Not all natural boundaries are as stable as they might appear. Italy, Austria, and Switzerland’s shared borders depend on the limits of the glaciers and they have been melting at increased rates due to climate change. This has caused the border to shift noticeably in recent years. The border lies primarily at high altitudes, among tall mountain peaks where it crosses white snowfields and icy blue glaciers.
Read the story by Elza Bouhassira on Glacierhub here.
Peruvian Study Opens Doors for Glacial Research
A study published in March of this year by researchers from the University of Quebec presents a new avenue for glacier retreat research. While most water-related glacier studies are concerned with water availability, the research presented in this article is distinctive in that it draws a link between glacier retreat and water quality. This work has important implications for populations in the study area and others living in glacierized regions around the world.
Acoustics of Meltwater Drainage in Greenland Glacial Soundscapes
Remember the age-old adage, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?” For centuries philosophers have tested our minds with such questions, and certainly the answer depends on how the individual chooses to define the word sound. Scientists would say that if by sound, we mean the physical phenomenon of wave disturbance caused by the crash, we would undoubtedly concur. Indeed, in recognizing the uniqueness of audio frequencies, the scientific practice of studying environmental soundscapes has proven effective at providing information across a varied range of phenomena. But glaciers represent a relatively new soundscape frontier.
“Glaciologists just opened their eyes to studying glaciers about 150 years ago. We started to look at glaciers from different angles, perspectives, satellites — but we forgot to open our ears,” said Dr. Evgeny Podolskiy, an assistant professor at the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. “I’ve been studying glacier geophysics for quite some time and I found that there is this kind of natural zoo, or a universe, of sounds which we kind of totally ignored until recently.”
Read the full story by Audrey Ramming on GlacierHub here
Rifugio Guide del Cervino, a small mountain restaurant, opened in 1984 at a location high in the Italian Alps—now it might be in Switzerland. The restaurant has become the subject of a dispute between the two states due to a legal agreement which allows Italy’s northern border to move with the natural, morphological boundaries of glaciers’ frontiers, which largely follow the watersheds on either side of the ridges. The moving border has shifted over the last fifteen years since its creation as glaciers retreat and the restaurant may now be in Swiss territory. If decided to be in Switzerland, the restaurant would be subject to Swiss law, taxes, and potentially even customs; Swiss inspectors would need to approve every box of pasta and package of coffee brought up to the restaurant by cable car from Italy.
Borders can follow artificial paths, like those on maps forming perfectly straight lines, independent of the physical and cultural landscapes they may be mincing. Others are fixed by natural boundaries like the Niagara River separating the US and Canada.
However, not all natural boundaries are as stable as they might appear. Italy, Austria, and Switzerland’s shared borders depend on the limits of the glaciers and they have been melting at increased rates due to climate change. This has caused the border to shift noticeably in recent years. The border lies primarily at high altitudes, among tall mountain peaks where it crosses white snowfields and icy blue glaciers.
The moving border is an unprecedented legal concept. It was established through an agreement between Italy and Austria in 2006 and another between Italy and Switzerland in 2009. France did not sign such an agreement because of post World War II territorial gains on the Italian side of the watershed it did not want to risk losing.
The moving border’s flexibility is a highly unusual case in a world where many borders serve to mark defined lines of inclusion and exclusion. “Borders today move following the policies of exclusion from/inclusion in pursued by States. For instance, when it comes to migration, EU South external borders happen to be already in Africa, where migrants are prevented from embarking towards Europe,” international lawyer and Roma Tre University human rights professor Alice Riccardi told GlacierHub.
Since 2008, the Istituto Geografico Militare (IGM), which has defined and maintained Italy’s state borders since 1865, has conducted high-altitude survey expeditions every two years to search for shifts in the border and subsequently to update official maps. The collaborative team that conducts the survey is composed of an equal number of experts from IGM and representatives from cartographic institutes of neighboring states.
The concept of the moving border captured the attention of Marco Ferrari, an architect, and Dr. Elisa Pasqual, a visual designer. In 2014, they launched a research project and interactive installation called Italian Limes focused on the moving border. The word limes comes from Latin and was used by the Romans to describe a nebulous, unfixed fringe zone on the edge of their territorial control. The Romans viewed limes as ebbing and flowing as the Roman army advanced and retreated similar to how today the border moves as the ice drifts.
The project, featured in the 2014 Venice Biennale, explores the limits of natural borders when they are tested by long-term ecological processes and reveals how climate change has begun to wear on Western ideas of territory and borders.
“The project makes the speed of climate change visible because we are used to thinking of borders, glaciers, and mountains as things that stay fixed,” Ferrari told GlacierHub. “Climate change changes our conception of territory in a way that is not just material, it’s not just a disruption of infrastructure, but also of the geographical imagery of the planet itself. So the very idea of the border is put into crisis by climate change in this sense, it almost contradicts the possibility of being able to trace a border.”
The Italian Limes projecttakes measurements at the 1.5-kilometer long Grafferner Glacier near Mount Similaun in the Ötztal Alps at the border of Italy and Austria. GPS measurement units were installed at the site to track changes to the glacier and watershed which broadcast their data to a machine, which prints a real-time representation of the moving border.
“By looking at the history of the border we came across this specific moment in time of the mobile border that was initially presented to us as an anecdote, as a funny curiosity, a weird glitch in the normal diplomatic management of the relationship between countries. Because of how it was presented to us, we almost didn’t focus on it, but on second thought we saw that this was the nexus that could allow us to talk about all the things we wanted to talk about; it could allow us to reveal the contradiction in this idea of a natural border–how even the mountains, even the watershed, even glaciers aren’t something that is forever, the fact that they are chosen to be borders is a clear political act and when these things move the contradiction gets exposed,” Ferrari explained to GlacierHub.
The project grew to the point that Ferrari and Pasqual teamed up with architect and editor Andrea Bagnato to create A Moving Border: Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change, a 2019 book which builds on Italian Limes to map out the effects of climate change on geopolitical understandings of the border.
“I saw the project at the Venice Biennale 2014, it was a fantastic installation, and that’s when I proposed to Marco and Elisa to turn it into a book because I thought that after the work they had done physically going up on the glacier and producing these devices to visualize the movements of the glacier, there were a lot of issues to explore in more detail, historical and political issues. The book was a way to do that,” Bagnato told GlacierHub.
“The book provides a kind of historical perspective of the border and also of climate change,” Bagnato said. He continued, saying “Although we don’t address them directly in the book, I think it opens up to a lot of different geopolitical scenarios. Of course there are many situations in the world where borders pass on glaciers like in Chile/Argentina, India/Pakistan, and so on, where the geopolitics are far more heated than in Italy or Austria.”
Ultimately, the effects of climate change will introduce stresses that borders cannot keep under control. The new, quick changes to the moving border are only one such instance. The US state of Louisiana is rapidly losing ground to the waters on its coast. India and Bangladesh were involved in a dispute over who controlled an uninhabited sandbar that vanished beneath the rising seas. The province of Kashmir has long been a point of contention between Pakistan and India––if its glaciers melt and regional freshwater supply is put under great stress, conflict for control of the province could escalate significantly.
In an interview with Vice, Ferrari said “Even the biggest and most stable things, like glaciers, mountains—these huge objects, they can change in a few years. We live on a planet that changes, and we try to make rules, to give meaning, but this meaning is completely artificial because nature, basically, doesn’t give a shit.”
Dire projections for Switzerland’s Great Aletsch Glacier
From the Journal of Glaciology:
“We model the future evolution of the largest glacier of the European Alps – Great Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland – during the 21st century. For that purpose we use a detailed three-dimensional model, which combines full Stokes ice dynamics and surface mass balance forced with the most recent climate projections (CH2018), as well as with climate data of the last decades. As a result, all CH2018 climate scenarios yield a major glacier retreat: Results range from a loss of 60% of today’s ice volume by 2100 for a moderate CO2 emission scenario (RCP2.6) being in line with the Paris agreement to an almost complete wastage of the ice for the most extreme emission scenario (RCP8.5). Our model results also provide evidence that half of the mass loss is already committed under the climate conditions of the last decade.”
“Renowned Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson’s large-scale works such as Ice Watch and New York City Waterfalls spark critical dialogue about climate change and our relationship to nature. His work is driven by interests in perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self, engaging the broader public sphere through architectural projects, interventions in civic space, arts education, policy-making, and issues of sustainability.”
Eliasson will speak at Columbia University on September 26, 2019, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM as part of its Year of Water program. Details about the Eliasson event can be found here.
“Studies of early human settlement in alpine environments provide insights into human physiological, genetic, and cultural adaptation potentials. Although Late and even Middle Pleistocene human presence has been recently documented on the Tibetan Plateau, little is known regarding the nature and context of early persistent human settlement in high elevations. Here, we report the earliest evidence of a prehistoric high-altitude residential site. Located in Africa’s largest alpine ecosystem, the repeated occupation of Fincha Habera rock shelter is dated to 47 to 31 thousand years ago. The available resources in cold and glaciated environments included the exploitation of an endemic rodent as a key food source, and this played a pivotal role in facilitating the occupation of this site by Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.”
The photography festival Alt. +1000 will return for its fifth run, this year with a theme of global warming and “the trace of man on the mountain.” The festival, which opens September 1st, will feature nearly eighty photographers from Switzerland and abroad. It will take place at three locations situated at an altitude of one thousand meters across the city of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Each location will host an exhibition inspired by the mountains and people’s interactions with them. In a sixteenth century farm house, the exhibit, “The Trace of Man” will visualize the mark people have made on the mountains. A guided tour through the Musée de Beaux-Arts Le Locle art museum will explore “the relationship between the physical landscape and the mental landscape.” And Project Pressure, a charity that funds artists to document climate change, will unveil its photographic project, “Warning Signs.”
Founded in 2008 by Danish photographer Klaus Thymann, Project Pressure sends photographers and visual artists, along with scientists, on carbon-offset journeys around the world to capture what global warming and the melting of glaciers look like. “Warning Signs,” which will be installed on the shores of Lake Taillères, will feature artwork and informative posters that visualize the climate crisis. The collective, whose aim is to “use art as a positive touch-point to inspire action and behavioural change,” is taking “Warning Signs” on an international tour.
This isn’t the first art exhibit in Switzerland to highlight the cryosphere. The country is also home to the glacier museum Glacier Garden, founded in 1873.
Check out these previews of the festival’s exhibits:
From Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research: “Pollen grains are commonly found in ice cores, particularly those from mountain glaciers at low to middle latitudes … We analyzed major pollen grains in an 87-m-deep ice core drilled at the top of the Grigoriev Ice Cap (4563 m.a.s.l.) in the Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyz Republic. Microscopy showed that mainly five pollen taxa were contained in the ice core.”
Glacial meltwater’s influence on biogeochemical cycles in greenland
From Frontiers in Marine Science: “Greenland fjords receive considerable amounts of glacial meltwater discharge from the Greenland Ice Sheet due to present climate warming. This impacts the hydrography, via freshening of the fjord waters, and biological processes due to altered nutrient input and the addition of silts … Our results imply that glacially influenced parts of Greenland’s fjords can be considered as hotspots of carbon export to depth. In a warming climate, this export is likely to be enhanced during glacial melting.”
From Environmental Science and Policy: “Incoherent institutional regimes are among the most critical barriers to adapt water governance under climate change. However, it remains unclear how different governance processes can coordinate competing resource uses despite incoherence of institutional resource regimes. This paper examines how institutional resource regimes and polycentric governance processes are co-evolving and to what extent these processes coordinate competing resource uses in incoherent resource regimes. ”
Glacier instability is creating dangerous conditions for Alaska tourists
From Anchorage Daily News: “The toe of Valdez Glacier, where the bodies of three boaters were found this week, had become particularly dangerous, said a guide who had altered his own tour route due to the glacier’s increasing instability.”
Europe’s heatwave brought unusually high melt rates
From E&E News: “The sweltering heat wave that roasted much of Europe last month has since moved north, where it’s wreaking havoc on the Greenland ice sheet. But while all eyes are currently trained on the Arctic ice, scientists are finding that Europe’s coldest places have also suffered.
According to initial findings from the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS), Swiss glaciers experienced unusually high melt rates during the last heat wave, which occurred in late July, and an earlier heat wave that struck the continent in late June.”
From Collateral Values: “On March 30th, 2014, Afghanistan declared the Wakhan Corridor as its second national park. At over 10,000 km2, the park is larger than Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It is high country, ranging from 2500 meters at its west end, to a mountain pass to China at 5000 meters in the east, and peaks of 7000 meters along its southern border. Despite its elevation, the Wakhan National Park is home to iconic wildlife species such as Marco Polo sheep and the snow leopards. It is also home to some 17,000 people. The Wakhan has had a long journey from geopolitical buffer zone to national park, a journey that is not yet complete. It became defined as a specific region during The Great Game of the nineteenth century between the two great empires of the age: Tsarist Russia, and the British Raj in India. The great powers wanted a buffer zone between them, an effort to keep their competition from accidentally spilling over into war. Neither the British, the Russians, nor the Afghan Emir could have known that in the twenty-first century, this buffer zone would come to be valued for its natural capital. While there were ceremonies to declare the park in 2014, it is not yet clear how the park will be managed. The park faces many challenges, but has great potential to preserve rare mountain habitats for the people who live there, and the world beyond its borders.”
Temperature records fell one after another in Europe last week with five countries—Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg—registering record highs.
A study conducted by World Weather Attribution concluded that temperatures during the hot spell would have been 1.5-3 degrees Celsius cooler if not for the additional warming brought about by human-caused climate change.
Video posted to Twitter shows how rising temperatures are impacting Europe’s alpine glaciers. Severe-weather.EU posted footage of a massive mudslide barreling down a mountainside on July 28th at the height of the heat wave. The group alleges the mudflow was brought about by melting glaciers in Mauvoisin, Switzerland.
A mudflow from the melting glaciers in Mauvoisin, Switzerland yesterday, July 28th. Thanks to Ilyes Ghouil for the report! Source: @Météo Franc-comtoise pic.twitter.com/SnSskjkD7A
The high pressure system that parked over Europe and brought about the record heat has since moved north, where it’s led to potentially record-breaking melt across Greenland’s ice sheet.
The familiar images of temperature anomalies that are produced by the world’s climate and weather agencies have inspired Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based artist Diane Burko, who is currently working on a painting depicting the July heatwave in Europe.
“High up in the Andes, La Rinconada is a place where people go to seek whatever fortune they can muster in the gold mines nestled there. Delano describes it as a place with no running water or sewage system, populated by about 30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. It is a place, Delano says, where ‘for over 500 years, La Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty) has attracted first the Inca, then the Spanish. For decades, artisanal miners, mostly indigenous Quechua and Aymara, have followed a receding glacier up the valley hoping to find the mother lode, burrowing deep inside the mountain at over 17,700 feet.’”
Animated Netflix film features Andean glaciers and environmentalism
“14 years in the making, Pachamama, Juan Antin’s animated tale about a 10-year old Andean boy’s journey to reclaim his village’s irreplaceable treasure, premieres today on Netflix. Set during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and their South American incursions, the Cesar Award-nominated film is Antin’s homage to the indigenous cultures of the Andes, and takes its name for the concept of ‘Pachamama,’ both an earth mother goddess figure as well as a more general concept of living in harmony with the Earth, akin to the idea of ‘Mother Nature.’”
Swiss glacier provides a home for an experimental lunar habitat
After their inaugural 2019 campaign, Igluna, coordinated by the Swiss Space Center, is running their 2020 program to enable teams of students across Europe to work on technology that would help sustain human life on the moon. As in 2019, the technology will be tested in a Zermatt glacier.
“IGLUNA 2020 is an international student project to build a space habitat demonstrator for sustaining life in an extreme environment. Not only does it demonstrate technologies of the future, but also a new way of collaboration across universities, industry and the space community – while forming students in applied project work. In one year, student teams from various disciplines and different countries across Europe develop their demonstrator modules. Their common objective: to integrate the projects together in a test bed in Switzerland in July 2020. Through international collaboration and interdisciplinary team work, the students gain practical experience in project management, build life-long networks, and kick-start their careers.”
This past year has been an exciting time for me as an alpine photographer. I managed to travel to southern Switzerland three times, combining trips with family and professional events in order to minimize my ecological footprint. I also brought along my new camera, a Nikon DS5600 with a 18-140mm Nikkor zoom lens. It continues to be a privilege to visit such an awesome place with mountains to climb, beautiful scenery to photograph, and great hospitality with the local mountain communities.
Even though I have visited many other places, it is these alpine communities that draw me back again and again. I love to see the mountains during different seasons, and that is partly why I’ve branched out from my favored black-and-white photography to shoot more color images. The results can be seen in my 2019 exhibitions.
I continue to investigate new scramble routes, meet amazing fellow “explorers,” and make new friends during my expeditions. I listen to stories from locals about the impact of climate change. This summer I heard more about the Zinal Glacier in the Pennine Alps, Valais. It is a 7-kilometer-long glacier, which, according to those who live close by, is shrinking at a rate of 30 meters per year.
Through my photography, I hope to encourage open and respectful debate about climate change. As the issue attracts more media attention, I was delighted and surprised to be invited to give three exhibitions in the first part of 2019. The exhibition spaces are big, enabling me to print large-format versions of my images. It has always been my hope and dream to give visitors a real immersive experience, and I can already see areas for developing more fully this sensory aspect. So this summer I will be traveling back to the Alps to research and develop ideas for the next stage in my photographic exploration of the Alps.
Fi Bunn’s upcoming exhibitions take place May 11-18 at Victorinox, Bond Street, London and in mid-August through September at St. Margaret’s Heritage Centre, Quarry Street, Guildford, Surrey.
People in Switzerland are taking matters into their own hands, becoming creative with their efforts to combat climate change.
In a recent tweet from NBC Left Field, members of a community in the Swiss Alps are seen covering glaciers with ginormous white tarps. They hope the tarps will help reflect sunlight, which could reduce the amount of melting caused by rising temperatures.
The residents describe in the video their fear that the water they receive from the glaciers might soon disappear. Glaciers have long been a dependable water source for regions all over the world, but not anymore.
A 2018 article in the Washington Post describes how a group of people living adjacent to Rhone Glacier haul tarps through the mountains each year prior to the start of summer. Rising temperatures, as well as a longer summer season, means glaciers are likely to face rapid melting in coming years.
But can blankets really help save the glaciers?
Although it isn’t the most comprehensive solution, it may actually work. Swiss glaciologist David Volken told NDTV that the blankets could reduce ice melt by as much as 70 percent. It’s just a temporary fix, though. Volken estimates that by the end of the century only about 10 percent of the ice volume will remain.
The blankets, however, appear to be slowing the pace of melting, giving communities some time to adapt and consider alternate sources of water.
From Geomorphology: “Ahora Gorge is a 400 m deep canyon located along the North Eastern flank of Mt. Ararat (Turkey), a compound volcanic complex covered by an ice cap. In the past, several diarists and scientific authors reported a calamitous event on July 2, 1840, when a landslide triggered by a volcanic eruption and/or an earthquake obliterated several villages located at the foot of the volcano. The reasons and effects of this Ahora Gorge Catastrophe (AGC) event have been obscure and ambiguous. To reappraise the 1840 catastrophe and the geomorphic evolution of the Ahora Gorge, we used high-resolution satellite images, remote sensing thermal data supplemented by observations collected during two field surveys.”
Albedo Effect in the Swiss Alps
From The Cryosphere: “Albedo feedback is an important driver of glacier melt over bare-ice surfaces. Light-absorbing impurities strongly enhance glacier melt rates but their abundance, composition and variations in space and time are subject to considerable uncertainties and ongoing scientific debates. In this study, we assess the temporal evolution of shortwave broadband albedo derived from 15 end-of-summer Landsat scenes for the bare-ice areas of 39 large glaciers in the western and southern Swiss Alps. […] Although a darkening of glacier ice was found to be present over only a limited region, we emphasize that due to the recent and projected growth of bare-ice areas and prolongation of the ablation season in the region, the albedo feedback will considerably enhance the rate of glacier mass loss in the Swiss Alps in the near future.”
Glacier Meltwater Impacts in Greenland
From Marine Ecology Progress Series: “Arctic benthic ecosystems are expected to experience strong modifications in the dynamics of primary producers and/or benthic-pelagic coupling under climate change. However, lack of knowledge about the influence of physical constraints (e.g. ice-melting associated gradients) on organic matter sources, quality, and transfers in systems such as fjords can impede predictions of the evolution of benthic-pelagic coupling in response to global warming. Here, sources and quality of particulate organic matter (POM) and sedimentary organic matter (SOM) were characterized along an inner-outer gradient in a High Arctic fjord (Young Sound, NE Greenland) exposed to extreme seasonal and physical constraints (ice-melting associated gradients). The influence of the seasonal variability of food sources on 2 dominant filter-feeding bivalves (Astarte moerchi and Mya truncata) was also investigated. Results revealed the critical impact of long sea ice/snow cover conditions prevailing in Young Sound corresponding to a period of extremely poor and degraded POM and SOM.”