Roundup: COVID-19 Glacier Regions Update, Some US National Parks Close, Mines in the Peruvian Andes, and 2020 Research Put On Ice

Last week GlacierHub compiled news from glacier regions impacted by the spread of COVID-19, the global pandemic that has prompted governments around the world to limit movement of people in order to slow the spread of the disease. In the intervening seven days, the global situation has escalated. Glacier regions continue to be affected, glacier lands––including the US National Parks––are restricting access, and 2020 field research hangs in the balance.

Global Glacier Region COVID-19 Update

Italy has reached nearly 60,000 cases of COVID-19 and, with more than 5,000 deaths, surpassed China’s mortality total. In the Alps province of South Tyrol, 679 people have tested positive. The province’s website reads: “All production activities that are not essential for life will be closed until April 3.”

The weekly news magazine Der Vinschger serves the Vinschgau, the upper portion of the Etschtal, a valley in South Tyrol, Italy, surrounded by some of the highest and most glaciated peaks of the central Alps. It usually reports on government programs, economic developments, local sports teams, and similar topics. It has taken a more somber note with the pandemic.

“The situation is serious,” a March 17 story began. “The numbers and headlines roll over every hour. And we are all right in the middle. “Surreal” was the only word that a merchant uttered when he put the key of his business in his pocket on March 12th at 9 a.m. in the pedestrian zone in Schlanders. The day before, I watched an elderly woman in front of the closed old people’s home trying to reach her husband on the phone. She didn’t succeed. Their call to at least bring him to the window so that they could see each other was initially unheard of. Almost everyone is currently experiencing such and similar situations. Not only do all economic consequences and material emergencies, into which many “simple” people are thrown, weigh heavily, but loneliness within their own four walls also weighs heavily for many. Staying at home is the only thing we can and should all do at the moment. Because we do not know the “enemy” exactly and because we do not (yet) have weapons against him, there is only one thing left: to protect ourselves and our fellow human beings by strictly adhering to the guidelines with which a further spread of the virus can be prevented as far as possible.”

Most of Central Asia and the South Caucasus have declared states of emergency, while some remain without any cases––albeit somewhat dubiously––and have carried on with celebrations like Novruz spring holiday on March 21 in Tajikistan, where thousands gathered in close proximity in major cities.

Greenland has “a few cases” and Antarctica remains the only continent without a confirmed COVID-19, where efforts are underway to keep it that way.

In the US, Washington Governor Jay Inslee outlined the stark realities of the coronavirus outbreak in his state at a March 16 press briefing, including the temporary statewide shutdown of bars, restaurants and recreational facilities. Tacoma, a mid-sized city south of Seattle near the glaciated stratovolcano Mount Rainier, announced the suspension of disconnection of power and water for residents behind on payments.

Uneven COVID-19 Messaging from US National Parks

Signals from glaciated and glacier-formed US National Parks have been inconsistent––ranging from open with no acknowledgement of any global pandemic, to open with modified operations, like waived entry fees and no services, to others which closed their gates altogether. A brief rundown:

Near the Pacific Northwest COVID-19 hotspot of Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park waived its entry fee and as of March 21, was still open for “self-guided, dispersed recreation and auto touring.” In Alaska, Denali National Park closed its visitor centers and suspended the 2020 climbing season, breaking with their no-refund policy by offering alpinists partial compensation. Also in Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park appears to be business as usual––the park’s website showed no indication of anything amiss. California’s Yosemite National Park closed on March 20. Meanwhile, in Montana Glacier National Park modified its operations but did not close––instead the park is waiving fees and continuing to allow overnight backcountry permits. Yellowstone National Park is also open to visitors but “most facilities are closed.”

Mines in Peru Close or Reduce Operations

Antamina, a large copper and zinc mine in the Peruvian Andes, has reduced its operations. Under the 15-day national emergency declared in Peru on 15 March, enterprises other than essential services have been closed, including many mines. However, Antamina received an exception because of its critical importance to the national economy.

Though internal travel in Peru has largely halted during this emergency, Antamina received permission to allow workers in high-risk categories (over 60 years old, or with medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension) to return home. The mine has set up plans to operate within social distancing guidelines, though these may be difficult to implement in some specific work settings. Some employees, largely office staff, will be allowed to work remotely. This mine, located below the heavily glaciated Cordillera Blanca, has received many complaints about its negative impacts on water quality.

COVID-19 Impacts on Research

Last week Nature reported an explosion of new research, beginning in mid-January, on coronavirus and the disease that it causes. As of March 12, searches for ‘novel coronavirus’, ‘ncov’, ‘COVID-19’ and ‘SARS-CoV-2’ returned results for more than 900 papers, preprints, and preliminary reports.

Cryosphere field research, on the other hand, is on ice for the time being.

Norway-based glaciologist Miriam Jackson messaged GlacierHub, stating “A planned trip to the subglacial laboratory under Svartisen, that had been delayed several times due to bad weather, is postponed indefinitely.” Jackson’s mission to Svartisen, on the western Norway ice cap, was to download data, some of which is located in water tunnels only accessible in winter.

Jackson said another planned trip, to Nepal with the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, is delayed until the autumn. “The problem with a lot of glacier fieldwork is the travel required to get there. If it was possible to magically be transported to a glacier, there would be much less of a problem,” she said.

Source: EASTGRIP

Research climatologist William Colgan said that his team has canceled its 2020 field season in Greenland, “Postponing to 2021 would be any way to think about it, I suppose.” Colgan told Glacierhub that Greenland closing its border last week has had a ripple effect on aircraft charters to the country, pushing them into mid-May at the very least, since the pilots who fly teams to field sites are unable to get into the country for their month-long rotation.

“Right now, the National Science Foundation’s first flight period is cancelled, and the University of Copenhagen has cancelled its entire East Greenland Ice Core Project season. Lots of smaller projects like us are scrambling for fall-back plans for critical 2020 work or just cancelling 2020 work entirely” Colgan said. “It’s tough to find an upside.” His team is now scrambling to find a later season solution to install the most critical instruments––GPS stations to resurvey ice velocities first measured in the 1950s––they had planned to deploy this Spring near Jakobshavn Isbræ.

If the COVID-19 impacts are any indication, 2020 might be a bumper year for remote sensing research.

Read More On GlacierHub:

Roundup: COVID-19 in Glacier Regions

Photo Friday: The Drygalski Ice Tongue

Video of the Week: “Return to Natural––Documenting the Tasman Glacier”

Photo Friday: US Glaciers Seen from Space

The International Space Station may at first seem unrelated to Earth’s cryosphere—but it’s not. NASA astronauts flying in low-Earth orbit aboard the artificial satellite have captured images of America’s majestic national parks, including those shaped over thousands of years by the imperceptibly slow movements of glaciers.

While experiments on ISS often focus on robotics, the human immune system, and even methods for growing lettuce, the satellite’s cameras capture live video and still images as it orbits Earth at an altitude of 250 miles above the planet’s surface.

Take a look here at majestic views of the US National Park system captured by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. His images depict glacier-rich landscapes such as Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and Washington’s Olympic National Park, among many others.

A composite image of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska captured from the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)
A composite image of Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park, Alaska captured from the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)
A composite image of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming captured from the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)
A composite image captured from the International Space Station of Olympic National Park, with Seattle and Tacoma, Washington in the background. (Source: NASA)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Illustrating the Adventures of German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt

The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Roll Model: Clean Climbing for Denali’s Centennial

In 2017, climbers who pack out all their waste receive a commemorative flag (Source: NPS).

Denali is widely romanticized as pristine wilderness, yet over a thousand people attempt to reach its summit every year, generating waste that is sometimes left on the mountain— lost caches of food and supplies, coffee grounds and uneaten food, and of course, human waste— over two metric tons per year. This climbing season, Denali National Park is celebrating its 100th year by launching the “2017 Birthday Pack-Out Initiative,” in which climbers on the popular West Rib and West Buttress routes are encouraged to carry out all the waste they generate.

“The issue of waste and pollution in mountains is a chronic problem,” Carolina Adler, president of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation’s (UIAA) Mountain Protection Commission, said in a recent interview. “As mountaineers, it is in our interest – and our responsibility as mountain ‘stewards’ – to make sure that mountains not only continue to be safeguarded for all, but also for them to be able to continue to fulfill a crucial and healthy ecological function,” she said.

For the last decade, the National Park Service has required that climbers tote down all waste at Denali from above the high camp at 17,200 feet, but waste generated below 14,000 feet can be “crevassed”— that is, literally thrown into a crevasse. That’s the fate of 90 percent of human waste generated in the park, and research has proven that this waste is making its way out of crevasses via the hydraulic system of the glacier, into the rivers that flow out of the Kahiltna Glacier. Out of sight may be out of mind for now, but it’s certainly not out of the ecosystem— as the glacier flows down the mountain, researchers expect that buried human waste will surface after about 70 years.

Roger Robinson, a park ranger in Denali National Park and Preserve, is the head of the Clean Climbing Initiative, and has been working on the issue of human waste on Denali for over forty years. “Garbage isn’t something to be abandoned in the mountains, or anywhere. For the next thousand years, we’ll be contributing to E. coli in the outwash that comes out of the Kahiltna Glacier. The only thing to do is to start now and try to mitigate,” he said.

The key to pollution mitigation is education, Robinson says. “Denali is an international mountain with people from all over the world wanting to get up the thing,” he told GlacierHub in an interview. “Every year, climbers from thirty to forty nationalities attempt the mountain, and everyone has a different philosophy on what’s garbage and what’s sustainable. We have to drive home the fact that the mountain belongs to everybody in the U.S. and the world, and we want to leave it clean. We have to drive home that ideology.”

Toward the goal of maintaining “healthy ecological function” in Denali, the park service will ultimately require climbers to carry 100 percent of the waste they make off the mountain, a standard more stringent than most peaks in the National Park system, and most major peaks in the world, according to Robinson. In the first year of the Pack-Out Initiative, climbers are tempted to participate with a special “Sustainable Summits Denali” commemorative flag, a “Denali Pro pin,” and a “Clean Mountain Can,” a portable toilet developed by the American Alpine Club, to pack out their waste.

One of the first guided parties to volunteer for the Clean Climbing Initiative poses with their Clean Mountain Cans (Source: Roger Robinson).

But Alaskan mountaineer Jason Stuckey, who is training to climb Denali after having summited several other peaks in the Alaska Range, isn’t convinced. “It’s a lot of poop to be carrying around. The clean canteens aren’t that big, and carrying around more than one would definitely be a chore,” he said in an interview with GlacierHub from Toolik Field Station, north of the Brooks Range. “Speaking from experience, making over a dozen trips and using those for weeks at a time, I would imagine those are going to fill up.”

Filling up cans is preferable to filling up crevasses; however, in December 2016, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report entitled “Waste Management Outlook for Mountain Regions – Sources and Solutions,” which focuses on mitigating problems created by urban sprawl, mining, and tourism, including mountaineering. The report points to human waste as “the most cited waste problem associated with mountaineering,” as alpine climates slow decomposition, and pathogens can sicken mountaineers and those downstream, who use meltwater streams. The broadly-circulated executive summary of the report calls improper waste disposal in mountain regions, “an issue of global concern.”

Adler believes that the Clean Climbing Initiative takes a strong step toward tackling what she called “one of the most urgent issues for mountain protection that is entirely within our control to manage.” She added, “What is particularly great about this initiative is the concerted effort, concern, support and commitment that the park administration has shown over the years to continue with this initiative and persist in its implementation.”

Mountaineers bear huge responsibility to the environment, according to Adler. “It is entirely in our interest as a community to be proactive in upholding that responsibility as well. However, this has to be seen and enacted as a collaboration between and within other communities as well,” she said.

Crevasses like this one on Denali will no longer be waste repositories (Source: NPS).

Collaboration between international communities is flourishing, and brings hope for the future of the world’s major summits. With the American Alpine Club, Robinson helps organize the Sustainable Summits conference, and he says the clean climbing best practices developed on Denali are likely to spread globally. “Denali is one of the mountains in the world other people look at as a role model for what they want to achieve. A lot of people watch closely here and take aspects home to their own mountain areas,” he said.

With the world’s eyes on Denali, and the initiative’s success so far— at least a third of climbers have volunteered to participate this season— cleaner mountains and downstream communities may be in the future.

Photo Friday: A look at the 2017 Denali Mountaineering Season

It’s summer in Alaska, and for some intrepid adventurers, that means it’s mountaineering season on Denali, the iconic peak whose name means “The High One” in the Koyukon Athabascan language. According to the Denali National Park Service mountaineering blog, Denali Dispatches, there are currently 520 climbers attempting the highest peak in North America. 142 climbers have already reached the summit this season, a 34 percent success rate.

This week held some excitement for the Park Service, which on June 5th responded to two simultaneous medical incidents on the Kahiltna Glacier. One climber, suffering from “acute abdominal illness,” was assessed and helped by park personnel to Kahiltna Glacier Base Camp. More dramatically, another climber was un-roped when he fell forty feet into a crevasse on the West Buttress route, and became wedged in the ice. Rangers arrived at the accident site at 4 a.m., and after nearly twelve hours of chipping away ice with power tools, they were finally able to extract the injured and hypothermic climber, who was hastily evacuated to the hospital in Fairbanks.

 

Rangers camp above the toe of the Ruth Glacier (Source: Dan Corn/NPS).

 

Looking down the Kahiltna Glacier. A heavily crevassed area is visible in the lower left of the photo (Source: Tucker Chenoweth/NPS).

 

Park Service personnel practice crevasse rescue skills near Kahiltna Basecamp (Source: Steve Mock/NPS).

 

Bundled-up climbers watch the small planes that bring people to and from Kahiltna Basecamp (Source: Steve Mock/NPS).

 

Low winter snow pack and cold spring temperatures create weak, sagging snow bridges over crevasses, which are seen as stripes outside this camp on Denali (Source: NPS).

 

Photo Friday: The Glacial Alaska Range

The Alaska Range is a narrow, 700-kilometer mountain range defined by rugged peaks and large U-shaped glacial valleys. The range lies in the southeast corridor of Alaska and is home to Denali, the tallest peak in North America. The Alaska range is part of the American Cordillera and possesses peaks only trumped by those in the Himalayas and Andes.

For many decades, the Alaska Range has played host to an incredible variety of landscapes and ecology, with visitors traveling from all over the world to hike, climb and sight see in Denali National Park. One-sixth of Denali National Park, or approximately one million acres, is covered by glaciers, which transport thousands of tons of ice each year, according to the National Park Service. Take a look at GlacierHub’s collection of images of Alaska’s impressive peaks and low valleys shaped by glacial activity over the past million years.

 

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An aerial view of the high altitude peaks of the Alaska Range (Source: Matt Verso/Creative Commons).

 

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Road entering Denali National Park on the east edge of the Alaska Range (Source: Arthur Chapman/Creative Commons).

 

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The U.S. Army flies a helicopter toward Kahiltna Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alaska Range (Source: Defense.gov/Creative Commons).

 

Moving toward the Harper Glacier in Denali National Park (Source: Mikep/Creative Commons).
Moving toward the Harper Glacier in Denali National Park (Source: Mikep/Creative Commons).

 

An aerial view of the Upper Muldrow Glacier, Denali National Park (Source: Pete Klosterman/Creative Commons).
An aerial view of the Upper Muldrow Glacier, Denali National Park (Source: Pete Klosterman/Creative Commons).

 

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Looking south across the Monahan Flat (Source: Albert Herring/Creative Commons).

 

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Looking east across the Monahan Flat (Source: Paxon Woelber/Creative Commons).

 

BHBXAJ airplane Canada Kluane National Park mountain; mountains nature unspoiled Yukon Yukon Territory
Southern edge of the Alaska Range (Source: Denali National Park/Creative Commons).

Roundup: Breeding Grounds, Ecosystems, Macroinvertebrates

Roundup: Chronosequences, Drift and Catchments

 

Glacier Retreat Exposes New Breeding Grounds:

From Molecular Ecology: “The rate of global glacial retreat has increased due to climate change and is projected to lead to the disappearance of alpine glaciers by 2050 if warming continues at its current rate (Fitzharris 1995). One consequence of glacial retreat is exposure of subglacial till [sediment carried and deposited by a glacier], which subsequently develops into mineral soil that supports grassland ecosystems (Anderson 1988). This process can be observed in the glacier foreland, with increasing distance from the glacier terminus used as a proxy for time since retreat: a chronosequence (Hämmerli et al. 2007)… If the sites follow the same ecological trajectory, chronosequences can provide useful insights into successional processes (Walker et al. 2010).”

Learn more about the consequences of glacier retreat here:

Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada (Source: Creative Commons, Oltgolpis)
Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada (Source: Oltgolpis/Creative Commons).

 

Drift Patterns in High Mountain Streams:

From Acta Biologica:”This study highlighted the strong seasonality of the diurnal [occurs every 24 hours] drift pattern of the different taxa. This could be explained by the seasonality that characterizes high mountain stream ecosystems in their main physico-chemical features (e.g. discharge, water temperature, suspended solid transport, etc.) (Brittain et alii, 2000)… A second reason could be the low abundance of individuals found, especially in June and August at stations g and ac and in all periods at station ng, that hindered the analysis of the daily activity pattern of most taxa.”

Interested in learning more about these studies? Find them here:

Trentino, Italy (Source: Creative Commons, Marcello Colajanni)
Trentino, Italy (Source: Marcello Colajanni/Creative Commons).

 

Macroinvertebrate Communities in Catchments:

From Hydrobiologia: “Groundwater-fed streams are typically hotspots of aquatic biodiversity within glacierized catchments [natural drainage areas from runoff]. Surface water physicochemistry and macroinvertebrate communities within five groundwater-fed streams were characterized across catchments in Denali National Park, interior Alaska. The main aim of this study was to assess whether hydrological controls on macroinvertebrate communities (e.g. flow permanence) identified within previous catchment-specific studies are present at wider spatial scales, across multiple groundwater-fed streams located on alluvial terraces [a river terrace made of deposits of clay, silt, sand and gravel] within glacierized catchments… The high diversity and structural heterogeneity of macroinvertebrate communities observed across alluvial terrace streams indicated the importance of these systems as biodiversity hotspots in regions under threat from climate change.”

For more on this study:

Denali National Park (Source: Creative Commons, Bill Shupp)
Denali National Park (Source: Bill Shupp/Creative Commons).