Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.
Bolivia’s Cholita Climbers
From REUTERS, the wider image:
“two years ago, Lydia Huayllas and 10 other Aymara indigenous women, ages 42 to 50, who also worked as porters and cooks for mountaineers, put on crampons – spikes fixed to a boot for climbing – under their wide traditional skirts and started to do their own climbing.
These women have now scaled five peaks – Acotango, Parinacota, Pomarapi and Huayna Potosi as well as Illimani, the highest of all – in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real range. All are higher than 19,500 feet (6,000 meters) above sea level.”
Villages Must Recalibrate Time to Survive in the Pamir Mountains
From EOS Earth and Space Science News:
“Scientists plan projects this year to help a rugged, troubled region of central Asia retune traditional timekeeping methods based on environmental cues in the face of climate change.
The calendar has stopped working for the people of the Pamir—the stunning, stark mountain range straddling the modern-day borders of Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
A shifting climate is disrupting not only their subsistence farming and herding but also their unique way of tracking time. Whereas the Gregorian calendar marks a year by 365 days spread across 12 months, Pamiri calendars are driven by observed cues in the environment spread across a calendar of the human body.”
Knowledge Sharing for Disaster Risk Reduction: Insights from a Glacier Lake Workshop in the Ladakh Region, Indian Himalayas
“Small glacier lakes are distributed in the Ladakh Range in northwestern India. This area has experienced several glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) since the 1970s, damaging settlements along streams. To reduce GLOF risk through a knowledge-based approach focused on nonstructural measures, we held a workshop in May 2012 for residents of Domkhar Village in the northwestern part of the Ladakh Range. More than 100 villagers participated in the workshop, which conveyed useful disaster information to participants while enabling the researchers to understand local knowledge and beliefs about floods. ”
The artist Katie Craney has been fascinated with the role of plankton in our everyday lives. People in southeast Alaska, where she lives, and people around the world rely on it for oxygen, for marine food supply, and for livelihoods. In her home region in Alaska, she learned of the close connections that link plankton with ice melt, glacier runoff, and salmon; all that define life in Southeast Alaska. She recently wrote The Air We Breathe for Artists and Climate Change.
Her art is a response to the imminent transformation and vulnerability of the north. Within any given fragment of land or water there are ethereal processes at work that support the northern world she calls home. Human-caused climate change is rapidly altering the structure of these northern ecological communities to which people have adapted and on which they rely for survival.
The images below all show new work that she created for a recent solo show, Melt: A Commentary on Alaska’s Warming Winters at Skipping Stone Studio in Haines, Alaska. These are small, intimate pieces, just a few inches across, inviting close inspection. They draw on a variety of everyday materials: paper, gauze, wax and aluminum leaf, attached to metal or wood.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) held a conference, “Climate and Environmental Change Impacts in Indus Basin Waters,”in Kathmandu in February. At this conference, scientists shared the common idea that a lack of data on the Himalayas is impeding their knowledge of the region and how climate change might affect it— and how that, in turn, could affect the region’s many millions of people.
Over 80 people attended the conference, which was also supported by the World Bank, and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). It was focused on improving understanding of research on climate change’s effects in the Indus basin. The importance of this basin was underscored by Dr Eklabya Sharma, Director, Programme Operations at ICIMOD, who told the conference, “The Indus River supports a population of about 215 million inhabitants of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan whose livelihoods are directly or indirectly dependent on it.” He indicated that cooperation among these nation was a necessary step for the development of research to understand climate change impacts in this basin.
The conference’s opening speech was delivered by Hafeez-ur-Rehman, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, a large autonomous region in northern Pakistan . “The seasonal shift in snowfall to late spring and the subsequent heat waves lasting two to three days have caused rapid melting of snow — preventing glacier formation — flash floods, early avalanches, and loss of life and property,” Rehman said, according to a statement. James Clarke, the director of Communications and Marketing of IWMI, followed with a speech to welcome journalists from all four Indus basin countries, signaling the importance of the media and of outreach to civil society.
According to Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist from the University of Zurich, over 80 percent of glaciers in the Himalayas haven’t been researched. “The bulk of the glaciers in Himalayas are yet to be studied in detail,” Bolch said, according to a report on SciDev.net. There are still many problems with scientific assessments and appropriate policy action because of significant uncertainties on Himalayan glacier changes. Scientific studies and data are currently inadequate for analysis of the status and trends of glaciers in the Himalayas. This in turn impedes the development of future predictions about the region, and obstructs effective action to adapt to anticipated changes there.
The conference took some concrete steps to address this need for regional coordination of research. It suggested the importance of strengthening the Upper Indus Basin Network, a group which promotes coordination among organizations in the region and the involvement of policy holders and other stakeholders in defining research programs. This Upper Indus Basin Network includes ICIMOD as well as other organizations, including Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), the branch of the World Wildlife Fund in Gilgit Baltistan, and FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, which is part of the Aga Khan Development Network. These organizations have already collaborated on other issues, including water resources and biodiversity protection. They have issued policy briefs which discuss concrete forms of management and governance for more effective water use under conditions of climate change.
The conference lent provided strong support to this network at a critical moment, when collaboration is an urgent need. As Shakil Romshoo, of Kashmir University, told SciDev.Net, a lack of data and modeling impede studying glaciers and climate change. “Such constraints do not allow us to make scientific estimates as to how the future climate change will affect the water resources of Indus basin,” he said. The conference may well help the different parties in the region work together to overcome these constraints.
Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.
New Zealand Glaciers Banned Hiking
“New Zealand is renowned for its wondrous scenery, and among the country’s top tourist attractions are two glaciers that are both stunning and unusual because they snake down from the mountains to a temperate rain forest, making them easy for people to walk up to and view.
The hot weather has even created a new type of tourist attraction over the other side of the mountains. Purdie said the glaciers there are also rapidly retreating, resulting in tourists taking boat rides on the lakes to see some of the massive icebergs that have begun to shear away.”
Microalgal Community Structures in Cryoconite Holes upon High-Arctic Glaciers of Svalbard
“Glaciers are known to harbor surprisingly complex ecosystems. On their surface, distinct cylindrical holes filled with meltwater and sediments are considered hot spots for microbial life. The present paper addresses possible biological interactions within the community of prokaryotic cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae (microalgae) and relations to their potential grazers, such as tardigrades and rotifers, additional to their environmental controls. Svalbard glaciers with substantial allochthonous input of material from local sources reveal high microalgal densities.
Selective wind transport of Oscillatoriales via soil and dust particles is proposed to explain their dominance in cryoconites further away from the glacier margins. We propose that, for the studied glaciers, nutrient levels related to recycling of limiting nutrients are the main factor driving variation in the community structure of microalgae and grazers.”
Read more about microalgal community structures here.
Pollen Limitation in Nival Plants of European Central Alps
From American Journal of Botany:
” A plant is considered to be pollen-limited when—due to an insufficient supply with pollen of adequate quality—the seed output remains below the potential value. Pollen limitation is thought to be a general phenomenon under the harsh climatic conditions at high latitudes and elevations.
Our study in the alpine–nival ecotone revealed that insect activity is not a limiting factor for pollination success in the studied plant species, which can be explained by the fact that anthesis functions and pollinator activity are largely coupled. ”
In order to protect the glaciers, tourists in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region will only be allowed to enjoy the sight of them from a distance, instead of walking on them, according to a proposed new regulation in China’s latest Five-Year Plan (2016-2020).
Glaciers are “solid reservoirs” in dry regions such as Xinjiang, and thus an important water source. The accelerated destruction of the glaciers, affected by global warming, have led to water shortages in some areas of the country.
There are over 46,000 glaciers in China, with more than 18,000 located in Xinjiang, which accounts for about 43 percent of the national ice reserves by area. The Tian Shan Mountains is the “watertower of Central Asia,” with the most important, and the biggest, being the Urumqi Riverhead Glacier No. 1.
The temperature of Xinjiang, which is in China’s northwest, increased by 0.06 degrees Celsius per decade over the past 50 years, a rate which is much higher than the global average.The meltwater from the glacier has reduced after years of the glacier receding. Chen Xi from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said that small glaciers at low altitudes are more sensitive to climate change.
“Glaciers in the Tianshan Mountains have receded by 15 to 30 percent in the last three decades,” Chen said, according to China Daily. “And they will continue to retreat by 60 percent in the next 20 years, and by 80 to 90 percent half a century from today.”
In recent years, glacier tourism in Xinjiang attracted large number of tourists, but the revenue has been relatively low, at less than one billion yuan ($152 million).
Li Jidong, party secretary of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Tourism Bureau, said according to ts news, “Glacier tourism brought in revenue of less than one billion yuan ($152 million) over the past dozen years, but the collapse of glaciers and loss from shrinking glaciers is incalculable.”
Up-close glacier travel will be banned in Xinjiang, according to the new policy. Xinjiang has called for other countries and regions along the Tianshan Mountains to stop glacier tourism as well according to Chinanews.
However, Kang Shichang, director of State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Lanzhou, China, said a total ban on glacier travel is not supported by scientific reasoning.
There are hundreds of thousands of glaciers in the world, and few glaciers carry travelers, but overall glaciers are still in a state of retreat. In other words, glacier retreat is still happening, even though most of them are inaccessible to people. Therefore, the main cause of glacial retreat is not tourism.
“In the future I hope glacier travel managers attach more emphasis on the popularity of glaciers literacy and arouse awareness of environmental protection and emission reduction based on current situations,” Kang said in an email to GlacierHub.
Global warming is mainly responsible for glacier erosion. “Global glaciers are in an accelerated retreat trend nowadays, mainly due to global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions,” Kang said.
He has his own ideal model for glacier tourism: observe glaciers from a reasonable distance. Kang noted that human activities, such as hiking and skiing in glacial areas, are not the main reason for retreat. At the same time, he worried about other human activities, such as the large number of construction, mining and other industrial activities, disorderly foot traffic on the glacier surface, and garbage.
“The impact of these behaviors on glaciers is more severe by changing the surface albedo of glaciers, so lead to glacier melt acceleration,” Kang said.
He Yuanqing, master director of Yu Long Xue Shan Study Station, take a strong stand and takes Yu Long Xue Shan Mountain as an example; glacier tourism development can promote regional economic development.
“In fact, glacial retreat does little with tourism, because the heat released by the tourist crowds compared to the heat increase caused by atmospheric temperature rise is slight, even negligible,” he said, according to China Science Daily.
What needs to solved now is to figure out a practical glacier tourism development model to keep harmonious tourism development with glacier protection as a prerequisite.
Li Zhongqin told Glacierhub through the email, “Glacial retreat is mainly caused by global warming and ice albedo decrease ( pollutants on the ice) , the ice albedo is subject to human activities , as for this pollutants problem, it can be solved through environmental protection and governance. However, global warming is not a local problem , it is difficult to protect glaciers through local governance. Moreover, the development and implementation of these policies are still under determined. ” And as Li Zhongqin said to China Science Daily, “The starting point is the balance development of ecology for this ban decision of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. And the key is to coordinate the relationship between tourism and protection, so we can strike a balance.”
At 11,250 feet, Mount Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon, and a volcano that could erupt at some point, even if it likely wouldn’t be an explosive one. It’s also host to a dozen glaciers, which have even formed glacial caves. Climate change is having an effect, as the northwest glaciers are melting away.
With the amazing view from Mt. Hood, the exploration of its glaciers plays an important role in understanding regional climate. “The big value is in mapping change. Not just a snapshot in time but mapping the change.” said Eddy Cartay, a member of the Glacier Cave Explorers. He and his group member are exploring the glacier caves.
With global warming, glaciers are melting, and mountain ranges in the mid-latitudes such as the Swiss Alps are showing significant glacier retreat. For decades researchers have measured the length and area of glaciers to see if they are shrinking or not— a key symptom of disequilibrium— which can be done using photographs and satellites.
But a key indicator of a glacier’s health is the volume of the ice, and that’s impossible to calculate without knowing its thickness. To measure this, scientists can take advantage of advanced tools involving helicopters and radar, according to a recent study conducted in the Swiss Alps by Anja Rutishauser, Hansruedi Maurer, and Andreas Bauder and published in the journal Geophysics.
To map the ice-bedrock interface, researchers use ground-penetrating radar to go through the air and ice and then down to the rock so they can determine how far down the rock is. While it’s easy to measure the where the top of the glacial ice is, figuring out where it meets the rock below, and thus calculating its thickness, requires instrumentation. However, this is tricky because glaciers are in narrow valleys. So how do you get the equipment above the glacier? It’s possible to place radar directly on the glacier surface; this system produces high-quality images, but there are many places where it is difficult or impossible to gain access to the surface. And it’s cumbersome and expensive to move the equipment from one spot to another on the surface. As the paper states,
A major challenge in conducting ground-based surveys arises from the logistical and accessibility problems posed by rough and potentially dangerous terrain (e.g., crevasses). In contrast, airborne GPR systems are less affected by terrain challenges and have a high potential for rapidly investigating large areas. Most such systems used to investigate valley glaciers have been mounted beneath helicopters.
Because they can fly, helicopters can soar over tough terrain and cover a lot of ground, and offer a solution to the limits of surveys with radar equipment placed directly on the glacier surface. The authors discuss three different helicopter-borne ground-penetrating radar (GPR) systems. The first system, developed at the University of Münster in Germany, is a low-frequency pulsed system (BGR), the second system is a stepped frequency system, produced by a commercial firm (RST), and the third, with a frequency profile closer to the second, is also a commercial system (GSSI).
The BGR system uses two shielded broadband antennae mounted on a frame structure. This structure is attached to a rope, and when in operation hangs 20 meters below the helicopter in flight. The RST system is similar to the BGR system, and differs only in the frequency of the radar pulses that it emits. The GSSI system uses a distinct technique, in which the antennae are mounted directly on the helicopter skids. This GSSI system seemed attractive, since the first two systems, in which the helicopter carried a weight suspended below it, could interfere with the stability and efficiency of the helicopter. Moreover, the GSSI system might allow the helicopter to fly more steadily, producing a smoother image that required less processing to compensate for fluctuations in velocity.
The researchers conducted a number of repeat flights to assess the three systems. They used different systems on individual sections of the glacier, and compared the images for two features: the clarity of the images which they produced and the depth of ice that they could penetrate. The RST system proved to be the most effective on both features. Though the GSSI system was more favorable in terms of its effects on the flight performance of the helicopter, the images it produced were inferior, perhaps because of interference between the radar and the body of the helicopter itself. The authors note that these results reflect specific characteristics of the glaciers: the ice is relatively warm, in comparison to glaciers at higher elevations and latitudes, and it includes some sections of liquid water. So they suggest that the relative performance of the systems might differ under other conditions, and propose that other frequencies might perform better in these circumstances as well.
Helicopter-borne ground-penetrating radar systems are a good approach to mapping bedrock on temperate alpine glaciers. It’s a technical challenge to figure out whether the glaciers are growing or shrinking and by how much, but scientists have to do it by improving analytical methods and measurement tools because tracking what is going on with glaciers is an important tool in climate science. These comparisons of techniques in the Swiss Alps point to similar experiments that could be conducted in other mountain regions of the world.
Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.
Modeling glacial lake outburst flood process chain: the case of Lake Palcacocha and Huaraz, Peru
From Hydrology and Earth System Sciences:
“One of the consequences of recent glacier recession in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru, is the risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) from lakes that have formed at the base of retreating glaciers. GLOFs are often triggered by avalanches falling into 5 glacial lakes, initiating a chain of processes that may culminate in significant inundation and destruction downstream. This paper presents simulations of all of the processes involved in a potential GLOF originating from Lake Palcacocha, the source of a previously catastrophic GLOF on 13 December 1941, killing 1800 people in the city of Huaraz, Peru.”
Forum reveals new possibilities for water-induced disaster management in the Koshi basin
“Top officials and experts from the Koshi region gathered in Patna, Bihar on Thursday for a two-day forum to discuss solutions around water security and water-induced disasters in the Koshi basin. Coming after years of devastating floods in southern Nepal and Bihar, the forum emphasised regional cooperation and collecting evidence-based data that can be translated into policy.”
The Changes in Regional Structure and Land Use Related to External Factors in Hussaini Village, Northern Pakistan
From Mapping Transition in the Pamirs:
“This study describes changes to regional structure and the use of farmlands in Hussaini village, Pakistan, caused by two events. The first event was the opening of the Karakoram Highway in 1978 that introduced commodities and a money market economy. The enhanced transportation increased access to markets, which spurred a transition from subsistence wheat cultivation and vegetable crops to potato cash crops. The second event was the catastrophic landslide in Atabad which occurred on 4 January 2010 that submerged part of the Karakoram Highway and created a dammed lake. The loss of the highway halted the village’s engagement in the wider agricultural market, and farmlands in the village reverted to traditional agriculture. The changes caused by these outside factors created confusion and disturbance and challenged the villagers to quickly adapt for survival.”
Though the glaciers of the western US, western Canada and Alaska as well-known, few people are aware of the glaciers in eastern Canada, more specifically in northern Labrador. Torngat Mountains National Park contains more than 40 active glaciers. It offers a unique opportunity to discover Arctic landscapes, to see wildlife and to have contact with the indigenous peoples who have lived here for millennia. Parks Canada will spend the next few years preparing a long-term tourism strategy in consultation with the indigenous people of the area and the provincial government.
A Swiss NGO, Mountain Wilderness, has developed a solution to a problem found in many alpine regions: the abandoned buildings which result from outmigration of rural families. They designed sustainable, participatory techniques for removing the building materials and applied them to an empty farmhouse in a remote glacier valley as a demonstration project. And once the building was removed, plants could begin to establish themselves on the site, promoting habitat restoration.
For their first project site, Mountain Wilderness selected the commune of Safiental, located within the glacier-rich canton of Graubunden. The main village of this commune is located at an elevation of 1,350 m. Its current population of about 900 is roughly half the size of the population at the middle of the 19th century. Like many other high-elevation regions of Switzerland, Safiental has experienced significant outmigration, and it contains many empty buildings. The local residents selected one building for removal. It had been used as a stable during World War II, and provided a few gamekeepers with shelter in the years after the war, but had not been used for either purpose for some time.
Their first project faced many challenges. The staff of Mountain Wilderness had to obtain permission for the removal from the owner of the farm and from the local government. They needed to inspect the material carefully to decide the best way to deal with it, and then to arrange for appropriate recycling or waste disposal. Finally, they needed to identify a dozen or so local volunteers to carry out the work, and then to coordinate with the local community to schedule the event.
Moreover, to accomplish the tasks of bringing tools up and old materials down, Mountain Wilderness did not want to use helicopters; they oppose their use in mountain areas in general, since the noise disrupts the wildlife and the wilderness character of the region. A branch of the Swiss army lent horses for these activities—a more sustainable form of transportation, as well as a quieter one.
When the project was completed, the local residents were satisfied. A local carpenter, Kay Decasper, selected some of the wood to make into artisanal furniture. The mayor of Safiental, Thomas Buchli, described it as a “strategy that is viable in the long run” since it would promote sustainable tourism in the commune.
Though this concern for participatory and sustainable methods added to the effort required for the project, it also increased public awareness of wilderness preservation. In this way, the project became a showpiece for the removal of abandoned buildings and for habitat restoration.
Founded in the small town of Brig in southern Switzerland in 1995, Mountain Wilderness is an NGO that promotes the protection of high mountain landscapes. Their philosophy is centered on the word “respect.” It guides their strategy of enlisting mountain sports enthusiasts as a means for preservation of wilderness. They aim to keep ski resorts from growing too large, and they promote car-pooling and ride-sharing to existing resorts as a way to reduce traffic on mountain roads and to keep parking lots as small as possible. They seek a total ban in the Alps on snowmobiles and heli-skiing, since they strongly value the silence of mountain wilderness. The organization also provides teaching materials to schools as a means of building appreciation of wilderness values.
This project was one of the 13 around the world that was nominated for the Mountain Protection Award. This award grants recognition of initiatives that address promotes concrete actions, including energy efficiency, conservation initiatives, waste management, community activities and water conservation. It is awarded by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, known by its French acronym UIAA. Founded in 1932, the UIAA represents about 3 million climbers and mountaineers through its 80 members organizations in 50 countries on 5 continents. It promotes mountain sports, and works to make them safe, environmentally responsible and accessible. To support these goals, it has development programs in culture and environmental protection and in the engagement of youth in mountain sports.
The meadows that are now returning to the open ground in Safiental offer an important example to other mountain regions. Outmigration is growing in mountain regions affected by climate change and glacier retreat. These processes are found not only in the Alps, but also in the Himalayas and the Andes. When the materials in abandoned buildings are reused, recycled and removed in appropriate ways, they do not only contribute to the restoration of habitat. They also engage the local residents in reshaping of their landscapes and communities.
A glacier in the Peruvian Andes is shrinking more slowly than was previously thought. Careful examination of long-term satellite images is the key. Previous research has not separated snow and ice as accurately.
William Kochtitzky, a student from Dickinson College, presented a poster about glacial changes on Peru’s Nevado Coropuna volcano. They did not experience any difficulties combining SPOT and Landsat data. They were able to acquire a SPOT image that was taken within three days of a Landsat scene, allowing us to calibrate our glacier classification scheme and have greater confidence because our SPOT and Landsat images are consistent with each other. This research has the potential for immediate policy implications in Peru.
A Really, Really Big Problem: The Continuing Saga of Jumbo Glacier Resort
There’s a mountain resort in the East Kootenays with a mayor and a council, but without infrastructure, buildings, citizens or a tax base. If that sounds bizarre, well, it is—yet just another twist in a tale that has taken on aspects of the absurd since the idea of a ski resort in the wilderness of the Purcell Mountains first began percolating over two decades ago. Opposition was fierce then and remains so today. In fact the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort (JGR) has polarized a community perhaps more than any other major development in British Columbia—at least one involving the seemingly innocuous, fun-loving pursuit of skiing.
Glacier Bay National Park has historically supported one of the largest breeding aggregations of harbor seals in Alaska (Calambokidis et al. 1987). Harbor seals are an important apex predator and the most numerous marine mammal in the park; however, harbor seals have declined by up to 75% from 1992-2002 (Mathews & Pendleton 2006). The most recent trend estimates from 1992-2009 suggest that the decline in seals has not abated or reversed (Womble et al. 2010). The magnitude and rate of decline exceed all reported declines of harbor seals in Alaska, with the exception of that at Tugidak Island (Pitcher 1990). Declines of harbor seals in Glacier Bay are of concern for several reasons.
The Ice Watch is an artwork by Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing on the occasion of COP21 – the meeting of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris. There are twelve immense blocks of ice, harvested from free-floating icebergs in a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland, arranged in clock formation on the Place du Panthéon, where they are melting away during COP21. People from all over the world are obsessed with and in awe of this Ice Watch Paris public artwork. The blocks of ice included in Ice Watch each weigh about 10 tons, transported from Greenland to the Place du Panthéon for COP21. This artwork is a compass for people to learn about water, glacial ice and the oceans that receive the water of melting icebergs. And it shows how little time remains to address climate change.