Photo Friday: GlacierHub’s Top Stories of 2018

This week’s Photo Friday highlights images from GlacierHub’s top 10 most viewed stories of 2018. Our top posts cover a range of topics from weather reporting on Mt. Kilimanjaro to photojournalism in Iceland. Some stories delve into the retelling of scientific events while others recount interviews with researchers.

Greatest Snowfall on Kilimanjaro Glaciers in Years

This post details the numerous reports of snowfall on Mt. Kilimanjaro last March, which in some cases prevented climbers from reaching the summit. The first week of March brought a net snow accumulation of nearly 50 cm to the Northern Icefield. While the long rains often begin during this month, snowfall this time around appears to be somewhat exceptional.

Two snowy views of Mount Kilimanjaro from the Moshi area (Source: Doug Hardy/Kiboice).

 

Massive Impact Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland Glacier

The Hiawatha Impact Crater is among the largest impact craters ever discovered on Earth, as well as the northernmost and first to be located under ice. The discovery of this impact crater in remote northwestern Greenland might have significant implications for the most recent sudden climate change event in Earth’s history. Click here to read more about this substantial crater.

A fragment of the Agpalilik meteorite, outside of the Geological Museum in Copenhagen (Source: Mads Bødker/Flickr).

 

Leaving No Stone Unturned: An Interview with Yellowstone’s Ice Patch Archaeologist

Craig M. Lee is a renowned researcher in the field of ice patch archaeology. In an interview with GlacierHub, Lee explains more about his work at INSTAAR and his recent video on the Greater Yellowstone region.

Lee out in the field at Yellowstone National Park (Source: Craig M. Lee).

 

Reconstructing Norway’s Oldest Garment: The Tunic of Lendbreen

On August 4, 2011, the upper edges of Lendbreen Glacier at the Lomseggen mountain in Breheimen National Park in Norway became exposed. Near the melting ice, archaeologists discovered a well-preserved 1,700-year-old tunic, the oldest piece of clothing found in Norway and one of only a few surviving garments from the 1st millennium A.D. in all of Europe. This post details the discovery of the tunic, its history, and its restoration.

Iceland’s Vanishing Beauty: An Interview with Michael Kienitz

Michael Kienitz, a photojournalist based in Wisconsin, shares his experience with vanishing glaciers in an exhibition entitled “Iceland’s Vanishing Beauty.” This exhibition 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. In the interview with GlacierHub, Kienitz explains the process of documenting the photos and videos for his upcoming exhibition.

Ice cave visitor examining a moulon at Vatnajokull National Park southeast Iceland (Souce: Michael Kienitz).

 

Other Stories from GlacierHub’s Most Viewed of 2018 List:

What the Yak Herders of Northern Bhutan Are Saying About Global Warming

Photo Friday: An Antique Bicycle Emerges from Melting Italian Glacier

North Atlantic Icebergs: Hubris, Disaster, and Safeguards

Still Unresolved, Saga of Jumbo Glacier Resort Heads Back to Canadian Court

Highest Plants on Earth Discovered Near Glacier

 

Is Deforestation Driving Mt. Kenya’s Glacier Recession?

High above the African continent, Mount Kenya’s glaciers are rapidly receding. A new study published in the American Journal of Environmental Science and Engineering is one of the few to analyze the retreat of African glaciers, finding that forest cover has the highest correlation with Mt. Kenya’s glacier coverage. The study’s climate prediction models found that the current trend in glacier thinning will continue, although at a slower rate, until the glaciers completely disappear by 2100. In addition, the research found forest cover to be responsible for 75 percent of changes in glacier coverage during the study period, from 1984 to 2017. But can local deforestation truly be so impactful?

2017 Glacier Coverage on Mt. Kenya (Source: American Journal of Environmental Science and Engineering).

About 7 percent of Kenya is currently forested, and the average trees per person measurement is well below the global average. The country suffered from massive deforestation during the last century due to logging, charcoal burning, and agricultural expansion. In this same period, Mt. Kenya has lost roughly 92 percent of its ice cap, according to the study. Out of its once expansive 18 glaciers that reached thousands of feet beneath the 17,057-foot peak, only eight remain, with all of the remaining glaciers suffering substantial losses in both thickness and area, a change the authors attribute to the lack of forest cover.

However, earlier research conducted on other glaciers in Africa conflicts with these findings. At Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak lying 324 kilometers south of Mt. Kenya, glacier recession has been found to be more dependent on regional precipitation patterns than local deforestation ones, according to studies from both 2008 and 2004. A study in ScienceDirect also found that glacier recession near Mt. Kilimanjaro was not affected by local deforestation. And “long-term ice retreat at the summit of Kilimanjaro is most likely to be influenced by changes in local land-use as well as more regional free-air changes,” argues further research in Global and Planetary Change.

Without additional investigation focused on Mt. Kenya, it remains difficult for scientists to draw firm conclusions about the causes of glacier recession.

Batian Peak on Mt. Kenya (Source: Stefan Leitner/Flickr).

The government of Kenya has attempted to reverse deforestation impacts with efforts to prevent logging throughout the early 2000s, but the most recent logging ban has recently been relaxed. This places Mt. Kenya at risk of further glacial retreat, which raises concerns about water sources for the many rivers fed by Mt. Kenya’s glaciers.

“As climate variability increases, the Mount Kenya watershed becomes more important,” Kathleen Galvin, an anthropology professor and director of the Africa Center at Colorado State University told GlacierHub. “If the glaciers retreat at the same time as seasonal climate variability occurs, people, livestock, and wildlife will become more vulnerable,” she warns.

Mt. Kenya’s glaciers serve as the headwaters of the Ewaso Nyiro river watershed which provides water to the high potential agricultural communities around the mountain. The river is also important to the northern Kenyan pastoralists, including the Samburu, Somali, and Borana, according to Galvin. The study finds that the current drying out trend of rivers that have catchments in the Mt. Kenya forests will continue, leading to an increased water shortage and vulnerability for the area.

Study area on Mt. Kenya (Source: American Journal of Environmental Science and Engineering).

The researchers used Landsat and climate data from the last 33 years to find correlations between glacier coverage and forest cover, temperature, precipitation, solar insolation, and relative humidity. Forest coverage was by far the leading driver found by the authors for the glacier retreat on Mt. Kenya, with temperature also responsible for 16 percent of the changes in glacier coverage. In addition, models were used to predict future conditions until 2045.

According to Abe Goldman of the Department of Geography and Center for African Studies at the University of Florida, it would be a considerable achievement if forest cover within Mt. Kenya National Park boundaries could even be maintained at present levels in the coming years.

“Given current demographic and land use trends and conditions, there is little probability of actual forest increase (though there might be slightly more trees on farms),” he told GlacierHub.

Goldman’s concerns ran deeper, however, as he found some of the study’s assertions to be “questionable.”

“There is no causal mechanism noted that would generate increased glacial mass if ‘forest cover’ were increased,” he said. “Nor is it clear which forest cover at which location(s) might lead to glacial expansion.”

He also notes that the populations and intensive land use of Kenya and the surrounding countries, and especially close to Mt. Kenya National Park, have drastically increased, with 60 percent of the population being agricultural and reliant on biomass for energy. “The major role of population growth surrounding Mt. Kenya, especially adjacent to park boundaries, is neglected in the article,” said Goldman.

The authors of the study could not be reached for comment by the time of publication of this article. However, it is clear that further research is needed to study Mt. Kenya’s glaciers and other glaciers throughout the African continent in order to grasp the rapid changes that have heavy ties to both surrounding ecosystems and local communities.

Greatest Snowfall on Kilimanjaro Glaciers in Years

Authored by Doug Hardy of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, the following blog posts covering the March snowfall on Kilimanjaro’s glaciers were originally published on Kiboice on March 14 and 30, 2018. Kiboice is dedicated to sharing news and stories on Kilimanjaro’s summit glaciers and climate.

The first week of March brought a net snow accumulation of nearly 50 cm to the Northern Icefield, which by any measure is a snowy interval on Kilimanjaro. This precipitation follows 25 to 30 cm of continuous ablation during February. A context for the event follows.

Figure 1: Sentinel-2 satellite images of the exact same scene, on the last day of February and on 5 March (Source: Doug Hardy/Kiboice)

Figure 1 shows Sentinel-2 satellite images of the exact same scene, on the last day of February and on 5 March. As detailed in another post, snow cover was primarily confined to steep north-facing slopes by the end of February. Although considerable cloud cover is present around the mountain on the 28 Feb. image, the summit caldera is mostly cloud free. Note the red squares, which are co-located on the 5 March image for orientation. High clouds partially obscure the March image, yet pervasive snow cover is visible. A sharp snowline at ~4,400 m is visible on the left-hand side of the image.

Figure 2: Two snowy views of the mountain from the Moshi area (Source: Doug Hardy/Kiboice).

Figure 2 provides two snowy views of the mountain from the Moshi area (SENE credit). Despite low resolution of the 3 March image (upper), substantial snowfall obviously occurred since the satellite image acquired three days earlier. Snowcover appears to be somewhat more uniform than it was on 8 March (lower) – consistent with the timing and magnitude of snowfall recorded at the summit weather station.

At the Northern Icefield, satellite telemetry (Argos) shows ~12 cm of accumulation on 2 March, ~15 cm on the 3rd, and ~5 cm on each of the next four days. The precision of these daily totals will be improved when higher temporal resolution data are recovered from the automated weather station. Due to the diurnal cycle of climate on the mountain, some ablation likely also occurred on most of these days and is probably responsible for the patchier snow cover on the 8 March image.

A fascinating element of this snowfall period is provided by a depiction of regional-scale circulation (Fig. 3; Cameron Beccario credit). Here, airflow on the morning of 4 March is illustrated at the 500 hPa pressure level, equivalent to Kilimanjaro summit elevation. Airflow at this level appears to have been influenced by Tropical Cyclone Dumazile beginning on the 2nd as the storm intensified, continuing through about 7 March. The relationship between Kilimanjaro snowfall and cyclones in the southwest Indian Ocean is being investigated with collaborators Thomas Mölg and Emily Collier (Friedrich-Alexander University), along with Timba Nimrod.

Figure 3: A westerly wind prevailed through the snowy interval (Source: Doug Hardy/Kiboice).

 

In Figure 3, Kilimanjaro’s location is shown by the green circle. Note the westerly wind, which prevailed through the snowy interval. Wind measurements at the summit (via telemetry) verify this airflow, which is atypical at the summit (only ~5% of hourly means are from 270° ±30°). Riming of the instruments appears to have occurred during the event, causing data loss particularly on the 3rd, 4th, and 6th. Nonetheless, such verification of airflow by in situ measurements is not a trivial finding – for very few continuous meteorological measurements exist from nearly 6000 m with which to compare the output from the numerical model.

 

Figure 4: Circulation and humidity on 3 March (Source: Doug Hardy/Kiboice).

 

Finally, Figure 4 depicts circulation and humidity on 3 March. Here the highest humidity is shown in cyan color, suggesting a Congo basin origin for this precipitation event.

 

 

The previous paragraphs provide information on early March snowfall. Further details have only recently emerged, because snow on one of the solar panels prevented satellite transmissions for ~5 days during the middle of the month, and then again on 20 March. During this time, extensive cloud cover also prevented the acquisition of useful satellite imagery from above.

As March comes to a close, telemetry is working well again (with thanks to Mike Rawlins at the University of Massachusetts Climate Center for help on this). We now know that net snow accumulation for the first three weeks of March amounted to 63 cm on the Northern Icefield. As the ESA Sentinel-2 image above shows, snow blankets the entire summit caldera and upper slopes of the mountain (look closely, to discriminate snow from stratus fractus clouds). This is the greatest snow accumulation on the glacier in years— with additional snowfall likely during the remaining months of the long rains (typically March through May).

For those climbing the mountain in the months ahead, fear not. Snow on the routes will quickly compact, and you will have a chance to experience conditions more typical of past decades. Dust will be minimal, beautiful nieve penitentes will grow as the dry season progresses, and you will encounter much happier glaciers. It is also important to keep in mind that this accumulation is surely temporary, and will not change the reality that these glaciers are disappearing rapidly.

[UPDATE 04/02: Another Sentinal-2 image acquired five days later provides a clearer depiction of summit snow cover (below; centered further east than the image above). Some ablation has taken place, allowing recognition of the caldera rim as well as that of the Reusch Crater and the inner Ash Pit. Snow cover remains sufficiently thick that snow and ice cannot be distinguished at this resolution. We can now see a sharp transient snowline on the west side, at approximately 4,750 m— which is 1000 m below the caldera rim.]

 

Photo Friday: Exploring the Possibility of Glaciers in Wakanda

The gleaming sky-scrapers secluded by vast, white-peaked mountain ranges are some of the first clues that you might be in Golden City, Wakanda. The newest addition to the Marvel cinematic universe, “Black Panther,” is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which contains exclusive metal vibranium, but does it contain glaciers?

Wakanda is depicted as being located on the edge of Lake Turkana, somewhere near the intersection of Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia. This would put it roughly in East Africa, which contains two glaciated ranges— the Ruwenzori Mountains and the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. These glaciers provide important sources of livelihood for those nearby, from fertile soils to lush forests with important water catchment services.

Praised for having a “superb cast” and stunning visuals, “Black Panther” has become one of the highest grossing and top-rated Marvel movies of all time. It goes beyond its excellent cinematic exterior to “deal with the issues of being of African descent,” says Director Ryan Coogler when speaking to TIME. In the same light, it has been labeled a “cultural touchtone” by some due to its diversity in film and representation of the African culture. For this week’s Photo Friday, explore the possibility of a glaciated Wakanda, and let us know what you think in the comments. “Black Panther” is currently playing in theaters now.

 

The Avengers’ ship is seen entering Wakanda. The white-tipped peaks on the mountains along the border broaden our suspicions of glaciers in the country (Source: Fandom/Ultimate Avengers II DVD).

 

The location of Wakanda in the Black Panther film (Source: Fandom).

 

Travelers traverse the Ruwenzori Mountains in Uganda. Could this be a popular activity for the people of Wakanda? (Source: Mandala Travel/Creative Commons).

 

Mt. Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania and is the highest peak in Africa. Perhaps it would serve as a point of interest for some nearby superheroes? (Source: Creative Commons).

 

Try and spot some potential clues to glaciers in the film’s official trailer below: