Photo Friday: Volcanoes in Ecuador

Ecuador has a series of beautiful cone-shaped volcanoes along the Andes. This week, GlacierHub features three volcanoes from Ecuador: Cayambe, Chimborazo, and Tungurahua. Cayambe, locating in the Cordillera Central, is a Holocene compound volcano. Chimborazo, locating in the Cordillera Occidental, is the highest mountain in Ecuador. These two volcanoes are currently inactive. On the other hand, Tungurahua is an active volcano, located in the Cordillera Oriental.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

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Photo Friday: Yerupaja

The mountain Yerupaja in the Cordillera Huayhuash locates at the west central Peru. It is part of the Peruvian Andes and ranks as the second highest mountain in Peru. As one of the hardest mountains along the Andes to climb, it draws mountaineers from all over the world, who come to conquer this high peak.

For more photos featuring glaciers from Peru, look here.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

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Melting Glaciers Give Earth a Pop

Southeast Alaska shown in the red rectangle (Source: Google Earth).
Southeast Alaska shown in the red rectangle (Source: Google Earth).

Though the Earth often seems solid and fixed, it is not. You’ve probably heard of continental drift—the horizontal movement of continent-sized bodies of rock—but fewer of you may appreciate that the earth can move vertically as well. Studies have shown that North America and Europe are rebounding, slowly but steadily, due to the removal of thick ice sheets which once covered them during the last ice age, which ended about 21,000 years ago.

This process of postglacial upward movement is called glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA). Researchers have established that some materials have a viscous response when a surface load is placed on them, flowing like slow-moving honey, and remaining deformed when the load is removed; others have an elastic response, stretching like rubber and bouncing back to their original form. The substances that compose the upper sections of the earth are somewhere between these extremes, and have what is termed a viscoelastic response. As a result, when a mass of an icesheet is removed, the solid Earth underneath may display some degree of rebound. It was observed that the uplift rate in North America and Europe can reach 1 cm/yr.

Researchers have established that the formation of icesheets generated pressure on the underlying rocks, pushing them downward. In addition to this downward dislocation of the crust, the mantle beneath might be compressed as well. Previous studies on GIA have seldom included this compressibility of the Earth in their calculations, because of the complexities and uncertainties that it would introduce into quantitative models. But a paper published by Tanaka et al. earlier this year in the Journal of Geodynamics established a model which includes compressibility for the GIA in southeast Alaska and compared this model to another which did not include compressibility.

Geographic map of southeast Alaska (Source: Carrera et al./USGS).
Geographic map of southeast Alaska (Source: Carrera et al./USGS).

Southeast Alaska, which is also referred to as the Alaska Panhandle, lies west of the Canadian province of British Columbia. This region is known to have the largest GIA rate in North America, approximately 30 mm/yr. The reseachers anticipated that the compressibility effects would be larger and easier to detect in this region. In this region, models of GIA integrate the effect of ice sheet mass variations over three periods: the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) about 20,000 years ago, the Little Ice Age a few centuries ago (LIA) and present-day (PD).

Measurements of rebound at different locations can serve to test these models, since information is available on the extent of icesheets in different periods. It is known, for example, that icesheets retreated earlier at lower elevations, so effects from earlier periods will be stronger there. In the case of southeast Alaska, rebound results primarily from post-LIA and PD ice melting; the former, larger in magnitude, was incorporated into the compressibility model. This model examined the rheological properties of the Earth’s mantle—the geological processes which allow rocks to flow on long time scales, and a second set of properties, called flexural rigidity, which determine the capacity of the earth’s crust to bend.

Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska (Source:Kool Cats/flickr).
Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska (Source:Kool Cats/flickr).

The authors conclude that their modeling efforts demonstrate the value of including compressibility. Without this element, the current uplift rate in southeast Alaska would be 27% (4 mm/yr) slower, and as a result would not match field measurements as well. Phrased in simpler language, they show that the vast ice sheets of the past not only pushed the mantle down, but squeezed it as well. This study demonstrates the great power of ice to alter our planet’s surface, and indicates that it can have measurable effects centuries, or millennia, after it melts.

Photo Friday: Glacier Pictures from an American Farmer

Nearly all the images that appear in Photo Friday on this site are taken by travelers. Whether as scientists, as artists, or as adventurers, the photographers have undertaken journeys to mountain areas. They have sought out glaciers as visual subjects that illustrate their understanding of our world—its beauty, its fascination, its fragility.

By contrast, these images are taken by an individual very much rooted in place, Emily Gibson,  who describes herself as “a wife, mother, farmer and family physician.”  A third-generation of the Pacific Northwest, she presents images and essays from her life on and around a farm on her website Barnstorming. She includes glaciers along with other subjects  that express her understanding of our world—the ability to cherish its beauty and meaning, the responsibilities of people to care for one another, feelings of humility and gratitude in the presence of immensity.

Her images do not illustrate a journey to a mountain, but a settling into place.  These images show her capacity to sense freshness not in something distant or new, but in something nearby and familiar. The glaciers of Mt. Baker lie on her horizon. Her photographs make it possible for others, who live at greater distances from mountains, to keep glaciers on our horizons as well.

For more pictures from Emily’s site that we have covered, look here.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

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How Invertebrates Colonize Deglaciated Sites

Mitopus morio (Source: Javier Díaz Barrera/Flickr).
Mitopus morio (Source: Javier Díaz Barrera/Flickr).

Scientists have long wondered how species colonize sites after deglaciation. A recent study by Amber Vater and John Matthews in the journal The Holocene of invertebrates–animals without backbones—on a number of sites in Norway advances the understanding of this colonization. It pays particular attention to succession, the processes of change in the species composition of ecological communities over time. The invertebrate groups which were studied include insects, spiders and mites, as well as harvestmen, also known as daddy longlegs.

To study the process of succession, Amber and Matthews collected invertebrate samples from pitfall traps in 171 locations across eight glacier forelands, which deglaciated over the last few centuries, in the Jotunheimen (high altitude) and Jostedalsbreen (low altitude) subregions in southern Norway. Jotunheimen is the highest mountain in Europe north of the Alps and west of the Urals, while Jostedalsbreen is the largest ice-cap in Europe outside Iceland. These forelands represent different ecological regions and areas that have been deglaciated for periods of different length. A variety of geological and biological evidence allowed the researchers to establish the precise timing of glacier retreat across their sites. The researchers identified the organisms by taxa—the species, genus or family to which they belong—since species identification was difficult in some cases.

The location of the eight glacier forelands in southern Norway (Source: Vater and Matthews/Sage Journals).
The location of the eight glacier forelands in southern Norway (Source: Vater and Matthews/Sage Journals).

Several major findings were derived from this study. Firstly, invertebrates arrive fairly quickly after the retreat of glaciers, within a decade or two. In particular, initial colonization is faster and dispersal is more effective at high altitudes, where glacier forelands are small, reducing the distance from established communities to new sites; in addition, the strong winds in such areas can carry organisms further. The flying insects, such as flies, aphids, bees, wasps, stoneflies, caddisflies and flying beetles, arrived earlier than the ground-active non-flying species, such as spiders, harvestmen, mites, ants, and non-flying beetles. Moreover, the communities grow more complex over time. In the first stage, lasting about 20 years, 11-31 taxa were found; this number increased to 21-55 in the fourth and final stage, over two centuries later. The authors found as well that invertebrate communities tend to be more diverse at low altitudes, where environmental conditions are more favorable.

Jotunheimen from southern Norway (Source: Thomas Mues/Flickr).
Jotunheimen from southern Norway (Source: Thomas Mues/Flickr).

Vater and Matthews summarize their findings by stating “invertebrate succession on the glacier forelands is viewed as driven primarily by individualistic behavior of the highly mobile species with short life-cycles responding to regional and local abiotic environmental gradients”.

Amara quenseli (Source: Chris Moody/Flickr).
Amara quenseli (Source: Chris Moody/Flickr).

This research calls into question earlier studies of succession. Previous studies, often based on plant species rather than invertebrates, have emphasized that nearly all taxa occur only in some of the stages of succession. By contrast, Vater and Matthews find that most of the taxa that first appear remain all the way till the final stage—65-86%, depending on the site. The authors describe their results as an ‘addition and persistence’ model (because taxa remain, once they arrive) rather than the more established ‘replacement-change’ model, in which different taxa replace each other over time. This ‘addition and persistence’ model seems to be more applicable in severe environments.

This research offers some insights into the regions that will become exposed as glacier retreat continues. It brings the positive finding that lands that appear after glacier retreat will not remain barren for long, since invertebrates are likely to colonize these sites soon. However, the new areas at higher elevations may have only a small number of specialized invertebrate taxa instead of a wide range of them.

For more details on invertebrates living on glaciers, look here.

Photo Friday: Glaciers in China

Southwest China, part of the Tibetan region, has a large number of high peaks, many of them with glaciers. The photos here are showing glacial mountains from Tibet, Szechuan, and Yunnan provinces in southwest China. These are taken by Yu Song, a Chinese traveler with a strong interest in exploring the beauty of China’s mountain.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

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India is Training Students to Be Glaciologists

Researcher checking location of ablation stake. ©  Yves Arnaud, IRD.
Researcher checking location of ablation stake. © Yves Arnaud, IRD.

India’s rivers are fed by meltwater from mountain glaciers in the Himalayas. Data on these Himalayan glaciers, many of which are melting due to climate change, is incomplete, however. “Only about a dozen of the nearly 9,700 glaciers in the Indian Himalayas are being monitored,” wrote Adi Narayan, an Indian journalist, in a recent article in Bloomberg.

To fill in the gaps, young scientists from India are being recruited to study Himalayan glaciers. In September 2014, Alagappan Ramanathan, a professor of environmental sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, sent a dozen graduate students to be trained as glaciologists at Chhota Shigri, a glacier in northern India. Half of these students, who are in their early 20s, had never seen snow before, or experienced the kinds of freezing temperatures encountered there, which can fall as low as -15°C.

Due to the high elevations, oxygen is scarce and temperatures are low, making the working environment challenging and altitude stress inevitable. Students suffered from fever, headaches and sprained ankles.

As climate change advances, the Himalayan glaciers are receiving increasing attention from residents of the surrounding countries who depend on glacial meltwater. Recognizing the need for more complete data on the glaciers, the Indian government and scientists are working to encourage students from other disciplines to become glaciologists. In addition to this training program, the Indian government has supported glacier research through a $2.4 million program to monitor nine glaciers that is run through its Department of Science and Technology.

Researcher checking a precipitation gauge. © Meena Menon, The Hindu.
Researcher checking a precipitation gauge. © Meena Menon, The Hindu.

The students, who come from a variety of backgrounds, such as computer science, environmental science, and remote sensing, are trained to measure stream flows, to map watersheds, and to use ablation stakes to study ice loss. These techniques are particularly well-suited to the Himalayan glaciers, because the rock debris that covers them makes it more difficult to measure them with satellite imagery than glaciers in other regions of the world. The training camp was funded by the Indian and Swiss governments, and the students were paid $400 per month.

Here is a recording of Bloomberg journalist Adi Narayan’s description of the training program. For a discussion of the importance of glaciers to human development in South Asia, see this previous Glacierhub post.

Roundup: Glacier Ed, New Glacier Group, Measuring Xinjiang Ice

Educating the Public about Glaciers at a Park in Peru

“Peru, the host country for this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has one of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in the Americas. But scientists said it is among countries which will be most impacted by climate hazards. To educate the public, one park has created a climate change route for tourists. CCTV America’s Dan Collyns reported this story from Lima, Peru.”

Read more at CCTV America.


New Glacier Climate Group Gathers in Montana

“Glacier Climate Action is a loose confederation of concerned citizens in the communities near Glacier National Park. We plan to make our voices heard, celebrate local solutions, and let elected officials know that we expect them to act now to avert a climate crisis that threatens to devastate the future of our grandchildren and theirs.”

Read more at Conserve Montana.


Changes in Glacier Mass and Water Resources in Xinjiang, China

“It is important to understand and quantify glacier changes and their impact on water resources in Hami Prefecture, an extremely arid region in the eastern Xinjiang of northwestern China. Yushugou Glacier No. 6 and Miaoergou Ice Cap in Hami Prefecture were selected in this study. Results showed that the thickness of Yushugou Glacier No. 6 decreased by 20 m with a rate of 0.51 m/y from 1972 to 2011 and the terminus retreated by 254 m, or 6.5 m/y for the same period.”

Read more of the article written by Wang et al., 2014.

Photo Friday: Mt. Baker

We offer these photos from Barnstorming as a gift in this holiday season. The site’s manager speaks of  faithful stewardship–a principle that resonates with us at GlacierHub. These photos feature Mt. Baker in the North Cascades of Washington State in U.S. 

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Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

Life Blooms in Tiny Cities at the Surface of Glaciers

Cryoconite holes (Source:  Joseph Dsilva)
Cryoconite holes (Source: Joseph Dsilva)

You might think glaciers would be hostile to life. But small water-filled holes at the surfaces of glaciers called cryoconite holes contain diverse collections of organisms. Like individual cities in a continent of ice, each hole contains its own distinct population of creatures.

Some scientists believe glaciers should be considered a separate biome given the unique ecosystems that thrive there.

Krzysztof Zawierucha  (Source:  Dwarf)
Krzysztof Zawierucha
(Source: Dwarf)

While the bacteria that live in cryoconite holes have been studied extensively, little is known about the invertebrates that feed on them and on algae found in the holes—only 26 papers have been published on these invertebrates in the past 100 years. Polar biologist Krzysztof Zawierucha from the University of Poznan in Poland and other researchers recently attempted to catalog these invertebrates in a review paper published in the Journal of Zoology.

Cryoconite holes, are created by cryoconite—windblown dust containing rock particles and soot—which darkens the surfaces of glaciers and accelerates melting. Cryoconite holes can form long-lasting habitats given that they are relatively unaffected by rapid environmental changes. These holes can be covered over by ice, or open to the elements.  For a brief explanation of what cryoconite is and how cryoconite holes are created, watch this video:

Only 25 species of cryophilic invertebrates have so far been catalogued and studied, few of them endemic to cryoconite holes. These include insects and two phyla of worms (the ringed worms also known as annelids, and roundworms also known as nematodes), as well as the microscopic rotifers, and the less well known waterbears, whose technical name is  tardigrades.


The species makeup of the cryoconite holes differs slightly in the Arctic, Antarctic, Patagonian, Alpine and Himalayan glaciers where they have been studied. Some of these hole-dwelling invertebrates have geographically restricted ranges, existing only on glaciers in the Alps or Himalayas. The authors suspect there are many more species living in these remote ice holes waiting to be discovered.

The invertebrates are varied in coloration; some are black, others white, and still others are colorless; Zawierucha and his coauthors cite other studies indicating that the coloration may have adaptive value in these environments where ultraviolet radiation is strong. They have different mechanisms for surviving the very low temperatures and the threat of desiccation: some produce very hardy eggs, while others can enter a state of anabiosis—a sort of suspended animation—until conditions improve.

A glacier copepod (scale bar in um), a Plecoptera (scale bar in mm), and tardigrade Pilatobius recamieri (scale bar in um) Source:  Zawierucha et al., 2014.
A glacier copepod (scale bar in um), a Plecoptera (scale bar in mm), and tardigrade Pilatobius recamieri (scale bar in um) Source: Zawierucha et al., 2014.

Cryophilic ecosystems are threatened due to the melting of glaciers caused by climate change and pollution. But cryophilic animals may accelerate the melting of glaciers themselves, particularly those that are black in coloration. Because so little research has been conducted on them, it is possible that some species of cryophilic invertebrate will become extinct before it is catalogued by scientists. If you happen to stumble upon a cryoconite hole on a glacier, treat it with respect. It likely contains an entire world of busy organisms.

For a story on plant spores that live on glacier surfaces, look here.

Roundup: Dangerous Peak, NASA Mapping, Lady Bootleggers

Glacier Peak for Volcano Monitoring

“EVERETT, Wash. — The U.S. Geological Survey has decided to keep a closer eye on the slumbering giant in Snohomish County’s wild, scenic back yard. A new study in underway for Glacier Peak, one of the most dangerous but least monitored volcanoes in the country. Scientists are working to map Glacier Peak and the valleys and peaks to the west — about 482 square miles total — using Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR.”

Read more at Oregonlive.


Glacier Mapping by NASA

“Jakobshavn Glacier is of interest because it is the fastest-moving glacier in the world and drains about 7.5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Having a map of Jakobshavn’s bed has been a long-time goal of glaciologists. Byrd Glacier is also moving faster than average, but unlike many other glaciers, has been sounded in the past. Researchers mapped a previously unknown trench beneath Byrd Glacier and found that depth measurements from the 1970s were off by as much as a half mile in some places.”

Read more at PHYS.


Women in Glacier Park

“It may have been a man’s world in these parts more than a century ago, but Glacier’s history is also populated by some adventuresome and fascinating females. Bootlegger Josephine Doody may be the best known to locals, but the moonshine maker was hardly alone.”

Read more at Missoulian.


Glacier Water Now In A Vodka Near You

Icebergs are harvested for use in a variety of different hard alcohols. (Source: Alaska Distillery)
Icebergs are harvested for use in a variety of different hard alcohols. (Source: Alaska Distillery)

Are you there vodka? It’s me, glacial water.

Protected for centuries from pollutants in the air and sea, water from glaciers has sprung up in a new market: liquor.

“It’s the notion that it’s kind of untouched by human hands,” Beverage World editor in chief Jeff Cioletti told Outside Magazine in 2013, “you can’t get water purer than that.”

The makers of Iceberg Vodka harvest their ice from Canada's Iceberg Alley. (Source: Iceberg Vodka)
The makers of Iceberg Vodka harvest their ice from Canada’s Iceberg Alley. (Source: Iceberg Vodka)

Water with fewer impurities is a key element in high-quality liquor. Though using glacial water small part of the market, several companies are using water trapped in glaciers for thousands of years to make vodka and other liquors, including Finlandia, Estonia’s Ston vodka, and Alaska Distillery.

Since glacier harvesting is not done substantially, there is little regulation of it. Alaska is the only U.S. state that requires permits in order to use the water. Scott Lindquist, the head distiller of Alaska Distillery, is the sole holder of such a permit. His company is using meltwater from icebergs broken off of the Harding Ice Field in Prince William Sound to make vodka. Yet, Lindquist is not alone, people from Newfoundland and Labrador, where permits are also required from the provincial government, have been harvesting icebergs for centuries. Ed Kean, a fifth-generation sea captain, seeks Canadian icebergs every year for a local vodka maker, a brewer, a winery and a bottled-water outfit in Newfoundland. Icebergs calved off the ice-shelf of Greenland arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador during spring and early summer and they can be harvested until late September.

Glacial water figures into many different spirits from the Alaska Distillery. (Source: Alaska Distillery)
Glacial water figures into many different spirits from the Alaska Distillery. (Source: Alaska Distillery)

Iceberg harvesting is not an easy job and choosing the right bergs is a skill. Years of experience is required to determine where and which iceberg to harvest as well as how to remove the ice without rolling the iceberg. People like Lindquist and Kean are particular about the glacial loot they gather. They prefer clean, round pieces not exposed to the sun too long to avoid evaporation of the “oldest and tastiest inner crystals”. Once they’ve found the suitable ice, they would scoop up or break off pieces of ice using tools like hydraulic claw. The difficulty of iceberg harvesting is the reason that Lindquist is the only remaining ice-harvesting permit holder in Alaska, which once stood at 12 issued permits.

Although beverages containing glacial water are attractive, it is also a challenging market. Despite the technical difficulties of iceberg harvesting, this activity may be opposed by tourism industries. Some local tourism officials in Newfoundland think iceberg harvesting is threatening the unspoiled beauty, which is a main tourist attraction each summer in Newfoundland. “Demand for iceberg is booming,” Kean told Wall Street Journal last year. Keeping up with demand for iceberg-infused drinks is another big challenge for these companies.

To learn more about icebergs in Newfoundland, check out GlacierHub’s story on Canada’s Iceberg Alley.