The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week’s newscast is special because managing editor Ben Orlove is joining our newscast. We will be presenting stories ranging from the IPCC to glaciers in Russia to a tradition of citizen climate science and even controversial lands in India.
This week’s news report features:
Glacier Researchers Gather at IPCC Meeting in China
By: Ben Orlove
The authors of a major IPCC report on oceans and the cryosphere gathered in Lanzhou, China, in July 2018. They discussed the reviews which the first draft of the report had received. They also planned the next steps to advance the report.
Debris-Covered Glaciers Advance in Remote Kamchatka
By: Andrew Angle
Summary: On the remote Kamchatka Penisula in Eastern Russia, most glaciers are retreating due to climate change. However, in one area, some glaciers have advanced due to volcanic debris on top of the ice that has limited melting.
Amid High-Tech Alternatives, a Reckoning for Iceland’s Glacier Keepers
By: Gloria Dickie
Summary: It may be one of the longest-running examples of citizen climate science in the world. With Iceland’s glaciers at their melting point, these men and women— farmers, schoolchildren, a plastic surgeon, even a Supreme Court judge— serve not only as the glaciers’ guardians, but also their messengers.
War Against Natural Disasters: A Fight the Indian Military Can’t Win
By: Sabrina Ho
Summary: Ladakh is frequently exposed to floods and landslides when snow and glaciers melt. A recent paper warns of the current nature of a military-led disaster governance, including heavy military presence, in disaster risk reduction.
A 30-meter, Komelon-branded measuring tape, a pencil, and a yellow paper form are all Hallsteinn Haraldsson carries with him when he travels to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland. But unfurling the measuring tape before me at his home in Mosfellsbaer, a town just outside of Reykjavik, he says it is a significant upgrade from the piece of marked rope he used to take with him.
With 11 percent of the landmass covered in ice, rapidly ebbing glaciers are threatening to reshape Iceland’s landscape, and Haraldsson, 74, is part of a contingent of volunteer glacier monitors who are at the frontlines of tracking the retreat. Every autumn, Haraldsson, often accompanied by his wife and son, sets off on foot to measure the changes in his assigned glacier.
Their rudimentary tools are a far cry from the satellites and time-lapse photography deployed around the world in recent decades to track ice loss, and lately there’s been talk of disbanding this nearly century-old, low-tech network of monitors. But this sort of ground-truthing work has more than one purpose: With Iceland’s glaciers at their melting point, these men and women— farmers, schoolchildren, a plastic surgeon, even a Supreme Court judge— serve not only as the glaciers’ guardians, but also their messengers.
Today, some 35 volunteers monitor 64 measurement sites around the country. The numbers they collect are published in the Icelandic scientific journal Jokull, and submitted to the World Glacier Monitoring Service database. Vacancies for glacier monitors are rare and highly sought-after, and many glaciers have been in the same family for generations, passed down to sons and daughters, like Haraldsson, when the journey becomes too arduous for their aging watchmen.
It’s very likely one of the longest-running examples of citizen climate science in the world. But in an age when precision glacier tracking can be conducted from afar, it remains unclear whether, or for how long, this sort of heirloom monitoring will continue into the future. It’s a question even some of the network’s own members have been asking.
As Haraldsson tells it, his father was raised in a modest yellow farmhouse on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. As an adult, he spent his days tending his fields and teaching at the local school, and in his free time, he studied the geology of the region, walking miles through the lava beds that lay in the shadow of the crown gem of the region: Snaefellsjokull, a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped volcano.
It was a quiet life, unremarkable to those who passed through, until the arrival in 1932 of Jon Eythorsson— a young man who had recently returned to Iceland after studying meteorology, first in Oslo, and then in Bergen, Norway.
Eythorsson was now working for the Meteorological Office in Reykjavik, and in his spare time he had established the first program to monitor the growth and retreat of Iceland’s glaciers— but getting around the country to check up on them was troublesome and time-consuming. For the scientific record, every glacier needed to be measured in the same month, and travel was slow, often complicated by fierce, unpredictable storms. If his project was going to succeed, he needed new recruits, ideally farmers who need not travel far.
That, says Haraldsson, is how his family came to inherit Snaefellsjokull. At the time, there was no sense of scientific urgency to glacier monitoring; glaciers had always expanded and deflated naturally in modest increments. But that was decades ago. The world’s glaciers now serve as harbingers of human-caused climate change, providing powerful visual evidence of how people have changed the planet.
Inside Haraldsson’s home, portraits of Snaefellsjokull adorn the white walls in a way often reserved for close family members. Some are rendered in pastels and watercolor, while others are more abstract, etched in black and white. To Haraldsson, his wife Jenny (who painted many of them), and their son, Haraldur, it’s the family glacier.
Haraldsson began accompanying his father on his hikes to the glacier around 1962. Back then, the journey to the terminus was 10 to 15 kilometers by foot through steep, rocky terrain. The glacier itself spanned some 11 square kilometers— tiny as glaciers go. When they arrived, they would pull a long piece of thin rope with meter marks taut to measure the distance between the last icy bit and a metal rod, jotting down the observations they would send to the Society. When his father passed away 14 years later, Haraldsson took over the task full time.
From 1975 to 1995, the glacier actually advanced 270 meters, according to Haraldsson’s records. Such findings weren’t uncommon during that period: In the 1930s, many of the country’s glaciers had retreated significantly due to an unusually warm climate, but beginning in 1970, they advanced once more until human-caused climate change beat them back again.
Eventually his wife, and then his son, joined him in his annual glacial pilgrimage. By then a road had been built, passing within one meter of the glacier. From 1995 to 2017, their records suggest that Snaefellsjokull retreated 354 meters— a net loss of 84 meters from its position in 1975.
Most local people are upset to see the glacier disappearing, Haraldsson says. Everyone on the peninsula uses the glacier as their key landmark; in casual conversation, distance is defined by how far away something is from Snaefellsjokull. Others describe feeling a supernatural pull toward it. Perhaps Jules Verne felt the same: Snaefellsjokull served as the setting for his book “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”When the glacier began its retreat in the 1990s, the family thought of it as a natural fluctuation. But since then, almost all of Iceland’s monitored glaciers have entered a state of decline. Now, they understand, their glacier is disappearing because of global warming. In 2016, scientists announced they expected Snaefellsjokull to vanish entirely by the end of the century.
Lost data contained within the World Glacier Monitoring Service database, which includes more than 100,000 glaciers worldwide, has been created via aerial photograph comparisons. Each glacier inventory includes the location of the glacier, length, orientation, and elevation. “Entries are based on a single observation in time,” reads the WGMS website— a snapshot of a glacier in a particular moment. About half of all glaciers in the authoritative database are measured via a comparison of aerial photographs from year to year and maps.
In 2005, the WGMS and the National Snow and Ice Data Centerlaunched the Global Land Ice Measurements from Spaceprogram. Rather than rely solely on photographs and in-person observations, glacier inventories can now be collected via a remote sensing instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. The benefits of such increasingly sophisticated remote monitoring are substantial in terms efficiency. But if even aerial photography is going the way of the dinosaurs, what’s to become of Iceland’s glacier monitors?
It’s something that even Jon Eythorsson’s granddaughter, Kristjana Eythorsdottir, thinks about. She was only 10 years old when the elder Eythorsson, who formally established the Iceland Glaciological Society in 1950, passed away, but she followed his vocation and today works at the Iceland Meteorological Office. Her grey hair is shorn into a spiky pixie cut, and her hiking pants and running shoes suggest she’s ready to set out into the field at a moment’s notice.
“The [Glaciological] Society has a lot of written songs and texts,” she says, recalling the impact her grandfather’s volunteer network had on her life. “One saying goes that my grandfather loved the glaciers so much they were shrinking.”
When traveling together to examine the glaciers, the society’s members and scientists would sing songs written by Sigurdur Thorarinsson, an Icelandic geologist, volcanologist, glaciologist— and lyricist. They would write new ones, too; sometime before 1970, the Society published a book of glacier songs.
Since 2000, Eythorsdottir has been monitoring a terminus at Langjokull, a large glacier in the south of Iceland 100 times the size of Snaefellsjokull. (She didn’t inherit her glacier, but rather applied when one became available.) Each September, she sets out on the roughly five-hour round-trip hike to the glacier with her husband. “There is a river that goes here,” she says, tracing its path carefully on a map. “It’s kind of a bad smelling, geothermal river— the white-tempered river. We have to take our clothes off, or put on waders,” to get across.
Sometimes they’ll look for different routes, passing through grazing sheep and their herders. The landscape is ever-changing. Already, the glacier has retreated more than 500 meters.
Unlike Haraldsson, Eythorsdottir is using more modern technology. “We used to use measuring tape, but now we are tracking with GPS,” she says. “There are more possibilities to represent the data…but I think we will always go there anyway until it’s gone.”
Whenever he runs into friends, Hallsteinn Haraldsson, the keeper of Snaefellsjokull, says they first they ask how he and his family is doing. And then, he says, they ask, “How is the glacier?”
It’s a question that was intimately familiar to all of Iceland’s volunteer glacier monitors as they gathered in 2016 at the natural sciences building at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. Most had never met each other before, and they were there to discuss how the glaciers were changing and what tools would be best to measure the glacier fronts moving forward— mainly whether or not volunteers should increase their use of handheld GPS devices over reference points and measuring tapes.
“There’s been [internal] discussion as to whether we should keep doing this or not since it can now be done with remote sensing,” says Bergur Einarsson, a glacial hydrologist who recently took over management of the network from geologist Oddur Sigurdsson. Though some might see the crude nature of pen and paper measurements as a hindrance, Einarsson argues it’s actually an asset. “One of the strengths is that these measurements have not evolved. They’re done more or less in the same way they were done in the 1930s.”
That means that while scientists can now use remote sensing to gather precise images and coordinates, that record is much shorter and often lacks the same specificity as ground-level measurements. Moreover, complex technological projects require significant funding that often comes with a sunset clause: Time-lapse photography and remote sensors aren’t nearly as cheap— or as dependable— as a few dozen volunteers armed with measuring tapes.
(The strength of Iceland’s program was underscored last year when scientists from around the globe met at the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C., to discuss the fate of NASA’s Terra satellite. After 18 years in orbit, the satellite was beginning to run low on fuel— jeopardizing the scientific record.)
But for Einarsson, there’s an even bigger reason to keep it going— one that the Haraldssons and Eythorsdottir and some 33 other volunteer glacier monitors would likely share. “People are going out there, going to the glacier front, [where] they see the changes,” he says. “Then they are going back into society and they are almost like ambassadors of climate change, infiltrating information into different branches of society.”
“It is very important to engage with people in some way,” his predecessor Sigurdsson says, “and keep them interested in their surroundings.”
The endless expanse of white snow atop a glacier, framed by Icelandic mountains, served as the set for the new movie “Arctic,” which premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival in France. The film, a solo-survival thriller shot in 2017, is director and screenwriter Joe Penna’s feature film debut.
The only survivor of a plane crash in the highlands of Iceland, researcher and explorer Overgård must brave the frigid environment during his decision to either stay with the relative safety of the plane wreckage or venture into the unknown in search of help.
“Arctic” is the man versus nature genre in its purest form, with the story and imagery speaking in place of the film’s lack of dialogue. Mads Mikkelsen, who portrays Overgård, told Variety that the landscape “is the main character in many ways.”
The environment is more than just visually striking, as its physical challenges are not an easy hurdle. About 11 percent of Iceland is covered by glaciers, and the winter temperatures average around 14 degrees Fahrenheit but can drop well into the negatives. This climate, paired with sustained high winds made for a difficult shoot, but an intense portrayal.
Despite these challenges, Penna maintains that “the tundra is the precise place where ‘Arctic’ was to be shot— the harshest environment on Earth.”
The juxtaposition of a solitary human against the vastness of the Arctic allows the courage and determination of Overgård to shine through.
“Nothing represents as much the fragility of a human as the sight of a simple silhouette crossing an endless sea of snow,” he states. This scene, shot from above, specifically proved difficult when shooting in a snow-covered landscape. “With virgin snow everywhere you look, it was difficult to manage the sets so that they do not look like a construction site where 30 people came and went,” stated director of photography Tómas Örn Tómasson.
With winds 30 to 40 knots throughout the 20-day winter shoot, continuity was difficult with the weather in Iceland’s highlands, where the largest ice caps are located.
“Throughout the filming, weather conditions changed every hour, destroying the continuity of our catch,” said Penna in an interview.
The film, with a 97-minute run-time, was a “Golden Camera” nominee at Cannes. It claimed one of the midnight showings where it received an extended standing ovation. Reviews overall have been favorable. It received a 7.3 out of 10 on IMDB and a 100 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes by critics.
The film will be released in the United States in 2019 by studio Bleeker Street where a wider audience will have the chance to witness the frozen, glacial world of “Arctic.”
Penna encourages the audience to “admire our main character’s silent performance,” which allows them to “take something different away from the film than the person sitting next to [them] in the theatre.”
Glaciers are an excellent way to achieve this effect, and filmmakers have taken notice of glacial settings for many years. Glaciers are able to stimulate the imagination of all those involved by providing a truly unique and striking environment sure to capture the attention of the audience.
A highly anticipated new French volume of a 2015 comic book by Japanese graphic artist Yuichi Yokoyama is due to debut in September 2018. The book, “Iceland,” or “La Terre de Glace,” has appeared in both English and Japanese and features a fantasy country with glaciers. Yokoyama prefers the term “gekiga” over “manga” to describe his comics that bring to life a glaciated fictional landscape somewhere close to the Arctic region by utilizing the relationship between image and time.
A positive review in The Comics Journal says that the “tense, terse text stands up fine on its own as a jagged shard of narrative content and as an exemplar of its creator’s talent for arrestingly meticulous, ambitious design.” This Photo Friday, view images from Yokoyama’s “Iceland,” in anticipation of the September release.
The prolonged eruption of the glacier volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010 released 250 million tons of ash, exposing residents to dangerous levels of the substance. The spread of the volcanic dust and ash caused by this event has since raised concerns about the long-term health risks to vulnerable populations. A recent study by Heidrun Hlodversdottir and her co-authors of the physical and mental health of the local children following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano suggests that they were more likely to experience respiratory and anxiety issues than those who were not impacted by the eruption, among other negative effects.
The research, published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, assessed the health impacts of the eruption for a period of three years after the climate event. The authors analyzed both the exposed and non-exposed adult population through questionnaires aimed at examining their children’s and their own perceived health status in 2010, six to nine months after the eruption, as well as three years later.
Hlodversdottir and her co-authors explained in a joint response to GlacierHub that the winds carried the ash across Europe and North Africa, increasing concerns that the eruption could possibly affect the respiratory health of the local population. Precautions for susceptible individuals were issued in Europe by the World Health Organization and national health authorities following the eruption. According to the WHO, health surveillance systems in countries in the WHO European Region detected no exposure of the populations to volcano-related air pollution and no health effects potentially related to volcanic ash following the volcanic eruption, the authors said. However, the south and southeast of Iceland received a great deal of ash and residue during six weeks and several months following the eruption. Thus, the researchers compared data from exposed and non-exposed regions in Iceland. In 2010, they gathered demographic data from each child’s parents and asked questions about property losses. In 2013, those who participated in the study were contacted again for a second evaluation about perceived health status.
In 2010, the study revealed that children who had been exposed to the impacts of the volcano were more prone to respiratory problems, anxiety and worries, headaches, and poor sleep. Gisli Palsson, professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland, told GlacierHub that the latter three might also be related to concerns caused by radical changes in the children’s lives generated by the impact of the volcanic eruption.
The authors of the study further indicated to GlacierHub that a threatening, uncontrollable and unpredictable natural event so close to people´s homes is a major stressor. “The ash from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption damaged property, reduced visibility, delayed transportation, and many inhabitants had to evacuate their homes for a period of time. The continuous ashfall darkened the environment to the point of turning daylight into night, as well as glacier flooding, heavy lightning strikes, loud volcanic sound blasts and lava flows; all impacting the daily life of the exposed residents,” the authors note.
Although the eruption did not result in casualties, these events were stressful enough and caused uncertainty during and after the eruption. These stressors, in addition to the physical effects of ash exposure, may have contributed to the negative impacts on the children’s well-being, they added.
In addition, while the study did not compare gender regarding the continuity of symptoms, the results when analyzed by gender demonstrated that exposed male children had a higher likelihood of experiencing sleep disturbances and headaches than non-exposed male children.
Hlodversdottir and her co-authors indicated that it is important to note that all the measures of children’s health were based on the parents’ reporting. “It is well documented that internalized difficulties such as anxiety symptoms are more prevalent among girls and that boys show more often externalized difficulties,” they said. “It is therefore possible that boys in our study did not express their emotions verbally as much as girls but rather expressed their emotions as physical symptoms, i.e. headaches and sleeping difficulties. It is also possible that the children´s parents interpreted their children´s symptoms and behavior differently instead of the volcano eruption having different effects on gender.”
The results from the evaluation made in 2013 suggested that certain health problems— for example, depression and sleeping disturbances— were still present years after the event. The prevalence of these issues was linked to the gravity of the hazard that children had experienced.
Moreover, the researchers investigated the predictive factors that could cause these symptoms. In this aspect, they found that children who had experienced material damages were at higher risk of mental issues such as anxiety and depression when compared to those who were not exposed to these situations.
The authors indicated to GlacierHub that disasters can generate mental damage to families. For this reason, disaster interventions should focus on assisting people impacted by climate events. There is limited research on the impacts and long-term health effects of volcanic eruptions on children’s health, as well as knowledge on disaster risk populations among youth.
The authors added that there are indications in the literature that the academic environment is a convenient area to inform youth regarding preparedness and possible risks. Furthermore, parents should be advised on how to discuss these issues with their children.
Over 500 million people are located near active volcanoes, and children are the most vulnerable to the impacts of volcanic hazards. For this reason, it is important that governments develop strategies to prevent and reduce possible health issues on vulnerable populations. In addition, there must be more of an effort to continuously assess the health of the most vulnerable populations following a natural hazard. As Hlodversdottir and her co-authors told GlacierHub, “Children are a particularly vulnerable group that needs developmentally appropriate treatments that are evidence-based and affordable. It is therefore of great importance that such service be funded and made available in the long term after natural disasters.”
Everest Climbing Route at Risk from Climate Change
From The Washington Post: “As climbers begin to reach the summit of Mount Everest, some veterans are avoiding the Nepali side of the world’s highest peak because melting ice and crowds have made its famed Khumbu Icefall too dangerous… Several veteran climbers and well-respected Western climbing companies have moved their expeditions to the northern side of the mountain in Tibet in recent years, saying rising temperatures and inexperienced climbers have made the icefall more vulnerable. Research by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development shows that the Khumbu glacier is retreating at an average of 65 feet per year, raising the risk of avalanche.”
From Variety: “‘Arctic,’ a notably quiet and captivating slow-build adventure film, starring Mads Mikkelsen as a researcher-explorer who has crash-landed in the frozen wilderness, is the latest example of a genre we know in our bones, one that feels so familiar it’s almost comforting. It’s another solo-survival movie, one more tale of a shipwrecked soul that derives its spirit and design from the mythic fable of the form, ‘Robinson Crusoe.’ The challenge of watching a stranded man toil away on his own, of course, is that it seems, on the surface, to be inherently undramatic. That’s why nearly every one of these movies has had a buried hook, a way of turning a barren situation into compulsively watchable and suspenseful storytelling. “Robinson Crusoe” (the novel, published in 1719, and its various film versions) set the template by presenting its tale as one of human ingenuity — in essence, it prophesied the Industrial Revolution in the form of a stripped-down one-man show. “Cast Away” had Wilson the soccer ball and Tom Hanks’ plucky enterprise. “127 Hours” had James Franco, as a hiker trapped in a rocky wedge, nattering into his video camera. “All Is Lost,” set on a sailboat adrift at sea, had Robert Redford’s finely aging regret and his character’s technical instincts. “Robinson Crusoe” had Friday.”
Study Examines Plants Exposed Due to Glacial Retreat
From the Journal of Plant Research: “To examine carbon allocation, nitrogen acquisition and net production in nutrient-poor conditions, we examined allocation patterns among organs of shrub Alnus fruticosa at a young 80-year-old moraine in Kamchatka… Since the leaf mass isometrically scaled to root nodule mass, growth of each individual occurred at the leaves and root nodules in a coordinated manner. It is suggested that their isometric increase contributes to the increase in net production per plant for A. fruticosa in nutrient-poor conditions.”
From BioOne: “Glaciers and ice sheets are considered a biome with unique organism assemblages. Tardigrada (water bears) are micrometazoans that play the function of apex consumers on glaciers. Cryoconite samples with the dark-pigmented tardigrade Cryoconicus gen. nov. kaczmareki sp. nov. were collected from four locations on glaciers in China and Kyrgyzstan… A recovery of numerous live individuals from a sample that was frozen for 11 years suggests high survival rates in the natural environment. The ability to withstand low temperatures, combined with dark pigmentation that is hypothesized to protect from intense UV radiation, could explain how the new taxon is able to dwell in an extreme glacial habitat.”
Learn more about the tardigrade population in glaciers here.
Glacier Mass Change and Modeling
From Nature: “Glacier mass loss is a key contributor to sea-level change, slope instability in high-mountain regions, and the changing seasonality and volume of river flow. Understanding the causes, mechanisms and time scales of glacier change is therefore paramount to identifying successful strategies for mitigation and adaptation. Here, we use temperature and precipitation fields from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 output to force a glacier evolution model, quantifying mass responses to future climatic change. We find that contemporary glacier mass is in disequilibrium with the current climate, and 36 ± 8% mass loss is already committed in response to past greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, mitigating future emissions will have only very limited influence on glacier mass change in the twenty-first century.”
Glacierized Volcanoes and the Effect of Eruptions on Health
From NCBI: “More than 500 million people worldwide live within exposure range of an active volcano and children are a vulnerable subgroup of such exposed populations. However, studies on the effects of volcanic eruptions on children’s health beyond the first year are sparse. In 2010, exposed children were more likely than non-exposed children to experience respiratory symptoms… Both genders had an increased risk of symptoms of anxiety/worries but only exposed boys were at increased risk of experiencing headaches and sleep disturbances compared to non-exposed boys. Adverse physical and mental health problems experienced by the children exposed to the eruption seem to persist for up to a three-year period post-disaster. These results underline the importance of appropriate follow-up for children after a natural disaster.”
Find out more about the effects of the eruption in Iceland here.
Vanishing glaciers have been a topic of discussion for quite some time. One effective way of communicating this serious issue is through photographs, which may better represent the implications behind scientific figures and graphs.
Michael Kienitz, a photojournalist based in Wisconsin, is sharing his experience with vanishing glaciers in an exhibition coming September 13th to the Chazen Art Museum at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This exhibition, entitled “Iceland’s Vanishing Beauty,” is a culmination of Kienitz’s five-year work collecting images from southeast Iceland and captures some of the ice caves and glacial formations in the region’s glacial tongues.
Kienitz started his formal training in photography in college at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has been a photographer ever since, for over 40 years. As a college student, he witnessed firsthand how the local media failed to portray the full picture of the Vietnam peace protests on campus. This motivated him to start documenting the scene with his own camera. Thus began a professional career as a war photographer. His award-winning photography has been featured in various publications including Life, Time, and Newsweek.
While Kienitz’s works have been recognized for their various themes, he says his life-long pursuit focuses on one specific topic: Icelandic glaciers, the subject of the exhibition. The glaciers of Iceland cover approximately 11 percent of the country’s landscape, with a total area of 100,000 km2. These are temperate and low-altitude glaciers, meaning they retreat dramatically with temperature increase, unlike high altitude polar glaciers. In 2014, for example, Okjökull, a glacier in Borgarfjörður, Iceland, lost too much of its mass to be considered a glacier, no longer capable of moving under its own weight.
After spending time in southeast Iceland, Kienitz witnessed the retreat of Icelandic glaciers. In the following interview, he explains the process of documenting the photos and videos for his upcoming exhibition.
GlacierHub:Is it difficult to photograph in settings like Iceland?
Michael Kienitz: Having endured winters in Wisconsin, I was able to adapt quite easily to the moderate winters in the southeast Coast of Iceland. I did most of my work then because the ice is the most blue at that time of year, and there are fewer tourists. I’ve been fortunate enough the last two years to have been able to stay in a house along the the sea just 15 minutes from Jokulsarlon, which is owned by the Iceland Writers Union. While doing my work, I’ve also produced videos and photography for local guides and a local museum. I’ve also been fortunate to have met and climbed the glaciers with some of Iceland’s best guides who have shown me places only few people have ever been to. I was a war photographer for ten years, so I’m quite used to difficult environments.
GH: What are the opportunities and challenges of using drones to photograph glaciers?
MK: I was one of the first photographers to fly drones in Iceland for photography and video. When I started going there five years ago, almost no one had ever seen a drone, much less flown one. Drones are perfect tools to immerse the viewer into the Icelandic landscape from unique perspectives. They also allow us to take photographs and videos of landscapes that are dangerous to be documenting on site. In the beginning I had to carry around fairly large drones, but the technology has improved immensely, and I can now easily carry my camera gear as well as a drone and several batteries.
For my upcoming exhibition at the Chazen Art Museum, I will be using drone footage to show wide dramatic shots of the terrain, so that the viewer can more easily understand the context of the ice caves and glacial tongues which will also appear in my still images.
Drones are now much more highly regulated in Iceland, and to fly in the national parks you must have a permit. I was fortunate to have been given a two month permit this year to fly drones in the national parks. I plan on giving some of my works to the national park of Iceland for their courtesy.
GH: What do you like best about Iceland, and what surprised you most?
MK: Iceland, particularly where I went to take pictures of the glaciers, is pristine, but also visually dynamic, as it continually changes. A lot of the glaciers that I take photographs of can dramatically change in weeks and sometimes vanish completely in months. One of the most surprising things I’ve experienced is the incredible changes due to the rising sea-level and increasing temperatures in southeast Iceland, particularly in the Jokulsarlon area of Vatnajokull National Park.
GH: What is your next idea for photography?
MK: My work in Iceland may be a lifelong pursuit. Some models indicate that Iceland will no longer have glaciers in 2080. I’m documenting the astounding beauty of them and their anatomy like ice caves while they still exist, and printing them on archival aluminum, so that future generations can see for themselves the majesty of glaciers and the timeline of its continual changes and disappearance. For example, an extremely deep ice cave, which went from a beautiful ice arch to nothing but stones and gravels over a period of 18 months.
Across the world, tourism surrounding glaciers and national parks has become widespread and essential to the development of sustainable economic strategies. But how can the sustainability of tourism be assured in years to come? A recent study from a team of Icelandic scientists published in the Journal of Rural and Community Development argues for the value of incorporating input from local communities into the process of developing sustainable tourism, particularly in rural, sparsely populated regions of Europe.
In the northern periphery (NP) of Europe, which refers to all the Nordic countries and the autonomous North Atlantic Faroe and Åland islands, tourism has become essential to the development of new economic paths. But according to this study, these regions face many challenges based on the fact that these areas are “as a rule, geographically peripheral, vast territories of especially fragile ecosystems, with limited infrastructure, low and declining population densities and few economically feasible industries.” As a result, “these factors contribute to making tourism an increasingly important industry in the NP, from an economic and social point of view.”
A significant concern is that as low populated areas become increasingly popular as tourist destinations, these sparse periphery regions are expected to experience increased environmental, economic, and social impacts in the area.
Lead scientist Kristín Rut Kristjánsdóttir, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iceland, shared with GlacierHub how holistic assessments are necessary for addressing the complicated implications surrounding glaciers tourism. “Glacier landscape and climate entail fragile vegetation covers, unpredictable weather and regular damage to roads, and other physical infrastructure of natural causes. Therefore, safety issues for tourism in these areas also need extra attention,” Kristjánsdóttir said. “Taken together, all these factors make many economic solutions to peoples livelihoods in the northern periphery complicated.”
Iceland has been experiencing an exponential increase in foreign visitors over the past few years, for example. In 2016, the Icelandic Tourist Board estimated almost 1.8 million visitors that year, about five times the population of the country. With a vast majority of tourists citing the main reason for visiting Iceland to be to enjoy the natural landscape, the Icelandic government has long noted the need to concentrate on sustainable tourist development that preserves the nation’s unique, vulnerable ecosystems, as GlacierHub reported earlier this month. But even with Icelandic authorities’ focus on sustainable tourism development, “planning and infrastructure that benefits the local tourism development, as well as the local tourism stakeholders, are often not prioritized,” according to the study.
Interviews with the local communities in and surrounding Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland, were integral to this research. This park was established in 2008 and is the second largest national park in Europe with a surface area of nearly 14,000 square kilometers that covers a seventh of the entire territory of Iceland. Over half of this area is comprised of the massive Vatnajökull glacier, the largest ice cap in Iceland and third largest in Europe, covering some of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Due to the stunning landscape, the glacier and national park has become one of the most popular tourist sites in Iceland but is also increasingly vulnerable to physical damage with increased tourism disturbing the glacier’s ecological integrity. According to the study, “rapid growth in visitor numbers together with ecosystems and communities that are sensitive to tourism impact call for active monitoring and continuation of assessment methods.”
Johannes Theodorus Welling, another doctoral candidate at the University of Iceland, explained the antipodal relationship between glaciers and tourism. “On one side glaciers make climate change tangible by showing its recession and shrinkage, which visitors can follow almost on a daily basis… Paradoxically, the same visitor emits substantial amounts of greenhouse gases during their travel,” he told GlacierHub. This notion is particularly true for tourists traveling thousands of miles to reach Iceland, often in the summer months.
The aim of this study was to develop and assess systemic sustainability indicators for glacier tourism. Kristjánsdóttir and her colleagues interviewed 48 tourism stakeholders and concluded 18 sustainability indicators for Vatnajökull National Park from analyzing themes across the interviews. The top five most influential indicators and the major driving forces for local tourism development in the region included destination attractiveness, economic and societal seasonality, social carrying capacity, and the local economy.
But of all of these sustainable indicators, the attractiveness of the region ranked the highest. Stated in the study, “attractiveness is both the most critical and the most vulnerable indicator in the system […] as it is closely interconnected with other indicators and very sensitive to any change within the system.” But the changing climate heightens the region’s vulnerability and uncertainty in maintaining the ecological integrity that attracts tourists and that locals promote.
“The main take away from my study is, in my opinion, that it sheds light to the complexity that needs to be considered in addressing sustainability, especially when applying it to tourism in areas of the northern periphery,” Kristjánsdóttir told GlacierHub. Developing sustainable glacier tourism could, as Welling explained to GlacierHub, use the dynamics of the glacier as a tool to educate its visitors to show that climate change is real and have enormous consequences for landscape, hydrology, local communities, and tourism. But ensuring local participation is key to understanding the effects of tourism in sparsely populated northern periphery regions often home to glaciers. Balancing the cultivation of economic development without harming the ecological stability is complicated, but more integrated reports, such as this study, ensure a holistic consideration of how to develop sustainable tourism in Europe.
Fire and ice have consistently shaped Iceland’s history, so much so that red and white, the colors symbolizing these elements, make up two of the three colors on the island nation’s flag. In a new twist to the relationship between fire and ice in Iceland, a recent paper in Geology details the link between climate-driven changes in glacier volume and volcanic activity.
At the end of the last Ice Age, around 12,000 years ago, large scale glacial retreat across Iceland led to increased volcanism due to reductions in surface pressure. This impact of glacier retreat on volcanic activity has been supported by a number of previous research according to Charles B. Conner, an author of the study who spoke to GlacierHub. However, the link between smaller changes in glacial ice masses and their effects on volcanic eruptions is a less established phenomena, fueling the motivation for this latest research.
While climate-driven fluctuations in glacier size might not be the first thing that comes to mind when one imagines volcanoes, ice does impact fire. Throughout time, as glaciers retreat and advance, they exert varying pressure loads on the Earth’s crust and mantle, according to Conner. When a glacier retreats, magma production in the mantle and the crust’s magma storage capacity increase, the latter due to a reduction in surface pressure. Conversely, when a glacier advances, magma production in the mantle is suppressed and the crust’s magma storage capacity decreases, as a result of added surface pressure.
Iceland has many volcanoes due to its location atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a massive crack in the Earth’s crust where magma from the mantle makes its way to the surface; 130 volcanoes to be exact. Thanks to Iceland’s northern latitude, many of these volcanoes are covered by glaciers, making the country an ideal place to examine possible links between the two. To study these linkages over a relatively short time scale, the authors of the study focused on the mid-Holocene period, a time period from roughly 7,000 to 5,000 years ago.
To determine changes in volcanic activity over time, they relied on two data sources: Icelandic volcano records and northern European volcanic ash deposits. One might think that when examining geological records, adjacent sources such as those taken near the study area would provide more insights than those taken thousands of miles away in Europe. However, local volcanic record analysis is often confounded by the burial or reworking of evidence by subsequent eruptions. By using European ash deposits as a proxy for direct evidence, they were able to circumvent possible complications. Examining both of these data sources, the study’s results point to a marked decline in the frequency of eruptions over a 1,000-year period, from 5,500 to 4,500 years ago.
Nonetheless, the drivers behind volcanic activity in Iceland are numerous and complex. One possible explanation for the decline could be a decrease in the rate of magma supplied to the Earth’s mantle, leading to the subsequent decrease in eruptions. However, the authors contend that a change in magma supplied is unlikely to be the cause of this particular decrease, as it occurred across multiple volcanic systems within the country. Rather, the authors point to an external factor, such as a change in glacial ice volume, as a more likely driver due to the simultaneous decline in volcanism.
But was there evidence to support a climatic change that would drive glacial advance during the mid-Holocene? As it turned out, yes. Paleoclimate records reviewed for the study showed conditions ripe for glacial advances across Iceland, lower temperatures and increased precipitation. Core samples taken from the Icelandic Shelf and the North Atlantic indicated oceanic cooling, while reduced productivity in records taken from lakes in Iceland show evidence of cooling over land. Concurrently, ice cores taken from Greenland suggest a deepening of the Icelandic low pressure system, usually associated with above normal precipitation and lower than normal temperatures in the North Atlantic.
Next, to assess the impacts of this glacial advance on volcanic activity, the authors assayed the correlation between the Greenland ice core data, representing climate conditions, and the European ash deposits, representing eruptions. The correlation revealed a 600-year time lag between the climatic event and the successive decrease in volcanic activity. This lag incorporates both the varying response times across Icelandic glaciers to climate changes and the uncertainties that exist for new magma to reach the surface.
While this study focused on past climate changes and their influences on glaciers and volcanoes, it has relevant implications for the changing climate of the present. As the Earth warms due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, glaciers around the world are melting. In Iceland, glaciers have lost an estimated 10 km3 per year since 1995. Given that deglaciation leads to increased volcanic activity, humans seem to be doing the job nature once did in regulating eruptions in Iceland.
Nobody alive today is likely to see increased volcanism in Iceland because of climate change given the time lag of 600 years between a climate event and a change in volcanic activity identified by this study. When asked about the possibility that human activity might impact this lag, Conner told GlacierHub that at this time it is not known if rapid climate change will lead to changes in the timing of resultant volcanic eruptions. Although, he said it is possible “that the rate of volcanic activity changes much more rapidly than it did during natural deglaciation in the past, but this is speculative.”
From the Archaelogical Textiles Review: “A woven wool tunic with damaged sleeves and repairs to the body dating from AD 230 to AD 390 was discovered on the Lendbreen glacier in Oppland County, Norway, in 2011. The Norwegian Mountain Centre in Lom (Norsk Fjellsenter) and the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo each commissioned a reconstruction of the tunic for exhibition and research into prehistoric textile production. The original was woven in 2/2 diamond twill with differently colored yarns producing a deliberate and even mottled effect.”
Learn more about glacier archaeology and its techniques here.
Collaboration Strengthens Climate Resiliency
From the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): “As climate change impacts are increasing the likelihood of natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, having a thorough disaster risk management plan is become more important for communities throughout the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). The government of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan has recognized the efforts of the Indus Basin Initiative of the ICIMOD and consortium partners to establish more resilient mountain villages through partnership with the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GB-DMA). Their plan involves several projects in glacier-rich northern Pakistan, including rehabilitation of a glacier-fed irrigation system, and a community based glacier monitoring/GLOF early warning system.”
Find out more about the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Risk Management Plan here.
Stakeholder Participation in Developing Sustainability Indicators
From the Journal of Rural and Community Development: “Glacier tourism is of importance worldwide. Many European northern periphery (NP) communities are likely to experience increased and complex environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism in the near future. Therefore, approaches that see tourism as included in complex socio-ecological systems are critical for identifying and assessing sustainability indicators in the NP specifically are crucial. This study from Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland argues for the value of incorporating the perceptions of local communities as it develops and assesses systemic sustainability indicators for glacial tourism.”
Further explore the concept of sustainable glacier tourism in Iceland here.
From Global Times: “All the tourism facilities of the Laohugou Glacier No. 12 have been totally removed by the end of October to preserve the glacier which has sunk by more than 400 meters in the past 60 years.”
Learn more about why China is halting tourism at the glacier here.
A New Record for Running Set on an Antarctic Glacier
From Purpose 2 Play: “On Nov. 25, elite runner Paul Robinson ran the fastest mile ever recorded in Antarctica, where the temperature was -13 degrees Fahrenheit. His time: 4 minutes, and 17.9 seconds.”
Amazing footage Ireland's Paul Robinson running the Antarctica Mile in 4 mins 17.9 secs. The event took place on 25th November 2017 at Union Glacier, Antarctica, and was held in conjunction with the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon. pic.twitter.com/vCEkA16kjA
A 3000-year-old tree Stump Found Under Melting Icelandic Glacier
From Iceland Review: “Ancient tree stumps found under Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland are confirmed to be roughly 3000-years-old… Examinations revealed that the tree stump died very quickly at 89-years-old in the month of June. Nearby sediments and data suggest that the glacier itself was the culprit.”
Learn more about the details behind the ancient tree stumps here.