Roundup: Glacier Park, Lahars, and Glacial Ecosystems

Roundup: Glacier Park, Lahars and Ecosystems

Glacier National Park Embraces Sustainability

From Xanterra: “Just 150 years ago, 150 glaciers graced these spectacular alpine summits. Only 25 remain large enough today to be considered ‘functional,’ say scientists who expect the park’s glaciers to vanish by 2030, with many disappearing before that. People heeding the advice to visit soon will find a variety of national park lodging and dining spots that are making environmental stewardship part of the park experience.”

Read more about it here.


Glacier National Park (Source: Gracie Chance/Creative Commons).


Washington State’s Lahar Preparedness

From Journal of Applied Volcanology: “As populations around the world encroach upon the flanks of nearby volcanoes, an increasing number of people find themselves living at risk from volcanic hazards. How these individuals respond to the threats posed by volcanic hazards influences the effectiveness of official hazard mitigation, response, and recovery efforts. Ideally, those who are aware of the hazards and concerned should feel motivated to become better prepared; however, research repeatedly shows that an accurate risk perception often fails to generate adequate preparedness… This study explores the barriers that people in the Skagit Valley of Washington face when deciding whether or not to prepare for lahars as well as the impact of participation in hazard management on household preparedness behaviors.”

Read more about Washington’s lahar preparedness here.

Mount Baker poses a threat from lahars (Source: sworldguy/Creative Commons).


How Changing Climate Affects Ecosystems

From Environmental Research Letters: “Climate change is undeniably occurring across the globe, with warmer temperatures and climate and weather disruptions in diverse ecosystems (IPCC 2013, 2014). In the Arctic and Subarctic, climate change has proceeded at a particularly breakneck pace (ACIA 2005)… However, climate warming is forecast to be even more extreme in the future. In order to predict the impacts of further global change, experiments have simulated these future conditions by warming the air and/or soil, increasing CO2 levels, altering nutrient fertilization, modifying precipitation, or manipulating snow cover and snowmelt timing (Elmendorf et al 2015, Wu et al 2011, Bobbink et al 2010, Cooper 2014). Changes in biodiversity at high latitudes are expected to have profound impacts on ecosystem functioning, processes, and services (Post et al 2009).”

Read more about how changing climate affects ecosystems here.

Small herbs and plants can provide food for animals (Source: Will Stuart/Creative Commons).

Sting’s New Music Video Highlights Climate Change

Sting released a new music video in January for his song “One Fine Day,” which highlights challenges caused by climate change. The song warns humans of the dangers we pose to the planet, including melting polar ice caps, animals losing their ecosystems and changes in weather cycles. Sting is currently on tour to promote his new album “57th & 9th,” named for the intersection where his studio is located in New York City. As he travels, he is spreading awareness about climate change through his lyrics and has featured the song at recent concerts in Denver, New Orleans, Kansas City and Oklahoma City.

In “One Fine Day,” Sting outlines problems due to climate change and implores world leaders to take action. “Dear leaders, please do something quick,” sings Sting, while cartoon leaders in the music video play a game tug-of-war with Earth in the middle.

The music video was made through rotoscoping, a process in which animated pictures are overlaid on live action pictures. The colorful video shows a half-animated Sting performing while depictions of nature surround him like bodies of water, trees and birds. Snippets of the lyrics are also shown and are represented by stunning animation.  

Sting’s new music video uses a process called rotoscoping (Source: Sting Fan Club/Facebook).

The video also shows some of the effects of climate change on glaciers, including a depiction of penguins and a polar bear on a floating iceberg. The song references the Northwest Passage which includes Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world. It is home to the Devon Ice Cap, a feature with an area of 15,000 km² and a volume of 3,980 km3. From 1960 to 2000, the ice cap has decreased by 600 km² or 4 percent with the Belcher glacier calving up to 40 percent of the total volume in the icecap.

“Today the North West Passage just got found, Three penguins and a bear got drowned, The ice they lived on disappeared, Seems things are worse than some had feared,” sings Sting.

Sting performed the song on his “57th & 9th” tour which kicked off in Canada last month.

Sting’s fan club page on Facebook provides additional details. It reports that the video was directed by James Larese and “pays homage to Sting’s 1985 single and video for ‘Love Is the Seventh Wave,’ featured on his debut solo album ‘The Dream of the Blue Turtles.’”

“It’s about searching and traveling, the road, that pull of the unknown,” Sting said about the new songs. “On this album, we ended up with something that’s energetic and noisy, but also thoughtful.”

In “One Fine Day,” Sting grows ideological over whether climate change exists, “Apologists say, The weather’s just a cycle we can’t change. Scientists say, We’ve pushed those cycles way beyond.”

“‘One Fine Day’ is my satire about climate skeptics,” Sting told ABC. “I sincerely and passionately hope that they are right and that the majority of scientists in the related fields of research are all full of baloney, and for that…perhaps we’ll all be grateful…one fine day!” 

Sting, who is 65 years old, won the international Polar Music Prize in January for his work during his storied music career which traverses multiple genres. “As a composer, Sting has combined classic pop with virtuoso musicianship and an openness to all genres and sounds from around the world,” reads the announcement on the prize’s website.

Even though Sting’s environmental influence was not the criteria in which he was chosen as the 2017 winner for the Swedish prize, his strong commitment to environmental issues was recognized by the award committee. “We do appreciate the way he is keenly alive to the environment around him,” Tanja Maata, a representative from the Polar Music Prize Award, told GlacierHub. “Be it a rainforest or culture, the environment is something that is most definitely recognized in his compositions and artistry.”

Sting, who speaks French, and who rose to fame as the frontman of The Police in the late 1970s, also wrote the song Inshallah” which is on the new album and is about the global refugee crisis from the point of view of a refugee. In November, Sting performed “One Fine Day” at the reopening of the Bataclan theater in Paris a year after the grisly attacks occurred. The one and a half hour concert also included his hits from The Police such as “Message in a Bottle” and “Roxanne,” which he wrote in Paris in 1978.

Sting cofounded the Rainforest Foundation Fund in 1989 with his wife, Trudie Styler. In addition, his humanitarian work ranges from Amnesty International to the charity group Band Aid, made up of notable artists. In addition, Sting was nominated four times for an Oscar and performed at the Oscars ceremony Sunday, playing his nominated song “The Empty Chair” from the documentary film Jim: The James Foley Story.

Hopefully, Sting is as successful in his environmental endeavors as he is in other areas of his work and life. His illustrious career seemingly knows no bounds and his work is still going full speed ahead.

When Lava Hits Ice in Russia’s Far East

The Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia is an isolated region known for its glacier-volcano interactions that can lead to powerful natural disasters— and also, visually stunning images when lava impacts ice. One of these volcanoes, Sheveluch, has been erupting in recent weeks, creating local hazards. The volcano’s ash cloud, for one, threatens to disrupt air traffic in the region.

In total, Kamchatka is home to 160 volcanoes, 29 of which are currently active. These volcanoes— six of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites— are tall and far enough north to harbor glaciers. As such, they are associated with lahars, devastating mudslides down the slopes of a volcano triggered by an eruption and melting glaciers. These mudslides move quickly, destroying most of the structures in their path.

Avachinsky is one active volcano in the region that is covered in glaciers, placing the surrounding region at a greater risk for lahars. Avachinsky is classified as a stratovolcano, which is a volcano that has been built up by alternate layers of lava and ash. It is the volcano closest to the state capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. 

False color image of Klyuchevskaya with lava in red, snow in cyan, and vegetation in green (Source: NASA/Creative Commons).

“The Avachinsky volcano is glacierized, and the melting of ice poses a serious lahar threat the next time the volcano is active,” Ben Edwards, a volcanologist and professor at Dickinson College, warns. Edwards explained to GlacierHub that there are many deposits mapped out that are indicative of past lahars.

Previous lahars in the Kamchatka Peninsula have been devastating with high human death tolls. The Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia, for example, erupted in 1985, producing a lahar that killed 23,000 people.

“They are incredible forces of nature and also brutally destructive and deadly,” said Janine Krippner, a PhD candidate in volcanology and remote sensing at the University of Pittsburgh, in an interview with GlacierHub.

The Klyuchevskaya Sopka stratovolcano is the highest mountain on the peninsula and the highest active volcano in Eurasia. In November 2016 and more recently in January, the volcano spewed ash six kilometers above sea level. Such an ash cloud can disrupt international travel. Klyuchevskaya has produced notable lahars in the past including one particularly damaging one in 1993, according to Edwards.

The position of a glacier on a volcano can influence the risk of a lahar.  However, there is still much research needed on past lahars at Klyuchevskaya to better understand risk, notes Edwards.

A bear catching and eating salmon (Source: Creative Commons).

“Many volcanoes have glaciers up high, but those close to Klyuchevskaya are on the western lower flank,” explained Edwards. “There have probably been some interactions and definitely lahars generated from historic flows. But these eruptions have not been well documented.” Higher regions, which tend to be cooler and moister, are more likely to form glaciers.

Sheveluch Peak is a very active volcano, and the largest on the peninsula at 1,300 cubic kilometers in volume. Many glacier-volcano interactions have occurred at the location, releasing great quantities of steam and creating fantastic imagery for photographers.

Similar volcano-snow interactions also take place elsewhere on the peninsula, especially during the winter, according to Edwards. “We saw spectacular examples during the 2012-13 Tolbachik eruption,” he said.

2012-13 Tolbachik eruption showing steam rising from places where lava is flowing over snow (source: Ben Edwards).

The World Heritage website, which features several of the Kamchatka Peninsula volcanoes, makes special note of the “dynamic landscape of great beauty” created by the interplay of active volcanoes and glacier forms. In addition, the peninsula has a wide diversity of species including brown bears, sea otters and the world’s largest variety of salmon fish. It is also known for a wide variety of birds from falcons to eagles that are attracted to the spawning salmon populations.

“Volcanism probably also interacted with regional ice caps during the Pleistocene,” Edwards explained. “But very little work has been done on this in Kamchatka so far. There is room for this type of work in the future.”

Volcanoes can help glaciers in one way: the ash and soot they emit reflects sunlight away from Earth, helping to cool the warming climate. However, volcanoes currently pose significant risk from lahars to destructive lava and ash. Scientists must continue to observe volcanoes to help reduce these hazards and improve early warning systems.

Photo Friday: Forest Fires Rage on Glacier-Covered Peaks in Chile

Chile is experiencing the worst forest fires in the country’s history after years of drought.  The fires are currently spanning roughly 104,800 hectares or 400 square miles, burning mountains that also harbor glaciers.

For example, Mount Llaima, located in Conguillio National Park in the Andes, is covered in glaciers and caught up in the fires. Mitigation efforts have been underway with water-bombing aircraft being supplied by the United States. While ash and soot have been deposited on the glaciers, winds have directed debris away from areas where glaciers are predominant.

See images from Chile’s catastrophic fires.


Map of Chilean forest fires dated May 2015, with active fires indicated by red rectangles (Source: NASA).


A forest fire in Santiago, Chile (Source: Pablo Trincado/Creative Commons).
A forest fire in Pirque, Santiago de Chile (Source: Pablo Trincado/Creative Commons).


CONAF brigades fight the fire of Valparaíso, in April 2014 (Source: Government of Chile/Creative Commons).
CONAF brigades fight the fire of Valparaíso in April 2014 (Source: Government of Chile/Creative Commons).


Image of an Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree) burning in the Chile fires. These trees that take hundreds of years to reach maturity (Source: Karen/Flickr).
Image of an Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree) burning in the Chile fires. These trees take hundreds of years to reach maturity (Source: Karen/Flickr).


Map of Chilean forest fires dated January 2017, with active fires indicated by red rectangles (Source: NASA).


Mt. Llaima in Conguillio National Park (Source: Creative Commons).


High winds and unusually warm weather are fueling damaging wildfires in southern Chile. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this image of smoke produced by a fire southeast of Llaima volcano on March 17, 2015 (Source: Jesse Allen/NASA).
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this image of smoke produced by a fire southeast of Llaima volcano on March 17, 2015 (Source: Jesse Allen/NASA).


Devastation left after a forest fire (Source: Sergio/Flickr).


Men surveying a fire (Source: Tomás J. Sepúlveda/Flickr).


Malia Obama Visits Andean Glaciers

Malia Obama, the eldest daughter of former President Barack Obama, recently visited the glaciers of Peru and Bolivia during a gap year before entering Harvard as an undergraduate this fall. Her guides were unaware they were traveling with the president’s daughter during the 83-day journey, although they were told that an important American dignitary was accompanying them. Malia traveled with the Colorado-based educational travel company Where There Be Dragons, along with 16 other young people, through the Andes and Amazon program.

Photos from the trip were later shared across social media. One image shows Malia in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real mountain range, which is part of the Andes. The mountain range, made mostly of granite, lies southeast of Lake Titicaca and east of La Paz, acting as a barrier between the Altiplano Plateau and the Amazon Rain Forest. The region is dense with glaciers because air from the nearby Amazon lowlands is very moist and contributes to glacier formation. The Cordillera Real also includes the iconic mountain Huayna Potosí, which is only fifteen miles north of La Paz and can be seen from the neighboring city, El Alto. It is the most visited mountain in Bolivia and is popular among climbers. Malia promised to return to Bolivia one day to climb Huayna Potosí.

Cordillera Real (source: Creative Commons).

The Zongo Glacier located on Huayna Potosí is larger than most glaciers in the Cordillera Real but is rapidly melting. In 2013, it had an area of 1.876 km² with a catchment (where snow and ice are added and removed) of 3.3 km². The glacier has shrunk significantly from 1994 to 2014, losing 7 meters of thickness and retreating by 220 meters from a nearby lake, according to an analysis done through Google Earth images.

Glaciers remain an important water resource for people in the region. The people of Bolivia are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Last November, Bolivia declared a state of emergency due to the worst drought in 25 years. Two glaciers on the mountain Tuni Condoriri that provide water for the cities of El Alto and La Paz have receded by about 40% from 1983 to 2006, at a rate of .24 km² a year. They typically provide an estimated 10% to 15% of the water for El Alto and La Paz, according to updated figures provided by Dirk Hoffmann, coordinator of the Bolivian Mountain Institute and an expert on climate change. The water is also necessary for the health of agriculture, ecosystems and hydroelectric plants in the region.

“The trip has given Malia a first-hand view of Bolivian glaciers,” Hoffmann reported to GlacierHub. “I just hope someone told her how the glaciers are getting smaller and smaller each year. What has taken thousands of years to grow – the Andean glaciers – is being lost in a lifetime.”

Illimani seen from La Paz (source: Creative Commons).

As a security measure, satellites tracked the group’s movement and 10 marines stayed within 50 meters. Eduardo Quispe,who works as a mountain guide at the company Bolivian Mountain Guides and described Malia’s trip to GlacierHub, said that the group took a five-day tour of the Eastern Cordillera Oriental, starting from Laguna Kothia, a glacier lake, and ending at the base of Huayna Potosi. The group reached heights between 4,850 meters to 5,100 meters. One Marine fell ill from altitude sickness and had to be carted back by mule. During the tour, Malia fished for trout in a lagoon, ate traditional South American foods like chuño (which consists of freeze dried potatoes) and drank coca tea.

Malia, who speaks fluent Spanish, stayed in an inexpensive room based in the agricultural town of Tiquipaya in central Bolivia. Of the president’s eldest daughter, Quispe said, “Malia was characterized by her simplicity and friendliness, shared with everyone. She was one of the group, and there were no preferences of any kind.” 

According to the website for the trip, the group traveled to many cities in both Peru and Bolivia and visited indigenous communities. In Peru, Malia traveled around Lake Titicaca and visited Machu Picchu. “Our time in Peru is highlighted by dramatic mountain landscapes, exposure to remote indigenous communities, and a deeper understanding of development trends and contemporary issues in southwestern Peru,” reads the Where There Be Dragons website.

Malia Obama, far right, in 2012 (source: Creative Commons).

“It is very encouraging to know that such an influential person has chosen the Andes and the Amazon to spend time in,” Lixaida Vasquez, a climber who has frequented the peaks in Bolivia and works at the climbing company Andean Destinations, added to GlacierHub. “I hope she has been able to become closely acquainted with these two regions. They are so beautiful and also so fragile.”

Now that Malia has returned to the U.S., she will next venture to Hollywood to complete an internship with film producer Harvey Weinstein before going away to college. She still has environmental concerns on her mind, however. She recently attended a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in January.

Hoffmann, for one, hopes Malia’s own children will be so fortunate to experience the glaciers of the region in their future. “The way temperature is rising, her children will not have the chance to see most of Bolivia´s glaciers – neither will anybody else her age,” he said.


Toxic Minerals in Tibetan Glacier Meltwater

Tibetan landscape, with snow mountains (Source: reurinkjan/Creative Commons).

Higher concentrations of toxic minerals have recently been found in glacial meltwater in the Tibetan Plateau region and are raising health concerns. Meltwater has eroded rock which is newly exposed due to glacier retreat, releasing hazardous amounts of iron, lead and other minerals into streams and rivers. A recent paper in the Journal of Hydrology authored by Xiangying Li et al. presents evidence recorded in 2013 of tainted meltwater from Dongkemadi Glacier in central Tibet.

According to Voa News, climate research indicates that the Tibetan Plateau has been warming since the 1980s. The mass of ice in Tibet is the largest anywhere on Earth outside of the polar regions, and the plateau is increasing in temperature four times faster than the rest of the planet. Some of the meltwater, which has increased due to warming temperatures, deposits into the Yangtze, Mekong, Yellow and Indus rivers. Tibetan glaciers are estimated to hold 14.5% of the world’s glacier mass. It’s also estimated that 247 square kilometers of glaciers disappear annually, with a total of 18% of glaciers having disappeared since the 1950s. The Dongkemadi Glacier, which the researchers analyzed, is located in central Tibet and has an area of 15.89 km² and a maximum elevation of 5,275 meters.

Glacial meltwater (Source: The Virtous One/Creative Commons)
Glacial meltwater (Source: The Virtous One/Creative Commons)

To reach their findings, researchers took samples from the meltwater of the Dongkemadi Glacier and found bicarbonate and calcium were dominant ions, followed by magnesium, sodium and sulfate. Other minerals also included  iron, strontium, boron, aluminum, barium and lithium. Most of these elements are transported while they are in the dissolved phase, while carbonates may be absorbed by solids and remain highly mobile. Other chemicals were found to be at a level deemed insignificant, below the threshold of 1 μg/l (micrograms per liter). 

Katherine Alfredo, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Water Center, who spoke with GlacierHub about the research, said, “The results of the article, that glacial retreat can expose rock and lead to new weathering and contamination, are totally plausible. The methods of sampling and analysis are sound.”

Compared to meltwater from the Haut Glacier d’Arolla in Switzerland, which the researchers used as a benchmark for average glacial meltwater hydrochemistry, concentrations of sodium, calcium, magnesium, chlorine, bicarbonate, lithium, strontium and barium were higher in the Tibetan PlateauThis discrepancy may be due to a higher abundance of carbonates like calcite, which more heavily influences the meltwater’s chemistry in the Tibetan Plateau than compared to the Haut Glacier d’Arolla. This suggests that the Tibetan Plateau has higher chemical weathering than other glacial water networks, with a higher amount of chemicals potentially discharged into the water system in Tibet. 

Calcite (Source: Macroscopic Solutions/Creative Commons).

The high concentrations of metals such as iron, lead, nickel, chromium, arsenic, copper and aluminum found in the meltwater can have significant negative impacts on human health and the environment. For example, lead exposure is known to cause impaired physical and mental developments, nickel exposure can cause kidney failure or birth defects, and aluminum exposure can increase chances of Alzheimer’s disease. The highest iron concentrations found by the researchers exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines, while concentrations of aluminium, zinc and lead are currently close to the guideline values. 

Monitoring of the Tibetan Plateau’s glacier meltwater for hazardous concentrations of minerals is important to public health and the environment. However, data is limited because long-term observance of hydrochemistry can be costly and isn’t typically included in glacial monitoring programs. As climate change continues to melt the glaciers and increase rock exposure, more chemicals will be deposited into the water system in Tibet, posing risks to health. Seeing how significant the effects have already been, it is important to continue monitoring glaciers, even if expensive.

Photo Friday: Historic Images of Glaciers

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) advances scientific research on the frozen areas of the Earth, known as the crysophere, and the climate that influences them. Founded in 1976, the center manages a data archive and educates the public about the cryosphere, including the world’s glaciers. Scientists of the NSIDC specialize in collecting data through remote sensing, which is the process of using satellites to observe information. The center was originally formed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to hold archives from NOAA’s programs. Today, the NSIDC is housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where it continues to be the leader of cryospheric data management.

The photographs held by the NSIDC date back to the mid-1800s and include images of glaciers in Europe, South America, the Himalayas, Antarctica and elsewhere. As of 2010, the searchable, online collection has over 15,000 photos of glaciers, which serve as important historical records for researchers and scientists studying the impacts of climate change.

Take a look at GlacierHub’s compilation of photographs from the database. To view more historic images, visit the NSIDC’s Glacier Photograph Collection.


Bertha Glacier, Alaska, 1894 (Source: James J. McArthur).



Crevasse at Arapaho Glacier, Boulder Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains, 1919 (Source: Junius Henderson).



Unknown glacier, Alaska, 1942 (Source: Photographer unknown).



Blue Glacier, Washington, 1899 (Source: Photographer unknown).




Yale Glacier, Alaska, 1935 (Source: William Osgood Field).

New Glacier App, A Finalist for Swiss App Awards

A new glacier-themed app is a finalist for this year’s Swiss App Awards, an elite competition for mobile and app developers. The wgms Glacier App gives users access to the glacier database of the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) right from their smartphone, with over 3,700 glaciers loaded on it. Created by the WGMS at the University of Zurich and Ubique Apps and Technology, the mobile application aims to help everyone from scientists to hikers access scientific information available on the world’s glaciers.

Launched alongside the 2015 COP 21 in Paris, the app provides information such as glacial dimensions, locations, photographs and changes in glacier mass. This data is provided free of cost, and the app can be used without internet connection. Glaciers may be searched by name, country or region as well as by current “health” status. The application also includes a compass that points out nearby glaciers and a card game that tests glacier knowledge.

A screenshot of the app, showing glaciers and their frequencies in Europe (Source: Ubique).

“All data used by the app is freely available for scientific and educative purposes,” said Samuel Nussbaumer, science officer at the University of Zurich, to GlacierHub. “It is one task of the WGMS to make this data accessible. The WGMS maintains a network of local investigators and national correspondents in all countries involved in glacier monitoring.”

The WGMS has been collecting data for more than 120 years with the help of its correspondents in more than 35 countries. Hosted in the University of Zurich’s Department of Geography, the WGMS is co-financed by the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss. Due to warming temperatures as a result of climate change, the world’s glaciers are rapidly receding, pushing the WGMS into the spotlight.

The app shows scientific data for each glacier (Source: WGMS).

Currently, the WGMS provides information on about 130,000 glaciers and includes facts and figures on the fluctuations of the glaciers, like ice mass, volume, length and height. In addition, information is collected by the service on ice avalanches, glacier lake outburst floods, glacier calving (when a chunk of ice suddenly breaks off from the rest of the glacier) and glacier surges (when a glacier moves 100 times faster than normal).

Nico Mölg, the scientific project leader of the WGMS involved in developing the app, told GlacierHub, “With this setting we intended to make the comprehensive database more visible and the access handier. Colleagues in science use it, people in NGOs working in the climate domain use it, and non-specialists, like hikers and mountaineers, interested in the topic of climate change and changing environments also use it. At the same time, the app also provides more visibility for the people performing the actual work.” Mölg added that the app will be updated in the spring and will soon be available in French, in addition to its current languages of Spanish, German, Russian and English.

The WGMS doesn’t work alone in providing this scientific data. Along with the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) initiative, the WGMS runs the Global Terrestrial Network for Glaciers (GTN-G), which facilitates communication among the three organizations in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The app’s compass shows a nearby glacier (Source: WGMS).

The Best of Swiss Apps, which the glacier app was a finalist for, is an initiative started by the Swiss Internet Industry Association in 2001. It gave its award out in November to another app collaborated on by Ubique. The purpose of the award, according to the site, is to promote transparency in the industry, establish a quality of standards through professional judging, provide a young industry more attention, and offer networking opportunities.

Take the Daniels Glacier in Washington state’s Cascade Range, for example. The app shows the area of the glacier (0.4 km²), the length (0.6 km), the maximum elevation (2,385 meters above sea level, m.a.s.l.) and the minimum elevation (2,075 m.a.s.l.). Additionally, the app provides information graphically on the glacier’s cumulative front variation, which is the measure in meters of the changes at the edge of a glacier. In addition, the app will show the user the change in the glacier’s annual mass balance, which measures the difference between accumulation and ablation in millimeters water equivalent (mm w.e.) per year. For Daniels Glacier, there has been a drop in the cumulative front variation since roughly 2000 and a drop in the annual mass balance since 2010. The app also provides information on the mean annual thickness, but this information was not listed for Daniels.

Robin Bell, a professor at Columbia who studies ice sheet dynamics and mass balance, told GlacierHub, “It looks like a nice way to convey change with images and data. It’s always good to connect people with change in their landscapes.”

John Hillard, a senior engineer in Boston who is knowledgeable on the release of apps, told GlacierHub, “Having an app makes the data easier to access.” He added, “I think it’s a cool idea, but if I were building something in that space, I would probably try to make it more gimmicky. It would be cool if you could glance at it even as a novice and have some kind of clear takeaway or understanding, like a weather app.”

The app comes with a game that tests glacier knowledge (Source: WGMS).

The app currently has 4.8 stars out of 5 stars in 40 ratings on the Google Play store. The store also says that the app has been downloaded between 1,000 and 5,000 times. One reviewer called it “an excellent little app for keeping up with our melting world.”

While this app may not stop climate change from melting glaciers, it may provide useful information for policymakers and researchers whose job it is to protect the planet. Making an enormous set of data on a rapidly vanishing natural wonder easier to access is significant. It can only help people work toward the goal of conserving glaciers and further increase public attention.

Glaciers play a vital role in the ecosystem giving many species their habitat and providing animals, plants and people with necessary meltwater. In an increasingly digital world, an app like the wgms Glacier App can play a big role in helping to save the glaciers.

The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple Store and Google Play.

Alfa Romeo Debuts the Stelvio, Named for Italy’s Stelvio Pass

The Italian car company Alfa Romeo recently debuted an SUV named the Stelvio after the Stelvio Pass, a high-altitude roadway located in the Eastern Alps. The Stelvio Pass, also known as the Stilfser Joch in German, is famous for its winding, hairpin turns that give the driver breathtaking views of nearby mountains covered in glaciers. The pass is considered to be a top scenic route, with the BBC automobile show Top Gear officially naming it the “greatest driving road in the world.”

The hairpin turns of the Stelvio Pass (Source: Rabih El-Khoury /Creative Commons).

It’s no wonder then that Alfa Romeo decided to capitalize on the road’s allure. The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the manufacturer’s first SUV model, was revealed at the Los Angeles car show in November. The premium version of the vehicle, called the Quadrifoglio Stelvio, can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds, which Alfa Romeo claims is the fastest in its class. The car’s engine is superb with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 and 505 horsepower. In comparison, the luxury 2017 Acura MDX has a horsepower of only 290. The Stelvio’s engine is also capable of shutting off half of its cylinders when they are not needed, meaning better overall fuel economy. According to CarBuyer, prices will start around £35,000 ($43,887) for the entry-level model and at least £65,000 ($81,505) for the Quadrifoglio edition.

“The SUV looked good, but keep in mind that I haven’t driven it yet. Nobody has. So it’s very hard to really know,” said Brent Snavely, an auto reporter for the Detroit Free Press, to GlacierHub. “I would say it’s an incredibly important vehicle for the Alfa Romeo lineup. It’s essential for any premium or luxury brand to have a small SUV in its lineup these days because that is the fastest growing segment in the U.S. auto industry.”

Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio SUV (Source: Alfa Romeo).

Renowned for their sports car lineup, Alfa Romeo has a long history on the race track, winning multiple championship races like the Le Mans, Formula 1 and the European Touring Car Championship. The brand, founded in 1910 in Milan, also has a place in popular culture with cameos in famous movies like The Godfather, The Pink Panther and James Bond films. As to why the brand decided to make an SUV for the first time, Berj Alexanian of Alfa Romeo North America told GlacierHub, “The world’s passion, especially in North America, for sport utility vehicles is only growing stronger. Sales of SUVs, pickups and vans have accounted for more than half of all U.S. light-vehicle sales (which also include cars) in each of the last 42 months.”

Lower gas prices and changing consumer tastes have a lot to do with the growing  popularity of SUVs in the United States, according to Alfa Romeo. “North America and the U.S. market specifically offer a great opportunity for not only Stelvio but the Alfa Romeo brand,” Alexanian added. “The premium luxury automotive space has embraced the SUV environment, and Alfa Romeo is now here with Stelvio as well.”

Map of the Stelvio Pass (Source: Google Maps).

With the new model, Alfa Romeo hopes to reflect the “traveling spirit” of the Stelvio Pass, according to the company. The roadway that serves as the inspiration rises 2,757 meters (9,045 feet) above sea level and boasts 48 hairpin turns, all of which are numbered in stone beside the road. Due to the strenuous climb, the bicycle race Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) sometimes holds a stage of its tournament on the pass. There is also an annual Stelvio Bike Day. The road itself is named the Strada Statale 38 and is 21.5 km (13.4 miles) long from start to finish. During the drive, the elevation changes by 1,533 meters (or 5,030 feet, which is nearly a mile long), offering unsurpassed scenery that tops off at 2,758 meters (9,049 feet).

Located next to the border of Switzerland and the town of Stilfs, Italy, the pass looks out onto the Ortler Alps, including the tallest mountain, Ortler, which is 3,905 meters high and has a glacier on its northwest side. Stelvio National Park is the largest park in the alpine region and is home to Forni Glacier, which is 12 square kilometers (4.6 square miles) in size, the largest valley glacier in Italy, parts of which are retreating. There are also glacier lakes in the park which meet with mountain streams to display beautiful scenery for the passing motorist.

Mount Ortler (Source: John Mason/Creative Commons).

Because of the high elevation and snowy conditions, the Stelvio Pass is open only in the summer when there is less snow. But even so, Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio is capable in icy and snowy conditions, according to Alexanian. “The intelligent Q4 all-wheel-drive system is standard on all Stelvio models, including the Quadrifoglio,” he said. “The system delivers even more all-season traction and performance capability thanks to the system’s ability to transfer up to 60 percent of the 2.0-liter direct-injection all-aluminum turbo engine’s torque to the front axle.”

Only time will tell if the car will measure up to its namesake and be popular with consumers, but the car does share promising elements with the Stelvio Pass in terms of power, uniqueness and desire. As for making the journey up the Stelvio Pass, the SUV might not make it up to the pass as fast as an Alfa Romeo sports car, but it will be far better suited for winter drives wherever the traveling spirit might take you.

Photo Friday: Endangered Species of the Melting Himalayas

The Himalayas, located between the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan Plateau, is among the world’s best known mountain ranges, but the region is rapidly melting as a result of climate change. This has life-threatening consequences for the diverse wildlife and people who call the mountains home.

Animals native to the Himalaya range include the critically endangered red panda, Himalayan brown bear, snow leopard and tahr, to name just a few. Many of these species are gradually dwindling in number as their habitats are impacted by humans, rising temperatures and glacial melt.

In 2012, for example, the World Wildlife Fund found that 30 percent of snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas may be lost to treeline shift as a result of warmer and wetter conditions, with only an estimated 4,000 snow leopards still left in the wild. The increase in temperature has caused the glaciers in the snow leopard’s habitat to recede, affecting permafrost, precipitation and water resources. Pakistan’s Minister of Climate called the snow leopard a “thermometer of the health of the mountain ecosystem.”

GlacierHub hopes you will marvel at this collection of photos from the Himalayas, featuring wildlife that may very well soon be lost to climate change.


A bird’s eye view of the Himalayas (Source: Balathasan Sayanthan/Creative Commons).



A critically endangered Himalayan brown bear (Source: Zahoor Ahmed/Creative Commons).



A Snow leopard as seen in the wild (Source: Creative Commons).
A Snow leopard as seen in the wild (Source: NCF India/Snow Leopard Trust).



A Snow leopard in captivity (Source: Steve Maskell/Creative Commons).



A glacial lake in the Himalayas, with glacial melt from the Ngozumpa glacier (Source: Doug Scobie/Creative Commons).
A glacial lake in the Himalayas, with glacial melt from the Ngozumpa glacier (Source: Doug Scobie/Creative Commons).



Glacial melt of Thulagi glacier in the Himalayas (Source: DFID/Creative Commons).
Glacial melt of Thulagi glacier in the Himalayas (Source: DFID/Creative Commons).



The Himalayan tahr meets two red pandas (Source: Brigitte E/Creative Commons).



A red panda in captivity (Source: Jason Barles/Creative Commons).
An endangered red panda in captivity (Source: Jason Barles/Creative Commons).



The Himalayan Snowcock, the national bird of Pakistan (Source: Desi Nagar).

High Altitude Plants Discovered in the Himalayas

Melting glaciers in the Himalayas have exposed land underneath, allowing new forms of life to migrate to deglaciated landscapes. Recently, these glacial changes have led to the discovery of the world’s highest altitude vascular plants, made possible by the early colonization of microbes in the space left by retreating glacier ice, according to a recent report in the journal Microbial Ecology.

A mountain in the Himalaya range (Source: Adarsh Thakuri/Creative Commons).
A mountain in the Himalaya range (Source: Adarsh Thakuri/Creative Commons).

It was during a 2012 expedition that researchers first recorded six plants at an unprecedented altitude in India, 6,150 meters above sea level. The plants were growing in a small patch of undeveloped soil. The glaciers in the region had rapidly receded since the 1990s due to a spike in temperatures in the region. As a sparsely populated, cold desert with limited rainfall, the northwestern Himalayas present arid and highly stressful conditions to plants. Still, the six plants seemed to be in stable condition, according to the researcher’s report.

Based on the monitored temperature and snow cover, there were only a few weeks per year that these plants could use for growth. The researchers emphasize that these are vascular plants, with tissues that contain vessels that conduct water and dissolved nutrients.

But how does plant life first reach these deglaciated landscapes once the glaciers have receded? By definition, subnival zones are places where plants and microorganisms can grow and refers to the altitudinal zone between the nival zone of permanent snow (nival) and the alpine zone, the highest area of extensive vegetation, characterized by low shrubs, grasses, and cushion plants. Microorganisms such as bacteria and some types of fungi colonize subnival zones within a few years of glacial recession, making way for plants and other life forms.

A glacier region in the Himalayas (Source: Pradeep Kumbhashi).
A glacier region in the Himalayas (Source: Pradeep Kumbhashi/Creative Commons).

Bacteria and fungi typically arrive first to the deglaciated landscape because they disperse more easily and are more stress-tolerant. They disperse spores that travel in the wind to reach remote places high in mountainous regions. Because the glaciers have receded from the section of the Himalayas visited by the researchers, an opportunity arrives for microorganisms to live in the soil that was once buried underneath the ice and snow.

There are several biological processes by which these microorganisms help develop the soil and allow plants to grow. For one, many bacteria can carry out photosynthesis, using sunlight to synthesize food from carbon dioxide and water. Some bacteria and fungi can also carry out nitrogen fixation, which is the process of converting nitrogen in the atmosphere to ammonia, more readily absorbed by plants. The nitrogen, in turn, can be used by other organisms. These biological processes help cultivate the soil in deglaciated landscapes by depositing nutrients, which ultimately allow plants to grow. Plant seeds and spores, also dispersed by the wind, make their way to high elevation areas. But once there, the plants rely on microorganisms to supply minerals and fix nitrogen.

Rooey Angel, a coauthor of the report on the high altitude plants, talked to GlacierHub about his team’s findings. “Indeed, microbial colonisation of glacial forefield is crucial for starting soil development processes, release of minerals from soil particles, accumulation of organic carbon and nitrogen fixation,” he said. “However, with respect to nitrogen, it is important to remember that there’s a large effect of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on the forefield ecosystem, which makes nitrogen fixation less crucial.”

Once plants arrive up the mountain, they further enrich the soil in deglaciated landscapes with organic matter and nutrients through a process of rhizodeposition (in which roots release organic compounds into the environment) and by weathering the bedrock. The soil surrounding the plant and containing its roots, known as the rhizosphere, is high in microbial activity. The plants use microorganisms to supply minerals and fix nitrogen, making it impossible for plants to precede microorganisms in colonization. Lack of nitrogen is one of the only biological reasons plants cannot arrive first in newly deglaciated soils.

Six plant species found over 6000 meters in the Indian Himalayas (Source: Microbial Ecology).

The specimens located by the researchers included five perennial herbs and one perennial grass, ranging in color and structure. All of the plants were found at high altitudes formerly covered in glaciers, often at elevations from 5,000 to 6,000 meters above sea level. Of the four plants where age could be determined, three were less than 10 years old and one, Ladakiella klimesii, was approximately 15 years old.

The L. klimesii, also known as Alyssum klimesii, is a plant in the mustard family and a close relative of sweet alyssum, a plant commonly grown in gardens for its hardiness and drought tolerance as well as for its profuse white blooms and rich fragrance. The specimen of L. klimesii resembles a tiny gray bush and is 1-3 cm tall and 2-10 cm in diameter. The species is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau and grows in subnival zones. In Ladakh these plants are found in 5,350 to 6,150 meters, with optimum altitudes at 5,800 meters. The researchers emphasize that this new specimen provides evidence of the recent upward migration of plants and rapid changes affecting the western Himalayan slopes.

In addition, the researchers discovered that the roots of the plants harbored several hundred types of microbes; these are termed OTUs or operational taxonomic units, and correspond to species. Other harsh climates like the patches of soil in coastal and interior Antarctic environments have similar OTUs, which demonstrates the remarkable resilience of these microbes.

Thanks to microorganisms cultivating land that had once been covered by glacier ice, researchers have discovered the highest-ever elevation plants, a surprising side effect of climate change. This new record offers testimony both to the profound effects of climate change on ecosystems and to the vigor of the diverse organisms on our planet.

Roundup: Video Games, Dust, and Pollinators

Roundup: Jurassic Park, Dust and Interactions


Jurassic Park Video Game Features Glacier Park

From Jurassic Wiki: A  Jurassic Park video game features a glacier park located in Patagonia. The game follows similar video games in the genre like Zoo Tycoon where the player designs and monitors a park with formerly extinct animals. Some animals require more upkeep than others and the last thing the owner of the park would want is for them to get out and interact with the customers! “Everybody has been calling this animal the saber-tooth tiger. It does kind of look like a saber-tooth tiger, but it’s actually called the Megistotherium. For this animal, you can take a look at its fossils on Wikipedia,” according to Jurassic Park Builders.

Check out the game here.

A Megistotherium from the Jurassic Park video game (Source: Jurassic Park Wiki).


Dust from Asia Reduces Albedo of Glaciers

From Atmospheric Research: “Mineral aerosols scatter and absorb incident solar radiation in the atmosphere, and play an important role in the regional climate of High Mountain Asia (the domain includes the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Pamir, Hindu-kush, Karakorum and Tienshan Mountains). Dust deposition on snow/ice can also change the surface albedo, resulting in [deviations] in the surface radiation balance. However, most studies that have made quantitative assessments of the climatic effect of mineral aerosols over the High Mountain Asia region did not consider the impact of dust on snow/ice at the surface. In this study, a regional climate model coupled with an aerosol–snow/ice feedback module was used to investigate the emission, distribution, and deposition of dust and the climatic effects of aerosols over High Mountain Asia.”

Learn more about dust in High Mountain Asia here.

A glacier in High Mountain Asia (Source: Commons).
A glacier in High Mountain Asia (Source: Commons).


Glacial Retreat Spurs New Interactions

From Anthropod-Plant Interactions: “Successional changes of plant and insect communities have been mainly analysed separately. Therefore, changes in plant–insect interactions along successional gradients on glacier forelands remain unknown, despite their relevance to ecosystem functioning. This study assessed how successional changes of the vegetation influenced the composition of the flower-visiting insect assemblages of two plant species, Leucanthemopsis alpina (L.) Heyw. and Saxifraga bryoides L., selected as the only two insect-pollinated species occurring along the whole succession… We emphasize that dynamics of alpine plant and insect communities may be structured by biotic interactions and feedback processes, rather than only be influenced by harsh abiotic conditions and [randomly determined] events.”

Read more about anthropod-plant interactions here.

An international journal devoted to anthropod-plant interactions (Source: Sitecard).