Video of the Week: Grizzlies in Glacier National Park

Full speed ahead! In today’s Video of the Week, watch an energetic grizzly bear slide down a snowfield in Glacier National Park. In the video, the grizzly runs from the top of the snowfield and at some point, loses its footing. Then, it slides down a portion of the snowfield. By the end, the grizzly safely makes it to the bottom and continues on with its daily activities.

Glacier National Park is a 1,583 square mile wilderness area that includes over 700 miles of hiking trails. Located in Montana, the park contains a total of 25 glaciers including Grinnell and Sperry glaciers. Both grizzlies and black bears call this park their home.

Additional Reading on GlacierHub:

Swing, Kick, Swing: Ice Climbing on a Norwegian Glacier

Roundup: Antarctic Species Diversity, Credit Ratings, and an Alaskan Podcast

Photo Friday: Images of Europe’s July Heat Wave

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Thoughts from the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park

My view writing the first paragraph of this reflection, looking at the Salamander Glacier (Source: Natalie Belew).

After four hours hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail and with the roar of a waterfall from glacial runoff in the backdrop, there they were: the three patches of ice known as the Grinnell, Salamander, and Gem glaciers.

The glaciers, some of the few remaining at Glacier National Park, are located in the Many Glacier region on the east side of the park. My father and I had traversed along the trail all morning, nearly 6 miles, to get closer to a glacier than we had ever been before.

Although we could see the three glaciers from a few miles away on the trail, the massive lake awaiting us at the end, with its stunning blue waters, took me by surprise. I had few expectations in terms of the size of the glaciers; I knew they would be small and receding, and the snowfields would be at their smallest size this time of the year (summer). It was only when I came across photographs of the glaciers from previous years that I realized just how much rock and water is now exposed compared to ice.

As far as we could drive during my first visit to Glacier NP in 2016 with an incoming blizzard (Source: Natalie Belew).

I had first visited Glacier NP over two years ago in the middle of March when most of the park was officially closed for winter. There happened to be a blizzard blowing in at the time, and my parents and I drove in only as far as we could from the St. Mary’s entrance. We pulled over for a few pictures of snow-covered peaks on the side of the road before hightailing it back to Great Falls, Montana, where my father lives.

During that first trip, I didn’t think much about the park’s glaciers beyond how beautiful they were in the distance among the haze of the blizzard winds. I also didn’t know much about how fast they were receding or the significance of their loss. I knew the park was succumbing to the effects of climate change, but I didn’t understand more about the problem beyond rising global temperatures.

The closest I got to the Grinnell Glacier. A weathered sign read, “Warning: Hazardous Snow Conditions, Glacier Travel Not Recommended.” (Source: Natalie Belew).

A lot is different from my first visit to the park back in 2016 and now. Since then, I began writing for GlacierHub and also completed the Master’s program in Climate & Society at Columbia University. My understanding of glaciers has grown exponentially over this past year from reporting on the latest studies on shrinking glaciers (with a few notable exceptions in parts of the world such as the Karakoram) and our changing planet. And now, I’ve seen not just one but three glaciers up close and personal.

Compared to older photographs taken just two years ago, it is remarkable how much smaller the glaciers are in person. But with temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and standing just a football field away, I was also impressed at how much ice stood. Still, the glaciers looked so vulnerable surrounded by the forces of water, rock, and heat. And humans.

Two years from my first visit, I realize how complicated the science behind climate change can be: it is more than just warming average global temperatures. Likewise, warming temperatures plus glaciers doesn’t always equal recession.

My dad and I posing in front of Grinnell Glacier. Despite living close to the park, he had never made the hike to see a glacier (Source: Natalie Belew).

I have also come to realize the need for more effective communication, not only on the topic of climate change but also about science in general. With all of the nuance surrounding the complicated physics of our planet, communicating its problems is not simple, especially now given the current political atmosphere. The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law recently reported 155 instances of the Trump administration restricting or inhibiting science through their Silencing Science Tracker, for example, evidencing that scientists face greater harassment and threats. Even mentioning the phrase climate change in a public office, such as the National Park Service, has become controversial.

For Glacier National Park, once the backdrop of Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,receding glaciers are a powerful symbol of climate change occurring right in our backyard. While visiting Glacier, I was curious about how the park was communicating its reality with its millions of visitors (3.3 million people visited the park in 2017, according to park statistics).

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by the signs around the park that talked about climate change. Several openly acknowledged how climate change (and the human activity driving it) is silently destroying the namesake of Glacier NP. There were even some signs that had been updated last year, according to the date in their corner. Only one stated how human activity “partially” explains the accelerated melting of glaciers since 1880. Its lack of a timestamp made it unclear whether it was a product of the Obama or Trump administration.

Image of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where we stayed the night. My dad and I were sore after hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail (Source: Natalie Belew).

In the annual park newspaper available in the lobby of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, an entire page (albeit the second-to-last page) was dedicated to “Climate Change and the Crown of the Continent,” highlighting the global threat of climate change as “one of the most pressing issues of our time.” Although hidden in the back of the paper, this brief message about climate change’s impact on Glacier NP’s ecological integrity was profound in its clear-cut messaging.

Then there were the fires and record-breaking 100-degree heat that also happened concurrent to the weekend of my visit. Fires broke out on the west side of Glacier NP near McDonald Lake the evening of August 11. Flying into Great Falls that day from New York City, I immediately picked up on the hazy skies during my layover in Minneapolis, and the entire flight from Minnesota to Montana had an eerie film over the Big Sky country.

The remains of a fire taken on my first visit in 2016 with the Montanan prairies in the background (Source: Natalie Belew).

When I arrived the next day, the recent forest fires in the park and across the West were a primary topic of conservation. I overheard fellow visitors and park employees discussing forced evacuations of parts of the park and destruction of historic lodges in the wake of the fires. The fires also attracted national media and revamped attention toward the topic of climate change. As Twitter exploded on the topic, my father and I drove up to Logan’s Pass along the Going-to-the-Sun Road where park law enforcement blocked off further entry.

On that drive, entering the St. Mary’s entrance, multiple patches of charred skeletal remains of trees reminded us of the commonality of fires. With a complicated web of direct and indirect socio-environmental causes, wildfires are one natural disaster scientists can’t always directly link to climate change. An example of the complex nebulous that scientists and scholars observe, it’s difficult to untangle for a broader audience without losing its entire integrity or image.

One of three signs at the Jackson Glacier Overlook with the Jackson Glacier in the background (Source: Natalie Belew).

Information at Glacier NP doesn’t pretend like there’s a shot of saving the glaciers. At the Jackson Glacier Overlook, a sign there describes how when Glacier NP was established in 1910, there were over 100 glaciers within the park boundaries. By 1966, only 35 remained. As of 2015, only 26 “met the criteria to be designated active glaciers.” All of them are shrinking. And with the view of Jackson coming in and out of focus amid the smoky haze, it is hard not to feel hopeless for their doomed fate.

Coming face-to-face with three of the remaining glaciers helped me put my work and studies into perspective. Much like the all-day hike, the Climate & Society program was a long and strenuous year filled with challenging coursework. And much like witnessing melting glaciers, perhaps for the only time in my life, I had the opportunity to learn about the intersection of climate and society. But unlike the fate of the glaciers in Glacier NP, destiny isn’t settled for our planet and our fight against climate change. I remain hopeful that we can improve the communication around the science and in turn bring awareness for necessary action.

Sunset after a long day of hiking just outside Many Glacier Hotel (Source: Natalie Belew).
Please follow, share and like us:
error

Photo Friday: Dodging Fires in Glacier National Park

Last Sunday, August 12, I had the opportunity to hike the Grinnell Glacier trail at Glacier National Park in Montana with my father to witness the rapidly shrinking Grinnell, Salamander, and Gem glaciers. Today’s Photo Friday showcases just a few photos of the vulnerable glaciers I captured from the strenuous trail.

A 11.4-mile (18.4 kilometer) hike to and from the glaciers, this demanding all-day trip allowed us to witness not only the receding glaciers but also a range of rich and thriving flora and fauna, including a grizzly bear encounter! But outside of my hike, a lightning strike near Lake McDonald on Saturday night sparked three raging fires that led to the evacuation of part of the park and the attraction of journalists, including Eric Holthaus of Grist, to cover the spreading flames and the record-breaking 100 degree heat that occurred the day before I arrived.

Despite the fires on the west side of Glacier NP, where we were staying at Many Glacier, also on the west side, was not directly impacted by the fires. On the Going-to-the-Sun Road, where we stopped to view the Jackson Glacier from afar, we drove up to Logan’s Pass where rangers and barriers blocked off visitors from traveling further. Despite our distance from the evacuation zone, we noticed that the typically crisp blue sky of Big Sky country in Montana was much hazier than visitors normally experience.

As mentioned in this week’s Video of the Week post, all of the glaciers in the park are rapidly receding due to anthropogenic climate change. From an estimated 150 glaciers in the park around 1850 to a mere 50 by 1966 and a remaining 26 today (many of which are merely a fraction of their original size), it’s only a matter of time before the ice is gone and the glacier’s geological imprint is all that remains.

For more on my experience at Glacier NP this summer, keep an eye out for my personal reflection next week.

Trail sign near the start (Source: Natalie Belew).

 

On the trail, early in the hike (Source: Natalie Belew).

 

View away from the glaciers. Skies in Glacier NP aren’t normally so hazy, but visitors could see the ash and haze from fires on the other side of the park (Source: Natalie Belew).

 

View toward the glaciers. Grinnell and Gem in sight (Source: Natalie Belew).

 

Obligatory pose in front of the glacial backdrop (Source: James Belew).

 

Image of the Salamander Glacier (Source: Natalie Belew).

 

Satisfactory (albeit depressing) photograph of Grinnell Glacier, the larger ice form near the glacial lake, and Gem Glacier, the hanging glacier in the rocks overlooking Grinnell (Source: Natalie Belew).

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Video of the Week: Hiking at Glacier National Park

This week, journey to Glacier National Park in Montana through videos taken this August by Natalie Belew, a GlacierHub writer and recent graduate of Columbia University’s Master of Arts in Climate and Society.

Earlier this week, Belew hiked the Grinnell Glacier trail to catch a glimpse of the rapidly shrinking Grinnell, Salamander and Gem glaciers. The Grinnell glacier, along with Salamander Glacier and Gem Glacier (one of the smallest remaining glaciers in the park), has substantially retreated in recent years. Between 1966 and 2005, Grinnell Glacier lost 113 acres, 45 percent of its total acreage. The videos have been taken from the overlook point and on the trail to the glaciers.

To learn more about Belew’s adventure, watch out for this week’s Photo Friday post.

 

 

Read more glacier news here:

After ‘Peak Water,’ the Days of Plenty Are Over

Barsuwat Glacier Causes Flooding and Artificial Lake in Pakistan

Alpine Photographer Reflects on Changing Face of Mountain Landscapes

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Video of the Week: Losing Iconic Glaciers

Is Glacier National Park in Montana losing its iconic glaciers? Scientists from the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center have photographed the same areas where glaciers were photographed in the early 1900s to document the changing glacial landscape of Glacier National Park.

In this week’s Video of the Week, published by the National Geographic, Dan Fagre, a USGS research ecologist, and his colleagues discuss what melting glaciers mean for the future of the park, wildlife and people. Dan Fagre has studied climate change in the park for more than 20 years using repeat photography and documented immense changes in the landscape of the park.

Read more glacier news at GlacierHub:

Meet the Writers of GlacierHub, 2017/2018 Edition

Pioneer Study Sounds Out Iceberg Melting in Norway

Is Deforestation Driving Mt. Kenya’s Glacier Recession?

 

Please follow, share and like us:
error

The Swiftness of Glaciers: Language in a Time of Climate Change

This article was originally published on Aeon on March 19, 2018.

Language bends and buckles under pressure of climate change. Take the adjective “glacial.” I recently came across an old draft of my PhD dissertation on which my advisor had scrawled the rebuke: “You’re proceeding at a glacial pace. You’re skating on thin ice.” That was in 1988, the year that the climatologist James Hansen testified before the United States Senate that runaway greenhouse gases posed a planetary threat.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland (Source: Max Pixel/Aeons).

If I repeated my advisor’s admonition on a dissertation today, the student might assume that I was rebuking them for writing too darn fast. Across all seven continents glaciers are receding at speed. Over a four-year span, Greenland’s ice cap shed 1 trillion tons of ice. Some geologists expect Glacier National Park in Montana to lose the last of its glaciers around 2033, just as the equatorial glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro are also set to disappear. An Icelandic glaciologist calculates that by the end of the next century Iceland will be stripped of ice. Are we moving toward a time when tourists will visit Montana’s National Park Formerly Known as Glacier? When students will read Hemingway’s story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936) not as realism but as science fiction? And when Reykjavik will be the capital of DeIcedland?

This shift reminds us that dead metaphors aren’t always terminally dead. Sometimes they’re just hibernating, only to stagger back to life, dazed and confused, blinking at the altered world that has roused them from their slumber. (Dead metaphor is itself a dead metaphor, but we can no longer feel the mortality in the figure of speech.)

During the Little Ice Age, which stretched from the 14th to the 19th century, the median Northern Hemisphere winter was significantly colder than it is today. Glaciers more often advanced than retreated, sometimes wiping out communities as they moved. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Mont Blanc” (1817) captures the menacing aura that adhered to those frozen rivers of ice:

… The glaciers creep
Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains,
Slow rolling on …
in scorn of mortal power

Shelley saw glaciers as predatory, immortal forces, eternal beings, before whose might mere humans quaked. But global warming has flipped that perception. We are now more likely to view glaciers as casualties of humanity’s outsize, planet-altering powers.

Glaciers in the 21st century constitute an unfrozen hazard, as receding glaciers and ice packs push ocean levels higher. Just as alarming as the big thaw’s impact on sea rise is its impact on the security of our freshwater reserves. For glaciers serve as fragile, frigid reservoirs holding irreplaceable water: 47 percent of humanity depends on water stored as seasonally replenished ice that flows from the Himalayas and Tibet alone.

From the Himalayas to the Alps and the Andes, glacial retreat is uncovering the boots and bones of long-lost mountaineers. But such discoveries involve a haunting, double revelation: each reclaimed climber reminds us of the glacier’s own vanishing. Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani troops have battled intermittently since 1984, is, for Arundhati Roy, the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times.” The melting glacier is coughing up “empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate.” This ghostly military detritus is being made visible by a more consequential war, humanity’s war against the planet that sustains us, a war that has left the Siachen Glacier grievously wounded.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. NASA, International Space Station Science, 04/03/07 (Source: NASA)

Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of dead metaphors as “fossil poetry,” noting in an essay in 1844 that “the deadest word” was “once a brilliant picture.” If every metaphor involves a tenor (the object referred to) and a vehicle (the image that conveys the comparison), a failure to visualize once-brilliant pictures can result in a multi-vehicle pile-up. As George Orwell put it: “The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot.”

In “Politics and the English Language” (1946), Orwell laid out six rules for writers, the first of which declares: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” An inert metaphor such as “hotbed of radicalism” conveys very little: we can no longer feel the blazing temperature between the bed sheets, just as – prior to public awareness of global warming – we’d stopped noticing the icy fossil poetry in “glacial pace.”

As consciousness of climate change has grown, a new class of dead metaphors has entered the English language. We speak routinely of carbon footprints, of wiping species off the face of the Earth, and of greenhouse gases, but we no longer see the feet, the hands, the faces and the backyard sheds that were once vivid when those phrases were newly coined. Geologists now talk of searching for the “human signature” in the fossil record. Some geo-engineers want to inject vast clouds of sulphur aerosols into Earth’s atmosphere in the hopes of “resetting the global thermostat.” Many of these coinages attempt to give an intimate, human dimension to planetary phenomena that can seem intimidatingly vast and abstract. Adam Smith in 1759 responded similarly to the massive scale of economic forces by inserting the human body in the form of the “invisible hand” of the market. Today, the science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson brings that dead metaphor back to life, complaining that, when it comes to the environment, “the invisible hand never picks up the check.”

As our planet’s cryosphere thaws, we can detect all kinds of stirrings in the cemetery of dead metaphors. At Austrian and Swiss ski resorts, the natural “blankets” of snow have become so threadbare that resort owners are shielding them with actual isothermic blankets. And in the Arctic, the threat looms of impermanent permafrost from which climate-altering methane will bubble free.

Planet-wise, we’re all skating on thin ice.

“Calving glaciers” is shorthand for the seasonal rhythm whereby glaciers amass winter ice, then shed some of that accumulation each summer in the form of icebergs and growlers. When scientists refer to “calving glaciers,” we do not typically visualize a Wisconsin dairy herd: as the phrase became routine, the calves have vanished from view. Now that climate change has thrown the balance between glacial accumulation and shedding out of whack, the dead metaphor reasserts itself as a living image. Is the prolific calving we’re now witnessing a fecund or a fatal act, a birthing ritual or a symptom of the death of ice?

Before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, the sculptor Olafur Eliasson and the geologist Minik Rosing travelled to Greenland, where they lassoed some ice calves that they transported to the Place du Panthéon. There they created Ice Watch, an arrangement of mini-icebergs in the shape of a clock face. Over the duration of the conference, the public could watch time, in the form of ice melt, running out.

Greenpeace, too, has sought to mobilize people through art to act against accelerated calving. More than 7 million people have viewed the Greenpeace video in which the composer Ludovico Einaudi performs his “Elegy for the Arctic” (2016) on a grand piano balanced on a fragile raft. As the raft drifts through the ice melt pouring off a glacier in Svalbard in Norway, the pianist’s plangent chords reverberate in counterpoint with the percussive booming of massive chunks of ice crashing into the ocean.

Have we reached a linguistic tipping point where “glacial pace” is incapable of conveying meaning with any clarity? Under pressure of a warming world, does ‘glacial’ need to be decommissioned and pushed over the climate cliff?

Abrupt climate change challenges not just the capacity of the living to adapt, but also the adaptive capacities of human language. The “glacial” scrawled in the margins of my 1988 dissertation isn’t the “glacial” of 2018, any more than the polar bear that starred in Coca-Cola commercials (tubby, sugared-up, a cheerful icon of the good life) is interchangeable with today’s iconic polar bear – skinny, ribs bared, a climate refugee adrift on a puny platform of ice, impossibly far out to sea. In symbolic terms, the two bears scarcely belong to the same species.

Many years ago, as a graduate student, I encountered and delighted in Franz Kafka’s exhortation that “A book should be the ice axe that breaks open the frozen sea within.” But now I hear his words quite differently. I want to say: “Hey Franz, lay down your axe. Go easy on that fragile frozen sea.”

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Hiking Through Glacier National Park for a Cause

Walking the Talk

Shifali Gupta hiking along Trail Crest going to Mt. Whitney on July 4th, 2017 (Source: Shifali Gupta).

The effects of climate change may be overwhelming, but Shifali Gupta is showing us how to take a step in the right direction.

Shifali recently signed up for Climate Hike Glacier, a charitable hiking challenge in which she will hike up to 50 miles in four days to raise a minimum of $3,000 in donations for a cause of her choosing. The hike will take her through Glacier National Park in Montana, one of America’s favorite national parks.

The four-day challenge begins with a hike up to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. On the second day, Shifali and her team will hike from the west side of the Continental Divide to the east side to Many Glacier Valley. On the third day, her team will explore Grinnell Glacier, an iconic receding glacier within the park, a spot for Shifali and her team to witness first hand the effects of climate change.

Climate Hike Glacier aims to raise awareness about climate change impacts as an event sponsored by Climate Ride, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring environmental action through bike rides, and more recently hikes, to raise funds for important causes.

And what better way to raise awareness about climate change than to promote a hike through a national park that is quickly losing its namesake glaciers to global temperature rise? On the final day of the hike, Shifali will be given the option of hiking to a beautiful alpine lake or climbing up to a vantage point with a panoramic view of the park’s changing landscape.

The loss of glacial formations in Glacier National Park have been worrisome: The park went from about 150 glaciers in the 1800s to only 26 glaciers today. According to a U.S. Geological Survey study, some of the remaining glaciers have lost 83 percent of their mass, while the average loss across all glaciers has been 39 percent.

Grinnell Glacier (Source: Lisa Soverino).

The Inspiration Behind the Hike

This is Shifali’s first Climate Hike. She grew up in India and came to the United States for graduate school, earning her master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University. The program helps professionals and academics understand and cope with the impacts of climate change on society and the environment.

GivePower Project 2016 (Source: Shifali Gupta).

For Shifali, applying the knowledge she gained in graduate school meant working at SolarCity, where she had the opportunity to give back to a community in Nepal.

“I was given a chance to be part of a GivePower team to install a solar battery system in a village that is so far removed that you can only get there by hiking about 5 miles from the nearest road,” Shifali told GlacierHub. “The idea was to use these clean energy sources to power their grain mill to provide a more secure source of food, as opposed to when villagers would have to travel roughly 10 miles in rain or shine.”

Shifali explained that she was inspired to participate in Climate Ride by her teammates at GivePower, a nonprofit focused on giving clean energy to otherwise neglected communities in developing countries around the world. Having participated previously, her colleagues were able to raise roughly $5,000 per-person in past Climate Ride events. Shifali said she finally decided on her birthday last November to sign up herself to raise money for GivePower.

Climate Ride, which started in 2008, has already inspired over 1,986 participants like Shifali to raise more than $3.5 million in donations for causes all over the world.

Shifali with her Tesla/SolarCity hiking group (Source: Shifali Gupta).

Shifali decided to join the hike instead of the traditional ride because she was more confident in her hiking skills than her biking skills. She says that the hike also allows her to check “going to Glacier National Park” off of her bucket list.

Simultaneously, she gets to support a cause she believes in. When speaking to GlacierHub, she said it was a “no-brainer” for her to select GivePower as her partner nonprofit.

GivePower currently has projects in Haiti, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Congo. Solar installations power water pumps to improve access to water, and GivePower installs microgrids in local communities to power mills or refrigerators. They also use solar panels to power schools, medical centers, and increase connectivity through mobile network access.

Shifali is looking forward to the hike and says that it couldn’t have come at a better time.

She plans to pursue further studies and hopefully join more rides and hikes in the near future. She also hopes that more people will join the hike. As of writing this article, Shifali is $2,258 away from her goal. To support Shifali’s cause click here.

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Testing Glacier Influence on the Whitebark Pine Blister Infection

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called for the protection of whitebark pine trees as endangered species due to an alarming rate of decrease in their population. Pinus albicaulis, the species name for whitebark pine, are conifers native to the mountains of the western U.S., particularly the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. Fear of the complete disappearance of the whitebark pines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has motivated a group of scientists including Lynn Resler, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, to conduct field research to determine the environmental variables influencing the blister infection, one of the causes of pines’ disappearance. Resler’s latest study in Grand Teton National Park indicates that the pines’ proximity to a glacier has likely not contributed to the blister infection rate among the whitebark pines, contrary to the findings from an earlier modeling study conducted in 2011 with data from Glacier National Park.

A grove of whitebark pines in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (Source: US Department of Agriculture).

Unlike many other plant species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, whitebark pines can survive in harsh environments and are capable of growing at the highest treeline elevation within the mountain range. Today, in the western United States, whitebark pines are facing extinction but have still not been listed as the endangered species by the Environment Protection Agency. The decline of whitebark pines is attributed to a number of different factors, but the introduction of blister rust infection, a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Cronartium ribicola, has been thought to be one of the major causes. Native to Asia, blister rust was introduced to North America in the 20th century and rapidly spread across the western United States.

Canker created by the blister rust infection on the whitebark pine (Source: Global Trees Campaign).

In order to understand why glaciers could potentially affect the rate of blister rust, Resler notes that it is essential to understand the lifecycle of the rust. White pine blister rust has two hosts: white pines, the primary host, and gooseberries or currants, the alternative host. Its life cycle starts in the fall, when the spores (basidiospores), reproductive cells of fungus from the infected alternative hosts, germinate to white pines.

As germination takes place on the surface of the pine, the fungus enters through the stomata (micro-scale pores) of the leaf needles or any opening on the pines from wounds. The fungus then grows on the twigs of a branch, often causing swelling on the infected branch and creating cankers. It takes a few years for the fungus to kill the branch, turning it into an orange/red color. When the blisters finally rupture, they infect the alternative hosts, causing the cycle to repeat itself.

The lifecycle of the blister rust infection from the primary host to the alternative host (Source: The American Phytopathological Society).

“What is important for germination of a particular spore type in the blister rust lifecycle—based on the literature—is cool temperatures and high humidity for a certain sustained period of time,” Resler told GlacierHub.

Blister rust favors areas with cool and moist air near the sources of moisture, such as streams. However, the treelines the pines inhabit are usually very dry.

“Because many treelines of the Rocky Mountains are quite dry, it would seem that at treelines where glaciers are present, glaciers, depending on local winds, could provide the necessary moisture conditions for spore development,” she added.

Her study in 2011 (conducted in collaboration with her former student, Dr. Smith-McKenna), supported that hypothesis; Resler and a group of scientists examined the whitebark pines at six alpine treelines in Glacier National Park, Montana, divided into 30 different sampling quadrats for the purpose of the study.

They measured the number of cankers on each Whitebark pine to assess the severity of the blister rust in different quadrats. They then created a high-resolution DEM (digital elevation model) to develop topographic variables and derived different environmental variables in the sample locations based on GIS (Geographic Information System) and field examination.

By doing so, the team attempted to identify variables that affect the blister infection rate, based on the density of cankers in each quadrat and its proximity to individual variables. Her model indicated that proximity to glaciers was an important correlate of infection rate at her selected sites, with a higher density of cankers compared to sampling areas farther away from the glacier.

An image of Schoolroom Glacier (Source: Glaciers of the American West).

However, Resler indicated that her study in 2015, as well as a few of her subsequent studies, did not agree with this finding from her 2011 paper.

In 2015, Resler published an annual report based on her preliminary findings at alpine treelines of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The results of her study showed that the proximity to the Schoolroom Glacier, a small glacier in Grand Teton National Park, did not affect the infection intensity.

“The presence of the Schoolroom Glacier didn’t really seem to contribute to higher infection rates, as compared to our other study areas,” she said. She also sampled blister rust extensively at Parker Ridge near the Columbia Icefields in Alberta, Canada and compared it to the rust in dryer locations on the Rocky Mountain Front, only to find that the areas near the Icefields show lower infection rate.

 

An image of whitebark pine skeletons (Source: Oregon Hikers).

“We do not have enough information to conclude that glaciers, specifically, contribute to blister rust infection rates at this time. More focused studies (on the glacier’s influence on the blister rust) would be necessary,” Resler said.

The reduction of the pines threatens wildlife that is largely dependent on the pines as their source of food. As Resler indicates, whitebark pine is a keystone species whose seeds are a major food source for different species of wildlife including grizzly bears and Clark’s nutcracker.

Whitebark pine is also a foundation species, with a role in stabilizing the ecosystem and structuring the basis of the community for many other organisms: its canopies shade the snowpack, thereby prolonging snowmelt and consequently regulating downstream flows, contributing to the protection of the watersheds.

Determining the degree of influence that different environmental variables have on the rate of blister rust infection is crucial for the fate of different species that are dependent on the pines. Without an effort to deter the spreading blister rust, we may no longer be able to see diverse bird species visiting the partly-opened cones of the pines, left with the gray skeletons of whitebarks.

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Roundup: Mt. Kilimanjaro, a Glacier Ride, and Rescued Migrants

Climate Mode Activity on Kilimanjaro’s Glaciers

From Journal of Climate: “Using a case study of Kilimanjaro, we combined twelve years of convection-permitting atmospheric modelling with an eight-year observational record to evaluate the impact of climate oscillations on recent high-altitude atmospheric variability during the short rains (the secondary rain season in the region). We focus on two modes that have a well-established relationship with precipitation during this season, the El Niño Southern Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Zonal Mode, and demonstrate their strong association with local and mesoscale conditions at Kilimanjaro.”

Read more about how climate mode variability contributes to changes in Kilimanjaro’s glaciers here.

Part of the rapidly receding glacier on the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa (Source: Sarah Skiold-Hanlin/Flickr).

 

Glacier Ride Cycling Event

From Climate Ride: “Glacier Ride is a 6-day charitable cycling event spanning two spectacular national parks and two countries — Glacier National Park on the U.S. side and Waterton National Park on the Canadian side. Glacier National Park captures the essence of what the pristine, undisturbed Rocky Mountain region has been like over thousands of years. This bike ride explores some of the wildest land in the lower 48 and an ecosystem threatened by development, climate change, and exotic species. By fundraising and participating in Glacier Ride, you are raising awareness of the issues facing Glacier and seeing first-hand what is at stake.”

Discover how you can participate in this exciting trip here.

Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (Source: Edward Stojakovic/Flickr).

 

Rescuing Migrants Fleeing Through the Frozen Alps

From The New York Times: “Vincent Gasquet is a pizza chef who owns a tiny shop in the French Alps. At night, he is one of about 80 volunteers who search mountain passes for migrants trying to hike from Italy to France. The migrants attempt to cross each night through sub-zero temperatures. Some wear only light jackets and sneakers, and one man recently lost his feet to frostbite. “If the Alps become a graveyard, I’ll be ashamed of myself for the rest of my life,” Mr. Gasquet said. The migrants often head for Montgenèvre, a ski town nestled against the border. France offers them more work and a chance at a better life.”

Learn more about the refugee crisis here.

Migrants travel through mountain passes trying to hike from Italy to France, heading to the small ski town of Montgenèvre, 20 km from Glacier Blanc at Barre des Ecrins. (Source: Stéphane D/Flickr).

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Roundup: Meltwater Buffering, Glacier National Park, and River Variability

Glacier Melt Buffers River Runoff in Pamir Mountains

From Water Resources Research: “Newly developed approaches based on satellite altimetry and gravity measurements provide promising results on glacier dynamics in the Pamir-Himalaya but cannot resolve short-term natural variability at regional and finer scale. We contribute to the ongoing debate by upscaling a hydrological model that we calibrated for the central Pamir… We provide relevant information about individual components of the hydrological cycle and quantify short-term hydrological variability… We demonstrate that glaciers play a twofold role by providing roughly 35 percent of the annual runoff of the Panj River basin and by effectively buffering runoff both during very wet and very dry years. The modeled glacier mass balance (GMB) of −0.52 m w.e. yr−1 (2002–2013) for the entire catchment suggests significant reduction of most Pamiri glaciers by the end of this century. The loss of glaciers and their buffer functionality in wet and dry years could not only result in reduced water availability and increase the regional instability, but also increase flood and drought hazards.”

Learn more about glacial melt in the Pamir Mountains here.

Amu Darya river catchment and glacier coverage (Source: Pohl et al.).

 

Retreat of Glaciers in Glacier National Park

From USGS: “In Glacier National Park (GNP), MT some effects of climate change are strikingly clear. Glacier recession is underway, and many glaciers have already disappeared. The retreat of these small alpine glaciers reflects changes in recent climate as glaciers respond to altered temperature and precipitation. It has been estimated that there were approximately 150 glaciers present in 1850, around the end of the Little Ice Age. Most glaciers were still present in 1910 when the park was established. In 2015, measurements of glacier area indicate that there were 26 remaining glaciers larger than 25 acres. There is evidence of worldwide glacial glacier recession and varied model projections suggest that certain studied GNP glaciers will disappear between 2030 to 2080.”

Learn more about glacial retreat in Glacier National Park here.

The retreat of Jackson Glacier in Glacier National Park (Source: USGS).

 

Runoff in British Columbia’s Coast and Insular Mountains

From Hydrological Processes: “This study examines the 1914–2015 runoff trends and variability for 136 rivers draining British Columbia’s Coast and Insular Mountains. Rivers are partitioned into eastward and westward flowing rivers based on flow direction from the Coast Mountains. Thus, eastward and westward runoff trends and influence of topography on runoff are explored. Our findings indicate that rivers flowing eastward to the Nechako and Chilcotin plateaus contribute the lowest annual runoff compared to westward rivers where runoff is high. Low interannual runoff variability is evident in westward rivers and their alpine watersheds, whereas eastward rivers exhibit high interannual runoff variability.”

Read more about variability in river runoff in British Columbia here.

Map of British Columbia’s Coast and Insular Mountains with the locations of the hydrometric gauges used in the study (Source: Hernández-Henríquez et al.).

 

Please follow, share and like us:
error

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).

Please follow, share and like us:
error

Roundup: Mysteries, Past and Present, Abound

Climate Experts Removed from Zuckerberg Delegation

From the Washington Post: “Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg flew to Glacier National Park on Saturday to tour the melting ice fields that have become the poster child for climate change’s effects on Montana’s northern Rockies. But days before the tech tycoon’s visit, the Trump administration abruptly removed two of the park’s top climate experts from a delegation scheduled to show him around, telling a research ecologist and the park superintendent that they were no longer going to participate in the tour.”

Read more about this unusual move here.

Grinnell Glacier basin in Glacier National Park (Source: Tim Rains/National Park Service).

 

Water Rights Hold Up Washington State Budget

From the Seattle Times: “$4 billion in new construction projects and money for a few hundred state jobs still hang in the balance while the capital budget has been held up by a dispute over water rights. Senate Republicans say they won’t pass a capital budget without legislation aimed at overturning a recent state Supreme Court known as the Hirst decision. That ruling effectively limited the use of new domestic wells in certain rural areas when they may harm senior water rights.”

Read about the complexities of this issue here.

The state capitol in Olympia, Washington (Source: John Colella/Creative Commons).

 

Retreating Glaciers Solve a Family Mystery

From The Telegraph: “The frozen bodies of a Swiss couple who went missing 75 years ago in the Alps have been found on a shrinking glacier, Swiss media said on Tuesday. Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, the parents of seven children, had gone to milk their cows in a meadow above Chandolin in the Valais canton on August 15, 1942.”

Read about what this means to one of the couple’s surviving children here.

The couple’s remains were found on Tsanfleuron Glacier (Source: MattW/Creative Commons).

 

 

Please follow, share and like us:
error