Event Series Highlights Threats to Tibet’s Glaciers

Tibet accounts for an estimated 14.5 percent of the world’s total glacier mass, but climate change and air pollution are an increasing threat to the nation’s glaciers. The retreat of these glaciers causes grasslands to shrink and permafrost to thaw. It also endangers the water supply of those who rely on the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Indus, Brahmaputra, and Yellow Rivers—all of which are fed by water from Tibet’s glaciers.

During the week leading up to World Environment Day, which occurred on June 5, four groups—the University of Washington’s South Asia Center, the Canada-Tibet Committee, the Mountain Resiliency Project, and the Himalayan Mountain International Film Festival—teamed up for series of events in British Columbia and Seattle, Washington to highlight why China needs to address environmental degradation. The groups hoped to bring awareness to the fact that there was too little discussion happening in China or at the United Nations about the negative environmental impacts taking place on the Tibetan Plateau and their impacts on people living downstream.

Courtesy of Tsechu Dolma

World Environment Day was established in 1972 when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution creating the celebration. June 5 was chosen because it marked the beginning of the Stockholm Conference, which took place June 5-12, 1972 and was the first, major United Nations summit on environmental issues.

A different country leads the effort each year by choosing a theme for the day that is recognized by more than 143 UN member nations. In the past, host countries and themes have included India and plastic pollution, Angola and the illegal wildlife trade, and Barbados and the dangers of rising sea levels.

China led the 2019 celebration, titled “Beat Air Pollution.” The goal was to promote renewable energy and other green technologies that could help improve air quality around the world. According to the UN World Environment Day website, more than 6 billion people breathe air that puts their health at risk. Nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed World Health Organization guidelines. That exposure is lowering life expectancy and harming economies.

Social activist, founder of the Mountain Resiliency Project, and former GlacierHub writer Tsechu Dolma spoke to GlacierHub about the China-themed World Environment Day events. “Whatever happens on the Tibetan Plateau and in the rest of Asia will impact all of our livelihoods around the world because the Tibetan plateau is home to the largest reserve of freshwater outside of the poles,” she said.

She added that the Chinese government has devoted a great deal of resources to buildings dams on the headwaters of major rivers originating in Tibet, which impacts the water supply for millions of people living in the region.

Source: Dream Tibet Travel

The events, said Dolma, were also meant to provide a space for Tibetans to share their opinions on China’s air pollution. “Tibetans are considered indigenous people of China,” she said, “and so [the organizers] wanted to elevate indigenous voices on what World Environment Day means for people living within China.”

Dolma stated that she believes that the Chinese government is making an effort to rectify some of the environmental damage it has caused. “It realizes that thousands of people in China are dying from pollution, and the environmental impacts directly undermine the government’s legitimacy for the people,” she said.

The high-profile participation of the Chinese government was, according to Dolma, “their way of putting in an effort.” But, she added, it was picking and choosing which issues to highlight and downplaying its role in perpetuating the problem.

World Environment Day is largely about raising public awareness about environmental degradation and providing a forum for UN nations to outline potential solutions, such as expanding access to public transportation and electric vehicles, encouraging energy efficiency and conservation, and reducing meat and dairy dairy consumption, which produces high amounts of methane emissions. Governments were encouraged to increase investment in renewable energy, while the private sector was encouraged to cut emissions along its supply chains.

A prominent event of 2019’s World Environment Day celebration was the Mask Challenge. Organizers asked participants from around the world to post on social media a photograph of themselves wearing a protective mask and pledging to take some type of action that could help reduce air pollution. Thousands of people across the globe, including singer Ellie Goulding and model Gisele Bundchen, participated in the event using the hashtag #BeatAirPollution.

The UN also turned to social media to highlight science about air pollution, including one study conducted by the National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems in Peru. The study focused on black carbon, which comes from vehicular and industrial emissions, wildfires, and the burning of waste. The soot from those sources can accumulate on the surface of glaciers, which darkens them and increases the amount of sunlight they absorb. China’s air pollution and even the oil fires in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War have been sources of black carbon in Tibet.

The British Columbia and Seattle events were aimed, according to Dolma, to raise awareness on how this is a planetary crisis. “And whatever happens on the Tibetan Plateau and in the rest of Asia will impact all of our livelihoods around the world,” she said.

Read More on GlacierHub:

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China’s Asejiaguo Glacier Is Retreating

Asejiaguo Glacier drains east from the China-Nepal border and is at the headwaters of the Yarlung Tsangpo, which becomes the Brahmaputra River. The Yarlung Tsangpo powers the 510 megawatt Zangmu Hydropower Station.  Gardelle et al (2013) identified this glacier as part of the West Nepal region, which experienced mass loss averaging -0.32 meter/year from 1999-2011. The changes of the Asejaguo Glacier are examined for the 1993 to 2018 period using Landsat imagery. Neckel et al (2014) examined changes in the surface elevation of the glaciers and found this region lost 0.37 m/year from 2003 to 2009.

In 1993 the glacier terminated in a small proglacial lake that is ~1 kilometer long at 4,900 m. At Point 1-2 there is limited exposed bedrock at 5,400-5,600 m, which is near the snowline; the head of the glacier is at 6,000 m.  There is a prominent medial moraine that begins at 5,300 m where the north and south tributaries join.  The greater width of the southern tributary indicates this is the large contributor. In 1994, the snowline is higher, at 5,500 m, but there is still only a small outcrop of bedrock at Point 2. By 2016 the proglacial lake has expanded to a length of over 2 km. At Point 1 and 2 there is a greatly expanded area of bedrock and the separation of a former tributary near Point 1 from the main glacier. In November 2018 there is fresh snowfall obscuring the exposed bedrock at Point 1 and 2. The retreat from 1993-2018 is 1.5 km, and the expanding proglacial lake is over 2.5 km long. The expanding bedrock areas in the 5,400-5,600 m range indicate the reason rise in snowline that has generated mass loss and ongoing retreat.

Asejiaguo Glacier in Landsat images from 1993 and 2018. The yellow arrow indicates the 2018 terminus and the red arrow the 1993 terminus location. Point 1 and 2 are areas of expanding bedrock at the elevation of 5,400-5,600 meters.
Asejiaguo Glacier in Landsat images from 1994 and 2016. The yellow arrow indicates the 2016 terminus and the red arrow the 1994 terminus location. Point 1 and 2 are areas of expanding bedrock at the elevation of 5,400-5,600 meters.
Asejiaguo Glacier, blue arrows indicate flow direction. M indicates the medial moraine; the China-Nepal border is also noted.

This article originally appeared on the American Geophysical Union blog From a Glacier’s Perspective.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Nelly Elagina’s View of Mount Elbrus

The Impact of the GRACE Mission on Glaciology and Climate Science

How Dust From Receding Glaciers Is Affecting the Climate

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Roundup: Uranium Mining in Nepal, Glacier-Fed Clouds, and a Survey of Xinjiang Land Use

Nepal’s Government Considers Uranium Mining Legislation

From My República: “A hasty push for endorsement of the ‘nuclear bill’ in the parliament is being made amidst rumors of the discovery of uranium mines near trans-Himalayan terrain of Lo Mangthang of Mustang district. In fact, [the] Office of Investment Board’s website claims that ‘a large deposit of uranium has been discovered in Upper Mustang region of Nepal … spread over an area 10 km long and 3 km wide and could be of highest grade. These findings have also been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.’ The bill, tabled by Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology unabashedly grants permission to uranium mining, enrichment, and all steps of nuclear fuel cycle; import and export of uranium, plutonium, and its isotopes; and use [of] Nepal as transit for storage of the nuclear and radio-active substances.”

Tangbe is a typical Mustang village with narrow alleys, whitewashed walls, chortens, and prayer flags. It is located on a promontory with a good view over the main valley. The ruins of an ancient fortress have become a silent witness of history, when Tangbe was on a major trade route, especially for salt, between Tibet and India. (Source: Jean-Marie Hullot/Flickr)

Retreating Glaciers Create … Clouds

From Nature: “Aeolian dusts serve as ice nucleating particles in mixed-phase clouds, and thereby alter the cloud properties and lifetime. Glacial outwash plains are thought to be a major dust source in cold, high latitudes. Due to the recent rapid and widespread retreat of glaciers, high-latitude dust emissions are projected to increase, especially in the Arctic region, which is highly sensitive to climate change. However, the potential contribution of high-latitude dusts to ice nucleation in Arctic low-level clouds is not well acknowledged. Here we show that glacial outwash sediments in Svalbard (a proxy for glacially sourced dusts) have a remarkably high ice nucleating ability under conditions relevant for mixed-phase cloud formation, as compared with typical mineral dusts.”

A view of heavy cloud cover about glaciers in Svalbard, Norway (Source: Omer Bozkurt/Flickr)

What Land Use Changes in Xinjiang, China Mean for Nearby Glaciers

From Sustainability: “[W]e analyzed the temporal-spatial variations of the characteristics of land use change in central Asia over the past two decades. This was conducted using four indicators (change rate, equilibrium extent, dynamic index, and transfer direction) and a multi-scale correlation analysis method, which explained the impact of recent environmental transformations on land use changes. The results indicated that the integrated dynamic degree of land use increased by 2.2% from 1995 to 2015. […] There were significant increases in cropland and water bodies from 1995 to 2005, while the amount of artificial land significantly increased from 2005 to 2015. The increased areas of cropland in Xinjiang were mainly converted from grassland and unused land from 1995 to 2015, while the artificial land increase was mainly a result of the conversion from cropland, grassland, and unused land. The area of cropland rapidly expanded in south Xinjiang, which has led to centroid position to move cropland in Xinjiang in a southwest direction. Economic development and the rapid growth of population size are the main factors responsible for the cropland increases in Xinjiang. Runoff variations have a key impact on cropland changes at the river basin scale, as seen in three typical river basins.”

A glacier feeds a river feeding into Ala-Kul Lake deep inside the mighty Tian Shan, a range of mountains separating the deserts of Xinjiang in western China from the lands of Central Asia. (Source: Journeys on Quest/Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Drying Peatlands in the Bolivian Andes Threaten Indigenous Pastoral Communities

Measuring the Rise and Fall of New Zealand’s Small and Medium Glaciers

Advances in Developing Peru’s National Policy for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems

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Roundup: Snow Algae, Dams in Ecuador, and Patagonia’s Cashmere

Snow Algae and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

From Science Direct: “Most of what is known about snow algae communities has been learned from studies centered on glaciers and snowfields located on sedimentary or metamorphic bedrock, but little is known about snow algae systems hosted in volcanic bedrock (Hamilton and Havig, 2017). Recent work has quantified primary productivity as predominantly phototrophically mediated, and demonstrated inorganic carbon limitation of primary productivity by snow algae communities on PNW glaciers (Hamilton and Havig, 2017Hamilton and Havig, 2018) suggesting increasing productivity with increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations.”

Read more about the study here.

Pink Snow Algae (Source: James St John /Flickr)

 

From the New York Times: “This giant dam in the jungle, financed and built by China, was supposed to christen Ecuador’s vast ambitions, solve its energy needs, and help lift the small South American country out of poverty. Instead, it has become part of a national scandal engulfing the country in corruption, perilous amounts of debt—and a future tethered to China. Nearly every top Ecuadorean official involved in the dam’s construction is either imprisoned or sentenced on bribery charges. That includes a former vice president, a former electricity minister and even the former anti-corruption official monitoring the project, who was caught on tape talking about Chinese bribes.”

Read more about China’s role in Ecuadorian dam construction here.

Ecuador’s Coca Codo Sinclair Dam (Source: Ministerio de Turismo Ecuador/Flickr)

Recycled Cashmere Sweaters by Patagonia

From Business Insider: “The process of creating cashmere is so inherently detrimental—requiring lots of resources and incurring lots of environmental degradation—that any claim of sustainability is pretty much moot. It may make us happy to have, but it sure isn’t preserving the grasslands of Mongolia. Patagonia’s cashmere line is the best no-compromise option I’ve found. Each piece is made out of 95 percent cashmere scraps collected from European garment factories, plus 5 percent virgin wool for strength. Altogether, it’s a line of durable, warm, guilt-free cashmere sweaters, hats, and scarves with way less ecological impact, plus the added benefit of Patagonia-level quality and design. You can also view “The Footprint Chronicles” to learn about their supply chain and the sewing factory that made your sweater.”

Read more about Patagonia’s cashmere sweaters here

Patagonia Logo (Source: /Wikimedia)

 

Read More on Glacier Hub:

Ecuador Presents High Mountain Projects at World Water Week

“Red Snow” Algae Accelerating Glacier Melt in the Arctic

“Reconstructing Norway’s Oldest Garment: The Tunic of Lendbreen

 

 

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Roundup: Disappearing Acts, Sound Signatures, and Cryoconite Holes

China’s Disappearing Glaciers

From Chinese Academy of Sciences: “Xinjiang, a land of mountains, forests and deserts, is four times the size of California and is home to 20,000 glaciers — nearly half of all the glaciers in China. Since the 1950s, all of Xinjiang’s glaciers have retreated by between 21 percent to 27 percent.”

Read more about glacial retreat in China here.

The Tianshan No. 1 glacier is rapidly melting—scientific estimates report that the glacier could completely disappear within the next 50 years (Source: Rob Schmitz/NPR).

 

Glaciers Have Signature Sounds

From Sonic Skills: “In early 2015, an international group of geophysicists published an article claiming that particular patterns in the sounds of glaciers might reveal where and how those glaciers were calving. They had made sound recordings with hydrophones—underwater microphones—and taken photos at the same time. This enabled them to link various glacier sounds to distinct forms of ablation through ‘acoustic signatures.’”

Read more about glaciers’ signature acoustics here.

An aerial shot of a tidewater glacier. Sound-recording instruments are used especially for studying movement of tidewater glaciers (Source: Jon Nickles/PIXNIO).

 

Cryoconite Holes on the Qaanaaq Glacier

From Annals of Glaciology: “Cryoconite holes are water-filled cylindrical holes formed on ablation ice surfaces and commonly observed on glaciers worldwide.. Results suggest that the dimensions of holes drastically changed depending on the weather conditions and that frequent cloudy, warm and windy conditions would cause a decay of holes and weathering crust, inducing an increase in the cryoconite coverage on the ice, consequently darkening the glacier surface.”

Read more about cryoconite holes and glacial darkening here.

Aerial photo of meltwater streams in Greenland. Dark spots on the surface of the glacier are the result of cryoconite (Source: Marco Tedesco (NASA)/Flickr).

 

 

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Photo Friday: China’s Disappearing Glaciers

Celebrated during late September, the Mid-Autumn festival or Moon festival is a harvest festival celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese people. As people in China celebrate the harvest season, the melting of Xinjiang’s glaciers is threatening the water source and agriculture of the Urumqi city.

Li Zhongqin, a scientist who heads the Tianshan Mountains Glaciological Station of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, makes a seasonal hike toward the top of a glacier in the Tianshan mountains at the end of every summer to measure the thinning of the glacier, reports NPR. “We come up here each month to check it, to see how fast the glacier’s melt. Each year, the glacier is 15 feet thinner,” Zhongqin told Morning Edition’s Rob Schmitz.

Though the government has banned tourism on the glaciers in an effort to reduce the impact of pollution, global carbon emissions are a bigger threat. The melting glaciers are a big problem because not only are the glaciers the source of water for millions of people, but they also impact agriculture in drier areas like the city of Turpan that sits on the edge of Taklamakan Desert. Though dry, the region is an agriculture powerhouse which depends on the water arriving through meltwaters that flow through thousands of miles of underground tunnels called karez, an ancient irrigation system, now slowly drying up.

GlacierHub recently reported on the severity of drought in Xinjiang, and it’s uncertain future. This Photo Friday view photos of the slowly disappearing glaciers. Read more here.

A view of snowcapped peaks in Xinjiang, Tianshan (Source: talent_show1992/Creative Commons).

 

The Tianshan No. 1 glacier is receding at least 30 feet each year. Scientists warn that the glacier— the source of the Urumqi River— may disappear in the next 50 years (Source: Remko Tanis/Flickr).

 

Scientist Li Zhongqin has studied the glaciers of Xinjiang for most of his life (Source: Rob Schmitz/NPR).

 

Image of the Tianshan Mountains (Source: travelingmipo/Creative Commons).

 

No.1 Glacier of Tianshan Mountain (Source: travel.sohu.com),

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Tibetan Glacier Reveals History of Pollution

Puruogangri Ice Core Study

A team of scientists led by Emilie Beaudon and Paolo Gabrielli et al. from the Byrd Polar and Climate Center of Ohio State University conducted a study published in Science of the Total Environment presenting a 500-year atmospheric contamination history through the analysis of 28 trace elements from an ice core collected from the Puruogangri glacier in the central Tibetan Plateau. The purpose of the study was, as the authors indicated, “to assess different atmospheric contributions to the ice and provide a temporal perspective on the diverse atmospheric influences over the central Tibetan Plateau.”

The researchers found an overall increasing trend in the levels of trace elements within the ice core from 1497-1992. But what explains the increase of these trace elements in Tibetan glaciers? Was it due to natural or anthropogenic causes?

Atmospheric Dynamics and Tibet

The researchers indicate that the trace element contaminations in the ice core come from two main sources. Prior to 1900, natural causes (such as volcanic fallout) were the primary contributor present in the findings. But with global development of industrial processes in the 19th and 20th century, it became evident to the scientists that post-1900, the main contributors are from anthropogenic sources. The authors argue that the dominant source for the Cd, Zn, Pb, and Ag enrichment increase in the 20th century originates from the metallurgy emission products of former republics within the Soviet Union, particularly Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Figure 1. A visual representation of global atmospheric circulation (Source: Creative Commons).

But how would pollutants from Soviet plants reach Tibet? Atmospheric circulation is the key. As Puruograngri lies on the 34th parallel, its position is along the path of the strong mid-latitude westerlies that blow from west to east across the Asian continent as seen on Figure 1 and a NASA GEOS-5 simulation demonstrating the movement of aerosols in atmospheric circulation. As a result, these winds deposit dust and any other particulates in the air on the tall, vast barrier of the Tibetan Plateau.

In addition to Soviet steel production, the authors mention a second proximal source. An increase of Chinese steel production during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) corresponds well to the increases in Sb and Pb enrichment in the ice core. But instead of the subtropical westerlies carrying the pollutants, the inconsistent summer monsoonal circulation patterns brought them from the east (China) and south (India and Southeast Asia). As Puruogangri straddles the summer monsoon-dominated south and the year-round dry, westerly-dominated north regions of the Asian continent, it receives influences from both atmospheric patterns depending on the time of year.

But in order to fully understand the significance of the Puruogangri ice core study, a historical perspective is also necessary. With increases in Soviet Union and Chinese steel production identified, it is important to understand the underlying dynamics of steel production in these two countries.

Historical Perspective of the Soviet Union and China

Central Asia was the crossroads of the continent that connected Europe and all parts of Asia with the Silk Road. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the newly established Soviet Union fully incorporated Central Asia into its domain. As a means of building legitimacy in a new world order post-WWI, the Soviet government sought to transform the previously agricultural country to, as American historian Stephen Kotkin describes, a “country of metal.” A detailed account of the social history surrounding the Soviet industrialization may be found in Kotkin’s book Magnetic Mountain.

China’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962)(Source: Orient’Adicta/Flickr).

Under the advisement of the Soviet Union, China underwent a similar economic transformation with the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong in 1949. The study pinpoints the decadal events like the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) as significant periods of industrialization, corresponding to the anthropogenic Sb, Cd, Zn, and Pb levels peaking in 1965. Modern Chinese historian Gina Tam from Trinity University gave GlacierHub a deep-dive into why industrialization was particularly heavy in the 1960s in China.

After falling short of economic goals in the 1950s, Mao instigated a campaign called the Great Leap Forward in hopes to invigorate the economy. “The Great Leap Forward was, above all else, an emphasis on ‘leaping’ forward in terms of economic output. The key targets were steel and grain–the former to make China into a more industrialized country to compete with the West, and the latter to feed all those workers. Given that this was an ‘all hands on deck’ sort of situation, industrialization increased heavily during this time,” Tam told GlacierHub. Devastation followed in terms of mass starvations as well as widespread environmental degradation. Relating this history back to Puruogangri, today’s scientists were able to observe the magnitude of the emission production in both China and the Soviet Union.

What the Records Tells Us

While both of these countries hungrily pursued economic prosperity through metallurgical means, the policies in place put heavy pressure on natural resources and the local environment. The recent Puruogangri study reveals how atmospheric circulation serves as a conveyor belt for anthropogenic pollutants to reach remote glaciers like those in central Tibet.

As the authors noted, “the extraction of multi-century atmospheric pollution records from central Tibet is essential to assess the magnitude of the recent contamination of this remote region and to provide a long-term perspective for the changes observed.” What is particularly noteworthy about this statement is the purpose of scale. While the study assesses patterns across multiple centuries, the authors identify specific decadal events within the 20th century to emphasize a potential shift in the trace element enrichment prior to 1900. Heavy industrialization like during the Great Leap Forward stands out compared to other decades, but based on the results of this study, the researchers ultimately emphasize how the 20th century emission production stands out in comparison to previous centuries.

While scientists like Beaudon and Gabrielli analyze the glacial records for atmospheric contamination input, historians like Koji Hirata from Stanford University are analyzing the written records to trace the levels of steel production output. Despite the tumultuous political atmosphere in both countries throughout the 20th century, historical accounts correspond well with the glacial records. Bridging the understandings between the two disciplines, as well as others, may lead to more informed decision-making on emission controls, ultimately helping to mitigate our changing climate in the uncertain future.

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Photo Friday: The Canvas of Phillip Baumgart

Phillip Baumgart is a Colorado-born photographer and educator who has recently been working in the heavily glaciated terrains of China and Kyrgyzstan. He specializes in travel and portrait photography, and his images have appeared in Lonely Planet Magazine and China Daily. He has taken on pro-bono assignments for numerous NGOs, such as Catalyst Asia and Babushka Adoption. See more of his images at philbaum.com or on Instagram at @ladystem.

 

A Nepali mahout (elephant keeper) stand atop his elephant during “Elephant Bathtime” in Chitwan, Nepal (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A horseback rider atop a ridge near Toktogul, Kyrgyzstan (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A performer at Mongolia’s 2016 Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony. The festival celebrates the three traditionally masculine pursuits of archery, horse-racing and wrestling. (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A pilgrim spins the prayer wheel at Boudhanath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

The Village of Kochkor in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

Fishermen afloat Inle Lake, Myanmar at sunrise (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

Briksdal Glacier in Western Norway (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A young Buddhist monk runs along the road near Mandalay, Myanmar (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A spectator at the horse races of Mongolia’s Naadam Festival just outside the nation’s capital, Ulaanbaatar (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

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Photo Friday: Along the Karakoram

Known to many as the “roof of the world,” the Pamir Mountains are spread over one of the world’s most glaciated regions, cutting across parts of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China. It is a region dominated by curtains of clouds, rocks, glacier ice, and snow, as well as pastoralists and their sheep.

Muztagh Ata, which translates directly to “ice-mountain-father” in the Uyghur language, is one of the region’s most picturesque peaks. Standing tall at over 7,509 meters, the mountain has a magnificent relationship to the lake at its feet. Located near China’s borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the glaciated peak is accessible through the marvel of engineering and perseverance that is the Karakoram Highway, the world’s highest international paved road. But it’s Photo Friday, so nobody has to try their luck on the Karakoram today.

 

A lone Kyrgyz horseman walks along the shore of Lake Karakul (Source: Dan Lundberg/Creative Commons).

 

Muztagh Ata makes the rule of thirds look easy (Source: Colegota/Creative Commons).

 

The Karakoram Highway offers stunning scenery, but conditions can be quite dangerous (Source: Saadzafar91/Creative Commons).

 

But who are we kidding? It’s worth the risks (Source: Nabeel Akram Minhas/Creative Commons).

 

The sign cautions drivers about sharp bends over the next 62 kilometers. Your Friday afternoon isn’t looking so bad anymore? (Source: Mahnoorrana11/Creative Commons).

 

 

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Roundup: Crack, Flood, Fight

Petermann Crack Develops

From Grist: “Petermann is one of the largest and most important glaciers in the world, with a direct connection to the core of the Greenland ice sheet. That means that even though this week’s new iceberg at Petermann is just 1/500th the size of the massive one that broke off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica earlier this month, it could eventually have a much bigger effect on global sea levels. Scientists believe that if Petermann collapses completely, it could raise the seas by about a foot.”

Read more about the potential collapse of the Petermann here.

A satellite image from April 2017 shows existing and new cracks in the Petermann Glacier (Source: NASA).

 

Glacial Outburst Flood Rages in Iceland

From The Watchers: “A glacial outburst flood started in Iceland’s Múlakvísl river around midnight UTC on July 29, 2017. Electrical conductivity is now measured around 580µS/cm and has increased rapidly the last hour, Icelandic Met Office (IMO) reported 10:14 UTC on July 29. Increasing water levels of this river are an important indicator of Katla’s upcoming volcanic eruptions.”

Read about safety concerns associated with the flood here.

The Múlakvísl River appeared serene the day before the July 29 outburst flood (Source: Icelandic Met Office).

 

Conflict in the Himalayas

From The New York Times: “The road stands on territory at the point where China, India and Bhutan meet…The standoff began last month when Bhutan, a close ally of India, discovered Chinese workers trying to extend the road. Now soldiers from the two powers are squaring off, separated by only a few hundred feet. The conflict shows no sign of abating, and it reflects the swelling ambition— and nationalism— of both countries. Each is governed by a muscular leader eager to bolster his domestic standing while asserting his country’s place on the world stage as the United States recedes from a leading role.”

Learn more about the geopolitics of this standoff here.

A border post in Nathula, a mountain pass in the Himalayas that connects Sikkim and Tibet (Source: Indrajit Das/Wikimedia Commons).

 

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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).

 

 

 

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Roundup: Everest, Subglacial Microbiomes, and Tidewater Glaciers

Roundup: Everest, Anaerobes & Fjords

 

China Tries to Conquer Everest

From Bloomberg: “Earlier this year, China opened a new paved road that winds 14,000 feet up the slope [of Mount Everest] and stops at the base camp parking lot. Plans are in the works to build an international mountaineering center, complete with hotels, restaurants, training facilities, and search-and-rescue services. There will even be a museum… What’s bad for Nepal will likely turn out to be a boon for tourists. Instead of fencing off Everest as a pristine wilderness, much as the U.S. has done with its national parks, China is approaching the Himalayas as the Europeans have the Alps… And if China sticks to it, it may well become the world’s new gateway to the Himalayas.”

Interested in learning more? Read the latest news here.

China opened a new paved road to Mount Everest (source: Mudanjiang Regional Forum).
China’s new paved road to Mount Everest (Source: Mudanjiang Regional Forum).

 

Implications for the Subglacial Microbiome

From Microbial Ecology: “Glaciers have recently been recognized as ecosystems comprised of several distinct habitats: a sunlit and oxygenated glacial surface, glacial ice, and a dark, mostly anoxic [absence of oxygen] glacial bed. Surface meltwaters annually flood the subglacial sediments by means of drainage channels. Glacial surfaces host aquatic microhabitats called cryoconite holes, regarded as ‘hot spots’ of microbial abundance and activity, largely contributing to the meltwaters’ bacterial diversity. This study presents an investigation of cryoconite hole anaerobes [organisms that live without air] and discusses their possible impact on subglacial microbial communities.”

Learn more about this study here.

Photomicrograph of Gram-stained enrichment culture, showing several cell morphotypes (source: Implications for the Subglacial Microbiome).
Photomicrograph of Gram-stained enrichment culture, showing several cell morphotypes (Source: Microbial Ecology).

 

Analysis of Icebergs in a Tidewater Glacier Fjord

From PLOS ONE: “Tidewater glaciers are glaciers that terminate in and calve icebergs into the ocean. In addition to the influence that tidewater glaciers have on physical and chemical oceanography, floating icebergs serve as habitat for marine animals such as harbor seals. The availability and spatial distribution of glacier ice in the fjords is likely a key environmental variable that influences the abundance and distribution of selected marine mammals… Given the predicted changes in glacier habitat, there is a need for the development of methods that could be broadly applied to quantify changes in available ice habitat in tidewater glacier fjords. We present a case study to describe a novel method that uses object-based image analysis (OBIA) to classify floating glacier ice in a tidewater glacier fjord from high-resolution aerial digital imagery.”

Read more about this study here.

Map of Johns Hopkins Inlet study area (source: Quantification and Analysis of Icebergs in a Tidewater Glacier Fjord Using an Object-Based Approach).
Map of Johns Hopkins Inlet study area (Source: PLOS ONE).

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