Research Shows How Climate Change Drives Glacier Retreat

Shrinking glaciers are oft-cited examples of the effects of anthropogenic climate change, providing dramatic imagery in different parts of the world. However, this has mostly been based on global aggregates of glacier extent. Differing opinions also exist about the best way to measure glacial change all over the world.  A recent study by Roe et al., published in Nature Geoscience, confirms that climate change has contributed to the shortening of numerous glaciers around the world, but the study is not immune to controversy surroundings the methods used.

Retreating glaciers, such as these in the Himalayas, are a popular symbol of climate change (Source: NASA/Creative Commons).
Retreating glaciers, such as these in the Himalayas, are a popular symbol of climate change (Source: NASA/Creative Commons).

Using a combination of meteorological data and observations of glacier length, Roe et al. studied the influence of climate on 37 glaciers between 1880 and 2010. The glaciers were selected based on the continuity of length observations and the need for a wide geographical distribution.

Glacier mass-balance records are a more direct measure of the effect of climate than glacier length as they measure the difference between the accumulation and ablation (sublimation or melting) of glacier ice. However, most mass-balance records do not extend for more than two decades, contributing to the previous lack of confirmation of the effect of climate change on individual glaciers around the world.

The use of observations of glacier length helped to overcome this obstacle, but challenges were still encountered in obtaining long, continuous data sets, particularly for regions such as Asia and South America. In conversation with GlacierHub, Roe shared that many factors can affect the availability of continuous data sets. “For example, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to many glacier observation programs being abandoned,” he stated.

The researchers tracked changes in the length of 37 glaciers, including those highlighted here (Source: Roe et al./Nature Geoscience).
The researchers tracked changes in the length of 37 glaciers, including those highlighted here (Source: Roe et al./Nature Geoscience).

An additional challenge arose from the variation in conditions experienced by each glacier. “Every glacier is a unique product of its local climate and landscape,” Roe shared, citing the example of maritime glaciers, which typically experience a large degree of wintertime accumulation variability. “This can mask the signal of a warming that, so far, has mainly impacted the summertime mass balance,” he added.

Nevertheless, Roe et al. found that there was at least a 99% chance that a change in climate was needed to account for the retreat of 21 of the glaciers studied. “Even for the least statistically significant (Rabots Glacier in Sweden), there was still an 89% chance that its retreat required a climate change,” Roe said.

As glaciers tend to have decadal responses to changes in climate, their retreat since 1880 is likely to be a result of twentieth-century temperature trends. They also act as amplifiers of local climate trends, providing strong signal-to-noise ratios that serve as strong evidence for the effects of anthropogenic climate change. For example, one of the glaciers included in the study, Hintereisferner in the Austrian Alps, retreated 2,800m since 1880, with a standard deviation (a measure of the deviation of values from the mean) of 130m. This value is small compared to the amount of retreat, providing a strong signal of change.

Hintereisferner was one of the 37 glaciers included in the study (Source: Creative Commons)
Hintereisferner was one of the 37 glaciers included in the study (Source: Woodsiailvensis/Creative Commons).

“We hope that these results will lead to a stronger scientific consensus about the cause of glacier retreat. The last round of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was quite timid, concluding only that it was ‘likely’ that a ‘substantial’ part of glacier retreat was due to human-caused climate change,” Roe added. IPCC nomenclature would make it “very likely” (≥90%) that all but one of the glaciers in this study have retreated because of climate change, allowing for stronger conclusions to be drawn.

Excitement about the results of this study was shared by Joerg Schaefer, professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory: “Under Roe’s lead, the really smart glacier people find ways to explain this strange observation that glaciers are highly individual beasts if you look at short time scales (years and decades), but behave like a flock of well-behaved sheep when you look at longer (centennial and millennial time-scales),” Schaefer said in an interview with GlacierHub. “This will help us a lot down the road to better predict rates of glacier change for the next century.”

In contrast, Mauri Pelto, professor of environmental science at Nichols College who has been involved in the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project for 34 of years, expressed that the paper was interesting but not the first confirmation of glaciers being impacted by anthropogenic climate change. “This does not mean it is not worth writing about,” said Pelto, “but it needs to be placed in the context of the other key studies that were both earlier, and, I believe, stronger.”

For example, the authors looked at fewer glaciers than Oerlemans et al. (2005) while modelling each in more detail. Pelto notes that they also used far less data than Zemp et al. (2015) in making an even more compelling statement on the status of glaciers. Finally, the authors are not the first to conduct an attribution study: note Marzeion et al. (2014). While their statistical method is quite robust, their modelling approach that generates data does not have an impressive verification record, according to Pelto.

“Other recent studies better represent the certainty of glacier change being driven by climate,” Pelto concluded.

These opinions indicate that glacier retreat continues to attract attention and stimulate active debate, pointing to the importance of glaciers and climate change. The approach used in this study relies on glacier length, a less precise measure than mass-balance. However, its value lies in the ability to consider long meteorological and glacier length records for a number of glaciers, contributing to an important and growing body of knowledge about the effects of anthropogenic climate change on glaciers all over the world.

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Roundup: Chemistry, Dams and Elevations

Roundup: Meltwater Chemistry, Hydroelectric Dams and Glacier Elevation

 

Diurnal Changes in the Chemistry of Glacier Meltwater

From Chemosphere: “An evaluation of glacial meltwater chemistry is needed under recent dramatic glacier melting when water resources might be significantly impacted. This study investigated trace elements variation in the meltwater stream, and its related aquatic environmental information, at the Laohugou glacier basin (4260 m a.s.l.) at a remote location in northeast Tibetan Plateau… Results showed evident elements spatial difference on the glacier surface meltwater, as most of the elements showed increased concentration at the terminus compared to higher elevations sites… The accelerated diurnal and temporal snow-ice melting (with high runoff level) were correlated to increased elemental concentration, pH, EF (enrichment factor,the minimum factor by which the weight percent of mineral in is greater than the average occurrence of that mineral in the Earth’s crust) and elemental change mode, and thus this work is of great importance for evaluating the impacts of accelerated glacier melting to meltwater chemistry and downstream ecosystem in the northeast Tibetan Plateau.”

Read more about it here.

Accelerated melting affects the chemistry of glacier meltwater streams (Source: Shayon Ghosh/Creative Commons)
Accelerated melting affects the chemistry of glacier meltwater streams (Source: Shayon Ghosh/Creative Commons)

 

Locals Oppose Dam Construction in the North Western Himalayas

From the International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies: “Since early 1970s dam development projects witnessed severe opposition in India. The remote tribal groups and rural population rejected the idea of large scale displacement, land alienation, economic insecurity and endless suffering that came along with ‘development’ projects… In recent past the construction of hydroelectricity projects has faced severe opposition in the tribal regions in Himachal Pradesh. The locals in Kinnaur are facing numerous socio-economic and environmental consequences of these constructions in fragile Himalayan ecology… More than 30 hydro projects proposed in Lahaul & Spiti are also being challenged by the people in Chenab valley… The paper summarises the ongoing struggle and diverse implications added with climate change in the rural structures.”

Read more about local opposition to these projects here.

Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Plant in Kinnaur (Source: Sumit Mahar/Creative Commons).
Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Plant in Kinnaur (Source: Sumit Mahar/Creative Commons).

 

Uneven Changes in Ice Sheet Elevation in West Antarctica

From Geophysical Research Letters: “We combine measurements acquired by five satellite altimeter missions to obtain an uninterrupted record of ice sheet elevation change over the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, since 1992… Surface lowering has spread slowest (<6 km/yr) along the Pope, Smith, and Kohler (PSK) Glaciers, due to their small extent. Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is characterized by a continuous inland spreading of surface lowering, notably fast at rates of 13 to 15 km/yr along tributaries draining the southeastern lobe, possibly due to basal conditions or tributary geometry… Ice-dynamical imbalance across the sector has therefore been uneven during the satellite record.”

Read more about the changes in ice sheet elevation here.

The calving front of Pine Island Glacier (Source: NASA/Creative Commons).
The calving front of Pine Island Glacier (Source: NASA/Creative Commons).
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Large Populations of Jellyfish Found in West Antarctic Fjords

Jellyfish can often be found in abundance in communities living in the benthic boundary layer, the water directly above the seafloor. The cold high-latitude systems surrounding the poles are no exception. A recent study published by Grange et al. in PLOS One reports on unusually high abundances of Ptychogastria polaris Allman in fjords in the glacier-rich West Antarctic Peninsula.

P. polaris is a cold-water species that has been found in a variety of locations in the high latitudes of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. It was first described in 1878 by A.G. Allman, based on a single specimen collected off East Greenland. Since then, it has been found to have a patchy, circumpolar distribution in Arctic and sub-Arctic areas, while only a few specimens have been documented in Antarctica.

Fjords are partially submerged steep-sided valleys carved out by glacial action (Source: Richard Martin/Creative Commons).
Fjords are partially submerged steep-sided valleys carved out by glacial action (Source: Richard Martin/Creative Commons).

Between January and February 2010, Grange et al. conducted surveys of benthic megafauna in three subpolar fjords along the West Antarctic Peninsula – Andvord, Flandres and Barilari Bays.

“Arctic fjords are heavily impacted by meltwater inputs and sedimentation that yield low seafloor abundance and biodiversity, so we wanted to see if that was also the case in the Antarctic,” Grange explained to GlacierHub.

They analyzed live specimens, conducted photosurveys of the seafloor, and measured background environmental conditions to gain a better understanding of the distribution of P. polaris. Molecular analysis and DNA sequencing were also used to confirm the species identifications of specimens.

P. polaris was found to be a common component of seafloor communities in both Andvord and Flandres Bays, but was absent in Barilari Bay. “We noted the conspicuous occurrence and high abundance of P. polaris,” Grange stated. She noted that the densities in these locations up to 400 times higher than previously recorded in northeast Greenland and the Barents Sea.

The locations of the three fjords: Andvord (1), Flandres (2) and Barilari (3) Bays (Source: Grange et al.).
The locations of the three fjords: Andvord (1), Flandres (2) and Barilari (3) Bays (Source: Grange et al.).

These levels could be a result of higher productivity within the benthic boundary layer in the fjords. Reasons for this productivity include higher nutrient inputs that occur when the remains of sustained phytoplankton blooms sink to the ocean floor, or when macroalgae (large-celled algae such as seaweed) cascade down fjord walls, providing food sources that support larger populations of P. polaris. In addition, migrating Antarctic krill and baleen whales can transport nutrients to these regions in the form of feces and krill carcasses.

P. polaris was also observed in smaller densities in the water column in all three bays. Although this species is known to undertake short swimming expeditions of up to fifteen seconds, these observations were relatively frequent, suggesting that P. polaris in Antarctica may behave differently from counterparts in Arctic and boreal environments. This could be driven by feeding opportunities, localized regions of turbulent mixing at the seafloor, or distinct circulation patterns, but further research is needed, according to Grange et al.  

Both findings also suggest that P. polaris may form a link between pelagic (open water) and benthic food-webs within the region. For example, they may play an important role as ecological predators of benthic organisms like zooplankton, while providing food inputs to the seafloor when they die. This contributes to nutrient and energy transfers between the ecosystems, helping to integrate the dynamics of food-webs in different layers of the marine environment.

P. polaris are up 2-3 cm in diameter and are often found attached to rock surfaces (Source: Laura Grange)
P. polaris are up 2-3 cm in diameter and are often found attached to rock surfaces (Source: Laura Grange)

This study was also the first to provide a phylogenetic (evolutionary history and relationship) analysis of the Ptychogastriidae family, to which P. polaris belongs. “We found relatively large genetic differentiation among P. polaris compared to that for other hydrozoan (the larger taxonomic class of organisms) species,” Grange explained. This discovery may suggest the species contain multiple cryptic species (different species with identical physical forms) or an unusually high degree of sequence variation between the extreme ends of its distributional range.”

Further research will help to elucidate the findings of this study. The complex interplay between wind, tidal and glacial processes in subpolar fjords also creates a variety of conditions in different fjords, suggesting that glacier-related environments such as these may yield more surprising discoveries.

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A Living Piece of History: An Outdoor Ice Rink in New Zealand

The remains of an outdoor ice rink near Mount Harper/Mahaanui in New Zealand offer insight into the establishment, use and decline of what may have been the largest outdoor ice rink in the Southern hemisphere. The privately built rink on South Island was a popular social amenity from the 1930s to the 1950s, playing an important role in the development of ice hockey and skating in the country, as detailed in a heritage assessment carried out by Katharine Watson for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC). A combination of interviews, secondary sources and an archaeological survey were used to inform the history of the rink present in the assessment.

Mt. Harper ice rink lies in the lee of the mountain (the side that is sheltered from the prevailing wind) that gives it its name, at the foot of the glacier-clad Southern Alps of New Zealand. It was built in the early 1930s by Wyndham Barker, the son of a minor member of the English gentry who lived in Canterbury and learned to ice skate while studying in Europe, as explained in the assessment.

The bunds that surrounded the ice rinks still remain to the true left of the Rangitata River (Source: Ian Hill / Department of Conservation)
The bunds that surrounded the ice rinks still remain to the true left of the Rangitata River (Source: Ian Hill/Department of Conservation)

The rinks no longer contain any ice and some now contain vegetation, but the bunds (earth mounds) surrounding the ice rinks can still be seen. Many of the original buildings, such as the ticket office, toilet block, skate shed, a hut built to house the Barker’s cow, Sissy, and the Barker’s house are still standing.

The rink was first built in the summer of 1931-1932 and was fed by water from a nearby stream. However, its original location was too exposed to the nor’westers (strong north-westerly winds that are characteristic of Canterbury in New Zealand), which rippled the ice. Barker subsequently moved the rink closer to Mt. Harper, building the rink by allowing controlled layers of ice to build up over many nights. The rink’s first major public season took place in the winter of 1934.

The shed that housed the hydropower scheme (Source: Katharine Watson/Christchurch Uncovered).
The shed that housed the hydropower scheme (Source: Katharine Watson/Christchurch Uncovered).

A hydropower scheme was also installed in 1938 to power lights for skating at night, while allowing water to be sluiced onto the ice if necessary. “The whole landscape is really legible today, which is one of the things that makes it such a great place,” Watson explained to GlacierHub. 

“These kinds of sites are very important records of the myriad ways in which human societies have used, interacted with, and taken advantage of seasonal ice over time,” added Rebecca Woods, a professor of the history of technology at the University of Toronto. “An archeological site like Barker’s rink would be a candidate for a cool virtual reality tour along the lines of a New York Times 360° video.”

The potential of the site to tell the story of outdoor ice skating and ice hockey in New Zealand has been identified by the DOC. “The designation of the site as an Actively Conserved Historic Place recognizes this and entails a commitment to maintain the key buildings and structures in the expectation that despite being fairly isolated, the difficulty of access may change some time in the future,” shared Lizzy Sutcliffe, a representative from the DOC.

The rink was subdivided over its first few years of use, with up to seven rinks existing in the 1940s. One reason for doing this was that the ice was not freezing well. It also allowed one of the rinks to be dedicated to ice hockey, which Barker was passionate about. In fact, he was an important figure in the history of ice hockey in New Zealand, establishing the Erewhorn Cup, an ice hockey tournament that persists to this day.

Crossing a swing bridge over the Rangitata River. Kent, Thelma Rene. Ref: 1/2-009844-F. Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
Crossing a swing bridge over the Rangitata River. Kent, Thelma Rene. Ref: 1/2-009844-F. Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The main focus of the rink was definitely ice hockey, along with recreational skating,” Watson explained to GlacierHub. “Competitive ice hockey matches were held at the rink.” The remote location of the rink also meant that it had to be accessed using a punt until a swing bridge was built in later years.

At the time, ice rinks in South Canterbury were all located in the high country, close to the Southern Alps, which meant that most of them were associated with high country pastoral stations farmed by people perceived of as the elite. This rink was probably important in introducing people outside the pastoral stations to ice skating, as it was more accessible to the people of Geraldine, the nearest town. The rink’s development and success were part of a larger movement in New Zealand at the time, where there was increasing leisure time and people were more frequently exploring the outdoors and taking up winter sports, according to Watson.

Gender could also have had an effect on the use of the rink, according to Woods. She explained to GlacierHub that gender has influenced many realms of human interaction with ice, likely extending to the use of ice rinks. “The competitive [ice hockey] matches were all played by men,” added Watson.

Public use of the rink ceased in the mid-1950s for a few reasons, one of which could have been climate change. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that warmer winters were one of the reasons the rink was abandoned,” Watson said. “The later owners of the rink did purchase a refrigeration unit at one point. This seems to suggest that things were getting warmer.” Another reason for the closing of the rink might have been World War II and the changes it brought about including the increased cost of fuel, which made it harder to get to the rink.

A map showing the remains of the ice rink and surrounding buildings (Source: Katharine Watson/Department of Conservation).
A map showing the remains of the ice rink and surrounding buildings (Source: Katharine Watson/Department of Conservation).

The remains of the rink offer some insight into one aspect of past human interactions with ice in New Zealand. Its completeness also makes it an interesting place to visit, if one is willing to make the journey to this remote region. Amidst the remains, it would be easy to imagine the laughter and enjoyment of people skating there, just as they would have done this winter if the rink was still operational.

“Given how dramatically the planet’s temperature is rising, it’s more critical than ever to document these instances [in human history] and demonstrate them to the public,” concluded Woods.

Read more about the rink and view additional photos here.

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Roundup: Siberia, Serpentine and Seasonal Cycling

Roundup: Siberian Glaciers, Vegetation Succession and Sea Ice

 

Glaciers in Siberia During the Last Glacial Maximum

From Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology: “It is generally assumed that during the global Last Glacial Maximum (gLGM, 18–24 ka BP) dry climatic conditions in NE Russia inhibited the growth of large ice caps and restricted glaciers to mountain ranges. However, recent evidence has been found to suggest that glacial summers in NE Russia were as warm as at present while glaciers were more extensive than today… We hypothesize that precipitation must have been relatively high in order to compensate for the high summer temperatures… Using a degree-day-modelling (DDM) approach, [we] find that precipitation during the gLGM was likely comparable to, or even exceeded, the modern average… Results imply that summer temperature, rather than aridity, limited glacier extent in the southern Pacific Sector of NE Russia during the gLGM.”

Read more about the study here.

 

Siberia experiences very cold temperatures but has relatively few glaciers (Source: Creative Commons)
Siberia experiences very cold temperatures but has relatively few glaciers (Source: Creative Commons).

 

Plant Communities in the Italian Alps

From Plant and Soil: “Initial stages of pedogenesis (soil formation) are particularly slow on serpentinite… Thus, a particularly slow plant primary succession should be observed on serpentinitic proglacial (in front of glaciers) areas..Ssoil-vegetation relationships in such environments should give important information on the development of the “serpentine syndrome” .Pure serpentinite supported strikingly different plant communities in comparison with the sites where the serpentinitic till was enriched by small quantities of sialic (rich in silica and aluminum) rocks. While on the former materials almost no change in plant species composition was observed in 190 years, four different species associations were developed with time on the other. Plant cover and biodiversity were much lower on pure serpentinite as well.”

Read more about “serpentine syndrome” here.

 

Plant communities in the Italian Alps can differ depending on the underlying bed rock (Source: Creative Commons)
Plant communities in the Italian Alps can differ depending on the underlying bed rock (Source: Creative Commons).

 

Carbon Cycling and Sea Ice in Ryder Bay

From Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography: “The carbon cycle in seasonally sea-ice covered waters remains poorly understood due to both a lack of observational data and the complexity of the system… We observe a strong, asymmetric seasonal cycle in the carbonate system, driven by physical processes and primary production. In summer, melting glacial ice and sea ice and a reduction in mixing with deeper water reduce the concentration of dissolved organic carbon (DIC) in surface waters… In winter, mixing with deeper, carbon-rich water and net heterotrophy increase surface DIC concentrations… The variability observed in this study demonstrates that changes in mixing and sea-ice cover significantly affect carbon cycling in this dynamic environment.”

Read more about carbon cycling in West Antarctica here.

 

Seasonal sea ice melting influences the cycling of carbon in West Antarctica (Source: Jason Auch / Creative Commons).
Seasonal sea ice melting influences the cycling of carbon in West Antarctica (Source: Jason Auch/Creative Commons).
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Krill Contribute to Ocean Carbon Storage in Patagonia

Waters in the sub-Antarctic region of Chilean Patagonia are fed by glaciers in one of the largest freshwater systems on Earth, the North and South Patagonian Icefields. A recent study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series found that Euphasia vallentini, the most abundant species of krill in Chilean Patagonian waters, play a key role in food webs. The study also discovered that this species of krill helps to sequester carbon in the oceansthey consume plankton, which take in carbon during photosynthesis, and discharge some of the carbon into deeper ocean waters through the production of fast-sinking fecal pellets. This is increasingly important as atmospheric carbon concentrations rise, as it contributes to the role of the oceans as a carbon sink.

The North Patagonian Icefield (Source: McKay Savage / Creative Commons).
The North Patagonian Icefield (Source: McKay Savage/Creative Commons).

Krill are small, shrimp-like crustaceans that are found in all of the world’s oceans. In an interview with GlacierHub, Humberto E. González, the lead author of the study from the Austral University of Chile, explained that krill form “a trophic [related to food and nutrition] bridge between the microbial community [bacteria, nanoplankton, microzooplankton] and the upper trophic layers [seals, whales, penguins, etc.]. Thus, they play a pivotal role in trophic flows.”

The study by González et al. focused on the region between the Magellan Strait and Cape Horn because of the unique biological, chemical and physical conditions created by the hydrological input from three different sources: nutrient-rich Pacific and Atlantic Sub-Antarctic Waters (waters that lie between 46°– 60° south of the Equator), and cold and nutrient depleted freshwater from Patagonian rivers and glaciers.

Waters that are more saline or that are colder have higher densities. However, as explained in the study, the effect of salinity exceeds the effect of temperature on density within this region, giving rise to strong saline stratification in the mixture of oceanic and freshwater terrestrial environments. This reduces the movement of important species between the benthic (the lowest level) and pelagic (open water) ecosystems in southern Patagonia.

The stratification also reduces upward and downward mixing of ocean water. This reduces carbon fluxes in the region, as the transport of carbon dioxide to deeper parts of the ocean through diffusion across layers occurs more slowly than the circulation of ocean waters with different carbon dioxide concentrations.

A map of the Strait of Magellan and the region where the study took place (Source: / Creative Commons).
A map of the region where the study took place. The icefields are located further north (Source: Creative Commons).

The team of scientists embarked on a research cruise in the region in October and November 2010, collecting chemical and biological samples at about forty different stations. Using a variety of techniques, they studied features such as the types and distribution of organic carbon in the waters, and the abundance and diet of E. vallentini. All this was done to better understand the role of E. vallentini in the region’s food web structures and in the transport of carbon to deeper layers of the ocean despite strong stratification.

In conversation with GlacierHub, González stated that “the species of the genus Euphausia (a functional group of zooplankton) play a paramount role in many disparate environments from high to low latitude ecosystems. Euphausia superba in the Southern Ocean and Euphausia mucronata in the Humboldt Current System are some examples.In this study, González et al. found that E. vallentini play a similarly important role in Southern Chilean Patagonia, consuming a range of plankton from nano- to phytoplankton and forming the dominant prey of several fish, penguin and whale species.

Krill, such as E. vallentini, form an important link in food chains between phytoplankton and larger animals (Source: Uwe Kils / Creative Commons)
Krill, such as E. vallentini, form an important link in food chains between phytoplankton and larger animals (Source: Uwe Kils/Creative Commons)

The study also found that E. vallentini play an important role in passive fluxes of carbon through the sequestration of carbon in fast-sinking fecal pellets, or poop. The plankton ingested by E. vallentini takes in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, and about a quarter of the plankton ingested by E. vallentini is then passed out in fecal matter. These fecal pellets form the dominant component of particulate organic carbon (organic carbon particles that are larger than a certain size) fluxes in the region’s waters, helping to sequester carbon as they sink to the ocean floor.

This process is accelerated by E. vallentini’s vertical diurnal migrations, which occur despite the strong saline stratification of waters in southern Patagonia. Their vertical movements, from deeper parts of the ocean during the day to the surface of the ocean in search of food at night, occurs more quickly than the rate at which their fecal pellets sink, speeding up the transport of carbon to deeper ocean layers. As González explained, “the Patagonian krill [and] the squat lobster (Munida gregaria) are the main species responsible for the carbon export towards deeper layer of the fjords and channels (in southern Patagonia).”

Although scientists from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources estimate that the total weight of Antarctic krill exceeds that of humans on Earth, they may not be immune from the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Indeed, González stated that a greater input of freshwater to the ocean could reduce nutrient levels in upper layers of the ocean. This will reduce the productivity of fjords and channels, reducing the availability of food for krill, and creating serious implications for the marine ecosystems that they are part of. This research serves as a reminder that biological organisms play an important role in the effects of marine ecosystems on the world’s climate, as they do in terrestrial ecosystems. 

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Glacier Loss Threatens Stoneflies in Glacier National Park

Glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are undergoing rapid retreat, threatening two remarkable insect species that live in streams fed by glacial meltwater. Lednia tumana (meltwater stonefly) and Zapada glacier (Western glacier stonefly) have recently been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act due to the threat that climate change poses to their habitats.

A recent study by J. Joseph Giersch et al. published in Global Change Biology offers insight into the factors that influence the distribution of these species, providing valuable information for conservation efforts. In an interview with GlacierHub, Giersch, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), said, “Findings from our research were used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to inform the listing decision for the two species.”

The study took place in Glacier National Park, Montana, where regional warming has had serious effects. Surveys of glacial extent revealed that 80% of glacial mass within the park has been lost since the 19th century, with full recession predicted over the next two decades, according to Paul Carrara in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. This creates the need for a better understanding of glacier-dependent species such as the stoneflies and ecological implications of species loss.

A researcher collecting samples from a stream fed by meltwater from Blackfoot Glacier (Source: Joe Giersch/USGS).
A researcher collecting samples from a stream fed by meltwater from Blackfoot Glacier (Source: Joe Giersch/USGS).

The team of researchers led by Giersch sampled the alpine stream network within Glacier National Park between 1996 and 2015, tracking the abundance of nymph (the immature form and second stage of the life cycle) and adult Lednia tumana and Zapada glacier. Samples of Lednia tumana were found in a total of 113 streams within the park, while Zapada glacier was only detected in 10 streams, six within the park and four within other parts of the Rocky Mountains in Montana and Wyoming.

Both species of stonefly are endemic to the region around Glacier National Park and are range-restricted. Their distributions were found to be related to cold stream temperatures and proximity to glaciers or permanent snowfields, with survival “dependent on the unique thermal and hydrologic conditions found only in glacier-fed and snowmelt-driven alpine streams,” according to the study.

A Lednia tumana nymph, which lives underwater (Source: Joe Giersch/USGS).
A Lednia tumana nymph, which lives underwater (Source: Joe Giersch/USGS).

An interesting feature of both Lednia tumana and Zapada glacier is that they are aquatic in the egg and nymph stages of their life cycles, before becoming terrestrial adults. The adult females lay eggs in short sections of cold alpine streams found directly below glaciers and permanent snowfields within the park. The whole life cycle can last from one to two years.

When the stonefly’s eggs hatch, the nymphs swim or drift along the alpine streams, feeding and growing until they emerge as fully grown adults in July or August. The short-lived adults are weak fliers, so they tend to be found on streamside vegetation. Male and female adult Zapada glacier communicate and find each other by drumming (tapping specialized structures in their abdominal segments on the material at the bottom of the stream). After finding each other, they mate and the females lay eggs in the streams, re-starting the life cycle process. Mature Lednia tumana nymphs tend to be about a quarter of an inch-long, while adults are slightly smaller, according to the USFWS.

An adult Zapada glacier, which is terrestrial (Joe Giersch/USGS).
An adult Zapada glacier, which is terrestrial (Joe Giersch/USGS).

As alpine glaciers in Glacier National Park disappear as a result of climate change, meltwater contributions to alpine streams will decrease, changing the temperature and hydrological regimes that both stonefly species, particularly in the egg and nymph stages, depend on.

The loss of permanent cold water to their native habitat may eventually result in the extinction of these species. Additionally, a shorter-term effect could be a decrease in population connectivity due to cold water dependent species migrating upstream in response to warming temperatures,” Giersch explained to GlacierHub. “In an area with steep topography such as Glacier National Park, upstream migrating populations become ever more geographically and genetically isolated. This will ultimately cause a decrease in the persistence of the species.”

Glacier National Park has many streams fed by glacial meltwater (Source: Joe Giersch/USGS).
Glacier National Park has many streams fed by glacial meltwater (Source: Joe Giersch/USGS).

According to Giersch, the implications of the loss of rare alpine insects like Lednia tumana and Zapada glacier are both abstract (the price of biodiversity) and concrete (glaciers are a source of water necessary for the survival of the species). As alpine streams in North America are not well studied, the effects of climate change on biodiversity and complex interactions within food webs in alpine streams are unknown. “However, the loss of the ice and snow masses feeding alpine streams will have far-reaching impacts, as many other species downstream rely on cold temperatures from melting ice and snow,” Giersch explained.

In a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, endangered species director Noah Greenwald said, “Global warming is changing the face of the planet before our eyes, and, like these two insects, many species are seeing their habitats disappear.” With many biological and human communities dependent on the water that comes from glaciers, stoneflies serve as sentinels of climate change in mid-latitude regions, providing an indicator of changes that will also have serious effects downstream.

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Roundup: Volcanoes, Cryoseismology and Hydropower

Roundup: Kamchatka, Cryoseismology and Bhutan

 

Activity in Kamchatka’s Glacier-Covered Volcanoes

From KVERT: “The Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) monitors 30 active volcanoes of Kamchatka and six active volcanoes of Northern Kuriles [both in Russia]. Not all of these volcanoes had eruptions in historical time; however, they are potentially active and therefore are of concern to aviation... In Russia, KVERT, on behalf of the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (IVS), is responsible for providing information on volcanic activity to international air navigation services for the airspace users.” Many of these volcanoes are glacier-covered, and the interactions between lava and ice can create dramatic ice plumes. Sheveluch Volcano currently has an orange aviation alert, with possible “ash explosions up to 26,200-32,800 ft (8-10 km) above sea level… Ongoing activity could affect international and low-flying aircraft.”

Read more about the volcanic warnings here, or check out GlacierHub’s collection of photos from the eruption of Klyuchevskoy.

Klyuchevskoy, one of the glacier-covered volcanoes in Kamchatka that KVERT monitors, erupting in 1993. (Source: Giorgio Galeotti/Flickr)
Klyuchevskoy, a glacier-covered volcano monitored by KVERT, erupting in 1993 (Source: Giorgio Galeotti/Creative Commons).

 

New Insights Into Seismic Activity Caused by Glaciers 

In Reviews of Geophysics: “New insights into basal motion, iceberg calving, glacier, iceberg, and sea ice dynamics, and precursory signs of unstable glaciers and ice structural changes are being discovered with seismological techniques. These observations offer an invaluable foundation for understanding ongoing environmental changes and for future monitoring of ice bodies worldwide… In this review we discuss seismic sources in the cryosphere as well as research challenges for the near future.”

Read more about the study here.

The calving front of an ice shelf in West Antarctica as seen from above (Source: NASA/Flickr)
The calving front of an ice shelf in West Antarctica (Source: NASA/Creative Commons).

 

The Future of Hydropower in Bhutan

From TheThirdPole.net: An interview with Chhewang Rinzin, the managing director of Bhutan’s Druk Green Power Corporation, reveals the multifaceted challenges involved in hydropower projects in Bhutan. These challenges include the effect of climate change on glaciers: “The glaciers are melting and the snowfall is much less than it was in the 1960s and 70s. That battery that you have in a form of snow and glaciers up there – which melts in the spring months and brings in additional water – will slowly go away…But the good news is that with climate change, many say that the monsoons will be wetter and there will be more discharge,” said Rinzin.

Check out the full interview with Chhewang Rinzin here. For more about hydropower in Bhutan, see GlacierHub’s earlier story.

Hydropower plants are common in rivers fed by melting ice and snow in the Himalayas (Source: Kashyap Joshi/Wikimedia Commons)
A hydropower plant common in rivers fed by melting ice and snow in the Himalayas (Source: Kashyap Joshi/Creative Commons).
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An Earthquake, a Landslide and Two Glaciers in New Zealand

Glaciers can play an important role in landscape dynamics, interacting with other factors to shape landscape development. Two days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck North Canterbury, New Zealand, a landslide occurred between nearby Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. This landslide could offer insight into the role of glaciers in seismically active areas, particularly concerning the ways in which glaciers interact with earthquake-related instabilities in the landscape.

The landslide occurred at Omoeroa at around 2 p.m. (GMT +12 hours) on November 16th, closing off a section of State Highway 6 along the west coast of South Island for about three hours until debris were cleared.

Earthquakes and landslides are common in New Zealand due to the country’s location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the area around the Pacific Ocean that is very seismically active. It is so named because of the prevalence of volcanic activity within the ring, which is made up by the major tectonic plate boundaries.

Types of faults based on the movement of rocks (Source: USGS/Wikimedia Commons)
Types of faults based on the movement of rocks (Source: USGS/Creative Commons).

Earthquakes, which occur when Earth’s crust breaks along faults (fractures in the crust), send tremors outwards from the point of breakage. This particular earthquake was caused by oblique-reverse faulting (faulting that had both strike-slip and reverse components) near the boundary of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. Landslides, like the one that occurred between the two glaciers, are often triggered by other natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods. In this case, the earthquake and its aftershocks triggered up to 100,000 landslides, causing local damage and blocking major roads and railway routes.

In conversation with GlacierHub, Umesh Haritashya, an associate professor in environmental geology at the University of Dayton, explained that the region in which the landslide occurred is prone to landslides even without any seismic activity. This is due to the topography of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. As such, it would not be surprising if the earthquake, landslide and glaciers are connected, he said.

While the two glaciers are found on the west coast of South Island, the earthquake occurred on the east coast of the island. The distance between the two suggests that the intensity of the tremors experienced in the area around the landslide may have been quite low. Nonetheless, a link is possible, according to Jeff Kargel, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona. “The timing of this big landslide is certainly suggestive of a direct link to the earthquake,” Kargel told GlacierHub.

The terminus of Fox glacier in 2013, showing the surrounding mountain topography (Source: Umesh Haritashya)
The terminus of Fox glacier in 2013, showing the surrounding mountain topography (Source: Umesh Haritashya).

“For both direct and circumstantial reasons, earthquakes, glaciers and landslides are closely associated,” Kargel explained. “There is the direct influence of glaciers that produce lots of unstable rock debris over thousands of years, and there are indirect influences, where glaciers erode the mountain topography and produce very steep slopes. These factors create conditions under which seismic activity can easily set off landslides.”

In addition, Kargel noted that glaciers occur where uplift rates have been high and the terrain is elevated to begin with. This means that either circumstantially or indirectly, glaciers and landslides can occur nearby.

Kargel further stated that large earthquakes tend to create instabilities in the landscape that are later exploited by natural processes, making landslides more frequent in the aftermath of earthquakes. “The spike in landslide activity can last for several years,” he said.

The terminus of Franz Josef Glacier, as seen in 2006 (Source: Sarah Toh)
The terminus of Franz Josef Glacier, as seen in 2006 (Source: Sarah Toh).

In addition to seismic activity, other causes like heavy rain after the earthquake could have contributed to the occurrence of the landslide. New Zealand’s MetService reported that the areas of the glaciers had received considerable rain, with 80-120mm falling the night after the earthquake.

“The West Coast receives an unusually high amount of rain, so slopes are already reconditioned and any seismic activity can trigger major landslides,” Haritashya explained.

The links between the earthquake, glaciers and landslides will become clearer as scientists examine similar events more fully. For now, landslides like these offer an insight into the complex interactions between glaciers, topography and seismic activity. Earthquakes can cause large amounts of disruption to people’s lives, so advancements in this field of science could prove valuable to communities as they seek to address the challenges posed by natural disasters.

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Creating the World’s First Ice Core Bank in Antarctica

Glaciers contain valuable information about past environments on Earth within the layers of ice that accumulate over hundreds or thousands of years. However, alpine glaciers have lost 50 percent of their mass since 1850, and projections suggest that glaciers below 3500m will not exist by 2100. Concerns about the loss of this valuable resource motivated Jérôme Chappellaz, a senior scientist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), and an international team of glaciologists, to create the world’s first archive of ice cores from different parts of the world.

Concordia Station in Antarctica, where the cores will be stored underground at -54 °C (Source: Stephen Hudson/Creative Commons).
Concordia Station in Antarctica, where cores will be stored underground (Source: Stephen Hudson/Creative Commons).

Ice cores are cylindrical sections of ice sheets or glaciers collected by vertical drilling. Chemical components within different layers of ice in glaciers, such as gases, heavy metals, chemical isotopes (forms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei) and acids, allow scientists to study past atmospheric composition and to draw inferences on environmental variables such as temperature changes and sea levels. Cores will be extracted between now and 2020, after which they will be transported for storage to Concordia Station in Antarctica, a joint French-Italian base located on the Antarctic Plateau. Antarctica serves as a natural freezer, allowing the cores to be stored 10 meters below the surface at temperatures of -54°C. International management of the archive, which will be large enough to contain cores from up to 20 glaciers, will be facilitated by the lack of territorial disputes in Antarctica.

A drilling tent on the side of Col du Dôme (Source: Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Foundation UGA)
A drilling tent at the Col du Dôme (Source: Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Foundation UGA).

The first cores that will go into the archive were collected in summer 2016 between August 16th and 27th. Over this time period, two teams of French, Italian and Russian researchers successfully collected three ice cores, each 130 meters long and 92 millimeters in diameter, from France’s Col du Dôme glacier (4300m above sea level) on Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. Drilling was carried out within drilling tents at nighttime because daytime temperatures were too high. The cores were then cut into one meter sections for storage and transportation purposes.

Scientists with sections of the ice cores obtained from Col du Dôme (Source: Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Foundation UGA)
Scientists with sections of the ice cores from Col du Dôme (Source: Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Foundation UGA).

The cores are currently stored in our commercial freezers at Grenoble, France, waiting for the long term storage cave at Concordia Station in Antarctica to be built,” Chappellaz told GlacierHub. “One of the three cores will be used during the coming two years to produce reference records of all tracers (chemical components of ice that reveal information about the natural environment) that can be measured with today’s technologies.”

The next drilling for the archive will take place in May 2017 at Illimani glacier in the Bolivian Andes (6300m above sea level). As with the drilling at Col du Dôme glacier, the project will be overseen by Patrick Ginot, a research engineer at the Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics (LGGE) in Grenoble. The collection of ice cores has relied on intense international collaboration, and Ginot will be working with glaciologists from Bolivia to extract the cores.

Mount Illimani with the city of La Paz in the foreground (Source: Mark Goble/Flickr).
Mount Illimani with the city of La Paz in the foreground (Source: Mark Goble/Creative Commons).

Illimani is one of the few Latin American glaciers that contains information stretching back to the last glacial maximum around 20,000 years ago. Although ice cores collected from the Arctic and Antarctica, such as those from Dome C, provide information stretching back to that period, the value of the cores lies in the information they are able to provide about specific regions. For example, ice cores from France’s Col du Dôme glacier can provide information about European industrial emissions, while ice cores from Bolivia’s Illimani glacier could offer insight into the history of biomass burning in the Amazon basin.

Scientists using a drilling machine to extract an ice core from Col du Dôme (Source: Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Foundation UGA)
Scientists use a drilling machine to extract an ice core from Col du Dôme (Source: Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Foundation UGA).

Glaciers will be selected based on a number of criteria, with priority given to glaciers that contain large amounts of information about the regions from which they are collected, that are in significant danger of melting, and for which relevant expertise is available. Col du Dôme glacier was chosen by Chappellaz and his team as the first site because it met this criteria, while the proximity of the site to the CNRS laboratory allowed the starting budget to cover the logistics of the project.

Gaining funding has been one of the main obstacles to the creation of the archive, according to Chappellaz. “As we are not the scientists who are going to perform new science on the heritage ice cores, the usual funding agencies for science are not really interested by the project. Therefore, we had to build it entirely around donations,” he explained. Nevertheless, the project is gaining ground, with future plans to extract ice cores from Colle Gnifetti glacier at the Italian-Swiss border, Mera glacier in Nepal, the Huascaran glacier in Peru, and Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia. More information about current and future plans can be found here.

Scientists participating in these plans to extract cores from these regions hope to be able to preserve a valuable resource that will be the property of the international community. They are in discussions with UNESCO and the United Nations Environment Programme to coordinate the creation of a political and scientific governing body to manage the ice core archive.

Further uses for these ice cores will depend on the development of scientific ideas and technology, which may allow new aspects of data within the ice to be analyzed. However, as Chappellaz suggested, “What we can already indicate is that studies of the biological content in the ice, such as bacteria and viruses, will probably become an important area for ice core science in the future, with possible applications in medical research.” As such, efforts to preserve rapidly disappearing resources not only enhance our understanding of Earth, but could also allow for new uses yet to be discovered.

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Photo Friday: Benchmark Glaciers in the USA

Glaciers contain about three quarters of the world’s fresh water and cover about 75,000 square kilometers of the U.S. The United States Geological Service (USGS) has been running the Benchmark Glacier program since the late 1950s to track glacier mass balance. Repeat measurements at four selected sites are used in conjunction with local meteorological and runoff data to measure the glaciers’ response to climate change.

Results from South Cascade Glacier in Washington and Gulkana and Wolverine glaciers in Alaska provide the longest continuous record of North American glacier mass balance. In 2005, Sperry Glacier in Montana was added to the program, allowing changes in glacier mass in the principal North American climate zones to be tracked.

South Cascade Glacier in Washington experiences some of the highest precipitation levels in the lower 48 states of the USA, exceeding 4500mm per annum in some places. Data was first collected from this glacier in 1959.

 

South Cascade Glacier as seen in 1928 (left) and 2006 (right) (Source: USGS)
South Cascade Glacier as seen in 1928 (left) and 2006 (right) (Source: USGS).

 

A researcher collecting a snow core sample from South Cascade Glacier (Source: USGS)
A researcher collecting a snow core sample from South Cascade Glacier (Source: USGS).

 

Gulkana Glacier can be found along the southern flank of the eastern Alaska range. It experiences a continental climate, with large temperature ranges and precipitation that is more irregular and lighter than that experienced in coastal areas.

 

Gulkana Glacier and surrounding peaks (Source: USGS)
Gulkana Glacier and surrounding peaks (Source: USGS).

 

Northern lights over the researchers’ cabin in 2014 (Source: USGS)
Northern lights over the researchers’ cabin in 2014 (Source: USGS).

 

A researcher measuring the thickness of the snow at Gulkana glacier (Source: USGS)
A researcher measuring the thickness of the snow at Gulkana Glacier (Source: USGS).

 

Wolverine Glacier is also located in Alaska, but is found in the Kenai Mountains on the coast. The maritime climate has low temperature variability and regular, heavy precipitation. Data collection at both Gulkana and Wolverine glaciers began in 1966.

 

Wolverine Glacier in 2014 (Source: USGS)
Wolverine Glacier in 2014 (Source: USGS).

 

The weather station at the top of Wolverine Glacier (Source: USGS)
The weather station at the top of Wolverine Glacier in Alaska (Source: USGS).

 

The crevassed surface of Wolverine Glacier (Source: USGS)
The crevassed surface of Wolverine Glacier in the Kenai Mountains (Source: USGS).

 

Sperry Glacier is located in the Lewis Range of Glacier National Park in Montana. The climate of the region is influenced by both maritime and continental air masses, but Pacific storm systems dominate. These systems result in moderate temperatures and heavy precipitation, which vary strongly with altitude.

 

Sperry Glacier in 1913 (top) and 2008 (bottom) (Source: USGS)
Sperry Glacier in 1913 (top) and 2008 (bottom) (Source: USGS).

 

Researchers inserting ablation stakes using a steam drill (Source: USGS)
Researchers inserting ablation stakes using a steam drill (Source: USGS).
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Oxonians Retrace Paths Through Spitsbergen 93 Years Later

The team and their guide on the summit of Poincarétoppen (Source: Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced
The team and their guide on the summit of Poincarétoppen (Source: Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced).

During summer, a team of four students from Oxford University, led by undergraduate James Lam, completed a 184-mile expedition across the Ny-Friesland ice cap in Spitsbergen, Norway. Accompanied by a guide, Endre Før Gjermundsen, they skied across the ice cap from July 31 to August 29, retracing the route of a similar expedition conducted by four Oxford University undergraduates in 1923, and collecting scientific data about glaciers along the way.

Spitsbergen is the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, a territory located within the Arctic circle. Svalbard has more than 2,100 glaciers, constituting 60 percent of its land area, many of which are found on Spitsbergen. The island is also home to many mountains and fjords, giving rise to its name, which means ‘pointed mountains’ in Dutch.

Chydeniusbreen as seen in a photograph taken in 1923 (Source: R. Frazer/The Geographical Journal)
Chydeniusbreen as seen in a photograph taken in 1923 (Source: R. Frazer/The Geographical Journal).

Ny-Friesland in east Spitsbergen has received limited attention from scientists, with little data having been recorded since the 1923 expedition. As such, the team of undergraduates worked with researchers from Oxford University and the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) to collect different forms of data on the island’s environment, glaciers and climate.

The expedition was inspired by the discovery of original maps and photos from the 1923 expedition in the archives of the Oxford University Exploration Club. All of the team members, James Lam, Jamie Gardiner, Will Hartz and Liam Garrison, have personal skiing and mountaineering experience spanning three different continents. Nevertheless, they undertook nine months of rigorous training and extensive preparations to ensure the success of both the scientific and physically strenuous aspects of the expedition.

Apart from skiing trips, the training regime included tyre-dragging in Port Meadow, Oxford. (Source: Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced)
Apart from skiing trips, the training regime included tyre-dragging in Port Meadow, Oxford (Source: Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced).

During the trip, the students photographed, recorded and collected DNA samples from vascular plants encountered at ten different locations between Duym point in the east and the terminus of Nordernskiold glacier in the west. These samples are currently being analyzed at UNIS and will be added to the Svalbard Flora database. They will provide valuable contributions to understandings of dispersal patterns on glaciers, particularly as there is only one other set of biological data for East Spitsbergen.

The camps of the teams on the 1923 and 2016 expeditions (Sources: R. Frazer/The Geographical Journal and Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced)
The camps of the teams on the 1923 and 2016 expeditions (Sources: R. Frazer/The Geographical Journal and Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced).

Using a drone, the students successfully mapped three sections of the Chydeniusbreen glacier. This will be used to create 3D maps of these areas, which will be compared to satellite data and the Norwegian Polar Institute’s models of the glacier to measure glacial change. The team was also able to successfully repeat 25 of the landscape photographs taken on the 1923 expedition. These will be used to practice photogrammetry, the science of measurements done using photographs, to be used in conjunction with the 3-D maps and satellite data to track glacial change in Ny-Friesland.

Two team members ascending the unclimbed west ridge of Newtontoppen (Source: Endre Før Gjermundsen/Spitsbergen Retraced)
Two team members ascending the unclimbed west ridge of Newtontoppen (Source: Endre Før Gjermundsen/Spitsbergen Retraced)

One of the aims of the 1923 expedition was to summit hitherto unclimbed peaks. In the same vein, the 2016 team summitted 8 different peaks, including a number of mountains climbed by the original expedition, such as Poincarétoppen, Mount Chernishev and Mount Irvine. The students also made the first ever ascent of the West Ridge of Newtontoppen, Svalbard’s highest mountain (5,666 ft). These efforts were carried out alongside the scientific aims of the expedition, with the team remaining camped in the base camp of Loven Plateau for a week in order to pursue repeat photography and data collection.

GlacierHub caught up with two of the team members for a short interview about the expedition and what the team intends to do now that they have returned.

GlacierHub: What happens now that the expedition is over?

James Lam, team leader: Now that the expedition is over, I am working to process the data that we collected. I’m collaborating with the Earth Sciences Department in Oxford as well as UNIS and the Norwegian Polar Institute. We hope to be able to publish our findings in due course. We are currently also working with Talesmith (a London-based production company specializing in natural history) to create a film or television series about the expedition.

GH: What was one of the most memorable things about this expedition?

James attempting to recover equipment in a storm (Source: Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced)
James attempting to recover equipment in a storm (Source: Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced)

JL: One of the most memorable parts of the expedition was a storm that we were caught in for about three weeks. Despite spending five hours digging into the glacier for shelter and building six foot walls with 100 km/h gusts, it was still too windy to put up the tents, so we were forced to spend the night in a survival shelter. After nine hours huddled together in the shelter, the wind finally died down enough to be able to put up the tents. Luckily, no critical equipment was broken, and we were able to continue after a rest day.

GH: How did it feel embarking on an expedition like this, given the somewhat controversial history of exploration by the British Empire?

A note that the 1923 expedition team left in a thermometer case on the summit of Mt Chernishev (Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced)
A note that the 1923 expedition team left in a thermometer case on the summit of Mt Chernishev (Liam Garrison/Spitsbergen Retraced).

Jamie Gardiner, team historian: There is quite an anti-intellectual tendency in some quarters to indiscriminately equate the history of exploration with that of imperialism. In 1923, Svalbard was not only terra incognita but terra nulla. Accordingly, it’s rather hard to construct any kind of narrative of exploitation of native peoples. As it happens, in 1925, Britain acted as a signatory of the Svalbard Treaty, which placed Svalbard under Norwegian sovereignty. The treaty expressly forbade militarization and granted unilateral rights to mineral exploitation provided the environmental priorities enshrined were upheld. [The treaty was crafted] without first understanding what it is that is conserved. Therein the mapping of Svalbard had such a key importance.

 

The team will be releasing a publicly available report about their expedition, along with a documentary to share their journey with a wider audience and compare their polar narrative with that found in excerpts of three diaries from the original expedition. The trailer can be viewed here. Updates about their progress and more spectacular photographs can also be viewed on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

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