Using Kayaks and Drones to Explore Glaciers

Field study sounds cool: a group of scientists take boats out into untraveled waters on an important scientific mission, even witnessing extraordinary scenery like an iceberg calving event along the journey. However, the breathtaking beauty of such a trip can also come at a price, sometimes even human life!

“I like working in Alaska, but I face the difficulties of any ice or ocean research project,” said Erin Pettit, an associate professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Pettit finds it hard to find a reliable boat and captain for her trips, and too much ice in the fjord often limits how close she can get to the glaciers. The risks to her personal safety rise when she has to work on cold or rainy days.

A group of scientists are collecting data from Le Conte Glacier (source: Cal Dail/Flickr).

“It can be really dangerous in Alaska, so we send the kayaks out,” said June Marion, the principal engineer for a new study using remote-controlled kayaks to research Le Conte Glacier. The oceanic robotic kayaks are controlled by a laptop a few miles away, according to Marion.

“When the calving event happens and an iceberg falls onto the kayak, we do not need to sacrifice valuable human life,” she said. “More importantly, the kayak can go further into unexplored regions. We are more hopeful to collect data.”

Mechanical engineer June Marion works on the kayak’s engine assisted by her dad, Bobby Brown. Working on the rear kayak is robotics science students Nick McComb and Corwin Perren (source: Angela Denning / NOAA).

With a radio controller or a computer, the researchers navigate the kayak by clicking on points on a map, sending the kayak directly to the location for study. The engine can even be started using a computer program.

“There are always new technologies being used on glaciers,” said Pettit.

Guillaume Jouvet et al. figured out another way for scientists to avoid danger during field work. They used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, to study calving of the Bowdoin Glacier in Greenland in 2015. They combined satellite images, UAV photogrammetry, and ice flow modeling, drawing important conclusions from the results.

With UAVs, researchers are able to obtain high-resolution orthoimages taken immediately before and after the initiation of a large fracture, including major calving events. In this way, Jouvet et al.’s study demonstrates that UAV photogrammetry and ice flow modeling can be a safer tool to study glaciers.

Measurement of surface temperature of a glacier using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (source: W. Immerzeel et al.).

This technology has also been successfully applied to monitor Himalayan glacier dynamics: the UAVs can be used over high-altitude, debris-covered glaciers, with images of glacier elevation and surface changes derived at very high resolutions, according to W. Immerzeel et al.. UAVs can be further revolutionized to develop current glacier monitoring methods.

Scientists like Marion and Pettit are excited to see these new technologies developed to study glaciers and save lives. They are hoping for more methods to achieve this goal.

Roundup: Hazard Films, Water Scarcity, and Peace Building

Roundup: Films, Water and Peace


Films Raise Awareness in Volcanic Regions

From Science Direct: “The medium of film is well established for education and communication about hazardous phenomena as it provides engaging ways to directly view hazards and their impacts… Using volcanic eruptions as a focus, an evidence-based methodology was devised to create, use, and track the outcomes of digital film tools designed to raise hazard and risk awareness, and develop preparedness efforts. Experiences from two contrasting eruptions were documented, with the secondary purpose of fostering social and cultural memories of eruptions, developed in response to demand from at-risk communities during field-based research. The films were created as a partnership with local volcano monitoring scientists and at-risk populations who, consequently, became the leading focus of the films, thus offering a substantial contrast to other types of hazard communication.”

Read more about it here.

A map of St. Vincent showing the main road, water courses and volcanic hazard zones (source: Hicks et al.).


An Overview of Water Issues in Mountain Asia

From Cambridge Core: “Asia, a region grappling with the impacts of climate change, increasing natural disasters, and transboundary water issues, faces major challenges to water security. Water resources there are closely tied to the dramatic Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) mountain range, where over 46,000 glaciers hold some of the largest repositories of fresh water on earth. Often described as the water tower of Asia, the HKH harbors the snow and ice that form the headwaters of the continent’s major rivers. Downstream, this network of river systems sustains more than 1.3 billion people who depend on these freshwater sources for their consumption and agricultural production, and increasingly as a source of hydropower.”

Learn more about the HKH area here.

View from Cholpon-Ata across the lake towards the Tian-Shan Mountains in Asia (source: Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr).


The Pathway of Peaceful Living

From Te Kaharoa: “This paper traces the peacebuilding efforts of Anne Te Maihāora Dodds (Waitaha) in her North Otago community over the last twenty-five years. The purpose of this paper is to record these unique localized efforts, as a historical record of grass-roots initiatives aimed at creating a greater awareness of indigenous and environmental issues… The paper discussed several rituals and pilgrimages. It describes the retracing of ancestral footsteps of Te Heke Ōmaramataka (2012), the peace walk at Maungatī (2012) and the Ocean to Alps Celebration (1990). This paper also discusses the genesis behind cultural events such.”

Explore more about the Maori nation here.

Tasman Glacier at Mount Cook NP, New Zealand (source: Paco/Flickr).


Flooding Glacial Lakes in Chile

It is a peaceful experience to walk near the glacial lake near Colonia Glacier, one of several prominent glacier lakes in Patagonia, Chile. The breeze on the lake helps you relax as you look out on the distant glaciers. In such a tranquil setting, it is hard to imagine that a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOFs) could pose a threat to the area. However, GLOFs have become a significant but poorly understood hazard of a warming global climate.

Glacial Lake near Colonia Glacier (source: Ben Price / Flickr).

The truth is, melting Colonia Glacier, located in the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, Chile, has caused dozens of GLOFs over the years. The lake near Colonia Glacier, Cachet II, has been drained frequently after unexpected floodings. The people living nearby are under constant threat of a sudden flood, which could completely destroy homes and livelihoods.

Actually now, in the Chilean and Argentinean Andes, recent research by project member Pablo Iribarren Anacona has identified at least 31 glacial lakes have failed since the eighteenth century, producing over 100 GLOF events.

Comparison of 1987 and 2015 Landsat images indicating Colonia Glacier retreat and the development of a new lake at the terminus (source: Mauri Pelto/AGU).

“These lakes can be dangerous, and we need to take action,” Alton Byers, a geologist at the University of Colorado, told GlacierHub.

A group of scientists concerned about GLOF risk have initiated a project, “Glacier Hazards in Chile,” which aims to answer key questions concerning past, present and future glacial hazards in Chile. One of the members is Ryan Wilson, a glaciologist at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom.

Glacier lake outburst flooding (source: Pieter Edelman/Flickr).

“The project will assess the changing magnitude, frequency, and distribution of different glacial hazards in Chile under current and future global climate change,” Wilson explained to GlacierHub. At the moment, Wilson and the other researchers are focusing on understanding the processes that govern the development of GLOFs in Chile.

The fieldwork of Wilson and his team was recently featured in Science. The them held a workshop at Aberystwyth University in July 2016, during which they discussed progress on their Chilean fieldwork, glacial lake mapping, glacial hazard assessment, outburst flood modeling and climate modeling.

Left to right: Marius Schaefer, Ryan Wilson, Neil Glasser, John Reynolds, Sarah Shannon, and Pablo Irribaren (source: Glacial Hazards in Chile).

To assess GLOFs and GLOF risk, the team compiled a glacial lake inventory for the central and Patagonian Andes (1986 – 2016). Wilson said they used remote-sensing and fieldwork to find past GLOF sites around the major icefields, satellite glaciers and snow-and ice-capped volcanoes of Chile.

A storm is brewing (source: Joost van Veen/Flickr).

“We have managed to use this lake inventory to inform field campaigns in February to two interesting glacial lake sites in Chile,” Wilson said. “We conducted aerial drone surveys and collected lake bathymetry data.” The team will next analyze flood hydrographs (a graph showing the rate of flow versus time past a specific point in a river) of selected former GLOFs and use these to establish the patterns of downstream impacts. They are proud of their work so far, which they hope to publish soon.

The team carrying out a topographic survey in the Colonia Valley (source: Glacial Hazards in Chile).

Using the inventory across Chile, the team and local community  are able to assess the potential damage GLOFs can cause. Wilson et al. plan to “conduct numerical simulations of downstream impacts for selected potential GLOF sites using physically-based numerical flood models.”

In collaboration with Chilean partners, this research will be used to develop early warning systems and raise awareness about quantified GLOF risks. Glacial hazards have threatened various commercial and governmental stakeholders across Chile, making GLOFs a pressing priority.

Lalo, a local farmer who raises livestock, is under the threat of GLOFs (source: NRDC).

The ultimate goal of the project is to provide a framework that can be applied to other lower income countries, since GLOFs pose threats in multiple countries.

“We will make recommendations for GLOF hazard assessment protocols and mitigation strategies in lower income countries globally,” Wilson told GlacierHub.

A New Glacier Grows at Mount St. Helens

“I grew up in the Yakima Valley (near Mount St. Helens). I was out fishing when I saw the lightning and dark cloud,” Flickr user vmf-214, who captured the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, told GlacierHub. “It looked like a storm. I saw it as I pulled into the yard. Mom came out and said the mountain had blown.”

A major volcanic eruption occurred at Mount St. Helens in 1980 (source: vmf-214/Flickr).

He was describing the volcanic eruption that occurred at Mount St. Helens 37 years ago in May 1980. During that event, an eruption column rose into the sky, ultimately impacting 11 states in the U.S. But it wasn’t just the people who live in the area that were affected by the eruption: the glaciers of Mount St. Helens melted into nearby rivers, causing several mudslides.

Cascades Volcano Observatory indicates that before the 1980 eruption, extensive glaciers had covered Mount St. Helens for several hundred thousand years. About 3,900 years ago, Mount St. Helens began to grow to its pre-eruption elevation and a high cone developed, allowing for substantial glacial formation. There were 11 major glaciers and several unnamed glaciers by May 18, 1980, according to the United States Geological Survey. But after the eruption and resultant landslide, about 70 percent of the glacier mass was removed from the mountainside. It was during the winter of 1980 to 1981, following the catastrophic eruption, that a new glacier, Crater Glacier, first emerged.

An aerial view of the crater (source: Geography Review).

“The glacier formed very fast, in a couple decades,” professor Regine Hock from the University of Alaska – Fairbanks told GlacierHub.

It developed in a deep crater left by the eruption and landslide. Rock debris from the crater walls and avalanche snow created a thick deposit between the 1980–86 lava dome and crater walls. Shaped like an amphitheater, the crater protected the glacier from sunlight, allowing the glacier to expand extensively, according to the USGS. By September 1996, it was evident from photographs and monitoring that a new glacier had formed. Crater Glacier at Mount St. Helens is now considered one of the youngest glaciers on Earth.

“The glacier tongues can be seen, descending either side of the degassing cone. Much of the glacier is covered by volcanic ash,” notes a recent report in Geography Review. By 2004, the report continues, the glacier covered around 0.36 square miles (0.93 km2), with two lobes wrapping around the lava dome in a horseshoe-like shape.

A bulge in Crater Glacier next to the south side of the 1980–86 lava dome in 2004 (source: D. Dzurisin, USGS/Walder et al.).

Joseph S. Walder, a research hydrologist at the USGS, has been studying the latest eruptions of Mount St. Helens. When interviewed by GlacierHub, he attributed the formation of the Crater Glacier to three factors.

“First, the crater acts as a sort of bowl that collects snow avalanching from the crater walls, so the accumulation rate is extremely high,” Walder said. “Secondly, the crater floor is in shadow most of the time. Last but not least, lots of rock material avalanches onto the crater floor, tending to cover and insulate accumulating snow.”

The new lava dome of Mount St. Helens and the by-then morphologically distinct east Crater Glacier (in foreground) in 2005 (source: J.W. Vallance, USGS/Walder et al.).

Today, there are hiking tours available throughout the Mount St. Helens area. Climbing the mountain is like walking on the moon, with ash and boulders surrounding you. From the top, you can see the growing volcanic dome, steaming and smoking.

Rodney Benson, an earth science teacher and blog writer at, hiked into the crater recently. “Some say the world will end in fire. Some say ice. What does this new glacier indicate?” he pondered.

Hike into Mt. St. Helens (source: buen viaje/Flickr).


As glaciers around the world recede as a result of climate change, the new glacier provides a fascinating context to explore interactions between volcanic processes, volcanic deposits and glacier behavior. The intensive monitoring programs led by the USGS have allowed us to observe these processes in unusual detail.

Photo Friday: Glaciers in Films

Magnificent, beautiful and mysterious, glaciers are a critical part of nature. For thousands years, humans have responded to glaciers through art, incorporating them in paintings, poems, folk songs, and more recently, movies. With the development of modern arts, specifically the film industry, glaciers have popped up in a range of creative endeavors from documentaries to animated pictures.

Explore some popular films featuring glaciers with GlacierHub.


Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice (2012) is the story of one man’s quest to gather evidence of climate change. A documentary film about environmental photographer James Balog, it tells the story of his trip to the Arctic to capture images to help tell the story of Earth’s changing climate.

“The calving of a massive glacier believed to have produced the ice that sank the Titanic is like watching a city break apart” (source: Chasing Ice).

The film included scenes from a glacier calving event lasting 75 minutes at Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland, the longest calving event ever captured on film.

“Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he comes face to face with his own mortality,” the film introduction states. “It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate.”

Film still of Chasing Ice (source: Chasing Ice).



Ice Age

Ice Age (2002) is one of the most popular animations in the world and its sequels have continued to delight thousands of children and adults. First directed by Chris Wedge and produced by Blue Sky Studios, the film is set during the ice age. The characters in the film must migrate due to the coming winters. These animals, including a mammoth family, a sloth Sid, and a saber-tooth tiger Diego, live on glaciers. They find a human baby and set out to return the baby.

The animation won positive reviews and awards, making it a successful film about glaciers.

Sloth Sid (source: Ice Age movie).


Film still of Ice Age (source: Ice Age movie).



James Bond

Jökulsárlón, an unearthly glacial lagoon in Iceland, makes its appearance in several James Bonds films, including A View to Kill (1985) and Die Another Day (2002).

A View to Kill, starring Roger Moore, Christopher Walken and Tanya Roberts, was also filmed on location at other glaciers in Iceland, including Vatnajökull Glacier in Vatnajökull, Austurland, Iceland.



China: Between Clouds and Dreams

The documentary China: Beyond Clouds and Dreams (2016) is an award-winning new series by Director Phil Agland. The five-part series tells intimate human stories of China’s relationship with nature and the environment as the country grapples with the reality of global warming and ecological collapse. See the trailer here.

Commissioned by China Central Television and filmed over three years, the film includes a scene of glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau, where the impacts of climate change are most obvious.

Glaciers are disappearing (source: China: Between Clouds and Dreams).


Film still of China: Between Clouds and Dreams (source: European Bank).




Explore the Homeland of the Emperor Penguin

Each winter, thousands of Emperor Penguins leave the ocean and start marching to a remote place in Antarctica for their breeding season. Blinded by blizzards and strong winds, only guided by their instincts, they march to an isolated region, that does not support life for most of the year…

March of the Penguins

The famous documentary March of the Penguins, directed by Luc Jacquet, earned the emperor penguin fanfare and admiration around the world. With their charismatic shape and loving nature, emperor penguins reside on the ice and in the ocean waters of Antarctica for the entirety of their lifespan, living on average from 15 to 20 years. 

Satellite data has been used to help researchers better understand emperor penguin populations and how they respond to environmental variability, including the threat of a rapidly warming planet. But the information gleaned so far remains too limited to significantly help conservation efforts. Enter André Ancel, a researcher who led a team on a mission to study the remaining areas where emperor penguins might breed. His team recently published their findings in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

March of the Penguins Official Trailer:


Photos of emperor penguins taken close to Dumont d’Urville station (source: André Ancel).
Photos of emperor penguins taken close to Dumont d’Urville station (source: André Ancel).
“The climate of our planet is undergoing regional and global changes, which are driving shifts in the distribution and phenology of many plants and animals,” Ancel writes in his paper. “We focus on the southern polar region, which includes one of the most rapidly warming areas of the planet. Among birds adapted to live in this extreme and variable environment, penguin species are the best known.”

Even with their extreme adaption capabilities, emperor penguin breeding colonies are impacted by the fact that chicks often succumb to Antarctic elements. “Though they are one of the tallest and heaviest birds in the world, the survival rate of newborn emperor penguins is really low, only about 19 percent,” Shun Kuwashima, a PhD student at UCSC and self-declared penguin lover, explained. The purpose of Ansel et al.’s research was to predict how the species responds to climate change and to better understand the penguins’ biogeography, or geographical distribution.

“There are only about 54 known breeding colonies,” notes Ancel, “many of which have not yet been comprehensively studied.”

Location of the 54 emperor penguin breeding colonies around the Antarctic continent (source: Ancel et al.).
Location of the 54 emperor penguin breeding colonies around the Antarctic continent (source: Ancel et al.).
But finishing the research was a problem, considering that access to emperor penguin colonies remains limited. Getting accurate measurements on the size and location of the colonies relies on ground mapping and aerial photographs, which is “laborious, time consuming and costly,” according to Ancel. Even with the help of satellites, heavy cloud cover in the winter degrades the quality of images. Not to mention, the lack of light further complicates the collection of accurate data. In addition, the break-out of sea ice at the end of the breeding season can reduce the probability of detecting breeding colonies.

Although the authors did not actually conduct any exploration or examine remote sensing data to locate new emperor penguin colonies, they used data on the location of known colonies to make their findings. Based on the behavioral patterns of penguins, including movement and dispersal, and on the availability of food, the researchers found “six regions potentially sheltering colonies of emperor penguins.”

“What a big ship” (source: Arctic Al / Flickr).
“What a big ship!” (source: Arctic Al /Flickr).
It is true that scientists have looked for emperor penguin colonies with satellite data in the past, but the method was limited. To make improvements and find potentially missing colonies, the team developed an approach for calculating separation distance between colonies.

The approach determined the loxodromic separation distance (the shortest distance between two points on the surface of a sphere) between each pair of geographically adjacent colonies. Then, based on the fact that a breeding adult can travel 100 km from the colony during the breeding period, assuming a circumpolar distribution, the researchers pinpointed the potential areas where emperor penguin colonies might exist or could settle.

Emperor penguins with a chick (source: André Ancel).
An emperor penguin with a chick (source: André Ancel).
“Based on distances between existing colonies, we found six regions potentially sheltering colonies of emperor penguins,” Ancel explained to GlacierHub. “Some of the regions are located near glaciers.”

The regions identified by Ancel et al. do not fundamentally differ from the areas of other known colonies, which makes it possible that there are more than 54 colonies. It is similarly plausible that emperor penguins are adapting to new conditions through behavioral changes, Ancel indicated.

Safe harbor for an emperor penguin chick (source: Ignacio Nazal / Flickr).
Safe harbor for an emperor penguin chick (source: Ignacio Nazal/Flickr).
He expressed anxiety about climate change, noting that emperor penguins do not appear to show much flexibility in this regard. Emperor penguins live on sea ice off the coast, with some living near glaciers, including by Taylor Glacier, Mertz Glacier and Dibble Glacier. They require a proper amount of ice: not too much, so they can walk to the sea and hunt for food, but also not too little, so they can stay away from predators.

“Emperor penguins, like many other sea animals, are critically influenced by the harmful effects of global warming,” Kuwashima told GlacierHub in a recent interview. “The entire emperor penguin population could decrease by a third by the end of the century due to the inadvertent effect of climate change.”

It is heartbreaking to imagine that we may no longer be able to see the adorable emperor penguin chicks in Antarctica, but emperor penguins are in danger. As research conducted by Trathan et al. in 2011 showed, “In the Antarctic Peninsula region, one of the most rapidly warming parts of the planet during the latter part of the 20th century, one emperor colony has disappeared.”

Emperor penguin chicks at play (source: Ian Duffy / Flickr).
Emperor penguin chicks at play (source: Ian Duffy/Flickr).
Ancel concluded, “Our analysis highlights a fundamental requirement, that in order to predict how species might respond to regional climate change, we must better understand their biogeography and the factors that lead to their occupation of particular sites.” Armed with this knowledge, we might still be able to protect this beautiful species.

The Yin and Yang of Glacier Animation

Pororo the Little Penguin is very popular in Korea and almost everyone knows it (source: Samsung Newsroom).
Pororo the Little Penguin is very popular in Korea (source: Samsung Newsroom).

Pororo the Little Penguin is an animated cartoon series that is widely viewed in Korea. “It’s like the Sesame Street of Korea,” said Kyung Hyun Kim, a professor of East Asian languages at the University of California Irvine. “It is very popular among children.”

In the animation, Pororo plays with his six close friends, including Poby, a polar bear who lives near a glacier. Their stories, largely set in a snowy forest, offer children important lessons on life. The animation’s popularity is shown by the nickname the children in Korea have given Pororo— ‘Poresident’, or ‘Pororo president.’ Pororo’s image can be found on 1,500 different products, from chopsticks to children’s clothing.

Recently, a group of researchers conducted a study on the unprecedented success of Pororo the Little Penguin. Yeo-Jin Yoona and Han Chae are two of the leading authors on the paper published in the journal of Integrative Medicine Research. Their study focused on the biophysical features of seven of the animation’s characters.

An episode of Pororo the Little Penguin, dubbed in English here.

“Our intention was to select one of the most successful recent animations. How well animation characters are designed to reflect realistic physical appearances and personalities can explain its success,” Yoona told GlacierHub. “Animal characters can be good to study to understand children’s point of view.”

Moreover, Yoona described how animation characters were “created to embody distinctive personality and body image.” Yet, prior to the recent study, those features had not been analyzed with objective measures based on East-Asian theory. “The purpose of this study was to analyze the biopsychological features of seven animation characters in Pororo the Little Penguin with clinically validated and standardized measures of Sasang typology,” the paper explains.

The Sasang typology is a systemic incarnation of medical typology that is poised to explain the influence of emotionality, behavioral patterns and cognitive tendencies, and physical and physiological characteristics in the treatment of diseases (source: Han Chae).
The Sasang typology explains the influence of emotionality, behavioral patterns, cognitive tendencies, and physical and physiological characteristics in the treatment of diseases (source: Han Chae).

Sasang typology is a classification scheme used in traditional Korean medicine that dates back to 1894, when western medicine had not yet been introduced in Korea. People tended to use “yin and yang” to explain everything in the world, including human beings themselves. Chae, a professor at the School of Korean Medicine at Pusan National University, elucidated the classification scheme further: “The Sasang typology divides people into four categories: Tae-Yang or ‘greater yang,’ Tae-Eum or ‘greater yin,’ So-Yang or ‘less yang,’ and So-Eum or ‘less yin.’” This typology then explains individual differences in susceptibility to a certain disease.

The typology was inherited by modern Korean medicine and applied to broader perspectives. It can be used to classify people’s personality, strengths, and weaknesses. For instance, in the animation, Poby, the polar bear that lives on a glacier, enjoys fishing, playing drums and photography. Although Poby is the largest character in the animation, he also has a gentle nature, talks slowly, and is kind to all of his friends. Because of his good temper, he takes responsibility when it comes to doing chores in the village, usually trying his best to keep everyone else safe and happy. It is no surprise that Poby is popular among kids, and even has his own webpage! There are also Poby figures available for purchase on Amazon.

Kids are playing with Pororo at a kids cafe(source: Marcus Z Photography / Flickr).
Children playing with Pororo figures at a cafe (source: Marcus Z Photography/Flickr).

Poby’s contrasting traits and personality are easily identifiable in the animation. The contrasts in his personality were indicated in the results of Yoona’s study. Interestingly, Korean medicine believes those with a larger body should have a Tae-Eum or “greater yin” type character. But Poby’s calm, gentle, and thoughtful demeanor identify him as a So-Eum or “less yin” type. In this way, he shows the complexity of a human being in the real world.

In a movie, there can be simple characters like Pororo and also more complicated characters like Poby. Poby’s unique personality brings a balance of Yin-Yang temperament to the seven main characters in Pororo the Little Penguin, according to Yoona et al. This balance might contribute to Poby’s great popularity in Korea and abroad. So popular is Poby that Korea has Pororo-themed children’s cafes, where children can play with Poby and other Pororo figures. A Spanish-speaking fan of Poby, malu loves kyungsoo, recently tweeted to show how much she loves Poby.

A girl fan of Poby is dressed like him (source: NCE).
A girl fan of Poby is dressed like him (source: NCE).

Chae is optimistic about the application of the typology, telling GlacierHub, “This interdisciplinary research methodology of Sasang typology suggested it would be a useful tool for educating healthcare professionals and the general public about Korean medicine. We proved that Sasang typology is successful for analyzing the biopsychosocial features of animation characters, as well as patients.”

Their analysis brings together the ancient cultural system of Korean medicine and the contemporary cultural form of animated cartoons. It is striking as well that glaciers–ancient natural entities–form part of the contemporary imagined world of Pororo.


Snow Bacteria, A Pandora’s Box?

Stills for the movie “The Day after Tomorrow” (source: Day After Tomorrow Images).
Still from the film “The Day after Tomorrow” (source: Day After Tomorrow Images).

Remember the famous scene in the movie “The Day after Tomorrow” when the flood comes, along with storms and a tsunami, and hundreds of people are killed at the dawn of a new ice age? In that scene, the bacteria once frozen in the world’s glaciers is released due to global warming. It turns out that fateful scenario may one day come true, according to recent research by Yongqin Liu, a scientist at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITPR) in China.

Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research of Chinese Academy of Sciences (sourece: ITPR).
The Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (source: ITPR).

You might be surprised or confused about how bacteria could survive in extremely cold conditions for thousands of years. The reason bacteria and other viruses can remain dormant in the ice layer is because some bacteria are cold-adapted. Glaciers can serve as excellent locations for such bacteria to survive during long periods of extreme cold.

“A frozen condition is not optimal for most creatures on earth, but it does provide a satisfactory living environment for some microorganisms,” said Liu.

Location of the Guoqu and East Rongbuk Glacier (source: Liu et al.).
The location of the Guoqu and East Rongbuk glaciers (source: Liu et al.).


In the last few decades, scientists at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research have been studying snow bacteria in the Tibetan Plateau. Liu is one of the leading scholars on the team. For instance, earlier in 2008, she conducted research about snow bacterial abundance and diversity at the Guoqu Glacier and the East Rongbuk Glacier.

By using a special approach (16S rRNA gene clone library and flow cytometry), Liu and her colleagues observed different patterns of seasonal variation at the two glaciers. They found that bacterial diversity at the glaciers also exhibits different responses to various environmental conditions.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Liu explained, “Currently, we are focusing on the diversity of snow bacteria from glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau environment. Our latest paper was about snow bacteria on the Zangser Kangri Glacier. We managed to identify the major sources of the bacteria and make a comparison of snow bacterial abundance between the Zangser Kangri Glacier and other glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau.”

Scientists are collecting ice-core at Tibet (source: ITPR).
Scientists collecting ice cores in Tibet (source: ITPR).

Liu is one of many scientists fascinated with snow bacteria. But others might feel it is irrelevant to their modern life since these bacteria remain in a deep and frozen sleep. Shuhong Zhang, a researcher at Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes otherwise.

“One impact of climate change is the rapid shrinking of glaciers,” Zhang writes in an article. “This results in microorganisms getting deposited into glacial snow or ice and being exposed to new environments such as glacier forelands.”

Shlomit Paz, a scientist from University of Haifa, also found that the West Nile virus, one of the world’s most widely distributed viruses, could be propelled by global warming. “Recent changes in climatic conditions, particularly increased snowmelt and glacier retreat, contributed to the maintenance of the West Nile Virus in various locations in southern Europe, western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean, the Canadian Prairies, parts of the USA and Australia,” Paz writes. “As predictions show that the current trends are expected to continue, for better preparedness, any assessment of future transmission of West Nile Virus should take into consideration the impacts of climate change.”

Ancient bacteria found in glaciers (source: Sina Tech).
Ancient bacteria found in a glacier (source: Sina Tech).

So perhaps one day, without actions taken to mitigate climate change, a Pandora’s box will be opened. In the ancient Greek myth, all the evils fly out of the box. And now, climate change may set lethal bacteria and viruses free, posing a new, catastrophic threat to human beings.

Photo Friday: The Qilian Mountains

Located at the border of Qinghai Province and Gansu Province in China, the Qilian Mountains are the outlier of the Kunlun Mountains. Since the range is at the south of Hexi Corridor (the historic route from eastern China to other countries in Asia), it is also known as “Nanshan.”There are notable mountains in the mountain chain, including the Grand Glacier, Torey Mountains, Shulenan Mountains, and the Danghenan Mountains. The Shulenan Mountains, for example, sweep down to Qinghai Province and spread for 350 kilometers. The average height of the mountain tops is about 5000 meters. The middle of Shulenan Mountains is also the highest area of Qilian Mountains with three mountain tops higher than 5500 meters. At these high elevations, there are well-developed glaciers in the area including eight major glaciers.
Snow covers the mountain tops all year long and livestock herds graze in the well-watered valleys. Learn more about Qilian mountains here and view GlacierHub’s collection of images.
Qilian (source: Great Han / Flickr)
The Qilian Mountains in China (source: Great Han/Flickr).


Mount Qilian in Spring (source: Kid Chen / Flickr).
The Qilian Mountains in spring (source: Kid Chen/Flickr).


Mount Qilian in Summer (source: Kid Chen / Flickr).
The Qilian Mountains in summer (source: Kid Chen/Flickr).


Mount Qilian in fall (source: Xiwu).
The Qilian Mountains in fall (source: Xiwu).


Mountain Qilian in winter (sourece: Nick Song / Flickr).
The Qilian Mountains in winter (sourece: Nick Song/Flickr).


Shule River near Qilian Mountains (source: Binglan).
The Shule River near the Qilian Mountains (source: Binglan).


Startrack at Zhuoer County near Qilian Mountains (source: Zongseshijue).
Startrack at Zhuoer County near the Qilian Mountains (source: Zongseshijue).

Ice-core Evidence of Copper Smelting 2700 Years Ago

The mysterious Moche civilization originated on the northern coast of Peru in 200-800 AD. It was known for its metal work, considered by some to be the most accomplished of any Andean civilization. But were the Moche the first Andean culture to originate copper smelting in South America?

While the Moche left comprehensive archaeological evidence of an early sophisticated use of copper, the onset of copper metallurgy is still debated. Some peat-bog records (records of spongy decomposing vegetation) from southern South America demonstrate that copper smelting occurred earlier, around 2000 BC.

Art craft of Moche culture in Lambayeque, PERÚ (source: Douglas Fernandes / Flickr).
Moche mask from Lambayeque, Peru (source: Douglas Fernandes/Flickr).

The question motivated Anja Eichler et al. to launch a massive study of copper emission history. The details of the findings were subsequently published in a paper in Nature. Eichler, an analytical chemistry scientist at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, and her team presented a 6500-year copper emission history for the Andean Altiplano based on glacier ice-core records. This is a new methodology applied to trace copper smelting.

“Copper is often referred to as the ‘backbone of Andean metallurgy – the mother of all Andean metals,’” Eichler explained to GlacierHub. “However, in contrast to the early copper metallurgy in the Middle East and Europe, very little information existed about its onset in the Andes.”

The ice-core they used for their research was drilled at the Illimani Glacier in Bolivia in 1999, nearby sites of the ancient cultures. It provides the first complete history of large-scale copper smelting activities in South America and revealed extensive copper metallurgy. Illimani is the highest mountain in the Cordillera Oriental and the second highest peak in Bolivia.

Location of Illimani (source: Eichler et al.).
Location of Illimani (source: Eichler et al.).

When asked about how she started her research, Eichler told GlacierHub, “I got involved in the project in 2012. At that time, PhD students and a post-doc had already obtained exciting findings and secrets revealed by ice-core records. We started looking at copper and lead as traces from copper and silver mining and smelting in the Andes.”

The results of Eichler et al.’s study suggest that the earliest anthropogenic copper pollution occurred between 700–50 BC, during the central Andean Chiripa and Chavin cultures, around 2700 years ago, meaning that copper was produced extensively much earlier than people originally thought.

The sculpted head represented the Chavín culture, considered one of the oldest "civilizations" in the Americas [BSO explain this--sculpted head of mythological being at Chavin.](source: Boring Lovechild / Flickr).
A sculpted head at  Chavín de Huantar (source: Boring Lovechild/Flickr).
“For the first time, our study provides substantial evidence for extensive copper metallurgy already during these early cultures,” said Eichler.

One of the most challenging parts of the research is that copper can show up in the ice core from natural as well as human sources. Eichler’s team accounted for this by calculating the copper Enrichment Factor, which is applied widely to distinguish the natural and anthropogenic origin of metal. The principle of this methodology is to measure the occurrence of different metals. If copper appeared naturally due to wind erosion, it would be found in association with other metals that co-occur with it naturally.

However, according to Eichler’s findings, there was only copper in central Andean Chiripa and Chavin cultures, without cerium or the other metals that occur with it in natural deposits. Hence, it was anthropogenic. The Chiripa culture existed from 1400 BC to 850 BC along the southern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia,  near Illimani Glacier. Soon after the Chiripa, came the Chavin culture, a prehistoric civilization that developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 900 BC to 200 BC, named for Chavín de Huantar, the principal archaeological site where their artifacts have been found.

Moche copper funeral mask with shell ornaments from Ucupe, Peru (source: University of North Carolina)
Moche copper funeral mask with shell ornaments from Ucupe, Peru (source: University of North Carolina).

Copper objects from these earlier cultures are scanty. The reason why there is no sufficient archaeological evidence of copper usage, according to Eichler, is that very often artifacts were reused by subsequent cultures.

“It is known that metallic objects cast by civilizations were typically scavenged from artifacts of their predecessors,” Eichler explained. “Furthermore, ancient metallurgical sites are difficult to find because of the lack of substantive remains, particularly smelting installations. Prehistoric smelting furnaces tended to be small or smelting was performed on open fires and thus left little permanent remains.”

Mount Illimani from Aimara, meaning "Golden Eagle" (source: Arturo / Flickr).
Mount Illimani, seen across the Bolivian Altiplano (source: Arturo/Flickr).

The two major sources of copper in the atmosphere— and hence in ice cores from glaciers, where the atmosphere deposits copper compounds— are smelting activities and natural mineral dust. The contribution of Eichler and her team has been to distinguish these and document the creativity of early cultures who developed means to smelt copper.

Roundup: Snow Bacteria, Sting, and Glacier Awareness

Roundup: Bacteria, Sting, and Glacier Awareness


Snow Bacteria in the Tibetan Plateau

From INFONA: “Snow bacterial abundance and diversity at the Guoqu Glacier and the East Rongbuk Glacier located in the central and southern Tibetan Plateau were investigated using a 16S rRNA gene clone library and flow cytometry approach. Bacterial abundance was observed to show seasonal variation, with different patterns, at the two glaciers. High bacterial abundance occurs during the monsoon season at the East Rongbuk Glacier and during the non-monsoon season at the Guoqu Glacier. Seasonal variation in abundance is caused by the snow bacterial growth at the East Rongbuk Glacier, but by bacterial input from the dust at the Guoqu Glacier. Under the influence of various atmospheric circulations and temperature, bacterial diversity varies seasonally at different degrees.”

Read more about it here.

Location of Guoqu and Rongbuk Glaciers on Tibetan Plateau (source: Liu et al. / Abundance and diversity of snow bacteria in two glaciers at the Tibetan Plateau).
Location of Guoqu and Rongbuk Glaciers on Tibetan Plateau (source: Liu et al.).



New Animated Music Video – Sting’s “One Fine Day”

From AboutVideo: “Some celebrities do not grow old, not only outwardly but also in the creative plan. In November 2016, the British singer Sting has pleased his fans with a new studio album ’57th & 9th,’ his 12th. On sounding, the album refers to the days Sting was part of the band The Police. The success of the new album has fixed the singer in the top twenty of the UK Albums Charts… In the song ‘One Fine Day,’ Sting sings about protecting the environment. He calls for common sense with regard to nature and its gifts. The musician appears in the video as a silhouette on crumpled paper. The beautiful images on paper give a sense of danger. Sting shows how the glaciers are melting and the politicians are endlessly arguing with each other, leading to the destruction of the planet.”

Watch the video here.

One Fine Day by Sting (source: Sting / Youtube).
Art from One Fine Day by Sting (source: Sting/Youtube).



Raising Awareness About Glacier Retreat

From : “A group of mountaineers and a researcher from Shimshal Valley – Hunza, reached Askoli, a remote mountain village in Skardu, after walking across the Braldu Pass. They are on a a mission to raise awareness about saving glaciers from depleting… The expedition members surveyed Mulungdi glacier and Khurdupin glacier before embarking on their journey to Askoli on January 6… Pakistan is home to world’s largest ice glaciers out of the polar region. Spread over an area of 16933 square kilometers, there are over 5000 glaciers in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral regions of Pakistan, including the famous Siachin Glacier, Biafo Glacier, Khoordhopin Glacier, Batura Glacier, Braldu Glacier, Snow lake and many more. These glaciers are the major source of water feeding the major rivers in Pakistan.”

Learn more here.

1st Winter Glacier Conservancy Awareness Expedition 2017 (source: Pakistan Integrated Mountain Conservancy Program).
First Winter Glacier Conservancy Awareness Expedition 2017 (source: Pakistan Integrated Mountain Conservancy Program).


Penitentes found on Pluto!

“Don’t tell Mars that my new favorite planet became Pluto!” said John Moores, assistant professor in the department of earth and space science and engineering at York University, whose findings appeared in the journal Nature in early January. But what caused Moores’ sudden change of heart?

                Interview of John Moores by York University

With help from NASA and Johns Hopkins University, Moores and a team of scientists discovered evidence of penitentes on Pluto. As Moores et al. explain in their article, “Penitentes are snow and ice features formed by erosion that, on Earth, are characterized by bowl-shaped depressions several tens of centimetres across, whose edges grade into spires up to several metres tall.”

Snow penitentes on Earth (Source: Alex Schwab/Flickr).
Snow penitentes on Earth (Source: Alex Schwab/Flickr).
Though these penitentes on Pluto are composed of frozen methane and nitrogen, not frozen water, the finding still means that snow and ice features previously only seen on Earth have been spotted elsewhere within our solar system. This suggests that these features may also exist on other similar planets.

“No matter whether we are on Earth or Pluto, the same physics applies. We can extend these results to other environments as well,” writes Moores on his blog.

Surprised by nature, they discovered snakeskin-like parallel ridges in the Tartarus Dorsa area on Pluto. These ridges resembled penitentes seen on Earth. There have been other examples of similar features on other planets, but these were often caused by processes different from the ones on Earth. Therefore, Moores et al. at first did not believe the features could actually be penitentes.

The bladed terrain of Pluto’s Tartarus Dorsa region, photographed by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015 (Source: NASA).
The bladed terrain of Pluto’s Tartarus Dorsa region, photographed by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015 (Source: NASA).
“Pluto was nothing like what we expected,” Moores notes on his blog. In order to determine that the features were true penitentes, Moores et al. applied a terrestrial model called the Claudin Model to Pluto. The model was originally developed to describe a mechanism to control the spacing of penitentes on Earth. When Moores et al. applied the model to Pluto, something strange happened: “The model, which was modified appropriately for Pluto, actually predicted penitentes consistent with what we saw on Pluto when using parameters consistent with Pluto’s extremely thin, yet extremely stable atmosphere,” Moores said.  “The theory fits the available facts quite well.” Keeping with these observations, the model also predicted that penitentes would not form at all in the more volatile nitrogen ices elsewhere on the dwarf planet, according to Moores.

First reported in the Chilean Andes by Darwin in the 1830s, penitentes form in areas of strong sunlight. In certain conditions, initial random irregularities in a snow surface can be deepened as curved depressions focus sunlight, accelerating sublimation (the transition of water molecules directly from a solid state to a gas state). As the depressions deepen, the higher points remain, shading the parts behind them, and thus slowing down sublimation. The result is a collection of spiky forms, all oriented toward the sun. Vapor processes within the depressions also contribute to the process of formation of penitentes.

How can such large penitentes form on Pluto, when Pluto’s environment is so different from the Earth? “It’s because these penitentes do not form in water ice but in methane ice, which evaporates more easily,” Moores explained to GlacierHub. “Furthermore, the atmosphere into which the sublimating methane vapor mixes is much less dense (about 15,000 times less dense than on Earth), allowing the vapor-rich layer to be thicker.”

The aligned ridges on Pluto resemble high-latitude terrestrial penitentes (source: Moores et al. / Nature).
The aligned ridges on Pluto resemble high-latitude terrestrial penitentes (source: Moores et al. / Nature).
Moores is excited about his findings. “Those 1,750 words are the most challenging I’ve ever written in my professional life,” he said, referring to his study published in Nature. “It has been an honor to be able to contribute to the science of Pluto, and I will be following the progress of the science results from New Horizons closely in the years to come.”

When asked about his future plans, Moores mentioned to GlacierHub that he hopes to continue his research on other planets. “We’re already looking at possibilities on Mars,” he said. “We’re also thinking about how we might use our simulation chambers to get a better idea of the rheology of methane at these temperatures.”