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.
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.
Rapper Lil Dicky released, just ahead of Earth Day, a celebrity-packed, animated music video for his NSFW single “Earth.”
The video opens with a view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline before cutting to news footage of recent wildfires in the western United States. A newscaster highlights the connection between rising temperatures and climate change. Next, a live-action scene depicts a group of kids kicking over a garbage-filled trash can and taunting Lil Dicky. As the rapper departs, he instructs the kids to pick up the garbage. “There’s an environmental crises right now, and you’re just going to litter on the street?” he says, adding, “Grow up.”
Among the garbage is a book, which one of kids picks up. Upon opening, it blooms into an animated trek around the world depicting a variety of animals threatened by ecological destruction and climate change.
Glaciers play a prominent role in the music video. Lil Dicky and pair of penguins slide down the face of an exit glacier. In one of the video’s closing scenes, Lil Dicky stands atop what appears to be Mount Everest, surrounded by the snow and ice-capped Himalayas.
Justin Bieber provides the voice for an animated baboon. Ariana Grande is a Zebra—Miley Cyrus, an elephant. Snoop Dog … a marijuana plant. Other celebrity performers include Halsey, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Brendon Urie, Wiz Khalifa, Adam Levine, Shawn Mendes, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The song’s chorus includes the simple lines: “We are the Earth. It is our planet. We are the Earth. It is our home.” While Lil Dicky’s video foregoes science or existential angst, it overflows with popular culture appeal. The video’s attracted 38 million views on YouTube and has been widely discussed in popular media, from Lil Dicky’s appearance on “Ellen” to coverage from NPR and the Jerusalem Post.
Proceeds from the song will go to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which supports projects that “build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.”
Nepal’s Government Considers Uranium Mining Legislation
From My República: “A hasty push for endorsement of the ‘nuclear bill’ in the parliament is being made amidst rumors of the discovery of uranium mines near trans-Himalayan terrain of Lo Mangthang of Mustang district. In fact, [the] Office of Investment Board’s website claims that ‘a large deposit of uranium has been discovered in Upper Mustang region of Nepal … spread over an area 10 km long and 3 km wide and could be of highest grade. These findings have also been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.’ The bill, tabled by Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology unabashedly grants permission to uranium mining, enrichment, and all steps of nuclear fuel cycle; import and export of uranium, plutonium, and its isotopes; and use [of] Nepal as transit for storage of the nuclear and radio-active substances.”
Retreating Glaciers Create … Clouds
From Nature: “Aeolian dusts serve as ice nucleating particles in mixed-phase clouds, and thereby alter the cloud properties and lifetime. Glacial outwash plains are thought to be a major dust source in cold, high latitudes. Due to the recent rapid and widespread retreat of glaciers, high-latitude dust emissions are projected to increase, especially in the Arctic region, which is highly sensitive to climate change. However, the potential contribution of high-latitude dusts to ice nucleation in Arctic low-level clouds is not well acknowledged. Here we show that glacial outwash sediments in Svalbard (a proxy for glacially sourced dusts) have a remarkably high ice nucleating ability under conditions relevant for mixed-phase cloud formation, as compared with typical mineral dusts.”
What Land Use Changes in Xinjiang, China Mean for Nearby Glaciers
From Sustainability: “[W]e analyzed the temporal-spatial variations of the characteristics of land use change in central Asia over the past two decades. This was conducted using four indicators (change rate, equilibrium extent, dynamic index, and transfer direction) and a multi-scale correlation analysis method, which explained the impact of recent environmental transformations on land use changes. The results indicated that the integrated dynamic degree of land use increased by 2.2% from 1995 to 2015. […] There were significant increases in cropland and water bodies from 1995 to 2005, while the amount of artificial land significantly increased from 2005 to 2015. The increased areas of cropland in Xinjiang were mainly converted from grassland and unused land from 1995 to 2015, while the artificial land increase was mainly a result of the conversion from cropland, grassland, and unused land. The area of cropland rapidly expanded in south Xinjiang, which has led to centroid position to move cropland in Xinjiang in a southwest direction. Economic development and the rapid growth of population size are the main factors responsible for the cropland increases in Xinjiang. Runoff variations have a key impact on cropland changes at the river basin scale, as seen in three typical river basins.”
From Geomorphology: “Ahora Gorge is a 400 m deep canyon located along the North Eastern flank of Mt. Ararat (Turkey), a compound volcanic complex covered by an ice cap. In the past, several diarists and scientific authors reported a calamitous event on July 2, 1840, when a landslide triggered by a volcanic eruption and/or an earthquake obliterated several villages located at the foot of the volcano. The reasons and effects of this Ahora Gorge Catastrophe (AGC) event have been obscure and ambiguous. To reappraise the 1840 catastrophe and the geomorphic evolution of the Ahora Gorge, we used high-resolution satellite images, remote sensing thermal data supplemented by observations collected during two field surveys.”
Albedo Effect in the Swiss Alps
From The Cryosphere: “Albedo feedback is an important driver of glacier melt over bare-ice surfaces. Light-absorbing impurities strongly enhance glacier melt rates but their abundance, composition and variations in space and time are subject to considerable uncertainties and ongoing scientific debates. In this study, we assess the temporal evolution of shortwave broadband albedo derived from 15 end-of-summer Landsat scenes for the bare-ice areas of 39 large glaciers in the western and southern Swiss Alps. […] Although a darkening of glacier ice was found to be present over only a limited region, we emphasize that due to the recent and projected growth of bare-ice areas and prolongation of the ablation season in the region, the albedo feedback will considerably enhance the rate of glacier mass loss in the Swiss Alps in the near future.”
Glacier Meltwater Impacts in Greenland
From Marine Ecology Progress Series: “Arctic benthic ecosystems are expected to experience strong modifications in the dynamics of primary producers and/or benthic-pelagic coupling under climate change. However, lack of knowledge about the influence of physical constraints (e.g. ice-melting associated gradients) on organic matter sources, quality, and transfers in systems such as fjords can impede predictions of the evolution of benthic-pelagic coupling in response to global warming. Here, sources and quality of particulate organic matter (POM) and sedimentary organic matter (SOM) were characterized along an inner-outer gradient in a High Arctic fjord (Young Sound, NE Greenland) exposed to extreme seasonal and physical constraints (ice-melting associated gradients). The influence of the seasonal variability of food sources on 2 dominant filter-feeding bivalves (Astarte moerchi and Mya truncata) was also investigated. Results revealed the critical impact of long sea ice/snow cover conditions prevailing in Young Sound corresponding to a period of extremely poor and degraded POM and SOM.”
Bridging Traditional Knowledge and Satellite Images in Bolivia
From Regional Environmental Change: “In the Andes, indigenous pastoral communities are confronting new challenges in managing mountain peatland pastures, locally called bofedales. Assessing land cover change using satellite images, vegetation survey, and local knowledge (i.e., traditional ecological knowledge) reveals the multi-faceted socio-ecological dimensions of bofedal change in Sajama National Park (PNS), Bolivia. Here, we present results from focus groups held in 2016 and 2017 to learn about the local knowledge of bofedales in five Aymara communities in PNS. Land cover maps, created from Landsat satellite imagery, provided a baseline reference of the decadal change of bofedales (1986, 1996, 2006, and 2016) and were field verified with vegetation sampling. At the park level, the land cover maps show a reduction of healthy bofedales (i.e., Juncaceae dominated peatland) cover from 33.8 km2 in 1986 to 21.7 km2 in 2016, and an increase in dry mixed grasses (e.g., Poaceae dominated land cover) from 5.1 km2 (1986) to 20.3 km2 (2016). Locals identify climate change, lack of irrigation, difficulty in water access, and loss of communal water management practices as key bofedal management challenges. Local improvement of bofedales was found in one community due to community-based irrigation efforts. Bridging knowledge of mountain land cover change helps to articulate the socio-ecological dimensions that influence local decision-making regarding bofedal management, and consideration of local actions that may be strengthened to support the sustainability of bofedales for local livelihoods in the context of climate change in the Andes.”
Pleistocene and Holocene Cirque Glaciation in the Western United States
From Nature: “Our [glacier chronology] demonstrates that each of the moraines originally interpreted as Neoglacial was deposited during the latest Pleistocene to earliest Holocene (between ~15 and 9 ka), indicating that, with the exception of some isolated locations, cirque glaciers in the western U.S. did not extend beyond their LIA limits during much, if not all, of the Holocene.”
Popocatépetl is an active glacier-covered stratovolcano located in central Mexico. At nearly 18,000 feet, it is Mexico’s second tallest peak, just shy of the 18,500-foot-tall Citlaltépetl, which is a dormant stratovolcano located in southern Mexico.
NOAA’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, based in Washington DC, has been issuing daily advisories based on webcam footage showing increased activity at Popocatépetl.
An explosion at the volcano was reported Wednesday morning and, according to Mexican media, authorities advised residents of several Mexico City boroughs to take health precautions.
“Winds sent the ash to the west of the volcano, covering an area in southern and southeastern Mexico City that encompasses the boroughs of Magdalena Contreras, Tlalpan, Coyoacán, Xochimilco, Milpa Alta, Tláhuac, and Iztapalapa,” according to one source. “Authorities advised residents of those areas to cover their mouths and noses with damp handkerchiefs, clean their eyes and throat with water, and avoid using contact lenses, as these contribute to eye irritation in the presence of ash.”
Eruptions often cause lahars—fast-flowing and destructive streams of ash and lava.
Recent research published in the Journal of Vegetation Science found an increase in stress-tolerant, competitive vegetation due to lahar activity on Popocatépetl.
Mount Veniaminof is a glacier-topped volcano located in southern Alaska. On September 3, 2018, the Alaska Volcano Observatory raised its Volcano Alert Level and Aviation Color Code at Veniaminiof from green, designating normal, to yellow, an “advisory,” due to seismic activity. The next day, the agency raised its alert level to orange, a “watch” level, because of low-level ash emissions observed on webcams. The color-code level has since been reduced to yellow.
Miller et al. (1998) provide a description of the mountain: “Mount Veniaminof is a broad central mountain, 35 [kilometers] wide at the base, truncated by a spectacular steep-walled summit caldera 8 by 11 km in diameter. The caldera is filled by an ice field that ranges in elevation from approximately 1750 to 2000 [meters]; ice obscures the south rim of the caldera and covers 220 square km of the south flank of the volcano. Alpine glaciers descend from the caldera through gaps on the west and north sides of the rim and other alpine glaciers occupy valleys on the north, east, and west-facing slopes of the mountain. In the western part of the caldera, an active intracaldera cone with a small summit crater has an elevation of 2156 m, approximately 330 m above the surrounding ice field. The rim of a larger but more subdued intracaldera cone protrudes just above the ice surface in the northern part of the caldera; based on limited exposure and physiographic features, it may have a summit crater as much as 2.5 km in diameter.”
From Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Antarctica’s ice is melting at an accelerating pace—six times the melt rate four decades ago—and that could have significant consequences for coastal communities around the world. The Antarctic shed 40 billion tons of ice each year between 1979 and 1989. But researchers say that the southern continent has been shedding 252 billion tons of ice each year since 2009.
“I don’t want to be alarmist,” Eric Rignot, an Earth systems scientist for both the University of California, Irvine, and NASA, who led the work, toldThe Washington Post. “The places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places,” said Rignot. “They seem to be more extensive than what we thought. That, to me, seems to be reason for concern.”
From Inspiring Girls Expeditions: Offering free, wilderness excursions for high school-aged girls, Inspiring Girls Expeditions aims to foster curiosity about the natural world and methods of scientific inquiry. Since 1999 University of Alaska, Fairbanks glaciologist Erin Pettit has led over a dozen “Girls on Ice” trips to Washington’s South Cascade Glacier.
Pettit founded the program because “I wanted to share the inspiration, curiosity, and excitement of using science to learn and explore the mountains. In turn, the girls have taught me about the dreams, and challenges, and amazing variation of lives and experiences for girls from all different communities and cultures across the world.”
Upcoming Girls on Ice expeditions include trips to the Gulkana Glacier in Alaska, Washington’s Mount Baker, the Asulkan Valley in British Columbia, and the Findelen Glacier in Switzerland.
Find out more about Inspiring Girls Expeditions here.
A New Tool for Modeling Glacier Flow
From The Journal of Chemical Physics: Bo Persson, a theoretical physicist at the Jülich Research Center in Germany, has developed an improved model of glacier flow. Persson said his model improves understanding of the cavities that form between ice and bedrock and how water fills these cavities and becomes pressurized.
Persson’s past work has focused on rubber friction and adhesion. “I could take knowledge I have gained during maybe 10 or 15 years of studies of other friction and quickly apply it to the glacier friction problem,” he told the CBC.
The model could help improve estimates of how much glacier melt is contributing to sea level rise around the world.