Roundup: Dust, Collapse, and Fire

Dust Distribution in East Asia

From Journal of Meteorological Research: “East Asian dust (EAD) exerts considerable impacts on the energy balance and climate/climate change of the earth system through its influence on solar and terrestrial radiation, cloud properties, and precipitation efficiency. Providing an accurate description of the life cycle and climate effects of EAD is therefore critical to better understanding of climate change and socioeconomic development in East Asia and even worldwide.”

Read more about how dust increases glacial melt here.

A schematic representation of how dust shapes precipitation patterns in Asia and Africa (Source: Journal of Meteorological Research).


Swiss Glacier Collapses

From The Washington Post: “Part of a glacier in the Swiss Alps has broken off and tumbled onto a glacier below after some 220 people in a small nearby town were evacuated as a precaution. Authorities ordered a partial evacuation of Saas-Grund on Saturday after radar surveillance of the Trift glacier, above the southern town, showed the glacier’s snout moving at a rate of up to 130 centimeters (51 inches) per day.”

Read more about the Trift Glacier avalanche here.

The town of Saas-Grund was evacuated in anticipation of an avalanche on nearby Trift Glacier (Source: Wandervogel/Wikimedia).


Glacier National Park Landmark Burns

From NPR: ” The Sperry Chalet was one of a handful lodges built in the early 1900s by the Great Northern Railway. The Swiss-themed complexes were spaced about a day’s horseback ride apart. Before the Sperry Chalet burned, it and the Granite Park Chalet were the only two left standing. Sperry’s two-story dormitory is considered a complete loss, but the nearby kitchen and dining room may be salvageable. That potential silver lining has social media buzzing with memories of the roasts, pies, fresh coffee and crispy bacon served daily by the chalet’s dedicated kitchen staff.”

Read more about this casualty of the Sprague Fire here.

Sperry Lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Source: National Park Service/Wikimedia).

Roundup: Video Games, Dust, and Pollinators

Roundup: Jurassic Park, Dust and Interactions


Jurassic Park Video Game Features Glacier Park

From Jurassic Wiki: A  Jurassic Park video game features a glacier park located in Patagonia. The game follows similar video games in the genre like Zoo Tycoon where the player designs and monitors a park with formerly extinct animals. Some animals require more upkeep than others and the last thing the owner of the park would want is for them to get out and interact with the customers! “Everybody has been calling this animal the saber-tooth tiger. It does kind of look like a saber-tooth tiger, but it’s actually called the Megistotherium. For this animal, you can take a look at its fossils on Wikipedia,” according to Jurassic Park Builders.

Check out the game here.

A Megistotherium from the Jurassic Park video game (Source: Jurassic Park Wiki).


Dust from Asia Reduces Albedo of Glaciers

From Atmospheric Research: “Mineral aerosols scatter and absorb incident solar radiation in the atmosphere, and play an important role in the regional climate of High Mountain Asia (the domain includes the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Pamir, Hindu-kush, Karakorum and Tienshan Mountains). Dust deposition on snow/ice can also change the surface albedo, resulting in [deviations] in the surface radiation balance. However, most studies that have made quantitative assessments of the climatic effect of mineral aerosols over the High Mountain Asia region did not consider the impact of dust on snow/ice at the surface. In this study, a regional climate model coupled with an aerosol–snow/ice feedback module was used to investigate the emission, distribution, and deposition of dust and the climatic effects of aerosols over High Mountain Asia.”

Learn more about dust in High Mountain Asia here.

A glacier in High Mountain Asia (Source: Commons).
A glacier in High Mountain Asia (Source: Commons).


Glacial Retreat Spurs New Interactions

From Anthropod-Plant Interactions: “Successional changes of plant and insect communities have been mainly analysed separately. Therefore, changes in plant–insect interactions along successional gradients on glacier forelands remain unknown, despite their relevance to ecosystem functioning. This study assessed how successional changes of the vegetation influenced the composition of the flower-visiting insect assemblages of two plant species, Leucanthemopsis alpina (L.) Heyw. and Saxifraga bryoides L., selected as the only two insect-pollinated species occurring along the whole succession… We emphasize that dynamics of alpine plant and insect communities may be structured by biotic interactions and feedback processes, rather than only be influenced by harsh abiotic conditions and [randomly determined] events.”

Read more about anthropod-plant interactions here.

An international journal devoted to anthropod-plant interactions (Source: Sitecard).




Emerging Storms: Glacier Dust and Climate Change

When the sand plains of southern Iceland dry out, they form active dust sources under the right weather conditions.
When the sand plains of southern Iceland dry out, they form active dust sources under the right weather conditions.

Dust storms are most often associated with hot deserts. However, there are 5 million square kilometres of cold arid land globally where significant dust storms have been reported. The combination of sparse vegetation and strong winds make some humid cold climate areas important dust sources. These can be found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Iceland in the northern hemisphere, and Patagonia, Antarctica and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere.

The relationship between glaciers and dust is complex. Glacier retreat produces dust, which if mobilised can fall on glaciers, increasing heat absorption, promoting further retreat. Or, it can create an armour on the exposed area in front of the glacier, reducing dust emissions. Current research is looking to develop a more nuanced understanding of the opposed effects of this glacier dust. It may be that one of them is the predominant one in most areas, or that they are in relatively balance, or that each one is the major force, but only in specific regions.

In Southern Iceland, dust sourced from extensive sand plains can travel over 200 km to the capital city, Reykjavik. This leads to air pollution, causes travel disruptions and can impact human health. Glacially derived dust that is transported to the ocean can provide soluble iron, such as in the Gulf of Alaska, which potentially boosts productivity of marine ecosystems. If the Antarctic ice-sheet shrinks to become land terminating, the potential dust load available would be c.300 Mt/yt – equivalent to the total contemporary dust emissions from Asia. However, the conditions which produce dust storms in cold climate and high latitude environments, and the subsequent impacts, have not been fully assessed.

Dust storms reduce visibility in Southern Iceland. These DustTrak instruments determine the amount of dust in suspension and the particle sizes.
Dust storms reduce visibility in Southern Iceland. These DustTrak instruments determine the amount of dust in suspension and the particle sizes.

Monitoring dust storms is a challenge. They are not always active, and can cover several hundred kilometres. Satellite remote sensing has revealed the distances that these dust storms can travel, but capturing events in this way is hindered by cloud cover. It is also difficult to measure how much dust is being transported and deposited. Taking direct measurements in the field allows for direct measurements to be made, including total dust concentrations and the particle sizes.

These stations are spatially sparse, and normally only in operation for a few months of the year. More permanent stations require human intervention to collect samples from the traps, which could be days or weeks apart.

Constant monitoring can be achieved for a period of time during a field campaign, where researchers hope for good amounts of dust movement. In addition, increased snow and ice cover, together with darkness during the winter months means that research focus is placed predominantly during the summer months, despite dust storms taking place throughout the year.

To address the scarcity of existing data, the High Latitude and Cold Climate Dust Network (HLCCD)  has formed. Administered from Loughborough University in the UK, it brings together collaborators from the UK, Iceland, USA, Canada and Argentina to tackle problems associated with dust storms. It aims to collate existing data, and to highlight areas where further work is required.

Wind tower set up during fieldwork in Southern Iceland, June 2015, along with dust traps, to monitor dust transport under varying wind conditions.
Wind tower set up during fieldwork in Southern Iceland, June 2015, along with dust traps, to monitor dust transport under varying wind conditions.

The network has started by producing a bibliographic map, highlighting all the existing dust research in cold environments and the high latitudes. The next step is to map potential dust sources, determined by geomorphological and climatic variables. This will enable researchers to better understand what is required to produce an active dust source and how dust sources could change in the future. Changes could be caused by retreating glaciers, or a change in land use. This will allow an assessment on how air quality and marine ecosystems will be affected in the future.

The network is still in its infancy, but it hopes to provide a basis to facilitate interdisciplinary research. By bringing together researchers with different specialities (remote sensing, aeolian processes, oceanography and climate science), the network is able to tackle the complex questions, which remain regarding dust production, transport and deposition in high latitudes and cold environments.

Find out more about the HLCCD Network: and @HLCCD

Roundup: New Stories on Black Carbon

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

Story 1: Ice Core Data from Svalbard

Flickr/Mariusz Kluzniak
Source: Flickr/Mariusz Kluzniak

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

Read more about this research here.


Story 2: Black Carbon over the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau

Source: Flickr/Randomix
Source: Flickr/Randomix

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

Read more about this research here.


Story 3: Modeling of Climatic and Hydrological Impacts

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

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

Read more about this research here.


Dark Snow Spells Doom for Glacial Melt Rates

lack ash covered the summit of New Zealand’s Mount Ruapehu after an eruption in 2007, but was soon covered by fresh snow. Long-term accumulation of black carbon aerosols in the Arctic and Himalaya is leading to increased melting of snow. (Photo: New Zealand GeoNet)
Black ash covered the summit of New Zealand’s Mount Ruapehu after an eruption in 2007, but was soon covered by fresh snow. Long-term accumulation of black carbon aerosols in the Arctic and Himalaya is leading to increased melting of snow. (Photo: New Zealand GeoNet)

“One week-old snow was turning black and brown before my eyes,” American geologist Ulyana Horodyskyj told the Guardian in earlier this year as she stood at her mini weather station, 5,800 meters above sea level on Mount Himlung, on the Nepal-Tibet border. Horodyskyj studies glaciers in Nepal’s Himalaya mountain range and is one of the many scientists, bloggers, and photographers who are documenting the pernicious effects of a phenomenon called “dark snow.”

This so-called dark snow is being discovered everywhere from the Himalayas to Greenland. Snow can be darkened by naturally made particles, such as soot from wildfires and volcanos or dust from bare soil. But industrial pollution is also a culprit: ultra-fine particles of “black carbon” from industrial plants and diesel engines are often carried in on fierce winds from thousands of miles away. The dust, soot and carbon darken the color of the snow, causing it to absorb more light from the sun, which speeds up glacial melting and lengthens the melt season.

“Governments must act, and people must become more aware of what is happening. It needs to be looked at properly,” said Horodyskyj.

Dark dust deposits on the Yanert ice field and glacier in Alaska. (Ins1122/Flickr)
Dark dust deposits on the Yanert ice field and glacier in Alaska. (Ins1122/Flickr)

In India, about 30 percent of glacial melt is attributed to black carbon, according to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). In addition, most of the black snow in the Himalayas or the Tibetan Plateau comes from Indian and Chinese soot (e.g. diesel fumes, coal burning, funeral pyres, and etc.). It’s even a problem in the Arctic, according to a paper recently published in Nature Geoscience by a team of meteorologists from the French government. They found that the Arctic ice cap, which is thought to have lost an average of 12.9 billion tonnes of ice a year between 1992 and 2010 due to general warming, may be losing an additional 27 billion tonnes a year due to dust.

This isn’t the first time in the earth’s long history that dust was blamed for glacial melt. Last year, a NASA-led team of scientists published a study in the Proceedings of Natural Academy of Science that found industrial soot led to the retreat of glaciers in the 19th century. The European Alps experienced the abrupt retreat of valley glaciers by about 0.6 miles from 1860 to 1930, during which time the temperature actually dropped continuously. Scientists suspected that the glacier retreats were caused by human activity. After years of research, it turns out that the lower-elevation pollution is a major cause of the mysterious loss of glacier mass.

Darkened ice is found near the edge of Byron Glacier. (Photo: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr)
Darkened ice is found near the edge of Byron Glacier. (Photo: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr)

To better understand and document the dark snow problem, Danish glaciologist Jason Box started the Dark Snow Project around 2 years ago, which measures the impact of changing wildfire soot, industrial black carbons, and snow microbes on snow and ice reflectivity. The Dark Snow Project is currently trying to raise $15,000 for the purchase of three drones to photograph the surface of glaciers in Greenland from a low altitude to examine surface melting.