Video of the Week: Time-Lapse Video Shows Fluid Nature of the Cryosphere

A time-lapse video tweeted by NASA Earth captures decades of movement in our planet’s cryosphere. Glaciologist and University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty member, Mark Fahnestock appears in the video, describing the changes and the significance of the data. According to Fahnestock, the images taken from space are a product of the Landsat Program, a joint NASA/USGS program, which uses satellites to create a record of Earth’s landscape. Landsat, whose first iteration launched in 1972, is the longest ongoing space-based record of its kind.

The nearly five-minute video provides a glimpse of the land record from Landsat. The time-lapse footage has a frenetic feel to it as the satellite imagery improves with each generation of technology. It shows decades of change in ice cover on glaciers, including the Alsek, Columbia, and Taku Glaciers. Fahnestock noted the changes seen in the Hubbard and Malaspina Glaciers in particular. He draws attention to the time-lapse video of the Hubbard Glacier, in which the glacier can be seen spreading into a neighboring river moving trees, other material, and altering the environment. Fahnestock calls the Malaspina Glacier a “large puddle of ice” and describes how the time-lapse of this glacier helped him understand the looping patterns in moraines, or materials deposited by a moving glacier.

He credits remote sensing with expanding the field of observation glaciology. Fahnestock explains that these time-lapse videos have given glaciologists a better understanding of changes in ice cover. Landsat has provided them with a long record of changes, which allows researchers to recognize long-term trends in ice cover fluctuations and separate the trends from shorter periods of warm or cold years. Satellite observations of glaciers are mentioned in the IPCC’s latest output, Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, which further stresses the significance of this kind of data.

Landsat image of the Taku Glacier, 2019 (Source: NASA/ Landsat Image Gallery )

According to Fahnestock, these time-lapse videos provide a historical record of how quickly glaciers are melting or in some cases, where glaciers are thickening. These changes in ice cover are visible in the video by NASA Earth, even to the untrained eye. Fahnestock addresses criticism he has received from other researchers––that he watches the videos too quickly. He says, “I like to see the fluid nature of the ice. It lets you see the ice on the land as sort of this very active participant in what’s going on.”

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Photo Friday: The Summertime Lure of the World’s Iconic Glaciers

It’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere. And for those of us that are able, the summer months can mean time off from work and an opportunity to venture near or far on a vacation.

Glaciers lie on each of the world’s seven large landmasses, meaning, while they’re often located in relatively remote areas, one needn’t travel to the polar regions to observe the remnants of the last Ice Age—which makes them a popular vacation draw.

New Zealand has the Southern Alps. Glaciers are found in each of the seven Andean nations: Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. The mountains of the American West, as well as Alaska, host glaciers. And, of course, there are the alpine peaks of southern Europe and the iconic, albeit much more remote, mountains of the “Third Pole.”

A survey of photo sharing websites, such as Flickr, reveals the enduring allure of the world’s glaciers, particularly as climate change and the threat it poses to the longevity of the world’s cryosphere becomes more and more apparent.

And therein lies a paradox.

So-called last-chance tourism is driven by interest in visiting the landscapes that are vulnerable to rising temperatures and more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. Yet with greater interest in these places comes increasing threats to their sustainability, whether due to carbon-intensive airline travel or the consumer waste that results from a simple visit to the refreshment stand at a national park. A recent study even sought to quantify the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic that melts with each metric ton of carbon emitted by an individual.

Individual consumer decisions won’t bring the world significantly closer to zero emissions as long as decisions about how energy is generated, what modes of transportation are available, and how consumer goods are produced—the largest sources of carbon pollution—remain largely in the realm of the public sector, that is society-wide.

Visiting glaciers can heighten one’s understanding of the massive forces bound up in Earth’s climate and geology, which, perhaps for many people, explains their seduction.

Here’s a view of some of the world’s popular glacier destinations through the eyes of recent visitors.

An image of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier taken on July 10, 2019. (Source: dvs/Flickr)
A view of tourists visiting Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska (Source: Mulf/Flickr)
A cruise ship passes in front of Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier. (Source: zshort1/Flickr)
A view of Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier taken on June 8, 2019 (Source: velodenz/Flickr)
Tourists on a hike at Norway’s Nigardsbreen Glacier on June 10, 2016 (Source: clare_and_ben/Flickr)

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Roundup: Irrigation, Monitoring, and Tidewater

Evolution of Socio-hydrological Interactions in the Karakoram 

Hunza People (Source: Jordi Boixareu/Flickr)
Hunza People (Source: Jordi Boixareu/Flickr)

“Based on three case studies, this paper describes and analyzes the structure and dynamics of irrigation systems in Upper Hunza, located in the western Karakoram, Pakistan. In these deeply incised and arid valleys, glacier and snow melt-water are the primary water sources for agricultural production. The study shows how glacio-fluvial dynamics impact upon irrigation systems and land use practices, and how, in turn, local communities adapt to these changing conditions: framed here as socio-hydrological interactions. A combined methodological approach, including field observations, interviews, mapping and remote sensing analysis, was used to trace historical and recent changes in irrigation networks and land use patterns.”

Read more about this paper.

 

Glacier Dynamics Monitoring in Kyrgyzstan

Inylchek Glacier Source: Oleg Brovko/Flickr)
Inylchek Glacier (Source: Oleg Brovko/Flickr)

“The German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ, Potsdam, Germany) and the Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) jointly established the Global Change Observatory “Gottfried Merzbacher” at the Inylchek Glacier in eastern Kyrgyzstan which is one of the largest non-polar glaciers of the world and consists of two glacier streams. The flow of melt-water from the northern tributary forms a lake (Lake Merzbacher) that is dammed by the calving ice front of the southern Inylchek Glacier. At least once a year a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) occurs and the complete water of the Lake Merzbacher drains through sub-glacial channels. To monitor the glacier dynamics including the post-drainage ice dam response, a small network of remotely operated multi-parameter stations (ROMPS) was installed at different locations at the glacier.”

Read more about this paper.

 

The Largest Non-polar Tidewater Glacier in Alaska

Hubbard Glacier Source: Robert Raines/Flickr)
Hubbard Glacier (Source: Robert Raines/Flickr)

“Hubbard Glacier, located in southeast Alaska, is the world’s largest non-polar tidewater glacier. It has been steadily advancing since it was first mapped in 1895; occasionally, the advance creates an ice or sediment dam that blocks a tributary fjord (Russell Fiord). The sustained advance raises the probability of long-term closure in the near-future, which will strongly impact the ecosystem of Russell Fiord and the nearby community of Yakutat. Here, we examine a 43-year record of flow speeds and terminus position to understand the large-scale dynamics of Hubbard Glacier. Our long-term record shows that the rate of terminus advance has increased slightly since 1895, with the exception of a slowed advance between approximately 1972 and 1984. The short-lived closure events in 1986 and 2002 were not initiated by perturbations in ice velocity or environmental forcings, but were likely due to fluctuations in sedimentation patterns at the terminus.”

Read more about this paper.