Roundup: Border claims, melting, and a new superhero

Mont Blanc: fresh row over territory as France blocks glacier access


Mayor of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Eric Fournier
Mayor of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Eric Fournier, courtesy of Getty Images

“A fresh row over borders has erupted between France and Italy on Mont Blanc – or Monte Bianco – after the mayor of Chamonix blocked access to a precarious glacier that the Italians claim is in their territory. Eric Fournier took the decision to close a gate – installed by the Italians – that gave access to Giant glacier, situated at an altitude of 3500m. They claim the route is unsafe.”

To read more, click here.


Glacier Girl is reinventing the eco-friendly aesthetic for the tumblr generation

Glacier Girl
Glacier Girl, courtesy of Connie McDonald and Elizabeth Farrell

“London teen Elizabeth Farrell is changing the way we look at environmental activism…. The 19-year-old invented the superhero pseudonym Glacier Girl and her project, Remember The Glaciers, as a way to speak to her peers about the dangers of global warming. What began as a high school art assignment has become a calling for Elizabeth, who was awarded a Gap Year Scholarship by Britain’s Royal Geographical Society last year to focus on the project full-time.”

To learn more about Glacier Girl, click here.


Peruvian glacier shows significant meltdown from climate change

Incachiriasca glacier
Incachiriasca glacier, courtesy of Wikipedia

“The Incachiriasca glacier, located on the Vilcabamba mountain range in the Peruvian region of Cuzco, has retreated some 62 meters (203 feet) over the past eight years due to the effects of climate change, the head of the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, Jose Nieto, told EFE.”


Read more about Peru’s glacial melting here.



Photo Friday: Glacial Moraine Maps as Art

Joerg Schaefer, a geoscience researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, specializes in tracing the history of moraines through cosmogenic radionuclide dating. He depicts the results of his research in maps of moraines–the accumulation of glacial till and sediment at the end, or snout, of a glacier, or along its sides. While scientific in nature, the maps themselves are visually stunning- prompting GlacierHub to showcase some of the glacial maps from Schaefer’s research.

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Joerg Schaefer
Joerg Schaefer, photo from personal website

Schaefer is most interested in studying the dynamics of earth surface processes and their interaction with climate, as well as ice ages and the dating and quantifying of changes in earth’s climate and landscape. He can be contacted here.


Book Review: Glaciers – The Politics of Ice

Author Jorge Daniel Taillant and his newest book, Glaciers: The Politics of Ice.
Author Jorge Daniel Taillant and his newest book, Glaciers: The Politics of Ice.

“This book is several books in one,” clarifies Jorge Daniel Taillant in the introductory pages of his newest book, Glaciers: The Politics of Ice. A melding of narration, primary sources, and vivid characters, Taillant’s Glaciers recounts the formulation of the world’s first national glacial protection law in Argentina in 2010, from the first inklings of growing public awareness and protests to roundtable discussions with stakeholders and overcoming presidential vetoes.

As one might guess from the title, Taillant hopes to tell a more nuanced story of the world’s majestic icy peaks and disappearing landmarks. Implicit in the work’s title is the idea that ice, science, and nature are all inherently political. As the planet warms, the very existence of glaciers depends on social awareness and the politics of their protection.

CEDHA's documentation of the mining industry's harmful impacts on South America's glaciers (courtesy of CEDHA).
CEDHA’s documentation of the mining industry’s harmful impacts on South America’s glaciers (courtesy of CEDHA).

The odd numbered chapters of the book tell a sequential narrative of the debates and negotiations behind the law– a saga in which Taillant had plenty of first hand experience. As the co-founder of the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA), Taillant worked with and knew many of the major human forces behind the enactment of the world’s first glacier protection law.

The even numbered chapters talk more generally about glaciers, beginning with basic definitions. Science is always explained in laymen’s terms, as well as both chronologically and in excerpt form, allowing for ease and accessibility in reading. Thanks to its layout, the book is not “designed” for any one type of audience (a scientist might skim over introductory science chapters, while a nonscientific reader curious about the buzz surrounding climate change might more thoroughly read these chapters to catch up to speed).

Glaciers: The Politics of Ice
Courtesy of Amazon

The Politics of Ice opens up the world of glaciers and dispels the notion that only the well-known glaciers (such as of Antarctica, Norway, or Greenland) are worth protecting. He reminds us of smaller glaciers in unexpected places – such as those in Argentina, that are incredibly vital to their surrounding communities and are equally important to study and protect. They provide a considerable proportion of water supply to local populations for both drinking water and agriculture during the drier months.

Taillant reminds us that more often than not, sheer conflicts of interest and simple ignorance are what allow glaciers to melt under our inaction. Taillant cites a few reasons for this – glacier’s “obscure nature, their faraway location, and our societal ignorance about the roles glaciers play in our ecosystem,” to name a few. Before the passage of this law, glaciers weren’t even on the world’s environmental protection radar.

However, the debate over glacier protection is far from over, as countries such as Chile are still battling out the fate of their country’s glaciers that remain under threat from both rising temperatures and industries such as mining.

The book’s eleven chapters go by quickly – a mishmash of narratives of political entanglement, science and climate change, and new vocabulary (glaciosystems, cryoactivism, anybody?). Taillant’s book provides the opportunity to read not only about a fascinating world of ice, but about the political maneuvering necessary to protect it.

Roundup: Glacial melting, biking, and touring


Shrinking Glacier Is Backdrop to Obama’s Message on Climate Change

“President Barack Obama hiked to a shrinking glacier Tuesday, traveling to this icy expanse to deliver a visual message to the country: This is what climate change looks like. Mr. Obama spent the day in the Kenai Mountains, exploring Exit Glacier, which has retreated as the planet has warmed, touring the area by boat and even taping a segment for an outdoor adventure show. The president’s arguments were familiar, but the White House is hoping that a change in scenery will help galvanize support for combating global warming. His visit comes as public consensus in the U.S. is growing that the earth is heating up and that people are responsible.”

Read more from the Wall Street Journal about Obama’s trip to Alaska here.

Video of Biking Down a Glacier

The new film, “unReal,” produced by Anthill Films & Teton Gravity Research, features intense biking down a glacier.

To learn more about the upcoming film, click here.

Visualizing Glacier Melt Impacts

“With record temperatures and minimum flows in most rivers in the Cascade Range during July and August of 2015, a key question was how much did glaciers contribute in basins that are glaciated?  Note the water pouring off the glacier and the lack of snowcover in the first few minutes of the video.”

Read more here.


Photo Friday: Images from an Andean Expedition

Gustavo Valdivia, an anthropology PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, as well as a former contributor to GlacierHub, went on an expedition to Quelccaya Glacier in the Peruvian Andes this summer, led by the prominent glaciologist Lonnie Thompson. In a recent email to GlacierHub, he wrote, “In these photos, I try to document the way that a major scientific team interacts with a very specific place–the melting ice of Quelccaya, which is a component of the complex Andean mountain environment–in order to produce knowledge about a global phenomenon–climate. The fact that Quelccaya is retreating so rapidly gives urgency to their research and to my photos.”

Gustavo joined the expedition as part of his dissertation research, in which he plans to investigate how the Andes mountains are represented in the field of climate science and the degree of understanding about climate and climate change in local Andean communities. You can read more about his work here.

Many thanks to Gustavo for sharing some of his expedition photos with us:  [slideshow_deploy id=’6016′]

Salvage Science: Climate Change and Paleo-glaciology in an Andean Glacier

Explaining the expedition more fully, Gustavo writes:

In the summer of 2015 I joined Lonnie Thompson and his team from the Byrd Polar Research Center of The Ohio State University, in their expedition to the Quelccaya, the largest tropical glacier in the world, located in the Peruvian Andes. My interest to join this expedition as an anthropologist was quite simple: to produce an ethnographically grounded account of the process through which ice obtained from this glacier is processed, documented and made available for the ends of scientific climate research. To this end, I wanted to explore the methods of observation and reflection, sensing technologies, epistemological assumptions, and field practices of this very influential climate research team. Once in Quelccaya, however, I started to understand better that this team’s practices of investigation and experimentation, required much more than just their passive submission to the rigorous dictates of the so-called “scientific method”. On the contrary, the forms of scientific knowledge production that were shaped in the interaction with the melting ice of this glacier, and the complexities of the Andean environment; had to do with both scientific cultivated dispositions but also with sensory intuitions, passion and imagination.

Gustavo wrote a previous article for GlacierHub in 2014 in which he documented a summer trip to Quelccaya. During this expedition, he and an experimental musician recorded the sounds of the glacier’s ice as it melted, which you can listen to here.


Photo Friday: The Snow Star Festival

In the Peruvian Andes, tens of thousands of pilgrims climb to the Sinakara valley to participate in an annual, multiple day celebration – Qoyllur Rit’i, or the Snow Star Festival. Held under a waning moon, the festivities are surrounded by the looming glaciers of Mount Qullqip’unqu. The Catholic festival celebrates not only Jesus, but also the mountain gods that indigenous  South Americans worshipped before the adoption of Christianity.

Photographer Timothy Allen had the rare opportunity to document the annual festival, which was originally featured on BBC here.

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Thanks to Timothy Allen for giving us the permission to use his photos. He can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram.


GlacierHub posted a previous article about the Snow Star Festival that examines the effects of glacial melt on the festival’s traditions, as well as the origins of the festival. Check it out!

Scientists Find Nitrogen Ice Glaciers on Pluto

Newly released close-up photographs from NASA’s New Horizons mission show evidence of exotic ice flow across dwarf-planet Pluto’s surface, indicating that Earth may not be the only planet with glacier-like geology. New Horizon’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shows close-up photos of a sheet of ice that appears to have glided across Pluto’s surface in similar manner as glacier movement on Earth.

On Earth, melting glaciers are often characterized by surface flows around obstacles and towards the point of deepest depression, often creating swirl-shaped surfaces. New photos from the New Horizons mission show that Pluto too exhibits this characteristic warped surface.

Ice flow on the Northern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Plain
Flowing ices on Pluto, characterized by swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark. Credits: NASA.

According to Bill McKinnon, the deputy leader of New Horizons Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging team, Pluto’s frosty temperature of minus-390 degrees Fahrenheit allows these ices to move in a manner similar to those on Earth.

This movement might still be continuing, scientists speculate, but it is difficult to discern from still photographs whether Pluto’s frozen ice is still flowing.

The ice stems from the center of Sputnik Planum, a craterless plain lying in “the heart of the heart” of Pluto. According to NASA scientists, this plain, lying in the western half of the Tombaugh region, appears to be no more than 100 million years old, making it a relatively young surface of Pluto. This region is likely still be being shaped by geological processes.

NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld, told NASA that the diverse and surprising findings of the New Horizons Pluto mission have been “truly thrilling.”

“We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars,” said mission co-investigator John Spencer of SwRI. “I’m really smiling.”

Plutos Carbon Monoxide "Bulls-eye"
The carbon monoxide “bulls-eye” in the heart-shaped region of Pluto. Credits: NASA.

The ice that comprises the plain is primarily composed of nitrogen, although it is also carbon monoxide- and methane-rich. New Horizon’s Ralph Instrument reveals that the concentration of carbon monoxide in ice steadily increases towards the center of the heart’s “bulls-eye.”

These findings call into question the very definition of “glaciers,” and whether this geological term can be applied not only to other planets, but also to different chemical compositions of ice. Glaciers, as interpreted by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, are composed of fallen snow that compresses into large, thickened ice masses over a number of years. The chemical makeup of snow differs largely from Pluto’s nitrogen-, carbon monoxide-, and methane-rich ice makeup. For now, scientists and the media seem content to use the term “glacier-like” when referring to Pluto’s newly discovered nitrogen ice flow.

Through the New Horizons mission, NASA scientists have also discovered Pluto’s latitudinal planetary zones, and believe them to be caused by seasonal ice transport from the equator to the icy poles. Lending additional support to this theory, enhanced color images of the planet show that Pluto’s darkest terrains appear at the equator, while a seemingly whiter, icy expanse reigns in the northern polar region.

An enhanced color global view of Pluto.
Enhanced color global view of Pluto, taken 280,000 miles away. Credits: NASA.

Another region, the southern-most region of Pluto’s heart, Cthulhu Regio (one of the older, heavily-cratered regions of the planet) is also believed to be filled with newer icy deposits.

Plutos newfound haze
The newfound haze surrounding dwarf-planet Pluto. Credits: NASA.

The New Horizons mission has also discovered Pluto’s mountain ranges, exotic surface chemistry, and a peculiar haze surrounding the planet that extends as high as 80 miles above the planet’s surface.

Scientists and the public have been delighted with and captivated by the diverse and surprising findings of the New Horizons mission. A closer view of the distant dwarf planet has provided knowledge of Pluto’s features that are both similar to Earth’s, such as these glaciers, as well as those that are vastly different.

Photo Friday: Through the Lens of a Tajikistani Glaciologist

Earth scientists and glaciologists often have the opportunity to explore and witness Earth’s glaciers and geological landscapes through fieldwork. This Tajikistani glaciologist, Dr. Farshed Karimov, a professor at the National University of Tajikistan, recently published a presentation on glacial dynamic modelling. In it, he included stunning photos from his travels, mainly of the Pamir Mountains, a mountain range in Central Asia at the junction of the Himalayas.

We’ve excerpted a few of Karimov’s photos below.

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To access Dr. Karimov’s presentation on glacial dynamic modelling or to contact him for more information, please email


Roundup: Raging Fires, Racing Bikes, Rushing Water

Elite Team Battling Growing Wildfire in Glacier National Park As Tourists Flee

St. Mary Lake Glacier
Photo Courtesy of Erin Conwell via AP

“A wildfire in Montana’s Glacier National Park chased hundreds of people from their campgrounds and cabins in the middle of peak tourist season. A management team that responds only to the nation’s highest-priority fire took command Thursday night. More than 200 firefighters backed by helicopters and fire engines planned to attack the blaze’s northeast flank, which was the biggest threat to a hotel and campground that was evacuated Wednesday, and to find a safe place to begin constructing a fire line, fire information officer Jennifer Costich said. The 4,000 acre fire started Tuesday, and officials moved quickly to evacuate hotels, campgrounds and homes, including people in the small community of St. Mary.”

Read more about Glacier National Park’s fire here.


Have You Seen This? Insane glacial bike race

“Welcome to Megavalance… a four-day event with over 1,400 participants from around the world who attempt to ride 18 miles down a glacier in France on mountain bikes. Riders go from Le Pic Blanc (10,827 feet) to Allemont (2,362 feet), slipping and sliding the whole way.”

Read more about the race here.


Central Asia Floods Reawaken Glacier Anxieties

Central Asia Glacial Floods
Photo courtesy of UN React, Eurasia Net

“Floods across Central Asia over this past week are highlighting the perils of failing to adopt robust water-management measures and put adequate early-warning systems in place. Tajikistan has been the worst hit, with abnormally high temperatures causing rapid snow and glacier melts. The country is 93 percent covered by high mountains, making it particularly vulnerable to landslides and flash floods. Dozens of homes have been destroyed and at least a dozen people killed.”

Read more here.

Roundup: State of Glaciers and Glacier’s End Nature Preserve

2014 State of the Climate: Mountain Glaciers

“In 2014, glaciers continued to shrink. Based on an analysis of more than three dozen reference glaciers with long-term monitoring, the 2014 BAMS State of the Climate reports that in 2014, glaciers experienced an average loss of 853 millimeters of water equivalent, meaning the equivalent depth of water (spread out over the entire glacier area) that would be produced from the amount of melted snow or ice. This loss was not quite as severe the loss from 2013 (887 millimeters), but it still counted among the larger losses recorded since 1980.”

Alaska’s Lemon Creek Glacier in September 2014
Alaska’s Lemon Creek Glacier, Sept 2014. Courtesy of NOAA Climate and Chris McNeil

Read more about the state of mountain glaciers in 2014 here. To check out the full text of NOAA’s 2014 State of the Climate, click here.


Family documents retreating glaciers for 100 years

Mary Vaux in 1914
Mary Vaux in 1914. Image credits to Wikipedia

“The glaciers of Western Canada have fascinated an American family for generations. The Vaux family began to document the retreat of the enormous masses of ice in the Canadian Rockies, which had already begun in the late 1800s. Henry Vaux Jr., who carried on the glacier-watching mission of his ancestors more than 100 years later, recreating many of the photographs himself, spoke to the Homestretch this week. His photography will be featured at a summer-long photo exhibit that kicked off this week at Banff’s Whyte Museum.”

To see the Vaux photo collection and to learn more, click here.


Nature preserve planned at site where glaciers stopped

Johnson County Courthouse
Johnson County, IN

“A land preservation group plans to open a nature preserve at a central Indiana site where glaciers stopped some 12,000 years ago. The Central Indiana Land Trust says its latest purchase will allow for the creation of the 550-acre Glacier’s End Nature Preserve near the Johnson County town of Nineveh. The group says the forest site is a mix of land flattened by glaciers and that similar to the rolling hills of nearby Brown County. The property about 25 miles south of Indianapolis includes steep bluffs and is home to some rare bird species.”

Read more about the planned nature reserve here.

Glaciers on other planets?

In light of Pluto’s newest photos from the New Horizons spacecraft mission, this Photo Friday showcases photos of the surprisingly snowy and mountainous geology of planetary bodies.

While not quite glacial, check out these photos of dwarf planet Pluto’s icy mountains and the snow-capped poles of Mars below.

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Our understanding of the composition and processes of glaciers on Earth helps scientists understand glacial-like geology in space.

Pluto’s newfound mountain ranges are estimated to be as tall as the Rocky Mountains, at around 11,000 feet. The mountains are likely composed of water-ice “bedrock.” At 100 million years old, the mountains are relatively young, at least in comparison to the age of the 4.567 billion-year-old solar system. Meanwhile, the planet Mars has two permanent ice caps that scientists have long known about. Both poles are comprised of water-ice, like Pluto’s mountains, and are occasionally covered with thick, frozen carbon dioxide.

For more information about Mars’ polar ice caps, check out this past GlacierHub article. Or instead, switch your direction of sight and see Earth’s glaciers viewed from space here.

Melting Exhibit Brings Glaciers to London

The Summer Science Exhibition’s “Vanishing Glaciers” exhibit, an interactive exhibit focusing on the science of observing and predicting glacial mass balance, hydrology, and dynamics, as well as the impact of climate change on vital water sources, concluded Sunday July 5, marking the end of the annual science festival.

The Summer Science Exhibition, produced by the Royal Society, is a weeklong, free science festival in London that features hands-on experiments, panel discussions, and family activities. The exhibition ran this year from June 30 until July 5.

Vanishing Glaciers exhibitThe Vanishing Glaciers exhibit, which saw crowds of over 10,000 people and 2,500 students over the course of the week, was conceived by a group of 14 glaciologists from five different UK universities. After the group concluded their most recent fieldwork in Himalayan and Karakoram glaciers, they created the Vanishing Glaciers exhibit as one of 22 exhibits at the Summer Science Exhibition.

Ann Rowan, a Vanishing Glaciers team member and research fellow at the University of Sheffield, said over email, “It felt like time to summarize this work for the public and explain why it’s important to study glaciers in these regions.”

Rowan explains that while most people generally know the impact melting glaciers will have on rising sea level rise, the effects melting glaciers will have on regional water supply are generally unknown. After all, Himalayan glacier melt water composes rivers that support an astonishing one-fifth of the world’s population. In light of climate change, Rowan says, “There is a real need to understand… how water supplies and hazard potential in the region will vary during the current and following centuries.”

On the reception of the exhibit, Rowan remarked that the exhibit was “hugely positive.” Over the course of the week, Rowan and her fellow glaciologists interacted with a “whole range of people who are interested in science,” from small children who wanted to know why ice melts and university students, to “Fellows of the Royal Society who wanted to check that we understood fluid dynamics and mass conservation.”

The exhibit garnered public interest through interactive displays, such as 3-D models of Khumbu glacier and timelapses of glacial dynamics. But, the most popular part of the exhibit by far was a melting block of ice.

“We had a large block of ice, normally supplied to cocktail bars, delivered each day for visitors to interact with and see how fast it melted over time,” said Rowan. “We used this simple and aesthetically pleasing prop to start a discussion about how we could predict when the ice would melt, and the differences between this and predicting how glaciers change.”

The team’s glaciologists used the ice block as a stepping point on to various discussion subjects. Glaciologists and audience members discussed topics such how exactly one measures a glacier, about dwindling regional water supplies, and how scientists know that humans are affecting the climate and what people can do to mitigate these effects.

While some visitors were skeptical about the evidence supporting anthropogenic climate change, Rowan stressed to these visitors that “even if the cause of glacier change is unclear, the need for action [to mitigate the rapid rate of glacial melt] is not.”

The team of glaciologists, while first and foremost scientists, believes that public outreach events such as the Vanishing Glaciers exhibit are vital to their work. “We consider outreach beyond the scientific community to be an essential part of being a successful scientist,” Rowan said.