This week’s Video of the Week features newly developed drone technology that allows scientists to capture high-resolution video footage and photographs at peak elevations in the Peruvian Andes. The lightweight drone can reach up to 6000 meters above sea level, which was once unreachable due to the air’s thinness. The creator of this innovative drone is scientist Oliver Wigmore from the University of Colorado. Wigmore uses his drone footage to create detailed models of glacial surfaces and document how glaciers are changing over time.
Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) are sudden, fast flowing releases of glacial lake water that move downslope as a result of dam failures. Glacial lakes are either moraine-dammed or ice marginal-dammed. GLOFs are triggered by the buildup of water pressure, ice and rock avalanches, earthquakes, erosion, and other natural disruptions. As water rushes downslope, it picks up rock, mud, and debris, endangering people, infrastructure, fields and livestock in its path. Recent research, published in Landslides, provides new understanding of GLOFs by studying their trigger mechanisms and disaster impacts.
The research group on the recent study, led by Alton Byers, reconstructed a destructive GLOF that occurred on 20 April 2017 in the Upper Barun Valley, Nepal. The Langmale GLOF, as it was called, was rebuilt using remote sensing, field measurements, modeling, personal testimony and video footage. Results revealed a peak velocity between 4 to 8 m/s, the scale of the flood channel, and sand/silt/clay discharge estimates.
Byers and his team discovered the GLOF was triggered by a massive rockfall from Saldim Peak, which led to a chain reaction of events. The rockfall forcefully hit an unnamed glacier hundreds of meters below. This resulted in an avalanche of snow and ice, plummeting down into Langmale glacial lake, causing a tsunami-like wave to form and topple over terminal and left lateral moraines. The enormous wave then tumbled downslope, causing immense damage and rearrangement of the local landscape, according to the researchers. The Langmale GLOF carved into the land, ripped vegetation from its roots, and carried boulders thousands of feet. Imagine a landscape which once supported local livelihoods, now covered with mud and debris.
Researchers like Byers who study GLOFs face substantial limitations due to the remoteness and harsh weather of high mountain regions. They also face difficulties in terms of financing their research projects. The Langmale GLOF research group was able to overcome these obstacles in order to analyze the source, cause, and impacts of the Upper Barun Valley GLOF event. The research group highlighted the growing necessity for the implementation of early warning systems and urged for increased risk management and field studies of GLOFs.
How GLOFs Impact Local People
Although GLOFs often take place in secluded mountain regions, local people are also affected. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the Langmale GLOF, but the researchers report that four community buildings and six bridges were demolished. In addition, agricultural land was completely covered and tourism to the Upper Barun Valley suffered.
The Langmale research group reported growing concerns of local people due to the danger posed by GLOFs and associated economic tolls. A YouTube video captured the Langmale GLOF, its sheer velocity, and the destructive aftermath.
“Settlements in the Himalayan region are mostly situated near to the river bank or within the high flood plain,” shared Finu Shrestha, a research associate atICIMOD. “Communities living downstream of a glacial lake are the first ones who get threatened and face the potential damage if a GLOF happens. GLOF events produce huge impacts in the downstream [area] causing loss of lives and livelihood, damage to the settlements, roads, tracks and trails, bridges (wooden, suspension, motorable and highway bridges), and hydropower projects,” she told GlacierHub.
It is clear that humans are negatively impacted by GLOFs, but are humans impacting the frequency of GLOFs too?
The Langmale research group commented that hundreds of glacial lakes have formed in the Nepal Himalayas in recent decades due to the rapid glacial recession caused by the warming climate. An increase in glacial lakes could lead to increased frequency of GLOFs. Due to projected temperature increases, GLOF frequency is only expected to increase in upcoming decades, according to additional research published in Cryosphere.
This week’s Photo Friday highlights images from GlacierHub’s top 10 most viewed stories of 2018. Our top posts cover a range of topics from weather reporting on Mt. Kilimanjaro to photojournalism in Iceland. Some stories delve into the retelling of scientific events while others recount interviews with researchers.
This post details the numerous reports of snowfall on Mt. Kilimanjaro last March, which in some cases prevented climbers from reaching the summit. The first week of March brought a net snow accumulation of nearly 50 cm to the Northern Icefield. While the long rains often begin during this month, snowfall this time around appears to be somewhat exceptional.
The Hiawatha Impact Crater is among the largest impact craters ever discovered on Earth, as well as the northernmost and first to be located under ice. The discovery of this impact crater in remote northwestern Greenland might have significant implications for the most recent sudden climate change event in Earth’s history. Click here to read more about this substantial crater.
Craig M. Lee is a renowned researcher in the field of ice patch archaeology. In an interview with GlacierHub, Lee explains more about his work at INSTAAR and his recent video on the Greater Yellowstone region.
On August 4, 2011, the upper edges of Lendbreen Glacier at the Lomseggen mountain in Breheimen National Park in Norway became exposed. Near the melting ice, archaeologists discovered a well-preserved 1,700-year-old tunic, the oldest piece of clothing found in Norway and one of only a few surviving garments from the 1st millennium A.D. in all of Europe. This post details the discovery of the tunic, its history, and its restoration.
Michael Kienitz, a photojournalist based in Wisconsin, shares his experience with vanishing glaciers in an exhibition entitled “Iceland’s Vanishing Beauty.” This exhibition is a culmination of Kienitz’s five-year work collecting images from southeast Iceland and captures some of the ice caves and glacial formations in the region’s glacial tongues. In the interview with GlacierHub, Kienitz explains the process of documenting the photos and videos for his upcoming exhibition.
Other Stories from GlacierHub’s Most Viewed of 2018 List:
International Mountain Day, celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 11 December, encouraged collaborative talks regarding the protection of mountain ecosystems, sustainable development and international cooperation. This year’s event was hosted by Kyrgyzstan, a country whose landscape is 95 percent mountainous, according to Kyrgyzstan’s Permanent Representative, Mirgul Moldoisaeva.
Attendees at the International Mountain Day side event included representatives from mountainous countries, officials from UN agencies, and students.
Austrian Permanent Representative Jan Kickert emphasized to the audience that mountains will see a great deal of change over the next few decades. The ambassador added that mountain conservation is a “crucial role of all of humanity,” and as developed nations, it is “our job to help mountainous [developing] countries.”
International Mountain Day Presentations
Andorra representatives Joan Lopez and Landry Riba started off the day’s discussions. Riba stated that the average altitude in Andorra is 1,996 meters, making the majority of the region mountainous. Climatology is a dynamic factor affecting agricultural activity in Andorra; livestock and tobacco are two main agricultural topics of concern. To withstand current and future climate variability, Andorra will move toward resilient thinking in its agricultural sector through action planning, joint efforts with other sectors, and crop diversification and research.
Ben Orlove, a professor at Columbia University and GlacierHub editor, spoke at the event and referenced research documenting the intensified rate of warming in mountain environments. Orlove discussed the impacts of glacial retreat on water availability, glacial lake outburst floods, and evolving indigenous traditions. Orlove stated that there is a “strong call for adaptation of mountain communities.” He expressed the value in learning from indigenous peoples in order to prepare mountain communities and to adapt to a changing climate.
George Grusso, an FAO representative, explained that “what happens in the mountains has an impact on the rest of the world.” He emphasized that people around the world rely on mountains for a number of products, including tea, rice, silk, lentils, beans and coffee.
During the event, Grusso announced the Mountain Partnership/FAO and UNDP’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme which aims to improve livelihoods of mountain communities by helping producers obtain fair pricing for their goods. Yoko Watanabe, a UNDP representative, added that the program is ongoing in 24 countries and in over 30 mountain ecosystem-specific projects.
Andrew Jensen and Samuel Elzinga, student representatives from Utah Valley University, spoke about the Utah International Mountain Forum, which promotes youth involvement in the environmental movement, water conservation, recycling and paper consumption reduction.
#MountainsMatter: Key Messages
#MountainsMatter was the theme of this year’s International Mountain Day. The hashtag’s purpose aimed to spread awareness around rates of temperature increase in mountain regions throughout the world and emphasize how change to mountains will influence everyone.
Mountains cover roughly 22 percent of the earth’s land surfaces and provide between 60-80 percent of all freshwater resources, according to UN Facts & Figures. Mountains matter to a variety of people for a variety of different reasons, and more people will continue to be affected as temperatures rise and mountain glaciers retreat.
Click on the FAO video below to learn more about why #MountainsMatter.
Ice core analyses are extremely useful tools in understanding the planet’s paleoclimate record. A recent article in Science details the explosive findings of an ice core sample from the Colle Gnifetti Glacier of the Monte Rosa Massif in the Swiss Alps.
The Colle Gnifetti ice core exposes year 536, when an Icelandic volcano violently erupted, spewing high quantities of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, other gases, and ash into the atmosphere. The eruption created extensive smog and cooler temperatures, which limited sunlight and led to complete crop failures. As a result, immense famine spread throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
The ice core record provides over 2000 years of climate variation, revealing volcanic explosions, massive storms, and elevated lead levels of the past. Records indicate that two additional, massive volcanic eruptions occurred in years 540 and 547, cooling down the planet by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius for several years.
It’s also important to note that the source of the 536 volcanic eruption is disputed among researchers. Some say more proof is necessary to be certain regarding the Icelandic origin.
536-545: Coldest Decade in the last 2000 Years
In the stratosphere, sulfate aerosols, tiny solid or liquid particles containing sulfuric acid, reflect incoming solar radiation back into space, lowering temperatures around the world. Sulfate aerosols can also lead to atmospheric ozone depletion. The 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius temperature decrease led to various hardships documented in written accounts throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Byzantine historian Procopius recorded these hardships, writing, “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year.”
His account refers to the volcanic smog of gas and dust that spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere for the first 18 months following the explosion. Volcanic smog is carried by strong, quickly movings winds like jet streams and may lead to eye, skin and respiratory irritation.
Kyle Harper, author of “Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire,” told GlacierHub, “The 536 volcano (and the even larger tropical eruption that followed in 540) caused immediate and major impacts. Harvest failure and subsistence crisis followed. A few years after, the first pandemic of bubonic plague erupted.”
Due to environmental extremes during this time, we can infer that it wasn’t the greatest time to be alive.
Explosive Past Also Recorded in Finland Tree-Ring Isotopes
Evidence of the volcanic explosions in years 536 and 540 are also found in Scots pine tree-ring isotope analyses, according to a 2018 research article published in Nature Scientific Reports. Due to the volcanic smog following the explosions, reductions in available light led to decreases of carbon isotopes within the trees.
This steep decline of carbon isotopes occurred due to a reduction in photosynthesis rates and lessened intercellular gas exchange.
Helama et al state, “Our set of stable carbon isotope records from subfossil tree rings demonstrates a strong negative excursion[carbon isotopes] in AD 536 and 541–544. Modern data from these sites show that carbon isotope variations are driven by solar radiation.”
Both Swiss Alp ice cores and Finland tree-rings document the explosive volcanic eruptions of 536 and 540. But who knows what other paleo records have yet to be unearthed or overturned that may uncover more of our planet’s mysterious past.
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.