OMG: An Artist Flew over the Greenland Icesheet

In a recent article in Nature Climate ChangeSonja 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.

Justin Brice Guariglia in front of his piece “APR 23, 2015 19:08:026 GMT.” (Source: Science Friday/Twitter).

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.

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One of Guariglia’s pieces on display at TwoThirtyOne Projects in New York City (Source: Justin Brice Guariglia/Instagram).

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.

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A land art piece in Sante Fe. Participants covered in blue tarp in the dry riverbed are meant to illustrate how climate change affects people at local levels (Source: Don Usner and 350 Earth).

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.

Photo Friday: Antarctic Glaciers Monitored by NASA

As the world’s fifth largest continent, Antarctica provides a unique record of the Earth’s past climate through its geomorphological record of glacier moraines. Antarctic glaciers terminate on land or in the sea as either floating ice shelves or grounded or floating outlet glaciers. As such, numerous climate scientists are conducting research about the ice shelf and glacier landforms in the southernmost continent to detect melting.

Specifically, a group of scientists with NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission have been doing field research over the Getz Ice Shelf in West Antarctica to collect data to monitor changes in polar ice and glaciers. The leading scientist, Nathan Kurtz, believes that Getz and glaciers in Antarctica are experiencing some of the highest basal melt rates in the world.

Take a look at some photos that demonstrate glacial melt in West Antarctica:

Getz crevasses (Source: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA)
Getz crevasses (Source: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA).


Evidence of a break along the front edge of Getz Ice Shelf, Antartica (Source: Margie Turrin/Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory).
Evidence of a break along the front edge of Getz Ice Shelf, Antartica (Source: Margie Turrin/Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory).


Glaciers on mountains in Marie Byrd Land above Getz Ice Shelf (source:NASA)
Glaciers on mountains in Marie Byrd Land above Getz Ice Shelf (Source: NASA).


Tidewater glacier on Antarctic coast (source: Jason Auch/Flickr)
A tidewater glacier on the Antarctic coast (Source: Jason Auch/Creative Commons).


Jean de Pomereu (French, b. 1969), Fissure 2 (Antarctica) from Sans Nom, 2008, archival inkjet print, 107 x 129 cm, Whatcom Museum, Gift of the artist
A large crack leading to an Antarctica glacier (Source: Jean de Pomereu/Creative Commons).

NASA’s IceBridge Project- More Than Just a Pretty Image

NASA’s IceBridge project looks at Earth’s polar regions in the largest ever collection of images taken from air.

Greenland’s Steenstrup Glacier
Greenland’s Steenstrup Glacier with the Denmark Straight in the background (Source: NASA’s IceBridge Project).

As NASA states, “These flights will provide a yearly, multi-instrument look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the Greenland and Antarctic ice.”

This image shows the calving of the Sermeq Kujatdleg glacier in Greenland
This image shows the calving of the Sermeq Kujatdleg glacier in Greenland (Source: NASA’s IceBridge Project).
fjord of Violin Glacier
Taken May 19th, 2016 of the fjord of Violin Glacier (Source: NASA’s IceBridge Project).

The speed of ice and glacial melt continues to surprise scientists. This project will provide a unique and informative three-dimensional view.

Currently information is being collected by regional observation and satellite data collected from NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat).  Being able to pair this data with the new three-dimensional images could lead to crucial advances in the field.

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Miles of sea ice (Source: NASA’s IceBridge Project).

Photo Friday: Tibetan Plateau From Space

55 million years ago, a major collision took place between two of the large blocks that form the Earth’s crust. The Indian Plate pushed into the Eurasian Plate, creating what is known as the Tibetan Plateau. The region, also known as the “Third Pole,” spans a million square miles and contains the largest amount of glacier ice outside of the poles. A photograph of the southern Tibetan Plateau taken from space was released June 17th, showing the dramatic topography in false color. The photograph, taken by the Sentinel-2A, was captured near Nepal and Sikkim, a northern state of India, on February 1st. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), “From their vantage point 800 km high, satellites can monitor changes in glacier mass, melting and other effects that climate change has on our planet.” This week, enjoy stunning satellite pictures of the Tibetan Plateau over time.

Tibetan Plateau taken from Sentinel-2A, released June 17, 2016 (Credit: ESA)
Tibetan Plateau taken from Sentinel-2A, released June 17, 2016 (Credit: ESA)

NASA also has taken photographs of the same plate collision from space, showing the snow-capped Himalayas, which are still rising.

Tibetan Plateau Plate T-48 from Space (NASA)
Tibetan Plateau Plate T-48 from Space (NASA)

A true-color image of the Tibetan Plateau, taken in 2003 by NASA’S MODIS Rapid Response Team, shows the region’s lakes as dark patches against the sand-colored mountains.

True-color photograph of Tibetan Plateau lakes (NASA--MODIS)
True-color photograph of Tibetan Plateau lakes (NASA–MODIS)

Prior to the true-color photograph, a spaceborne radar image of the Himalayan Mountains was taken in 1994 in southeast Tibet. Each color is assigned to a different radar frequency that depends of the direction that the radar was transmitted.

Spaceborne Radar image of Southeast Tibet, 1994 (NASA, JPL)
Spaceborne Radar image of Southeast Tibet, 1994 (NASA, JPL)

Photo Friday: Volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula

The Kamchatka Peninsula, located in remote Far East Russia, is part of the “Ring of Fire” and is known for its volcanic activity. The 102,400 square mile region has the highest concentration of active volcanoes in the world.

The Kamchatka Peninsula captured by the MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
(Photo credit MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.)

The Klyuchevskoy volcano is one of the seven active glacier-capped volcanoes in the remote region. At a towering 4,835 meters, the Klyuchevskoy, the area’s tallest volcano, is known for its beauty and symmetry.

Photograph of Klyuchevsky taken July 2006 (Wikimedia Commons)
Klyuchevskoy, as seen on July 2006. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Considered Kamchatka’s most active volcano, Klyuchevskoy has the likely potential to erupt and is currently listed as code orange. The volcano’s current lava flows still are no match for the 1994 eruption, which sent volcanic ash nine miles high into the atmosphere.

1994 eruption of the Klyuchevsky Volcano, taken by NASA
(Photo credit NASA.)

Over the past three decades, satellites have captured many eruptions within the Kamchatka Peninsula, like the 1994 eruption of Klyuchevskoy, seen here. In January of 2013, four volcanoes—Shiveluch, Bezymianny, Tolbachik, and Kizimen — erupted at the same time.

Ash plume over Shiveluch, one of the four volcanoes to erupt on january 1, 2013. (NASA)
Ash plume over Shiveluch, one of the four volcanoes that erupted January 2013. (Photo credit NASA.)

In 2010 a unique photograph of the region was taken from the International Space Station, providing a unique perspective of the glacier-capped volcanoes.

Kamchatka Peninsula as seen from the International Space Station (NASA)
Kamchatka Peninsula as seen from the International Space Station. (Photo credit NASA.)

Roundup: Glacial Melt, Photos, and Disasters

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

The Climate Post: Melting of Totten Glacier Could Trigger 6 Foot Sea-Level Rise

Totten Glacier
Totten Glacier (Photo:Esmee van Wijk/Australian Antarctic Division).

From Huffpost Green: “A new study published in the journal Nature is drawing attention to the effect of warming water on the world’s largest ice mass, Totten Glacier in East Antarctica. Melting of the glacier, which has an ice catchment area bigger than California, could lift oceans at least two meters (6.56 feet). According to researchers who mapped the shape of the ice sheet as well as the thickness of rocks and sediments beneath it to examine the historical characteristic of erosion of Totten’s advances and retreats, unabated climate change could cause the glacier to enter an irreversible and rapid retreat within the next century.”

Find out about Totten Glacier’s “tipping point.”


Spectacular view of fjord and glacier from NASA’s IceBridge

Violin Glacier fjord
Violin Glacier fjord, with Nord Glacier at the upper left corner (Photo:NASA/Maria José Viñas).

From Zee Media Bureau: “New Delhi: NASA’s IceBridge, an airborne survey of polar ice, recently captured this stunning view of fjord of Violin Glacier, with Nord Glacier at the upper left corner.  IceBridge took this image on May 16, 2016 as the aircraft crossed Greenland to fly central glacier flowlines in the east-central region of the country. This year marks IceBridge’s eighth spring campaign of science flights over Arctic sea and land.”

Learn more about NASA’s IceBridge campaign here.


Report Warns of Climate Change Disasters That Rival Hollywood’s

Venice, Italy is one of many places in danger of glacial melt-induced sea level rise (Photo:<a href="">Andrea Wyner for The New York Times</a>).
Venice, Italy is one of many places in danger of glacial melt-induced sea level rise (Photo:Andrea Wyner for The New York Times).

From the New York Times:

Stonehenge eroding under the forces of extreme weather. Venice slowly collapsing into its canals. The Statue of Liberty. gradually flooding.

Images like these, familiar from Hollywood climate-catastrophe thrillers, were evoked by a joint report, released on Thursday by Unesco, the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists, that detailed the threat climate change could pose to World Heritage sites on five continents.”

To learn more about the potential impact of glacial melt induced-sea level rise on some of the world’s most iconic heritage sites, click here.

Photo Friday: NASA’s Operation IceBridge

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s ongoing operation called IceBridge uses manned aircraft to study polar ice. IceBridge serves to bridge the gap between NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which stopped collecting data in 2009, and NASA’s second generation of the satellite (ICESat-2) which is scheduled to launch later this year.

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NASA P-3 Orion aircraft (Source: NASA)

The six year operation is the largest airborne survey of  Earth’s polar ice, and collects data about ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice in Greenland and the Antarctic. The goal is to document annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets along with collecting information to help with the modeling the effect of climate change on Earth’s polar ice, specifically in connection to possible sea-level rise.

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View from a NOAA P-3 aircraft showing the calving front of Sermeq Kujatdleq glacier (Source: NASA/John Sonntag)

IceBridge Airplanes fly over Greenland between March and May and in  over Antarctica between October and November. Smaller airplane surveys of ice around the world are also included in the IceBridge operation.

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Image of P-3 aircraft with data collection instruments labeled (Source: NASA)


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Image of P-3 aircraft with data collection instruments labeled Heimdal Glacier in southern Greenland, in an image captured on Oct. 13, 2015, from NASA Langley Research Center’s Falcon 20 aircraft flying 33,000 feet above mean sea level. (Source: NASA/John Sonntag)


Saunders Island and Wolstenholme Fjord with Kap Atholl in the background, taken April 2013. (Source: NASA / Michael Studinger)



Photo Friday: Upsala Glacier

Upsala Glacier, a stunning glacier within Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina, has been retreating rapidly due to climate change. NASA has found, through satellite imaging, that Upsala’s ice front has moved back approximately 2 miles since 2001, following a similar trend seen in the rest of Patagonia (the vast area at the southern extent of Chile and Argentina).

Also featured in the photos below is the Estancia Cristina–a popular ranch that many visitors use as an outpost on their journey through the glacial park, especially to see Upsala. The ranch offers unique views of the glaciers and its own beautiful scenery.

Upsala gets its namesake from the Swedish University (Uppsala University) that first sponsored glacier research in this area. The area has been extensively studied since, and Upsala is often used as an example of glacial retreat in Argentina. Upsala’s retreat is significant because of the size of the glacier; once the largest glacier in South America, it is now the third largest.

Argentinian glaciers, and Upsala in general, will aid in our further understanding of glacier dynamics.

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Roundup: Grounding Lines, Fault Lines and Algae-filled Pits

NASA reports on the Hidden Melting of Greenland’s Glaciers

“What’s causing this ‘big thaw’? Rignot’s team found that Greenland’s glaciers flowing into the ocean are grounded deeper below sea level than previously measured. This means that the warm ocean currents at depth can sweep across the glacier faces and erode them.“In polar regions, the upper layers of ocean water are cold and fresh,” he explains. “Cold water is less effective at melting ice. The real ocean heat is at a depth of 350-400 meters and below. This warm, salty water is of subtropical origin and melts the ice much more rapidly.”

To learn more, click here.

Biological interactions between Microalgae and Glacial Grazers

Microalgae. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Glaciers are known to harbor surprisingly complex ecosystems. On their surface, distinct cylindrical holes filled with meltwater and sediments are considered as hot spots for microbial life. The present paper addresses possible biological interactions within 5 the community of prokaryotic cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae (microalgae) and relations to their potential grazers, additional to their environmental controls…. We propose that, for the studied glaciers, nutrient levels related to recycling of limiting nutrients is the main factor driving variation in the community structure of microalgae and grazers.”

Read more about the study here.

Italy’s glaciers retreated by 40 percent: WWF

Matterhorn glacier
Courtesy of Wikipedia

“ROME: Alpine glaciers in Italy have lost an estimated 40 percent of their area over the last three decades, a recent report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has said.
“The situation of glaciers on the Italian side of the Alps is very worrying,” Xinhua news agency on Friday quoted Gianfranco Bologna, scientific director of WWF-Italy and co-author of the report as saying. The Hot Ice report was unveiled earlier this week, ahead of a crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference due to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11.”

Read more here.


Scientists Find Nitrogen Ice Glaciers on Pluto

Newly released close-up photographs from NASA’s New Horizons mission show evidence of exotic ice flow across dwarf-planet Pluto’s surface, indicating that Earth may not be the only planet with glacier-like geology. New Horizon’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shows close-up photos of a sheet of ice that appears to have glided across Pluto’s surface in similar manner as glacier movement on Earth.

On Earth, melting glaciers are often characterized by surface flows around obstacles and towards the point of deepest depression, often creating swirl-shaped surfaces. New photos from the New Horizons mission show that Pluto too exhibits this characteristic warped surface.

Ice flow on the Northern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Plain
Flowing ices on Pluto, characterized by swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark. Credits: NASA.

According to Bill McKinnon, the deputy leader of New Horizons Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging team, Pluto’s frosty temperature of minus-390 degrees Fahrenheit allows these ices to move in a manner similar to those on Earth.

This movement might still be continuing, scientists speculate, but it is difficult to discern from still photographs whether Pluto’s frozen ice is still flowing.

The ice stems from the center of Sputnik Planum, a craterless plain lying in “the heart of the heart” of Pluto. According to NASA scientists, this plain, lying in the western half of the Tombaugh region, appears to be no more than 100 million years old, making it a relatively young surface of Pluto. This region is likely still be being shaped by geological processes.

NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld, told NASA that the diverse and surprising findings of the New Horizons Pluto mission have been “truly thrilling.”

“We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars,” said mission co-investigator John Spencer of SwRI. “I’m really smiling.”

Plutos Carbon Monoxide "Bulls-eye"
The carbon monoxide “bulls-eye” in the heart-shaped region of Pluto. Credits: NASA.

The ice that comprises the plain is primarily composed of nitrogen, although it is also carbon monoxide- and methane-rich. New Horizon’s Ralph Instrument reveals that the concentration of carbon monoxide in ice steadily increases towards the center of the heart’s “bulls-eye.”

These findings call into question the very definition of “glaciers,” and whether this geological term can be applied not only to other planets, but also to different chemical compositions of ice. Glaciers, as interpreted by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, are composed of fallen snow that compresses into large, thickened ice masses over a number of years. The chemical makeup of snow differs largely from Pluto’s nitrogen-, carbon monoxide-, and methane-rich ice makeup. For now, scientists and the media seem content to use the term “glacier-like” when referring to Pluto’s newly discovered nitrogen ice flow.

Through the New Horizons mission, NASA scientists have also discovered Pluto’s latitudinal planetary zones, and believe them to be caused by seasonal ice transport from the equator to the icy poles. Lending additional support to this theory, enhanced color images of the planet show that Pluto’s darkest terrains appear at the equator, while a seemingly whiter, icy expanse reigns in the northern polar region.

An enhanced color global view of Pluto.
Enhanced color global view of Pluto, taken 280,000 miles away. Credits: NASA.

Another region, the southern-most region of Pluto’s heart, Cthulhu Regio (one of the older, heavily-cratered regions of the planet) is also believed to be filled with newer icy deposits.

Plutos newfound haze
The newfound haze surrounding dwarf-planet Pluto. Credits: NASA.

The New Horizons mission has also discovered Pluto’s mountain ranges, exotic surface chemistry, and a peculiar haze surrounding the planet that extends as high as 80 miles above the planet’s surface.

Scientists and the public have been delighted with and captivated by the diverse and surprising findings of the New Horizons mission. A closer view of the distant dwarf planet has provided knowledge of Pluto’s features that are both similar to Earth’s, such as these glaciers, as well as those that are vastly different.

PhotoFriday: NASA Views Greenland Glaciers From Above

NASA’s Operation IceBridge is finishing up its seventh annual campaign surveying Arctic ice levels. The operation has run biannual polar expeditions, one to the Arctic and the other to the Antarctic, each year since its formation in 2009. This year’s spring survey of the Arctic wrapped up on May 22.

While Operation IceBridge uses advanced remote sensing technologies to measures ice levels, IceBridge scientist John Sonntag captured a few stunning shots of glacial moulins and crevassing during a Greenland expedition.

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NASA states IceBridge’s mission is to “yield an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice.” Annual data collected from IceBridge also helps to provide continuous polar ice data throughout the gap in data collection during NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which has not collected data since 2010. The satellite’s successor, ICESat-2, will not begin data collection until 2017.

In an article for NASA’s Earth Observatory, IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger cited the importance of IceBridge in improving sea level rising forecasts, especially for influential annual reports such as from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He said, “IceBridge exists because we need to understand how much ice the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will contribute to sea level rise over the next couple of decades. In order to do this, we need to measure how much the ice surface elevation is changing from year to year.”

You can click here to explore some of IceBridge’s data and findings. To read more about moulins, check out this GlacierHub article about moulin ice caves.

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

Tracking Glaciers From Space: GLIMS

Picture of GLIMS book coverIn 1994, an international group of scientists came together to form GLIMS (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space), a worldwide initiative to monitor and study glaciers using satellite data. For at least one hundred years, scientists had primarily used traditional field measurements to track glacier dynamics, but field data are by necessity limited in scope, and can be expensive and laborious to obtain.

The GLIMS team ultimately chose to use an imaging system called Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), jointly managed by NASA and Japan, for their glacier measurements. ASTER is installed aboard Terra, the flagship satellite of NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS), which was launched in December 1999. ASTER data can be used to map land surface temperature, reflectance, and elevation, which allows the scientists to distinguish between glacier ice and snow and to measure changes in glacier volume.

Glacier retreat lines at the Brøggerhalvøya Glacier between 1936 and 2007. Chapter, 10, p. 234, Figure 10.3.
Glacier retreat lines at the Brøggerhalvøya Glacier between 1936 and 2007. Chapter, 10, p. 234, Figure 10.3.

Using digital images and data provided by ASTER, GLIMS created an up-to-the-minute database of the world’s glaciers, which includes ID, name, cross-references, and analysis of the state and dynamics of individual glaciers. In August 2014, GLIMS published their findings in book form: Global Land Ice Measurements from Space compiles these glacier profiles, provides a review of analysis methodologies for measuring changes in glacier volume, and offers predictions for future glacier change as well as some interpretations of potential impacts for policymakers in the context of climate change. The GLIMS scientists provide firm evidence that glaciers are shrinking worldwide, and they believe the cause is global warming.

The GLIMS book offers a basic theoretical background in glacier monitoring and mapping as well as remote sensing techniques. It also discusses measurements of glacier thinning from digital elevation models (DEMs), and calculation of surface flow velocities from satellite images. DEMs can provide specific data for every pixel in a satellite image, with a margin of error at 0.5m/year. Although cloud cover can interfere with accurate satellite data on glaciers, scientists are able to identify and discard this faulty data.

As described in the book, GLIMS scientists Siri Jodha Singh Khalsa and his colleagues have been able to assess the mass balance of alpine mountain glaciers by comparing historical topographic maps and DEMs derived from ASTER. For instance, they built a model and limited the error in the computation of mass balance from field measurements of China’s Sarytor glacier to less than 150mm/year.

Tropical glaciers in the northern Andes. Chapter 26, page 614, Figure 26.1.
Tropical glaciers in the northern Andes. Chapter 26, page 614, Figure 26.1.

Similarly, using techniques established by Dr. Todd Albert,who is also a member of GLIMS, a set of images of the Quelccaya Ice Cap spanning four decades was analyzed to create a history of ice surface area. Overall, Albert found that the ice cap has retreated from 58.9 km2 in 1975 to 40.8 km2 in 2010, with a loss of surface area of 31%. This history matches what has been observed in the field by glaciologists Lonnie Thompson and Henry Brecher since the 1970s.

Thanks to GLIMS, the rate of glacier melting can be measured and documented more precisely, providing readers with potential evidence of climate change. The GLIMS data provides solid support for future scientific research and planning in the face of climate change.

For other stories on the measurement of glaciers, look here.