“Never stop being curious…” That’s Pierre Markuse’s advice. Markuse, who is based in Hamm, Germany, processes images taken from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites and NASA’s Landsat orbiters.
Aside from their beauty, his images capture the impact of anthropogenic climate change. The thousands of years old ice of the United States, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Russia, and Iceland, among other nations, is seen in vivid color and from high about the Earth’s surface. But side by side images, such as the ones below of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, show the vast amount of glacier retreat that has occurred in just the last several decades.
Markuse’s images give us a unique perspective from which to admire—and lament—the state of Earth’s cryosphere.
The last-chance tourism market is booming. As many of the world’s natural wonders deteriorate and vanish, glaciers and coral reefs especially, people are urged to see them before it’s too late. Social media and tourism markets are massively influential in spurring wanderlust and driving our desire for travel.
Last-chance tourism is paradoxical. Tourists often visit remote destinations to take in the beauty and experience a place that may not be the same in the future. But in doing so, they are contributing to climate change, negatively impacting these destinations through carbon-intensive travel.
A recent study published in Annals of Tourism Research discusses the ethical challenges of last-chance tourism. Lead author Mark Groulx and colleagues examined tourists’ willingness to offset the environmental footprint of their travel by participating in carbon offset programs. The study is significant in understanding the role of place identity and attachment in this sector of tourism and the complexities around stewardship.
Schemes are often presented as a voluntary fee. They allow travelers to invest in carbon reduction projects that balance out the carbon footprint of their travel. These projects could include carbon capture technologies or forest conservation efforts, as well as prevention of new emissions through investing in building wind farms and other green technologies. However, many tourists do not engage in offsetting schemes with rates of engagement below 10 percent for most popular tourist destinations.
The team compared two locations in Canada vulnerable to climate change: polar bear tourism in Churchill, Manitoba and glacier tourism in Jasper National Park. Polar bear populations are well known to be threatened by climate change. The call to save these beloved animals is a key selling point by activists in combating climate change. Warming directly impacts glaciers, and many of the world’s most important glaciers may disappear within the century.
Churchill is famous for its polar bear viewing, which has grown significantly since the 1980s. Birding, beluga whale watching, aurora borealis viewing, and dog sledding are also popular activities. Polar bear populations are in decline as seasonal sea ice diminishes especially during summer. According to a previous study, the Churchill polar bear population could become extinct in as little as 30 years.
Jasper National Park is one of the most heavily visited parks in Canada with a total of 2.33 million visitors in 2016. According to the authors, the Athabasca Glacier is a considerable tourism draw at the park. It hosts a number of visitor infrastructures such as the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. The glacier, however, continues to retreat from climate change. Historical photography referenced in the new study reveals that the Athabasca Glacier receded approximately a kilometer between 1917 and 2006.
The survey conducted at the two sites was designed to measure visitors’ willingness to participate in carbon offsetting. Visitors were asked if they were willing to participate in carbon offset schemes, and if so, how much they were willing to spend. They were also asked how concerned they were about climate change: extremely concerned, concerned, or not concerned. Since the researchers knew that many visitors were unfamiliar with carbon offsets, they provided a simple explanation in the survey. Data was collected from visitors who engaged in glacier or polar bear viewing activities. They amassed a total of 267 surveys for Churchill and 396 for Jasper National Park.
Researchers found that visitors at Churchill were significantly more concerned about climate change than visitors in Jasper National Park. A greater percentage of people were willing to buy carbon offsets. Churchill visitors were also willing to pay far more for carbon offsets than JNP visitors, with a mean of $166.03 (Canadian) compared to $54.99 from JNP tourists. Those from both sites who were willing to purchase offsets also had a much greater sense of nature relatedness, place identity, and place attachment than those not willing.
A review of 66 studies suggests that a stronger sense of place attachment and identity may foster climate change concern, which might influence travelers to engage more in carbon offsetting schemes. One explanation for the difference between Churchill and Jasper National Park tourists is the attraction of polar bears. Polar bears are considered to be a “highly-charismatic mega fauna” and are seen as the international mascot for climate change. People are able to connect more easily to the plight of these cute and endangered animals, and they are much better at capturing public attention and promoting emotional involvement relative to physical landscapes.
Although travelers produce a substantial carbon footprint through last-chance tourism, it may help bolster the sense of place attachment and identity that encourages tourists to engage in carbon offsetting. People sometimes build personal connections to places they visit, and this value they put on locations may lead them to take meaningful action to preserve them. Tourism is one of the most effective methods to getting people to engage in offsetting schemes. Once we develop an attachment, we are more likely to take on a responsibility to caring for the destination and contributing to environmental wellbeing.
This week’s Photo Friday features a structure common to most glaciers. Foliation is layering in glacier ice that has distinctive crystal sizes and/or bubbles. Typically, foliation is caused by stress and deformation as a glacier grinds over uneven terrain, but it can also originate as a sedimentary feature.
According to a 1977 study published in the journal Tectonophysics, foliation in glaciers depends on the climate of the glacier. Temperate glaciers, for example, are defined by three types of ice (classified according to texture). Most abundant is a coarse-grained, bubble-rich ice, comprising two-thirds of the total ice exposed at the glacier surface. About one fifth of glacier ice is of a slightly larger, coarse clear variety, while the remainder is fine-grained and bubble-rich. In colder glaciers, such finer-grained ice is most common.
This week’s photos feature the Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada with Northern Lights in the background. Photographer Paul Zizka captured ice climber Stuart and Takeshi Tani hanging from the glacier when the Northern Light hits the sky.
Paul Zizka is a professional mountain landscape and adventure photographer based in Banff, Alberta. He has a passion for shooting alpine sports and capturing the unique features of nature. “My hope is that through my photography, people will rediscover the precious connection they can have with the wonders of our planet,” he said.
For more photos from Paul Zizka, please 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.