People in Switzerland are taking matters into their own hands, becoming creative with their efforts to combat climate change.
In a recent tweet from NBC Left Field, members of a community in the Swiss Alps are seen covering glaciers with ginormous white tarps. They hope the tarps will help reflect sunlight, which could reduce the amount of melting caused by rising temperatures.
The residents describe in the video their fear that the water they receive from the glaciers might soon disappear. Glaciers have long been a dependable water source for regions all over the world, but not anymore.
A 2018 article in the Washington Post describes how a group of people living adjacent to Rhone Glacier haul tarps through the mountains each year prior to the start of summer. Rising temperatures, as well as a longer summer season, means glaciers are likely to face rapid melting in coming years.
But can blankets really help save the glaciers?
Although it isn’t the most comprehensive solution, it may actually work. Swiss glaciologist David Volken told NDTV that the blankets could reduce ice melt by as much as 70 percent. It’s just a temporary fix, though. Volken estimates that by the end of the century only about 10 percent of the ice volume will remain.
The blankets, however, appear to be slowing the pace of melting, giving communities some time to adapt and consider alternate sources of water.
Scaling Mount Everest is not for the faint-hearted. Located on the border of Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, with a summit of 29,035 feet. Its extreme elevation not only increases the chances of incurring frostbite for climbers, but also reduces their oxygen intake, which has potentially significant health impacts like pulmonary edema and blood embolisms.
Avalanches and icefalls are also among some of the more life-threatening dangers associated with mountaineering, and these risks may become greater with increased warming. As of May 2017, the official number of fatalities recorded is over 270 according to World Atlas, with avalanches as the leading cause of mortality. Unfortunately not all the bodies of those who perished have been retrieved, due to the harsh environment. Many have vanished amid the ice and snow.
One of the perverse impacts of climate change, however, is that these corpses, scattered across the Everest slopes and long thought unretrievable, are now seeing the light of day due to rising temperatures and melting ice. Movement of the Khumbu glacier, where many of the dead bodies are appearing, has also contributed to the recent exposures. Expedition operators and mountaineers have reported coming across more and more dead bodies that are being exposed because of fast glacial melting and reduced levels of ice, according to the BBC.
The discovery of these bodies is good news for families that may have lost a loved one on Everest, but it also presents some challenges for officials when deciding on proper response to the situation. According to the article, dealing with dead bodies, both logistically and emotionally, is not an easy task. Families who learn of recovery are also faced with a formidable series of administrative procedures. For Nepal, handling of the bodies requires government agency involvement, and according to the article, getting that involvement has been a challenge.
Recovering bodies is also very dangerous and costly. Ash Tshering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said that one of the most difficult recoveries was from nearby the mountain’s summit, where conditions are severe and unsafe for rescue teams. Experts estimate the cost to bring down dead bodies from the mountain, which could be between $40,000 and $80,000.
Sherry Ortner, a distinguished professor of anthropology at UCLA and author of Life and Death on Mt. Everest, said mountaineering practices in the Himalayas have changed dramatically over the years. Decades ago, Sherpas never climbed Everest because they believed certain gods lived there, and scaling the mountain was seen as a religious offence. However, mountaineering and assisting climbers has become a part of Sherpa economy today.
She also told us that although finding dead bodies on Everest is nothing new, the issue now is the quantity of bodies, and how to handle the bodies with respect. “On the one hand, recovering bodies is very dangerous and difficult, and Sherpas risk their lives recovering dead bodies,” Ortner said. “On the other hand, the mountaineering practice is important for the economy, and some may be willing to recover a body for the income.”
The families want the bodies back and treated with respect, and the Sherpas would never treat the bodies with disrespect, added Ortner. The article points out that some bodies serve as landmarks for mountaineers, which may be disrespectful to the body and the families. Proper treatment of one who has passed varies from culture to culture. As Buddhists, Sherpas view cremation as the most respectful, and westerners may want to bury their dead.
Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, affiliated with the South Asia Center of University of Washington, shared similar sentiments. Sherpa also recently commented on the issue on a BBC Sounds program. She said the news was not particularly shocking, as the Sherpas have known about the bodies and melting snow for years. However, it’s starting a fresh conversation about proper management and disposal of the dead bodies from the mountain, and it calls out authorities to act.
Sherpa added that it’s important to remember Mount Everest holds a place in Sherpa religion—the Tibetan Buddhist goddess Miyo Langsangma resides there. “The issue here is that the dead bodies should be handled with care and respect each of them deserves to maintain the sanctity of the mountain,” she said. Sherpa also said that to the mountaineers, the bodies are more than just landmarks, and a serious mountaineer understands the dedication and sacrifice that comes along with the climb.
“For them [mountaineers], dead bodies tell stories of ambitions and accomplishments. They also remind them of the risks involved” said Sherpa.
May this news serve as a reminder to brave mountaineers to prepare and take proper precaution on their journeys to the top of Everest.
Many people are familiar with ocean tsunamis caused by earthquakes, such as the devastating Japan 2011 tsunami, but fewer know they can also be caused by iceberg calving. As glaciers and ice sheets undergo intensified melting, we can expect to see more frequent tsunamis triggered by icebergs dropping off the face of the world’s glaciers. These events threaten the lives of people in nearby coastal settlements, whether residents or tourists, and infrastructure as well.
In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, lead researcher Valentin Heller and colleagues investigate the potential for five different calving mechanisms in producing tsunami waves. They knew that iceberg calving, also known as glacier calving, accounted for most of the mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet and about a third for the Greenland Ice Sheet between 2009-2012. Their research could not only contribute to science but have practical effects. Identifying the impacts of different calving scenarios is beneficial for implementing disaster management strategies and strengthening disaster resilience in coastal regions.
Scientists observed that iceberg calving events in polar regions interact differently with the surrounding waters through distinct calving mechanisms. They investigated five types of calving events: capsizing, gravity-dominated fall, buoyancy-dominated fall, gravity-dominated overturning, and buoyancy-dominated overturning.
To test the tsunami energy potential of each type of calving event, large-scale experiments were conducted in a 50 by 50 meter wave basin at Deltares in Delft, Netherlands. Sixty-six experiments were conducted , at depths of 1 or 0.75 meters. The researchers used PPH blocks, a thermoplastic material with similar density to ice, as a proxy for icebergs.
The researchers implemented various methods of control to simulate the five types of calving events. To represent capsizing, for example, the researchers fed a wooden rod through the centers of the blocks in order to control the rotation. They simulated buoyancy-dominated fall by pulling the blocks underwater with rope and stabilizing them with a steel beam from above.
They then quantified the maximum heights and energies of the iceberg-tsunamis and found the relative energy releases of the iceberg calvings. They then analyzed and compared the results with the predictive methods of landslide-tsunamis. By doing this, researchers aimed to transfer knowledge from a well-established research field to the relatively new field of iceberg-tsunamis.
The team found large differences in tsunami height between the mechanisms. The two gravity-dominated mechanisms were found to be better predicted by landslide-tsunami models than the others. These results are significant in understanding the relative impact and prediction capabilities of specific calving events, which is vital to disaster management. Yet the results will be of most use for cases of gravity-dominated calving events. More research will need to be done to better analyze the other calving mechanisms.
One thing not considered in the comparison was the movement of icebergs along coastal locations such as harbours. Researchers noted that even significantly smaller iceberg-tsunamis from capsizing can cause large destruction. They team also scrutinized the existing landslide-tsunami models for failing to capture the physics of the capsizing and buoyancy-driven mechanisms of A, C, and E, which are important iceberg events.
Lead author Valentin Heller, who’s an assistant professor of hydraulics at the University of Nottingham, said the experiments showed that icebergs falling into water were about 10 times larger than those breaking off underwater and moving to the surface, as well as capsizing icebergs. He said the researchers were surprised that this large difference has never been quantified before.
“The overall aim of the study is to be able to predict the tsunami magnitude in function of the size of the iceberg, its initial position relative to the water surface, and on how it interacts with the surrounding water,” Heller said. “This helps to predict the iceberg-tsunami height at any location in front of the glacier front to provide guidelines for tourist boats on how close they can safely approach a glacier front.”
From Nature: “Objectively estimating trends in GLOF frequency is challenging as many lakes form in terrain with limited access, making fieldwork impractical. In the HKKHN, outburst floods from glacier lakes initiated mainly between 4,500 and 5,200 m above sea level and some attenuated rapidly, possibly escaping notice in human settlements several thousand vertical metres below. Reliable reports on 40 GLOFs since 1935 are selective. We mapped these GLOFs, originally compiled by regional initiatives, highlighting 32 cases in the Central and Eastern Himalayas in contrast to the very few cases in the northwestern Hindu Kush–Karakoram (HKK) and Nyainqentanglha Mountains. We speculate that these 40 reports preferentially covered large or destructive cases, which makes the assessment of their frequency problematic. In trying to account for this reporting bias, our objective is to estimate GLOF frequency and its changes from a systematic inventory covering the entire HKKHN.”
New Project Examines Changes in Peru’s River Systems
From Phys.org: “Remote communities in the Peruvian Andes, as well as communities downstream, depend on the water from melting glaciers and mountain ecosystems to provide them with food and power, and to support industry.
But climate change is increasingly putting that in jeopardy, posing a serious threat to future water resources and having potentially severe implications for the vulnerable populations living in river basins-fed by the glaciers.
Now a major research project is looking to establish the precise effects future changes in the glacial system might pose, and how agencies and the communities themselves can work together to mitigate the potential effects of changing water quantity and quality as the glacier retreat.”
Climate Change Likely to Impact Glacier-Fed Rivers in New Zealand
From International Journal of Climatology: “Future climate change is likely to alter the amount, seasonality and distribution of water available for economic use downstream of alpine areas, so there is a need to forecast glacier net mass loss when assessing future hydrological change. This issue is of considerable relevance to New Zealand, which relies heavily on hydro power for electricity generation. An important river system is the Waitaki, which contains eight hydro generating stations and has a significant input from seasonal snow and glacier melt. Thus, changes in glacier ice volume and atmospheric circulation have long term implications for energy production. The impacts of climate change on water resources are also critical for the Clutha River. This is New Zealand’s largest river with extensive hydro-electricity and irrigation assets. Third, there are close links between glaciers and the large tourism industry in New Zealand, which along with agriculture, is the major driver of the national economy. All these factors mean that there is growing economic concern as to what may happen in the future.”
The last-chance tourism market is booming. As many of the world’s natural wonders deteriorate and vanish, glaciers and coral reefs especially, people are urged to see them before it’s too late. Social media and tourism markets are massively influential in spurring wanderlust and driving our desire for travel.
Last-chance tourism is paradoxical. Tourists often visit remote destinations to take in the beauty and experience a place that may not be the same in the future. But in doing so, they are contributing to climate change, negatively impacting these destinations through carbon-intensive travel.
A recent study published in Annals of Tourism Research discusses the ethical challenges of last-chance tourism. Lead author Mark Groulx and colleagues examined tourists’ willingness to offset the environmental footprint of their travel by participating in carbon offset programs. The study is significant in understanding the role of place identity and attachment in this sector of tourism and the complexities around stewardship.
Schemes are often presented as a voluntary fee. They allow travelers to invest in carbon reduction projects that balance out the carbon footprint of their travel. These projects could include carbon capture technologies or forest conservation efforts, as well as prevention of new emissions through investing in building wind farms and other green technologies. However, many tourists do not engage in offsetting schemes with rates of engagement below 10 percent for most popular tourist destinations.
The team compared two locations in Canada vulnerable to climate change: polar bear tourism in Churchill, Manitoba and glacier tourism in Jasper National Park. Polar bear populations are well known to be threatened by climate change. The call to save these beloved animals is a key selling point by activists in combating climate change. Warming directly impacts glaciers, and many of the world’s most important glaciers may disappear within the century.
Churchill is famous for its polar bear viewing, which has grown significantly since the 1980s. Birding, beluga whale watching, aurora borealis viewing, and dog sledding are also popular activities. Polar bear populations are in decline as seasonal sea ice diminishes especially during summer. According to a previous study, the Churchill polar bear population could become extinct in as little as 30 years.
Jasper National Park is one of the most heavily visited parks in Canada with a total of 2.33 million visitors in 2016. According to the authors, the Athabasca Glacier is a considerable tourism draw at the park. It hosts a number of visitor infrastructures such as the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. The glacier, however, continues to retreat from climate change. Historical photography referenced in the new study reveals that the Athabasca Glacier receded approximately a kilometer between 1917 and 2006.
The survey conducted at the two sites was designed to measure visitors’ willingness to participate in carbon offsetting. Visitors were asked if they were willing to participate in carbon offset schemes, and if so, how much they were willing to spend. They were also asked how concerned they were about climate change: extremely concerned, concerned, or not concerned. Since the researchers knew that many visitors were unfamiliar with carbon offsets, they provided a simple explanation in the survey. Data was collected from visitors who engaged in glacier or polar bear viewing activities. They amassed a total of 267 surveys for Churchill and 396 for Jasper National Park.
Researchers found that visitors at Churchill were significantly more concerned about climate change than visitors in Jasper National Park. A greater percentage of people were willing to buy carbon offsets. Churchill visitors were also willing to pay far more for carbon offsets than JNP visitors, with a mean of $166.03 (Canadian) compared to $54.99 from JNP tourists. Those from both sites who were willing to purchase offsets also had a much greater sense of nature relatedness, place identity, and place attachment than those not willing.
A review of 66 studies suggests that a stronger sense of place attachment and identity may foster climate change concern, which might influence travelers to engage more in carbon offsetting schemes. One explanation for the difference between Churchill and Jasper National Park tourists is the attraction of polar bears. Polar bears are considered to be a “highly-charismatic mega fauna” and are seen as the international mascot for climate change. People are able to connect more easily to the plight of these cute and endangered animals, and they are much better at capturing public attention and promoting emotional involvement relative to physical landscapes.
Although travelers produce a substantial carbon footprint through last-chance tourism, it may help bolster the sense of place attachment and identity that encourages tourists to engage in carbon offsetting. People sometimes build personal connections to places they visit, and this value they put on locations may lead them to take meaningful action to preserve them. Tourism is one of the most effective methods to getting people to engage in offsetting schemes. Once we develop an attachment, we are more likely to take on a responsibility to caring for the destination and contributing to environmental wellbeing.
Almost half of Turkey is made up of mountainous terrain. The country was once home to several large glaciers, however over time, their areas of coverage has decreased tremendously.
The Taurus Mountain range, Toros Dağlari in Turkish, is located on the southern edge of Turkey. This great chain of mountains runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast, towards the borders of Syria, Iran, and Iraq. About two thirds of the country’s glaciers currently lie within this range, with some of the highest peaks reaching heights of between 10,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level (3,000 to 3,700 m).
Toros means ‘bull’ in Latin, and the origin of the mountain’s name is useful in perceiving past climate. According to World Atlas, the bull symbolizes Near Eastern storm gods in ancient Mesopotamia. The mountains are home to several storm-god temples, and they historically received heavy rainfall.
Turkey receives most of its precipitation in winter, and because of irregular topography, regions vary greatly in weather and climate. In recent decades however, Turkey has received less and less annual winter rainfall in the western region. This is where many of the country’s largest glaciers reside. Summer temperature also continue to rise with global warming. These might have been major contributing factors to glacier shrinkage. Turkey has also experienced significant drought periods in the last few years, with rainfall far below annual average levels.
Since the 1970s, over half of Turkey’s ice cover has vanished. According to a study published in Remote Sensing of Environment, in more than 40 years, the total glacial area fell from 25km2 in the 1970s, to 10.85km2in 2012-2013. Scientists attribute these changes to higher minimum summer temperatures. Five glaciers have disappeared, and the current glaciers have greatly declined.
Communities around the world have been faced with sharp increase in disasters and severe weather events, resulting in extensive damage devastation. Hurricanes, cyclones, and glacier avalanches are some examples of events that have had significant consequences on vulnerable communities and human wellbeing. In order for societies to withstand major disasters, they must take precautionary actions and measures to prepare for impact and prevent potentially devastating outcomes.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently released a report on early warning systems (EWS). “Five Approaches to Build Functional Early Warning Systems” aims to support innovation and the development of systems through highlighting methods that have been successfully tested in southeast Europe, South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), and Central Asia. It emphasizes the importance of these systems as a necessary tool for improving quality of life and in building resilient nations.
The UNDP recognizes the effects of disasters on communities, particularly to developing countries and more vulnerable populations. “Around 85% of the people exposed to earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and droughts live in developing countries, and more than 69% of all people killed by disasters between 1996 and 2015 were classified as receiving a low or lower-middle income.”
The frequency and magnitude of natural disasters are expected to rise with global warming, with millions more at risk each year. According to the publication, about 90 percent of major disasters from 1995 to 2015 were linked to climate and weather, with damage costs increasing exponentially to over trillions of dollars today. EWS can be powerful in preventing great monetary loss, reducing disaster mortality rates, and also improving quality of life.
Melting glaciers, for example, not only present a natural hazard from ice and cliff breakage, but also increase the risk of hydrological drought. The document looks at a project in Uzbekistan, a desert country that has long relied on Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers. These rivers descend from the 7000 meter peaks of the Tien Shan to the east, supplying cities and agriculture, particularly cotton, a key export crop. These rivers are now much reduced, and changes in meltwater patterns puts future water availability and security at risk. The current drought EWS, established by the Republic of Uzbekistan and multiple partners, monitors runoff and supply to manage finite water resources.
A number of challenges and obstacles to successful EWS are addressed. An efficient, functioning system requires a design planned with regard to the social, economic, and environmental conditions of a region. What technology is available for use? What role does infrastructure play in disaster warnings? How do communities effectively respond to these systems? These are some questions governments, institutions and organizations must consider to avoid a possible system failure.
Andrew Kruczkiewics, a senior staff associate at the International Research Institute of Columbia University, told GlacierHub that some of the challenges associated with EWS are centered around availability and use. He said that some reasons they’re not used are lack of forecasting skill, lack of mandate, or confusion on timing of action. “A functional EWS is one that allows for an action to be taken to decrease the probability of impact. This action could be as simple as raised awareness, or as large as evacuation” he added.
So what does successful EWS implementation look like? According to the publication, there are five main areas of intervention vital to attempt to overcome these challenges: institutional and regulatory arrangements, technological solutions, community-based solutions, private sector engagement, and international cooperation and data sharing. These approaches to EWS are considered innovative and beneficial in tackling the aforementioned challenges.
The effectiveness of the application of these solutions, however, have only been observed in particular regions in Europe and Asia. This report has not analyzed the effectiveness of projects in Africa, South America, or south Asia. These are regions that are expected to be adversely impacted by climate change induced natural disasters, with some marginalized populations particularly vulnerable to disaster events.
Although the publication is not representative of effective projects in many vulnerable regions, it acknowledges the complexities of developing successful EWS. These solutions are useful components in initial design of a EWS, however the complex social systems must be identified, understood, and accounted for in order to address challenges and promote disaster resiliency.
The Tamang community are an indigenous group in Nepal that have depended on cattle rearing for the last three centuries. Located in the northernmost part of central Nepal, herding is a livelihood that has long held a significant role in the culture of this rural, indigenous Himalayan community. Shepherding among the Tamang, however, has dwindled over the last few decades as younger generations are becoming less likely to take up the tradition passed down from older generations.
Manchhiring Tamang’s documentary “A Day in the Life of a Himalayan Shepherd” beautifully captures the vast Himalayan landscape and sheepherding practices of the Tamang valley. The film recently debuted at the 12th annual Colony Short Film Festival in Marietta, Ohio, where it was runner up in the Best Documentary category.
The short film follows 45-year-old Khariman Tamang, a shepherd following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Despite the harsh climate and physical challenges of caring for his sheep, he takes great pride in the rich cultural tradition within the Tamang community.
Khariman lives in Sertung, a stunning yet isolated region located in the upper Dhading district in central Nepal. He provides for his wife, two sons, and daughter through sheep herding.
Shepherds in the region must leave their families for six months of the year to move their herds to colder climates. Tamang herders roam the valley with their flocks in constant search of ideal weather conditions that produces abundant grasses for feeding. Shepherds sometimes visit their families between seasons and during special holidays and festivals.
Sheep provide the people of Tamang with food, dairy products for medicinal and cosmetic products, and wool for clothing and other necessities. Wool plays an essential role in Tamang culture. It is often used for making traditional clothing, beds, blankets, carpets, and rugs. Family members and neighbors borrow and exchange woolen products, bolstering livelihoods and enriching connections among the Tamang community.
GlacierHub met with Manchhiring Tamang, who was born and raised in the Tamang village depicted in the film. He has worked as a research journalist with a focus on the indigenous groups of Nepal and tourism. His father and grandfather were also sheep herders in the valley.
Manchhiring, who now lives with his family in New York City, aims to show people the beauty of the culture and traditions of the Tamang community in Nepal. This film gives viewers a glimpse into the lifestyle of this age-old tradition which has seen a major shift in recent years. He spoke to us about how the sheep herding practice has changed over time with new generations.
“This profession amongst this modest community is on the verge of extinction, and the older generations are forced to think whether this will be the last generation involved in this job sector,” said Manchhiring.
Kathryn March, an anthropologist at Cornell University familiar with the Tamang people of Nepal, told GlacierHub that as climate patterns shift and seasonal precipitation becomes more erratic, traditional knowledge becomes increasingly unreliable. The timing of funerals, weddings, and other cultural rituals is thrown into uncertainty by climate change.
March added that working-age men in particular are increasingly moving out to Gulf countries and Southeast Asia. “The previous household economic strategies of trying to have multiple sources of income, from agriculture and herding and trade or seasonal employment, have been radically transformed into widespread dependence on remittances from outside wage labor, ” she said.
Manchhiring hopes to preserve the traditional practices of the Tamang people through “A Day in the Life of a Himalayan Shepherd.” He said: “I want people to know the hardness and struggle of country people like my uncle who are struggling to keep up their ages old tradition, struggle of dilemma as to whether to abandon their tradition or to keep it.”
The world’s glaciers, many of which have been around for millions of years, are in danger. Glaciers today are retreating faster than ever recorded. Some glaciers in tropical regions are on the verge of disappearing in the coming decades. Climate scientists and glaciologists are on the frontlines of understanding how climate change is threatings iconic glaciers, impacting tourism, ecosystems, and communities dependant on glaciers for water.
The Journal of Glaciology has recently brought on several new science editors. Although the journal is now over 70 years old, it’s gained importance and readership over the years as awareness of climate change has grown. The journal and its editors cover mostly the natural sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics as well as the impacts of climate change on human societies.
GlacierHub interviewed several of the journal’s incoming authors. They come from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds, from a focus on the Greenland ice sheets to the glaciers and water cycle of the Himalayas. Experts told us about their goals for working with the journal and their expectations for the future of the field of glaciology and climate science.
Karen Cameron is research fellow at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom. As a glacial microbial ecologist, she studies the effects of microbiota on glacier surfaces, and how they may contribute to ice darkening, a driver of glacier melt. Cameron is an expert on Greenland ice sheets. In one of her most recent studies, she and other researchers examined the potential expansion of Greenland’s “dark zone,” an area of the ice sheet covered in dust, black carbon, and pigmented algae.
“I look forward to contributing towards the scientific community by helping to shape and encourage outputs relating to the ecology of glacial environments. Over the coming years, there should be many exciting developments in this field. For example, I expect to see a surge in reports relating to the effect of microbial communities on reducing albedo (surface reflectivity), which enhances glacial and sea ice melt. I also expect to see more robust estimations of the contributions that glacial and permafrost microbial communities make to current and future methane budgets. Similarly, investigations into the role of microbial communities in cycling valuable nutrients and making them available to downstream ecosystems, will likely feature. Finally, there should be exciting developments in the exploration of cryospheric organisms for potential drug development and biotechnological usage.”
Shad O’Neel is a research geophysicist at the Alaska Science Center. His area of expertise includes glacier and ice sheet contributions to sea level rise, which is consequential to millions of people living along coastlines experience more frequent flooding. O’Neel also examines seismic activity at glaciers and iceberg calving events, which presents a considerable environmental hazard. Some of his more recent work focused on river discharge in subarctic Alaska suggests a link between glacier retreat, aquifer recharge, and lowland river discharge.
“I was brought on to the editorial staff to work on papers related to mountain glaciers due to my background working on them. My goal is to help promote high-quality papers related to processes and changes ongoing across Earth’s mountain glaciers. In particular, I am interested in mass balance. At the basin scale, emerging methods (e.g. ground penetrating radar) show potential to reduce uncertainties in mass change. How we aggregate observations and use them to constrain regional mass balance estimates and/or inform models is another topic I hope passes through my Journal of Glaciology inbox.”
Iestyn Barr specializes in applications of remote sensing, GIS, and modeling in high-latitude environments. As a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, he instructs courses in glacial systems and geomorphological processes. His most recent publication compares effects of soil erosion and flooding from 1.5 degrees Celsius warming versus 2°C. Much of Barr’s previous research assesses historic glacial morphology and retreat, with substantial work done on the history, dimensions, and dynamics of the glaciers in Kamchatka, Russia.
“My goal in working for the journal is to promote glaciology in general, and particularly to continue the excellent (and long running) success of the Journal of Glaciology. One of my particular areas of interest is looking at interactions between volcanoes and glaciers (‘glaciovolcanism’). Specifically, looking at volcanic impacts on glacier dimensions and dynamics; using glacio-volcanic landforms to reconstruct past glaciers; and considering the possibility that future glacier retreat might not only be driven by, but also force, volcanic activity.”
Argha Banerjee is a glaciologist knowledgeable in the Himalayan glaciers. He is a professor of earth and climate sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune. In a recent study, Banerjee, along with three other researchers, evaluated the effects of avalanches on mass balance in glaciers. They developed methods to attempt to quantify net avalanche contributions to mass balance, a feat which hasn’t been done before, and applied their methods to three Himalayan glaciers.
“My academic and personal experience over the past few years have made me appreciate the strong connections that Himalayan glaciers share with Himalayan climate, water cycle, landscape evolution, ecology, and so on. To be able to explore these connections is what makes Himalayan glaciology fascinating to me. I would love see more articles related to Himalayan climate, hydrology, and geomorphology in the journal. More studies of Himalayan snow/precipitation processes over all scales, too. I think we need to do a bit more about some of these gap areas to gain more confidence on the projections that we are making.”
Elisabeth Isaksson studies climate history and variability through analyzing ice cores in the Arctic and Antarctic. She is a senior research scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute. Isaksson is also interested in organic contaminant pollution in snow and ice from Svalbard. Some of her previous work looks at amplified levels of black carbon in the Arctic and the impacts from climate change in the region. In places like Tibet and the Arctic, black carbon concentrations on glaciers are becoming well understood by scientists to be a strong force for increased retreat and melt.
“In the three decades that have passed since I started working with polar glaciers, the situation and challenges related to glaciology have indeed changed a lot. Back in the 1980s, we just started looking for signs of any changes that could be related to global climate warming in the Antarctic; now the signs are obvious, and things are changing rapidly. To make progress and move science forward I think that we need to find new ways of working together across scientific disciplines, which at times can be time-consuming and challenging because of our traditions in scientific training. There are also new scientific areas related to melting glaciers that are particularly interesting; one example is biological production (bacterial biomass, for instance) both on melting glaciers and at glacier fronts. As a scientific editor for an important glaciological journal I am looking forward to learn more about these research fields.”
It is well known that warming will deeply affect glaciers and ice at the poles. Many of the effects are observable today and will continue to impact wildlife, people, and their environments. Scientists are now beginning to better understand climate change in cold regions, such at the Andes and the Alps, outside the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica.
In a recent news article by Nature, researchers look at the climatological and glacial changes in the ‘third pole’, which encompasses the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and the Tibetan Plateau. They also consider the need for enhanced monitoring of the glaciers and water supply, to help scientist better understand the extent of glacier retreat now and in the future.
Third Pole Water in Sustaining Asian Societies
The third pole is one of the major freshwater resources in Asia. Meltwater from glaciers feed into some of the major rivers in Asia, including the Ganges, Yangtze, and Brahmaputra rivers. According to the article, these river basins provide critical freshwater resources to about one-fifth of the world’s population.
Water is inextricably linked to the rise of Asian societies, bestowing them with rich agricultural output and ensuring stability and longevity in a sometimes brutal climate region. “The struggle for water in modern history is a global story… But nowhere has the search for water shaped or sustained as much human life as in India and China” says Sunil Amrith in a feature by Quartz India.
A dependable, predictable supply of meltwater is the pillar upon which these societies rest. Climate change could topple that foundation. As groundwater and aquifers dry up in India, water resources from glaciers will become even more necessary. Analysts from NITI, a policy think tank in India, said to New Security Beat “Critical ground water resources that account for 40 percent of India’s water supply are being depleted at unsustainable rates”. Hydropower is a growing clean and renewable energy resource for many sectors across China, and irrigation plays a substantial role in crop production for rural communities. The loss of glaciers and rivers could mean dire economic impacts on these regions.
Projected Changes in Climate and Peak Water
Climate patterns over the third pole are now shifting. As temperatures rise and glaciers continue to melt, more glacial lakes will form and river will begin to dry out. The authors cited recent research which indicated that a projected weakening of the annual Indian monsoon will bring significantly less precipitation and snow over the Himalayas. As a result, the current mass-balance of glaciers in the region will be offset by more runoff than snow accumulation.
The change in mass-balance results in glacier retreat, occurring faster today than historic rates of decline. Eventually, many glaciers will reach their peak water output, with some as early as 2020. Peak water is the level at which glacier melt water output is at its maximum, and it’s considered to be the “tipping point” of water supply. Societies may benefit from the peak water with temporary outflow of more meltwater in rivers, yet the long-term effects will be detrimental.
Although peak water is short-lived, it will be particularly advantageous to some areas projected to experience less precipitation. However, once glaciers reach this level, they will continue to output less and less water. Other regions such as the Andes will also experience peak water, with many glaciers having already have met this max water output level. The loss of glaciers and rivers could be disastrous to dependent societies.
Room for Improvement: Monitoring Retreat and Risks
The authors also wrote about the hazards and risks associated with glacier retreat. Communities living in mountainous regions face with the risk of collapsing debris from glaciers. According to the piece, in October 2018, glacier debris and the resulting landslide dammed the Yarlung Tsangpo River. This led to flooding downstream, affecting regions as far as Bangladesh. According to an article by AGU100, a prompt evacuation prevented any lives from being lost.
Glacial avalanches pose a considerable threat to millions along Asia’s vast network of rivers and streams. According to researchers from the article, only 0.1 percent of glaciers and lakes in the region have monitoring stations, and few high-altitude areas have weather stations. There are plans to install over 20 new stations in the third pole area, which is a big improvement from the current 10 stations in the area. Proper training is necessary to properly operate weather monitoring technology and adequate collection of data.
The study also prioritized the importance of sharing this data with global and regional climate models, and making the needs of the local people central in climate change discussions. It is imperative that the changes in the third pole to be globally recognized, to better serve local communities and societies in safeguarding water security and cultivating sustainability.
In our Video of the Week, marine biologists examine how climate change might impact humpback whales in the waters off the coast of Chile. Melting Patagonian glaciers add freshwater to the ocean ecosystem, which is likely to change the water’s chemical composition, threatening the food supply of humpbacks.
Climate change is already affecting humpback migration patterns in other parts of the world. And changing climate conditions around Svalbard, Norway is altering the habitat of white whales.
The video, shared by the AFP news agency, emphasizes the importance of protecting vulnerable, marine ecosystems.
Researchers utilized buoys to gather information. Buoys can be useful in measuring such things as temperature, salinity, and pH levels, which can help monitor ecosystem changes and make projections about future conditions.
Patagonia's chilly waters are a natural laboratory for researchers studying global warming. Glaciers are melting, releasing vast amounts of fresh water into the sea and upsetting marine ecosystems pic.twitter.com/KXE73eoEaR
With climate change, people are eager to understand environmental changes over the last few millennia. Unfortunately, regions in the Southern hemisphere are not as well understood as those in the Northern hemisphere, where more data sources are found. This information can be useful in estimating future environmental changes.
A recent study published in the journal The Holocene, scientists examine the millennial changes in the environmental conditions in the Lake Pastahué ecosystem of Chiloé Island, located in southern Chile. Two particular climate events within this period are compared: the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), which was a period of warming from 800 and 1300, and the Little Ice Age (LIA), when temperatures dropped between 1300 and 1850. Scientists investigated signals of climate change in history through analyzing sediment samples from the lake. They also examined historical records to help reconstruct past environmental conditions.
Biological indicators (pollen and midges) and sedimentological indicators (organic matter and magnetic susceptibility) provided information on the past ecology. Tiny pollen particles that slowly settle into the earth signify historic plant and forest compositions. Midges, popular for fly-fishing, were used as indicators of the trophic changes in lake. Sedimentological indicators allowed researchers to establish a chronological timeline of the core sample, and provided useful information on soil quality.
Researchers found that the highest percentage of pollen was observed during the MCA period. The particles came from trees typically found in the temperate Valdivian forests, suggesting warm conditions. An absence of aquatic plant species, along with an increase in plant species suggests decreased precipitation and increased temperature. Midges adapted to warm conditions were found in this sample, as well as species adapted to semi-terrestrial ecosystems. This suggests the lake was impacted by surrounding terrestrial ecosystem, or a lower water level. These findings were then compared to historical records from 1100-1350, where similar conditions were also observed in Central Chile.
For the LIA period, records show that the climate in central Chile was cooler and more humid beginning in 1350. Pollen results match those of cold events from the Northern Hemisphere. Pollen from trees and shrubs found typically in the North Patagonian forest were recovered, reflecting cold and humid conditions. Aquatic species are much more abundant in this sample, suggesting a larger lake basin. The vegetation structure was also noted to evidence a more humid environment than the earlier period.
Historical records of San Rafael Glacier give us a glimpse into the past environment of the region. On a journey from Chiloé to San Rafael Glacier in 1766, a priest described ice floating along the coast up to the glacier. At a later period, Captain Enrique Simpson, a military officer and Admiral of the Chilean Navy, referenced the dimensions of the glacier during his explorations of Chilean archipelagoes in 1875. He reveled at the size of the glacier, describing it as more than a thousand meters high and extending many miles from north to south. According to the article, an explorer at a later period, Hans Steffen in 1910, shared similar findings. “Studying the location and the current dimensions of this huge glacier, we found almost no difference with description given by Captain Simpson on his voyages,” said Steffen.
GlacierHub spoke with Michael Kaplan, a glaciologist who studies climate history in South America. Kaplan considered it novel that the researchers used many techniques and examined historical records in the article. He found it useful to include the historical records of the extensiveness of glaciers, especially considering the state of glaciers in South America today. This reference helps show how climate changes have impacted glaciers and influenced retreat over the course of the millenium. Kaplan also felt that researchers have effectively represented environmental changes in this region during the MCA and LIA. “They show that these events had some manifestation in southern South America, and that’s a really important finding of the paper,” he added.
Scientists from the study have also observed a growing reduction in tree pollen for the last century. They found that most midge species have diminished. The absence of species related to high nutrient levels suggests that the nutrient conditions at the lake were lower than previous periods. Conditions at this time were warmer and drier than the LIA, and this supports tree ring data which presents the previous 100 years as some of the driest in recent centuries. These environmental changes can be expected to intensify if the climate continues to experience dry conditions.
Marcos Mendoza, an anthropologist who studies environment in Latin America, commented on the relevance of this information for climate projections. Mendoza also told us that these types of studies can be useful in understanding how tree and plant species might respond to future climatological changes. “As indigenous communities, scientists, land managers, and others begin to anticipate how changing temperatures and precipitation patterns will affect the Latin American region of Patagonia, studies like Castro et al. provide windows onto past environmental and climatological conditions,” he said.
This study is useful in understanding the sensitivity of environmental systems to changes in climate. Although historical require careful digging through sources, they can be useful in filling in the gaps in our understanding of past environmental conditions. Reconstructing past conditions can help assess potential changes as well, which may impact people and their environments.