Roundup: Border claims, melting, and a new superhero

Mont Blanc: fresh row over territory as France blocks glacier access

 

Mayor of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Eric Fournier
Mayor of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Eric Fournier, courtesy of Getty Images

“A fresh row over borders has erupted between France and Italy on Mont Blanc – or Monte Bianco – after the mayor of Chamonix blocked access to a precarious glacier that the Italians claim is in their territory. Eric Fournier took the decision to close a gate – installed by the Italians – that gave access to Giant glacier, situated at an altitude of 3500m. They claim the route is unsafe.”

To read more, click here.

 

Glacier Girl is reinventing the eco-friendly aesthetic for the tumblr generation

Glacier Girl
Glacier Girl, courtesy of Connie McDonald and Elizabeth Farrell

“London teen Elizabeth Farrell is changing the way we look at environmental activism…. The 19-year-old invented the superhero pseudonym Glacier Girl and her project, Remember The Glaciers, as a way to speak to her peers about the dangers of global warming. What began as a high school art assignment has become a calling for Elizabeth, who was awarded a Gap Year Scholarship by Britain’s Royal Geographical Society last year to focus on the project full-time.”

To learn more about Glacier Girl, click here.

 

Peruvian glacier shows significant meltdown from climate change

Incachiriasca glacier
Incachiriasca glacier, courtesy of Wikipedia

“The Incachiriasca glacier, located on the Vilcabamba mountain range in the Peruvian region of Cuzco, has retreated some 62 meters (203 feet) over the past eight years due to the effects of climate change, the head of the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, Jose Nieto, told EFE.”

 

Read more about Peru’s glacial melting here.

 

 

Supercool water found near glaciers

Temperatures in Spitbergen, Norway may be below freezing, but the water around the Glacier Front isn’t frozen, researchers Eugene Morozov from Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Aleksey Marchenko from the University Center in Svalbard, and Yu. D. Fomin from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, found,

This process of supercooling, also known as undercooling, happens when the temperature of a liquid or a gas drops below its freezing point without it becoming a solid. Experiments on Youtube show people taking liquid water out of their freezers, and pouring it on white plate under normal temperature. As the water hits the plate, it instantaneously turns into ice.

There are two methods for making water supercool. The first method, like the one show in Youtube videos, can only be achieved when water is extremely pure. Impure water has ‘nucleation sites,’ where water molecules gather and gradually solidify during the freezing process. People can make supercool water with a simple refrigerator and a bottle of pure water.

The other method relates to salinity and water pressure. Supercool water can occur under conditions of heat removal, different rates of heat and salt diffusion and rapid pressure decrease, chemists Valeria Molinero and Emily Moore in University of Utah found after much experimentation in 2011.

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Figure 1: Supercool water with no impurity. Source: BBC

With higher pressure, water will freeze at temperatures below 0 degree Celsius. In addition, higher salinity will also result in a lower freezing temperature. According to Figure 2, the freezing point will change depending on salinity and water pressure.

 

 

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Figure 2 Relationship between freezing point and Salinity/ Water Pressure. Source: London South Bank University

Previously, supercool water had only been created under laboratory conditions. However, the new findings from Eugene Morozov and his colleagues show that there is Glaciohydraulic supercooling water around the glacier that mixes and cools with high salinity and high pressure water.

The bottom of the glacier is approximately 15 m from the sea surface. The melt water (fresh water) flows from the glacier at a temperature of 0 C. After mixing with surrounding seawater with a temperature of – 1.8 C, melt water cools to temperatures lower than -1.8 C while ascending to the surface. As it surfaces, its temperature is close to the freezing point of seawater(-1.8 C). That temperature is lower than the freezing temperature of freshwater and its internal energy does not reach the equilibrium state required for freezing. This freshwater from glaciers cools to temperatures lower than freezing without becoming ice.

 

 

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Figure 3: Scheme showing freshwater flow from the glacier and measurement of water properties near the glacier front

The finding in Spitbergen is supported by research from Dr. Igor Dmitrenko, who works for Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at University of Kiel. He found that supercool water also exists in polynas, an area of open water surrounded by sea ice. However, this condition cannot be observed all the time since it cannot exist for an extended period. Supercooling water will transfer to the other states of water in a short time. It could play a crucial role in sea ice formation, researchers say.

“While frazil ice [needle-shaped ice fragments in water] formation in the Arctic was carefully examined over the past several years for the St. Lawrence Island and the Storfjord polynyas […] the processes controlling the sea ice growth due to supercooled water and frazil ice formation over the Siberian Arctic shelf remain poorly understood, owing to the scarce instrumental records and extreme climatic conditions,” Dmitrenko wrote in his study.  “From these considerations, supercooling might play a critical role in the shelf salt budget and sea ice production”

Check more information about glacier at Glacierhub.

The Chameleon Glaciers

Figure 1: Glacier Noir in the French Alps on 20/08/2014.
Figure 1: Glacier Noir in the French Alps on 20/08/2014.

Can you spot the glacier on the picture above? Not that easy… Glacier Noir is a debris-covered glacier located in the French Alps. Contrary to clean-ice glaciers which are shiny white or blue ice masses, debris-covered glaciers are ice masses with a layer of rock debris on the top which makes them look like their surrounding environment: they are the “chameleon glaciers”. They are currently called debris-covered glaciers but in the early 2000s, you could hear “debris-mantled glaciers” and even “buried glaciers” in the 1960s. They are often confused with rock glaciers. There are a lot of names and confusion around debris-covered glaciers. Why? Simply because they are difficult to find, define and study as you can imagine from the picture above.

Debris-covered glaciers represent around 5% of all mountains glaciers in the world. So why is it important to study them – there are many more clean-ice glaciers, aren’t there? Yes, debris-covered glaciers are a small fraction of all glaciers but like any other glacier, the melting of debris-covered glaciers contributes to sea level rise and there is currently huge uncertainty about how fast they melt compared to clean-ice glaciers. In addition, in the Himalayas, they make up a greater proportion of the glaciers and in many valleys, debris-covered glaciers are the main and often the only source of drinking water, like for example the famous Khumbu Glacier just below Mount Everest on the Nepal side.

Figure 2: Mount Everest area in Nepal with Khumbu Glacier and the other important glacier: Ngozumpa Glacier. The proportion of debris-covered glaciers in this zone speaks for itself.
Figure 2: Mount Everest area in Nepal with Khumbu Glacier and the other important glacier: Ngozumpa Glacier. The proportion of debris-covered glaciers in this zone speaks for itself.

Some debris-covered glaciers, like the Tasman Glacier, the biggest glacier in New Zealand, are very large features that can be the origin of risks and hazards. The debris layer creates numerous ponds filled with meltwater on the surface of glaciers. These ponds can hold monumental volumes of water that can be suddenly and brutally drained through crevasses in the ice or a breach on their edge. This drainage can create an outburst flood and submerge the valley below.

Figure 3: Top: Close up of the Khumbu Glacier tongue. Beneath each arrow there is a pond. Bottom: One of the numerous ponds on surface of Glacier Noir.
Figure 3: Top: Close up of the Khumbu Glacier tongue. Beneath each arrow there is a pond. Bottom: One of the numerous ponds on surface of Glacier Noir.

Debris layers on top of glaciers can come from rock falls, like for the Sherman Glacier in Alaska. This rock cover modifies the dynamics of the ice by slowing down the melting happening underneath. This insulation process creates various phenomena, like thickening of the ice under the debris, building hills of ice slowly moving down the glacier or advancement of the glacier’s tongue. These two phenomena can block or deviate water streams and again generate massive floods.

A less obvious reason to study debris-covered glaciers is that if glaciers on Mars exist, they are debris-covered. So studying debris-covered glaciers on Earth can contribute to space conquest and the human adventure on Mars. In the same vein, studying current debris-covered glaciers and their behavior in the face of climate change can help us understand and interpret the climate of the past. There is an example of a potential misinterpretation of the Waiho Loop moraine in New Zealand in front of the Franz-Joseph Glacier: 12000 years there was a worldwide cooling event (called Younger Dryas) that might have led to the formation of the very large moraine of Waiho Loop. Or, a massive rock avalanche landing on Franz-Joseph Glacier triggered its advance and the deposition of the moraine.

figure4

I’ve already described a few examples of debris-covered glaciers: Glacier Noir, Khumbu Glacier, Tasman Glacier, Sherman Glacier and maybe Franz-Joseph Glacier. But where else can you find debris-covered glaciers? They can actually be found in every mountain range: from the Miage Glacier (Italy) in the European Alps with  to the Inylchek Glacier (Kyrgyzstan) or Langtang (Nepal) glaciers in the Asian High Mountain; from the Black Rapids Glacier (Alaska) in the Rocky Mountains and the Dome Glacier (Canada), to the Andes with Grosse and Exploradores glaciers in Patagonia (Chile). There are debris-covered glaciers even in Antarctica in the Dry Valleys, such as the Mullins Glacier.

Figure 5: Where to find debris-covered glaciers
Figure 5: Where to find debris-covered glaciers

So understanding debris-covered glaciers is an international problem. This is my final reason to study them. I study debris-covered glaciers and their past, present and future evolution. I focus more on glacier-wide aspects like length, surface area and volume change to model their future behavior.

They do not make up a large number, but debris-covered glaciers are important. In the face of climate change, debris-covered glaciers may be the last standing glaciers, as their evolution is slower. But at the current pace, they will still end up like all other glaciers: ice chunks melting in the sun…

 

About Pierre

Pierre is a PhD student at the Centre for Glaciology at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK (started 2013). His Earth Sciences Master degree from the University of Grenoble, France and his 4 years as a surveyor in the National Institute of Geographic and Forestry Information (IGN) drove his research interests toward field observation techniques, remote sensing and glacier-wide digital modeling. His current project is entitled “Predicting the effect of climate change on debris-covered glaciers evolution”.

Find Pierre on the net:

Twitter: @PierreEtLaGlace

Google+: +PierreLARDEUX

Facebook: pierre.lardeux31

Blog: Ice & Rock

University Profile: http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/iges/staff/phd/pfl4/

Project page: Predicting the response of debris-covered glaciers to climate change

 

Roundup: Rare Insect, Conference, New Fragrance

Rare Insect Imperiled by Melting Glaciers

stonefly

“The persistence of an already rare aquatic insect, the western glacier stonefly, is being imperiled by the loss of glaciers and increased stream temperatures due to climate warming in mountain ecosystems, according to a new study released in Freshwater Science. In the study, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Bucknell University, and the University of Montana illustrate the shrinking habitat of the western glacier stonefly (Zapada glacier) associated with glacial recession using data spanning from 1960 – 2012. ”

Read more at USGS newsroom.

 

Conference “Arctic, Subarctic: Mosaic, Contrast, Variability of the Cryosphere”

conference

“The international conference ‘Arctic, Subarctic: Mosaic, Contrast, Variability of the Cryosphere’ will be held on 2-5 July 2015 in Tyumen, Russia. The conference is organized by Tyumen State Oil and Gas University and Tyumen Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. ”

Read more at UArctic.

 

Vat­na­jökull glac­ier: a new men’s fragrance

fragnance

“Hafþór Júlíus Björns­son, oth­er­wise known as The Moun­tain, has be­come the face of men’s fra­grance Vat­na­jökull. Björns­son, who rose to fame in the Game of Thrones se­ries, showed his model side in a se­ries of shots taken on Vat­na­jökull glac­ier. ”

Read more at mbl.is.

Photo Friday: Glacier Melt and the 2014 AGU Conference

Last week, the fall meeting of the American Geophysics Union wrapped up in San Francisco. The meeting is the largest annual gathering of Earth and space scientists. This year about 24,000 people were in attendance. Hundreds of oral and poster presentations across all areas of geophysical research marked this year’s meeting, which included several findings on glacier melt rates from around the world. Here are a few of the more stunning pictures of glaciers from around the world to be discussed at the conference.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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The Karakoram Glacier’s Secret to “Eternal Youth”

A view from Karakoram Highway and Tashgurkan, China. Scientists only recently understood why the Karakoram glacier remains stable. (Marc van der Chijs/Flickr)
A view from Karakoram Highway and Tashgurkan, China. Scientists only recently understood why the Karakoram glacier remains stable. (Marc van der Chijs/Flickr)

You might call it the ultimate cold case. In a time when glaciers are quite literally melting before our very eyes, one glacier in the Himalayas has been doing quite the opposite.

“It’s been a source of controversy that these glaciers haven’t been changing while other glaciers in the world have,” Sarah Kapnick, a postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric and ocean science at Princeton University, told livescience in October. She and her colleagues recently journeyed to the Himalayas to discover why the Karakoram Glacier has not lost volume over time, unlike so many other glaciers around the world. Though it melts a little in the summer, the melting is offset by snowfall in the winter.

Many attempts have been made to explain the “Karakoram anomaly.” Kapnick and other researchers published a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience last month which unearthed the secret for this phenomenon. Their answer: the area has a unique weather pattern that keeps the ice cold and dry during the summer months.

How this detail has escaped notice for so long has as much to with a lack of detail in previous climate models as anything else. The Princeton team’s new climate model has a resolution 17 times more detailed that the one used for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2,500 square kilometers compared with 44,100 square kilometers).

The new model simulated temperature and precipitation changes in three major Himalayas regions (Karakoram, the central Himalayas, and the south-east Himalayas which included parts of Tibetan Plateau) from 1861 to 2100. Global climate models from the IPCC overestimated the temperature in the Karakoram region because they could not properly account for the topographic variations in the Karakoram region. As a result, the models also underestimated the amount of snow that falls on the glacier. The new climate model successfully simulated seasonal cycles in temperature and precipitation due to its finer resolution.

“The coarser resolution ‘smoothed out’ variations in elevation, which works fine for the central Himalayas and southeast Himalayas,” Kapnick said in the Live Science interview. “However, the Karakoram region has more elevation variability than the other two regions.”

Unlike the rest of the Himalayas, the Karakoram region is not negatively affected by summer monsoon season, Kapnick discovered. The precipitation that occurred during the summer in the rest of the Himalayas never reached the Karakoram regions until winter when the temperature was already cold. The temperature in the Karakoram region on average is below freezing, which contributes to the excess snow it received in the winter when the western winds from Afghanistan bring in precipitation to the mountains.

Uighur man walking along the Karakoram Highway in the early morning. (Matthew Winterburn/Flickr)
Uighur man walking along the Karakoram Highway in the early morning. (Matthew Winterburn/Flickr)

This advantage from the western winds may not hold on long, though. If climate change continues on its current path, even the Karakoram region would be affected. Kapnick believes that as climate changes the Karakoram region can continue this advantage through 2100, but after that it’s unclear. “Understanding how that changes into the future is important from a climate perspective, but it’s also important from a societal perspective,” she said.

Understanding the snowfall patterns in the Himalayas can contribute to better understanding of variations in regional climate change. Moreover, the findings in this research can make a difference in water management processes regionally. Glaciers in the Himalayas serve as the primary water reservoir for many people in India, Pakistan, and China.

After 100 Years of Glacier Loss, Alberta Braces for Erratic Water Flow

Overlooking the town of Banff, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, with Bow River flowing across the town. Taken at the top of the Sulphur Mountain. (Photo: Yuanrong Zhou)
Overlooking the town of Banff, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, with Bow River flowing across the town. Taken at the top of the Sulphur Mountain. (Photo: Yuanrong Zhou)

When I travelled to Banff National Park in Alberta last summer, I was impressed by the high white peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Locals joked that those who want to see the snowy, icy mountains should hurry, because such beautiful landscapes may soon cease to exist due to global warming. Sadly, what the local people said is true. A recent study suggests that glaciers along the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies will lose 80-90% of their volume by 2100.

“Temperature rise isn’t something you can see. But a glacier melting is something everybody can see,” Michael Zemp, director at the World Glacier Monitoring Service told National Geographic magazine in 2006, when discussing glacial loss in the Alps.

The majestic snowy crowns I spied in Banff form the Peyto glacier, situated at the headwater of the Mistaya River, which merges with the North Saskatchewan River at Saskatchewan Crossing. It happens to be a reference site for the World Glacier Monitoring Service, a Zurich-based organization which gathers and distributes standardized data on glacier fluctuation. In its latest report WGMS noted that Peyto is losing 3.5 million cubic meters of water every year. That kind of volume of water can sustain a city with a population of 1.2 million, such as Calgary, for one day. Cumulatively, 70 percent of the Peyto Glacier ice mass melted since the mid-19th century, when scientists first began watching it.

Peyto Glacier at 1896, taken by Walter Wilcox. (Source: PARC Project P55 Report)
Peyto Glacier at 1896, taken by Walter Wilcox. (Source: PARC Project P55 Report)

Meltwater from glaciers on the eastern slope of the Canadian Rockies, including Peyto Glacier, supply both the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, which flow into the Canadian Prairie Provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, to support municipal, industrial, as well as agricultural usages. With the dramatic retreat of glaciers along the east side, like Peyto Glacier, the two Saskatchewan River basins have seen significant declines in flow. In particular, the mean annual flow of Bow River at the South Saskatchewan River basin, which passes through Alberta, has decreased by 11.5 percent since 1910.

With melt season occurring earlier and earlier each year, spring floods have become more common, while water supply is low during the summer months, just when it is most needed. Specifically, the spring flow in Bow River has increased by 15.2 percent since 1910, though the annual flow has declined. Consequently, Alberta has experienced severe floods successively in June 2013 and June 2014 due to intensive precipitation as well as early snowmelt.

Heavy rain combined with earlier glacier melt into both the Elbow river and the Bow river flooded Calgary, Alberta in late June 2013. (Wayne Stadler/Flickr)
Heavy rain combined with earlier glacier melt into both the Elbow river and the Bow river flooded Calgary, Alberta in late June 2013. (Wayne Stadler/Flickr)

“In the last twelve years, the Prairie Provinces have seen the worst drought and the worst flooding since the settlement of western Canada,” John Pomeroy, director of the Center for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, told Yale Environment 360 earlier this year.

To adapt to future changes in water flows, new water management systems have been implemented in Alberta. In 2010, the Bow River Project was launched to analyze the Bow River System. Ultimately, scientists on the project recommended developing integrated management of the water system. Most recently, in March, the Bow River Project submitted its final report, Bow Basin Flood Mitigation and Watershed Management Project, which recommended measures that might prevent devastating floods in the region. In particular, the report proposed wetland storage and restoration of natural rivers to prevent future melt-related floods like those recently seen in Alberta.

But these are measures of adaptation rather than prevention. They won’t do anything to stop Peyto and glaciers like it from disappearing. Keeping these glaciers alive will take a different kind of effort, though I may not be around in 2100 to see what happens.

 

Hundreds of Millions of South Asians At Risk from Glacier Melt

A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are affected by glacial melt. (Susan Novak/Flickr)
A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are at risk from glacial melt. (Susan Novak/Flickr)

Few regions on Earth depend as heavily on glaciers for food, energy and water as South Asia’s Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem. A new research paper in the journal Environmental Science and Policy highlights some of the challenges downstream communities face when glacier water from upstream communities becomes scarce.

The greater South Asian region accounts for two-thirds of the world’s population and consumes roughly 60 percent of the planet’s water. Hundreds of millions of people in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh depend on the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem for direct and indirect sustenance.

“The Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain system is often called the ‘third pole’ or ‘water tower of Asia’ because it contains the largest area of glaciers and permafrost and the largest freshwater resources outside the North and South poles,” wrote lead researcher Golam Rasul in the May 2014 paper. “Food, water, and energy security in South Asia: A nexus perspective from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.”

The Hindu Kush range extends some 800 kilometers in a northeast-to-southwest direction from the Pamir Mountains near the Pakistan-China border, through Pakistan, and into western Afghanistan. This 1879 map shows the passes between Kabul and Oxus. (Royal Geographical Society/Wikimedia Commons)
The Hindu Kush range extends some 800 kilometers in a northeast-to-southwest direction from the Pamir Mountains near the Pakistan-China border, through Pakistan, and into western Afghanistan. This 1879 map shows the passes between Kabul and Oxus. (Royal Geographical Society/Wikimedia Commons)

Rasul, the head of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s Economic Analysis division, said the best approach to the situation is a nexus approach. In other words, equal attention must be paid to watersheds, catchments, river system headwaters and hydropower.

The mountainous area is home to tens of thousands of glaciers whose water reserves are equivalent to around three times the annual precipitation over the entire regions. These glaciers – a study from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development put the number at 54,000 – are a crucial component of the region’s ecosystem, and in many ways central to providing energy, food and water to the glacier communities and those downstream.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem is under threat from unsustainable resource use. Rapid population growth, increased urbanization, and increased commercial activity are driving increasing pressure on ecosystem services, as higher demand for energy and resource intensive goods are met with little regard for sustainable resource use.

(<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/alistair_rae/5342688529/in/photolist-997Fat-aaXJPg-jpDKwu-7stWH3-8JEwWB-cmGoDo-aR7pfg-bsZtRb-9Lq3Ev-8JEwXK-8JEwSc-8JEwUn-8JEwYV-fg29L8">Meandering Mammal/Flickr)
The glaciers of the Hindu Kush mountain range are heavily relied on for water, food, energy, and more. A new study says hundreds of millions of people are at risk from the glaciers melting. ()

Rasul notes that reversing this trend is inherently difficult, given that mountain communities bear the cost of conservation, but receive only a few of the benefits due to “a lack of institutional mechanisms and policy arrangements for sharing the benefits and costs of conservation.”

In order to maximize benefits to upstream and downstream communities, the authors say a nexus approach that looks to understand the interdependencies of food, water, and energy, can maximize synergies and manage trade-offs. As the water intensity of food and energy production increases, the recognition of the role of glaciers and other hydrological resources in the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem will be vital in promoting its sustainable use.

 

Glacier stories you may have missed this week – 10/6

California droughts and glacier melts lead to massive Mt. Shasta mudslide

“Experts believe glacial melting, accelerated by the drought, may have released “pockets of water” that destabilized massive ice blocks and causing the debris flow Saturday afternoon in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, officials said.”

Read more about Mt. Shasta mudslide in the Los Angles Times.

 

The culprit of glacier melting – pollution

“When Kaser’s team looked at ice cores previously drilled at two sites high in the western Alps – the Colle Gnifetti glacier saddle 4,455 m up on Monte Rosa near the Swiss–Italian border, and the Fiescherhorn glacier at 3,900 m in the Bernese Alps – they found that in around 1860 layers of glacial ice started to contain large amounts of soot.”

Read more about how pollution melts glaciers instead of rising temperatures in Climate Central news.

 

Cooling of the Earth increases erosion rates

“Every year, billions of tons of rock and soil vanish from Earth’s surface, scoured from mountains and plains and swept away by wind, rain, and other elements. The chief driver of this dramatic resurfacing is climate, according to a new study. And when the global temperature falls, erosion kicks into overdrive.”

Read more about cold climate shrinks mountains in Advancing Science, Serving Society (AAAS) news.

Glacier stories you may have missed – 9/22/14

Tibetan glaciers have shrunk by 15 percent

“The study attributes the retreat of glaciers and thawing of frozen earth to global warming, suggesting a significant impact on the water security of the subcontinent. Rivers such as the Brahmaputra have their source on the Tibetan plateau, where it flows as the Yarlung Zangbo before turning at “the great bend” and entering India.”

Read the Hindu Times article here.

Nepalese mountain communities fear melting glaciers and flooding

“‘I lost my grandchild and daughter to a huge landslide,’ 80-year old Dorje Sherpa said in the remote Dingboche village, lying at an altitude of nearly 5,000m. Nearly 14 years ago, they were crushed by a huge landslide caused by flooding from a glacial lake in nearby Amadablam mountain.”

Read the IRIN Asia story here.

New book looks at vanishing glacier’s impact on America

“As world temperatures soar, public outcry has focused on the threat to polar ice sheets and sea ice. Yet there is another impact of global warming—one much closer to home—that spells trouble for Americans: the extinction of alpine glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. The epicenter of the crisis is Glacier National Park, Montana, whose peaks once held one-hundred-and-fifty glaciers. Only twenty-five survive. The park provides a window into the future of climate impacts for mountain ranges around the globe.”

Read an excerpt from Christopher White’s “The Melting World: A Journey Across America’s Melting Glaciers” here.

 

As glaciers melt, bodies resurface

In June 2012, an Alaska Army National Guard helicopter was flying over the Colony Glacier on a routine training flight when the crew noticed bits of wreckage scattered on the ice. The twisted metal, bits of cloth and other debris turned out to be all that was left of a C-124 Globemaster II troop transport that crashed in 1952, killing all 52 people on board.

In June of this year, the Department of Defense said it identified the remains of 17 servicemen from the crash site. “It’s taken 60 years for the wreckage and portions of the plane to actually come out of the glacier underneath all that ice and snow,” said Gregory Berg, a forensic anthropologist for the military, in a 2012 interview. “It’s starting to erode out now.”

The crash site was nothing like that of a nearly intact World War II-era fighter found in the Sahara. Because of the to the glacier’s splitting ice crevasses, much of the plane, and the plane’s remaining crew, are likely still frozen after 60 years. The location of the troop transport, which was known not long after the crash, had been lost because of the glacier’s movement and the opening and closing of those crevasses.

The reappearance of a long-lost body in the ice isn’t a new thing and will likely become more common as global climate change melts more ice, revealing the frozen corpses of people thought to be missing forever.

The most famous glacier find happened over two decades ago. In 1991, two German tourists were climbing the Similaun peak on a sunny afternoon in the Italian Alps near the Austrian border when they spied a body lying facedown and half-frozen in the ice. What was left of the body’s skin was hardened, light brown in color, and stretched tightly across its skeleton.

The man the tourists found turned out to be more than 5,000 years old. Named Ötzi, after the Ötzal region of the Alps he was found in, the natural mummy provided a look into Copper Age Europe. He had tools, clothes and even shoes frozen along with him. Ötzi’s remarkable preservation (he’s Europe’s oldest natural mummy) was due to him being covered in snow and later ice shortly after death, shielding him from decay.

Ötzi the Iceman, a well-preserved natural mummy of a Chalcolithic (Copper Age) man from about 3300 BC, who was found in 1991 in the Schnalstal glacier in the Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)
Ötzi the Iceman, a well-preserved natural mummy of a Chalcolithic (Copper Age) man from about 3300 BC, who was found in 1991 in the Schnalstal glacier in the Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)

Last summer, elsewhere in the Alps, a rescue helicopter pilot spotted something that shouldn’t be in the glaciers surrounding the Matterhorn: abandoned equipment and clothing wrapped around bones. Those remains turned out to be those of 27-year-old British climber Jonathan Conville, who had disappeared on the mountain in 1979. Hundreds of people have been reported missing from the area surrounding the Matterhorn and melting ice means more of them might be found.

The tiny town of Peio, high up in the Italian Alps, has grown accustomed to this phenomenon. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the peaks, caves and glaciers around Peio were the scene of heavy fighting during World War I between Imperial and Italian forces. From 1915-1918, the two sides fought along the hundreds of miles of the Italian Front where more than a million soldiers died and two million more were wounded in the aptly named White War.

Funeral in Peio, 2012, of two soldiers who fell at the Battle of Presena, May 1918. (Laura Spinney/The Telegraph)
Funeral in Peio, 2012, of two soldiers who fell at the Battle of Presena, May 1918. (Laura Spinney/The Telegraph)

As the Alpine glaciers melt high above Peio, rifles, equipment, bits of tattered uniforms and even letters and diaries from a hundred years ago again see the light of day. Though many of these relics are displayed in the town’s war museum, many more are looted by treasure hunters hoping to resell them on the black market.

The frozen, mummified bodies of the Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers have also started to resurface. In 2012, two soldiers who died in the 1918 Battle of Presena were given a military funeral in Peio. When they died, the two young Austrian fighters were buried top-to-toe in a crevasse in the Presena Glacier. As with the Alaska crash, only the glacier decides when and where to give up a body. But humans, by changing our planet’s atmosphere and climate, are giving glaciers a strong nudge.

The remains of two Austrian soldiers found on the Presena Glacier in 2012. (Office for Archaeological Finds, Autonomous Province of Trento)
The remains of two Austrian soldiers found on the Presena Glacier in 2012. (Office for Archaeological Finds, Autonomous Province of Trento)

Scientists find yet another negative impact of glacial melt: ocean acidification

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/32/College_Fjord.jpg
One of the College Fjord glaciers as it flows into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Ocean acidification from the meltwater is yet other negative impact of rising temperatures. (Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers have recently uncovered previously unknown negative environmental impact of accelerated glacial melt. If reductions in freshwater availability, landslides, outburst floods and sea level rise were not bad enough, ocean acidification can be added to the list.

Ocean acidification is a well-known process, though it has not previously been linked to glaciers. Scientists have recognixed that the chemistry of the world’s oceans has been changing as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. About one-third of the carbon dioxide that humans release each year dissolves in the oceans, making them more acid, much as dissolving carbon dioxide in tapwater makes seltzer, its characteristic tartness due to its acidity. This acidification reduces the concentration of carbonate ions that are essential to the formation of the mineral shells of marine organisms, whether large molluscs, corals, or microscopic plants such as plankton. If the saturation level of these ions in seawater falls too low, the shells begin to dissolve.

Jeremy Mathis and Wiley Evans, experts in chemical oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Ocean Acidification Research Center, recently published a paper that examines the chemistry of fresh-water plumes from glaciers that directly discharge into Prince William Sound in Alaska. The glacial meltwater accumulates in the sound during the summer, when melting is most pronounced. That freshwater eventually ends up in the Gulf of Alaska, when the tides pick up at the end of the summer. “We are seeing that the glacial plume inside and moving out into the Gulf of Alaska is far more extensive than we thought it was going to be,” said Mathis, “one of our conclusions is that the glaciers are having quite an extensive impact on the water chemistry of Prince William Sound.” They found reduced concentrations of carbonate ions more than 10 miles offshore, as well as other chemical changes that can harm shells.

Tidewater glaciation is found both above and below the water's surface. (via the National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/glba/naturescience/glaciers.htm)
Tidewater glaciation is found both above and below the water’s surface. (via the National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/glba/naturescience/glaciers.htm)

Building on this research, they are leading a project that will send three remotely controlled vessels into Prince William Sound to collect more data on the water chemistry. In this round of study, the additional data will help identify the processes that are occurring due to glacial run-off, and help pinpoint which species are most vulnerable in the Sound. They are also exploring the interactions between the glacier meltwater and the waters of the open seas; these may combine to exacerbate the ocean acidification.

As Jeremy Mathis, a lead oceanographer in the study explains, “if the saturation state becomes too low, the waters can become corrosive to shell building organisms.” This has dire implications not only for the organisms themselves, but for the foodwebs within marine ecosystems—and for the humans who depend on healthy ecosystems for fishing.

The project, funded partly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is exploring glacially-fed Alaskan waters this summer. It includes two yellow surfboard-like Carbon wave gliders that move across the surface of the water. The Slocum Glider is a yellow torpedo-like sensor that dives underwater to depths of 600 feet capturing profiles of the ocean. The researchers consider this technology a “revolution,” making study the oceans far less expensive and data more available and extensive. In addition, the team will work with tour companies and launch with instruments from those ships. This strategy not only is cost-effective, but also gives the researchers the opportunity to share with the public the environmental issues they are studying.

There is a lot at stake in the Prince William Sound and outlying Gulf of Alaska. While their work is valuable in understanding how glacier loss will affect aquatic ecosystems around the world, the loss of marine organisms is a big threat for their region. Ultimately, the project aims to understand the dynamics of the sound and Gulf of Alaska, not only for the sake of science, but also so that the fishing community, armed with fuller information, can begin exploring ways to adapt to their changing environment.