Five students from Sheffield University traveled to Tien Shan Mountain Range in Kyrgyzstan to investigate the impact of climate change on a glacier that had never been studied before.
“Central Asia is one of the most threatened regions in the world to climate change, seeing some of the fastest rates of global glacial retreat,” said Sam Gillan, one of the leaders of the expedition. “There is currently a real focus on developing understandings of how climate change is affecting glaciers there, and we wanted to contribute to this developing field of research.”
Gillan and his colleague Alex Hyde were working on their undergraduate dissertation projects in the geography department at Sheffield University. Hyde says in the video that the idea for the trip came after a visit to Kyrgyzstan in 2017. He and Gillian wanted to study an actual glacier rather than working on a project in a lab. They soon narrowed down their topic to the Fedorovitch Glacier due to its relatively flat surface and accessibility.
Calum Sowden joined the expedition as a medic, Tom Drysdale as the group’s mountaineering advisor, and Louise Reddy as a research assistant.
The video documents the challenges of conducting research in such a remote location and highlights the rewards of field work. The team’s month-long data collection included measuring snow melt and temperature change.
Working at an elevation of 3,000 meters in such a remote location was challenging, mentally and physically, Reddy says in the video. “The hardest thing for all of us was the fact that the research requires you to do as much as possible,” he said. “The more often you take samples, the better the research will be.”
Check out the full video to see these young scientists at work—and find out what their favorite food was while isolated for a month in the mountains of Central Asia.
Check Out More GlacierHub Stories About Kyrgyzstan:
The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week, GlacierHub news is covering glacier flow, glacier calving, and the environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen.
This week’s news report features:
Observing Glacier Calving through Time-Lapse Imagery and Surface Water Waves
By: Sabrina Ho Yen Yin
A recent paper published in the Journal of Glaciology explores how a team of researchers studied waves in a Patagonian lake to detect glacier calving events at Glaciar Perito Moreno.
Summary: A new analysis published in the Journal of Science argues that the “largest uncertainty” in ice sheet models used to predict future sea-level rise originates from our limited understanding of underwater processes at the ice-bed interface.
The Environmental Monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen
By: Sabrina Ho Yen Yin
Summary: The Environmental Monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ) is an umbrella program that collects and analyzes environmental data in the arctic regions of Svalbard and Jan Mayen. Some data of interest include the extent and thickness of sea ice around Svalbard, Fram Strait and the Barents Sea; temperature and salinity of the water transported around Svalbard via the West Spitsbergen Current; ocean acidification; and local sea level changes.
We are proud to present our first ever GlacierHub News Report. The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. We know our readers are busy, so we created the GlacierHub News Report to catch you up on the latest glacier news.
This week’s news report features:
Peruvian Farmer Explains Lawsuit Against Energy Firm
By: Brian Poe Llamanzares
Peruvian Farmer Saul Lliuya prepares for the next step in his legal battle against German energy firm RWE. He knows the odds are stacked against him, but with the help of Germanwatch and research from Instituto Nacional de Investigacion en Glaciares y Ecosistemas de Montaña, he hopes to win this case.
Artist Diane Burko Shows Us Our World, and It’s Vanishing
By: Jade Payne
We interviewed Diane Burko about her newest exhibition, Vast, and Vanishing, on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery, as well as her upcoming project that takes her in a new direction exploring coral reefs.
Inequality, Climate Change, and Vulnerability in Peru
By: Angela Quevedo
In March, we published an article regarding the vulnerability of small-scale farmers in Ancash, Peru. A recent study, suggests that climate change is just one of several factors placing pressure on farmers; rather, a collection of socio-political and economic factors are the main cause of vulnerability.
Glacial Geoengineering: The Key to Slowing Sea Level Rise?
By: Andrew Angle
Could building underwater walls in front of glaciers slow down melting and possibly avert devastating sea level rise? A postdoctoral researcher at Princeton thinks it might, proposing that a wall’s construction on a glacier grounding line could limit warm water from melting the ice from below. The idea is still in its very early stages and has many engineering and feasibility questions that still need to be addressed.
New Zealand’s glaciers showed signs of an unusually severe summer in 2018. Every year, scientists from New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) fly over the Southern Alps of New Zealand to record the condition of the country’s glaciers. This year, they noticed that no snow remained from the previous winter.
New Zealand has 3,200 glaciers, and scientists have been observing these glaciers since the late 1970s. Out of 3,200 glaciers, 50 were selected by glaciologist Trevor Chinn to serve as a sample data set representing all of New Zealand’s alps. Of these 50 glaciers, 30 were unable to retain snow from the previous winter.
The “snow line” is the elevation at which the snow from the previous winter sits above exposed ice, but in 2018 the snow kept melting. In other words, 30 of the mountains were not tall enough to reach the potential “snow line.” Unfortunately, this means that these mountains lost snow which could have potentially become the ice necessary for nourishing these glaciers.
Over one-third of all the snow and ice in the Southern Alps melted in recent decades, with warmer temperatures making it difficult for the mountains to retain snow through the summer. In fact, the total volume of ice has decreased by 34 percent since the late 1970s. The Southern Alps of New Zealand have continuously receded at an uneven pace. Some years the glaciers have receded quicker than other years. However, research indicates that the rate at which glaciers are shrinking has accelerated over the past 15 years.
What Made This Summer so Severe?
The same climate scientists from NIWA and others from Victoria University of Wellington argue that the increase in temperature is being caused by a marine heat wave. This is the first time scientists have made a connection between marine heat waves and glacial retreat. A marine heat wave is characterized by extreme sea surface temperatures (SSTs) that last for several months. However, unlike the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which also has extreme SSTs, marine heat waves are not limited to the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. In fact, marine heat waves have occurred in different locations around the world. It turns out marine heat waves have been around for quite some time, but it is only recently that they have caught the attention of the scientific community.
According to a recent study, one of the earliest significant marine heat waves on record took place in 2003 around the northwestern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The warm pool reached anywhere between three to five degrees Celsius above the 1982 to 2016 reference period. Since then, there have been a total of seven other significant marine heat waves based on the metrics of the study.
What is truly troubling about the frequency of these heat waves is that three out of the eight significant heat waves happened in 2016 alone. That’s not including the other smaller marine heat waves similar to the one which directly affected the glaciers in New Zealand. There seems to be an increasing trend in marine heat waves around the world.
The most significant marine heat wave to date was nicknamed “the blob.” This marine heatwave stretched all the way from Alaska to Panama and got its name from the way its massive heat signature registered on the map. Between 2013 and 2015 this massive heat wave cost the lives of millions of sea stars, over one hundred thousand seabirds, and thousands of sea lions. In June 2015, over a dozen whales died and washed ashore. Similarly, in a single month, 79 sea otters reportedly died. At one point the heat wave even caused a toxic bloom of algae so large that it shut down California’s crab industry.
The video above explains what caused large numbers of sea otters to die during the marine heat wave (Source: National Geographic).
Off the southeast coast of Australia, another heat wave was recorded shortly after “the blob.” According to another study, between 2015 and 2016, Australia had its longest and most intense heat wave ever recorded. It lasted between 251 days, with heat reaching up to 2.9 degrees Celsius higher than normal. This marine heat wave killed off over one-fifth of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef. The same marine heat wave resulted in the worst mangrove die-off in the world. Over 7,000 hectares of mangroves died during that marine heat wave.
Marine heat waves also have a significant economic impact. A marine heat wave between 2010 and 2013 off the western coast of Australia destroyed 90 percent of the kelp forests in the Great Southern Reef, affecting major fisheries including rock lobsters and abalone fisheries. More recently, the 2016 marine heat wave in the region caused an outbreak of an oyster disease, closing local hatcheries all over the region.
How are Marine Heat Waves Formed?
The term marine heat wave was only coined fairly recently in 2011. Scientists are starting to study the causes of marine heat waves and the extent of their impact on the environment. Some scientists argue that certain marine heat waves are affected by El Niño. For example, “The blob” has been closely associated with the weak 2014-2015 El Niño event. According to studies conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the beginning of the marine heat wave may have started toward the end of 2013 and start of 2014. In 2014, high pressure over the Pacific Ocean led to weaker winds. The winds were unable to bring cooler air from the north which contributed to a slight rise in temperatures in the region. Then, around the middle of 2014, an El Niño event occurred and further intensified the heat wave allowing the warmer temperatures to expand all along the Pacific coast.
On the other hand, Oliver’s research argues that the convergence of heat is somehow linked to the anomalous southward flow of the East Australian Current (EAC) and enhanced kinetic energy which coincided with the 2015 to 2016 marine heat wave off the coast of Australia. The EAC brings warm water down the East coast of Australia into the Tasman Sea.
According to Oliver’s study, a temperature budget, in which “horizontal advection and sea-air heat flux” were also considered, indicated that southward advection was indeed the main cause of the anomalous temperatures. The study goes on the point out that the southward advection was consistent with a stronger southward extension of the EAC. Meanwhile, NIWA forecaster Ben Noll argues that one of the factors that researchers may wish to consider would be the atmospheric pressure. Higher atmospheric pressure in the region keeps the weather conditions calm above the water and fail to produce the winds necessary to churn up cold water from deep in the ocean. This therefore allows warm pools to build up over time.
Researchers and scientists are still trying to understand the causes behind marine heat waves around the world. However, it remains clear that the chances of marine heat waves occurring will continue to increase in the near future, affecting not just marine life but even glaciers.
The French Alps lie just about an hour and thirty minutes away from the heart of Geneva. I thought of visiting Chamonix, home of the famous Mont Blanc, after a conference at the United Nations. Though, what I didn’t know was that I could visit the equally majestic Mer de Glace, or “Sea of Ice” in English, a valley glacier on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc Massif.
I was lucky enough to visit Mer de Glace in the winter outside of peak season. That meant the cable car heading up the slopes actually had seats available. It also meant that I could take breathtaking photos of this winter wonderland without being disturbed. I was in such awe of Mer de Glace that I completely forgot to put my gloves on! I was too focused on capturing the moment. As my hands fell numb, I ran inside the gift shop and waited for the cable car to return. On the way down, I couldn’t help but wonder how long such a magnificent glacier would last. I had suddenly remembered the tour guide explaining earlier that the glacier has been melting and that we were lucky to have seen so much snow.
Upon researching, I came to realize that the glacier was in fact disappearing. The ice has melted so quickly over the past 30 years that it now takes around 370 steps to get down to the ice. In 1988 it took only three steps. Between 2014 and 2015 alone Mer de Glace has lost 3.61 meters of ice. To make matters worse, reports have indicated 40 percent less snowfall over the past 50 years in the region. All over the world glaciers are melting as a result of changing climate. Tourists like myself are left wondering how many more generations will be able to witness the majesty of the French Alps. Will my generation be the last?
This Photo Friday, join me on an eye-opening journey through the snowy mountainside of Mont Blanc.
Click here to find out more about the tour I booked in Chamonix.
A recent study by John All et al., “Fire Response to Local Climate Variability,” investigates whether or not human interference in the fire regime of Huascarán National Park in Peru was the primary cause of an increase in fire activity in the park. The fire activity, whether caused by humans or climate variability, was poorly understood because of a lack of historical data. The wildfires in this park are continuing to grow and could pose a threat to surrounding glaciers. Resource managers believed that the fire increase was human-caused and not necessarily linked to climate processes, but in this instance, fire perception and fire reality are not aligning. The new challenge for resource managers is how best to reconcile these two factors to more effectively manage the parklands. If the wildfires become more frequent, the glaciers in Huascarán National Park could melt at faster rates because of the soot and other material from the fires deposited on them.
The 3,400 km Huascarán National Park is located in the Cordillera Blanca range in north-central Peru, the largest glaciated area in the tropics, with 80 glaciers and 120 glacial lakes. The park, created in 1975 and named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, has already seen a significant loss of ice and snow in the region in the past 60 years, according to research published in the journal Mountain Research and Development, altering the glacier melt that supplies water for the Santa, Marañón, and Pativilca River basins.
The study’s goal was to help the park’s land managers understand the patterns of the fires, why they’ve been changing, and how to better manage the park in the future. When asked if climate change could make the wildfires more frequent, Edson Ramírez Henostroza, a security specialist for rescue and fire control at Huascarán National Park, told GlacierHub, “Yes, in our country, there is the popular belief that fire and smoke generate rain, and that ash balances the pH of the soil, which is usually acid in the Andes, causing the peasants to burn more pastures ad bushes in search of rain and more productive soils.”
From 2002 to 2014, Huascarán National Park has seen higher activity of grazing and anthropogenic burning, due to natural ignitions and climate variability, which has altered the regimes and population dynamics of the vegetative communities. Anthropogenic fires are usually caused by livestock owners who start fires to get rid of biomass and improve grass regrowth for the next grazing season. Humans change the characteristics of fires, such as the intensity, severity, number, and spread. “We believe that the best tools to prevent forest fires is environmental education, to reach schools in rural areas and talk to peasants and their children,” Edson told GlacierHub.
Since the 1970’s, glaciers in the tropical Andes have receded at a rate of 30 percent. Increased black carbon and dust will only quicken this glacial recession. A consequence of man-made fires is the release of black carbon, a particulate matter released by the combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel and biomass, which accelerates glacial melt when deposited on glaciers. Since black carbon absorbs solar energy, it has the ability to warm the atmosphere and speed up the melting process on glaciers.
In an interview with GlacierHub, John All, a research professor in the Department of Environmental Science at Huxley College and one of the co-authors of the study, said, “There are multiple potential sources of black carbon, but our work indicates that black carbon on glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca is almost entirely ‘young’ carbon – i.e. not fossil carbon like diesel. Mountain fires potentially provide large amounts and large particle sizes of local black carbon that can be deposited immediately onto the glacier.”
Park managers are working to save the park from future fire-related accidents by bringing on specialists like John All. “We began this research at the request of the Park Superintendent because he was concerned about how these fires, which are ignited to improve grazing in the Park, were affecting the ecosystem and visitor experiences,” he told GlacierHub. “We’ve worked with USAID and various Peruvian agencies to hold workshops and work with local stakeholders to curb burning practices. However, as natural fire conditions become more explosive, even accidental fires may become widespread in the future.” More research needs to be done in order to improve fire management and learn more about the fires’ impact on the park.
Any avid hiker or mountaineer would agree life as a scientist studying microbes on glaciers is not too bad. Just look the business trips they get to make. Italian scientists Dr. Andrea Franzetti, environmental microbiologist, and his colleague Dr. Roberto Ambrosini, ecologist, took a trip to Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan to collect data and bacteria samples for their latest work on supraglacial microbes.
Shrinking Glacier Is Backdrop to Obama’s Message on Climate Change
“President Barack Obama hiked to a shrinking glacier Tuesday, traveling to this icy expanse to deliver a visual message to the country: This is what climate change looks like. Mr. Obama spent the day in the Kenai Mountains, exploring Exit Glacier, which has retreated as the planet has warmed, touring the area by boat and even taping a segment for an outdoor adventure show. The president’s arguments were familiar, but the White House is hoping that a change in scenery will help galvanize support for combating global warming. His visit comes as public consensus in the U.S. is growing that the earth is heating up and that people are responsible.”
Read more from the Wall Street Journal about Obama’s trip to Alaska here.
Video of Biking Down a Glacier
The new film, “unReal,” produced by Anthill Films & Teton Gravity Research, features intense biking down a glacier.
To learn more about the upcoming film, click here.
Visualizing Glacier Melt Impacts
“With record temperatures and minimum flows in most rivers in the Cascade Range during July and August of 2015, a key question was how much did glaciers contribute in basins that are glaciated? Note the water pouring off the glacier and the lack of snowcover in the first few minutes of the video.”
In July of 2013, a team of scientists from France, Russia and the United States descended upon an uninhabited archipelago in the Russian Arctic called Franz-Josef Land, the northern most archipelago in the world. There they spent two months at Tikhaya Bay on Hooker Island, one of the archipelago’s 191 islands, tagging and studying a small black and white seabird called the little auk (Alle Alle), which nests on cliffs and dives for its dinner in the frigid water.
Their findings call into question some models of climate change impacts on polar ecosystems, says David Grémillet, the lead scientist of the group, in research published in Global Change Biology in mid-January.
Given its remote high-Arctic location, Franz-Josef Land has long been considered a kind of Arctic Eden, sheltered from the impacts of climate change. Nearly 85 percent of its land mass is blanketed by glaciers and its islands are surrounded by extensive sea ice. But temperatures in the Arctic are rising, and are predicted to increase by as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Grémillet and his colleagues wanted to measure how the ecosystem of this icy Arcadia is responding.
They chose the little auk as a subject because it is a so-called sentinel species, one that can be used as a proxy for the health of an entire ecosystem, much like the polar bear. The most abundant seabird in the Atlantic Arctic, with over 40 million individuals, the little auk is a major part of the food chain in polar ecosystems. Previous research has suggested that the little auk is quite flexible in the face of changes to its environment. But Grémillet and his colleagues suspected the bird might reach a breaking point due to its high energy costs and metabolic rate, as well as a diet primarily made up of copepods—tiny crustaceans that are themselves highly reactive to changes in sea ice and water temperature.
Using remote sensing data, the scientists measured changes in the volume and area of sea ice and glaciers between 1979 and 2013. They also tagged a number of little auks from one colony with tiny electronic devices affixed to legs or breast feathers to track their foraging behavior. These devices, called miniaturized temperature–depth recorders, provided information on the depth and duration of every dive, as well as the hours spent each day gathering food. The researchers then compared current and historical data on the diet, body weight and chick growth of little auks at Franz-Josef Land.
The data they collected revealed some bad news and some good news. The bad news: Sea ice in the Franz-Josef archipelago has, in fact, retreated markedly during the last decade, disappearing entirely during summer by 2005—a harbinger of future conditions elsewhere in the Arctic Ocean. Coastal glaciers have also retreated, dumping large volumes of meltwater into the sea. The good news: while disappearing sea ice curtailed the birds’ traditional feeding grounds, retreating glaciers created new ones. The little auks adapted their behavior, feeding at the boundaries where glacier melt discharged into coastal waters at Tikhaya Bay, close to the their breeding areas. Local zooplankton were shocked by cold temperatures and dramatic contrasts in salt concentrations between the fresh meltwater and saline oceans, making them easy prey. The little auks were able to maintain chick growth weights, while adults lost just 4% of body mass.
The little auks’ adaptability in Franz-Josef raises questions about previous research on the birds. In a 2010 paper, Nina Karnovsky of Pomona College predicted that 40% of all little auks would disappear from the Atlantic Arctic by the end of the 21st century, Grémillet and his colleagues note. They argue that this prediction must now be revisited. They also call for further study of little auks at other Arctic geographies, to see if they are as adaptable as the ones making a home at Franz-Josef Land.
The Franz-Josef little auk findings support the conclusions of other recent research on Adélie penguins in the Antarctic and seabirds and marine mammals in Alaska that suggest glacial melt can, in some cases, compensate for disappearing sea ice to support new feeding habits, benefitting certain animals within an ecosystem, according to the authors of the paper.
“There is currently a huge demand for predicting the fate of Arctic biodiversity exposed to ongoing climate change,” the authors write. “At the species level, this is achieved by building habitat models.” But if the models don’t take certain environmental interactions into account, inaccurate predictions will be made.
For other stories about birds on glacier-covered islands at high latitudes, look here and here.
Few regions on Earth depend as heavily on glaciers for food, energy and water as South Asia’s Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem. A new research paper in the journal Environmental Science and Policy highlights some of the challenges downstream communities face when glacier water from upstream communities becomes scarce.
The greater South Asian region accounts for two-thirds of the world’s population and consumes roughly 60 percent of the planet’s water. Hundreds of millions of people in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh depend on the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem for direct and indirect sustenance.
“The Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain system is often called the ‘third pole’ or ‘water tower of Asia’ because it contains the largest area of glaciers and permafrost and the largest freshwater resources outside the North and South poles,” wrote lead researcher Golam Rasul in the May 2014 paper. “Food, water, and energy security in South Asia: A nexus perspective from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.”
Rasul, the head of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s Economic Analysis division, said the best approach to the situation is a nexus approach. In other words, equal attention must be paid to watersheds, catchments, river system headwaters and hydropower.
The mountainous area is home to tens of thousands of glaciers whose water reserves are equivalent to around three times the annual precipitation over the entire regions. These glaciers – a study from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development put the number at 54,000 – are a crucial component of the region’s ecosystem, and in many ways central to providing energy, food and water to the glacier communities and those downstream.
The Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem is under threat from unsustainable resource use. Rapid population growth, increased urbanization, and increased commercial activity are driving increasing pressure on ecosystem services, as higher demand for energy and resource intensive goods are met with little regard for sustainable resource use.
Rasul notes that reversing this trend is inherently difficult, given that mountain communities bear the cost of conservation, but receive only a few of the benefits due to “a lack of institutional mechanisms and policy arrangements for sharing the benefits and costs of conservation.”
In order to maximize benefits to upstream and downstream communities, the authors say a nexus approach that looks to understand the interdependencies of food, water, and energy, can maximize synergies and manage trade-offs. As the water intensity of food and energy production increases, the recognition of the role of glaciers and other hydrological resources in the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem will be vital in promoting its sustainable use.
Glacial Melt Pours Iron into Ocean, Seeding Algal Blooms
Scientists report in a new study this week that glacial melt may be funneling significant amounts of reactive iron into the ocean, where it may counter some of the negative effects of climate change by boosting algal blooms that capture carbon.
Fighter Pilot Films First Person View Of Flight Over Fjords
“Being a fighter pilot is a lot of work. Maintence, years of training, planning for missions, paperwork — all just to pilot one of the faster, deadlier machines ever created by human hands. Seems like a real hassle, right?”