Antarctic Fungi Provides a Window into the Past and Future

Most life forms are unable to survive the mind-numbing temperatures on the polar continent of Antarctica, which can reach minus 90 degrees Celsius. In this extreme climate, however, researchers have found snow and ice harbors fungi specially adapted to thrive. A new book, Fungi of Antarctica, edited by Luiz Henrique Rosa, was published on June 19 and features a chapter “Fungi in Snow and Glacial Ice of Antarctica,” which identifies fungi in the snow and ice of the continent and reviews their features, functions, and biotechnological applications.

The 28 different species of fungi indexed in the chapter were likely transported to the continent by air currents, decanted from the atmosphere through precipitation, and settled on the snow and ice.

Graciéle Cunha Alves de Menezes is a scientist in the microbiology department at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil and is the lead author of the chapter. She says the cold-loving fungi might provide key information regarding the microbial compositions of the planet in the past.

Still of Antarctica surrounded by sea ice taken on October 10, 2004 (Source: NASA).

Antarctica has an area of 14 million square kilometers, of which about 99 percent is covered by ice and snow. The study of Antarctic microorganisms has attracted considerable interest since the 1960s because of its extremely harsh climatic conditions, though studies have been few and far between. Antarctica’s remote location presents logistical difficulty that has inhibited research on the microbial diversity locked in the continent’s ice.

Researchers found the fungi broadly distributed in the different ice layers and ecosystems of Antarctica. “Both cold substrates, snow and ice, harbor interesting fungal species living at the edge of life in terms of temperature, low nutrient availability, and high exposure to ultraviolet radiation,” the authors wrote. Two species of Antarctic fungi, which were not part of the study, recently survived 18 months on the International Space Station, with more than 60 percent of cells intact.

The fungal communities also provide the nutritional foundation for surrounding glacial ecosystems––not to mention the fermentation of many human foods (one Canadian baker is specifically gathering Arctic yeasts from which to make sourdough bread).

A team of researchers arrives to prospect the collection area on Coppermine Peninsula located on Robert Island, part of Antarctica’s Shetland Islands (Source: Graciéle Cunha Alves de Menezes).

Not only do the extremophiles provide a backward-looking telescope into the planet’s first primitive life forms, they hold promising features for innovations in biotechnology. “Fungi adapted to the extreme conditions of Antarctic snow and ice may exhibit genetic and biochemical pathways to produce antifreeze compounds, tolerance to low nutrient availability, and photoprotective activity,” De Menezes said.

Because ice formation within an organism’s cellular walls is lethal, fungi have developed strategies to protect themselves from freezing, including the production of antifreeze proteins. The authors say the enzymes that the fungi produce at low temperatures hold promise for advances in biofuel technology, for one. Their diverse and high enzymatic activity in extreme cold also has potential in other biotechnological applications, including increased energy efficiency in large scale commercial bioprocesses––the process that uses complete living cells or their components to create products.

De Menezes told GlacierHub that the fungi’s various biological processes generate substances that can be isolated to manufacture drugs, vaccines, herbicides, and natural fungicides for use in agriculture and antifreeze proteins, pigments, and cold-active enzymes that could be used in the food industry. The pigments produced by the fungi have great potential for use in the photoprotective cosmetics and the textile industry as a natural dye, she added.

Alternaria alternata is one of the fungi species researchers identified in the Byrd region near the South Pole (Source: WikiCommons).

Masaharu Tsuji is a postdoctoral fellow at Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research, who was not involved in the writing of the book’s chapter on Antarctic fungi. “Antarctica is considered to be close to the condition of the primitive global environment,” Tsuji told GlacierHub. “Understanding the role of Antarctic ecosystems and fungi in Antarctica is very important in understanding how ecosystems have changed on the past Earth and how ecosystems will be changed on the future Earth.”

Glaciers, ice sheets, and sea ice are melting rapidly due to warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures. “If climate change continues, fungi currently inhabiting Antarctica will lose their habitat because they are specialized for living in polar environments, like the Arctic and Antarctica,” Tsuji said. “In other words, fungi on ice or glaciers in Antarctica are endangered species.” If the world needed another rapidly dwindling biodiversity hourglass, it has found one in Antarctic fungi.

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The People of the Glacier Lands Taken to Create US National Parks

Amid the renewed focus on the enduring impacts of race and racism exposed by the rhetoric and policy of the Trump administration, many people are taking a look back at two foundational acts in the making of America: slavery and the genocide against native Americans. Indigenous peoples inhabited the lands that now form the US National Parks for thousands of years before they were forced off to create the parks. As settlers expanded westward Native Americans were dispossessed of their lands, often brutally. The beloved national parks were established through the taking of these lands, including some present-day glacier or glacially-formed terrain, which figure prominently in the undertold history of the park systems’ creation.

“That’s how we think we lost it,” said Blackfoot tribal representative, John Murray, referring to a murky 1895 agreement ceding the Blackfoot tribe’s land to the US government. “When I was a kid all the elders talked about when the 99 years was going to be up. They all believed we would get it back,” he told GlacierHub.

Murray is the Blackfoot Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, a designated representative of federally-recognized tribes. The land in the northernmost American stretch of the Rocky Mountains, which his people thought would be returned to them, is now Glacier National Park, the “Crown of the Continent.” But before it became America’s most glorified national park upon establishment in 1910, it was inhabited by Murray’s ancestors, the Blackfeet.

The deep injustice felt by Murray and the Blackfeet is shared by indigenous people across the country. Though taking of Native American lands and bodies is taught in American schools, many of the 318 million visitors to the national parks last year were likely unaware of the dispossession of those lands to create them.

Members of the U.S. 6th Cavalry pose with the Fallen Monarch tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite, 1899 (Source: National Parks Service).

“Arguably the best idea America ever had was our national parks system,” a recent Thrillist article ranking the top 25 national parks in the United States began. “More than 300 million people visit every year, pouring over $35 billion into the national economy.”

The sentiment expressed in the Thrillist piece is a common refrain. The national parks are vaunted crown jewels of the nation, provide outdoor vacation opportunities, and are indispensable to local economies. The pristine lands and the people who had the presence of mind to protect them for future generations are enshrined in American lore and intrinsic to the country’s national pride.

Glaciated and glacially-formed landscapes were among the first to be established as parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite. The people who lived in those areas when colonizers arrived are among the most aggrieved.

In a painful irony, colonizers of the wild American west sought to produce wilderness by depopulating it, through force, coercion, and guile. 

Glacier National Park’s most iconic piece of ice, Grinnell Glacier, shown in 1910 and 2017 (Source: National Parks Service).

Uninhabited wilderness had to be created before it could be preserved, writes Mark David Spence, a national parks historian and author of Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. A wilderness safe for tourism could not coexist with the indigenous peoples who had inhabited the land for generations. 

The American ideal of wilderness was incompatible with habited land and “represented the one great flaw in the western landscape,” Spence wrote in his book. “According to the complaints of outdoor enthusiasts in the late nineteenth century, it seemed a wonder that any forests or animals remained in North America since Indians practically based their entire existence on the destruction of wilderness.”

The idea that indigenous peoples weren’t suited to properly care for the natural environs, which they safeguarded for generations, became a justification for their removal.

During the Pinedale Glaciation, a late phase of the most recent ice age, which ended between 13,000 and 14,000 years ago, Yellowstone was covered in ice 4,000 feet thick, leaving behind glacial features that continue to awe tourists today. At the time of Yellowstone National Park’s “discovery” by the Washburn Expedition in 1870, it was teeming with life. Thousands of people from as many as 26 indigenous groups including Bannock, various Shoshone, and Mountain Crow had been living there for generations. Early park officials understood that fear of Indian attack would prevent tourists from experiencing the wonders of Yellowstone. Through military force, the American ideal of wilderness was created by driving the groups off the land. The Wilderness Act of 1964 reinforced the idea, defining wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Eight Crow prisoners in present-day Yellowstone National Park, 1887 (Source: WikiCommons).

“Tourists and park managers believed that only the citizens of an emerging world power could experience the mountains with appropriate awe and reverence,” writes Spence. Awe and reverence the indigenous peoples certainly had––but they weren’t as interested in extraction of resources. “It wasn’t us who wanted to dig up the park,” said Murray, the Blackfoot representative. “It was our people and our values that kept places like Glacier National Park in the status they are so it could be declared a national park.” It wasn’t until prospectors fully inspected the purchased land, which yielded no minerals to exploit, that an alternative use for the land was imagined, including game hunting and scientific inquiry. But that vision would not include the land’s original inhabitants.

According to a 2012 study published in Conservation and Society, “Blackfeet suggested that the government deceived the illiterate Blackfeet leaders in the written terms of the 1895 Agreement,” wrote the authors. “Some tribal members claimed that the land was not sold, but “forcibly taken” even though “it might look like on paper that both parties agreed”.” The shadowy transaction occurred over several days of negotiation, included suspect language translation, and documentation only by the party holding the pen, paper, and legal terminology. The Blackfeet maintain they had only signed a 50-year lease of their land, not a cessation, and disagree on the park boundaries. Even the duration of the land lease isn’t agreed upon in the annals of Blackfeet history, much of which is unwritten, all but ensuring indefensibility of their claims in US courts of law, where material evidence reigns.

The second largest remaining glacier in Glacier National Park, Blackfoot Glacier, photographed in 2012, bears the tribe’s name (Source: Troy Smith/Flickr).

The eviction of the Blackfeet from their ancestral lands did more than displace people. “Exclusion and restriction from park lands and resources created a physical, personal, communal, inter-generational, and nutritional separation for the Blackfeet Nation from a crucial part of their homeland,” Spence told GlacierHub.

According to Spence, advertisements for Glacier National Park referred to Blackfeet as the “Glacier Park Indians” and often encouraged visitors to come and acquaint themselves with these “specimens of a Great Race soon to disappear.” Murray, the Blackfeet tribal representative, recalled park officials importing elk from Yellowstone and hiring Indians to stand around in buckskin regalia. “Down through history, Glacier Park has not been a very good neighbor,” Murray said.

“During the 1910s and ’20s, Yosemite National Park hosted popular Field Days where white visitors could dress in stereotypical garb,” wrote Hunter Oatman-Stanford in a 2018 article for Collectors Weekly. Where “indigenous employees were encouraged to act out white conceptions of native life.” The displays were designed to enhance tourists’ wilderness experience.

Blackfeet in the Two Medicine area, 1914 (Source: National Parks Service)

Indigenous people were consummate stewards of the land they inhabited and relied upon for every aspect of their lives from their strategic use of fire to their prudent hunting of game. A recent global assessment report issued by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services underscored the importance of protecting indigenous and local knowledge, people, and their ways of life if nature’s contributions to people are to be maintained. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report also notes increasing appreciation of local and indigenous knowledge in addressing land degradation issues.

The US government has done little to make reparations toward indigenous groups. In some recent instances, the Trump administration has exacted further damage. In 2017, President Trump signed the largest rollback of federally protected land in US history, slashing Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and halving nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante, both sites of sacred land to many Native American tribes. The president’s new Secretary of the Interior wants to open Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Pueblo cultural area for oil drilling. The fight to protect sacred Blackfeet sites is ongoing, as a challenge to industrialize the Badger-Two Medicine area, land considered to be the cradle of Blackfeet culture, pends in the US Court of Appeals.

Sadie and Suzie McGowan, of the Mono Lake Paiute, standing in meadow near Yosemite Falls, 1901 (Source: San Joaquin Valley Library).

Signs of a shift toward an understanding of historical responsibility for dispossession of national park lands are taking place locally, however, including in some glacier parks. The Southern Me-Wuk have reclaimed seven acres of land in the heart of Yosemite National Park to reconstruct a village. “This is really unique for a park,” said Scott Carpenter, the park’s cultural resources program manager, to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We can’t give all of Yosemite back to the tribes…but at least they can get some recognition of their story and continuity of their culture.”

In Alaska, Mount McKinley was recently renamed Denali, restoring the name to its indigenous heritage. In Glacier Bay National Park a newly constructed tribal house begins a fresh chapter in the contentious relationship between the Huna Tlingit, a Native American tribe, and the National Park Service. In the American southwest all tourist excursions into Utah’s popular Antelope Canyon are run by Navajo-owned businesses. Earlier this week the Cherokee Nation appointed its first delegate to the US Congress.

Indigenous representatives and scholars agree that the National Park Service will continue  need to consider new approaches to park-tribal relations, including the integration of cultural and natural resource management, a reconceptualizing of wilderness as one compatible with sustainable use, and sharing control with indigenous groups through co-management and joint permitting systems.

Ameliorating the injustices that occurred 150 years ago at the hands people no longer alive won’t right the wrongs, but it’s a start.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Trump’s Interior Pick Wants To Heighten California Dam

Native Americans Call to Change Names of Yellowstone Sites

Tribal House in Glacier Bay Park Recognizes Huna Tlingit

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What Moody’s Recent Acquisition Means for Assessing the Costs of the Climate Crisis

The credit rating agency Moody’s announced on July 24 that it had acquired a majority stake in Four Twenty Seven, a leading provider of insight on economic climate risk. The acquisition by one of the world’s foremost credit rating agencies stands out as an indicator that the climate crisis is seen as a material risk that corporations and governments must consider.

Four Twenty Seven uses outputs from climate models to assess physical risks associated with climate-related processes for governments and companies. Heat and water stress, extreme precipitation, cyclones, and sea level rise are among the hazards Four Twenty Seven scores to quantify climate risk exposure for its clients.

Moody’s acquisition, which was widely covered in the media, indicates a responsiveness to investors who are clamoring for not just environmental, social and governance (ESG) intelligence to inform their decisions, but climate data too. 

A farm in Paducah, Kentucky is inundated by floodwaters in January 2016 (Source: PO2 Seth Johnson/US Coast Guard)

Richard Cantor is the chief credit officer at Moody’s. “Over the last few years we’ve become much more systematic and transparent about how we are incorporating ESG factors generally, and climate change in particular, into our credit rating analysis,” Cantor said, referring to the Four Twenty Seven acquisition. “This will help us do even more.”

What the acquisition of Four Twenty Seven enables the credit rating agency to do, explained Henry Shilling, a former senior vice president at Moody’s who oversaw the corporation’s ESG integration during his 25-year tenure, is to help Moody’s to make more sound financial decisions.

“It is clear to Moody’s, as well as other rating agencies, that climate risks have become elevated and they have financial and policy implications,” Shilling told GlacierHub. “It would help refine their capacity to anticipate how these risks could impact their ability to generate future cash flow, which is the primary basis for assessing credit quality.”

Reflecting their seriousness about sustainable investing, earlier this year Moody’s acquired Vigeo Eiris, a global leader in ESG research, data, and assessments. What’s become clear is that ESG is not just a values-based approach—it’s a commercial opportunity.

According to the U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment, along the U.S. coastline, public infrastructure and $1 trillion in national wealth held in coastal real estate are threatened by rising sea levels, higher storm surges, and the ongoing increase in high tide flooding.

Bruce Usher, a professor and co-director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School, said Moody’s is a traditional firm and that its acquisition of Four Twenty Seven represents a significant shift in how the private sector is evaluating risk. “For them to reach the point where they believe that having a deeper understanding of [climate] risks, and presumably how those risks affect and ultimately are priced into financial assets…that’s an important signal,” he told GlacierHub. “This challenge of pricing financial risk is becoming important to the point where commercially you have to do it.”

Sea level rise is one of the physical factors forcing companies and governments examine their adaptation and mitigation strategy. Glaciers play a significant role in this process.

While glacier retreat is one of the more noticeable—and traceable—effects of the climate crisis, the impact of reduced glacier volume to business operations is not as obvious. Glaciers are referenced in several posts on Four Twenty Seven’s website, specifically on the topic of sea level rise and its effect on maritime shipping and coastal real estate. Glacier melt is occurring more rapidly than previously thought, accounting for 25-30 percent of observed sea level rise since 1961.

The Port of Oakland, California, near Four Twenty Seven’s headquarters (Source: Travis Leech/Flickr)

Seaborne shipping, which accounts for 90 percent of all global trade, is expected to be impacted by more severe storms and inundation of low lying port facilities. Anticipated effects on coastal real estate are even more worrisome.

An estimated 2.5 percent of the global population could be displaced with two meters (6.5 feet) of sea level rise, the level experts say coasts should plan for by 2100. Founder and CEO of Four Twenty Seven, Emilie Mazzacurati said real estate lies on the frontline of exposure to climate change. “Many valuable locations and markets are often coastal or near bodies of water, and therefore are going to experience increases in flood occurrences due to increases in extreme rainfall and to sea level rise,” she said in a 2018 company press release.

“These risks can now be assessed with great precision—the availability of this data provides investors with an opportunity to perform comprehensive due diligence which reflects all dimensions of emerging risks,” Mazzacurati added.

Her Berkeley, California-based company holds detailed climate risk data covering over 2,000 listed companies, one million global corporate facilities, 320 real estate investment trusts, 3,000 US counties, and 196 countries.

The name Four Twenty Seven is an homage to California’s calculated 1990 total emissions inventory: 427 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The figure became the target to reduce emissions by 2020, which the state achieved four years early. It is worth noting that California’s economy grew by 26 percent during the period in which it reduced its emissions.

A destroyed home in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens in New York after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 (Source: Chester Green/Flickr)

Natalie Ambrosio, who manages publications and communications at Four Twenty Seven, says companies and governments are awakening to the need for their services. “They’re increasingly aware that sea level rise and the rippling impacts of sea level rise are going to affect them directly on their own assets and also indirectly through impacts on infrastructure,” Ambrosio told GlacierHub. “We’re seeing more of our clients coming to us wanting assessments on their exposure to these impacts.”

The tricky part is how to price risks with the time horizons associated with climate disruption, which often lie far in the future.

Usher explained the dilemma facing risk managers. “The challenge at the intersection of climate risk and the financial markets is understanding how risk affects the value of assets today when climate risk is primarily considered a long-term risk with significant uncertainty,” he told GlacierHub. “It is very difficult for owners of financial assets to price those risks given those time frames and those uncertainties.”

Intelligence from a climate risk provider like Four Twenty Seven can help.

Regulatory initiatives toward low carbon economies across much of the world are also prodding rating agencies, like Moody’s, toward an embrace of climate risk intelligence. 

Those in the field of evaluating climate risk say the time is already overdue for companies and governments to start addressing adaptation and mitigation risks. “Is the world sleepwalking into a crisis?” the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risks Report begins. “Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking.”

Read More on GlacierHub: 

Rob Wallace Installed to Post in Department of the Interior

Dispatches from the Cryosphere: Intimate Encounters with the Intricate and Disappearing Ice of Everest Base Camp

The Accumulation Zone of Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier Is Shrinking

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New Mountain Bike Trails Highlight Long Island’s Glacier Remnants

In the hamlet of North Hempstead, New York, a new mountain bike path is being cut in the footprint of an abandoned sand mine. A local non-profit, the Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists, or CLIMB, is creating up to seven miles of paths, creatively integrating glacier-formed features into a trail network, and cleaning up decades of accumulated industrial waste in the process.

During the last glacial maximum, about 18,000 thousand years ago, the Laurentide ice sheet covered much of North America including present day New York City. Long Island, which extends 118 miles into the Atlantic Ocean eastward from Manhattan, was created by two glacial advances, the Illinoisian and the Wisconsin glaciations. Long Island was the eastern terminus of a massive glacial moraine, which spanned the entire North American continent. 

Exit glaciers from the Laurentide ice sheet formed the greater New York region’s landscape. The glaciers pushed sand and gravel into piles, or moraines, which, thousands of years later, provided a bountiful sand deposit from which to mine.   

JB Bennington is a professor of geology at Hofstra University on Long Island, whose research activities include the glacial history and glacial geomorphology of Long Island. “There are very thick deposits of well-sorted glacial outwash sands that built up at the margin of the ice and in many cases were subsequently ice-thrusted and piled up by readvances of the glacier,” Bennington told GlacierHub. “These moraine deposits are thick and well above sea level, which makes mining a lot easier because you don’t have to pump groundwater out of the hole you create.”

Much of New York City’s present day skyline is owed to its glacial history.

The bygone Port Washington sand mine is located less than 18 miles from Manhattan, whose skyscrapers, bridges, and sidewalks were built from the extracted sand and gravel. The materials removed from the ground in Port Washington—140 million tons of it—made up an estimated 90 percent of the concrete used to construct the city during the mine’s operation. An estimated 50 barges of sand and gravel were shipped daily to Manhattan between the 1880’s and 1989, when the mine closed.   

George Williams is the former chairman of the North Hempstead Historic Landmark Preservation Commission. Sand mining was “such a vital industry, so important to the community, and nothing remains,” Williams noted to The New York Times in 2008. “It was almost like it was wiped off the face of the earth.”

Wiped off the face of the earth—except for the debris that was left behind.

Thirty years after the mine ceased operations, piles of ravaged earth and industrial equipment remain. While glacier-deposited resources first drew the extractive mining industry to North Hempstead 140 years ago, today a glacier-inspired mountain bicycle trail is cleaning up after them.

CLIMB, which was founded in 1990, is headed by lifelong Long Island resident Michael Vitti. His group has built and maintains 175 miles of sustainable cycling trails from Manhattan to Montauk, at the eastern end of the island.

A sustainable trail resists the forces of use and erosion, minimally impacts the natural ecosystem, and creates a cadre of people who care for the trail. Vitti’s method aims to endear the community to the area through enjoyment of the outdoors. “They’ll come to love the trails,” he told GlacierHub, “and they’ll come to love and steward the area and clean it up and it’ll become much better.”

Vitti and his volunteers, braving poison ivy, mosquitoes, and deer ticks, have painstakingly mapped and marked the 200-acre plot. “Most people come once and they don’t come back because of the poison ivy,” said Vitti, who is this author’s uncle. “In urban areas where there are lots of greenhouse gases, poison ivy grows mutantly fast. And tall. And big.” The poison ivy immunity of several CLIMB volunteers makes trail construction by hand tool possible. Though it is slow going, 20-30 hours of labor per mile just to flag a viable route for cycling. They’ve done so while complying with the state’s stringent Department of Environmental Conservation requirements, which limits the removal of plant species and constrains the method of trail construction.

They carefully marked a path through the dense vegetation, much of it invasive plant species, without removing a single tree. Routes follow the natural contour of the land and soil disturbance is kept to a bare minimum. Only hand tools are used to blaze the trail. Even the bridges they’ll construct will be fabricated off site to keep sawdust out of the area.

They have removed, however, several tons of industrial detritus.

Braided steel cables and rusted 55-gallon drums, car parts, hot water heaters, truck tires, railcar axles, are among the debris. “Everywhere you look there’s garbage,” Vitti told GlacierHub.

Doing something about the fouled site has been on his mind for a long time.

In 1998, Vitti submitted a request to the town of North Hempstead to repurpose the neglected land for community enjoyment. Every few years Vitti inquired about his request. It was not until 2018, however, that he found a receptive ear in the town through councilwoman Dina DeGiorgio and partnered with local environmental action non-profit PWGreen.

Judi Bosworth is the town supervisor of North Hempstead and a champion of the project. “The Town is looking forward to the opening of the CLIMB bike trail,” she told GlacierHub. “We are so impressed with the quality of work and commitment by the members of CLIMB. The trail system is certainly going to be a wonderful addition to the recreational offerings here in the Town of North Hempstead.”

At the time of writing, Vitti’s group has completed 1.65 miles of the planned five to seven-mile trail network, which he anticipates completing by the end of the summer. The new trail contains many glacial features including thousands of erratics, bluffs of white cretaceous clay, and black clay. Some trails ramp into hump-shaped glacial erratics that allow advanced cyclists to ride up and over. A meander in the path was going to take riders past a rare hoodoo—a ten-story sedimentary spire eroded over the millennia. The impressive natural feature, and the planned path around its perimeter, however, is threatened by a grading project to prevent sediment from running off into a nearby golf course.

While some glacier-created topographical features remain, many of the hills on the trail are mining spoils—giant piles of discarded earth material from a century of extracting sand.

“When we’re digging into it, it’s like digging into cookie dough ice cream,” said Vitti of the challenge of building in the sand and clay-mounded ruins of the mine.

Two other Long Island mountain biking trails bear glacial names. CLIMB  created “Glacier 8,” which has one of the best views and terrain, according to Vitti. The trail runs along the edge of the Ronkonkoma glacial moraine, a feature of the Wisconsin glaciation 85,000-11,000 years ago. Another CLIMB  trail, “Glacier Ridge” in Farmingville, located farther East on the same moraine, is one of Long Island’s most popular mountain biking routes and contains many glacial features.

Most New Yorkers are unaware “that they are living in the middle of a glacial event park,” Joerg Schaefer, a researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told The New York Times in 2005.  

It might just take a bike trail to allow people to realize it.

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Ancient Humans of Glaciated Western China Consumed High-Potency Cannabis

Evidence of marijuana use is scattered throughout the archaeological record of human civilization. Residue from most of those excavation sites indicates that the cannabis used by ancient humans was of too low potency to have been cultivated, leading archaeologists to conclude that the plants were likely wild varieties rather than ones domesticated by humans.

But a recent find at a cemetery in the glacier-rich Pamirs of western China indicates that humans may have intentionally selected higher potency strains of marijuana as early as 500 BC.

The research team, which included archaeologists and chemists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, published their findings in the June 12 issue of the journal Science Advances.

A wood brazier unearthed at Jirzankal, which was buried within the tomb, containing cannabis residue (Source: Xinhua Wu).

Mark Merlin is a botany professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who was a reviewer of the study. “We’ve known that cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in East Asia, primarily for making oil and hemp,” Merlin told NPR. “Now we know the ancients also valued the plant for its psychoactive properties.

The 2,500-year-old Jirzankal Cemetery lies at nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), in present day Xinjiang Uyghyr Autonomous Region, a large province in northwest China. Excavated tombs revealed mummies buried with wood containers, called braziers, used for containing hot coals. Researchers found that the braziers contained cannabis residue.

“We can start to piece together an image of funerary rites that included flames, rhythmic music and hallucinogen smoke, all intended to guide people into an altered state of mind.”

Ren, et al

The discovery at Jirzankal is significant because of the strength of the psychoactive component of the cannabis residue, which suggests the plants were either cultivated varieties of high potency, or wild varieties which were intentionally selected for this quality.

The research further underscores the role that glaciers may have played in sustaining the marijuana plants, which have a need for high hydration.  A 2015 study on cannabis cultivated in northern California found that an estimated 22 liters of water or more per plant per day were applied during the summer growing season, similar to the water demand of the notoriously thirsty almond tree in the same region.

A wealth of glaciated peaks lie above Jirzankal Cemetery that would have provided melt water for irrigation during the dry season. “Wild cannabis grows across many of the cooler mountain foothills from the Caucasus to western China, especially in the well-watered habitats of Central Asia,” Meng Ren and the co-authors wrote.

Glaciated peaks are visible in the background of the Jirzankal cemetery, whose surface is striped with black and white stones, which mark the tombs’ surfaces. (Source: Xinhua Wu).

Robert Spengler, who worked on the study, is an archaeobotanist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, whose work focuses on the spread and intensification of agriculture in ancient Central Asia.

“Further north in Xinjiang, in the Taklamakan Desert, there are other, roughly contemporaneous, finds of cannabis in burials and those populations were clearly living in desert oases that were fed by glacial melt and mountain rain-fed streams that emptied into a hyper-arid desert,” Spengler told GlacierHub. “All of those early populations in Xinjinag were agropastoral and would have relied on glacial melt from the Tian Shan.”

The findings at Jirzankal provoke the imagination to consider the possible role of cannabis in ancient society. “We can start to piece together an image of funerary rites that included flames, rhythmic music and hallucinogen smoke, all intended to guide people into an altered state of mind,” the authors wrote.

Today’s inhabitants of the Pamir mountains are known as Tajiks, one of China’s recognized minorities, who number just over 33,000. They speak Sarikoli, a language in a different branch of the Iranian language family from Tajik spoken in Tajikistan. Tajiks different from the much larger Uygur ethnic community, whom also inhabit Xinjiang.

While the humans of 500 BC embraced marijuana for its psychoactive properties, modern governments have eschewed it, until recently.

A groundswell of popularity and diminishing fear of marijuana has societies around the world slowly welcoming use of the plant back into the mainstream. Barriers to legal access are falling across the United States, and several countries have fully legalized it, including Canada and Uruguay.

Even the Chinese government responded to the shifting views of cannabis, making exemptions on strict laws against marijuana that have been in place since 1985. On May 9, The New York Times ran an article titled “China Cashes in On The Cannabis Boom.” The country produced half of the world’s hemp last year, The Economist reported, though Xinjiang, where the Jirzankal cemetery is located, is not one of the two provinces with special permission to produce the plant.

“Modern perspectives on cannabis vary tremendously cross-culturally, but it is clear that the plant has a long history of human use, medicinally, ritually and recreationally over countless millennia,” Spengler told The New York Times.

And the glacier-marijuana connection is being embraced by American cannabis brands.

The firm Glacier Cannabis is named after Glacier Farms, whose rolling hills in southeastern Michigan were formed by glaciers during the last glacial maximum. “All Glacier cannabis is grown with locally-sourced glacial rock dust,” reads the Michigan company’s brand strategy page.

The Glacier Cannabis logo (Source: Brittany Barnhart/Just Curious).

In the heavily-glaciated Pacific Northwest, a cannabis varietal named “Glacier OG” is bred by RedEyed Genetics, a cannabis seed distributor. Marijuana is also legal in Alaska, the US state with the most glaciers. The rapidly melting glaciers there have contributed more to sea level rise than any glacier region in the world since 1961. A marijuana manufacturer, Glacier Extracts, is based in Anchorage. The operation’s tagline “Not Just Pure: Glacier Pure,” capitalizes on the untainted quality of glaciers.

Humans may have sensed a connection between glaciers and cannabis in 500 BC — or they may have noted the plant’s growth at altitude yielded higher potency buds. “It is possible,” the study authors speculate, “that high-elevation populations of a naturally higher THC–producing variety were recognized and targeted by people in the Pamir region, possibly even explaining the prominence of ritual sites in the high mountains.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Vulnerability of Mountain Societies in Central Asia

Ancient Ecological Calendars Find Way Forward in Pamir Mts.

What the Newest Global Glacier-Volume Estimate Means for High Mountain Asia

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Ecuador Prepares for Eruption of Glacier-Covered Volcano

Ecuador contains one of the densest concentrations of volcanoes on the planet. At last count, 84 volcanic centers straddle the Andes mountains, which run through the country north to south. As many as 24 of those volcanoes are potentially active and some are covered in glaciers, which compound the threat of an eruption with the addition of ice and glacier debris. A history of major eruptions and recent volcanic activity, including on the glaciated stratovolcano Cotopaxi, has unnerved Ecuadorian citizens and prompted government action.

On April 19, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued an early action protocol (EAP) to ameliorate the health, livelihood, and food security impacts of ash fallout from volcanic eruptions on Ecuadorian communities.

The EAP is the result of a project, spearheaded by the German Red Cross, to coordinate forecast-based financing to reduce the impact of extreme natural disasters in 20 countries. Ecuador was selected to receive support for a volcanic ash fallout plan.

Cotopaxi spews ash on August 17, 2015 (Source: WikiCommons).

When a volcano erupts, there is often a period of unrest, precursor signals of an eruption, in which ash is spewed from the volcano. Ash fallout can affect health, livelihoods, and food security for people living in the deposition zone. Unrests can be prolonged events, like that of Cotopaxi in 2015, which lasted four months and did not result in an eruption – yet. Unrests can be longer, shorter, or there can be no sign of unrest at all.

The early action protocol cites its objective to “establish appropriate early action using volcanic ash dispersal and deposition forecasts that benefit the most vulnerable families in the most potentially affected areas.” The early actions identified were based on the ash fall produced by eruptions over the past 20 years, including that of Cotopaxi, which is located 31 miles south of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. A major eruption would rain ash on the three million inhabitants of Quito and disrupt air travel.

The phases of early action for ash fall depend on the depth of forecasted ash deposition: distribution of health protection kits for ash fall between two and five millimeters, a livelihood protection package to protect livestock and harvested crops from ash fall between five and ten millimeters, and the addition of cash-based interventions for ash fall greater than ten millimeters.  

Benjamin Bernard, a volcanologist at the Geophysical Institute of Ecuador’s National Polytechnical School (IG-EPN), works with the Ecuadorian Red Cross and the Red Cross Climate Center. According to Bernard, the objective of the project is to reduce the impact of extreme events based on scientific forecasts and early actions.

“This EAP is a significant improvement because in Ecuador, until this project, humanitarian financing was only for response to the emergency,” Bernard told GlacierHub. “It has already been proven in this project that early actions can significantly reduce the impact of extreme weather conditions and we hope that it will do the same for volcanic eruptions.”

In 2017, The Atlantic published an article titled “The ‘Anticipatory Anxiety’ of Waiting for Disaster,” which documented the trauma of Ecuadorians living in the shadow of Cotopaxi. Patricia Mothes, a volcanologist with Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute, told the magazine, “Of the five eruptive periods from 1532 to now—and this is number six—it always ends (or at least has) in a major eruption.”

Ahead of the anticipated major eruption, however, falling ash disrupts life for communities in the vicinity of Cotopaxi.

Ash fall from eruptions can have a significant health and economic impacts for downslope communities. “In previous events of ash fall, people have had to transport their animals to safe areas free from ash fall or have had to sell their cattle up to 70 per cent less than their normal commercial value, generating a negative impact on household economies,” the Ecuadorian Red Cross report reads. “In other cases, their animals died, which led to a serious impact on their economic stability. In these cases, affected households had to resort to bank loans that they continue to be unable to repay.”

But it’s not the lava or even the ash that worry those who live near glacier-clad Cotopaxi, The Atlantic reported, it’s the lahar—a superheated deadly slurry of mud, water, volcanic rock, ice, and other debris.

Cotopaxi poses dramatically different hazards to nearby populations, according to Mothes. When combined with hot ash and flowing rock, an eruption of a glaciated volcano can create a lahars, which are known to travel downhill at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour (120 miles per hour). Ecuadorian government has installed eruption warning systems to alert communities in lahar zones. The moment monitors detect seismic activity consistent with an eruption, automated sirens rouse communities downslope.

Ecuador is the only country with glaciers straddling the equator. Though Ecuador is seldom thought of as a glacier country, so prominently do glaciers figure in the nation’s landscape they even appear on its national flag.

Bolívar Cáceres is the head of Ecuador’s glaciers program within the country’s National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology. “The Secretary of Risk of Ecuador has worked extensively on the matter, I believe we would be prepared,” he told GlacierHub on Ecuador’s readiness for an eruption. “The latent threat of Cotopaxi is there, waiting for the big event.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

Event Series Highlights Threats to Tibet’s Glaciers

Dispatch from the Cryosphere: Glacier Decrease in the Georgian Caucasus

How Mountain-Dwellers Talk About Adapting to Melting Glaciers

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Roundup: A Glacier State Congressman Changes Tone, Minority Rights in Asian Glacier Region, and a New Early Warning System in Peru

A Glacier State Congressman Cites Climate Change as Basis for Nuclear Energy Legislation

Senator John Barrasso, a Republican representing the glacier state of Wyoming, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. On April 24, Barrasso released a draft act reforming U.S. nuclear waste policy, to ensure the federal government’s legal obligations to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste are fulfilled. His reason? Climate change.

The New York Times writes:

“When John Barrasso, a Republican from oil and uranium-rich Wyoming who has spent years blocking climate change legislation, introduced a bill this year to promote nuclear energy, he added a twist: a desire to tackle global warming.

Mr. Barrasso’s remarks — “If we are serious about climate change, we must be serious about expanding our use of nuclear energy” — were hardly a clarion call to action. Still they were highly unusual for the lawmaker who, despite decades of support for nuclear power and other policies that would reduce planet-warming emissions, has until recently avoided talking about them in the context of climate change.

The comments represent an important shift among Republicans in Congress. Driven by polls showing that voters in both parties — particularly younger Americans — are increasingly concerned about a warming planet, and prodded by the new Democratic majority in the House shining a spotlight on the issue, a growing number of Republicans are now openly discussing climate change and proposing what they call conservative solutions.”

U.S. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (Source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Major UN Meeting Raises Minority Rights Issues in Asia’s Glaciated Mountain Areas

The United Nation’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held its annual meeting in New York City April 22 – May 3. There was significant debate about China’s treatment of minority peoples in the glaciated western provinces, Tibet and Xinjiang. The UN Press reports:

“Despite scattered gains in land, language and legal rights, a glaring lack of political will around the world is inhibiting fundamental change on the ground in thousands of communities in every region, delegates told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today as it continued its work.

Achievements outlined by Member State representatives today were starkly overshadowed by grave concerns – including high youth suicide rates, social exclusion and widespread political apathy – raised by many speakers, as the Permanent Forum concluded its general discussion on “implementation of the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.  The six areas are economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

Across these areas – from land marred by war or extractive industries’ activities to ignorance about indigenous history and languages – speakers called on Governments and the Permanent Forum alike to urgently take the kind of actions that will have a direct, positive impact on their communities.”

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York on April 22, 2019 (Source: United Nations/Flickr)

An Early Warning System for Peru’s GLOF-Prone Lake Palcacocha

In northwestern Peru, government officials announced plans to install an early warning system to alert downstream populations of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) from the Andean glacier lake, Palcacocha,

The lake has a history of GLOFs . Most recently, an avalanche from a calving glacier above the lake on February 5 triggered a wave that tested the moraine holding back the glacial meltwater. The regional capital, Huaraz, which lies downstream, is the second most populous city of the Peruvian Andes.

Peruvian news outlet El Comercio reported on the new warning system, which is expected to take one year to complete.

Lake Palcacocha above the main city of Huaraz is drained using siphons to avoid Glacier Lake Outburst Floods. In 1941, a GLOF leveled Huaraz to the ground (Source: Mattias Borg Rasmussen).

Read More on GlacierHub:

Palcacocha Icefalls Demonstrate Hazard Vulnerabilities in Peru

Will Climate Change Be Responsible for More Glacial Lake Outburst Floods?

Powerful Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in the Himalayas

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How Dust From Receding Glaciers Is Affecting the Climate

When glaciers recede, they leave barren landscapes behind. Dust from these surfaces can influence clouds high above, both how they form and how long they last, according to a recent study published in Nature Geoscience journal. Researchers on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard found wind-blown dust from receding glaciers is a catalyst for the formation of ice particle in clouds, impacting Arctic cloud development, lifetime, and reflectivity.

Glacier-sourced dust is made up of fine minerals and organic matter, pulverized over the millennia by the immense weight and slow scouring of glacier ice. The source of the organic matter is undetermined, yet the research team believes those particles are the key to the ice-nucleating ability of glacier dust.  

In the low and middle latitudes, dust in the atmosphere is known to scatter light and cause air to condense and form clouds. Whether high-latitude dust emissions have a similar impact on Arctic clouds is not as well understood.

Glacier dust blows into the air over eastern Greenland on September 9, 2018. Runoff from several glaciers deposited sediment in a flood plain (Source: NASA).

Yutaka Tobo, an assistant professor at Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research, led a research team to see how the dust was affecting clouds. In particular, Tobo wondered whether they were triggering the formation of ice crystals, which can cause clouds to condense at low temperatures. Ice nucleating particles, Tobo’s team found, shorten cloud lifetime by prompting precipitation. Since icy clouds are less reflective than liquid-based clouds, the cloud’s capacity to reflect incoming light is also diminished, a key factor in the Earth’s ability to regulate its temperature.

“Few studies have focused on the possible contribution of dusts released from high-latitude sources to ice nucleation in Arctic mixed-phase clouds,” Tobo told GlacierHub. “If there are more ice nucleating particles around, the cloud properties and lifetime are expected to be dramatically altered.”

Though the field work in Svalbard was mainly performed within the framework of a Japanese Arctic research project, Tobo enlisted scientists from Colorado State University, who he worked with previously, while a team from Cornell University performed global aerosol model simulations, including high-latitude dusts.

Natalie Mahowald, a professor in the department of earth and atmospheric science at Cornell University, was one of the modellers involved in the study. “It is very exciting that these dust particles are much better ice nuclei, which will help us understand more about the climate system and how ice clouds will respond,” she told GlacierHub. “This could be especially important to understand what happened during the last interglacial, when these glaciated sources were much bigger.”

Researchers Yutaka Tobo and Jun Uetake install equipment on Svalbard (Source: Colorado State University).

What makes the glacier dust particularly effective at nucleating ice is the small amount of organic matter within it. Interestingly, the Svalbard glacial plain the researchers studied, is devoid of vegetation or any apparent source of organic material.

Tom Hill, a co-author of the study, is a researcher at Colorado State who specializes in molecular microbial ecology. “The source of the outwash organic matter intrigues me,” Hill said. “There isn’t much of it by percentage but it’s enriched in ice nuclei. We still know very little about ice nucleating microbes in soils, so it could be something entirely new.”

The team suspects the organic particles were washed down from microbial sources from higher up on the glacier. “Further studies will be necessary to understand the major sources of organic matter contained in the outwash,” Tobo told GlacierHub.

The glacier Brøggerbreen on Svalbard in July 2016 and March 2017. Glacier outwash becomes airborne as dust during summer (Source: Nature Geoscience).

Through its influence on clouds, glacier dust, and the organic ice-nucleating matter within it, have implications for the Earth’s climate.

How clouds, which are responsible for more than half of the Earth’s reflective capacity, respond to climate change remains one of the greatest uncertainties in climate science. The wide range of cloud type, altitude, and composition make their effect on Earth’s climate difficult to measure quantitatively. Clouds have opposing effects: cooling, by reflecting solar radiation back into space; and warming, by trapping radiation from the Earth’s surface.

At a fundamental level, climate models are built on an accurate accounting of incoming and reflected solar radiation. Any uncertainty in the atmospheric radiation budget sends errors rippling through climate projections.

In the Arctic, a region especially sensitive to the effects of climate change, comprehensive understanding of what causes clouds to form there – and dissipate – is central to projecting climate impacts.

Though the study focused on the effect of glacier dust on cloud properties and lifetime, the results suggest larger questions about the impact of glacier dust on cloud reflectivity.

A decline in the reflective capability of clouds could degrade the Earth’s ability to moderate its temperature. Paul DeMott, one of the study’s co-authors, told GlacierHub that he was careful not make conclusions about the role of glacier dust in cloud reflectivity, though he acknowledged that it is “a natural, if simplistic, way of thinking about it.”

Whether or not a cloud contains ice particles is a primary determinant of its reflective capacity, as well as heat-trapping ability. Ice crystals allow more light to pass through clouds, while effectively absorbing outgoing infrared radiation.

Dust from the floodplain of Alaska’s Copper River is blown into the atmosphere in October 2009 (Source: NASA).

Glaciated clouds – those containing ice particles rather than liquid droplets – are unable to reflect as much light as clouds with liquid water. The dust from receding glaciers, the researchers found, is especially adept at glaciating clouds. In other words, clouds formed by glacier dust allow greater amounts of heat to enter Earth’s atmosphere.

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2018 found low levels of ice-nucleating particles in the Southern Ocean resulted in higher cloud reflectivity – meaning more ice-nucleating particles would do the opposite. More ice-nucleating particles would decrease cloud reflectivity.

As warming from the human-driven climate crisis accelerates, glacier dust is expected to become more abundant, with consequences for Arctic cloud cover and the Earth’s temperature, which depends on the reflectivity and heat-trapping ability of clouds. The study’s conclusion, that ice nucleating particles in glacier dust affect cloud properties, underscores the interconnectedness of natural systems, and their sensitivities.

NASA researcher Patrick Taylor, who was uninvolved with the Nature study told Scientific American, “We really do need to focus on these Arctic clouds because we don’t know a lot about them.” Taylor continued, “And everything we do know about them is pointing to them having this central role in how the Arctic climate system is going to evolve going forward.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

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

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

GlacierHub Seeks Contributors for Its New, International Feature Series

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Roundup: Project Pressure Exhibition, Melting Swiss Glaciers Provide Opportunity, and The Tibetan Snowcock

“MELTDOWN” A Traveling Art Exhibition by Project Pressure

This summer catch the art exhibition “MELTDOWN” a visualization of climate change by world-renowned artists commissioned by Project Pressure, at the Natural History Museum, Vienna June 4 – September 8, 2019.

“Project Pressure uses art as a positive touch point to inspire engagement and behavioural change. The selected artworks in MELTDOWN relate to vanishing glaciers, to demonstrate the impact of climate change through various media. Unlike wildfires, flooding and other weather events, glacier mass loss can be 100% attributed to global temperature changes and as such, they are key indicators of climate change. The exhibition is a narrative of the importance of glaciers told in a scientific, illustrative and poetic way and each artist has a unique take on the subject. MELTDOWN shows scale from the planetary level to microscopic biological impact, and considers humanitarian suffering and more. Together the artistic interpretations in MELTDOWN give visitors unique insights into the world’s cryosphere, its fragile ecosystem and our changing global climate.”

The second stop will be Horniman Museum and Gardens, London, opening the 23rd of November.

Switzerland Is Making the Most of its Melting Glaciers

A recent New York Times interactive “Where Glaciers Melt Away, Switzerland Sees Opportunity,” takes readers to the Swiss Alps for a visually stimulating tour of the country’s innovations around glacier melt, from footbridges spanning glacial valleys to hydropower innovations.

A cable and plank footbridge spans what was the Trift Glacier, 300 feet above the water (Source: Flickr/ThisisBossi).

The Tibetan Snowcock Is Caught On Camera

A study on the little-known high-altitude bird in the pheasant family, the Tibetan Snowcock. The study uses reports on images from camera traps to describe its behavior. It also describes the bird’s preference for higher elevation, living close to glaciers and the snow line.

“Global climate change has had significant effects on animal distribution and population dynamics in mid-latitude alpine areas, but we know little about the basic ecology of high-altitude species due to the difficulties of conducting field research in the harsh climate and habitat present at high elevations. The Tibetan Snowcock (Tetraogallus tibetanus) is a little-known phasianid distributing in alpine areas at extremely high elevations in the mountains surrounding the Tibetan Plateau. Estimating the species occupancy rate and discussing the factors affecting its distribution based on infrared-triggered camera techniques would provide both a baseline to measure the influence of global warming and valuable information on its conservation and ecology.”

File:Tibetan Snowcock near Luza while going Macheramo towards Gokyo lake.jpg
The Tibetan Snowcock (Source: WikiCommons/Sumita Roy Dutta)

Read more on GlacierHub:

Planning Meetings to Focus on Water Management in the Andean Region

North Cascade 2019 Winter Accumulation Assessment

Video of the Week: Can Blankets Protect Swiss Glaciers from Melting?

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Photo Friday: New Zealand’s Tasman Glacier

This week’s Photo Friday features the Tasman Glacier in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island. At over 23 kilometers, the glacier is the longest of New Zealand’s more than 3,000 glaciers.

The photographer, Ryan Force, took the image from the Tasman Glacier viewpoint. Force and his wife, Marissa, honeymooned on the island by campervan. They intended to park near Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak, and hike to a promontory to view the glacier. But heavy rains in the region days earlier washed out a bridge on the road to the access point. The photo below was as close to the Tasman Glacier as the newlyweds were able to get.

The rock and debris covered Tasman Glacier seen from the southwest shore of Tasman Lake (Source: Ryan Force).

The Tasman Glacier is in rapid retreat. The body of milky grey water in the foreground of Force’s photo is Tasman Lake, which formed as the glacier’s ice melted and continues to grow as the glacier recedes.

In 1973 there was no lake in front of the Tasman Glacier, according to Martin Brook, a lecturer in physical geography at New Zealand’s Massey University. The lake is now 7 kilometers long, 2 kilometers wide, and 245 meters deep.

A significant ice calving event in February of this year created a two-meter surge that damaged a jetty and several boat trailers on Tasman Lake, the BBC reported.

A sign at the Tasman Glacier lookout informs tourists of the glacier’s decline. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation uses the visual display of their rapidly retreating glaciers as an opportunity to raise awareness about climate change.

A sign board installed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation documents the Tasman Glacier’s ablation (Source: Ryan Force).

“We felt a bit defeated,” Force told GlacierHub of the experience. “I felt a little frustration that in the next 50 years, this beautiful landscape might be gone entirely because we as a species put our heads in the sand and refused to take action.”

A 2015 study on the implications of climate change for glacier tourism in New Zealand found glaciers to be a fundamental motivation for visitors, finding a “last chance dimension” luring visitors to the glaciers.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation estimated that 945,000 people visited Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in 2018. The surge in visitors to the park, which contains the Tasman Glacier, is a 17.5 percent increase from the previous year.

An aerial photo of a helicopter landing on a glacier in New Zealand’s Southern Alps (Source: Ryan Force).

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, GlacierHub reported last month. 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.

“It was so valuable to actually see it firsthand,” said Force. “This was the first time I saw with my own eyes what the results looked like, instead of reading about them in an article or seeing it in a documentary. I walked away wanting to do more.”

Read more on GlacierHub:

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Glaciers Account for More Sea Level Rise Than Previously Thought

The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day


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Glaciers Account for More Sea Level Rise Than Previously Thought

A new study published April 8 in the journal Nature found that glacier melt is occurring more rapidly than previously thought and accounts for 25-30 percent of observed sea level rise since 1961. The research used a new approach to produce more precise and accurate measurements, improving upon previous studies of glacier contribution to sea level rise.

The international research team, based at the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich, says glaciers lost more than 9,000 billion tons of ice since 1961, raising ocean levels by 27 millimeters. The team used field observations and satellite measurements from over 19,000 glaciers to reconstruct changes in ice thickness.

Columbia Glacier, in Alaska, has been in “catastrophic” retreat since 1982 (Source: NASA/USGS/Google)

The study’s principal author, Michael Zemp, leads the World Glacier Monitoring Service and is involved with various scientific projects in the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich. “Glaciological measurements made in the field provide the annual fluctuations, while the satellite data allows us to determine overall ice loss over several years or decades.” Zemp said in a press release from the University of Zurich. “By combining these two measurement methods and having the new comprehensive dataset, we can estimate how much ice has been lost each year in all mountain regions since the 1960s.”

Glaciers in Alaska were the largest contributors, followed by melting ice fields in Patagonia and Arctic glaciers. Glaciers in different parts of the world make their contributions to sea level rise in different decades. A glacier’s input to sea level rise is determined by their mass and rate of loss. Alaskan and Patagonian glaciers, for example, are not as far poleward as some other glaciated regions. They are melting faster and contributing the most to sea level rise due to their large glacier area. Conversely, Antarctica’s periphery glaciers, situated near the south pole, contributed least to sea level rise during the study period. While glaciers in the western US, Canada, and Iceland, located in even warmer climates than Alaska, lost the most mass. Due to their small total glacier area of those regions, however, they contributed little to sea level rise.

Regional contributions to sea level rise (Source: Michael Zemp/Nature)

Sea level rise is a direct result of climate change, though its local and regional extent and impact varies, and depends on geologic, oceanographic, and atmospheric influence. The primary contributors to ocean volume and mass are from thermal expansion (water expands as it warms) and the addition of melt water from ice sheets and glaciers. Glaciers are made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses, and due to their mass, flow like very slow rivers. As they melt, their runoff contributes to sea level rise. Ice sheets, which cover most of Greenland and Antarctica,  are a mass of glacial land ice extending more than 50,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles), whose meltwater raises sea levels. An ice shelfis a portion of an ice sheet that spreads out over water. Because ice shelves are already on the water, they do not contribute to sea level rise as they melt.

Understanding the physical processes behind glacier mass loss and its effect on sea level rise is crucial to projecting the impacts of climate change for society. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report issued by the US Global Change Research Program, sea level rise this century and beyond will pose a growing challenge to coastal communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems from increased (permanent) inundation, more frequent and extreme coastal flooding, erosion of coastal landforms, and saltwater intrusion within coastal rivers and aquifers. Glaciers are not just icons of climate change; their rate of retreat is an indicator of warming and accurate accounting of their melt is necessary for calibrating models of sea level rise.

Zemp and his colleagues aimed to use updated methods to provide a clearer view of the extent of global glacier loss. “Over 30 years suddenly almost all regions started losing mass at the same time,” said Zemp.  “That’s clearly climate change if you look at the global picture.”

The most significant improvement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) in 2013, according to the authors, is the volume and accuracy of remote sensing data. Sampling increased from a few hundred glaciers to more than 19,000 globally, with an observational coverage exceeding 45 percent of the glacier area in 11 out of 19 glacier regions. Studies included in that report had to rely on data from 2003–2009, while earlier years had to be estimated. IPCC AR5 documented the sea level contribution of all glaciers globally to be 0.71 millimeters per year.  Zemp’s study found that glaciers contribute 18 percent more than was reported in IPCC AR5, around one millimeter of sea level rise per year.

Matthias Huss, a Swiss glaciologist from the University of Fribourg and Secretary for Glaciers at the Cryospheric Sciences of the European Geosciences Union, was also involved in the study. Huss told GlacierHub, “In comparison to the knowledge included in the last assessment report of the IPCC the increase in remotely-sensed information on glacier mass change is tremendous.” He added, “our study has now attempted to combine all data, also including development of new approaches for optimally combining the available measurements.”

Zemp’s study will be included in the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere chapters on high mountains and sea level rise, to be published in September of this year. The next IPCC report will be issued in 2021.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Drying Peatlands in the Bolivian Andes Threaten Indigenous Pastoral Communities

Measuring the Rise and Fall of New Zealand’s Small and Medium Glaciers

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Video of the Week: Take a 360° Tour of Mount Baker

In this week’s Video of the Week, take a three-dimensional tour of Mount Baker, an active stratovolcano in Washington state. At 10,781 feet (3,286 meters), Mount Baker is the highest peak in the North Cascade Range and the northernmost volcano in the contiguous United States. It is also the only Cascade peak to be affected by both alpine and continental glaciation.

Twelve principal glaciers exist on Mount Baker, all of which are in rapid retreat. The peak is consistently one of the snowiest places on Earth. Mount Baker set the record for snowfall in a year, when it received 95 feet (29 meters) in 1998-1999, an El Niño winter.

Mount Baker is in the news this week after venting steam from a crater near its peak. Though the most recent major eruption at Mount Baker occurred 6,700 years ago, the 2018 update to the USGS National Volcanic Threat Assessment lists the volcano’s eruption threat as “very high,” the most cautious categorization. Volcanoes with this designation are prioritized for research, monitoring, and mitigation.

According to ScienceBase.gov, the USGS data release portal, the purpose of the Mount Baker survey was to contribute to natural hazards monitoring efforts, the study of regional geology and volcanic landforms, and landscape modification during and after future volcanic eruptions.

The rendering below, published by the US Geological Survey in November 2017, used a high-precision Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) survey. LiDAR is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges to the Earth to generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics. A Leica ALS80 system mounted in a Cessna Caravan 208B was used to conduct the Mount Baker survey in the fall of 2015.

High-definition LiDAR sensing creates a stunning model of Washington state’s active, glacier-covered stratovolcano (Source: MapScaping/Twitter).

Read More on GlacierHub.org

Photo Friday: Mount Baker Is Letting Off Some Steam

Unearthing Rock Glaciers: Hidden, Hydrological Landforms

What Snow Algae in the Pacific Northwest Could Reveal About Life on Mars

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