Photo Friday: Mount Hood, Oregon

Mount Hood, located in Cascade Volcanic Arc of northern Oregon, is a stratovolcano, a conical volcano built by layers of hardened lava, volcanic ash and other by-products of volcanic activity. Mount Hood is known to be a potentially active volcano, with the last eruption taking place around 200 years ago in the 1790s (not too long before the Lewis and Clark expedition) and a series of small streams and ash explosions occurring in the mid-1800s. However, this 500,000-year-old mountain rarely showed violent eruptions like Mount St. Helens, with only slow lava flows occurring in the past eruptions. While scientists assure that it is showing no signs of eruptions today, visitors frequently witness stream plume rising from the fumaroles, the opening of the volcano.

Glaciers and perennial snowfields are also important constituents of Mount Hood, covering approximately 13.5 km2. There are 11 major glaciers and one snowfield, with the largest glacier being the Eliot and Coe Glacier on the north flank of the mountain. Interestingly, the past lava flows during the last ice age influenced the distributions of these glaciers, and glaciers, in turn, provided water, the source of mobilization for lahars (destructive mudflows).


Satellite image of the glaciers and snowfield in Mt. Hood (Source: USGS).


View of Mt. Hood from the Trillium lake (Source: Mt. Hood Territory/Flickr).


An image of snow-capped Mt. Hood (Source: Docbaney/Pixabay).


An image of Mt. Hood during the winter (Source: Max Pixel).


Scenic landscape view of Mt. Hood and a farm (Source: Public Domain Pictures).

Roundup: Antarctic Sublittoral, Ice Mélange, and Glacier Mass Loss

The Effect of Glaciers on Antarctic Sublittoral

From Marine Environmental Research: “The Antarctic sublittoral is one of the most demanding habitats for polar bottom-dwelling organisms, as the disturbance of this zone is highly intense… In such areas, rocks are often an important support for local diversity, providing habitats for a number of encrusting organisms. Thus, understanding the patterns of diversity of shallow rock encrusting fauna and factors controlling it are particularly important. The structure and diversity patterns of rock encrusting fauna were examined from four ecologically contrasting sites in the shallow sublittoral (6–20 m) of Admiralty Bay (King George Island). The results revealed a rich and abundant encrusting community with bryozoans and polychaetes outcompeting representatives of other fauna such as foraminifera and Porifera.”

Learn more about the Antarctic sublittoral here.

Diagram of sublittoral zonation of rock encrusting species (Source: Florida International University).


Flow and Stress in Ice Mélange, World’s Largest Granular Material

From PNAS: “Ice mélange, a granular collection of broken icebergs ranging from tens of meters to hundreds of meters in size, sits in front of many of the Earth’s most active tidewater glaciers. In addition to influencing heat and mass transport in the ocean, the jam-packed mélange provides a geophysical living laboratory to test principles developed for small-scale granular materials such as sand… We show that ice mélange is a quasi-2D, creeping granular fluid which constantly jams and unjams as it advances through the fjord. Most importantly, our results show how ice mélange can act as a “granular ice shelf” which buttresses even the largest icebergs that calve into the ocean.”

Read more about ice mélange here.

An image of an ice mélange captured in aerial view (Source: NASA Earth Observatory).


Accelerating Glacier Mass Loss on Franz Josef Land

From Remote Sensing of Environment: “The glaciers of the Franz Josef Land (FJL) archipelago in the Russian Arctic are subjected to rapidly-warming temperatures but are small contributors to sea level. We analyze ice surface elevation data derived from satellite stereo imagery (WorldView and SPOT), radar altimetry (CryoSat-2), and a digitized 1953 cartographic map to calculate elevation change rates dhdt. Mass loss from FJL doubled between 2011 and 2015 compared to 1953–2011/2015… Glacier retreat is widespread and has led to the creation of at least one new island. Historically, ice wastage from FJL is thought to have been relatively small, but accelerating ice loss may be the new normal for this archipelago in a warming Arctic.”

Find out more about the accelerating glacier mass loss of the Russian Arctic here.

An image of Franz Josef Land (Source: Expedition Cruise Specialists).


Photo Friday: Girls on Ice

“Girls on Ice” is part of Inspiring Girls Expeditions, wilderness science education programs for high school girls between the age of 15 and 17. Each summer, the program leads an expedition of eight to nine teenage girls and three instructors with expertise in glaciology, ecology, art, and more to glaciers around the world. The program first began in 1999 when instructors Michele Koppes and Erin Petit led five girls up the south fork of the Cascade River to reach the South Cascade Glacier. Since then, there have been multiple themed programs based on the locations of the expeditions. Girls on Ice, in particular, leads an expedition to the world’s glaciers, guiding the girls to explore the environment themselves. The program aims to foster critical thinking essential for scientific inquiry and encourage these young people to break the deeply rooted gender barriers in STEM.

Below are photos taken during Girls on Ice expeditions in Canada, Alaska and Switzerland.

For more information, visit

Photo taken during the Girls on Ice expedition in Switzerland (Source: Inspiring Girls).


Picture taken during Girls in Icy Fjords expedition in Sewad, Alaska (Source: Inspiring Girls).


Another picture taken during the Fjord expedition (Source: Inspiring Girls).


Picture taken during the GIrls on Ice expedition in Alaska (Source: Inspiring Girls).


Picture taken during the Girls on Ice expedition in the Cascades (Source: Inspiring Girls).



Was the Earth Frozen Solid?

The movie “The Day After Tomorrow” depicts a catastrophic climate shift to global cooling, which is referred to as the new ice age. In the movie, melting of polar ice caused by global warming disrupts the North Atlantic current, rapidly dropping the ocean temperature, ultimately leading to the freezing of the ocean on a global scale. Although this over-the-top effect portrayed by this fictional film contains little scientific truth, many scientists are coming up with hypotheses about a global ice age during the Cryogenian, a geologic period that lasted from 720 to 635 million years ago.

Nearly 15 years later, research on glacial refugia has been heating up the debate about this ice age: a contention over the extent to which the glaciation covered the Earth. Two main hypotheses are on the table: “Snowball Earth” theory, which argues that ice covered the entire Earth, and “Slushball Earth” hypothesis, where the band of the sea near the equator stayed open, allowing the hydrologic cycle— evaporation and precipitation of water— to persist.

Image of how “Snowball Earth” might have looked like. (Source: New Atlas).

The term Snowball Earth was first coined by Joe Kirschvink, a geobiologist at CalTech in the late 1980s. The theory was based on the early observation that glacial deposits from this time were widely distributed on nearly every continent, some geologic evidence even suggesting glaciation at tropical latitudes. The abrupt change in the climate is rooted in the positive feedback loop, commonly referred to as the albedo (“whiteness” in Latin) effect. Simply put, as Earth cools and ice forms from the pole down to lower latitudes, the albedo, or the whiteness of the Earth increases, reflecting more solar radiation—just like a black t-shirt under strong sunlight gets hotter as black absorbs more heat, while a white t-shirt reflects all wavelengths of light.

Shortly after the concept of plate tectonics was developed, scientists noticed that, along with the albedo effect, the long-term carbon cycle kicked into high gear, making a double positive feedback. As the ancient supercontinent, Rodinia, broke apart, the newly created coastline in the low latitude intensified the weathering, as there was a more active water cycle assisting the chemical weathering of the rock. Silicate rock, which is a type of rock constituting the majority of the Earth’s crust, goes through a chemical weathering reaction that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. As the atmospheric CO2 was reduced, Earth became colder, as CO2, along with greenhouse gases, worked as blocking shields against the re-emitted heat from escaping the Earth. Moreover, because these broken up continents were in the low latitudes, they could not have prevented the advance of ice that formed in the poles, the coldest region on Earth, which would have created a completely frozen planet.

Simplified five stages of the “Snowball Earth” (Source: Sustainability Corps).

The critics of the Snowball Earth theory— professor Richard Peltier and his fellow colleagues at the University of Toronto and Texas A&M—published a paper refuting the hypothesis, in which they run a series of simulations that resulted in an equatorial belt of open water that may explain the survival of the organisms during the ice age, as well as the subsequent revival of numerous species.

The argument stems from the fact that the process of glaciation not only entailed positive feedback, but also one important negative feedback. As the climate got colder, the atmospheric oxygen would have sunk deeper into the ocean. As atmospheric oxygen spread deep into the sea, it bonded with the layer of old organic matter. This organic matter formed in shallow oceans and later drifted down to deeper waters, where it combined with oxygen, forming CO2. Carbon dioxide, released back into the atmosphere, would have warmed the Earth by the greenhouse effect, which would have defrosted Earth, stopping the ice sheets and glaciers from further advancing. Therefore, such negative feedback would have prevented ice from completely covering the Earth surface.

Model for “Slushball Earth” theory. The color gradient indicates the percentage of the ice coverage. It shows a band of the opened sea along the equator (Source: NASA-GISS/Columbia-CCSR).

Peltier provides another key evidence against Snowball Earth theory, the geographic region that allowed the survival of multicellular fauna and flora referred to as the “glacial refugia.” Had the Earth completely frosted itself, its harsh climate would have killed off many organisms. Moreover, complete reflection of solar radiation would have decimated photosynthetic organisms. Yet, there is no such geological indication that a mass extinction event occurred.

Image of different species that flourished during the Cambrian Explosion (Source: Discover Creation).

The debate of hard versus slushy Snowball Earth becomes more enigmatic at the end of the Cryogenic period and start of Cambrian, when the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of animal life occurs. The Cambrian explosion refers to a short interval during which many multicellular animals in diverse forms appeared on the surface of the Earth. Critics of Snowball Earth argue that such a dramatic increase in biodiversity within a short period of time would not have been able to happen in a hard Snowball Earth scenario, as many organisms prior to the explosion would have gone extinct. The supporters of Snowball Earth, on the other hand, argue that the biodiversity is simply the result of the robust micro-organisms that survived the Snowball Earth, evolving in size as well as anatomical complexity through time.

Neither of these hypotheses is set in stone, but rather are part of an ongoing debate that requires much clarification. To better understand what happened during the Cryogenian period, developing different climate models with many parameters is necessary, giving flexibility to the ever-unknown complexity of past climate conditions. Moreover, careful study of the organisms that survived Snowball Earth could further assist our understanding of this enigmatic period.

A Woman’s Place Is at the Top: Interview with Hannah Kimberley

Annie Smith Peck, born in 1850, was a mountaineer, an educator and a suffragist who broke many glass ceilings during her lifetime. She was a pioneering figure who paved the way for women in fields exclusively dominated by men and supported equal rights for women in education. Her vocal effort for women’s empowerment and equality was accompanied by many mountaineering expeditions. In 1908, she became the first woman to conquer Mt. Huascarán, the highest peak in Peru. In honor of her achievement, the northern peak of the mountain is today named “Cumbre Aña Peck.”

An image of Annie Smith Peck (Source: Adventure Journal).

In her latest biography, “A Woman’s Place Is at the Top,” author Hannah Kimberley explores the life of Annie Smith Peck. Kimberley’s portrayal of Peck’s life shows that her expeditions were not mere adventures or explorations, but rather a series of determined efforts to overcome the barriers of gender inequality. In this interview with GlacierHub, Kimberley shares her writing process, as well as the research she did for the book.

GlacierHub: How did you come across Annie Smith Peck, and what about her fascinated you to write a biography?

Hannah Kimberley: I first saw Annie Peck on a poster from an antique shop. It showed Annie in her signature climbing costume and read, “A Woman’s Place Is at the Top: Annie Smith Peck, Mountain Climber, Scholar, Suffragist, Authority on North-South American Relations.” And I thought, who was this woman, and why have I never heard of her before? I started digging and ended up on a long and exciting journey to find out more.

GH: What did it mean at the time for Annie to become the first women to conquer Mount Huascarán in Peru?

HK: At the turn of the century, many climbers were still searching for “virgin peaks,” or unclimbed mountains. At the same time, they sought to break records in altitude. The fact that Annie reached the top of Huascarán, which was 1,500 feet higher than Mount Denali, and she was a woman, was viewed as a remarkable feat at the time. She also happened to be 58 years old when she reached the summit. Even today, we have odd thoughts about what’s appropriate for what women (much less 58-year-old women) can and should do. The answer, as we know, is that they can do anything.

An image of Huascaran Mountain, photographed by Granger (Source: Fine Art America).

GH: How did you find all the original letters written by and to Annie? Which one were you particularly fascinated by?

An image of Annie Smith Peck with her expedition crew (Source: Pinterest).

HK: Most of Annie’s letters, diaries, ephemera, etc. are housed at Brooklyn College Library’s Archives and Special Collections. There was also a second archive, The Valentino Collection, that I used for the book. This second archive is now also housed at Brooklyn College, as the Valentino family has since donated their materials to the college. It’s too long of a story to tell here about how I found all the materials; it’s like a Nancy Drew story, in fact.

The letters that fascinated me the most were ones in which ordinary folks were writing about seemingly ordinary events like the Mexican Revolution or Hitler’s rise in Germany as the events were happening in real time. It gave me so much more perspective than what I had read about in books. Many of the letters made history come alive for me, and that was really special.

GH: It was really interesting to see how you incorporated all the original writings (e.g. letters) and interviews to your own writing, as well as some interviews. Was this process difficult? Why did you think it was necessary to add some of them?

Illustration of Annie Smith Peck from a Hassan cigarette card in the collection of Russell A. Potter (Source: Rhode Island College).

HK: Annie really wanted her story to be told. She hired an author in 1934 to write her biography; however, he never could garner any interest in the project. Unfortunately, he died without writing it. Once it was my turn to try to get her story out into the world, I knew that I wanted to incorporate Annie’s voice as much as possible. At the same time, I don’t think there’s any escaping looking at history through a contemporary lens, and so I tried to celebrate Annie’s achievements while pointing out that she was a product of her era and a flawed, complicated human being, as are we all.

GH: Once you were done with your research on Annie, did the writing come naturally or was it harder than expected? What about the writing process made it difficult?

HK: I did a lot of upfront research on Annie, so once I started writing, things just flowed. Her archive is huge. After reading 240 linear feet of diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, articles, and manuscripts that Annie generated over a lifetime, I got to know her pretty well— maybe more than some people in my own life.

An image of Annie Smith Peck with her mountaineering gears and outfit (Source: Rhode Island College).

GH: What was the biggest surprise while doing your research on Annie Smith Peck?

HK: There were lots of surprises along the way, but I really enjoyed how she connected to people in history with whom I was already familiar. For instance, she once rocked up to the White House and remarked to the attendant that she thought President Roosevelt would like to see her. The attendant said he had no doubt that the president would like to see Annie, and she visited with Roosevelt the following weekend. There is also correspondence in the archive between Annie and all sorts of statesmen including the consuls general of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay, and the president of Peru.

GH: What was the most satisfying to you about this project, including your research on Annie, as well as the writing process itself?

Annie Smith Peck in her late years (Source: Pinterest).

HK: The most satisfying part was getting the book out into the world. Annie always wanted it, and I got to deliver her wish. There is a great rejection letter to Annie’s first biographer from Russell Doubleday, who said that he was not interested in publishing a biography on Annie. The letter was dated August 1, 1935, and my book came out on the exact same date— 82 years later. You can call it coincidence, but I believe it was meant to be.

GH: How have people been responding to your book?

HK: The book has gotten some nice press and good reviews. My most popular interview so far has been with Meghna Chakrabarti on NPR’s Here and Now. I especially like it when I get to give talks about Annie and sign books for people. I have signed a lot of books for climbers, teachers, teenagers, grandparents— all who have gotten the same message from it, which is to never let gender, age (or anything else for that matter) get in the way of what you want to accomplish. The saleswoman at my local bookstore said that a father and daughter were in her shop, and he pointed to my book, read the words, “A Woman’s Place Is at the Top,” and said to his child, “Remember this title, always.” Those are the moments that inspire me.

GH: If there is one thing, among many others, you want the readers to think about while reading the book, what would it be?

HK: Annie was constantly told no. She was told she could not remain single. She was told she could not go to college. She was told she could not participate in politics. She was told she could not break records. And she was told that she most certainly could not climb mountains. For each no, she said, “Yes I can,” and then she did it.

There will always be rejections. Don’t let them stop you; find a way to do what you want in spite of them. It will make you happier, I promise.

An image of the author, Hannah Kimberley (Source: Barb Magazine).


Roundup: Tardigrade, Glacier Modeling, and Eyjafjallajökull Eruption

Discovery of a New Water Bear Species

From BioOne: “Glaciers and ice sheets are considered a biome with unique organism assemblages. Tardigrada (water bears) are micrometazoans that play the function of apex consumers on glaciers. Cryoconite samples with the dark-pigmented tardigrade Cryoconicus gen. nov. kaczmareki sp. nov. were collected from four locations on glaciers in China and Kyrgyzstan… A recovery of numerous live individuals from a sample that was frozen for 11 years suggests high survival rates in the natural environment. The ability to withstand low temperatures, combined with dark pigmentation that is hypothesized to protect from intense UV radiation, could explain how the new taxon is able to dwell in an extreme glacial habitat.”

Learn more about the tardigrade population in glaciers here.

An image of a tardigrade (Source: Live Science).


Glacier Mass Change and Modeling

From Nature: “Glacier mass loss is a key contributor to sea-level change, slope instability in high-mountain regions, and the changing seasonality and volume of river flow. Understanding the causes, mechanisms and time scales of glacier change is therefore paramount to identifying successful strategies for mitigation and adaptation. Here, we use temperature and precipitation fields from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 output to force a glacier evolution model, quantifying mass responses to future climatic change. We find that contemporary glacier mass is in disequilibrium with the current climate, and 36 ± 8% mass loss is already committed in response to past greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, mitigating future emissions will have only very limited influence on glacier mass change in the twenty-first century.”

Read more about the glacier modeling here.

Image of mountain glacier model (Source: Antarctic Glaciers).


Glacierized Volcanoes and the Effect of Eruptions on Health

From NCBI: “More than 500 million people worldwide live within exposure range of an active volcano and children are a vulnerable subgroup of such exposed populations. However, studies on the effects of volcanic eruptions on children’s health beyond the first year are sparse. In 2010, exposed children were more likely than non-exposed children to experience respiratory symptoms… Both genders had an increased risk of symptoms of anxiety/worries but only exposed boys were at increased risk of experiencing headaches and sleep disturbances compared to non-exposed boys. Adverse physical and mental health problems experienced by the children exposed to the eruption seem to persist for up to a three-year period post-disaster. These results underline the importance of appropriate follow-up for children after a natural disaster.”

Find out more about the effects of the eruption in Iceland here.

Image of Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption (Source: Time Magazine).

Testing Glacier Influence on the Whitebark Pine Blister Infection

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called for the protection of whitebark pine trees as endangered species due to an alarming rate of decrease in their population. Pinus albicaulis, the species name for whitebark pine, are conifers native to the mountains of the western U.S., particularly the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. Fear of the complete disappearance of the whitebark pines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has motivated a group of scientists including Lynn Resler, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, to conduct field research to determine the environmental variables influencing the blister infection, one of the causes of pines’ disappearance. Resler’s latest study in Grand Teton National Park indicates that the pines’ proximity to a glacier has likely not contributed to the blister infection rate among the whitebark pines, contrary to the findings from an earlier modeling study conducted in 2011 with data from Glacier National Park.

A grove of whitebark pines in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (Source: US Department of Agriculture).

Unlike many other plant species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, whitebark pines can survive in harsh environments and are capable of growing at the highest treeline elevation within the mountain range. Today, in the western United States, whitebark pines are facing extinction but have still not been listed as the endangered species by the Environment Protection Agency. The decline of whitebark pines is attributed to a number of different factors, but the introduction of blister rust infection, a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Cronartium ribicola, has been thought to be one of the major causes. Native to Asia, blister rust was introduced to North America in the 20th century and rapidly spread across the western United States.

Canker created by the blister rust infection on the whitebark pine (Source: Global Trees Campaign).

In order to understand why glaciers could potentially affect the rate of blister rust, Resler notes that it is essential to understand the lifecycle of the rust. White pine blister rust has two hosts: white pines, the primary host, and gooseberries or currants, the alternative host. Its life cycle starts in the fall, when the spores (basidiospores), reproductive cells of fungus from the infected alternative hosts, germinate to white pines.

As germination takes place on the surface of the pine, the fungus enters through the stomata (micro-scale pores) of the leaf needles or any opening on the pines from wounds. The fungus then grows on the twigs of a branch, often causing swelling on the infected branch and creating cankers. It takes a few years for the fungus to kill the branch, turning it into an orange/red color. When the blisters finally rupture, they infect the alternative hosts, causing the cycle to repeat itself.

The lifecycle of the blister rust infection from the primary host to the alternative host (Source: The American Phytopathological Society).

“What is important for germination of a particular spore type in the blister rust lifecycle—based on the literature—is cool temperatures and high humidity for a certain sustained period of time,” Resler told GlacierHub.

Blister rust favors areas with cool and moist air near the sources of moisture, such as streams. However, the treelines the pines inhabit are usually very dry.

“Because many treelines of the Rocky Mountains are quite dry, it would seem that at treelines where glaciers are present, glaciers, depending on local winds, could provide the necessary moisture conditions for spore development,” she added.

Her study in 2011 (conducted in collaboration with her former student, Dr. Smith-McKenna), supported that hypothesis; Resler and a group of scientists examined the whitebark pines at six alpine treelines in Glacier National Park, Montana, divided into 30 different sampling quadrats for the purpose of the study.

They measured the number of cankers on each Whitebark pine to assess the severity of the blister rust in different quadrats. They then created a high-resolution DEM (digital elevation model) to develop topographic variables and derived different environmental variables in the sample locations based on GIS (Geographic Information System) and field examination.

By doing so, the team attempted to identify variables that affect the blister infection rate, based on the density of cankers in each quadrat and its proximity to individual variables. Her model indicated that proximity to glaciers was an important correlate of infection rate at her selected sites, with a higher density of cankers compared to sampling areas farther away from the glacier.

An image of Schoolroom Glacier (Source: Glaciers of the American West).

However, Resler indicated that her study in 2015, as well as a few of her subsequent studies, did not agree with this finding from her 2011 paper.

In 2015, Resler published an annual report based on her preliminary findings at alpine treelines of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The results of her study showed that the proximity to the Schoolroom Glacier, a small glacier in Grand Teton National Park, did not affect the infection intensity.

“The presence of the Schoolroom Glacier didn’t really seem to contribute to higher infection rates, as compared to our other study areas,” she said. She also sampled blister rust extensively at Parker Ridge near the Columbia Icefields in Alberta, Canada and compared it to the rust in dryer locations on the Rocky Mountain Front, only to find that the areas near the Icefields show lower infection rate.


An image of whitebark pine skeletons (Source: Oregon Hikers).

“We do not have enough information to conclude that glaciers, specifically, contribute to blister rust infection rates at this time. More focused studies (on the glacier’s influence on the blister rust) would be necessary,” Resler said.

The reduction of the pines threatens wildlife that is largely dependent on the pines as their source of food. As Resler indicates, whitebark pine is a keystone species whose seeds are a major food source for different species of wildlife including grizzly bears and Clark’s nutcracker.

Whitebark pine is also a foundation species, with a role in stabilizing the ecosystem and structuring the basis of the community for many other organisms: its canopies shade the snowpack, thereby prolonging snowmelt and consequently regulating downstream flows, contributing to the protection of the watersheds.

Determining the degree of influence that different environmental variables have on the rate of blister rust infection is crucial for the fate of different species that are dependent on the pines. Without an effort to deter the spreading blister rust, we may no longer be able to see diverse bird species visiting the partly-opened cones of the pines, left with the gray skeletons of whitebarks.

Photo Friday: Glacier Drone Photography

The opening ceremony at 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic featured the use of a record-breaking 1,218 drones. In the last few years alone, drone technology has greatly improved, becoming smaller, faster and more precise. Particularly for the science community, these portable unmanned aerial vehicles have made it possible to obtain information from remote and inaccessible areas of interest. For example, glaciologists and others have been using drones for aerial photography of otherwise dangerous glaciers.

Andrew Studer, a professional outdoor photographer based in Portland, Oregon, is one individual using drones to capture aerial images of glaciers from Iceland to the Italian Alps. The condition and extent of the images show that drones are capable of capturing a unique, aerial viewpoint without the risk of danger, death, or the added expense of manned vehicles (for example, helicopters). In this Photo Friday, take a look at aerial images of Icelandic Glaciers and the Italian Alps, photographed with drones.

For more information, visit

Iceland Glacier Aerial
Crevasses on the Icelandic Glacier (Source: Studer).


Sunset Over a Glacier in Iceland Aerial
Aerial image of a sunset over Icelandic Glacier (Source: Studer).


Drone image of the Italian Alps (Source: Studer).


Italian Alps Drone Image
Drone image of the Italian Alps (Source: Studer).

Geochemical Evolution of Meltwater from Glacier Snow to Proglacial Lake

Glaciers around the world are making headlines for their rapid retreat due to warming. Unlike some of these glaciers, however, dry valley glaciers, while accumulating only about 10 cm of snow annually, are neither retreating nor warming. Sarah Fortner, a geochemistry professor at Wittenberg University in Ohio, examined the meltwater of Canada Glacier, a dry valley glacier located in the Taylor Valley of Antarctica, and published a paper focused on two of its proglacial streams, Anderson Creek and Canada Stream.

Canada Glacier flowing into the Taylor Valley, Antarctica (Source: Anthony Powell).

Melting of glaciers develops an important part of a glacier’s anatomy known as “supraglacial streams,” which are conduits of water on top of glaciers. These supraglacial streams often become a source of water for “proglacial streams,” like the Anderson Creek and Canada Stream, narrow channels of rivers that issue from glaciers supply water to lakes located below the glaciers.

Fortner studied the meltwater of Canada Glacier during the 2001 to 2002 austral summer in the southern hemisphere (from November to March) and the contribution of the proglacial stream and glacial surface to water in Lake Hoare, which is located in front of Canada Glacier.

In her study, Fortner determines the crucial role of the wind in redistributing the geochemistry of the glacial surface as well as the two proglacial streams. By looking at the geochemistry of the two proglacial streams and the role of the wind in bringing valley sediments to the supraglacial and ultimately proglacial streams, Fortner found that the glaciers that contributed to the proglacial lakes are not dilute like glacier snow.

Large pond formed from supraglacial melt on the surface of Canada Glacier. (Source: Fortner)

Contrary to expectations, the chemistry between the two streams was quite different. “While they are roughly five miles apart, they were very different,” she told GlacierHub. “Located on the east side of the glacier, Canada Stream was teaming with life, with multiple mosses, lichen, algae, and invertebrates. If you were to press your hand into these, it would feel like a sponge. On the west side of the glacier, Anderson Creek looks barren in comparison. There is life in the stream, but not as abundant or diverse as the Canada Stream.”

In an attempt to find the source of the difference, Fortner and a team of scientists sampled water from supraglacial channels with high discharge for chemical analysis. Through this analysis, Fortner aimed to map the evolution of the chemicals in the meltwater at Canada Glacier from unmelted glacier snow to supraglacial streams to proglacial streams and finally to Lake Hoare located in front of the glacier.

Taylor Valley and Lake Hoare (Source: 77DegreesSouth).

With the chemical mass balance analysis of the samples from the glacier, Fortner first wanted to see whether the chemical composition of the supraglacial stream would be diluted like the unmelted glacier snow, their primary precipitation. According to Fortner, unmelted glacier snow would naturally be very dilute, with a low concentration of any chemical solute, and we would expect the same level of chemical concentration from the supraglacial streams, located on top of the glacier body itself and created as a result of glacier snow melting. However, she found that supraglacial streams were rich in major ions like calcium, sodium, and sulfate. 

“This begins to highlight the importance of wind-blown sediment as control of water chemistry in these Antarctic ecosystems,” Fortner said.

In her paper, she explains that the strong west to east Föhn wind (Foehn wind), a parcel of dry and warm air moving down the lee (downwind side) of the mountain, brought sediments from the floor of Taylor Valley, abundant with carbonate ( CO3(2-)) and gypsum (CaH4O6S) minerals, which are the sources of the high calcium (Ca2+) and sulfate ion (SO2-4) found in the supraglacial streams. In short, the wind delivered sediment that influenced the chemistry of the streams on the surface of the glacier.

Diagram of Föhn wind (Source: ipfs).

“Both sides of the valley floor contributed to the sediment received on the glacier surface which explained major chemical differences found in supraglacial and proglacial streams versus the original unmelted snow. It is also clear that the Föhn wind coming off of the ice sheet had the greatest influence on depositing chemistry,” Fortner explained.

Furthermore, the west to the east direction of the wind causes a difference in chemical composition between the proglacial streams in the western and eastern sides of Canada Glacier, preferentially depositing more sulfate in the western proglacial streams (Anderson Creek) than in the eastern proglacial streams (Canada Stream).

“As a result of the west to east wind, supraglacial streams flowing into Anderson Creek have much higher concentrations of both calcium and sulfate than supraglacial streams flowing into Canada Stream,” Fortner explained.

Map of the Ross Sea. Lake Hoare is located within the Taylor Valley, showing its proximity to Ross Sea. (Sources:

The chemical deliveries from the stream channel to the proglacial lake is crucial to examine, as Anderson Creek contributes over 40 percent of the water to Lake Hoare, the final recipient of the meltwater from Canada Glacier, during the low-melt season. However, Fortner said it is just as important to examine the chemical deliveries from the glacial surface (direct runoff).

“While one would think streams would deliver far more chemistry, as glaciers and their direct runoff are typically dilute, glacier surface can be just as important source of chemistry because of the low accumulation and wind delivered sediment,” she added.

Dry valley glaciers are unique in that the glacier surface is an important contributor of chemistry to downstream ecosystems. Unlike many other glaciers, it isn’t just about chemistry from stream channels, but also about glacier surfaces. If more melt continues in response to the wind, this could result in potential changes in the chemical delivery into Lake Hoare. Furthermore, such changes can extend to the continental outline of Antarctica into Ross Sea, the southern extension of the Pacific Ocean.


Roundup: Microbial Mats, Hidden Heat, and Tree Infection

Benthic Microbial Mats in Meltwater from Collins Glacier

From Polar Biology: “Most of Fildes Peninsula is ice-free during summer thereby allowing for formation of networks of creeks with meltwater from Collins Glacier and snowmelt. A variety of benthic microbial mats develop within these creeks. The composition of these microbial communities has not been studied in detail. In this report, clone libraries of bacterial and cyanobacterial 16S rRNA genes were used to describe the microbial community structure of four mats near a shoreline of Drake Passage. Samples were collected from four microbial mats, two at an early developmental stage (December) and two collected latter in late summer (April). Sequence analysis showed that filamentous Cyanobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria, and Betaproteobacteria were the most abundant ribotypes.”

Learn more about the microbial mats here.

Microbial mat on a sandy depositional surface (Source: GSA).


Geothermal Heat Flux Hidden Beneath Greenland Ice Sheet

From Nature: “The Greenland ice sheet (GIS) is losing mass at an increasing rate due to surface melt and flow acceleration in outlet glaciers… Recently it was suggested that there may be a hidden heat source beneath GIS caused by a higher than expected geothermal heat flux (GHF) from the Earth’s interior. Here we present the first direct measurements of GHF from beneath a deep fjord basin in Northeast Greenland. Temperature and salinity time series (2005–2015) in the deep stagnant basin water are used to quantify a GHF of 93 ± 21 mW m−2 which confirm previous indirect estimated values below GIS. A compilation of heat flux recordings from Greenland show the existence of geothermal heat sources beneath GIS and could explain high glacial ice speed areas such as the Northeast Greenland ice stream.”

Learn more about the hidden heat flux here.

Aerial Image of Greenland Ice Sheet (Source: NOAA).


Blister Infection on the Whitebark Pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

From University of Wyoming National Park Service Research Center: “Whitebark pine is a keystone and foundation tree species in high elevation ecosystems of the Rocky Mountains. At alpine treelines along the eastern Rocky Mountain Front and in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, whitebark pine often initiates tree islands through facilitation, thereby shaping vegetation pattern. This role will likely diminish if whitebark pine succumbs to white pine blister rust infection, climate change stress, and mountain pine beetle infestations. Here, we established baseline measurements of whitebark pine’s importance and blister infection rates at two alpine treelines in Grand Teton National Park.”

Read more about the blister infection on Whitebark pine here.

Whitebark pine on the Continental Divide of the the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (Source: Taisie Design).

Iceland’s Vanishing Beauty: An Interview with Michael Kienitz

Vanishing glaciers have been a topic of discussion for quite some time. One effective way of communicating this serious issue is through photographs, which may better represent the implications behind scientific figures and graphs.

One of Kienitz’s photographs from his book titled “Small Arms: Children of Conflicts” (Source: Michael Kienitz).

Michael Kienitz, a photojournalist based in Wisconsin, is sharing his experience with vanishing glaciers in an exhibition coming September 13th to the Chazen Art Museum at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This exhibition, entitled “Iceland’s Vanishing Beauty,” is a culmination of Kienitz’s five-year work collecting images from southeast Iceland and captures some of the ice caves and glacial formations in the region’s glacial tongues.

Svinafellsjokul glacial tongue, southeast. Image taken with a drone (Source: Michael Kienitz).

Kienitz started his formal training in photography in college at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has been a photographer ever since, for over 40 years. As a college student, he witnessed firsthand how the local media failed to portray the full picture of the Vietnam peace protests on campus. This motivated him to start documenting the scene with his own camera. Thus began a professional career as a war photographer. His award-winning photography has been featured in various publications including Life, Time, and Newsweek.

While Kienitz’s works have been recognized for their various themes, he says his life-long pursuit focuses on one specific topic: Icelandic glaciers, the subject of the exhibition. The glaciers of Iceland cover approximately 11 percent of the country’s landscape, with a total area of 100,000 km2. These are temperate and low-altitude glaciers, meaning they retreat dramatically with temperature increase, unlike high altitude polar glaciers. In 2014, for example, Okjökull, a glacier in Borgarfjörður, Iceland, lost too much of its mass to be considered a glacier, no longer capable of moving under its own weight.

After spending time in southeast Iceland, Kienitz witnessed the retreat of Icelandic glaciers. In the following interview, he explains the process of documenting the photos and videos for his upcoming exhibition.

Seals relaxing near open water at Jokulsarlon, Iceland. Image captured with a drone. (Source: Michael Kienitz)
GlacierHub: Is it difficult to photograph in settings like Iceland?

Michael Kienitz: Having endured winters in Wisconsin, I was able to adapt quite easily to the moderate winters in the southeast Coast of Iceland.  I did most of my work then because the ice is the most blue at that time of year, and there are fewer tourists. I’ve been fortunate enough the last two years to have been able to stay in a house along the the sea just 15 minutes from Jokulsarlon, which is owned by the Iceland Writers Union. While doing my work, I’ve also produced videos and photography for local guides and a local museum. I’ve also been fortunate to have met and climbed the glaciers with some of Iceland’s best guides who have shown me places only few people have ever been to. I was a war photographer for ten years, so I’m quite used to difficult environments.

GH: What are the opportunities and challenges of using drones to photograph glaciers? 

MK: I was one of the first photographers to fly drones in Iceland for photography and video. When I started going there five years ago, almost no one had ever seen a drone, much less flown one. Drones are perfect tools to immerse the viewer into the Icelandic landscape from unique perspectives. They also allow us to take photographs and videos of landscapes that are dangerous to be documenting on site. In the beginning I had to carry around fairly large drones, but the technology has improved immensely, and I can now easily carry my camera gear as well as a drone and several batteries.

Ice cave visitor examining a moulon at Vatnajokull National Park southeast Iceland (Souce: Michael Kienitz).

For my upcoming exhibition at the Chazen Art Museum, I will be using drone footage to show wide dramatic shots of the terrain, so that the viewer can more easily understand the context of the ice caves and glacial tongues which will also appear in my still images.

Drones are now much more highly regulated in Iceland, and to fly in the national parks you must have a permit. I was fortunate to have been given a two month permit this year to fly drones in the national parks. I plan on giving some of my works to the national park of Iceland for their courtesy.

Ice cave climber near Falljokull Glacial tongue (Source: Michael Kienitz).

GH: What do you like best about Iceland, and what surprised you most?

MK: Iceland, particularly where I went to take pictures of the glaciers, is pristine, but also visually dynamic, as it continually changes. A lot of the glaciers that I take photographs of can dramatically change in weeks and sometimes vanish completely in months. One of the most surprising things I’ve experienced is the incredible changes due to the rising sea-level and increasing temperatures in southeast Iceland, particularly in the Jokulsarlon area of Vatnajokull National Park.

GH: What is your next idea for photography?

MK: My work in Iceland may be a lifelong pursuit. Some models indicate that Iceland will no longer have glaciers in 2080. I’m documenting the astounding beauty of them and their anatomy like ice caves while they still exist, and printing them on archival aluminum, so that future generations can see for themselves the majesty of glaciers and the timeline of its continual changes and disappearance. For example, an extremely deep ice cave, which went from a beautiful ice arch to nothing but stones and gravels over a period of 18 months.



Photo Friday: Juneau Icefield Expedition

Hands-on experience visiting glaciers is crucial for students pursuing a career in glaciology. The Juneau Icefield Research Program is one of the longest-running glacier research programs with a 70-year history of bringing young people to the glaciers of Alaska and British Columbia. In 1948, Maynard Miller, one of the climbers on America’s first Mt. Everest expedition in 1963, led a group of explorers on a first expedition to Juneau Icefield, which includes some 50 outlet glaciers. Ever since, the program has been leading young students from high school to the graduate level to Juneau Icefield, offering opportunities to conduct field research with faculty and explore various glacial landforms and features.

Students begin their traverse from Juneau, Alaska, making their way up the Coast Mountains of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. During their expedition, students interact with the other members of the research group and faculty advisers to collect field data and analyze the data in camp sites, where various tools are provided to assist the analysis. They finish their expedition in the small town of Atlin, Canada, where they give presentations about their group research conducted on the icefield. 

Below are some pictures taken by students, staff, and faculty during their time on the Juneau Icefield.

For more information on the Juneau Icefield Research Program, visit

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Northern Lights appeared above the grand junction of Gilkey and Vaughan-Lewis Glaciers (Source: Deirdre Collins).


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Gilkey Trench overlooked from on a nunatak located in the junction of Gilkey and Vaughan-Lewis Glaciers, both tributary glaciers of Juneau Icefield (Source: Deirdre Collins).


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A student from 2016 Juneau Icefield Research Program exploring a crevasse (Source: Lucas Foglia, Deirdre Collins).


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Arête overlooking the Gilkey Glacier (Source: Deirdre Collins).


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Sunset seen from Camp 17, located on a nunatak in Gilkey Glacier (Source: Deirdre Collins).