“Scientists had long assumed that India and China—two of the world’s leading sources of black carbon pollution—were responsible for what fell on the glaciers in Tibet and the Himalayas[….] Instead, he found that a lot of the black carbon is local. While power plants in China and fires in India do contribute black carbon, in the remote interior of the Tibetan Plateau it appears to come mostly from burning yak dung and other immediate sources.”
Click here to read more about the small but mighty power of yak dung.
Pakistan expands glacier monitoring in effort to cut disaster risk
“Pakistan will invest $8.5 million to expand a network of glacier monitoring stations tracking the pace of glacial melt in the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges, in an effort to strengthen early warning systems and reduce the impact of flooding in the South Asian country.”
Click here to learn more about Pakistan’s new glacial monitoring research program.
Artificial glaciers may not serve as a permanent solution to glacial melting, but the technology is still helping subsistence farmers in high mountain ecosystems continue farming with diminishing water supplies, according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Pittsburgh.
For the past three decades, certain Himalayan communities have used artificial glaciers, engineered systems that rely on gravity and freezing temperatures to collect and store a seasonal stock of ice in the wintertime. This allows the increasingly water-scarce region to cope during the summertime.
This technology, designed to harvest and regulate water in dry, desert regions that face rapid glacial melting, has been utilized in nine different Himalayan communities since their invention in 1987. During the summertime, the accumulated ice block slowly melts to provide downstream communities a seasonal water supply in the absence of glaciers.
However, little research exists to substantiate their actualized benefits. The new study aims to fill this gap and show how useful this technology has been and could prove to be in the future.
The study examined six artificial glaciers in the high, dry Himalayan mountains of Ladakh, India, located the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The region, which receives only 100 to 250 mm of precipitation annually, has historically relied on glacier melt water to irrigate its subsistence agriculture crops.
Seventy percent of the region’s workforce depends on farming for their livelihoods. Future glacial melt during the summertime threatens the community’s natural water supply, as well as subsistence agriculture production.
Ladakhi civil engineer Chewang Norphel designed the first artificial glacier in 1987 for the village of Phuksey in North India. He garnered the nickname “Ice Man” after building eleven more artificial glaciers in the region.
The technology usually costs from $6,000 to $22,000 to build, much less than other water infrastructure costs in the area, the study notes.
Artificial glacier design and construction hasn’t yet been standardized, according to the study. Engineers have tested new structures, such as diversion channels, regulator gates, and retaining pools, but continue to test structures through each new project. After their construction, the structures are usually managed by NGOs.
Of the six separate artificial glacier sites examined in the study, three were in operation and three were abandoned or not in use. The study aimed to investigate the factors that influenced the artificial glaciers’ respective performances in Ladakh.
The most successful artificial glaciers were located in a north-facing, shaded valley, placed at an altitude of roughly 4,000 meters, and close enough to the village for water access, maintenance, and operation, the study concluded from its six case studies.
The study emphasizes a need for better design and construction of artificial glaciers, as well as more robust management and upkeep. The three artificial glaciers no longer in use failed because of faulty construction or a lack of upkeep, according to the study.
Regardless of their design, artificial glaciers can only serve as a temporary solution to water shortages, the study argues.
“While they may be useful in the short term as a means of stretching the dwindling water resources available to mountain communities, in the long term, artificial glaciers will be vulnerable to the same environmental stresses that impact nature glaciers,” wrote lead author Carey Clouse in an email to GlacierHub.
Artificial glaciers can only operate with the presence of a natural host glacier. As Indian Himalayan glaciers retreat at a rate of 3.5 percent annually, the region’s more than 2,000 glaciers could disappear within the next few decades. When a glacier disappears, artificial glaciers can no longer be used to trap and regulate water resources.
However, the study still argues for the benefits of well-designed artificial glaciers now and into the distant future. It cites benefits such as providing Ladakhi farmers with greater water control, the ability to maintain subsistence agriculture with lessening water reserves, and the attention the artificial glaciers bring to villages’ water issues.
The study hopes to “stimulate new conversation between the many engineers, villagers, and NGOs working in the region” and to contribute to the growing body of academic research on artificial glaciers.
While artificial glaciers might not be the end-all solution to glacial melt-induced water scarcity, they represent a step forward in using technology to create adaptive, sustainable, and resilient solutions to climate change.
The icy surfaces of glaciers are punctured with cryoconites – small, cylindrical holes filled with meltwater, with thin films of mineral and organic dust, microorganisms, and other particles at the bottom of the hole.
New research conducted by Polish scientists reveals that cryoconites also contain a thin film of extremely radioactive material.
The study confirms previous findings of high levels of radioactivity in the Arctic and warns that as Arctic glaciers rapidly melt, the radioactivity stored in them will be released into downstream water sources and ecosystems.
The study, headed by Edyta Łokas of the Institute of Nuclear Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences and researchers from three other Polish universities, was published in Science Direct in June.
The study examines Hans Glacier in Spitsbergen, the largest and only permanently populated island of the glacier-covered Svalbard archipelago, off the northern Norwegian coast in the Arctic Ocean. While investigating the radionuclide and heavy metal contents of glacial cryoconites, the researchers revealed that the dust retains heavy amounts of airborne radioactive material and heavy metals on glacial surfaces.
This radioactive material comes from both natural and anthropogenic, or human-caused, sources, according to the study. However, the researchers determined through isotope testing that this deposition was mainly linked to human activity.
Head researcher Edyta Lokas says she believes that this radioactive material mainly derives from nuclear weapons usage and testing.
“The radionuclide ratio signatures point to the global fallout [from nuclear weapon testing], as the main source of radioactive contamination on Svalbard. However, some regional contribution, probably from the Soviet tests performed on Novaya Zemlya was also found,” Lokas wrote in an email to GlacierHub.
The Arctic region bears an unfortunate history of radioactive contamination, from an atom bombgoing missing at the U.S. base in Thule, Greenland, to radiation from Chernobyl getting picked up by lichens in Scandinavia, making reindeer milk dangerous.
But how does all this radioactive materials end up in the Arctic?
The Arctic, and polar regions in general, often become contaminated through long-range global transport.
In this process, airborne radioactive particles travel through the atmosphere before eventually settling down on a ground surface. While these particles can accumulate in very small, non harmful amounts in soils, vegetation, and animals in all areas of the world, geochemical and atmospheric processes carry the majority of radioactive particles to the Poles.
Once the particles reach the Poles, “sticky” organic substances excreted by microorganisms living in cryoconites attract and accumulate high levels of radioactivity and other toxic metals.
As cryoconites occupy small, but deep holes, on glacier surfaces, they are often left untouched for decades, Edyta explains. Cryoconites also accumulate radioactive substances that are transported with meltwater flowing down the glacier during summertime.
Climate change lends extra meaning to the study, as the researchers note that, “the number of additional contamination sources may rise in future due to global climate changes.”
They expect that both air temperature increases and changes to atmospheric circulation patterns and precipitation intensity will all quicken the pace of contamination transport and extraction from the atmosphere.
Edtya explained that as Arctic glaciers retreat, “The radioactivity contained in the cryoconites is released from shrinking glaciers and incorporated into the Arctic ecosystem.” She said she hopes that future climate change vulnerability assessments of the Arctic to pollution consider cryoconite radioactivity.
The Cosmo Jazz Festival in Chamonix, France mixes stunning glacial and mountain views of the Alps with live jazz performances. The concert series, which ran this year from July 23 until July 31st, sets each day’s concert at a new, makeshift stage in open air high up in Chamonix. Chamonix is a small town and resort area at the base of Mont Blanc, the highest summit in the Alps.
Check out these photos of this year’s festival’s performances, framed by Mont Blanc’s iconic glacial peaks. Christophe Boillon holds all of the image rights for the festival photos shown below. You can find more of his photography on Flickr here.
Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies need to stop merely “paying lip service” to the knowledge and needs of rural communities, indigenous lands, and high mountain communities, according to two anthropologists who make their case in a recent issue of Science.
The perspective, “Environmental governance for all,” written by Eduardo S. Brondizio and Francois-Michel Le Tourneau of Indiana University and Sorbonne Nouvelle University in June, argues that effective governance can only occur with the consultation and incorporation of local and indigenous knowledge into policy decisions.
Research suggests that indigenous peoples, who own, occupy or manage up to 65 percent of the Earth’s land surface, are largely excluded from environmental policymaking and forums such as the 2015 Paris climate change conference (COP 21) that led to the negotiated Paris Agreement. The convention aims to limit rising global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
COP 21 asked countries to submit intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to publicly outline what climate actions they intend to take under the Paris Agreement. However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reported in a 2015 review that none of these notes, or INDCs, submitted by countries as of October 1, 2015 made any mention of indigenous peoples, signaling a key disconnect of indigenous inclusion in national environmental policies.
The paper in Science argues that the inclusion of indigenous people is crucial to effectively tackle challenges caused by climate change and human-caused environmental degradation. Noting that as local and indigenous communities are “crucial for climate change adaptation and mitigation, from carbon sequestration to provisioning of water, food, and energy to cities,” the authors write that attempts to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be “compromised” without their inclusion and participation.
Co-author Le Torneau told GlacierHub via email, “Glacier and high mountain communities are on the frontline of climate change.”
Glacial retreat and rapidly changing ecosystems especially threaten these communities’ livelihoods, water supply, and food security, as indigenous peoples tend to rely on land and natural resources for survival. A recent study from the United Nations Environmental Programme and affiliated center GRID-Arendal reported that glacial melt “will most likely increase human vulnerability in many areas.”
As a result, the perspective’s argument especially holds weight for climate change mitigation and adaptation policy affecting high mountain communities near glaciers, such as mountain villages in Nepal.
While the paper acknowledges that many international conventions like theCOP21 climate meeting in Paris have recognized the importance of local and indigenous inclusion in climate change policy in their texts, Le Torneau said he believes that the documents do not actually translate into equal representation when it comes to the establishment or implementation of policy.
“There is today a certain kind of inclusion in so far as their existence is considered and a number of compensations are called for. But there is no equality,” he tells GlacierHub via email. “City people can impose new regulations on remote small communities but the reverse is not true as a consequence of the democratic game.”
The authors said they hope that these groups will gain more access to future environmental policy decisions and initiatives at all governmental levels. However, they note that delegated responsibilities must pay particular attention to disparities in funding between communities.
The paper notes that while “sparsely populated areas are increasingly targeted to meet national and global conservation and climate mitigation goals…local and indigenous populations, many of which are poor, are expected to take on growing responsibilities as environmental stewards.”
Le Torneau writes that the paper was inspired by fieldwork observations about Amazonian forest communities’ lack of input in key policy decisions regarding the Amazon’s conservation. He explains that local forest communities were often expected to act as “environmental stewards,” but that these expectations for their direction and goals of their stewardship were “much more imposed by external centers of power,” extending from international non-profits to governments.
Le Torneau said he believes that such power dynamics “could create strong local resentment and opposition.”
He notes that some of those in charge of governing Amazon forest conservation ironically “have only a very limited knowledge of the natural environment.”
“Some international donors in the Amazon have prohibited the purchase of chainsaws in environmental programs. But if you have no chainsaw in your boat, you cannot control a protected area, because you will be blocked by the first fallen tree on your path,” he said.
The paper notes that a few environmental initiatives exist that have successfully practiced inclusive governance. It praises the Center for International Forestry Research’s Global Landscape Forum for its wide range of stakeholder engagement to “share ideas, propose solutions, and make commitments for the inclusive management of landscapes.”
The authors write they hope that efforts such as the Global Landscape Forum will craft effective and inclusive policies that will work to conserve ecosystems in diverse regions around the world.
Dancing to the tune of a melting glacier: CoMotion tackles climate change
“If someone suggested you watch artists perform an hour-long dance about climate change, you might shoot them your best ‘have-you-lost-your-mind’ look. But your curiosity level might be raised, too.
When Karen Kaufmann’s phone rang in February 2015 and the caller asked her about putting together just such a production, her reaction, although certainly not the same, at least followed a similar arc.
‘I grappled with it,’ says Kaufmann, artistic director at the University of Montana’s CoMotion Dance Project. ‘The topic overwhelmed me. It was not immediately intuitive how one would go about choreographing climate change.'”
Read more about CoMotion’s production of “Changing Balance/Balancing Change” here.
Visitors To A Shrinking Alaskan Glacier Get A Lesson On Climate Change
“John Neary, director of the visitor center for [Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska], wants the more than 500,000 people who visit the Mendenhall Glacier each year to know that it’s rapidly retreating due to climate change.
‘It became our central topic really just in the last few years,’ Neary says.”
Read about Neary’s programming efforts to teach visitors about the effects of climate change here.
The Tiny World of Glacier Microbes Has an Outsized Impact on Global Climate
“The ability to tinker with our planet’s climate isn’t isolated to Arctic puddles. Microbes within these small pools, and nestled in lakebed sediments buried miles beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, could harbor the ability to seriously alter the global carbon cycle, as well as the climate. And researchers have only recently begun to navigate these minuscule worlds[….] Scientists once thought these holes were devoid of life. But researchers are now finding that they actually contain complex ecosystems of microbes like bacteria, algae and viruses.”
Read more about a researcher’s three-week efforts to monitor the ability of puddles and the life contained in them to manipulate Earth’s climate here.
While more people are visiting iconic New Zealand glaciers because of concerns that climate change might wipe out the ice masses altogether, visitors are reportedly underwhelmed by the melting, gray glaciers.
This finding is documented in a new multidisciplinary study, “Implications of climate change for glacier tourism,” released last month in Tourism Geographies. The findings were published by Emma J. Stewart and researchers at Lincoln University, in Canterbury, New Zealand, in conjunction with others from neighboring and international universities. The study examines the impacts of climate change on the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in New Zealand’s South Island, and how these effects have trickled down to local tourism. The tourism industry there collectively attracted over 500,000 international visitors in 2015.
These glaciers, located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, are just two of New Zealand’s more than 3,100 glaciers, but they are the country’s most beloved and visited, and have received a flow of tourists dating back to the early 1900s. Their distinctive morphology creates glacier tongues that flow down from the high mountains to low, visitor-accessible elevations.
However, studies show that glacier recession has accelerated at an unprecedented rate in New Zealand. Previous studies estimate that Fox Glacier lost over 700 meters in length between 2008 and 2015, and that neighboring Franz Josef Glacier experienced a similar rate of reduction. Recent modeling estimates that Franz Josef Glacier will shed 62 percent of its current volume by 2100.
In order to explore perceptions of change with regard to glaciers and tourism, the researchers conducted 13 stakeholder interviews with employees from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and commercial tourism businesses at the two glaciers. They also administered questionnaires to 500 English-speaking visitors who were returning from guided walks to view Fox or Franz Josef Glacier. Researchers asked visitors about their reasons for journeying to the sites and their overall satisfaction with their glacier visit.
Stakeholders showed widespread agreement that the region’s glacier tourism industry was largely inspired by visitor perceptions of the glaciers as a “bucket list” item or as a “last chance” tourism trip. The notion of “last chance” glacial tourism encapsulates visitors’ desires to observe, photograph, or interact with threatened or rare physical features and natural landmarks. The study suggests that New Zealand’s high levels of glacier tourism are largely due to visitors’ desire to visit these iconic natural landmarks before they disappear.
The study also reveals that stakeholders and tourists alike perceive the glaciers as highly significant to the region and to New Zealand.
“The glaciers are first and foremost the reason why people stop at Franz and Fox,” a DOC employee stressed.
A Franz Josef tourism manager echoed these sentiments, telling his interviewers, “If the glaciers were not here, these towns would not be either.”
“[The glaciers] are hugely significant to New Zealand – culturally, naturally and economically. They are icon destinations on the South Island,” one of the study’s two lead researchers, Emma Stewart of Lincoln University, told GlacierHub in an email.
Yet while stakeholders are in widespread agreement of the glaciers’ importance to the region, and the time-sensitive nature of the possibilities of visiting them, the study’s interviews reveal that visitors are also expressing less wonder at the sight of the once majestic glaciers.
In the survey, one DOC ranger said, “I would feel much better if the glaciers were coming forward, they always look better, whereas now it’s just a dirty old strip of ice up around the corner.”
The study noted that “significant segments of the visitor population” found that their expectation of the size and condition of the glaciers “exceeded the reality.”
On average, 50 percent of interviewed visitors expected the glacier to be “bigger,” 45 percent expected the ice would be “cleaner” and 35 percent thought the glacier would be “more spectacular.” The surveyors noticed that visitor satisfaction often correlated with how high up on the glacier the visitors travel.
The glaciers’ rapid retreats and the resulting increased risk of rockfall hazards have impeded visitor access, particularly higher up on the glacier, and especially on Franz Josef.
Co-author Heather Purdie of the University of Canterbury told GlacierHub via email that guided walks to Franz Josef recently were suspended.
“Guided walks that used to access the glaciers on foot from the lower valley are now no longer possible,” she wrote.
She notes that now, visitors can only participate in a guided walk tour by flying to the glaciers by helicopter. This option’s high price is prohibitive for many visitors, though.
Overall, access is becoming limited. “People cannot get as close to the glacier as they used to,” Purdie continued.
These findings highlight concerns that glacial tourism may decrease with increased glacial melting. One accommodation provider suggested that, “If the glaciers are established enough as a tourist icon then people will come even if it is not like it used to be.” However, the provider then added, “Maybe I am naïve to think that people will still come here without the glacier.”
Yet the study simultaneously argues that perceptions of the “last chance to see” phenomenon of glaciers might simultaneously increase glacial tourism in the region.
The study is the first of its kind to report highly adaptive capacities of glacial tourism stakeholders, such as DOC employees and glacial tourism companies. Among the stakeholders interviewed, the study reported strong evidence of the understanding of biophysical trends and a demonstrated ability to flexibly and successfully facilitate glacial access and glacier product availability and to maintain high levels of visitor satisfaction, by actions such as introducing helicopter rides to survey the glacier and modifying walking tour routes to increase safety and better showcase the glacier as it melts.
The authors hope that Westland Tai Poutini National Park’s case-specific adaptive strategies to adapt their glacial tourism sectors to climate change can extend beyond New Zealand.
“Given that glaciers are retreating globally,” Stewart said. “[The study] has implications for more local, and possibly neighboring glacier experiences, such as the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.”
For the last fifteen years, British photographer Dan Holdsworth has been blending nature, science, and technology into large-scale photographs and digital art. Much of his work focuses on glacial landscapes.
Holdsworth’s major solo exhibition, “Dan Holdsworth: A Future Archaeology,” is currently premiering at the Scheublein + Bak Gallery in Zurich as part of his Continuous Topography series through September 2. Using high-end 3D imaging software ordinarily only used in scientific or military capacities, Holdsworth renders glacial landscapes in the Alps with extraordinary, unprecedented 3D precision.
Holdsworth spoke with GlacierHub about his early childhood influences, “the sublime,” and his efforts to capture Icelandic glaciers.
GlacierHub: What fieldwork did you conduct to create the images featured in this exhibit?
Dan Holdsworth: For the last three years, I’ve been working with a PhD researcher named Mark Allen from Northumbria University in Newcastle [in the United Kingdom]. The first fieldwork we undertook together, three years ago now, was in the Mont Blanc massif, working on glaciers around Mont Blanc, on both the French and Italian sides. I spent initially two months there, surveying both terrestrially, with drones and by a helicopter using GPS recordings on the ground and data sampling, [and using] a huge sampling of photography surveying–usually several hundred photographs for each location.
GH: What drew you to glaciers as a subject?
DH: My interest in landscape and interest in technology and human impacts on our environment. I’ve always been drawn to areas that have a tension, an edge. In my very early work, it was focused on city edges, where you see this view of humanity and nature kind of hitting each other. For me, obviously glacial landscapes have a similar aspect in terms of this edge of the human traction on glaciers. The images of glaciers are transmitted all around the globe as a symbol of climate change.
In 2000, I went to Iceland for the first time, and I visited glacial landscapes in Iceland. In 2001, I started photographing a glacier called Solheimajökull, which was predominately, at that time, black, with volcanic debris melting out from the glacier. It appeared to have a very interesting tension with the industrial. This object is a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution.
I went back every year for almost ten years and photographed the same location, not to document it exactly that precisely, but to more explore my relationship with it and my responses as it was changing and melting. I then subsequently made prints, which I made digital inversions of. When I made the photographs, I would always make them on a completely white-out day, and you’d see this black object in this white space. In the final work, I made this circular realization by inverting the photograph and restoring the glacier to white. The sky becomes the black of space, so you have this immediate planetary transformation in the image.
GH: Your art blends technology with nature and science very seamlessly. What inspired this connection in your work?
DH: My father was a physicist who studied in Bristol and then at the Max Planck Institute. He was a polymer physicist, and developed processes to metalize plastics. One of the companies he worked with was based in the States and he was developing coatings for space shuttles. So there were always these interesting sides of technology that I was being brought up with. Often you’d see these kinds of developments of technology, like a ghost of my dad’s work [like] some kind of metalized plastic in some food packaging, and back in the 1980s, you’d think, ‘There’s no way this is going to catch on.’ But everything is made with this stuff now, in terms of packaging, like CDs, laser storage, lots of things.
My mother is a ceramicist and a fanatical gardener. My father was also really into mountain walking and climbing, as well. So we always liked going to the middle of nowhere in nature, in Scotland mostly, sometimes Switzerland.
The area where I was born is a very industrial area – it’s a kind of industrial heartland in Britain. I was brought up on the edge of a natural park. So if you look one way, you’re looking across the park, across nature. If you look the other way, it’s just pure industry. I was always brought up with all these tensions and kinds of relationships throughout both my family and the landscapes around me. It was always something that was always very, very present. I was always drawn to exploring these ideas through a kind of landscape.
GH: How would you describe the relationship of your work to climate change?
DH: My interest in [my] work is centrally dealing with perception, and obviously photography is key to this cybernetic extension of our visual perceptions. We’re communicating so much more to each other almost using pure imagery, and I think in my work I’ve felt that we really need to deal with how we mediate the world through these cybernetic extensions through our photographic eyes. We need to deal with that while dealing with our relationship to nature. Our relationship to nature is always mediated by our relationship to technology. So we need to really understand our relationship to technology to understand our relationship to nature. My work is about trying to deal with that.
I’ve always had this feeling that the “sublime” – which is this feeling of this archaic or this “other” aspect of our human emotion, which is a kind of irrational response to a certain encounter in the world, and perhaps an encounter with nature…with technology, is fundamentally driven by our experiences of science. Science is broadening and deepening our understanding of the world, and it continually challenges our perception of the world. That cements itself and finds itself expressed through this emotion, this feeling of the sublime. [It] is either an archaic response, and …something that we have no use for, but is somehow still there, so we have this kind of irrational response, or we have this human response that is actually developing as science develops.
GH: How do you hope that your work is going to impact the human perception of climate change?
DH: I really concur with the artist Robert Irwin when he says that “Perception is political.” What he means by that is, I think, that at a base level we really need to fundamentally understand what defines our perceptual senses in order to organize our relationship to the world. With our new digitally mediated perceptual senses, this perhaps becomes more complex. We need to understand and feel comfortable with our newly developing perceptual capabilities in order to make the correct decisions about the way that we move forward with, just to give one example, issues around developments of future energy production..
GH: Could you briefly explain the concept behind “A Future Archaeology?”
DH: The idea of “A Future Archaeology” is this sense of both looking at the nature of the landscape and the nature of technology. It’s looking at the substructures of technologies, which are basically underpinning much of the virtual infrastructure that we’re interfacing with in our daily lives now, like, for example, Google Maps.
In a sense, “A Future Archeology” is exploring those materials in their raw form, in their data, in the models I’m working with. There’s also a sense of “A Future Archaeology” in the nature of this recording of geological formations over a period of time. It’s a digital archive of this particular moment. Of course, the materials of the digital are underpinned by the geological, so there’s a kind of interwoven history and trajectory [between the materials of the digital and the materials of the geological]. It’s very elemental, both in in its material and geological nature, in terms of the resources that underpin physically the technology we’re using and the machines we’re using.
There’s also an aspect of a digital archive. There are two depths throughout space: there’s a depth to the digital space and there’s a depth to the geological space, and they kind of mirror each other.
We’re obviously now documenting ourselves and are aware of the human nature of our own physical archive and material archive in terms of our sense of the emergence of this new era of the Anthropocene, where we see human activity defining it. It’s certainly a new geological epoch. It’s about all of those things.
Klyuchevskoy, a glacier-covered volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia, is erupting. The volcano, 4,750 meters in elevation, has had a history of extensive activity over the last 7,000 years. It has been emitting gas, ash and lava since April 3. Several organizations are closely monitoring its eruption. They note that ash explosions reaching 6 to 8 kilometers in height could occur at any time, affecting flights from Asia to Europe and North America. Local impacts could also be extensive.
KVERT, the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team, posted an update about Klyuchevskoy’s eruption today:
“Explosive-effusive eruption of the volcano continues: there are bursts of volcanic bombs to 200-300 m above the summit crater and up to 50 m above the cinder cone into Apakhonchich chute, and strong gas-steam activity of two volcanic centers with emission of different amounts of ash, the effusing of lava flows along Apakhonchich chute at the south-eastern flank of the volcano. According to the video data, an intensification of the eruption was noted on 06 July: strong explosions sent ash up to 7.5 km a.s.l. According to satellite data by KVERT, a large bright thermal anomaly in the area of the volcano was observed all week, ash plumes drifted for about 350 km to the southwest, south and southeast from the volcano on 02-05 July; and dense ash plumes drifted for about 400 km to the southeast and east from the volcano on 06-07 July.”
Enjoy these striking photos of Klyuchevskoy’s eruption and glaciated peaks below.
The recent influx of climate change induced-changes, including warmer temperatures and melting glaciers, have wreaked havoc on the reliability of timekeeping systems of communities living in the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia. For centuries, the indigenous Pamiri people in Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan have used ecological calendars to coordinate seasonal activities. The traditional form of tracking time allows them to track seasonal and environmental changes.
As environmental shifts, like migratory changes, render these ancient calendar systems unable to accurately keep time, local timekeepers are increasingly unable to rely on calendar cues for agricultural and cultural activities.
The Kassam Research Group at Cornell University, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Climate CoLab and the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) program of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), is partnering with six communities, including the Pamiri, to collaboratively find ways to reconcile and calibrate this traditional timekeeping method with today’s changing climate.
The three-year project, which received $1.35 million in funding from the Belmont Forum, began in December of 2015.
The ecological calendars at the center of the project link environmental cues, such as the arrival of a particular migratory bird, the last day of snow cover, the breaking of ice on a river, or the first appearance of a particular insect, with corresponding mnemonic body parts, much as many Americans and Europeans count to ten on their fingers, to keep time. Beginning with their toenail, timekeepers track the progression of the seasons by counting correlating body parts up to their head, the arrival of which signals the end of spring. With the first cue of the arrival of summer, counting resumes again. This time, timekeepers count environmental cues down their body.
Principal investigator Karim-Aly S. Kassam, a professor of environmental and indigenous studies at Cornell, told GlacierHub in a phone interview that the project is working to restore communities’ capacities to anticipate seasonal changes.
“The ability to anticipate time is a very simple concept. It’s done to establish stability, to create anticipatory stability,” Kassam said.
By tracking seasonal developments, Kassam says that ecological timekeeping systems lend communities the ability to anticipate agricultural activities and cultural practices.
But climate change-induced disruptions of seasonal markers that help the Pamiri communities maintain their routines has made them uneasy, Kassam says.
“The pace at which [climate change] is moving and its intensity is creating instability and anxiety,” he explained.
Perched between 2,000 and 3,500 meters in elevation, local communities in the Pamir mountains are especially vulnerable to temperature changes, glacial melt, and subsequent water source depletion.
Pamiri locals have reported increasing water levels in nearby rivers and lakes, a result of the quickened pace of glacial melt, said Kassam. Changes in temperature and precipitation have forced farmers to replace no longer thriving plants and fruits with alternative crops that are better suited to their changing environment.
The project is currently developing a mechanism to retune these ancient calendar systems so that they work with ongoing ecosystem changes.
Since its start last December, the project has begun mapping out communities’ seasonal cycles by inviting locals to identify their personal ecological indicators of changes in time.
“We invite ornithologists, duck hunters, maple producers, anybody in the local community that can help us map out these discrete processes,” Kassam said.
The project’s collaborators plan to hold a day-long discussion with each of the project’s partnering communities, in which project collaborators ask the community questions and later determine what their team can contribute using its scientific and technical backgrounds. Kassam expects the project to result in climate adaptation models for each partnering community.
“Our climate models and adaptation models are not specific enough,” he said. “They are produced on a global or regional scale. Instead, we need something that meets local needs.”
Kassam notes that the project’s focus on adaptation is somewhat ironic, considering that rural and alpine communities like the Pamiri contribute little to climate change.
“The people we are working with are not the causes of anthropogenic climate change,” Kassam said. “But they are feeling the changes.”
Kassam says that the impetus for the project sprung out of fieldwork he conducted along the Pamir mountain range in 2006.
“People were describing weather events having severe impacts on their timekeeping,” he said. Pamiri locals then reached out to Kassam for help to recalibrate their traditional ecological calendars.
Kassam reflected on the importance of the community partnerships.
“Our method of creating anticipatory capacity emerges from the ideas of communities themselves. It values the cogeneration of ideas, and encourages work in collaboration with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and ways of knowing,” he said. “This work cannot be done without the community itself.”
Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.
Why Are People Stealing and Selling Glaciers?
A recent report describes a region in Asia in which people travel up to a glacier and remove ice blocks from it. The report states “Along the Chitral River in Pakistan, some locals are stealing and selling the glaciers that are melting in their backyard. Residents of the small town Chitral are not necessarily taking the glaciers because they want to — but rather as a matter of surviving dire energy and water shortages.”
To learn more about the region’s energy and water crisis, click here.
Glaciers’ monitoring: Germany approves €6 million grant
From The Express Tribune:
“Germany has approved a grant of six million euros to monitor over 5,000 melting glaciers in Pakistan.
The German government through its KfW Development Bank will provide the amount to the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) for a project ‘Glacial monitoring for energy and water security in Pakistan’ for telemetric equipment in lower stretches of glaciated areas.”
Learn more about the grant and proposed project here.
Greenland’s wooden Icefjord Center will offer sweeping views of the glacial landscape
“The Icefjord Center is an undulating wooden structure designed to offer spectacular views of a famous glacier in Greenland’s Sermermiut Valley. Conceived by Danish studio Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter, the building bridges the landscape while replicating the feeling of hiking across a fjord. When it opens, the center will provide space for residents, researchers and tourists to learn about climate change.”
See more breathtaking photos of the Center and learn about its construction here.
An application to build the largest coal port ever proposed in North America was yet again blocked earlier this month due to concerns that the terminal would have infringed on treaty-reserved fishing rights of local tribal communities in the northern Puget Sound.
Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources June 6 blockage of the coal port was the second of two rejected applications to build a coal export terminal on the Lummi Nation’s aquatic territory. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the first permit last May.
The two permit rejections end a multi-year long struggle dating back to 2012 for several tribes’ environmental groups, the city of Seattle, and several smaller cities, in their fight to stop the coal port.
Both agencies denied SSA Marine’s permit application for Cherry Point due to compelling evidence from Washington State’s Department of Ecology that the terminal’s effect on tribal fishing rights would exceed the low threshold of acceptable damage allowed under treaty-reserved fishing areas of five Washington tribes.
The port would have brought what Daryl Williams, environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes, described as the largest cargo ships coming into the Puget Sound.
“With that much momentum, it takes them six miles to stop from when they start to slow down,” he said in a phone interview with GlacierHub.
The State’s Department of Ecology indicated that increased large ship traffic would likely interfere with the activities of tribal fishermen in the area.
“[Tulalip] fishermen are primarily drift gillnet fishers, so they set out their net and drift with the currents. Any obstacle in the way limits the amount of area they can fish in,” he explained.
When the Department of Ecology released a vessel traffic study that showed full operation of the proposed terminal would cause 76 percent more disruption to fishing, Daryl Williams knew that Cherry Point’s chances of survival were slim.
Regarding the final decision, he said he is “happy to see a federal agency actually upholding treaty rights for a change.” But, he added, “I don’t think they really had a choice.”
The decision elicited a sigh of relief from many tribal communities along the Puget Sound when they learned that their fishing rights would remain intact. Resistance against the port elicited teamwork between neighboring Tribes in their shared quest to stop the port.
Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, told the Seattle Times, “We have the same amount of commitment to treaty rights protection. We are a team and we are working with [other tribes]”
However, climate change still threatens the existence and health of these treasured water and fishing sources. Scientists have estimated that the Puget Sound will experience sea level rise ranging from 8 to 55 centimeters by 2050. Sea level rise, as well as increased temperatures, hold the potential to irrevocably damage local water sources and coastlines, and therefore the fishing populations that Northwestern tribes rely on.
Some of the Tulalip’s more local water sources in the Skykomish and Stillaguamish watersheds are fed by smaller glaciers in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Park. Daryl’s brother, Terry Williams, commissioner of the Treaty Rights Office for the Tulalip Tribes, estimates that the smaller glaciers feeding the Skyhomish, Stillaguamish and Snoqualmie watersheds have mostly disappeared, and that the larger glaciers in these areas are likely more than 50 percent gone.
Rapid glacial melt not only increases river flow, but also affects the time at which flows peak. Terry estimated that in recent years, local spring flows have arrived two to three months earlier. With increased flows, the area is experiencing increased sedimentation, which leads to landslides and impacts the fish population by either burying the fish or washing them out in heavy rains.
These local ecosystem changes worsen the stability of water sources that the Tulalip Tribe depends on for fish, especially the salmon population.
“Survival rates [of our salmon population] have been dropping off dramatically,” Terry Williams said. In an interview for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals Newsletter, he estimated that the Tribes have lost 90% of their salmon population in recent years.
He told GlacierHub that the tribe has also seen an increase of intense floods both from glacial lakes and increased precipitation, as well as changes in storm seasons.
“We know that as climate change and sea level continues to rise, that sea level rise is going to have an impact on our shoreline and create more intense rain events in the fall and spring,” he said.
Terry Williams notes that waste and water pollution has also harmed their local water sources and the fish populations.
He explained: “The water in the Puget sound isn’t the healthiest — it’s shaped like a bathtub, so the water tends to circulate rather than flush. So over the years, all the pollutants that have entered the Puget Sound have stayed at the bottom, or in the water column.”
While the proposed coal port at Cherry Point has been thwarted, it appears that fossil fuel sources will continue to affect the natural resources of the region. The Tulalip Tribe, however, has been proactive in its adaptation plans.
As Environmental Liaison for the Tulalip Tribes, Daryl Williams dedicates time to a variety of environmental issues. However, he says that he’s been spending more and more time in recent years on climate change and the tribe’s adaptation plan.
For one, he says that the tribe is in the “early stages” of developing Climate Impacts Assessments for both its reservation and whole fishing area. Already, he’s concerned about sea level rise, saltwater intrusion into coastal well systems, and erosion along the Sound that may harm the Tribe’s coasts and coastline property.
In determining the impacts the tribe may face in the not-so-distant future, the urgency to mitigate and adapt to climate change is clear. The tribe has taken on a number of projects to increase its energy efficiency and decrease its energy consumption, particularly because of the local utility’s large reliance on hydropower, which, yes, affects the tribe’s fish population.
“The tribe’s been trying to cut down on demand for hydropower in the Columbia river system because those dams have a major impact on salmon in that river,” he said.
The tribe has also pursued other efficiency and clean energy projects: its new Tulalip Administration Building, containing a ground-coupled heat pump and built-in raingardens, was designed in 2009 to be energy efficient and ecologically sustainable. The tribe has also partnered with a nearby dairy farmer to capture and burn manure to create electricity. In addition to the tribe’s local adaptation planning, Williams added that the Tulalip Tribes have also been involved at the national level with the President’s Climate Action Plan.
Although Cherry Point appears to no longer be on the table, the Tulalip Tribes are keenly aware that climate change simultaneously poses an existential threat to their lands and natural resources. As such, in order to best preserve their land, the Tribes are demonstrating a long-term commitment to climate change mitigation and adaptation.