Glacier Retreat Ushers in Arachnids

Harvestmen— a spider-like arachnid— are among the first creatures to inhabit land in the wake of glacier retreat, according to a recent study by Sigmund Hågvar and Daniel Flø in the Norwegian Journal of Entomology. The land where glaciers have recently melted is an ideal habitat for creepy-crawlies including spiders, beetles, and other invertebrates. Perhaps surprisingly, these predators are often the first species found on this new land, before herbivores and even plants, although classical theories in ecology state that it should be the other way around.

The authors suggest that this reversal is made possible by the availability of two types of prey: insects that fly in from neighboring areas or are carried in by the wind, and midges that hatch in the carbon-rich puddles formed by meltwater from the retreating glaciers.

Mitopus morio (Photo:Source: Parent Géry)
Mitopus morio (Photo:Parent Géry)

Although Hågvar and Flø mention other species in their article, the study focuses on Mitopus morio, a common spider-like creature in the arachnid family called a harvestman (Opiliones). In America, harvestmen are commonly known as daddy-longlegs. These creatures are both predators and scavengers, since they consume living and dead invertebrates. Having a relatively short life cycle of only one year, young harvestmen hatch during snowmelt in spring and die as mature adults in the fall. Due to their habit of living on newly uncovered land, harvestmen are considered pioneer invertebrates.

Harvestmen are found across Norway, but Hågvar and Flø focused on the ones living in areas of glacier retreat, specifically at the Midtdalsbreen Glacier near the mountain village Finse. This glacier drains the eastern portion of the Hardangerjøkulen (Hardanger Ice Cap).

Hardangerjøkulen Glacier (Photo: Source: de:Benutzer:GerdM)
Hardangerjøkulen Glacier (Photo: de:Benutzer:GerdM)

The study was conducted in different areas— on land that was uncovered 205 years ago and on more recently uncovered terrain. Hågvar and Flø found that harvestmen greatly outnumbered spiders except at the oldest site, and also outnumbered the total number of carabid beetles located at three of the sites (areas uncovered 40, 160 and 205 years ago). In the land that has been uncovered for three years, harvestmen follow the glacier retreat, living alongside the glacier’s edge.
The creatures live on barren ground, meaning there doesn’t need to be any vegetation for them to thrive. The lack of vegetation allows them to move freely, and the empty land is better heated by the sun— an important benefit for these cold-blooded organisms. The study found that the harvestmen thrive best during warm and dry years. Because of the quick establishment of life on what is considered inhospitable land, harvestmen serve as a reminder that nature is remarkable and surprising.

Mitopus morio (Photo: Photo: Ed Nieuwenhuys.)
Mitopus morio (Photo: Ed Nieuwenhuys.)

Norway’s Gift to Finland: A Mountain and a Snowfield

Halti in late winter credit: Flickr/Carsten Frenzel)
Halti in late winter (credit: Flickr/Carsten Frenzel)

Norway may present its neighbor Finland with an unusual gift: a mountain 1331 meters in elevation, with a permanent snowfield at its top. This peak, Halti, lies a few hundred meters on the Norwegian side of the boundary between the countries.  Though it is small by Norwegian standards—it does not appear on the ranking of the country’s 200 tallest mountains—it would become the highest peak in Finland. The current summit to hold that record, Haltitunturi, is just 7 meters lower; it is a high point on a ridge that descends from Halti itself. (A kilometer to the north, further within Norwegian territory, there is a higher peak,  Raisduotthaldi, which rises to 1361 meters in elevation; it has not been offered as a gift.)

Map, with Norway to north and Finland to south. Potential transfer area indicated as jubileimsgaven. source: Facebook/Haltijubileum)
Map, with Norway to north and Finland to south. Potential transfer area indicated as jubileumsgaven, or anniversary gift.  (credit: Facebook-Haltijubileum)

To accomplish this transfer, Norway would cede only a tiny portion of its territory, a triangle 1.5 hectares in area. The idea was first proposed in the 1970s by Bjørn Geirr Harsson, the former chief engineer of the Statens Kartverk, the Norwegian Mapping Authority, after he had observed the close proximity of the summit to the border while on a helicopter survey of the region.  When he learned earlier this year that Finland would be celebrating the centennial of its independence from Russia in 2017, he decided that this anniversary would be a good occasion to bring his idea into fruition.   The Facebook page that discusses this gift has over 10,000 likes, with numerous comments from Norwegians and Finns, nearly all of them positive, and a few positive comments from others as well.

Liisa Malkki, a Finnish anthropologist at Stanford University, shared this enthusiasm in a recent email to Facebook, in which she described the idea as “a beautiful breath of imagination from Norway!”  In another email interview, Rasmus  Gjedssø Bertelsen, a Danish political scientist at the University of the Arctic in Tromsø, Norway, expressed a similar sentiment, calling it “a great gesture from Norwegians.”

Hiker on snowfield at Halti (credit: Kent-Hugo Norheim)
Hiker on snowfield at Halti (credit: Kent-Hugo Norheim)

The story has attracted attention in the press and social media in Norway and Finland, in the other Nordic countries of Sweden and Denmark,  and in more distant countries, include the UK,   Russia and Turkey. These stories note that the full diplomatic negotiations to accomplish this transfer have yet to begin, though the Norwegian Mapping Authority and its Finnish counterpart have both expressed their support.  A recent post on Gizmodo describes the idea as “truly embracing the Christmas spirit—the part where you give of yourself.” The theme of holiday generosity is also expressed by CNN, whose story calls the proposed transfer “the pinnacle of gift-giving.”

By contrast, the centennial itself has attracted less attention. Only a few bloggers have emphasized the long, tangled history between Finland and Russia, pointing out that the Soviet Union invaded Finland during World War II. The Soviets occupied  border territories and retained them after the end of the war. The Finnish residents of these areas were evacuated to Finland.  More recently, tensions between Norway and Russia have increased. The cooperation between the countries declined after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, and deteriorated further when  Russian military planes entered Norwegian airspace earlier this year.

Finnish geoscientists taking a core sample to reconstruct glacial history sourcecredit A. OJala
Finnish geoscientists taking a core sample to reconstruct glacial history (credit: A. Ojala)

GlacierHub has found that some Finns find the mountain important, not only for its height, but also for its links to glaciers and ice and to cryosphere science.  Antti E.K. Ojala and his colleagues conducted paleomagnetic dating of sediments in nearby lakes to trace the activity of the Halti Glacier, a large mass of ice on the higher portions of the mountain, which they term “probably the best representative of major neoglacial activity in Finland.” Writing in The Holocene, they report that Halti Glacier formed after the melting of the large Fennoscandian Ice Sheet at the end of the most recent ice age, some 9000 to 10000 years ago, and remained active as recently as 5500 years ago. In an article  in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of Finland, Heikki Hirvas and his coauthors discuss the remnant ice in the area at present. They describe on Finland’s largest permanent snowfield, located on the mountain’s slope.  Over 3 km2 in area and over 6 meters thick, it contains numerous masses of ice within it, and may be associated with permafrost zones as well. The snowfield appears to have been stable for a long period, and was larger 100 to 150 years ago. It is not thick enough to form ice which would flow downslope and thus become a glacier.

Reindeer at Halti credit: Carten Frenzel)
Reindeer at Halti (credit: Flickr:Carten Frenzel)

An entirely different reaction—one of concern—is raised by the Sámi people, who are indigenous to the region. Their traditional lands straddle northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, and include northwestern Russia. The Norwegian anthropologist Marianne  Elisabeth Lien wrote to GlacierHub  “The mountains of which Halti is part is called Ráisduottarháldi in Sámi and are part of a larger region generally known as Sápmi–an indigenous land long known before the national borders were established. The subsequent settlement of national borders between Norway and Finland has been a major hindrance for reindeer-herding Sámi whose migratory movement with their animals was hindered by forced nationalization and sedentarization in the 18th and 19th centuries.” The Swedish anthropologist Elisa Maria Lopez, an expert on northern Scandinavia at Uppsala University, noted in an email  “Háldi is the name of animistic spirits within the Sámi religion that reside in various prominent natural features of the sub-arctic landscape, including mountains, which were considered sacred and sites of worship.” 

Lien put GlacierHub in touch with Liv Østmo, a Sámi educator in the region, who travels to Halti for fishing in the summer and has interacted extensively with local herders.  Østmo wrote to us, “This is an area which is quite important for the reindeer husbandry. Here is both calving and summer/autumn pastureland for their reindeer and therefore no wasteland.  The reindeer herders experience that there is a great pressure on the area, by different projects such as hydroelectric power and powerline developments.”  The alteration of the border would add to the pressure.  Lien added, “If this were to become the highest mountain in Finland, it is quite likely that a wide trail would develop, since this would be a national attraction. Østmo  tells me that such trails are very common around Finnish mountaintops. They would in turn lead the way for tourists, and might disturb the animals.” Indeed, the area is popular with hikers, and it would be challenging to find a form of access that would satisfy both them and the Sámi herders.

Halti reservable wilderness hut, a former Finnish Border Guard station credit: National Parks of Finalnd)
A reservable wilderness hut at Halti, which was formerly a Finnish Border Guard station (credit: National Parks of Finland)

This case shows that a small shift of an international mountain border is far from simple, even in the Nordic countries, one of the world’s most peaceful and orderly regions. It demonstrates that mountains and icy places deeply engage many people–indigenous herders, glaciologists, hikers, cartographers. anthropologists, journalists–in different ways. They evoke memories, and they stir the imagination of people whose see them on physical and virtual visits.

For more discussion of mountain and glacier issues at international borders, see our posts on France/Italy in the Alps and India/Pakistan in the Himalayas.


The Question of Black Carbon

Black carbon has only recently emerged as a known major contributor to climate change, especially for the Arctic. Formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, black carbon absorbs light more strongly than any other particulate matter, especially when deposited onto glaciers and snow cover. Here, it lowers their reflectivity, thereby absorbing atmospheric heat and resulting in earlier spring melt and higher temperatures.

New research, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, is attempting to address research gaps in this new but significant climate agent by quantifying and analyzing black carbon concentration and deposition in Svalbard, the major archipelago north of Norway.

The study, focusing on black carbon on the Holtedahlfonna glacier in Svalbard between 1700 and 2004, found significant rises in black carbon concentration from the 1970s until 2004 , with unprecedented levels in the 1990s.  Importantly, the study concludes that the increase in black carbon concentration “cannot be simply explained by changes in the snow accumulation rate at the glacier,” or simply by glacial melt and shrinkage in Svalbard. This indicates that black carbon was instead deposited in increasing quantities during this time period.

Burgerbukta Glacier, Svalbard. Courtesy of Wikipedia

The study raises some puzzling differences between black carbon concentrations and deposition in Svalbard and between previous data from other Arctic regions. While Svalbard’s black carbon values increased rapidly from a low point in 1970 until 2004, reaching a high in the 1990s, black carbon analyzed in Greenland ice cores indicated generally decreasing atmospheric black carbon concentrations since 1989 in the Arctic.

This difference is likely at least partly explained by differences in the specific methodologies used in the studies, such as the operational definition of black carbon that determined which size particles were included in the study.

The Svalbard study collected its data by filtering the inner part of a 125 m deep ice core from the Holtedahlfonna glacier through a quartz fiber filter. The filtrate was analyzed using a thermal-optical method, while previous comparable studies used an SP2 (Single Particle Soot Photometer) method. The different methodologies used between studies makes it hard to assess the validity of the studies’ findings.

Indeed, previous studies on black carbon on Himalayan and European ice cores have repeatedly shown different and contracting trends when measured with different analytical methods, even when studies examined the same glaciers. This indicates a significant need for more and improved research on black carbon research in the Arctic.

Burgerbukta Glacier, Svalbard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Burgerbukta Glacier, Svalbard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Black carbon concentrations, as the study reveals, are immensely complicated and depend on a variety of factors, such as air concentration of black carbon, the amount of precipitation, local wind drift patterns post-deposition, sublimation, and melt. Black carbon concentration can also be affected by sudden changes in snow and ice accumulation, or seasonal melt. These factors make it difficult for scientists to collect faithful data of black carbon concentration over time.

However, black carbon data in the Arctic is incredibly important: in the Arctic, black carbon is a more important warming agent than greenhouse gases. Its levels are intensely impacted from local and regional emission sources near Svalbard, such as forest and wild fires and flaring at gas wells in Russia, impacts that are difficult to accurately quantify, the researcher state.

While this study sheds light on recent trends of black carbon levels in Svalbard, it raises some key questions about the particle’s measurement, suggesting a need for further development of accurate black carbon measurement techniques and for further research on the role black carbon plays in Arctic warming.

Photo Friday: A Snapshot of Svalbard

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago tucked in between Norway and the North Pole. Especially known for its views of the Northern Lights and its summer “midnight sun,” in which sunlight graces the archipelago 24 hours a day, Svalbard is also known for its glaciers, which cover around 60 percent of Svalbard’s land area.

Project Pressure, a charity documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers, posted incredible photos of Southern Svalbard’s glaciers. Project Pressure hosts a wide collection of incredible, free-to-use images, so be sure to check out their website here.

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Many thanks to Chris Arnold, the photographer of these photos. Check out his website here.


Roundup: “Wild card” glaciers, luxury ice cubes, & glacial dynamics

This West Antarctica glacier is a ‘wild card’ for world’s coastlines

An edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf.
An edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf. Courtesy of Jim Yungel / NASA

“Scientists who have been raising alarms about the endangered ice sheet of West Antarctica say they’ve identified a key glacier that could pose the single most immediate threat to the world’s coastlines – and are pushing for an urgent new effort to study it. The glacier is not one that most Americans will have even heard of – Thwaites Glacier along the Amundsen Sea. It’s a monstrous body that is bigger than Pennsylvania and has discharged over 100 billion tons of ice each year in recent years.

The glacier is both vast and vulnerable, because its ocean base is exposed to warm water and because of an unusual set of geographic circumstances that mean that if it starts collapsing, there may be no end to the process. But it’s also difficult to study because of its location – not near any U.S. research base, and in an area known for treacherous weather. As a result, the researchers are also calling for more support from the federal government to make studying West Antarctica’s glaciers, and Thwaites in particular, a top priority.”

To read more about the Twhaites ice shelf, click here.

Luxury ice cubes? Greens slam ‘insane’ plan to carve Norway glacier


Courtesy of  “A controversial plan to harvest ice cubes from a melting Norwegian glacier and sell them in luxury bars across the globe has drawn criticism from the head of WWF Norge, who said that such an idea proves the world has gone completely insane….
The idea to use parts of Svartisen – mainland Norway’s second largest glacier which is projected to melt over the next century – is being pushed forward by Norwegian company Svaice. In FebruarySvaice won a grant from the local Meloy municipality, which is enthusiastically backing the project and is due to meet on Wednesday to decide on the project’s future.”
Read more here.

Observed latitudinal variations in erosion as a function of glacier dynamics

UBC scientist Michele Koppes
UBC scientist Michele Koppes. Courtesy: Michele Koppes

“Climate change is causing more than just warmer oceans and erratic weather. According to scientists, it also has the capacity to alter the shape of the planet. In a five-year study published today in Nature, lead author Michele Koppes, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, compared  in Patagonia and in the Antarctic Peninsula. She and her team found that glaciers in warmer Patagonia moved faster and caused more erosion than those in Antarctica, as warmer temperatures and melting ice helped lubricate the bed of the glaciers.

“We found that glaciers erode 100 to 1,000 times faster in Patagonia than they do in Antarctica,” said Koppes. “Antarctica is warming up, and as it moves to temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius, the glaciers are all going to start moving faster. We are already seeing that the ice sheets are starting to move faster and should become more erosive, digging deeper valleys and shedding more sediment into the oceans.”

To learn more about the study’s findings, click here.

Artist Diane Burko Ties Together Art and Science

Diane Burko on Viedma Glacier, South America (2015)
Diane Burko on Viedma Glacier, South America (2015)

The nexus between art and science first featured in artist and photographer Diane Burko’s work in 2006. Since then, Burko has traveled around the world to capture monumental landscapes and features. She has spent time in Norway, Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula, documenting and bearing witness to the global disappearance of glaciers. 

Burko agreed to an interview with GlacierHub, where she discusses her journey to communicate science and dispel doubt through art.

GH: What first inspired you to draw connections between art and science?

DB: I think I am “science curious”.  As a landscape artist, monumental geological environments, dramatic vistas, aerial views, have always captured my imagination. Perhaps growing up in a New York City apartment may be why…  The Grand Canyon was one of my first subjects in the 70’s. Understanding its deep history – how it was formed was crucial. When I did a series on Volcanoes in 2000, learning about plate tectonics was part of my process. Knowing how a landscape is put together, the geology, is as important to me as experiencing it by walking, climbing or flying over it…

Grinnell Mt. Gould Quadtych, 2009, 88” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Grinnell Mt. Gould Quadtych, 2009, 88” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Why is it important to bring together art and science?

DB: I believe that art can communicate science. My obsession with nature at its most awe-inspiring naturally leads me to want to preserve and protect it.  That’s why I want to show how our environment is being threatened by climate change. My strategy is to seduce with beauty and then subtly insert awareness in the viewer by utilizing visual/scientific prompts I’ve garnered through my interactions with climatologists, my observations in the field and my own research.

The visual devices (literal and metaphoric) employed are as simple as presenting chronological images of glaciers receding in multiple panels. Or more mysterious and abstract images redolent with the idea of the landscape as body –  as mortal with potential to decay, contrasting ancient rocks with melting ice.

Landsat maps and geological diagrams, and recessional lines are also strategic devices I’ve employed.

Deep Time Diptych (Glacial History Eqi and Looking into Viedma 2), 2015, 40” x 60” each (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Deep Time Diptych (Glacial History Eqi and Looking into Viedma 2), 2015, 40” x 60” each (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Tell us about your trip to Argentina and Antarctica. What challenges did you face? What part of the trip struck you the most?

DB: In January 2015 I was invited to join 26 educators with “Students on Ice” a nonprofit organization offering student expedition experiences to Antarctica and the Arctic. This was my second expedition there – the other in 2013. After the voyage we landed back in Ushuaia and boarded a plane to El Calafate. Having been to the two largest ice fields in the world (Antarctica and Greenland) I was eager to see the third largest one in Patagonia.

Initially my goal was to go to climb on Perito Marino, which has a 3-mile front glacial front. Ironically this is one of the few glaciers that is not receding

However it was Viedma Glacier that totally took my breadth away.

Wearing crampons we climbed very carefully on top of this glacier for hours because it was really treacherous.

Crevasses were everywhere around me as I captured some incredible images

Back in the studio, I am working on a series on Upsala, which was the third glacier we visited – also receding.

Columbia Quadtych, 2011, 60” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Columbia Quadtych, 2011, 60” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: How do people respond to your work?

DB: They seem to respond at the exhibitions. And they participate when I give talks on my artistic practice at the intersection of art and science.

GH: The world of ice is at times colorless, white ice and dark rock, but the blue keeps appearing. How do you work with the color?

DB: I just embrace it – attempting to capture it’s magic through my photographs. My paintings, I tend to interpret from the experience and memory when back in the painting studio.

Perito Moreno’s 3 Mile Front, 2015, 40” x 60”  (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Perito Moreno’s 3 Mile Front, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Can you tell us a bit about your choice of mediums? Do you use different mediums to convey different messages or evoke different emotions?

DB: As a painter in oils I strive to make that medium represent the ideas I wish to convey. Here are two examples that might answer the question:

GH: Ice accumulates where snow falls, and snow falls from clouds. Being close to glaciers often means being close to cloud and mist. Does the photographer hope for sun, or accept the cover?

DB: Clouds, fog, all present many more possibilities.

Morning Sail 2, August 6, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Morning Sail 2, August 6, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: The glaciers of Argentina are huge, but Antarctica is absolutely enormous. Does this contrast influence your selection of images to include in a record of your trip?

DB: No I just include whatever captivates me visually, whatever is presented in front of me.

It is always serendipitous because one cannot predict the weather- the winds or where we actually wind up landing in Antarctica.   And in Patagonia I only was able to visit three of the many glaciers in the Argentinian ice field. I would love to return to Chile and explore more.

Icy Adventures in Norway

Hiking in Sunnmøre, Part 4: Regndalen. (Source: Severin Sadjina/Flickr)
Hiking Site in Sunnmøre, Regndalen. (Source: Severin Sadjina/Flickr)

If you want to walk and climb on glaciated areas for an extraordinary experience, you should visit Norway before the glaciers melt away. You do have some decades ahead, though, before glaciers really become scarce there. Still, rising  temperatures have caused a dramatic decrease in glacial volume in Norway as in other parts of the world. As this trend intensifies, glacier tourism will be largely limited in the future.

Norwegian sunset near Tromso, Norway (Source: Diana Robinson/Flickr)
Sunset near Tromso, Norway (Source: Diana Robinson/Flickr)

There are many opportunities to explore glaciers. There are over 1600 glaciers in Norway, which cover an area of roughly 2600 square kilometers. Most of the glaciers are in mountainous regions along or near the coast, particularly in southwestern and northern Norway. You could choose among guided day tours, longer tours, glacier surface walks, glacier lake kayaking, terminal face walks, ice climbing, and more. But climate change will change the nature of glacier tourism. A 7-year follow-up study conducted by Trude Furunes and Reidar J. Mykletun considered five components of the development of glacier tourism: natural resources, access, demand, entrepreneurship, and the need for skilled delivery of tourism services. Data in the study was collected through analysis of websites, repeated interviews, and participant observation.

Engabreen (Source: Nathanael Coyne/Flickr)
Engabreen (Source: Nathanael Coyne/Flickr)

Most glacier tourism activities involve the edges of the glacier, especially the glacier arm area, which are neither too steep nor too dangerous to enter. Glacier tourism generally occurs from June to August, when snow accumulated during winter has finished melting. A large portion of the study’s respondents expressed concern about impacts of climate change on glacier recession. After all, ice melting limits the accessibility of glaciers. In 2003, some operators decided to include more mountain walks in the tour package due to ice melting, which in the end led to dramatic decline in clients. In 2007, as some glaciers became inaccessible, some operators had no choice but to move to different glaciers in order to minimize financial loss.

Low entry cost attracted many investors into the glacier tourism business, causing a great deal of competition in the region. “Several activity companies pop up. But the Briksdal glacier is now closed due to the reduced glacier area, which makes it difficult to run safe glacier guiding here. This has led to increased tourism on the Nigard glacier,” said one respondent. More and more companies chose to tailor activities for their clients instead of providing highly commercialized products. “Competitors still exist, but they have changed their activity,” said another respondent.

A route between Aurlands and Briksdal in Norway. (Source: Lee Gwyn/Flickr)
A path between Aurlands and Briksdal . (Source: Lee Gwyn/Flickr)

Many operators claimed that they treated safety as priority and few accidents had occurred. “We focus strongly on safety, and use two guides per group, where one is certified. We also focus on equipment needed. It is important that the clients don’t perceive high risk, but get a unique experience.” Another operator stated that, “we have had no accidents, only bone fractures.”

According to T. Furunes and R. J. Mykletun, there was a 30% decrease from 2003 to 2009 in the number of visitors and operators, due to decline in natural resources and access. However, they suspected that relatively rapid melting of glaciers in Central Europe would likely to prompt glacier tourism in Norway. In a sense,  glacier loss in Central Europe could make Norwegian glacier tourism seem more attractive.  This study thus confirms the uneven and complex effects of global warming and its consequences for glacial retreat on national tourist industries.

Photo Friday: Jotunheimen National Park

The Jotunheimen National Park in Norway is one of the dream destinations for hikers in Europe. It is home to spectacular natural scenery of mountains, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, glaciers and valleys. Glaciers have created numerous valleys and mountain peaks in Jotunheimen, including Northern Europe’s highest two peaks—Galdhøpiggen (2,469m) and Glittertind (2,465m)– by carving the hard gabbro massifs.

The name Jotunheimen, meaning “home of the giants”, was proposed by Norwegian poet Aasmund Olavsson Vinje in 1862. This name was directly inspired by the name Jötunheimr in Norse mythology, referring to Rock Giants and Frost Giants.


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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

Round Up: Sounds of Glacier Bay, A New Book, and a Caving Video

“Voices of Glacier Bay” Soundscape Project

The National Park Service has a new project recording various sounds of nature in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. The recordings include sounds of: calving glaciers, humpback whales, singing birds, raindrop polyrhythms, and more!

Check out their website, with tons more sounds and videos.


Over 150 scientists collaborated on a new comprehensive book on glaciers

Picture of GLIMS book cover

The GLIMS (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space)  project started over 20 years ago to record glacier movement using satellites. The largely never before seen data has been put together in a new comprehensive book by the same name which unquestionably confirms the shrinking of earth’s glaciers.

Read about the project, and the book, here

Extreme ice caving video filmed at Buer Glacier, Norway

Extreme sports buff and outdoor guide Sander Cruiming took his crew and cameras ice caving through Norway’s Buer Glacier. Read more, here.

How Invertebrates Colonize Deglaciated Sites

Mitopus morio (Source: Javier Díaz Barrera/Flickr).
Mitopus morio (Source: Javier Díaz Barrera/Flickr).

Scientists have long wondered how species colonize sites after deglaciation. A recent study by Amber Vater and John Matthews in the journal The Holocene of invertebrates–animals without backbones—on a number of sites in Norway advances the understanding of this colonization. It pays particular attention to succession, the processes of change in the species composition of ecological communities over time. The invertebrate groups which were studied include insects, spiders and mites, as well as harvestmen, also known as daddy longlegs.

To study the process of succession, Amber and Matthews collected invertebrate samples from pitfall traps in 171 locations across eight glacier forelands, which deglaciated over the last few centuries, in the Jotunheimen (high altitude) and Jostedalsbreen (low altitude) subregions in southern Norway. Jotunheimen is the highest mountain in Europe north of the Alps and west of the Urals, while Jostedalsbreen is the largest ice-cap in Europe outside Iceland. These forelands represent different ecological regions and areas that have been deglaciated for periods of different length. A variety of geological and biological evidence allowed the researchers to establish the precise timing of glacier retreat across their sites. The researchers identified the organisms by taxa—the species, genus or family to which they belong—since species identification was difficult in some cases.

The location of the eight glacier forelands in southern Norway (Source: Vater and Matthews/Sage Journals).
The location of the eight glacier forelands in southern Norway (Source: Vater and Matthews/Sage Journals).

Several major findings were derived from this study. Firstly, invertebrates arrive fairly quickly after the retreat of glaciers, within a decade or two. In particular, initial colonization is faster and dispersal is more effective at high altitudes, where glacier forelands are small, reducing the distance from established communities to new sites; in addition, the strong winds in such areas can carry organisms further. The flying insects, such as flies, aphids, bees, wasps, stoneflies, caddisflies and flying beetles, arrived earlier than the ground-active non-flying species, such as spiders, harvestmen, mites, ants, and non-flying beetles. Moreover, the communities grow more complex over time. In the first stage, lasting about 20 years, 11-31 taxa were found; this number increased to 21-55 in the fourth and final stage, over two centuries later. The authors found as well that invertebrate communities tend to be more diverse at low altitudes, where environmental conditions are more favorable.

Jotunheimen from southern Norway (Source: Thomas Mues/Flickr).
Jotunheimen from southern Norway (Source: Thomas Mues/Flickr).

Vater and Matthews summarize their findings by stating “invertebrate succession on the glacier forelands is viewed as driven primarily by individualistic behavior of the highly mobile species with short life-cycles responding to regional and local abiotic environmental gradients”.

Amara quenseli (Source: Chris Moody/Flickr).
Amara quenseli (Source: Chris Moody/Flickr).

This research calls into question earlier studies of succession. Previous studies, often based on plant species rather than invertebrates, have emphasized that nearly all taxa occur only in some of the stages of succession. By contrast, Vater and Matthews find that most of the taxa that first appear remain all the way till the final stage—65-86%, depending on the site. The authors describe their results as an ‘addition and persistence’ model (because taxa remain, once they arrive) rather than the more established ‘replacement-change’ model, in which different taxa replace each other over time. This ‘addition and persistence’ model seems to be more applicable in severe environments.

This research offers some insights into the regions that will become exposed as glacier retreat continues. It brings the positive finding that lands that appear after glacier retreat will not remain barren for long, since invertebrates are likely to colonize these sites soon. However, the new areas at higher elevations may have only a small number of specialized invertebrate taxa instead of a wide range of them.

For more details on invertebrates living on glaciers, look here.

When glaciers appeared in a galaxy far, far away

star wars fins norway empire strikes back anniversary
Star Wars fans gather (in Imperial Snowtrooper costumes) in Finse, Norway in 2010 for the 30th anniversary of the filming of the Empire Strikes Back. (source:

Rabid Star Wars and glaciologists share at least one thing in common. They both know about the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier in Norway, where scenes set snow planet of Hoth were shot for The Empire Strikes Back.

The possibility of returning to Hoth in the new Star Wars movie has been circulating the Internet rumor mill for a few months now, and even in the age of blue screen and CGI effects, there’s something to be said about shooting on location, on a glacier itself, as the first of the series’ sequels did in 1979.

Norway’s claim to fame dates to March of that year when crews shooting The Empire Strikes Back were based in the town of Finse during the filming of scenes set on the frozen planet Hoth. The nearby Hardangerjøkulen Glacier was used near the beginning of the film during the battle scene between Luke Skywalker’s Rebel Alliance and Darth Vader’s Imperial forces.

The film crew for the Empire Strikes Back prepares to film a scene with Harrison Ford  in Norway. (film still from documentary "Empire of Dreams - The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy)
The film crew for the Empire Strikes Back prepares to film a scene with Harrison Ford in Norway. (film still from documentary “Empire of Dreams – The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy’)

Filming during Norwegian wintertime wasn’t the easiest. When the worst winter storm in 50 years hit the area, it trapped the production crew in their hotel in Finse. Not to lose any time, they shot a scene of Luke Skywalker escaping from an ice monster’s cave by sending actor Mark Hamill out the hotel door into the cold, while the cameras and crew remained warmly inside.

The village of Finse is so remote that no public roads connect it to the rest of Norway, only a railway. The glacier itself is located in a national park and tourists must travel there not only with special permission, but also a guide that can help them avoid dangerous crevasses.

There is a small group of superfans who make the trek out to whatever Earth-related locations stood in for the galaxy far, far away.

Brandon Alinger, who has visited several other Star Wars filming sites, recently made the trip up to Finse, but not before stopping in London to chat with Empire Strikes Back location manager Phillip Kohler.

“We went up [on these trails] when we were on the recce (film slang for reconnaissance trip), on snow cats,” Brandon recalls Kohler telling him. “We told the driver in front, ‘If you don’t know the way, don’t leave the route, don’t let the guys tell you they want to go to the left’, because it looks safe! So what do they do? We see the snow-cat turn left, turn right, and it suddenly stopped. And the director got out and went straight down on his right leg. We said, ‘told ya, it’s all crevasses.’”

Star Wars tourism sometimes brings fans to the ends of the earth (in this case Fense, Norway) to visit filming locations. (source:
Star Wars tourism sometimes brings fans to the ends of the earth (in this case Fense, Norway) to visit filming locations. (source:

The Hardangerjøkulen Glacier isn’t the only Star Wars location difficult for tourists to visit. Production crews have used Tunisa multiple times as the setting for Luke Skywalker’s desert homeworld Tatooine. Recently shifting Saharan sands threaten to cover old filming sets, and the Arab Spring uprisings have scared tourists away.

Those looking to travel to Hoth without leaving their front door can find plenty of glacier-inspired Star Wars work. Artist James W. Rook, for example, imagined what it might be like if melting ice revealed a long-missing prop, in this case a crashed rebel snowspeeder. The elements from the Norwegian glacier and surrounding area are even incorporated into Angry Birds Star Wars.

As long as Star Wars exists, in some form or another, so will Norway’s glaciers.

Emma Thompson’s latest role: climate change activist

Emma Thompson partners with Greenpeace in Norway to highlight the effects of climate change. (Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace)

Two-time Oscar-winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson is known for her leading roles in Howards End, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually and more recently Effie Gray. But her latest role might have the greatest reach: as a real-life activist for climate change

Thompson is travelling with Greenpeace across the Arctic aboard the activist ship, Esperanza, which started in Longyearbyen, Norway, and will travel north to the world’s northernmost climate station at Ny Ålesund, and later further past to the edge of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean . While on the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, she visited the Smeerenburg glacier.

Thompson has chosen to help highlight Arctic climate issues because, as she says, “the Arctic is warming up faster than anywhere else, and this isn’t just a problem for polar bears. It’s affecting weather in places as far away as India, while rising sea levels are causing havoc for people across the world. Arctic warming is a massive threat to our survival.”

It isn’t about the polar bears. Her 14-year old daughter accompanying her on the trip is part of the intergenerational message she is sending. Thompson believes it is a moral issue for people to stand u and demand more climate action from our politicians. “My daughter and her generation are about to inherit the world we’re responsible for… I’m making this trip because I want Gaia’s generation to grow up in a decent and sane world. In fact I’m making it so that her children can grow up.” The Harry Potter actress agrees with Greenpeace in the urgency of international policies to protect the Arctic from oil drilling and industrial fishing, and in the need to keep all peoples safe from climate change.

You can see the view from the Esperanza at its webcam and you can learn more and contribute to her cause at