster than before. The way to prevent Hg [mercury] emitted [into] the downstream ecosystem is to mitigate glacier melt.”

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Rising Temperatures May Not Cause More Frequent GLOF Catastrophes

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