Preparing Peruvian Communities for Glacier-based Adaptation

Projects Fair, Santa Teresa
Projects Fair in Santa Teresa (Photo: CARE Peru)

As climate change quickens the pace at which Andean glaciers are melting, Peruvian communities located downstream from glaciers are becoming increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters.

The Peruvian national and subnational governments, the Swiss Development Cooperation, the University of Zurich, and the international humanitarian group CARE Peru have executed a collaborative multidisciplinary project to help two affected communities respond to glacier retreat and the increased risk of disaster. The first phase of the project ran from November 2011 through 2015. The project’s second phase, which is expected to run from 2015 to 2018, continues its work of risk reduction and climate change adaptation, while expanding its scope to hydropower production research.

Peru is home to one of world’s largest concentrations of tropical glaciers, most of which are located in the Cordillera Blanca in the Ancash region, along a section of the Andes in north central Peru. The Cordillera Blanca contains more than 500 square kilometers of glacier cover, accounting for roughly 25 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers.

High mountain ecosystems such as the Cordillera Blanca are no stranger to major geophysical events, such as ice and rock avalanches, debris flows, and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). Glacier lake outburst floods are considered to have the most far-reaching impacts of any other glacial hazard.

Laguna 513
Laguna 513, a glacial lake in Ancash. (Photo: CARE Peru)

In the last few decades, Peru has already experienced several major natural disasters due to glacier melt and subsequent flooding. In 1970, a major earthquake in Ancash activated a glacial lake outburst flood and subsequent debris flow that destroyed the town of Yungay, killing around 20,000 people. More recently, in April of 2010, glacial lake Laguna 513 in the Ancash region triggered a flood outburst that created significant property damage in the downstream town of Carhuaz, which is home to roughly five thousand people.

In order to mitigate the risk of future natural disasters, this collaborative project worked from 2011 to 2015 to enhance the adaptation capacities of two communities located downstream of glaciers: Santa Teresa, in Cuzco, and Carhuaz, in Ancash. The project aimed to better prepare and equip these two communities to deal with the threat of glacial lake outburst floods by creating specialized integrated risk reduction strategies.

In Santa Teresa, a micro-watershed area of the Sacsara River, the project installed an comprehensive monitoring system, which provides the town with early flood warnings via radio communication tools, provided localized risk analysis, and supported the creation of community and municipal development plans, as well as the integration of emergency plans into 17 local schools.

The Early Warning System in Carhuaz, Ancash.
The Early Warning System in Carhuaz, Ancash (Photo: CARE Peru).

In Carhuaz, project collaborators helped the municipality establish a water resources management committee in order to increase the capacity of local and interagency decision-makers to collaborate in managing risk. The project also installed an early-warning system for glacier outburst floods, as well as planned evacuation routes and disaster responses. The project implemented curriculum plans containing climate change adaptation and risk management into 30 schools in Ancash. The project’s various scientific and technical experts also conducted flood scenario models, which they shared with local decision-makers to help identify areas of potential risk.

Children in local schools learn about glaciers and climate change
Children in local schools learn about glaciers and climate change in their community (Photo: CARE Peru).

To date, the project has trained more than 90 public officials, agency staff, and university professors on climate change, adaptation, and risk management measures. CARE Peru estimates that the project has directly benefited over six thousand people in these Carhuaz and Santa Teresa, and has indirectly benefited many more.

The project particularly emphasized gender and power dynamics that contribute to vulnerability. The project trained local leaders on gender equality issues and women’s empowerment and encouraged balanced gender participation in the adaptation planning for both communities. 

Integrated Water Resources Management.
Integrated Water Resources Management in practice (Photo: CARE Peru).

University of Zurich glaciologist and project contributor Christian Huggel remarked that the project is “the first of its kind in Latin America, especially in its social aspect of training leaders and strong local inclusion.” He described the project as a “pilot in particularly extreme conditions”: Contributors encountered many technical problems throughout its first phase of implementation, including energy supply access and a lightning strike on technical equipment, he explained, rendering it a “learning process” for all involved.

The project’s second phase expands the project’s scope to the exploration of opportunities for public-private partnerships to create hydropower production in the community.

“This aspect of the project is founded on the belief that the private sector should be more involved in local communities’ climate change adaptation, especially with concerns of funding,” Huggel said. This plan could help these innovative projects become economically sustainable, assisting them in moving beyond their first phase of reliance on international aid— a step that is increasingly attracting attention with groups that work on adaptation issues.

 

New Report Highlights Vulnerability of World Heritage Glacier Sites

A new report entitled “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” highlights the vulnerability of key glacial World Heritage Sites to climate change. The report was coauthored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Since 1972, UNESCO has been protecting more than 1,000 World Heritage sites in 163 different countries, with the goal of maintaining them for  the benefit of future generations, and for all humankind. Most of these sites are iconic tourist destinations, ranging from natural wonders such as Yellowstone National Park, scenic wild landscapes such as the Galapagos Islands, to cultural icons, such as Stonehenge. Many are glaciers and glacial mountain ranges. 

But climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, higher temperatures, habitat shifts, and more frequent and extreme weather events, threaten to quickly and permanently degrade and destroy both the natural beauty and cultural value of these sites. Moreover, climate change exacerbates the effects of other processes which endanger these sites, such as urbanization, pollution, natural resource extraction and, increasingly, poorly managed tourism. 

The report argues that damaging what it calls the “outstanding universal value” of World Heritage sites harms not only the site itself, but also the local communities and economies that depend on these sites for tourism.  

UNESCO and its World Heritage program were both created in a spirit of internationalism. UNESCO was formed following World War II, and in 1972, it created the World Heritage Centre to “encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.” Now, climate change threatens these universally loved sites, as well as their surrounding local communities.

The report details 12 full case studies and 18 briefer “sketches” of the climate change vulnerability of 31 World Heritage properties in 29 countries. Four include glacier landmarks.

Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) Base Camp and Rongbuk monastery. (source: Kartläsarn/Flickr)
Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) base camp and Rongbuk monastery. (source: Kartläsarn/Flickr)

Sagarmatha National Park encompasses the highest point on earth: the peak of Mount Everest. The National Park is listed as a World Heritage site for the abundant natural beauty of its mountains, glaciers, and valleys, and for the cultural significance of local Sherpa culture. One third of the people on Earth depend on glacial melt water from the Himalayas, including water from Sagarmatha. However, glacial retreat caused by rising temperatures are threatening the reliability of Sagarmatha’s water source. Glacier loss in the region also threatens to cause catastrophic landslides, glacial lake outbreak floods (GLOFs), and erosion.

Golden Mountains of Altai, Russian Federation

Pazyryk carpet, found in the grave of a Scythian prince, in Altai Mountains in Siberia. Woven in the 5th century BC (source: Ninara/Flickr)
Pazyryk carpet, found in the grave of a Scythian prince, in Altai Mountains in Siberia. Woven in the 5th century BC (source: Ninara/Flickr)

The Altai Mountains are listed as a World Heritage site for their biodiversity and for the region’s cultural and archaeological traditions. The mountains hold the frozen tombs of the ancient Scythian people, who were documented by ancient historian Herodotus (484-425 BC). Climate change and rising temperatures threaten both threatens the tombs’ preservation, which are remarkably protected by permafrost, and the Altai mountain glaciers.

Huascarán National Park, Peru

Laguna Llanganuco in Huascarán National Park (source: UNESCO)
Laguna Llanganuco in Huascarán National Park (source: UNESCO)

Huascarán National Park rests in Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world’s tropics, and the Park encases Huascarán: the highest peak in Peru. The Park contains incredibly diverse flora and fauna and 660 glaciers, making it a popular tourist destination. The famous Pastoruri Glacier is one of the park’s main attraction, but it may disappear altogether within the next few decades. Since the 1930s, the Park’s glaciers have shrunk by 30 per cent. This poses concerns about water availability for many local communities, as well as for hydropower.

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, Denmark

Boat in Ilulissat Icefjord (Greenland), Denmark. (source: UNESCO)
Boat in Ilulissat Icefjord (Greenland), Denmark. (source: UNESCO)

The Icefjord serves as a major summer tourist destination, where visitors travel to the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, which hangs off of the Disko Bay. In the summer, visitors can hear and see the ice cracking and caving into the bay. Increased temperatures have increased the amount of seasonal ice caving. The glacier is listed as a World Heritage site for its contribution to improving the scientific understanding of glaciology, for its global importance as a geological feature, and for its wild and scenic landscape.

The report stresses the importance of fulfilling the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December of 2015.  The report’s foreword states that achieving the Agreement’s goal of keeping global average temperature rise to well below 2°C is “vital for the future of World Heritage.” It contains as well a number of other specific recommendations which link many stakeholders–local communities, indigenous peoples, policy-makers, tourism agencies, intergovernmental organization and the World Heritage Convention–to monitor, manage and protect these areas. 

In addition to detailing the climate vulnerability of World Heritage sites, the report also details a “clear and achievable” mitigation response. The paper recommends preserving and managing forest and coastal habitats, using World Heritage sites as “learning laboratories” to study resiliency and mitigation management strategies, and increasing visitors’ understanding of and appreciation for World Heritage sites, as well as how climate change affects them.

The report also suggests that in a changing climate, tourism can play a positive role in securing the future of many World Heritage sites by providing an economic incentive to invest in mitigation and adaptation strategies. In this light, glaciers may serve as an important rallying point for climate change mitigation.  Their natural beauty and cultural value can inspire people at the local, national, and international level to take action.

 

Roundup: Glacial Melt, Photos, and Disasters

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

The Climate Post: Melting of Totten Glacier Could Trigger 6 Foot Sea-Level Rise

Totten Glacier
Totten Glacier (Photo:Esmee van Wijk/Australian Antarctic Division).

From Huffpost Green: “A new study published in the journal Nature is drawing attention to the effect of warming water on the world’s largest ice mass, Totten Glacier in East Antarctica. Melting of the glacier, which has an ice catchment area bigger than California, could lift oceans at least two meters (6.56 feet). According to researchers who mapped the shape of the ice sheet as well as the thickness of rocks and sediments beneath it to examine the historical characteristic of erosion of Totten’s advances and retreats, unabated climate change could cause the glacier to enter an irreversible and rapid retreat within the next century.”

Find out about Totten Glacier’s “tipping point.”

 

Spectacular view of fjord and glacier from NASA’s IceBridge

Violin Glacier fjord
Violin Glacier fjord, with Nord Glacier at the upper left corner (Photo:NASA/Maria José Viñas).

From Zee Media Bureau: “New Delhi: NASA’s IceBridge, an airborne survey of polar ice, recently captured this stunning view of fjord of Violin Glacier, with Nord Glacier at the upper left corner.  IceBridge took this image on May 16, 2016 as the aircraft crossed Greenland to fly central glacier flowlines in the east-central region of the country. This year marks IceBridge’s eighth spring campaign of science flights over Arctic sea and land.”

Learn more about NASA’s IceBridge campaign here.

 

Report Warns of Climate Change Disasters That Rival Hollywood’s

Venice, Italy is one of many places in danger of glacial melt-induced sea level rise (Photo:<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/27/science/report-warns-of-climate-change-disasters-that-rival-hollywoods.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FUnesco%20World%20Heritage%20Sites&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0/">Andrea Wyner for The New York Times</a>).
Venice, Italy is one of many places in danger of glacial melt-induced sea level rise (Photo:Andrea Wyner for The New York Times).

From the New York Times:

Stonehenge eroding under the forces of extreme weather. Venice slowly collapsing into its canals. The Statue of Liberty. gradually flooding.

Images like these, familiar from Hollywood climate-catastrophe thrillers, were evoked by a joint report, released on Thursday by Unesco, the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists, that detailed the threat climate change could pose to World Heritage sites on five continents.”

To learn more about the potential impact of glacial melt induced-sea level rise on some of the world’s most iconic heritage sites, click here.

Photo Friday: Fieldwork on Gulkana Glacier

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been collecting mass balance data on Gulkana Glacier ever since 1966. Gulkana Glacier is one of USGS’s two “benchmark” glaciers in Alaska, for which it has been patiently gathering data on an annual basis for the last fifty years. The glacier, looming 1300 meters in elevation, is located along the south flank of the eastern Alaska Range.

This Friday, enjoy photos of USGS’s fieldwork on Gulkana, including stunning photos of the glacier itself, the Northern Lights, and a lunar eclipse.

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Many thanks to Louis Sass of USGS for providing photos of USGS’s fieldwork. View more photos of Gulkana Glacier on USGS’s website.

 

UNEP Prepares Mountain Communities for Climate Change

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released the first two reports of a new series on regional mountain-based adaptation in order to encourage urgent action to protect mountain ecosystems from the impacts of climate change.

Western Balkan Outlook
Outlook on Climate Change Adaptation in the Western Balkan Mountains. (Photo: UNEP)

On December 11, 2015— International Mountain Day— the UNEP launched reports for the Western Balkans and the Southern Caucasus regions, as part of their Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series, at the climate conference in Paris.

The reports, called Mountain Adaptation Outlooks, identify the unique risks that mountain range communities and ecosystems face, as well as gaps in science and policy that hinder active adaptation response to these weaknesses.

Outlooks for the three remaining regions, which include Central Asia, the (Tropical) Andes and Eastern Africa, will be released within the next coming months. However, executive summary leaflets for these three regions can be found on the website of GRID-Arendal, a center collaborating with UNEP to support informed decision making and increase public awareness about environmental issues. The Outlooks series is a collaboration between UNEP, GRID-Arendalthe Environmental Innovations Association, and other mountain Centers of Excellence.

“Mountain ecosystems enrich the lives of over half of the world’s population as a source of water, energy, agriculture and other essential goods and services,” the UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a press release. “Unfortunately, while the impact of climate change is accentuated at high altitude, such regions are often on the edge of decision-making, partly due to their isolation, inaccessibility and relative poverty.”

Adishi Glacier in Georgia
Mountainous, glacier ecosystems such as Adishi Glacier in Georgia, are particularly vulnerable to temperature rise. (Photo: UNEP)

Mountain ecosystems, which include glaciers, unique ecological biodiversity, and surrounding communities, are especially vulnerable to climate change. The climate change conference in the French capital, as well as the resulting Paris Agreement, emphasized the importance and “enduring benefits of ambitious and early action” to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. During the conference, many government officials acknowledged that countries would benefit from a more comprehensive base of mountain adaptation knowledge.

The reports identify the expected regional impacts of climate change and recommend policy solutions to government officials to address these vulnerabilities. UNEP hopes that the Outlooks will increase awareness of the impacts of climate change, as well as encourage adaptation efforts.

“We’re hoping to foster and establish regional understanding and cooperation on climate change and mountains,” Matthias Jurek, a Joint Expert at UNEP and GRID-Arendal, said in a phone interview with GlacierHub.

The project hopes to improve what Jurek calls the “science and policy interface,” or the translation of scientific research into adaptation policy. The Outlook seeks to do so by combining an analysis of ecological vulnerabilities with regional recommendations for local governments into one comprehensive assessment. Jurek hopes that the reports can serve as a one-stop-shop for policymakers looking to develop mountain-based adaptation plans for climate change.

Political leadership and regional coordination to address climate change has been severely lacking. This gap, Jurek said, is often due to short governmental staffing and an overwhelming amount of data resources. UNEP and GRID-Arendal hope to address a lack of systematic, and mountain-specific, adaptation plans at the governmental level.

Alpine meadows in Georgia
Alpine meadows in Georgia. (Photo: UNEP)

Jurek noted that the Outlooks have been developed in close partnership with governments since the project’s inception. “We didn’t want to develop this without their input and then bring our recommendations to them, telling them this is what needs to be done,” he said. “We have developed this with them very closely since the beginning.”

“We want to make sure these strategic agendas are not just papers – but that they’re really anchored within frameworks,” Jurek added.

UNEP also hopes to encourage intergovernmental and subregional dialogue and coordination. The Series’ partners are planning more meetings to encourage coordination between local and national communities. UNEP is also working to increase the use of the relatively under-utilized Climate Technology Network and Center, a UNEP-hosted organization that seeks to help to provide technical assistance to countries with specific technology needs. 

Moving forward, the Mountain Adaptation Outlooks Series hopes to expand its coverage into the Himalayan region, with the help and collaboration of the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Program.

The Outlooks project and international cooperation on mountain-based climate change adaptation were celebrated at an International Mountain Day Side Event at COP 21 in Paris. The event was hosted by the Government of Peru, and organized by UNEP, GRID-Arendal, and the Consortium for Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion.

The Outlook’s project partners, as well as other ministers and high-level leaders from various mountain countries such as Austria, Bhutan, Czech Republic, East Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Peru, Serbia, Switzerland, and Uganda, all attended the event on the last day of the conference on December 11.

“We’ve now received many information requests from countries asking about the specific adaptation knowledge available at the local level,” Jurek said.

The Challenge of Sediment Management

Moinak Hydro Power Plant.
Moinak Hydro Power Plant, on the Sharyn River in Kazakhstan. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

A new research study entitled “Ecosystem impacts of Alpine water intakes for hydropower: the challenge of sediment management” explores the effects of different hydropower capture techniques on human and ecosystem water needs. Rivers fed by glacial melt and snowmelt in Alpine regions serve as a critical resource for hydroelectric power production. However, the management systems used in hydroelectric systems heavily impact both river and sediment flow. This disruption, in turn, heavily, and often negatively, impacts downstream communities and ecosystems, which face consequences of habitat change, degradation, and temperature increases. The authors note that few policy solutions are currently available to reduce and manage these impacts, and call for fresh ideas to address them.

The cover image of the Wiley' January/February 2016 issue.
Researchers taking measurements at a stream gauge (Photo: Jim Constanz)

The study, published in the latest January/February issue of Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water, reviews the three main types of water management techniques used in hydropower systems. Dams impound water behind barrages in a valley, while abstraction removes water from a ground source. Once abstracted, water is moved laterally (shifted nearby) or downstream (to a lower part of a river) in order to reach the hydroelectric plant.

The article systematically examines how these different methods impact water and sediment flow of the river. Though previous work has studied the impact of different types of water management techniques on river flow, this study is the first of its kind to closely investigate the impact of water abstraction and transfer systems on sediment displacement, which, the study argues, “can significantly influence habitat, which in turn impacts ecosystems.”

The disruption and transfer of sediments have important impacts on human and natural ecosystems because they interfere with what the researchers call the “the natural sediment ‘conveyor belt’” — the process of sediment transfer that is usually determined by natural processes such as erosion, abrasion, sorting, and deposition. Though rivers primarily transport water, they are also vital vessels of sediment transfer. Fine sediment particles enter the river as the water erodes the banks, or tiny fragments break off from rocks in the water. The river carries these particles downstream, allowing the larger ones to drop out—or be deposited—in places where currents slow down.

Disruption of water and sediment flow puts Alpine ecosystems, whose flow regimes are a “key driver” of their physical habitat, at risk. Alpine habitats face risk of physical habitat change, degradation, temperature increases, and major changes to riparian vegetation. Previously inundated rivers may become dry. Such rapid changes in stream flow may leave Alpine fish not able to adapt quickly enough to sustain these alterations. Water abstraction may also “induce lower or higher nutrient levels, depending on the geology; increase electrical conductivity depending on the solute-richness; and/or increase pH.”

Chilime Hydropower Dam
The Chilime Hydropower Dam in Nepal. Image credit: Wikipedia (Photo:Wikipedia Commons)

In order to guarantee both human and ecosystem water needs and minimally disrupt natural sediment transfer processes, hydroelectric systems and water management systems must replicate as close to a natural flow regime as possible. However, attempts to mimic variables of water magnitude, frequency, duration, timing, and rate of charge of each river are unlikely to be met due to simple “constraints of hydroelectric production,” the researchers note. Natural river and sediment flows fluctuate seasonally, making them difficult to mimic because hydropower systems are designed to operate with steady, slow flows. These flows, in turn, rarely provide enough speed to carry larger particles, but also never slow enough to allow smaller particles to settle.

The researchers offer several suggestions to reduce the impacts of sediment transfer on downstream ecological and human communities. They seem some promise in sediment management processes, such as reducing sediment flushing during flows, creating artificial sediment sinks, and finding ways to permanently accumulate remaining sediment into floodplain systems. Such management processes, the researchers noted, are “rarely considered in legislation designed to create more environmentally sustainable river flows.” As such, their suggestions create important policy implications for alpine and glacial river communities near hydropower facilities.

Reinforsen power plant, norway
The Reinforsen power plant in Mo i Rana, Norway. (Photo: Flickr/Statkraft)

However, researchers noted that it is still difficult to determine best practice procedures for sedimentation management which could improve river ecology. They comment that “[t]his is a particular problem for water intake systems where there are almost no experiments, and hence scientific bases, that might be used to define the kinds of instream flow needs necessary.”

Though hydropower poses promise for clean, alternative energy, the study introduces underlying environmental tensions between clean energy solutions and the negative impacts of such alternative energy sources on surrounding communities and ecosystems. In this way, it alerts policy-makers and the public at large to challenges in bringing about a successful transition to low-carbon energy systems. economies and societies.

 

New Findings Suggest Cryovolcanoes on Pluto

On November 9th, New Horizons mission geologists presented evidence that Pluto’s largest and most distinctive mountains might indeed be cryovolcanoes, or ice volcanoes, that are likely to have been active in Pluto’s recent geological past.

The findings are just one of over fifty new reports of exciting discoveries about Pluto, revealed just four months after the New Horizons spacecraft first encountered the dwarf planet. Geologists and astronomers presented this new research at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland, which began on November 9th.

Elevation maps of Pluto
Elevation maps of Pluto. Blue indicates lower terrain, green shows higher elevation, and green indicates intermediate heights. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons geologists presented 3-D elevation maps of Pluto’s surface, specifically of two of Pluto’s largest mountains, informally named Wright Mons and Piccard Mons.

“These are big mountains with a large hole in their summit, and on Earth that generally means one thing—a volcano,” said Oliver White, New Horizons postdoctoral researcher with NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, in a New Horizons blog post.

The elevation maps suggest that these two distinctive mountains, which measure tens of miles across and several miles high, could be ice volcanoes. The research team is still tentative in its conclusions, but their current hypothesis strongly explains the geological formation of the two mountains.

White says, “If they are volcanic, then the summit depression would likely have formed via collapse as material is erupted from underneath. The strange hummocky texture of the mountain flanks may represent volcanic flows of some sort that have travelled down from the summit region and onto the plains beyond.”

The scientists don’t yet have all the explanations of their hypothesis, though. White muses, “Why they are hummocky, and what they are made of, we don’t yet know.”   

However, while Earthly volcanoes spew fiery molten rock, these cryovolcanoes are a little different: NASA scientists suspect that they would emit “a somewhat melted slurry of substances such as water ice, nitrogen, ammonia, or methane.”

If Pluto’s distinctive mountains are indeed volcanoes, the findings will provide important insight into geologic and atmospheric evolution in space.

Wright Mons
Mountain Wright Mons displays a 35-mile wide summit depression. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The scientific findings regarding Pluto’s geology and atmospheric systems that have emerged over the last four months have consistently continued to surprise NASA’s New Horizons mission team.

Jim Green, the director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, commented about the mission, “The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down.”

Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, called Pluto the new “star of the solar system,” adding, “It’s hard to imagine how rapidly our view of Pluto and its moons are evolving as new data stream in each week.”

Even further, the sheer magnitude of data available for analysis have stunned scientists. Stern stated, “I’d wager that for most planetary scientists, any one or two of our latest major findings on one world would be considered astounding. To have them all is simply incredible.”

“It’s why we explore – to satisfy our innate curiosity and answer deeper questions about how we got here and what lies beyond the next horizon,” said Jim Green.

 

 

 

 

Photo Friday: Exploring Antarctica

The United States Antarctic Program houses a comprehensive photo library containing more than five hundred photos of Antarctica’s glaciers and icesheets, allowing the public to explore the continent’s unique ecology and ice-covered landscape. Enjoy the photos below.

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The second photo showcases Blood Falls at the terminus of Taylor Glacier. To learn more about the scientific process behind the glacial tounge’s vibrant coloring, check out this past GlacierHub article on Blood Falls.

Many thanks to Peter Rejcek and the National Science Foundation for allowing us to use these photos.

Roundup: Lava Flows, Pollen Grains and Village Projects

Hazards at Ice-Clad Volcanoes: Phenomena, Processes, and Examples From Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile

Photo courtesy of the study
Photo courtesy of the study

“The interaction of volcanic activity with snow and ice bodies can cause serious hazards and risks[….] Case studies from Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile are described. These descriptions depict the way in which the volcanic activity has interacted with ice bodies in recent volcanic crises (Popocatépetl, Mexico; Nevado del Huila, Columbia; Llaima and Villarica, Chile) and how the lahar processes have been generated. Reconstruction of historical events (Cotopaxi, Ecuador) or interpretation of events from the geological remains (Citlatépetl, Mexico) help to document past events that today could be disastrous for people and infrastructure now existing at the corresponding sites. A primary challenge for hazard prevention and risk reduction is the difficulty of making decisions based on imperfect information and a large degree of uncertainty. Successful assessments have resulted in the protection of lives in recent cases such as that at Nevado del Huila (Colombia).”

Read more about the study here.

 

Ancient pollen reveals droughts between Sierra Nevada glacier surges

The Sierra Nevada region.
The Sierra Nevada region. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Hidden below the surface of California’s Central Valley are pollen grains from the Pleistocene that are providing scientists with clues to the severity of droughts that struck the region between glacial periods.

The Pleistocene—the age of mammoths and mastodons—occurred between 1.8 million and 11,500 years ago. For this new study, scientists dug up Pleistocene sediment samples containing buried pollen from the Central Valley. They found that pollen samples dated from interglacial periods—years between surges in the mountain glaciers—predominantly came from desert plants. The same sediments lacked pollen from plants of wetter climates.”

To learn more about the new findings, click here.

 

Adapting in the Shadow of Annapurna: A Climate Tipping Point

02780771-35.3.cover“Rapid climate change in the Himalaya threatens the traditional livelihoods of remote mountain communities, challenges traditional systems of knowledge, and stresses existing socio-ecological systems. Through semi-structured interviews, participatory photography, and repeat photography focused on climate change and its impacts on traditional livelihoods, we aim to shed light on some of the socio-cultural implications of climate related change in Manang, a remote village in the Annapurna Conservation Area of Western Nepal…. Continued development of relevant, place-based adaptations to rapid Himalayan climate change depends on local peoples’ ability to understand the potential impacts of climate change and to adjust within complex, traditional socio-ecological systems.”

To learn more about the study and its findings, click here.

 

 

Photo Friday: The Dry Valleys of Antarctica

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) houses an excellent Glacier Photograph Collection, including a special collection of photos of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a row of snow-free valleys in Antartica. However, that doesn’t stop from glaciers from entering into the picture.

About dry valleys and the MucMurdo Dry Valley photo collection, the NSIDC comments:

“While the valleys themselves are notably ice-free, a number of glaciers terminate in the valleys, some acting as outlets to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Studies show that the majority of the glaciers in this area are receding. Glaciers were photographed in the course of geologic studies and help document the conditions of the glaciers and how they may have changed.”

Enjoy some of the photos below.

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To view the rest of the collection, click here.

Many thanks to NSIDC and its Glacier Photograph Collection for the use of these photos. These photos are held by the Data Conservancy at Johns Hopkins University.  Please contact Keith Kaneda for further questions about the collection.

Roundup: Glacier Paddleboarding and Ice Loss in the Southern Hemisphere

Paddleboarders soak up splendors of Glacier Bay for 4 days

Paddleboarding Glacier Bay
Michelle Eshpeter views ice up close as she paddleboards near McBride Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park.
Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch News / Sean Neilson.

“A typical summer day in 3.3-million-acre Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve might see cruise boats, kayakers and anglers on the water, hikers on shore, flightseers in the air. And increasingly, paddleboarders paddling among ice floes.”

Read more about this new trend here.

 

Studying glaciers before they vanish

Thwaites Glacier“[A] just-released report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences…. concluded that the National Science Foundation — which runs U.S. Antarctic programs — should make research on Antarctica’s sea level implications its top priority, with a particular emphasis on West Antarctica. That’s because much of its ice is below sea level and thus ‘vulnerable to a runaway collapse process known as marine ice sheet instability.’

‘There is an urgent need to understand this process in order to better assess how future sea level rise from ice sheets might proceed,’ the report stated.”

Click here to read more.

New Zealand’s glaciers have shrunk by a third – report

“The government report released on Wednesday says the volume of glacier ice has dropped by 36 percent since 1978 because of rising temperatures. Andrew Mackintosh of Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre said globally there was no doubt that human influences had caused glaciers to retreat. He said it has yet to be scientifically demonstrated in New Zealand, but it was very likely humans have played a part.

‘There’s no doubt that New Zealand glaciers have lost a lot of ice during that period, especially since 2008 we’ve seen a rapid loss of ice in the Southern Alps and iconic glaciers like Franz Josef and Fox have retreated dramatically.'”

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Photo Friday: Exploring Mount Shuksan

Mount Shuksan, a glaciated peak in the North Cascades National Park of Washington state, is perhaps one of the most heavily photographed mountains in the world. The mountain’s name, Shuksan, is derived from the Lummi word meaning “high peak–” these photos below show why.

Emily from Barnstorming, a wife, mother, farmer and family physician living in rural northwest Washington, shared some of her photos of Mount Shuksan and neighboring Mount Baker, from a recent trip to the North Cascades.

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Check out this past Photo Friday from Glacierhub to view some of Emily’s other photos of the North Cascades region.