Roundup: Deaths in Alaska, Europe’s Heatwave, and Reflections on Afghanistan

Glacier instability is creating dangerous conditions for Alaska tourists

From Anchorage Daily News: “The toe of Valdez Glacier, where the bodies of three boaters were found this week, had become particularly dangerous, said a guide who had altered his own tour route due to the glacier’s increasing instability.”

Read more here.

An aerial view of Alaska’s Valdez Glacier, where the bodies of three boaters were recently found. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Europe’s heatwave brought unusually high melt rates

From E&E News: “The sweltering heat wave that roasted much of Europe last month has since moved north, where it’s wreaking havoc on the Greenland ice sheet. But while all eyes are currently trained on the Arctic ice, scientists are finding that Europe’s coldest places have also suffered.

According to initial findings from the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS), Swiss glaciers experienced unusually high melt rates during the last heat wave, which occurred in late July, and an earlier heat wave that struck the continent in late June.”

Read more here.

The Aletsch Glacier is Switzerland’s largest glacier. (Source: Flickr/Sam Rayner)

Reflecting on Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor

From Collateral Values: “On March 30th, 2014, Afghanistan declared the Wakhan Corridor as its second national park. At over 10,000 km2, the park is larger than Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It is high country, ranging from 2500 meters at its west end, to a mountain pass to China at 5000 meters in the east, and peaks of 7000 meters along its southern border. Despite its elevation, the Wakhan National Park is home to iconic wildlife species such as Marco Polo sheep and the snow leopards. It is also home to some 17,000 people. The Wakhan has had a long journey from geopolitical buffer zone to national park, a journey that is not yet complete. It became defined as a specific region during The Great Game of the nineteenth century between the two great empires of the age: Tsarist Russia, and the British Raj in India. The great powers wanted a buffer zone between them, an effort to keep their competition from accidentally spilling over into war. Neither the British, the Russians, nor the Afghan Emir could have known that in the twenty-first century, this buffer zone would come to be valued for its natural capital. While there were ceremonies to declare the park in 2014, it is not yet clear how the park will be managed. The park faces many challenges, but has great potential to preserve rare mountain habitats for the people who live there, and the world beyond its borders.”

Read more here.

The Wakhan Corridor under light snow, with a Wakhi man collecting firewood. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Tom Hartley)

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Photo Friday: Aerial Images of Norway

Finger Lakes Residents Connect With the Region’s GlacialPast

Video of the Week: Grizzlies in Glacier National Park

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Photo Friday: Images of Europe’s July Heat Wave

Temperature records fell one after another in Europe last week with five countries—Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg—registering record highs.

A study conducted by World Weather Attribution concluded that temperatures during the hot spell would have been 1.5-3 degrees Celsius cooler if not for the additional warming brought about by human-caused climate change.

Rank of annual maximum temperatures observed in Europe in 2019 compared to 1950 –2018, based on the E-OBS data set (Haylock et al., 2008, version 19, extended with monthly and daily updates to 30 July 2019). This figure is made with preliminary data and should be taken with caution as some measurements are not yet validated. (Source: World Weather Attribution)

Video posted to Twitter shows how rising temperatures are impacting Europe’s alpine glaciers. Severe-weather.EU posted footage of a massive mudslide barreling down a mountainside on July 28th at the height of the heat wave. The group alleges the mudflow was brought about by melting glaciers in Mauvoisin, Switzerland.

The high pressure system that parked over Europe and brought about the record heat has since moved north, where it’s led to potentially record-breaking melt across Greenland’s ice sheet.

The familiar images of temperature anomalies that are produced by the world’s climate and weather agencies have inspired Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based artist Diane Burko, who is currently working on a painting depicting the July heatwave in Europe.

An image, provided by artist Diane Burko, shows progress on her painting “European Heat Wave.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

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

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

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Video of the Week: Iceland’s Okjökull Glacier Is Gone But Not Forgotten

Located in western Iceland, Okjökull Glacier covered 15 square kilometers and was 50 meters thick a century ago, according to the Guardian. But, due to climate change, it has shrunk to a 15-meter-thick patch of ice that covers only about a square kilometer.

Researchers from Houston’s Rice University, Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason, and geologist Oddur Sigurðsson, who first asserted that Okjökull’s decline means it can no longer can be considered a glacier, will be among those dedicating a plaque to it on August 18, according to a Rice University press release.

Okjökull, also referred to as “OK Glacier,” is the first of Iceland’s 400 glaciers to disappear due to climate change. Rice University anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer expect all of the island nation’s 400-plus glaciers to disappear by 2200.

Howe said the monument will be the first dedicated to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world. “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire,” Howe said. “These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance.”

Howe and Boyer produced a 2018 documentary “Not OK” about the glacier. The film is narrated by former Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr.

“We created this film about a small glacier in a small country in order to bring the huge and often abstract problem of climate change back down to a human scale so that we can better understand how it touches our everyday lives,” Howe said in 2018 when the film premiered.

Read More on GlacierHub:

New Mountain Bike Trails Highlight Long Island’s Glacier Remnants

To Travel or Not to Travel

New Heights in the Himalayas: High-Altitude Weather Monitoring

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Roundup: Expanding Glaciers, Appraising the Himalaya, and Ice Worms

Study shows a glacier is expanding

From Frontiers in Earth Science: “There is strong variation in glacier mass balances in High Mountain Asia. Particularly interesting is the fact that glaciers are in equilibrium or even gaining mass in the Karakoram and Kunlun Shan ranges, which is in sharp contrast with the negative mass balances in the rest of High Mountain Asia. To understand this difference, an in-depth understanding of the meteorological drivers of the glacier mass balance is required.”

Read the study here.

The outer domain (D1, 25 km, middle panel), with its nests. Left panel shows the 1 km domain of Shimshal catchment (D3), and right panel 1 km domain of Langtang catchment (D5). The catchment outlines are indicated by black contours and glacier outlines of GLDAS dataset (Rodell et al., 2004) by blue contours. (Source: Frontiers of Earth Science)

An appraisal of Himalayan glaciers

From Proceedings of the Indian National Science Academy: “The present review takes stock of the growth of cryospheric research in India with reference to glaciers and snow in the Himalaya, which are sensitive marker of the climate change. Overview of the snout and mass balance data indicates accentuated rate of glacier recession during the 1970’s and 1980’s, particularly in the Central and NE Himalaya. Like elsewhere on the globe, the retreating trends are consistent with the hypothesis of the global warming resulting from the increasing anthropogenic emissions of Green Houses Gasses. In contrast, the Glaciers in the Karakoram region, Indus basin, fed by mid-latitude westerlies, show marginal advancement and/or near stagnation.”

Read the study here.

A view of the Himalaya (Source: orangems/Flickr)

Ice worms

From Proceedings of the Royal Society B: “Disentangling the contemporary and historical factors underlying the spatial distributions of species is a central goal of biogeography. For species with broad distributions but little capacity to actively disperse, disconnected geographical distributions highlight the potential influence of passive, long-distance dispersal (LDD) on their evolutionary histories. However, dispersal alone cannot completely account for the biogeography of any species, and other factors—e.g. habitat suitability, life history—must also be considered. North American ice worms (Mesenchytraeus solifugus) are ice-obligate annelids that inhabit coastal glaciers from Oregon to Alaska.”

Read the study here.

An iceworm (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Read More on GlacierHub:

New Mountain Bike Trails Highlight Long Island’s Glacier Remnants

To Travel or Not to Travel

New Heights in the Himalayas: High-Altitude Weather Monitoring

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

It’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere. And for those of us that are able, the summer months can mean time off from work and an opportunity to venture near or far on a vacation.

Glaciers lie on each of the world’s seven large landmasses, meaning, while they’re often located in relatively remote areas, one needn’t travel to the polar regions to observe the remnants of the last Ice Age—which makes them a popular vacation draw.

New Zealand has the Southern Alps. Glaciers are found in each of the seven Andean nations: Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. The mountains of the American West, as well as Alaska, host glaciers. And, of course, there are the alpine peaks of southern Europe and the iconic, albeit much more remote, mountains of the “Third Pole.”

A survey of photo sharing websites, such as Flickr, reveals the enduring allure of the world’s glaciers, particularly as climate change and the threat it poses to the longevity of the world’s cryosphere becomes more and more apparent.

And therein lies a paradox.

So-called last-chance tourism is driven by interest in visiting the landscapes that are vulnerable to rising temperatures and more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. Yet with greater interest in these places comes increasing threats to their sustainability, whether due to carbon-intensive airline travel or the consumer waste that results from a simple visit to the refreshment stand at a national park. A recent study even sought to quantify the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic that melts with each metric ton of carbon emitted by an individual.

Individual consumer decisions won’t bring the world significantly closer to zero emissions as long as decisions about how energy is generated, what modes of transportation are available, and how consumer goods are produced—the largest sources of carbon pollution—remain largely in the realm of the public sector, that is society-wide.

Visiting glaciers can heighten one’s understanding of the massive forces bound up in Earth’s climate and geology, which, perhaps for many people, explains their seduction.

Here’s a view of some of the world’s popular glacier destinations through the eyes of recent visitors.

An image of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier taken on July 10, 2019. (Source: dvs/Flickr)
A view of tourists visiting Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska (Source: Mulf/Flickr)
A cruise ship passes in front of Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier. (Source: zshort1/Flickr)
A view of Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier taken on June 8, 2019 (Source: velodenz/Flickr)
Tourists on a hike at Norway’s Nigardsbreen Glacier on June 10, 2016 (Source: clare_and_ben/Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

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

Dispatch From the Cryosphere: Amid the Glaciers of Antarctica and Chile

South Asian Perspectives on News of Rapid Himalayan Glacier Melt

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Video of the Week: Work Inspired by John Ruskin

Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition called “John Ruskin: Art & Wonder,” which is part of an international celebration marking the birth, 200 years ago, of the influential English art critic.

“Ruskin’s passion for nature began in childhood with a fascination for minerals and mountains,” wrote the gallery’s curators. “Later in life he wrote at length about geology, botany and zoology, explaining how the study of natural history was central to his thinking around both art and architecture. Ruskin believed an understanding of the natural world enriches our lives in many ways; for him, appreciating its beauty was just as valuable as any scientific knowledge.”

Among the works exploring Ruskin’s appreciation for the natural world is a piece by English artist Dan Holdsworth.

A video of Holdsworth’s work posted to Twitter by Lucy Wright shows glacier-like layers of ice enveloping rock formations.

The exhibit is on display until September 15, 2019.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Project Pressure Exhibition Explores Climate Change and Glaciers

Dispatch from the Cryosphere: Glacier Decrease in the Georgian Caucasus

How Mountain-Dwellers Talk About Adapting to Melting Glaciers

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Photo Friday: The Sentinel and Landsat Images of Pierre Markuse

“Never stop being curious…” That’s Pierre Markuse’s advice. Markuse, who is based in Hamm, Germany, processes images taken from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites and NASA’s Landsat orbiters.

You can visit his Flickr page here.

Aside from their beauty, his images capture the impact of anthropogenic climate change. The thousands of years old ice of the United States, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Russia, and Iceland, among other nations, is seen in vivid color and from high about the Earth’s surface. But side by side images, such as the ones below of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, show the vast amount of glacier retreat that has occurred in just the last several decades.

Markuse’s images give us a unique perspective from which to admire—and lament—the state of Earth’s cryosphere.

Viedma Glacier, Lake Viedma, Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Chile, Argentina (Source: Pierre Markuse/Flickr)
Athabasca Glacacier, Alberta, Canada (Source: Pierre Markuse/Flickr)
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Source: Pierre Markuse/Flickr)
Comparison of extent of Columbia Glacier, Alaska in 1986 and 2015 (Source: Pierre Markuse/Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

How Mountain-Dwellers Talk About Adapting to Melting Glaciers

Video of the Week: A Stroll Through Myvatnsjokull Glacier

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

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Roundup: World Environment Day, Mount Everest Deaths, and Kangerlussuaq Glacier Retreat

June 5, 2019 is World Environment Day

From GlacierHub writer and environmentalist Tsechu Dolma: “China is hosting World Environment Day 2019, its mounting environmental crisis is endangering hundreds of millions and downstream nations, what happens on the Tibetan plateau has profound consequences on rest of Asia.”

Everest traffic jam blamed for climber deaths

From the New York Times: “Climbers were pushing and shoving to take selfies. The flat part of the summit, which he estimated at about the size of two Ping-Pong tables, was packed with 15 or 20 people. To get up there, he had to wait hours in a line, chest to chest, one puffy jacket after the next, on an icy, rocky ridge with a several-thousand foot drop.

[…]

This has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Everest, with at least 11 deaths. And at least some seem to have been avoidable.”

Exceptional retreat of Kangerlussuaq Glacier

From Frontiers of Earth Science: “Kangerlussuaq Glacier is one of Greenland’s largest tidewater outlet glaciers, accounting for approximately 5% of all ice discharge from the Greenland ice sheet. In 2018 the Kangerlussuaq ice front reached its most retreated position since observations began in 1932. We determine the relationship between retreat and: (i) ice velocity; and (ii) surface elevation change, to assess the impact of the retreat on the glacier trunk. Between 2016 and 2018 the glacier retreated ∼5 km and brought the Kangerlussuaq ice front into a major (∼15 km long) overdeepening. Coincident with this retreat, the glacier thinned as a result of near-terminus acceleration in ice flow. The subglacial topography means that 2016–2018 terminus recession is likely to trigger a series of feedbacks between retreat, thinning, and glacier acceleration, leading to a rapid and high-magnitude increase in discharge and sea level rise contribution. Dynamic thinning may continue until the glacier reaches the upward sloping bed ∼10 km inland of its current position. Incorporating these non-linear processes into prognostic models of the ice sheet to 2100 and beyond will be critical for accurate forecasting of the ice sheet’s contribution to sea level rise.”

On April 19, IceBridge’s 23rd flight of the Arctic 2011 campaign surveyed numerous glaciers in southeast Greenland including Kangerlugssuaq Glacier. The calving front of the glacier gives way to ice floating in the fjord, referred to by some as a sikkusak, or mélange. (Source: NASA ICE/Michael Studinger via Flickr)

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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GlacierHub Seeks Contributors for Its New, International Feature Series


GlacierHub is seeking contributions for a new, ongoing feature that we are launching this summer. We’re calling it “Dispatches from the Cryosphere.”

If you’re a researcher, student, photographer, or working with a public or private-sector organization focused on glaciers and the people who rely on them, we want to hear from you. The series will provide our growing readership first-person perspectives on the state of the world’s glaciers.

Whether you’re a scientist tracking glacier melt, part of a team developing disaster preparedness, a resident of an alpine community developing an innovative response to the threat of glacier lake outburst floods, a climbing enthusiast spending the summer months scaling remote peaks, or a graduate student interning in the Andes, we’re looking to provide a platform for your digital postcards from the world’s glacier habitats.

Specifically, we’re interested in publishing dispatches that incorporate a short text (500-800 words) and some images, which needn’t be captured with expensive camera equipment, iPhone pictures will do just fine.

If you’ve got an idea for a dispatch, email GlacierHub’s managing editor Ben Orlove and senior editor Robert Eshelman-Håkansson with a short description of where you’re at and what you’re up to.

Sign up for GlacierHub’s newsletter

But if you’re not immersed in the dynamics of a glacier somewhere around the world, we still want to hear from you. In addition to publishing on a daily basis news, analysis, images, and video aimed at deepening understanding of the world’s glaciers, we also distribute a weekly newsletter. You can sign up for it here.

GlacierHub serves to link people who are concerned about glaciers, so that they can communicate with each other and develop responses to the precious, threatened and resilient places atop our world’s mountains. We cover glaciers on all the world’s continents, including the Andes, the Himalayas, and New Zealand’s Southern Alps; domestic and international news and analysis about glaciers; and art and culture concerned with glaciers.

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Roundup: Melting in the Caucasus, Tibetan Lake Expansion, and Early Warning in Ecuador

Glacier change in the Georgian Caucasus Mountains

From the Cryosphere: “Changes in the area and number of glaciers in the Georgian Caucasus Mountains were examined over the last century, by comparing recent Landsat and ASTER images (2014) with older topographical maps (1911, 1960) along with middle and high mountain meteorological stations data. Total glacier area decreased by 8.1±1.8% (0.2±0.04%yr−1) or by 49.9±10.6km2 from 613.6±9.8km2 to 563.7±11.3km2 during 1911–1960, while the number of glaciers increased from 515 to 786. During 1960–2014, the total ice area decreased by 36.9±2.2% (0.7±0.04%yr−1) or by 207.9±9.8km2 from 563.7±11.3km2 to 355.8±8.3km2, while glacier numbers decreased from 786 to 637. In total, the area of Georgia glaciers reduced by 42.0±2.0% (0.4±0.02%yr−1) between 1911 and 2014. The eastern Caucasus section had the highest retreat rate of 67.3±2.0% (0.7±0.02%yr−1) over this period, while the central part of Georgian Caucasus had the lowest, 34.6±1.8% (0.3±0.01%yr−1), with the western Caucasus intermediate at 42.8±2.7% (0.4±0.03%yr−1).

A view of the Caucasus Mountains, Svaneti, Georgia. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/sv:User:Ojj! 600)

Glacial lake expansion on the Tibetan Plateau

From Society & Natural Resources: “Global climate change is causing the majority of large lakes on the Tibetan Plateau to expand. While these rising lake levels and their causes have been investigated by hydrologists and glaciologists, their impacts on local pastoral communities have mostly been ignored. Our interviews with pastoralists in central Tibet reveal their observations and beliefs about Lake Serling’s expansion, as well as how its effects are interacting with current rangeland management policies. Interviewees reported that the most negative effects on their livelihoods have been reduced livestock populations and productivity due to the inundation of high-quality pastures by saline lake water. However, pastoralists’ collective efforts based on traditional values and norms of sharing, assistance, and reciprocity have helped them cope with these climate change impacts. These local, traditional coping strategies are particularly worthy of attention now, given that the transformation of traditional pastoralism is a goal of current government development initiatives.”

The Himalaya seen from the International Space Station. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/NASA)

An early warning plan for Ecuador

From the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: “This Early Action Plan aims to establish appropriate early action using volcanic ash dispersal and deposition forecasts that benefit the most vulnerable families in the most potentially affected areas. Ecuador is a country that is under the influence of several natural hazards due to its geographical location, atmospheric dynamics and geological characteristics. The country has historically faced several important events such as floods, water deficit, earthquakes, volcanic activity and landslides, among others, which leave thousands of people affected and generates millions of dollars in losses.”

A view of Ecuador’s glacier-covered volcano Cotopaxi. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Gerard Prins)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Fi Bunn’s Alpine Images

Nepal Considers Uranium Mining Proposal in the Himalayas

Mercury from Melting Glaciers Threatens the Tibetan Plateau

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Photo Friday: US Glaciers Seen from Space

The International Space Station may at first seem unrelated to Earth’s cryosphere—but it’s not. NASA astronauts flying in low-Earth orbit aboard the artificial satellite have captured images of America’s majestic national parks, including those shaped over thousands of years by the imperceptibly slow movements of glaciers.

While experiments on ISS often focus on robotics, the human immune system, and even methods for growing lettuce, the satellite’s cameras capture live video and still images as it orbits Earth at an altitude of 250 miles above the planet’s surface.

Take a look here at majestic views of the US National Park system captured by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. His images depict glacier-rich landscapes such as Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and Washington’s Olympic National Park, among many others.

A composite image of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska captured from the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)
A composite image of Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park, Alaska captured from the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)
A composite image of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming captured from the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)
A composite image captured from the International Space Station of Olympic National Park, with Seattle and Tacoma, Washington in the background. (Source: NASA)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Illustrating the Adventures of German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt

The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

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Video of the Week: A ‘Staggering’ Amount of Meltwater in Greenland

Researcher Santiago de la Peña of Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center posted video on Twitter of raging streams of meltwater carving through the surface of Greenland’s Russell Glacier.

“Early May and melt season is already in full swing in western Greenland,” he wrote. “The amount of meltwater at Russell glacier for this time of year is staggering.”

The glacier is located on the west coast of Greenland.

Peña studies ice sheet dynamics and surface mass balance in Greenland and Antarctica.

In several tweets following his video of Russell Glacier, Peña described high temperatures and large amounts of meltwater.

“We serviced 2 stations at an elevation of 2300m and 1900m; the lower site was above freezing, the other at -4C. They are usually in the -20s and -30s this time of the year,” he wrote in a May 6 tweet.

A study published last month 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.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Glaciers Account for More Sea Level Rise Than Previously Thought

Illustrating the Adventures of German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt

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

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