“Nearly 300 mountaineers have died on the peak since the first ascent attempt and two-thirds of bodies are thought still to be buried in the snow and ice.
Bodies are being removed on the Chinese side of the mountain, to the north, as the spring climbing season starts.
More than 4,800 climbers have scaled the highest peak on Earth.
‘Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed,’ said Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of [the] Nepal Mountaineering Association.
‘We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out.'”
Greenland’s Jakobshavn is advancing, slowing, and thickening
From Nature Geoscience: “Jakobshavn Isbrae has been the single largest source of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet over the last 20 years. During that time, it has been retreating, accelerating, and thinning. Here we use airborne altimetry and satellite imagery to show that since 2016 Jakobshavn has been re-advancing, slowing, and thickening. We link these changes to concurrent cooling of ocean waters in Disko Bay that spill over into Ilulissat Icefjord. Ocean temperatures in the bay’s upper 250 [meters] have cooled to levels not seen since the mid 1980s. Observations and modeling trace the origins of this cooling to anomalous wintertime heat loss in the boundary current that circulates around the southern half of Greenland. Longer time series of ocean temperature, subglacial discharge, and glacier variability strongly suggest that ocean-induced melting at the front has continued to influence glacier dynamics after the disintegration of its floating tongue in 2003. We conclude that projections of Jakobshavn’s future contribution to sea-level rise that are based on glacier geometry are insufficient, and that accounting for external forcing is indispensable.”
Recently published research by the University of Minnesota’s Trinity Hamilton and Jeff Havig reveals how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels promote the growth of snow algae blooms on glaciers in the Pacific Northwest.
But the two researchers also report that snow algae dynamics on the surface lead to subglacial conditions that provide a refuge for biodiversity, which could have implications for the search for life on Mars.
Read on to find out how.
What is snow algae?
Interest in snow algae goes back to at least the days of Aristotle, who speculated in The History of Animalsabout the reasons for its color.
Snow algae are photosynthetic green algae that appear as strips or patches of red or watermelon-colored snow on the surface of glaciers. Snow algae, according to some, can also emit a watermelon-like smell.
Carotenoids are responsible for the red or pinkish color of snow algae and help protect it from the ultraviolet light, drought, and cold that are characteristic of glacier environments.
But the darker color of snow algae means its proliferation can lower albedo, which triggers melting—as much as 13 percent, according to a 2016 study.
Snow algae gets a boost from a warming world
Hamilton and Havig, writing in The ISME Journal, report a positive feedback between increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and snow-algae blooms.
“Not only is increasing CO2 leading to increased melting of glaciers from heating the atmosphere but also from increasing snow algae blooms, which darken glacial surfaces, lowering the albedo and thus increasing the heating and melting of the surfaces,” Havig told GlacierHub.
The duo conducted their research on Gotchen Glacier on Mt. Adams in Washington, Eliot Glacier on Mt. Hood in Oregon, and Collier Glacier on North Sister, also in Oregon.
In an article published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, they describe how snow algae cycles carbon and nitrogen through the glacier and feeds subglacial microbial communities and weathering of the bedrock below glaciers.
“The presence of heterotrophic microorganisms in the subglacial system is a potential driver of CO2 generation as they break down organic carbon coming from the supraglacial system and convert it into CO2, which can then combine with water to form carbonic acid, a key driver of mineral breakdown and dissolution,” Harvig said.
Carbonic acid, in other words, breaks down the silicate rocks that characterize the volcanic-rock formations on top of which the glaciers formed.
Life on Mars
Considering that life thrives within the volcanic rock-hosted glaciers on Earth, might the stratovolcanoes and cryosphere of Mars also provide a refuge for biodiversity?
Hamilton and Havig are collaborating with researchers at Purdue University and Northern Arizona University to explore that very question.
“Mars is currently a glaciated planet, and so glacier-associated life may have developed there, and we are interested in looking for refugia where life could still be present or learning how to look for evidence of past life.”
This week’s Photo Friday features the glaciers of East and Central Asia’s Altai Mountains.
The Altai Mountains are located in East and Central Asia and form natural borders in Kazakhstan, Russia, China, and Mongolia. The range extends approximately 1,200 miles and gradually merges with the Gobi Desert. Because of a dispersed population and limited infrastructure throughout the Altai Mountains, its glaciers remain little-known to the public, especially on the Mongolian side. The Altai Mountain glaciers are noteworthy, though, because they are some of the few that exist in a continental climate.
A recent paper published in the journal Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography reveals details about glacier retreat in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia between 1990–2016. Authors Caleb G. Pan and Allen Pope estimate that a subset of 206 glaciers has decreased 43 percent at a rate of 6.4 ± 0.4 square kilometers per year during the study period. The highest rates of retreat occurred from 1990 to 2000 at 10.9 ± 0.8 square kilometers per year.
The retreat of the Mensu Glacier in the Russian Altai Mountains is similar to its neighbor Potanin Glacier in the Mongolian Altai. Mensu Glacier (Lednik Mensu) is at the base of Belukha Mountain, which is the tallest peak in the Russian Altai Mountains. According to glaciologist Mauri Pelto, the glacier retreated 600 meters from 1994 to 2016 and no longer reached a proglacial lake.
GlacierHub’s Video of the Week features footage of a flowing piedmont glacier on Ellesmere Island, which lies in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut. The animated images, posted on Twitter by glaciologist Jakub Małecki, give the impression of a glacier in graceful motion.
Much of Ellesmere Island is covered by glaciers and ice sheets. Research published in 2016 in the journal Geophysical Research Lettersfound that ice mass on the island—and across the Canadian Arctic Archipelago—has decreased dramatically in recent years.
Melting land ice, such as from Ellesmere Island’s glaciers, contributes to sea level rise, which threatens some of the world’s most populated and economically valuable cities.
Christopher Harig, an author on the 2016 study, told GlacierHub: “Worldwide, on the order of 500 million people could be directly impacted by rising sea level by the end of this century. The human impact is combined with a large financial impact as well. So regardless of where people live, I think the impacts of ice loss and sea level rise will be easily seen in the future.”
Five students from Sheffield University traveled to Tien Shan Mountain Range in Kyrgyzstan to investigate the impact of climate change on a glacier that had never been studied before.
“Central Asia is one of the most threatened regions in the world to climate change, seeing some of the fastest rates of global glacial retreat,” said Sam Gillan, one of the leaders of the expedition. “There is currently a real focus on developing understandings of how climate change is affecting glaciers there, and we wanted to contribute to this developing field of research.”
Gillan and his colleague Alex Hyde were working on their undergraduate dissertation projects in the geography department at Sheffield University. Hyde says in the video that the idea for the trip came after a visit to Kyrgyzstan in 2017. He and Gillian wanted to study an actual glacier rather than working on a project in a lab. They soon narrowed down their topic to the Fedorovitch Glacier due to its relatively flat surface and accessibility.
Calum Sowden joined the expedition as a medic, Tom Drysdale as the group’s mountaineering advisor, and Louise Reddy as a research assistant.
The video documents the challenges of conducting research in such a remote location and highlights the rewards of field work. The team’s month-long data collection included measuring snow melt and temperature change.
Working at an elevation of 3,000 meters in such a remote location was challenging, mentally and physically, Reddy says in the video. “The hardest thing for all of us was the fact that the research requires you to do as much as possible,” he said. “The more often you take samples, the better the research will be.”
Check out the full video to see these young scientists at work—and find out what their favorite food was while isolated for a month in the mountains of Central Asia.
Check Out More GlacierHub Stories About Kyrgyzstan:
Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson placed twenty-four blocks of glacier ice outside of the Tate Modern in London. He placed another six blocks outside the European headquarters of Bloomberg, also in London.
The installations, unveiled in December, are part of a series called Ice Watch, which Eliasson began in Copenhagen in 2014 at the release of IPCC’s fifth comprehensive report on the state of the world’s climate. He’s since continued his ice exhibitions outside of the Paris climate talks in 2015 and the most recent negotiations in Katowice, Poland.
Eliasson says the goal of the installations is to create a public dialogue about climate change.
The blocks of ice, now melted, are detached icebergs that were once part of Greenland’s Nuuk Glacier.
Greenland’s ice sheets are shrinking rapidly due to global warming. They’ve lost an average of 280 gigatons of ice per year between 2002 to 2016, according to NASA satellite data, contributing 0.03 inches per year to global sea level rise.
Eliasson hopes the installations allow people to understand climate change as a tangible event rather than an abstraction.
Visitor response has varied.
Instagram user Stuffbycookie commented: “It wasn’t teleported there! It was transported by fossil fuel away from where it is needed most!! All in the name of Art?!”
Another Instagram user said: “This exhibit is a good conversation starter and an obvious counter to science deniers. It might even change the mind. I think the Smithsonian would be a good place.”
Read more about the art and climate change on GlacierHub:
This Photo Friday highlights Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, located on the India and Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir. Soldiers there are facing harsh conditions to ensure stableness of the line between the countries.
On 25 December, the Indian Army announced the recovery of an army helicopter stuck at 18,000 feet. This ALH Dhruv chopper had been stranded due to a technical snag in a spot called the Khanda at the Siachen glacier. It landed safely directly on the snow instead of on the helipad, and it was overturned because of the overnight snowfall, which made it even more difficult for the soldiers to perform a rescue. Technicians and pilots of the Army ALH squadron 203 in Leh managed to repair it by replacing the broken part of the chopper and bringing it back safely to the Siachen Glacier base camp.
This week’s video features Himalayan rap set in New York City. The rap refers to the new generation of the land of snow and to classic items of Tibetan cuisine, specifically Tsampa, made from barley flour and mixed with Tibetan butter tea. Named after Tsampa, the rap is produced by Zurich-based Tibetan rapper Karma Emchi, also known as “Shapaley.”
“Listen! I am a nomad from the grassland, a son of the land of snow, a tsampa eater! Tsampa eater,” he raps. “Honesty and warm-heartedness is our attitude; love and compassion the basis of our soul.” The rap highlights the identity of the young Tibetan generation with reverence for Tibetan culture and cuisine. It also reflects how the new generation has inherited tradition from their parents.
It’s hard enough to capture an image of a glacier, but what about the sounds that glaciers make? GlacierHub caught up with Gustavo Valdivia, an alumnus of Columbia University’s Master of Arts in Climate and Society (C + S) program, to talk about his work capturing glacier sounds, including his recordings of the famous Quelccaya glacier in Peru.
In 2013, Valdivia was conducting anthropological research with indigenous herders in Peru who make a living raising alpacas when he came up with the idea of recording the sounds of the glacier. He started collecting sounds of the Quelccaya glacier with a hand-held recorder. Later he connected with a friend, Tomás Tello, who is an experimental musician (listen to his experimental Andean mixtape here). They visited the glacier several more times to collect recordings with professional sound equipment. The recordings received a good deal of attention after they were published online, and other artists reached out to Valdivia. One sound artist, Stuart Hyatt, invited Valdivia to join the Metaphonics project with other musicians who make music out of collected soundscapes.
Valdivia is featured on the Metaphonics’ record “Initial Sound.” Two of the songs on the record include Valdivia’s glacier recordings: “Kinematic Waves” by musician Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and “Into the Flux” by musician Gazalle Twin. The recordings weave Valdivia’s glacier soundscapes into a musical composition. The records are regarded as a sonic narrative under the banner of field sound, which refers to audio produced outside of a recording studio. The soundscapes of volcanoes, caves and even outer space are also introduced on the Metaphonics records. Following the project, Gustavo has turned to producing and filmmaking in order to meet a personal goal, which he describes as “helping people to connect with the natural world in a different way.”
GlacierHub: How did you come up with the idea of recording glacial soundscapes?
Gustavo Valdivia: When I was as a Climate and Society student, I took a class called “Listening: An Ethnography of Sound” in the Anthropology Department with Professor J. Pemberton. Basically, he is the one who introduced me to this world. It was very inspiring in many ways.
Then I started to do the field work. In an interview, someone told me that there were a few families that were affected by a flood that occured when a piece of ice fell from a glacier. It was a big thing that happened. The guy I was interviewing mentioned the sound he heard on the day the flood happened. Then we started talking about the sound. He mentioned there was a crazy sound happening up there. It gave me this idea.
In the beginning, when I was recording the sound, I was expected to make the recording sound scary, to create this kind of sensation that would cause people to be frightened of what is going on up there [on the glacier]. It would resemble sounds in a factory, a more mechanical and industrial quality. We [with musician Tomás Tello] were excited about that and waited to see what happened. After we got the recordings, we felt that the sounds were completely different from what we expected at the beginning. The sounds were beautiful, very pleasant. For me, that’s really important because it makes me realize that what was going on was that no matter how horrible climate change is, nature is still beautiful. Instead of having this idea that we humans need to take care of nature, it made me think of how indifferent nature is about human suffering. It is not that we are killing nature, but nature is going to destroy the world we have. It made me rethink the relationship that humanity has with nature.
GH: Where did you make those audios?
GV: I only made the recordings in Quelccaya, Cusco. I was initially working with the herders here. It is one of the biggest tropical glaciers in the world. I have been 40 times to this glacier. But we covered different sites in this area. Sometimes there are ice caves that disappear because the glacier melts so fast. I have been recording different things mostly connected to this area the high elevation area in Peru close to nature where herders live.
GH: What are you recording? How many different sounds are in this series of records?
GV: I have been recording a different part of the glacier. I have been trying to capture the sound of the ice itself, solid ice. It’s normally the water running off the ice that is recorded. And also the sounds of the ice when it cracks. I have been recording along the base of the glacier in different parts in different years. It is the fifth year since I started. And also the daily life things there: the animals, the sounds inside the houses where people live.
GH: There are five senses. Why did you choose sound as a medium to deliver your information to the public?
GV: First of all, when I was as a student, learning as much I could about climate science, I felt the way we present scientific information about climate change is mostly visual. I had some problems understanding those visual representations. I used to work with people who are affected by climate change in the Andes in Peru. Those kinds of things, scientific research results presented in a visual way, don’t make sense to them, like people looking at a graph from a scientific paper or looking at one of the charts in an IPCC report. There is something missing. In general, even when people are looking at those visual things, they are not really engaging with the information being presented. It creates a kind of distance.
Sound is the first sense that humans develop. We started listening before we started being able to see. We are listening all of the time. We cannot cover our ears and just cancel sounds unconsciously. People, in general, are more accessible when you present them with sound than when you present them with graphs and visual information. Everyone can listen to things. You don’t need to have a Ph.D. degree to listen to recordings. For me, sound is a more accessible sense to say something about climate change.
GH: Why did you make the change from an anthropological researcher to a filmmaker?
GV: I believe in interdisciplinarity. That is the best way to talk about climate change. I felt that interdisciplinarity often lacks the contributions of artists. I am trying to work on environmental films with the background I have in science so I can connect different ideas that normally no one is connecting: that artists are interested in the environment, scientists are interested in anthropology, and anthropologists are interested in science. Film and audio sounds have great potential. I feel more comfortable making these kinds of connections to touch people in a deeper way.
GH: What are you trying to express to the audience by your recordings?
GV: To help the people to connect with the natural world in a different way, to use art and sound to help the listener have a different understanding of the natural world, not just seeing the landscape in a picture but also listening. Let us say, environmental awareness.
Check out more recordings of Valdivia’s glacier soundscapes here.
From Earth and Planetary Science Letters: “This study provides ground-truth for regional indirect GHF [Geothermal Heat Flow] estimates in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, which is part of the West Antarctic Rift System, by presenting in situ temperature measurements in continental shelf sediments. Our results show regionally elevated and heterogeneous GHF (mean of 65 mWm-2) in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.“
From Limnology and Oceanography: “Arctic waters are often enriched with terrestrial dissolved organic matter (DOM) characterized by having elevated visible wavelength fluorescence (commonly termed humic-like). Here, we have identified the sources of fluorescent DOM (FDOM) in a high Arctic fjord (Young Sound, NE Greenland) influenced by glacial meltwater.”
Read more about the dissolved organic matter here.
Modeling Dry-Snow Densification
From Geosciences: “In the accumulation areas of ice sheets, ice caps, and glaciers, snow is deposited on the surface and, with time, becomes denser until it turns into ice. This process of densification proceeds at a rate that depends on climatic conditions; slowly in the cold, desert regions in the interior of the great polar ice sheets, and more rapidly in warmer regions with higher precipitation. The question of how to calculate this rate from given climatic information is an important aspect of many areas of glaciological research.”
Read more about the microscopic processes by which snow turns into ice on glaciers here.
This Photo Friday, take a look at Glaciar Perito Moreno in Argentina, where ice collapse has become a spectacle. Perito Moreno is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Patagonia region. The terminus of the Perito Moreno glacier is 5 km wide, with an average height of 74 m above the surface of the water of Argentino Lake. It has a total ice depth of 170 meters (558 ft).
According to the glaciology studies, while most of the glaciers are retreating in the world as well as in Patagonia region, this unique glacier has advanced or remained the stable during the 20th century. Glaciar Perito Moreno is located in Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina) and is an eastern outlet glacier of the Southern Patagonia Icefield, the largest reserve of fresh water of the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica.
Periodically, the glacier advances through the the “Lago Argentino,” or Argentine Lake, and reaches the Península de Magallanes. It has regularly produced an ice dam between the Brazo Rico and Canal de los Témpanos since the early 20th century. The most recent ice dam establishment was in 2016.
The ice dam is expected to collapse eventually in a spectacular rupture event due to the effect of calving.
Late Quaternary Meltwater Pulses and Sea Level Change
From Journal of Quaternary Science: “After the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) global mean sea level (GMSL) rise was characterized by rapid increases over short (decadal to centennial) timescales superimposed on a longer term secular rise and these have been termed meltwater pulses (MWPs). In this paper we review the timing, impact and nature of these and the effects of rapid drainage of large post‐glacial MWPs into the world’s oceans. We show that drainage of the known post‐glacial lakes in total produced less than around 1.2 m of the 125 m of GMSLR since the LGM.”
Island Biogeography of Cryoconite Hole Bacteria in Antarctica
From Frontier in Ecology and Evolution: “Cryoconite holes are holes in a glacier’s surface caused by sediment melting into the glacier. These holes are self-contained ecosystems that include abundant bacterial life within their sediment and liquid water, and have recently gained the attention of microbial ecologists looking to use cryoconite holes as “natural microcosms” to study microbial community assembly. This article applies models of island ecosystems to these holes because they are very much like islands in the sea, surrounded by a barrier to entry. ”
From JGR Atmospheres:” A study of using the bulk method to quantify the turbulent air flow and sublimation/condensation over glacier in August-One Glacier, Qilian Mountains, China. This article addresses the patterns of warming at different wind speeds. We tried to acquire reliable varying and intrinsic aerodynamic roughness length for momentum through its parametric analysis.”