A recent video by NASA summarizes how the rapid melting of Asia’s high mountain glaciers, also know as Earth’s “Third Pole,” is affecting water availability. The video explains how NASA’s High Mountain Asia Team (HiMAT) aims to help in adaptation efforts by providing data and tools.
The video accompanies a feature article that highlights the project, which is described as “the most comprehensive survey ever made of snow, ice and water in these mountains and how they are changing.” Now in its third year, the team studies “three decades of data on this region in three broad areas: weather and climate; ice and snow; and downstream hazards and impacts.”
Due to the difficulties and dangers of visiting these high glaciated regions, “for most of human history, a detailed scientific study of these mountains was impossible,” according to the article. But “the satellite era has given us the first opportunity to observe and measure snow and ice cover safely in places where no human has ever set foot.”
The goals of the program include creating “an authoritative estimate of the water budget of this region and a set of products local policy makers can use in planning for a changing water supply,” called the Glacier and Snow Melt (GMELT) Toolbox.
NASA’s video explains the mission of HiMAT and provides contextual information on the receding of glaciers of the Third Pole.
“Never stop being curious…” That’s Pierre Markuse’s advice. Markuse, who is based in Hamm, Germany, processes images taken from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites and NASA’s Landsat orbiters.
Aside from their beauty, his images capture the impact of anthropogenic climate change. The thousands of years old ice of the United States, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Russia, and Iceland, among other nations, is seen in vivid color and from high about the Earth’s surface. But side by side images, such as the ones below of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, show the vast amount of glacier retreat that has occurred in just the last several decades.
Markuse’s images give us a unique perspective from which to admire—and lament—the state of Earth’s cryosphere.
Famous for being the largest and fastest-thinning glacier in Greenland—and creating the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier has recently increased in size. For the past 20 years it has been melting, but during 2016-2017 it grew vertically about 100 feet, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
With so much news about global warming, it’s rare to hear about a glacier that’s expanding. It is crucial to note, though, that the glacier’s growth is not because climate change has suddenly stopped. Rather, it’s expansion can be attributed to cooler temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. The cooling occurred in 2016 and is likely due to the natural variability of North Atlantic Oscillation.
The waters of the Atlantic will eventually warm again and could bring about renewed melting of the Jakobshavn Glacier—and higher sea levels.
“At first we didn’t believe it,” NASA’s Ala Khazendar said. “We had pretty much assumed that Jakobshavn would just keep going on as it had over the last 20 years.”
From Secrets of the Ice: The recovery of a small blunt arrow, radiocarbon-dated to Late Antique Little Ice Age, is a testimony to the importance of hunting during this period. Due to its small size, it is very likely to be a toy arrow. From a young age, children had to practice and master the art of bow-and-arrow. It was essential for survival, especially during harsh climatic conditions. The toy arrow was found in the glaciated mountain pass at Lendbreen in Breheimen National Park, southern Norway. The unlucky child probably lost it in the snow and thought it was gone forever. Not so, the ice preserved it for 1,400 years.
Read about this find and more glacier archaeology here.
Counting on NASA’s ICESat-2
From NASA: NASA’s most advanced laser instrument of its kind launched into space earlier this fall. According to the agency, the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, provides critical observations of how ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice are changing, leading to insights into how those changes impact people where they live.
Glaciers on Svalbard Survived the Holocene Thermal Optimum
From Quaternary Science Reviews: “About 60% of Svalbard is covered by glaciers today, but many of these glaciers were much reduced in size or gone in the Early Holocene… Relative sea level has been rising during the last few millennia in the north and western parts of Spitsbergen, while land still emerges in the remaining part of Svalbard. Here we show that this sea level rise in the northwest is caused by the regrowth of glaciers in the Mid- to Late Holocene that slowed down, and even reversed, the post-glacial isostatic uplift and caused the crust to subside over large areas of Spitsbergen.”
Researchers at the Centre for GeoGenetics and a NASA glaciologist, Joe MacGregor, have discovered an enormous crater buried beneath Hiawatha Glacier in northern Greenland. The crater’s c-shape and planar deformation of nearby quartz samples indicate that this crater was created by a massive meteor. Using ice-penetrating radar from NASA’s Operation IceBridge, researchers discovered the crater “hiding in plain sight.” It is the first impact crater found under ice.
The “Hiawatha Impact Crater” spans 19 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep, making it among the largest craters on our planet. Evidence suggests that this crater is geologically young, and the impact could’ve occurred as recently as the last Ice Age (some 12-115 thousand years ago). View this week’s Video of the Week below to learn more about the Hiawatha Impact Crater.
This Photo Friday, take a look at NASA’s Global Ice Viewer, an online interactive that shows how climate change is impacting glaciers, sea ice and continental ice sheets worldwide. Earlier this month, GlacierHub has also reported that climate change is behind more frequent and powerful avalanches in Alaska. Roughly 10 percent of the world’s surface is covered in ice, but as temperatures rise, the ice is quickly disappearing. Join us in viewing some of Alaska’s great glaciers, before and after several years of intense global warming.
If you wish to view more of Alaska’s glaciers, click here.
The photos displayed below were curated by NASA, but the original collection belongs to the Glacier Photograph Collection, a searchable database of digital photographs operated by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
How does debris affect and influence glacier hydrology? And how can particulate pollution on glaciers be measured?
Kimberly Casey, a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, studied six glacier sites around the world to understand glacier debris pollution. Her work led her from the volcanically-influenced glaciers in Iceland and New Zealand to dust-influenced glaciers in Nepal and Switzerland.
In an interview with NASA she states that the type of particulates on a glacier surface, along with the thickness of the dust and debris can affect a glacier’s melt rate. “Because glaciers are a key water resource in many parts of the world, it is important to understand how melt rates may be changing over time,” said Casey.
Her work proved that satellite data could help map out which types of particulates are on glaciers.
“From this project, I was able to establish some methods for using satellite data to map dust and debris types on any glacier around the globe. We now have a satellite record of over a decade and we can look back at how dust and debris on glaciers have changed over time and how this is affecting the melt of glaciers. Going to the field to collect samples or do measurements is expensive, and it would be hard to get to the 200,000-plus glaciers on Earth. So it’s important to use Earth-observing satellite data to quickly and efficiently map glaciers,” stated Casey.
This Photo Friday, enjoy some of the pictures that Casey took during her field trip to Ngozumpa Glacier in the Khumbu region of Nepal. For more photos from her field visits across the globe, visit the NASA Flickr page.
We’ve covered images from NASA’s Operation IceBridge on Photo Fridaybefore. But as any good project is wont to do, they continue to release spectacular images on their main site and Twitter page. The project began its 9th year with the launch of two simultaneous campaigns. This is a first for the project, launching two flights from two continents (South America and Antarctica) at the same time, but the team hopes it will allow them to expand their coverage into East Antarctica while maintaining surveys near the Antarctic Peninsula.
This Friday, enjoy some images of glaciers from a recent NASA IceBridge flight.
Outside of Greenland, a quarter of the Arctic’s ice lies in Canada, much of it covering the Queen Elizabeth Islands. A recent paper in Environmental Research Letters found that, during the decade between 2005 and 2015, surface melt from the ice caps and glaciers of the Queen Elizabeth Islands increased by a staggering 900 percent, from an annual average of 3 gigatons to 30 gigatons of water.
This vast input to the ocean renders the Canadian Arctic a major contributor to sea level rise. As the Arctic continues to warm, researchers expect the glacial melt to increase significantly in the next decades. While the glaciers of the Canadian Arctic remain, take a look at some striking NASA imagery of the glaciated Queen Elizabeth Islands.
For example, the mosaics obviate the differences between the eastern and western parts of the icefield. Heavy precipitation on the landscape west of the icefield keeps the terrain green and lush, while the eastern regions of retreat are characterized by bare, brown rock. Glacial flour, a fine sediment produced when ice grinds over of bedrock, colors the proglacial lakes a distinct turquoise.
Enjoy observing the Patagonian Icefield through the images below.
The Patagonia region receives up to four meters (160 inches) of rain and snow per year, making it one of the wettest and windiest regions on Earth. Unfortunately, the Patagonian glaciers have been shrinking at an accelerated rate over the last century, leaving scientists to battle intense weather conditions to understand why. Studies show, for example, that a majority of the glaciers of Patagonia and Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego have lost nearly 40 percent of their size since 1945. About 18,000 years ago, the North and South Patagonian ice fields were much more expansive, but today span only 13,000 square kilometers. Using NASA’s cloud-free images, thick plumes in the fjords are visible, which show how much sediment the glaciers erode as they slide down toward the ocean, threatening sea level rise.
Learn more about the melting glaciers of Patagonia here.
In a recent article in Nature Climate Change, Sonja van Renssen describes various mediums through which visual artists and musicians represent climate change. She argues that illustrating climate change through art can ground it in our culture and open up new dialogues. She offers several examples, including Justin Brice Guariglia, who recently became the first artist in history to be involved in a NASA mission. He is in the midst of a five-year commitment to join NASA flights over Greenland from 2015 to 2020 in order to visually document changing climate.
Guariglia’s work is inspired by scientific data, but it is not featured directly in his art. His prints focus on the connection between humans and nature during the Anthropocene, the current geologic age of the Earth. As Renssen explains in her paper, the Anthropocene is the time period when “human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment.”
Guariglia’s enormous pieces dwarf the viewer. Jakobshavn I, a recent project, is an acrylic print on polystyrene that represents a glacier in Greenland. He prints his large-scale photographs on durable materials. Guariglia’s hope is that while the glaciers themselves may not last, his art will endure, according to Renssen.
Guariglia is a member of the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) project, which researches the effects of ocean warming on Greenland’s glaciers. The project takes high resolution elevation measurements of these glaciers each year during the spring to measure annual glacier retreat. In addition, a second mission takes place each summer, during which 250 temperature and salinity probes measure the temperature and salinity of water in the Atlantic Ocean. These combined datasets will improve modeling of sea and ice interactions, helping to improve estimates of the contribution of Greenland’s ice to global sea level rise.
In an interview with GlacierHub, Josh Willis, the principal investigator for the OMG NASA mission, explained that he is “excited by the collaboration with Justin because it means we might be able to connect with people who have a hard time relating climate change to their own daily lives. That’s important to me because climate change is a big deal, and I think we’ve been slow to accept it.”Other scientific organizations like the National Science Foundation agree with NASA’s investment in blending climate change and art. The Antarctic Artists and Writers Program sponsors individuals in the humanities, including painters and photographers, to be inspired by and help document the heritage in Antarctica.
The trend in using art to portray the detrimental effects of climate change could be a creative alternative to communicating environmental risks. For example, alumni and faculty from the University of Miami recently used film, photography, and land art to illustrate climate change issues. Like Guariglia and Willis, this intersection of science and art could be uniquely effective in communicating these risks.