Roundup: Ancient Tunic, Climate Resiliency and Sustainable Glacier Tourism

Reconstructing the Tunic from Lendbreen in Norway

From the Archaelogical Textiles Review: “A woven wool tunic with damaged sleeves and repairs to the body dating from AD 230 to AD 390 was discovered on the Lendbreen glacier in Oppland County, Norway, in 2011. The Norwegian Mountain Centre in Lom (Norsk Fjellsenter) and the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo each commissioned a reconstruction of the tunic for exhibition and research into prehistoric textile production. The original was woven in 2/2 diamond twill with differently colored yarns producing a deliberate and even mottled effect.”

Learn more about glacier archaeology and its techniques here.

Ancient Tunic in Lendbreen glacier
Ancient Tunic in Lendbreen glacier (Source: Marianne Vedeler).

Collaboration Strengthens Climate Resiliency

From the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): “As climate change impacts are increasing the likelihood of natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, having a thorough disaster risk management plan is become more important for communities throughout the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). The government of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan has recognized the efforts of the Indus Basin Initiative of the ICIMOD and consortium partners to establish more resilient mountain villages through partnership with the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GB-DMA). Their plan involves several projects in glacier-rich northern Pakistan, including rehabilitation of a glacier-fed irrigation system, and a community based glacier monitoring/GLOF early warning system.”

Find out more about the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Risk Management Plan here.

Glaciers from the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya, HKH
Glaciers from the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya, HKH (Source: INSPIRE/Blogger).


Stakeholder Participation in Developing Sustainability Indicators

From the Journal of Rural and Community Development: “Glacier tourism is of importance worldwide. Many European northern periphery (NP) communities are likely to experience increased and complex environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism in the near future. Therefore, approaches that see tourism as included in complex socio-ecological systems are critical for identifying and assessing sustainability indicators in the NP specifically are crucial. This study from Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland argues for the value of incorporating the perceptions of local communities as it develops and assesses systemic sustainability indicators for glacial tourism.”

Further explore the concept of sustainable glacier tourism in Iceland here.

Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park (Source: Daniel Kordan/Instagram).

New Running Record Set in Antarctica in a Chilling Race Against Time

A new record was set for running a mile in Antarctica. It took place on Union Glacier, which is located in the Ellsworth Mountains to the southwest of the Antarctic Peninsula in a region known as Marie Byrd Land. This feat was accomplished by Paul Robinson, a 26-year-old runner from Kilcock, Ireland. On 25 November 2017, Robinson ran the mile in 4 minutes and 17.9 seconds. On that day, the temperature was -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

In an interview, Robinson described his surroundings by saying “you just cannot get warm.” For his race, he wore only a single pair of running tights, one body warmer, a racing vest and a pair of socks inside his racing shoes with spikes.

Under normal conditions, Robinson can do a mile under 4 minutes. When asked whether he was satisfied with his time in the glacier race, Robinson recounted, “The snow wasn’t deep, but it was energy-sapping, like running on sand. Your foot is going two or three inches into the snow on every step.” And at the end of the race, “your lungs feel like they’re going to explode. But I gave it my best effort, and I’m proud of getting anywhere close to four minutes, especially as I was slipping and sliding and even thought I was going to fall over at one stage,” he added.

Robinson’s record breaking attempt was suggested and planned by Richard Donovan, who emailed him just three weeks before the race. Donovan is the organizer of some of the world’s most unusual marathons including the Antarctic Ice Marathon and promotes extreme sports in Antarctica such as cross-country skiing.

The Antarctic Ice Marathon is the only official marathon held inside the Antarctic Circle on Union Glacier, making it the southernmost marathon in the world. For €15,000, adventure marathoners and ultra-athletes travel to Antarctica to run in the most extreme of environments. Held in the second week of December every year, which is the height of the summer season in the southern hemisphere, the marathon has been in action since 2005, drawing about 10 participants. The event has since grown in popularity, attracting around 45 participants in the 26.2 miles category. A separate 100 km event held in January 2017 attracted 10 athletes, out of which 2 were from sub-tropical climates such as Hong Kong.

Participants in the Antarctica Ice Marathon (Source: Ice Marathon/ Pinterest)
Participants in the Antarctica Ice Marathon (Source: Ice Marathon/ Pinterest).

GlacierHub spoke with avid runner Clara Lim from the University College London’s Running, Athletics and Cross-Country Club (UCL RAX) about Robinson’s feat. “I definitely can’t imagine running in Antarctica under such freezing conditions although I have more or less adapted to running in London. The British and probably Irish winter can never beat the Antarctic chills,” Lim told GlacierHub. Throughout her three years in the running club, she has participated in numerous marathons ranging from temperate European climates to tropical Singaporean weather. “At first when I moved to London from Singapore, I had to adapt to the chillier weather when going for my runs. I did feel that running in the cold is more energy consuming,” she added.

Unlike Lim, Robinson described that he “didn’t feel like the cold was having much of an impact on the run. But, then again, I was wearing extra layers I wouldn’t be wearing on a track or in a warm climate.” Nonetheless, when asked whether he would be returning to Antarctica anytime soon for another run, his response echoed Lim’s in a straight “nah.”


Roundup: Glacier Freshwater, Bearded Seals and Metal Contamination

Impact of Glacier Freshwater on Sea Ice Melting in Antarctica

From Journal of Ocean Modelling: “The Impact of glacial freshwater on sea ice is studied with a sea ice/ocean/iceberg model. The ice shelves mass change is included for the first time in the freshwater perturbation. Changes in freshwater input increase sea ice cover with distinctive regional pattern. The impact of freshwater on sea ice volume was found to be comparable to atmosphere-induced changes. Freshwater was found to be able to decrease Antarctic sea ice in Amundsen sector through ocean vertical circulation. The results suggest a need for improving the representation of freshwater sources and their evolution in climate models.”

Learn more about the impact of glacier meltwater in the Southern Ocean here.

Time series anomalies of (a) sea ice extent due to atmospheric induced changes and (b) sea-ice volume due to freshwater induced changes (Source: Merino et al/Science Direct)
Time series anomalies of (a) sea ice extent due to atmospheric induced changes and (b) sea-ice volume due to freshwater induced changes (Source: Merino et al./Science Direct).


Sounds of Bearded Seals in Glacier and Non-Glacier Environments

From Journal of the Acoustical Society of America: “In this study the description of underwater vocal repertoire of bearded seal in Svalbard (Norway) was extended. Two autonomous passive acoustic recorders were deployed for one year (August 2014–July 2015) in the inner and outer parts of the Kongsfjorden, and 1728 h were recorded and 17 220 vocalizations were found. Nine different vocalization classes were identified and characterized using ten acoustic parameters. This study represents a step forward to improve the understanding of the acoustic behaviour and the social function of these calls, and the ecology of marine species producing sounds.”

Discover the difference in acoustic behavior of bearded seals as a result of their external environments here.

Bearded Seal in Svalbard (Ali Schneider/Pinterest)
A bearded seal in Svalbard (Source: Ali Schneider/Pinterest).

Metal Contamination in Glacier Lakes of Tibet

From Journal of Environmental Science and Pollution Research: “Heavy metal contamination has affected many regions in the world, particularly the developing countries of Asia. We investigated 8 heavy metals (Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb, Cr, Co, Ni, and As) in the surface sediments of 18 glacier lakes on the Tibetan Plateau. Principal component analysis, hierarchical cluster analysis, and Pearson correlation analysis results indicated that the 8 heavy metals in the lake surface sediments of the Tibetan Plateau could be classified into four groups. Group 1 included Cu, Zn, Pb, Co, and Ni which were mainly derived from both natural such as glacier meltwater and traffic sources. Group 2 included Cd which mainly originated from anthropogenic sources like alloying, electroplating, and dyeing industries and was transported to the Tibetan Plateau by atmospheric circulation. Group 3 included Cr and it might mainly generate from parent rocks of watersheds. The last Group (As) was mainly from manufacturing, living, and the striking deterioration of atmospheric environment of the West, Central Asia, and South Asia.”

Read more about the distribution of metal contaminants and their sources here.

Yangzhoyong Co, one of the lakes featured in the study (Source: China News/Twitter)
Yangzhoyong Co, one of the lakes featured in the study (Source: China News/Twitter).

Photo Friday: Shiveluch Volcano Eruption in Siberia

Shiveluch Volcano, a super volcano in Siberia, erupted on Wednesday. The volcano is located in the northernmost portion of the glacier-covered volcano belt in the Russian Far East called the Kamchatka Krai. Although no locals were believed to be impacted by the blast, the Shiveluch eruption spewed ash 10 kilometers into the sky. The ash cloud has reportedly been extended to a length of 100 kilometers, chiefly in the southeastern direction. An “Orange” aviation warning was issued by the Kamchatka Volcanic Response Team. Airlines were advised to change their flight routes as ash particles could stall the aircraft’s engine. The Russian volcano service had also issued volcanic ash advisories since early November. Prior to this event, Shiveluch erupted almost a decade ago in March 2007.


Lava fresh out of the vent (Source: BirGün Gazetesi/Twitter)
Lava fresh out of the vent (Source: BirGün Gazetesi/Twitter).


Ash spewing from the glacier covered Shiveluch Volcano (Source: İhlas Son Dakika / Twitter)
Ash spewing from the glacier covered Klyuchevskoy Volcano (Source: İhlas Son Dakika/Twitter).


Satellite view of the ash cloud (Source: NASA).


The pristine view of the Shiveluch Volcano before its eruption (Source: Uykoal/Instagram)
The pristine view of the Klyuchevskoy Volcano before its eruption (Source: Uykoal/Instagram).

The Largest Glacier in East Antarctica is Starting to Melt

Researchers have generally thought that the East Antarctic Ice sheet has remained relatively stable despite global warming. But this is not the case, according to a recent study published in Science Advances. Chad Greene and a team of researchers discovered that the Totten, the largest glacier in East Antarctica, is melting. Shockingly, if the Totten Glacier were to melt entirely, it could raise sea levels by 11 feet.

Schematic of the Totten Glacier situation with relative positions of the glacier in Antarctica and the upwelling zone (Source: Chad Greene)
Schematic of the Totten Glacier situation with relative positions of the glacier in Antarctica and the upwelling zone (Source: Chad Greene).

“For the past decade, my research group at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics has flown airborne campaigns over Totten to characterize its sensitivities, because Totten drains a massive portion of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, about 550,000 km2, or ~3.5 m sea level rise in a complete collapse scenario,” Greene told Glacierhub. “That’s about as much ice as all the rapidly-changing glaciers of West Antarctica combined.”

The team’s project to study the Totten was a collaboration between the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Tasmania, and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. Fernando Paolo, another member of the team, has shown that for long-term observations, Totten clearly thickens and thins on an interannual basis. So, the outstanding question was, what causes these interannual changes? What force is powerful enough to affect this massive system?

Using satellite data from 2001 to 2006, the researchers noted the increased movement of the Totten Ice Shelf toward the ocean. The ice shelf represents the floating portion of the glacier. In a pervious interview, Greene describes this phenomenon as “pancake batter that’s piled up and spreads toward the edges under its own weight.” Melting, whether from the surface or the bottom in contact with the ocean, tends to thin the ice sheet and increase the rate of flow outward.

This increased melt is also confirmed by the International Collaboration for Exploration of the Cryosphere through Aerogeophysical Profiling (ICECAP) Project, a collaboration between U.S., British and Australian Antarctic researchers that has been mapping the East Antarctic ice sheet. They have identified an area near Totten Glacier that is thinning with lowering surface heights at a rate of approximately 2m per year.

Aerial view of the Totten Glacier breaking up due to melting (Source: Khan/Twitter)
Aerial view of the Totten Glacier breaking up due to melting (Source: Khan/Twitter).

“Many forces act on Totten. We used satellite images to track Totten’s movements and found that on the interannual timescale, variability in glacier speed is influenced primarily by winds over the ocean nearby,” Greene told Glacierhub. When winds over the Southern Ocean intensify, warm water is pulled up from the deep ocean onto the continental shelf, creating the hot spot. “It’s like when you blow across a hot bowl of soup and little bits of noodles from the bottom begin to swirl around and rise to the top,” he added. This comparison suggests the dynamic nature of the thermocline, which refers to the region under water where temperature changes more rapidly with depth. The wind-driven upwelling raises the thermocline on the continental shelf and dunks the underside of Totten Ice Shelf in a warm water bath.

The wind drives the thermocline, bringing warm water toward the coast of the Totten Glacier, and circulates below through submarine canyons, causing it to melt from below. “The temperature difference experienced by a parcel of ice that’s suddenly exposed to this warm water is only a couple of degrees Celsius, but remember that bit of ice may be more accustomed to water that’s just 0.2 degrees above freezing–so a 2 degrees shock is about a 10 fold increase in melting power,” Greene said. This kickstarts a positive feedback mechanism that is self-reinforcing. More inland ice is exposed to the warm waters when the coastal layers of ice melt, and when these landlocked ice drain into the ocean, sea-level rise is certain.

Greene thinks of the Totten Glacier as “the sleeping giant because it’s huge and has been seen as insensitive to changes in its environment.” However, his team’s findings have shed light on what has caused the Totten’s rates of melting to vary over the years. With climate change expected to intensify the winds over the Southern Ocean in the next 100 years, the Totten Glacier will likely be impacted. This is groundbreaking news, since people often relate melting glaciers to increases in air or ocean temperatures, when, in fact, winds are actually sufficient.

“Some basal melt is a healthy part of a steady-state mass balance for Totten, so observations of melt are not shocking or cause for alarm,” Greene told GlacierHub. However, he added that his team showed an interesting sensitivity that changes in wind over the ocean get transmitted to the ice sheet. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide have amplifying effects on Antarctic winds, deciding the fate of glaciers just by deciding the movement of warm water. “Of course, that has a gloom-and-doom component, but it’s also an interesting scientific curiosity–now we see how CO2 can lead to sea level rise without warming up the air and melting ice from above, and without even warming up the ocean, but just by moving heat around within the ocean,” he said.

What is the melting of just another glacier? If it is the Totten Glacier, it could mean another 11 feet of sea level increase.

Cooperation in the Face of Glacier Retreat: The Plants’ Story

As new areas become exposed by glacier retreat, plants begin to colonize them. Do the different species support or compete with one another? A recent study in the Journal of Vegetation Science follows the interactions of the circumpolar moss Silene acaulis, a type of cushion plant, with other secondary species like the buckwheat Bistorta vivipara in a southern Norway glacier, which has been retreating.

Five transact sites chosen for the study (Source: Klanderud et al.)

To answer this question, Kari Klanderud and her colleagues from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences demarcated five transact areas that were of increasing distance from the Midtdalsbreen glacier. Areas further away from the glacier represent better environmental conditions for growth as abiotic stress decreases, showing an environment gradient. The further from the glacier, the longer the area has been exposed, resulting in more advanced colonization. The abundance of buckwheat and the number of species of secondary plants within and outside of cushion plants were analyzed by conscientiously photographing the plant species in those areas. Soil temperature, moisture, organic content and pH measurements were also taken to examine if cushion plants modify the abiotic environment.

“We chose to work on S. Acaulis because it is common in alpine and arctic areas worldwide,” lead author Klanderud told Glacierhub. The cushion plant, a fascinating species that can survive in harsh climates, is commonly found in exposed habitats such as alpine tundra and places of cold-air drainage such as glacial moraines. It resembles a large green mat that can grow up to three meters in diameter. As a pioneer species in alpine habitats, the cushion plant nobly optimizes environmental conditions to facilitate growth of secondary plants like the buckwheat. This kickstarts the process of primary succession. These ungrateful secondary plants will continue to shamelessly grow, dominate and ultimately replace their pioneers so that eventually a community with larger species variety is achieved.

Cushion Plant, Silene acaulis which is also known as Moss Campion (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Why is the cushion plant able to survive the harsh conditions in the first place? Lawrence Walker, a professor at the University of Nevada who specializes in plant ecology, told Glacierhub, “Their compact growth form preserves heat, which leads to a longer growing season and minimal frost damage during summer months. The cushion growth form also avoids breakage of stems from strong winds.” The benefits of being compact is not only self-serving, its structure also facilitates secondary plants’ growth and survival by buffering extreme soil temperatures. “Even pollinating insects may find refuge in the cushion,” says Walker.

In an environment with limited space and resources for growth, it is every plant for itself. The cushion plant allows other plants to grow within them and in turn compete for nutrients. There must be a threshold for its altruism if the cushion plant wants to survive in the face of the buckwheat and other secondary plants. As Walker explains, “It is common that nurse plants (ones providing protection for small individuals of other plants) can later be outcompeted by the plant that they nursed.”

Must the cushion plant really engage in negative interactions to impede the growth of its ‘child’, the buckwheat to survive? Biologists have discovered that relations of plants vary depending on the level of stress. Coined the stress-gradient hypothesis, this means that competition between plant species is strongest during favorable environmental conditions, but these species will support one another when the going gets tough. With decreasing biotic stress, plant interactions tend to shift from facilitative to competitive.

Buckwheat, Bistorta vivipara (Source: Pinterest).

Indeed, for sites close to the glacier that represent the harshest abiotic conditions, the buckwheat performed better, as shown by bigger leaves when it is grown between the stems of the cushion plant. These sites are characterized by fewer organisms which accentuates the harsh conditions. Soils closer to the glacier contain less organic matter due to a shorter lifespan of the ecosystem present. The plants also lack support and shelter from one another to moderate the environmental conditions. “The very dense and dome-shaped cushion modifies the microclimate and thus the growing condition for other plants,” Klanderud explained.

There was limited difference in buckwheat growth performance in more favourable environments further from the glacier. In this case, the cushions support the theory above. However, during conditions of low abiotic stress, it still has a “conscience,” shifting only from facilitative to neutral interactions instead of negatively affecting the performance of the buckwheat. In terms of secondary plant species diversity, a trend of higher species richness was observed within the cushions across all the sites, with cushions buffering extreme soil temperatures as the main abiotic reason.

While glacier retreat often has a negative connotation, it can also represent new opportunities for plants and other species to build communities in newfound lands. Nonetheless, one thing is for sure – survival is key, prompting cooperation when needed but also knowing when to draw the line, just like humans.

Roundup: Glacier Shrinkage, Inventory and Reconstruction

Glacier Shrinkage Driving Global Changes in Downstream Systems

From Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: “Glaciers cover ∼10% of the Earth’s land surface, but they are shrinking rapidly across most parts of the world, leading to cascading impacts on downstream systems. Glaciers impart unique footprints on river flow at times when other water sources are low. Changes in river hydrology and morphology caused by climate-induced glacier loss are projected to be the greatest of any hydrological system, with major implications for riverine and near-shore marine environments… We conclude that human society must plan adaptation and mitigation measures for the full breadth of impacts in all affected regions caused by glacier shrinkage.”

Learn more about the impacts of glacier retreat on water supply across various regions here.

Conceptual framework integrating the effects of glacier shrinkage on provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem (Source: Miller et al)

Glacier Inventory and Recent Glacier Variations in the Andes of Chile

From the Annals of Glaciology: “The first satellite-derived inventory of glaciers and rock glaciers in Chile, created from Landsat TM/ETM+ images spanning between 2000 and 2003 using a semi-automated procedure, is presented in a single standardized format. Large glacierized areas in the Altiplano, Palena Province and the periphery of the Patagonian icefields are inventoried… Glacier attributes estimated from this new inventory provide valuable insights into spatial patterns of glacier shrinkage for assessing future glacier changes in response to climate change.”

Discover the distribution of glaciers in Chile and reports on their retreat here.

Largest retreating glaciers in Patagonian Andes and Tiena del Fuego (Source: Barcaza et al)

Glacier Reconstruction

From the British Society of Geomorphology: “Glacier reconstruction typically aims to establish the former extent of ice masses at any given period. Such reconstructions are important because they provide crucial information about past (palaeo) glacier changes over much longer timescales than the observational record permits. Reconstructing the dimensions and dynamics of palaeo-ice masses enables equilibrium line altitudes, and temperature or precipitation to be calculated, making glaciers an important palaeo-climate proxy. Given this utility, geomorphologically-based glacier reconstructions have been generated for many regions globally, although the specific methods employed are rarely described formally. To address this shortcoming, this chapter describes some of the methods employed in generating geomorphologically-based reconstructions for ice sheets and mountain-scale glaciers (< ~1,000 km2).”

Explore the novel concept of restoring glaciers that have melted (albeit virtually) here.

Using geomorphological approach to paleo-glacier reconstruction (Source: Pearce et al)

Great Biodiversity of Puyuhuapi Fjord

A new paper in the Journal of Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science revealed that the Puyuhuapi fjord in the Aysen region of Chile houses over 1,600 species of benthic fauna, which are basically underwater biology. The paper was published by Federico Betti and his team from the marine zoology lab of DISTAV Genoa University in Italy. The Chilean fjords are one of the most productive areas in the world and a crucial hotspot of biodiversity in cold-temperate climates. Benthic faunas such as algae and microbes represent interesting species that play important ecological roles and could serve as indicators of human disturbance on pristine ecosystems.

In fact, the intriguing aspects of the research extends to the research methodology. The team explored the fjords via scuba diving to photograph the species underwater. Even in summer, water temperatures in the fjord are only about 10 degrees Celsius. In this challenging cold-water environment, they had to get in wetsuits to photograph aquatic species at depths of up to 30m. Thereafter, the taxa were identified and categorized into 12 main bottom-dwelling species groups including corals/corallinales, cyanobacteria, algae, cnidaria (i.e. jellyfish, sea anemones) and molluscs. The area they occupied was also measured, noting temperature and conductivity (a variable which affects dissolved ions) of the water.

“The main goals were to describe the benthic communities of Puyuhuapi Fjord and how the benthic communities change in different environmental conditions,” lead researcher Betti told Glacierhub. The study was a collaboration with the Centre for Investigation of the Ecosystems in Patagonia (CIEP), which makes policy recommendations and has been conducting research in the Puyuhuapi fjord for a few years. Puyuhuapi Fjord represents a rather closed fjord, causing the communities to be highly affected by freshwater inputs, according to Betti et al. Meltwater from the coastal glaciers by the fjord is its main source of freshwater.

One of the photographs taken during the fieldwork in the Puyuhuapi Fjord (Source: Federico Betti).

Molluscs, cnidarians (organisms containing trigger cells that can shoot toxins into others) and sponges are the groups of benthic fauna with highest biodiversity. The team noted that stations located along the lower portions of the fjord differed noticeably from the upper, more inland areas in terms of total percentage cover but not for taxonomic group diversity. A decrease in benthic-life abundance is found at the top of the fjord, as the mouth of the river brings nutrients and sediments, causing silting. There is also a vertical gradient, with highest diversity found at intermediate depths. On average, benthic life abundance also decreased from the shallow to deep regions. In horizontal, as well as vertical terms, overall abundance of organisms and diversity of organisms are distributed differently. While the former is a result of organic material input, the latter is due to the high turbidity of the water causing limited light penetration with depth. Algae represents the most significantly affected community due to its high dependence on light penetration for photosynthesis.

Salinity of water also directly influences the types of species observed. Saline water exists at 7m depth onwards, which is most prominent at the upper sections, where the mouth of the river at the top of the fjord supplies low density fresh estuarine water which spreads across the entire fjord. The two strata house different assemblages with gastropods comprising snail, slugs and limpets dominating the superficial layer and echinoderms such as starfish and sea urchins in the shallow saline region.

The main ecological threat comes from salmon farming, with many salmon-farming cages proliferating the Puyuhuapi region. “Escaped salmons are colonizing the fjords, and it can be a problem for the ecosystem. Antibiotics can enter the food webs, when the benthic communities living close or below the cages are strongly impacted by fecal pellets, food pellets, anoxia and sedimentation,” Betti explains. “In fact, we have collected some sponges that I believe the CIEP is analyzing for antibiotics coming from the cages,” he added.

Upper region of the glacier-fed Puyuhuapi Fjord (Source: Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa/Instagram).

Substantial growth of fish and mussel farming has occurred in the last decade, leading to sedimentation and nutrient pollution. Being a closed fjord, the area is experiencing less ocean circulation, thus the problem of increased nutrients and antibiotics is accentuated. Only the lower portion of the fjord has turbulent waters, mainly due to a circular ocean current that drives salty and dense water into the system. However, the salty water is immediately forced under less dense fresh water, causing it to lose power and barely reaching the innermost portion of the fjord. Due to limited penetration of ocean water, biodiversity decreased inland as nutrient levels in calm waters increases, the study found.

The team is currently still conducting research on the Puyuhuapi fjord region to explore the relationship between biodiversity and water conditions at intermediate depths. This requires quantifying the variety of species, as well as concentration of oxygen and metal ions in the water, among other parameters unique to different species. Ultimately, they hope to designate the fjord as a Marine Protected Area by justifying its rich biodiversity and sensitivity to anthropic disturbances.

Photo Friday: New Polynya in East Antarctica

Last month, a new polynya was detected in the Weddell Sea. Polynyas are areas of unfrozen sea within the ice pack. In this case, it formed in the ice to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula. This ice is primarily sea ice, but also contains icebergs which have calved from the peripheral glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula. Estimations from satellite images indicate that the polynya is larger than the size of the Netherlands. Polynya formation is usually caused by sensible or latent heat processes. Sensible heat polynyas are a result of warmer waters heating up the sea ice, causing it to melt, while latent heat polynyas are caused by surface wind that blows in a single direction, prompting sea ice to be pushed away. However, this new polynya is unique, since it is located fairly deep in the ice pack, indicating another possible formation process. This has sparked discussion by many scientists in the field thus far and will likely be a new focal topic in Antarctic studies.


Icebergs and sea ice in the Weddell Sea (Source: Wereotravel/Instagram).


Satellite image of the new polynya in the Weddell Sea (Source: Mark Brandon/Twitter).


Location of the polynya in Antarctica (Source: Mark Drinkwater/Twitter)


Surface wind circulation patterns surrounding the polynya (Source: Thomas Lavergne/Twitter)

Villagers in Bhilangana Valley Satisfied with High Tourism Rates

New research in a section of the Himalayas popular with tourists shows that villages are generally more satisfied with their visitors than was thought. The paper by R.K. Dhodi and Shivam Prakash Bhartiya, published in the South Asian Journal for Tourism and Heritage, describes the positive impacts of tourism on the villages of the Bhilangana Valley, and the satisfaction of the villagers. Both Dhodi and Bhartiya belong to the Centre of Mountain Tourism and Hospitality Studies in Gharwal Central University in Northern India and have conducted extensive research on the impacts of tourism-related activities in the region.
Hikers on Khatling Glacier (Source:

The Bhilangana Valley, located within the Gharwal Region of Uttarakhand in India, is part of the Northern Himalayan chain, with some of the highest mountain peaks in the world including Kairi, Draupadi-ka-Danda and Janoli, all over 5500 m. The region draws many adventurous hikers who seek to traverse the valley to reach the spectacular Khatling glacier. Despite being a rather pristine valley, the Bhilangana draws a steady stream of tourists annually. In 2012, the region was visited by 56.7 million domestic tourists (mostly pilgrims) and 1.6 million foreigners.

From the base camp, Guttu, there are villages interspersed throughout the 42 km glacier hike. These communities rely and invest in nature-based tourism as they believe in the economic and social benefits it begets. “Locals are involved in eateries, restaurants, and tea stall businesses through which they can provide the taste of local cuisine to the tourists. Transport, guiding, and porting services are also provided by the host community members including the facility of homestays, hotels, and guest houses,” Dhodi explains. “Besides, rural areas are rich in natural and socio-cultural resources as they have large diversities of flora and fauna, pilgrimage places, fairs and festivals, and traditional agricultural practices which they can showcase to the tourists.”

Hikers gather around a fireplace in a village hut to dry their shoes (Source:

Hiker Tejas Damle, who participated in the glacier hike in May 2011, told GlacierHub, “The local homes were basically furnished with all essentials from a hiker’s perspective – food, firewood, water and a good place to sleep. Locals of the villages were totally friendly and very interactive. Little kids would gather around saying ‘namaste mithai’ and the happiness they displayed is priceless.”

In fact, this satisfaction goes both ways. Based on 500 surveys conducted by the authors, all of the communities were reportedly very satisfied with their villages’ current level of engagement in tourism-related activities. The top three perceived positive impacts were an increase in employment opportunities, improvement in living utilities and infrastructure, and enhanced preservation of the physical environment.

Yet, Dhodi also warns that “tourism development should only be taken as a tool for community development but not as a goal,” implying that communities should not aim to solely rely on tourism for social and economic progress. While nature is used as a major selling point in nature-based tourism, it is also its greatest threat. Communities are vulnerable to changes in climate which are beyond their control. Currently, a rapid warming trend that surpasses global averages plagues the Himalaya mountain region. Glacier retreat, glacier lake expansion and halving of glacier depth were observed in the region.

View of some Himalayan Peaks during the glacier hike (Source: Instagram via @traveller_ted).

Apart from the slow disappearance of their main tourist attraction – the Khatling Glacier – the villages of the valley may also need to deal with other hazards associated with high mountain living such as flash floods, landslides and debris flow. This raises questions about the sustainability of relying on nature-based tourism. An occurrence of a single disaster is enough to turn tourists off. 

As Michal Apollo from the Department of Tourism and Regional Studies of the Pedagogical University of Krakow told GlacierHub, “The effects of climate change in the Himalaya have been shown by many scholars and may have significant impact on mountaineering in the future. Climate change is already affecting the length of the climbing and trekking season. Although some areas are responding positively to climate change and are becoming easier to traverse, the changing climate also makes some routes unpassable, especially those requiring glacier travel on the way to the summit.”