From Antarctic Science: “The soil microbiome was investigated at environmentally distinct locations on King George Island in the South Shetland Islands (Antarctic Peninsula) … the taxonomic analysis revealed 20 bacterial and archaeal phyla, among which Proteobacteria (29.6%), Actinobacteria (25.3%), Bacteroidetes (15.8%), Cyanobacteria (11.2%), Acidobacteria (4.9%) and Verrucomicrobia (4.5%) comprised most of the microbiome.”
Read more about how deglaciation and human impacts affect prokaryotic communities in Antarctic soils here.
Borehole Thermometry and Vulnerability of Himalayan Glaciers
From Nature Scientific Reports: “From boreholes drilled in the glacier’s ablation area, we measured a minimum ice temperature of −3.3 °C, and even the coldest ice we measured was 2 °C warmer than the mean annual air temperature. Our results indicate that high-elevation Himalayan glaciers are vulnerable to even minor atmospheric warming.”
Read more about Himalayan glacial vulnerability due to complex surface topography and seasonal variations here.
Record of Environmental Change in Lake Pastahué
From SAGE Journals: “The aim of this study was to reconstruct the environmental and climatic history of the last 1000 years of Lake Pastahué through a multi-proxy sediment core analysis … the variations observed since the beginning of the 20th century could be the result of the combined effect of anthropogenic activities and the increase in temperature recorded in south-central Chile and Patagonia.”
Read more about documenting paleo records on Lake Pastahué here.
Researchers at the Centre for GeoGenetics and a NASA glaciologist, Joe MacGregor, have discovered an enormous crater buried beneath Hiawatha Glacier in northern Greenland. The crater’s c-shape and planar deformation of nearby quartz samples indicate that this crater was created by a massive meteor. Using ice-penetrating radar from NASA’s Operation IceBridge, researchers discovered the crater “hiding in plain sight.” It is the first impact crater found under ice.
The “Hiawatha Impact Crater” spans 19 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep, making it among the largest craters on our planet. Evidence suggests that this crater is geologically young, and the impact could’ve occurred as recently as the last Ice Age (some 12-115 thousand years ago). View this week’s Video of the Week below to learn more about the Hiawatha Impact Crater.
Each year, during the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice, thousands of pilgrims gather from Peru and Bolivia to celebrate Qoyllur Rit’i, an indigenous ritual containing elements of both Andean and Christian religious cultures.
A recent article published in E&E News offers new insight on retreat of Qollqepunku Glacier and explains how specific traditions of Qoyllur Rit’i are changing in response to temperature increase and glacial melt. The article highlights recent legislative restrictions as well as changing values of Andean people.
A Brief History of Qoyllur Rit’i
Qoyllur Rit’i is Peru’s greatest pagan-Christian festival, which intertwines the two religious cultures. Traditionally, during the festival, pilgrims process to the top of Mount Sinakara wearing colorful costumes, carrying flags and crosses, and playing musical instruments.
The journey covers around 18.6 miles spatially, and the glacial peak reaches over 3 miles in elevation. During the festival, pilgrims stop at a small church where they lay drawings and figurines.
Ukukus, individuals wearing shaggy alpaca robes and masks, journey to the peak of the mountain in the night, chop off large chunks of ice, and carry the ice back down. This practice has been forbidden in recent years.
Some believe that the act of carrying the ice is penance for their sins; others think the meltwater from the ice possesses medicinal properties and can cure ailments.
By completing this ritual, pilgrims believe that apus, the spirits of the mountains, will bestow blessings and fulfill aspirations.
Implications of Glacial Melt
Qoyllur Rit’i is based on beliefs that the glacier is awake and responsive and that Mother Earth and apus protect and provide for its people, but as the glacier recedes, the Peruvian government has set restrictions on the tradition.
“One of the most important parts of the ritual at the sanctuary had been forbidden because of the glacial melt,” Zoila Mendoza, professor at the University of California, Davis and an attendee of Qoyllur Rit’i, told GlacierHub. “This was, the bringing of chunks of ice from the top of the glacier to be taken by pilgrims back to their towns which was the final step to other secret rituals that happened on the ice. The prohibition went into effect around 2002.”
Ukukus can no longer bring back ice or water from the glacier, and many pilgrims no longer travel up the mountain and instead, watch from dry land.
“More drastically, as of this year, the rituals at the snow peak have been stopped for the same reason of the melting,” Mendoza said. “I know that the pilgrims have been very disturbed that the rituals relating to climbing to the ice and coming down with ice cannot continue to exist breaking an important cycle in the whole celebration, a celebration that has to do with fertility and well-being for the whole Cusco region.”
Beliefs regarding Qoyllur Rit’i are also shifting. As the snow peak melts, locals conclude that the deities are losing their powers.
“Eventually Andean religion may erode and these legends may become meaningless,” claims Inge Bolin, research associate at Vancouver Island University.
The Carabaya Mountains in the Peruvian Andes contain the largest tropical glacial system, the Quelccaya. As temperatures rise, this region will become increasingly susceptible to landscape changes and vegetation loss. The Carabaya Mountains are home to over 506 vascular plant species. A recent research article documents the immense biodiversity of flora within this region and urges for conservation of tropical mountain systems. Many species are endemic to this mountain range, meaning they’re only found here.
Some research photos of the diverse flora are shown below.
On May 16, 1975, Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848 m. Tabei is also the first woman to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.
GlacierHub spoke with Helen Rolfe, co-author of “Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei,” a 2017 memoir published by Rocky Mountain Books that honors Tabei’s life experiences— inspiring readers to “Ganbatte,” a Japanese word used to encourage someone to “do your best.”
GlacierHub: While compiling ”Honouring High Places,” did you have any moments where you were particularly moved by Tabei’s words?
Helen Rolfe: Always. Tabei learned so many life lessons in the mountains that are easily shared in this book. The outstanding references for me are from when she was young and realized her deep passion for the mountains (Chapter 2: The Meaning of Mountains, climbing Nasu-dake), and on Everest, the shift in how she felt about equipment being left on the mountain— from a sense of comfort (Chapter 8: South Col) to action (end of Chapter 9: The Summit).
GH: What do you think was going through Tabei’s mind as she climbed to the top of Mount Everest?
HR: Tabei solely focused on the job at hand. Then, on the summit, a moment of gratitude and relief, then back to the necessity of climbing down safely.
GH: Through ”Honouring High Places,” readers learn the accounts of Junko Tabei, her physical and mental strength, and her passion for the environment. Please comment on her appreciation for mountain ecosystems.
HR: Chapter 9: The Summit. It’s all there. Another highlight of her passion for all mountains is that in addition to climbing Everest and the Seven Summits (first woman for both feats), she pursued climbing the highest point in every country in the world, no matter the elevation. While she did not succeed in stepping foot in every country, she climbed hundreds of peaks of all sizes.
GH: What sorts of additional information did you learn about Tabei through her husband’s and friends’ perspectives?
HR: That Tabei loved life, loved the outdoors, truly believed that nature and the outdoors is the key to healthy living, believes in national parks and preserved natural environments, that goal setting is crucial and that simply placing one foot in front of the other is the way to get started.
GH: To my understanding, you were never able to meet Junko Tabei. If you had the opportunity to speak with her now, what would you say?
HR: You are correct, I never met Junko, but I spent the month of April in Japan this past spring. I had the pleasure of retracing Junko’s early days in her childhood town of Miharu and at Nasu-dake. I enjoyed getting to know Junko’s husband, Masanobu, and family and close friends. It was the trip of a lifetime, and full circle for the writing of “Honouring High Places.”
If given the chance, I would share with Junko the same words I tell Masanobu and her family and friends: that it was a privilege to write her life story, and that I feel grateful to Junko and the Tabei family for trusting me to do so.
Writing this book was a beauty and a challenge, and I embraced every second that I put into it. There is only one first English telling of Junko’s story, and I had the honor of being the author involved. I am truly blessed. I am one of many that Junko has deeply inspired.
GH: Do you have any additional comments or thoughts about Tabei that you’d like GlacierHub readers to know?
HR: Junko’s story is an important part of mountaineering history. It allows the reader into the Japanese climbing culture that most North Americans know little about. Her achievements were certainly a step forward for women, and for humankind in general.
Her voice became one of environmental advocacy and mountain climbing for all… anything to get people active in the outdoors.
From Quaternary Science Reviews: “Mountain glaciers and ice caps (GIC) independent of the Greenland Ice Sheet respond rapidly to climate variations and records of their past extent provide information on the natural envelope of climate variability.”
Read more about Sukkertoppen Iskappe, Greenland, here.
Declining Glacier Cover Threatens Diatoms
From Global Change Biology: “Most recent research has demonstrated the severe vulnerability of river invertebrates to glacier retreat but effects upon other aquatic groups remain poorly quantified. Using new data sets from the European Alps, we show significant responses to declining glacier cover for diatoms, which play a critical functional role as freshwater primary producers.”
Read more about effects of glacial retreat on diatoms here.
Organic Carbon Fluxes at the Surface of Foxfonna Glacier
From Earth Surface Processes and Landforms: “Arctic glaciers are rapidly responding to global warming by releasing organic carbon (OC) to downstream ecosystems. The glacier surface is arguably the most biologically active and biodiverse glacial habitat and therefore the site of important OC transformation and storage.”
Anthropogenic environmental changes such as fossil fuel extraction and glacial retreat are two negative impacts affecting salmon species. But not all news is bad news. With retreating glaciers comes the possibility of producing new habitat for certain salmon populations, according to recent research published in BioScience.
Connecting Climate Change with Salmon Species
A total of five species of salmon swim within the rivers of the United States: chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum. Glacial retreat presents a variety of unknowns for these salmon species.
Among the climate change consequences, glacial melting upstream leads to changes in magnitude, timing, and frequency of flow downstream, which impacts nutrient levels as well as sediment levels. Warming of glacier-fed rivers due to warmer atmospheric temperatures could destabilize ecosystems and cause population die-offs. Significant warming of the oceans will also lead to damaging conditions for salmon species.
On a more positive note, glacial retreat could also drive the formation of new habitat for salmon species. Salmon use evolutionary adaptive strategies to colonize new streams and therefore are able to stray from their natal streams to find more productive waters. Evidence of this colonization has already been documented in Glacier Bay National Park with coho salmon.
How much new habitat will be created?
The Earth to Oceans aquatic ecology research team, led by associate professor Jonathan Moore, looked at the impacts of glacier retreat on salmon habitat, specifically which glaciers will establish new habitat. Kara Pitman, a researcher in the lab and a Ph.D. candidate at Simon Fraser University, told GlacierHub that approximately “thirty to fifty ocean-terminating glaciers in Alaska will produce new habitat.”
Areas in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska that have large, low-elevation glaciers will retreat back to expose this new habitat. The Bering Glacier in Alaska is one glacier that is likely to produce new habitat due to its low valleys, according to the researchers.
Pitman suggests that pink and chum species that spawn near the ocean in the river mouth may benefit due to new downstream habitats, and chinook, which spend more time in the freshwater rivers, may also benefit.
All species of salmon rely on both freshwater and saltwater throughout their lives to varying degrees. Adult salmon spend a few years in the ocean following primary development, but once adult salmon reach reproductive maturity, they undergo physical changes that prepare them to return to freshwater streams. When they reach appropriate stretches of freshwater, they release eggs and sperm into the water, allowing fertilization and the continuation of the cycle of life.
It’s also important to note that salmon are limited by stream gradient; as a result, they will not be able to swim up into many of the new habitats.
Pitman says that there are no salmon present in these newly formed waters at the moment, so there are currently no negative consequences of glacial retreat on these salmon populations.
“There may be no salmon now, but there might be in several years, so there will be impacts,” shesaid.
Mining’s Impact on Salmon Populations
At the same time, human interference such as negligence and reliance on fossil fuels negatively impacts salmon ecosystems across the world, including in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Industrial runoff from mines leaches into nearby streams, pollutes the water and poisons the fish. Preventative measures to manage waste and clean up efforts are not yet developed and little effort seems to focus on advancing protective policies.
For example, mining in Northwest British Columbia and Southeast Alaska is a serious issue that affects Taku, Stikine, and Unuk watersheds. The Taku River contains all five species of salmon and is glacial-fed from Taku Glacier. It is likely that in the near future acid mine drainage will harm fishing and tourism industries, indigenous cultural activities, and local peoples.
Similarly, near Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska, a new mega mine is undergoing proposal and review. The Pebble Mine would be the largest mine in North America and could wreak havoc on one of the most productive salmon ecosystems.
Immediate action is required to halt future fossil fuel excavation projects and protect wild salmon populations in Northern Pacific and Alaska.
This week’s Video of the Week takes place on Axel Heiberg Island in the Arctic Circle, where extreme mountain bikers aim to take on new heights. In the opening few seconds, a man ascends a mountain slope, carrying his bike on his shoulders. The camera pans out, so the viewer can see the vastness of the mountain glacier. In this video, Darren Berrecloth, Carson Storch, Cam Zink, and Tom van Steenbergen aim to share the beauty of mountain glaciers while doing what they love and testing their limits.
“How long did it take you to get up here?” Zink is asked. He responds, “It took seven flights.”
The video documents the magnitude and remoteness of mountain glaciers, while also capturing vastly unseen elements of nature. The videography is breathtaking, and the concept of biking down a mountain glacier is both dangerous and thrilling. To check out the action, watch the full movie here.