Could Temperate Rainforests Survive Global Warming?

Douglas Island. Source: Joseph/Flickr
Douglas Island. Source: Joseph/Flickr

Nowadays, most of Europe’s temperate rainforests and the coast redwoods are disappearing as a result of over-harvesting. However, temperate rain-forests in Tongass and Great Bear (British Columbia) remain relatively intact. The Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest (PCTR) ecosystem stretches 4000 kilometers along coasts from northern California through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia to Alaska.

Known for its diversity, the PCTR region contains unscathed old-growth forests, substantial glaciers, wild fisheries, and human communities with economies based on natural resources and tourism. Studies show that global-scale warming will have stronger effects on the northern PCTR’s climate rather than regional and decadal time scale climate processes, including El Nino Southern Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and Arctic Oscillation. The northern PCTR is anticipated to undergo warming and receive less precipitation in snow in the coming decades.

Ecosystem linkages in the northern Pacific coastal temperate rainforest (PCTR). (Source: Shad O'Neel et al.)
Ecosystem linkages in the northern Pacific coastal temperate rainforest (PCTR). (Source: Shad O’Neel et al.)

Glacier coverage in northern PCTR is roughly 16% – there are 141 lake-terminating glaciers and 49 tidewater glaciers in the region. With so many glaciers, the region is particularly susceptible to ecosystem-level impacts of glacier change. Moreover, glacier mass loss rate in the region is anticipated to rise, with a total glacier volume loss of 7200 – 10000 cubic meters by the end of the twenty-first century. Glacial volume variability in northern PCTR involves prominent physical and chemical changes in hydrology, which should not be neglected because it serves as the primary source of freshwater to the Bering Sea. In addition, regional species diversity and species turnover could be influenced by glacier runoff.

On Benjamin Island. Source: Joseph/Flickr
On Benjamin Island. Source: Joseph/Flickr

A recent study published in BioScience discussed impacts of glacier volume change on surface water hydrology, biogeochemistry, coastal oceanography, and ecology. Total freshwater discharge from northern PCTR adds up to 870 cubic kilometers, half of which originates from glacier-covered area. More importantly, extremely short glacier-to-ocean stream length in the area, around 10 kilometers, allows rapid transfer of riverine substances, including sediment, nutrient, and organic matter, to estuaries and fjords. In other words, glacier change alters the terrestrial hydrologic cycle, which is significantly connected to near-shore marine ecosystem.

Freshwater runoff in ice-free basins and glacierized basins is primarily dependent on precipitation and surface energy balance respectively, because positive energy balance can result in glacier melting. The authors of the study, Shad O’ Neel et al, also found that glacierized watersheds tend to have higher annual freshwater discharge. The streamflow variability of glacierized basins varies in dissimilar patterns on different time scales. According to O’Neel and his colleagues, as glacier melt increases as a result of warmer temperature in the future, it will be more difficult to predict the variability of streamflow originated from glacierized basins.

Toward the Chilkats. Source: Joseph/Flickr
Toward the Chilkats. Source: Joseph/Flickr

In general, glacier ecosystems have strong impacts on biogeochemistry of downstream marine ecosystems through the release and cycling their nutrients, organic matter, and contaminants. The origin of organic matter in glacier ecosystem can be attributed to a variety of sources, including aerosol deposition, subglacial biological processes, as well as subglacial organic matter. In fact, glacier runoff in northern PCTR releases tremendous amount of organic matters. Those organic matters are primarily produced through microbial production and atmospheric deposition rather than plant detritus, which appears to be extremely bioavailable to heterotrophic organisms. In other words, glacier ecosystems are a significant source of organic matter in both riverine and near shore marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, melting mountain glaciers also bring pollutants to the near shore aquatic ecosystems, such as fossil fuel combustion byproducts and mercury. Moreover, downwelling caused by wind-forced Ekman transport has a consequence of nitrogen delivery to near shore region from off shore waters. In return, high flux of glacier runoff brings iron to off shore regions.

Kayak and Herbert Glacier. Source: Joseph/Flickr
Kayak and Herbert Glacier. Source: Joseph/Flickr

The coastal ocean circulation in northern PCTR is dominated by the counterclockwise Alaska Coastal Current, which transports heat, nutrients, and organisms northward to the Arctic. Freshwater runoff also plays an important role in affecting the vertical stratification of coastal water column. Specifically, coastal waters are well mixed and replenished with nutrients in winter. And they become stratified due to freshwater runoff in spring. Shad O’ Neel et al. pointed out that the impact of glaciers on physical oceanography of the northern PCTR is conspicuous in glacierized fjords. Cold and low-density freshwater discharge from seafloor glacier upwells to the surface while mixing with fjord water. As it rises to the surface, it leads to submarine melt of the ice cliff, and contributes to fresh overflow plume. Furthermore, nonlinear freshwater flow dynamics associated with deep-water calving fronts results in catastrophic glacier recession. As a result of a decrease in active tidewater glaciers in Alaska, the amount of fjords with glacier-driven circulation and tidewater glacier habitat also decline.

Dinner Time. Source: Kyle Breckenridge/Flickr
Dinner Time. Source: Kyle Breckenridge/Flickr

According to the study, glacier runoff generally leads to increase in regional species diversity and species turnover. For instance, “streams with moderate basin ice cover (5% – 30%) tend to have the highest macroinvertebrate taxonomic diversity, although macroinvertebrate abundance is generally low in these watersheds”, as described by the article. Glaciers also directly affect upper trophic level species in fjords, on which important fishery and tourism industries rely. Icebergs calved from glaciers serve as protection for predators, a habitat for harbor seals, and a resting space for seabirds.

In sum, the northern PCTR is economically significant to northern California, British Columbia, and Alaska due to diverse resources. Understanding both long-term and short-term glaciological variability is essential to decision-making and risk management processes. After all, glacier volume and extent variability is closely linked to surface-water hydrology, biogeochemistry, coastal oceanography, and ecology. Therefore, Shad O’Neel et al. suggested that “a holistic scientific approach should be undertaken to begin to resolve these uncertainties in ways that maximize utility to the resource management community and allow efficient and informed decision-making in an era of rapid ecosystem change”.

Roundup: Yaks, Snow Algae, and Slime Molds

How do wild yaks respond to glacier melt and past exploitation?

Yak at Yundrok Yumtso Lake

“To explore how mammals of extreme elevation respond to glacial recession and past harvest, we combined our fieldwork with remote sensing and used analyses of ~60 expeditions from 1850–1925 to represent baseline conditions for wildlife before heavy exploitation on the Tibetan Plateau. Focusing on endangered wild yaks (Bos mutus), we document female changes in habitat use across time whereupon they increasingly relied on steeper post-glacial terrain, and currently have a 20x greater dependence on winter snow patches than males. Our twin findings—that the sexes of a cold-adapted species respond differently to modern climate forcing and long-past exploitation—indicate that effective conservation planning will require knowledge of the interplay between past and future if we will assure persistence of the region’s biodiversity.”

Read more about the article here.


Snow algae grows on glacier surface annually.

Snow Algae

“Snow algae in shallow ice cores (7 m long) from Yala Glacier in the Lang-tang region of Nepal were examined for potential use in ice-core dating. Ice-core samples taken at 5350 m a.s.l. in 1994 contained more than seven species of snow algae. In a vertical profile of the algal biomass, 11 distinct algal layers were observed. Seasonal observation in 1996 at the coring site indicated most algal growth occurred from late spring to late summer. Pit observation in 1991, 1992 and 1994 indicated that algal layer formation takes place annually.”

Read more about the article here.


Slime mold preys on bacterium under snow.

Slime Molds

“Abundance and habitat requirements of nivicolous myxomycetes were surveyed over 4 yr at the northwestern Greater Caucasus ridge (Russia). An elevational transect spanning 3.66 km from 1 700 to 3 000 m a.s.l. was established at the summit Malaya Khatipara situated within the Teberda State Biosphere reserve. Between 2010 and 2013 1177 fructifications of nivicolous myxomycetes were recorded, with 700 of these determined to 44 species, varieties, and forms. Virtually all fructifications developed near or at the margin of a snow field. Abundance of myxomycete fructifications varied extremely between years, ranging from near zero to hundreds of colonies. At sites with known myxomycete occurrences 16 data loggers were installed in the years 2011 and 2012, measuring relative humidity and temperature at the soil surface. Together with weather data recorded on the nearby Klukhor pass and experiments with myxamoebae cultured on agar, these data explain the observed extreme fluctuations in myxomycete abundance.”

Read more about the article here.

Glacial Outburst Floods in Greenland Discharge Mercury

Zackenberg Research Station. Source: Aarhus University, Department of Bioscience

Mercury contamination has long been a threat to animal carnivores and human residents in the Arctic. Mercury exports from river basins to the ocean form a significant component of the Arctic mercury cycle, and are consequently of importance in understanding and addressing this contamination.  Jens Søndergaard of the Arctic Research Centre of Aarhus University, Denmark and his colleagues have been conducting research on this topic in  Greenland for a number of years. They published results of their work in the journal Science of the Total Environment in February 2015. Søndergaard and his colleagues assessed the mercury concentrations in and exports from the Zackenberg River Basin in northeast Greenland for the period 2009 – 2013. This basin is about 514 square kilometers in area, of which 106 square kilometers are covered by glaciers. Glacial outburst floods have been regularly observed in Zackenberg River since 1996. This study hypothesized that the frequency, magnitude, and timing of the glacial outburst floods and associated meteorological conditions would significantly influence the riverine mercury budget. Indeed, they found significant variation from year to year, reflecting weather and floods. The total annual mercury release varied from 0.71 kg to over 1.57 kg. These are significant amounts of such a highly toxic substance.

Stream in Zackenberg drainage. Source: Mikkel Tamstrof
Stream in Zackenberg drainage. Source: Mikkel Tamstrof

Søndergaard and his colleagues found that sediment-bound mercury contributed more to total releases than  mercury that was dissolved in the river. Initial snowmelt, sudden erosion events, and  glacial lake outburst floods all influenced daily riverine mercury exports from Zackenberg River Basin during the summer, the major period of river flow. The glacial lake outburst floods were responsible for about 31 percent of the total annual riverine mercury release. Summer temperatures and the amount of snowfall from the previous winter also played important roles in affecting the annual levels of mercury release. The authors note that releases are likely to increase, because global warming is contributing to greater levels of permafrost thawing in the region; this process, in turn, destabilizes river banks, allowing mercury contained in them to be discharged into rivers.

Greenland Seal. Source: Greenland Travel/Flickr
Greenland Seal. Source: Greenland Travel/Flickr

Mercury produces adverse health effects even at low levels. It is commonly known that mercury is toxic to the nervous system. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), consuming mercury-contaminated fish accounts for the primary route of exposure for most human populations. Mercury can also threaten the health of the seabirds and marine mammals which consume fish—and which Greenlandic populations. The release of riverine mercury in Zackenberg might not have strong influence in this remote region of northeast Greenland, far from human settlements and with few fisheries to date. However, the total yearly released mercury from all the river basins in Greenland is more significant, and is growing. There is a significant risk of transport in marine ecosystems through food chains, causing mercury poisoning among humans and wildlife in Greenland and in adjacent coastal countries.

Mummified Bodies Discovered in Mountain Glacier


A mummified frozen body resurfaced from a glacier on the Pico de Orizaba volcano, the highest mountain in Mexico, on February 28, 2015. A week later, Mexican officials stated that climbers found a second mummified body. Both bodies were covered by snow and glacier ice, and appeared to be decades old. Rescuers suspected that another mummified body might be found, since three people were reported missing during an avalanche decades ago.

Luis Espinosa, a retired mountaineer told Fox News, “based on the location of where the first photo was taken I thought, looking at the place, there is no doubt, it has to be them.” Espinosa, a survivor of the doomed expedition in 1959 in which one climber died and three fellow climbers disappeared including the guide, Enrique Garcia, believes that these two mummified bodies discovered two weeks ago are the remains of his missing fellow climbers. “ We expected the bodies to surface in 20 years. We did a great number of expeditions, always trying to find our comrades,” he added.

According to the Mexican federal interior department, a multi-agency team will climb up the Pico de Orizaba volcano to recover the mummified bodies to determine their age and identity. Their expedition will adjust to the weather conditions. “It is a very difficult area where people normally don’t go,” said Juan Navarro, mayor of the town of Chalchicomula de Sesama during a press release, “It is an area where there is only snow and no route.”

The Pico de Orizaba volcano, which rises 5636 meters above the sea level, is ranked after Mount McKinley of the United States and Mount Logan of Canada as the third highest peak on the continent of North America. It is currently dormant, and its last eruption took place during the 19th century. Gran Glacier Norte, the largest glacier in Mexico, is located on this volcano along with other eight known glaciers. Snow that sits on the south and southeast sides of the volcano melts more rapidly as a result of intense solar radiation. The colder temperatures on the north and northwest sides support allows the formation of outlet glaciers, which are tongue-like channels of ice that flow out of the ice cap on the summit.

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Eruption in Glacier-covered Volcano in Chile

One of South America’s most active volcanoes, Villarrica, erupted Tuesday, 3 March 2015,  around 3 a.m. local time in Chile, creating a danger that lava would interact with the large ice cap on the mountain. The volcano spewed a lava fountain 1.5 kilometers into the air, and the pillar of smoke and ash reached 6-8 kilometers in height. Fortunately, the National Emergency Office issued a red alert and ensured the evacuation of roughly 3300 people from the volcano’s vicinity, especially residents from the town of Pucón. This area experienced  many moderate to large eruptions, including events in  1640 and 1948 which appear in the historical record, and earlier ones attested to by indigenous populations of the area and by geological evidence.

The upper reaches of the volcano are covered by an ice cap about 40 square kilometers in area, including the Pichillancahue-Turbio Glacier. This 2840 meter-high mountain is a popular destination for hikers, who are fond of peering inside of the volcano. What differentiates Villarrica from many  other volcanoes is that it contains an intermittent lava lake within its crater. In fact, Villarrica volcano is composed of layers of hardened lava and volcanic ash from previous eruptions. It is capable of erupting explosively  due to high pressure that results from the release of dissolved gas as magma rises to the surface. These explosions are often accompanied by loud sounds that can be heard over great distances.

The eruption can be seen in this dramatic time-lapse video, which starts in black and white, and then shifts to color.

There are three major interrelated concerns about this eruption.  Firstly, the lava could melt the glacier ice and snow on the sides of the volcano, causing massive lahars (mud and debris flows), much like the ones that occurred during the eruptions of 1964 and 1971. Secondly, the noxious volcanic ashes could pervade in the air. During the 1971 eruption of Villarrica, at least 15 fatalities from the inhalation of toxic gasses were reported. Finally, there is a somewhat lower risk of a large releases of volcanic ash, which could affect human health, damage power transmission lines, and harm vegetation.  Previous eruptions of Villarrica have released smaller amounts of ash; paradoxically, these have protected the glaciers by insulating them and protecting them from incoming solar radiation.

Eruption of Villarrica, 3 March 2015 (source: Kalvicio de las Nieves)
Eruption of Villarrica, 3 March 2015 (source: Kalvicio de las Nieves)

At the time of posting, the volcanic activity is diminished, with much reduced lava emissions and lesser seismic activity. Alerts remain at the orange level for the present.

For other stories on volcanic eruptions near glaciers, look here and here

Roundup: Nepal Symposium, Microrefugia, Climate Change


Symposium on Glaciology in High-Mountain Asia (1 – 6 March, 2015)

“The high mountains of Asia are estimated to contain one of the greatest concentrations of glacier ice outside the polar regions, and are the headwaters of rivers which support agriculture and livelihoods of over one billion people. Changes in snow, ice, and permafrost due to climatic changes will impact water resources, ecosystems and hydroelectric power generation, and will aggravate natural hazards. To understand these impacts, the symposium will provide a forum to discuss advances in measurements, modeling, and interpretation of glaciological and cryospheric changes in high mountain Asia.”

Read more about this International Symposium in Kathmandu, Nepal.



Potential Warm-Stage Microrefugia for Alpine Plants

“In Alpine regions, geomorphologic niches that constantly maintain cold-air pooling and temperature inversions are the main candidates for microrefugia. Within such microrefugia, microhabitat diversity modulates the responses of plants to disturbances caused by geomorphologic processes and supports their aptitude for surviving under extreme conditions on unstable surfaces in isolated patches. Currently, European marginal mountain chains may be considered as examples of macrorefugia where relict boreo-alpine species persist within peculiar geomorphological niches that act as microrefugia.”

Read more about this article.



Mountains and Climate Change

“Large mountain ranges often act as climatic barriers, with humid climates on their windward side and semi-deserts on their lee side. Due to their altitudinal extent, many mountain regions intersect important environmental boundaries such as timber lines, snow lines or the occurrence of glaciers or permafrost. Climatically induced changes in these boundaries could possibly trigger feedback processes affecting the local climate. For instance, a rising snow line and thawing permafrost could increase the risk of natural hazards as well as accelerate warming trends due to lower reflectance. Changes in these boundaries can have sharp consequences for ecosystems and can influence natural hazards, economic potential and land use.”

Read more about this article.

Photo Friday: Mount Aragats

Mount Aragats, a 13,435 ft mountain peak in northwestern Armenia, is located to the northwest of Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan and north of the Ararat Plain. There is no doubt that it is the highest mountain in Armenia, which places it on the World Country High Points peak list. Aragats is a large circular andesitic-to-dacitic stratovolcano that consists of both lava and tufa. The crater of the volcano has turned into a cirque of a glacier, and contains some other small glaciers as well. Several striking photographs of Aragats Glaciers are shared below.

Read more about Mount Aragats.

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Four Centuries of Glacier Art

Caught in the Ice Floes, c. 1867
Caught in the Ice Floes, c. 1867 © William Bradford


Now on view at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, the exhibition “Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012” explores the aesthetic and cultural significance of glaciers for Western art over the past 400 years.

The exhibit aims to inspire audiences to take action to protect the world’s glaciers as global warming takes its toll on these magnificent landscapes and icy frontiers. “Vanishing Ice is both a beautiful glimpse of some of the most remote and fragile ecosystems, and a call to action on what many people hold to be the defining issue of this generation,” said Victoria Dickenson, executive director and CEO of the McMichael gallery, in a news release.

The traveling exhibition is comprised of more than 70 works by 50 artists from 12 different countries, including paintings, rare expedition journals, photographs, videos, and installations. The artists presenting include Bisson Frères, Rockwell Kent, Thomas Hart Benton, and Alexis Rockman. Despite diverse themes and interpretations, almost all the artists were, in some way, stimulated by an effort to eulogize the beauty of ice.

“I was looking for works that would inspire people today to feel the same attraction that drew artists to these regions over the centuries. Seeing these works, people will hopefully experience this connection and be moved in some way to make a difference,” said Dr. Barbara Matilsky, the show’s curator, in an interview with National Gallery of Canada Magazine. The traveling exhibit’s first stop was the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington in 2013. After Bellingham it traveled to the El Paso Museum in Texas, and then on to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. Kleinburg is the final stop.

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Arranged both geographically and chronologically, the pieces in the show vividly demonstrate how rapidly alpine and polar landscapes have changed over time. The photograph Noctilucent Clouds over Mount Baker, Washington (July 30,1975) by Eliot Porter (1901-1990) captures Coleman Glacier crowned by a rare kind of twilight cloud found in Polar Regions and composed of crystals of water ice. (See a time lapse of noctilucent clouds here.) It was taken during Porter’s journey to Pacific Northwest. Along with photographs by Henry C. Engberg (1865-1942) and Brett Baunton (1959-), this work documents the dramatic retreat of the Coleman Glacier since the beginning of the century.

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Please click here for more information on Vanishing Ice at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Glacier Melting Sets Free Organic Carbon

Research has shown that glaciers have a greater role than was previously known in the movement of organic carbon into and through aquatic ecosystems, including the oceans. Organic Carbon (OC) refers to carbon contained in organic compounds that is originally derived from decaying vegetation, bacterial growth, and metabolic activities of living organisms. It serves as a primary food source for marine organisms, particularly microbes. In addition, it contributes to the acidification of water. Particularly in freshwater ecosystems, excessive OC can result in a brownish coloration. In fact, the amount of OC is often used as an indicator of overall water quality.

Figure 1. Location of glacier DOC samples classified by type. a–d, Samples were collected from a wide variety of glacial environments including: Alaska (a), Tibet (b), Dry Valley glaciers in Antarctica (c), and the Greenland Ice Sheet (d). (Source: Hood et al.)
Figure 1. Location of glacier DOC samples classified by type. a–d, Samples were collected from a wide variety of glacial environments including: Alaska (a), Tibet (b), Dry Valley glaciers in Antarctica (c), and the Greenland Ice Sheet (d). (Source: Hood et al.)

A recent research shows that the increase in glacier runoff through melting and iceberg calving has led to a rise of OC flux entering marine and lacustrine ecosystems, and this flux is expected to grow in the coming decades. According to the article, glacier ecosystems accumulate OC from primary production on the glacier surface, particularly in cryoconite deposits, and also from the deposition of carbonaceous material derived from terrestrial and anthropogenic sources.

To quantify the total storage of OC in terrestrial ice reservoirs, the study integrates measurements of organic carbon from mountain glaciers, ice sheets in Greenland, and Antarctica Ice Sheet, with data from locations that span five continents (see Figure 1). It turns out that that largest amount of OC is located in Antarctica, followed by Greenland and mountain glaciers. However, it is found in the study that a large portion of the OC released from melting glaciers is from mountain glaciers and peripheral glaciers which exit from the Greenland ice sheets (see Figure 2). The surprisingly disproportionately high DOC export from mountain glaciers and Greenland is associated with their glacier mass turnover rate, which is higher than in Antarctica. Even as glaciers are losing ice through melting and caving at their lower ends, they continue to receive new snow at the top, which converts to ice—a process of flow, which contributes to the movement of OC through the glaciers.

Figure 2. Storage and flux of glacier DOC. Total glacier storage of DOC (a) and annual DOC export in glacier runoff (b) for MGL, GIS, and AIS.
Figure 2. Storage and flux of glacier DOC. Total glacier storage of DOC (a) and annual DOC export in glacier runoff (b) for AIS (Antarctic Icesheet), GIS (Greenland Icesheet) and MGL (mountain glaciers). (Source: Hood et al.)

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC), two major components of the OC, are both significant components in the carbon cycle, because they are primary food sources in aquatic food webs. In particular, DOC forms complexes with trace metals, which can be transported and consumed by organisms. This may have drastic affects on marine life, “because this material is readily consumed by microbes at the bottom of the food chain,” said U.S. Geological Survey research glaciologist and co-author of the research Shad O’Neel. The microbes are an important source of food for plankton and for larger organisms in the seas, including crustaceans and fish.


Iceberg Calving (Source: Flickr/Indistinct)
Iceberg Calving (Source: indistinct/Flickr)

The study raises questions of the implications of OC input for carbon dioxide concentration in atmosphere. The authors suggest that glacier-derived OC shows a high degree of biological availability, when compared to other terrestrial sources. Hence, it is more likely to result in more rapid decomposition of dead marine organisms, which otherwise would fall from upper zones of the oceans to deeper sections, where they would remain for long periods. This decomposition, in turn, contributes to carbon dioxide outgassing from the oceans to the atmosphere.

For another story about the effects of glaciers on ocean chemistry and ecology, look here.

Roundup: New Stories on Black Carbon

We feature three stories, all of which focus on black carbon. This atmospheric pollutant plays an important role in accelerating glacier retreat. Moreover, policies can be designed to reduce it, by supporting alternative fuels and improved technologies. Reductions in black carbon also bring health benefits, since this substance leads to pulmonary diseases.

Story 1: Ice Core Data from Svalbard

Flickr/Mariusz Kluzniak
Source: Flickr/Mariusz Kluzniak

“The inner part of a 125 m deep ice core from Holtedahlfonna glacier (79◦8 N, 13◦2 E, 1150 m a.s.l.) was melted, filtered through a quartz fibre filter and analysed for EC using a thermal–optical method. The EC values started to increase after 1850 and peaked around 1910, similar to ice core records from Greenland. Strikingly, the EC values again increase rapidly between 1970 and 2004 after a temporary low point around 1970, reaching unprecedented values in the 1990s. This rise is not seen in Greenland ice cores, and it seems to contradict atmospheric BC measurements indicating generally decreasing atmospheric BC concentrations since 1989 in the Arctic.”

Read more about this research here.


Story 2: Black Carbon over the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau

Source: Flickr/Randomix
Source: Flickr/Randomix

“Black carbon (BC) particles over the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau (HTP), both airborne and those deposited on snow, have been shown to affect snowmelt and glacier retreat. Since BC over the HTP may originate from a variety of geographical regions 5 and emission sectors, it is essential to quantify the source–receptor relationships of BC in order to understand the contributions of natural and anthropogenic emissions and provide guidance for potential mitigation actions. ”

Read more about this research here.


Story 3: Modeling of Climatic and Hydrological Impacts

Source: Flickr/Bernard Blanc
Source: Flickr/Bernard Blanc

“Light absorbing particles (LAP, e.g., black carbon, brown carbon, and dust) influence water and energy budgets of the atmosphere and snowpack in multiple ways. In addition to their effects associated with atmospheric heating by absorption of solar radiation and interactions with clouds, LAP in snow on land and ice can reduce the surface reflectance (a.k.a., surface darkening), which is likely to accelerate the snow aging process and further reduces snow albedo and increases the speed of snowpack melt. LAP in snow and ice (LAPSI) has been identified as one of major forcings affecting climate change, e.g. in the fourth and fifth assessment reports of IPCC. However, the uncertainty level in quantifying this effect remains very high.”

Read more about this research here.


James Balog: Breathing Life Into Ice

James Balog. © James Balog
James Balog. © James Balog

For more than 30 years, James Balog, an American photographer, has devoted himself to merging insights from art and science to create innovative and vivid interpretations of our changing world. His photographic interests are diverse, including endangered animals, North America’s old-growth forests, and polar ice.

In 2007, Balog initiated a long-term photography project, called the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), which offers visual evidence of the Earth’s changing ecosystems. On the one hand, EIS is a substantial portfolio that documents the beauty and architecture of ice. On the other hand, it is time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss. So far, 41 solar-powered cameras have been deployed at 23 glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Austria, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. The glaciers are recorded every 30 minutes, year round, during daylight. The time-lapse images are then edited into videos that unveil an incremental record of climate change.

National Geographic magazine showcased the Extreme Ice Survey project in June 2007 and June 2010. The project is also featured in the renowned documentary, Chasing Ice, which won an award for Excellence in Cinematography at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as well as the 2014 News and Documentary Emmy award for Outstanding Nature Programming. The film has screened in more than 172 countries and on all 7 continents.

As a kind of companion piece to his documentary project, Balog published the book, ICE: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, in 2012. A review from Book News says, “Photographs…strike the eye with such power, and appeal with such subtlety, that viewers could scarcely imagine such epic materials and landscapes could disappear. General readers, artists, nature or geology fans, people who live or play in winter landscapes, and photographers, regardless of scientific or political bent, will all value this book.”

Balog is also the founder of the Earth Vision Institute (EVT), a non-profit organization dedicated to creating, publishing, and sharing “visual voices” to educate people about the impacts of climate change. (It was initially named the Earth Vision Trust, but Balog changed the name on January 1, 2015.) The Institute’s most recent project was “Getting The Picture: Our Changing Climate,” an innovative online multimedia tool for climate education, which synchronized art, science, and adventure. People of all ages can take advantage of this free interactive educational tool to gain a fresh perspective on the changing climate.

Roundup: Thawing Glaciers, Iceberg Calving, “Dead” Glaciers

Thawing Glaciers Release Pollutants 


“As glaciers increasingly melt in the wake of climate change, it is not only the landscape that is affected. Thawing glaciers also release many industrial pollutants stored in the ice into the environment. Now, within the scope of a Swiss National Science Foundation project, researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Empa, ETH Zurich and the University of Berne have measured the concentrations of a class of these pollutants – polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) – in the ice of an Alpine glacier accurately for the first time.”



Iceberg Calving is Extremely Sensitive to Climate Change


“Sea level rise is among the greatest threats due to climate change. Over the next century, ice sheets and glaciers will be one of the main contributors, through melting and calving of ice into the oceans. The amount of calved ice is not easy to reproduce in computer simulations, and due to the rapid and non-linear variability of calving fluxes, they are usually difficult to include in models forced by evolving climatic variables. Simulation of iceberg calving remains one of the grand challenges in preparing for future climate change.”

Read more at or at Nature Geoscience.


Black and White Photographs of “Dead” Glaciers


“I started from a data analysis conducted by the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network to see the map of the glacier and its relative changement in the length variation from 1961 and 2011. It’s interesting the word used to call the part of a glacier that goes under a certain mass. They are called “dead”. All the pictures shown here are taken to the new entrance of the glacier, in the “dead” part of it. Looking at the map, 50 years ago, this would have been completely covered by the ice.”