The Right Time to Study the Timing of Glacier Melt and Human Resilience —A New Postdoc Opportunity

A new postdoctoral fellowship seeks applicants interested in probing the timescales of human interactions with cryospheric change. The University of Oregon-led project will take an interdisciplinary approach, noting geographers and related fields would be really well-positioned, and are open to researchers in social sciences, humanities, or natural sciences. The deadline to apply is February 17.

By Mark Carey and Dave Sutherland

GlacierHub readers are aware that glaciers are shrinking and that this cryospheric change has far-reaching implications for people living close to and far from the ice and snow. The recent IPCC special report on oceans and the cryosphere makes this abundantly clear, noting that melting ice in high-mountain and Polar regions affects “food security, water resources, water quality, livelihoods, health and well-being, infrastructure, transportation, tourism and recreation, as well as culture of human societies, particularly for Indigenous peoples.” Research on the societal and physical dimensions of ice keeps expanding, offering more precise pictures not only of the ice change itself but also the ways people are affected and responding.

Image: Mark Carey

Frequently, though, discussions about glacier retreat and human resilience to the ice loss can miss some of the nuance in the timing and timescales of these processes. Reports about glacier size, retreating terminus positions, increased calving, reductions in glacier runoff, and slope instability in the periglacial environment often adhere to long-term linear chronologies and focus on decadal timescales. They might go back a few decades or to the end of the Little Ice Age to document past glacier terminus positions and illustrate ice loss. Or, the accounts provide projections of ice loss moving forward, usually trying to understand processes and impacts to the year 2100, or perhaps an earlier date when the glaciers might disappear altogether.

Yet there are other aspects of the timing and timescales of glacier loss that have received less attention in recent years. Glaciers do of course change over decades, centuries, and millennia. But they also have “weather,” with daily variations due to solar heating and melt, seasonal variations that result in more water in certain months, and longer term changes due to natural and anthropogenic factors.

Image: Mark Carey

People living near glaciers also operate under their own temporalities, which often do not align with the “natural” temporalities of ice environments. Fishing communities react to daily, weekly, and seasonal changes of glacier runoff and iceberg calving into fjords. Hydroelectric companies must overcome effects of glacier fluctuations on downstream hydrology so they can boost energy production every weekday evening for peak electricity consumption. Irrigators, too, have different water needs based on their seasonal and crop-specific water needs. And they must adjust to daily, seasonal, annual, and decadal changes to glacier runoff, which influences the quantity and timing of water flowing into their fields. Tourism also has its unique temporalities, usually concentrated in summer months or tied to some other specific seasonal constraint that may have little or everything to do with snow and ice conditions, particularly for access or safety. In all of these cases, there are wildly distinct environmental and societal timescales that interact, intertwine, or collide with different people differently.

Dave Sutherland (oceanographer) and Mark Carey (historian) have just launched a new project at the University of Oregon that seeks to understand these divergent, multiple, and constantly changing temporalities. The project explores glacier fluctuations from both a physical science perspective and societal lens. What is the impact of cryospheric change and ice loss on local communities in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska region? How do we reconcile the long-term trends in glacier change with observed short-term variations, and how do the short-term changes affect various social groups differently? To make progress on these questions, this project will develop a nuanced, time-focused approach to glacier change.

Source: Mark Carey

A key part of this project is the hiring of a new postdoctoral fellow to join their team at the University of Oregon. Applications are due by February 17, 2020. The postdoc will help study the timing and timescales of glacier and societal change in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Sutherland and Carey will both co-mentor the postdoctoral fellow for this integrated, interdisciplinary research. The postdoctoral fellow may come from any discipline provided they have interdisciplinary inclinations and training. They will be integrated into both Sutherland’s Oceans and Ice Lab and Carey’s Glacier Lab, making this a truly interdisciplinary research experience.

Ultimately, this research project and postdoc will implement the frequent calls for integrated, interdisciplinary research. They will examine the scientific issues of glacier change and its impacts on various marine and land-based ecosystems, as well as analyzing how different stakeholders and human groups are affected by the timing of specific changes in socio-cryospheric systems. Resilience, in short, hinges as much on short-term planning for these various contingencies as it does on long-term planning for glacier shrinkage, future runoff reduction, and sea-level rise—the issues we usually hear most about with climate change and ice loss.

Celebrating a Career of Mountain Highs: Professor Mark Carey Receives King Albert Mountain Award

This post was originally published by the Mountain Research Initiative in September 2018.

Mark Carey, professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, has received the prestigious King Albert Mountain Award for almost two decades of exceptional service to mountain research. We spoke to him about what this award means to him and his ongoing work to protect mountain societies and environments.

Mark Carey, professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon (Source: Marco Volken/King Albert I Memorial Foundation).

The King Albert Mountain Award is granted to people and institutions that have made exceptional and lasting contributions to the preservation of the mountains of the world – whether through research, conservation, development, arts and culture, or mountaineering.

To date, the award has been granted to 57 recipients since its foundation in 1993. At an award ceremony in Pontresina, Switzerland, in September this year, Mark Carey, professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, joined their number for his contributions to mountain science. The other winners in this round of awards were the rock climber Nasim Eshqi (Iran), filmmakers Mario Casella and Fulvio Mariani (Switzerland), and the Val Grande National Park (Italy).

Spotlight on an Overlooked Field

“I am incredibly honored and humbled that they selected my research from among all mountain researchers across all disciplines and fields in all the world’s mountains,” says Carey. “And I am particularly thrilled that the King Albert Foundation recognized my work in environmental history, which offers social science and human-focused contexts for understanding the world’s mountains, glaciers, and changing climates – areas that are usually dominated by natural scientists, not social sciences and humanities, and which can often be overlooked by policymakers.”

Professor Mark Carey receives the prestigious King Albert Mountain Award (Source: Marco Volken/King Albert I Memorial Foundation).

So what exactly is Professor Carey’s research focus? “My work looks at how people are affected by changing glaciers, and how people adapt to long-term climate change in mountain regions where they live, and sometimes die, with the ice,” says Carey.

His award-winning book, “In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society,” analyzes 75 years of climate change adaptation in the Peruvian Andes, with a particular focus on how people struggle to understand and respond to glacial lake outburst floods, avalanches, and hydrologic changes. Other topics he has written about include national parks under climate change, the history of mountaineering, and alpine health resorts and climate therapy.

A More Complete Picture

As an interdisciplinary scholar, Carey can sometimes feel like his work straddles too many research areas. “I often feel without a disciplinary home,” he explains. “I have tried hard to practice cross-disciplinary research – but that often leaves one feeling like a fish out of water! A dabbler instead of a master of a single topic.”

“Truly interdisciplinary and integrative research can be difficult and time-consuming. And even though there is a lot of lip service in favor of it, interdisciplinary research is usually harder to publish, takes much more time, requires challenging conversations and collaborations with people who see the world differently, and is often under-appreciated by scholars trained in single disciplines.”

But it was this broader, interdisciplinary approach – and the way in which it helps us to build a more complete picture of mountains as complex social-ecological systems – that was viewed as a strength by the award committee. And that, says Carey, is hugely encouraging. “This international support and inspiration to continue my work on ice and human societies around the world is thrilling.”

Breaking Down Disciplinary Boundaries

However, although this award is evidence of interdisciplinary mountain research gaining increasing global recognition, Carey thinks there is still some way to go. “We desperately need more researchers in the social sciences and humanities in order to better understand mountain peoples and societies – but these researchers must also reach across disciplinary boundaries, do work in the field together, disseminate results together, and try to reach policymakers together,” he says.

Mark Carey (second from left) received his award at ceremony in Pontresina, Switzerland, in September 2018 (Source: Marco Volken/King Albert I Memorial Foundation).

By working with other researchers in this way, Carey feels it may be possible to have a greater impact. “I think my most significant contributions have all come through my collaborative work—with glaciologists, hydrologists, engineers, anthropologists, geographers, and sociologists,” he says. “Through collaborations, my colleagues and I have offered holistic approaches to glacial lake outburst floods, and proposed hydro-social modeling to understand glacier runoff and downstream water use, among other things.”

“This King Albert Mountain Award shows that these diverse and interdisciplinary approaches are on the right track,” concludes Carey. “It inspires me to keep up these efforts and to continue the quest to help sustain mountain peoples and environments.”

More information can be found on the King Albert Mountain Award website.

Mark Carey is a professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, where he researches the societal aspects of glaciers and climate change and runs the Glacier Lab for the Study of Ice and Society. He has published the award-winning book, “In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society” (Oxford, 2010), as well as a co-edited volume on “The High-Mountain Cryosphere: Environmental Changes and Human Risks” (Cambridge, 2015). He has held several National Science Foundation grants, been a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and is a co-founder and co-director of the Transdisciplinary Andean Research Network (TARN). He is currently completing a book about the human dimensions of icebergs in the North Atlantic Ocean.

North Atlantic Icebergs: Hubris, Disaster, and Safeguards

The view out Diane Davis’ kitchen window on June 23, 2017 (Source: Diane Davis/Newfoundland Iceberg Reports).

2017 marked the fourth consecutive year of “extreme” iceberg conditions in the North Atlantic Ocean. According to the U.S. Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, 1,008 icebergs entered shipping lanes in 2017, almost twice the number in a normal season.

Funded by a treaty of 13 nations, the International Ice Patrol is operated by a U.S. Coast Guard unit, which conducts aerial surveys of the Grand Banks, a region southeast of Newfoundland prone to rough seas and a density of icebergs. Institutions from both the U.S. and Canada comprise the North American Ice Service, which creates a daily iceberg analysis for mariners. The patrol was founded following the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912, and, except for the two World Wars, has been in continuous operation since 1913.

Icebergs are created when glaciers calve, releasing pieces of ice to the sea that can be as tall as skyscrapers. Most icebergs in the North Atlantic originate in Greenland, which is rimmed by glaciers that flow to the coast. According to the International Ice Patrol, the elevated count in 2017 was caused by severe storms and higher than normal calving rates of Greenland’s glaciers, which many scientists consider a response to climate change.

However, Mark Carey, an environmental historian at the University of Oregon, says it is overly simplistic to equate iceberg production and climate change, as even growing glaciers calve.

“The classic iconic representation of global climate change is a glacier calving into the ocean, creating icebergs,” he said. “When reports of high numbers of icebergs in the North Atlantic appear, like in the last few years, people might simply think that this is because glaciers in Greenland are shrinking fast and shedding ice.”

An iceberg and oil rig in Bay Bulls on May 1, 2017 (Source: Diane Davis/Newfoundland Iceberg Reports).

In fact, he says the journey an iceberg takes from a Greenland glacier to “Iceberg Alley,” a famously dense area of icebergs on the Grand Banks, is long and complex, and involves more than just glacial calving.

First, a newly-birthed iceberg may never actually leave the fjord in which it was formed. If it does reach the open ocean, it will follow the Labrador Current, which flows north up the west coast of Greenland and south along the east coast of Canada, for as long as two years. During this time, the iceberg may become trapped in sea ice or run aground in shallows. The vast majority of icebergs never reach Iceberg Alley, where the International Ice Patrol counts the icebergs that drift into shipping lanes below 48 degrees north latitude.

“Winter sea ice conditions also affect whether a berg survives and where it goes, so regional weather and not just global climate influence the iceberg journey,” Carey said.

Nevertheless, icebergs can have dangerous outcomes for ships traveling through the North Atlantic region, as the world saw during the sinking of the Titanic and the Danish ship Hans Hedtoft in 1959.

History and global politics makes the North Atlantic especially sensitive to the movements of icebergs. “The North Atlantic has been an integral part of the international political, economic and security system of the day for up to a millennium,” said Rasmus Bertlesen, professor of Northern Studies at the University of Tromsø.

“These shipping lanes are very important, since the U.S., the Canadian East Coast, and Western Europe are power houses of the world economy,” he added.

A life ring that washed ashore in Iceland was the only trace of the Hans Hedtoft recovered (Source: Rasmus Bertelsen).

No ship has collided with an iceberg in the region monitored since the M.S. Hans Hedtoft sank on its maiden voyage. To keep up with fast-moving ice, the Danish Meteorological Institute has recently launched a project that uses artificial intelligence to analyze ice distribution. Though Bertelsen agrees more frequent maps are necessary, he fears history will repeat itself.

“North Atlantic shipping has been the story of technological hubris, human disaster and then technological safeguards,” he said. “Hopefully, these artificial intelligence ice maps will not be the Titanic or Hans Hedtoft of our time leading to disaster and reckoning.”

Carey believes that the portrayal of icebergs as threats to shipping also adds allure to the subject, spurring tourism in places like Newfoundland and Alaska.

Diane Davis, a retired schoolteacher from Newfoundland who runs the Facebook page “Newfoundland Iceberg Reports” agreed.

“Icebergs are a huge tourist draw to Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.

Davis created the Facebook page to facilitate iceberg sightings in the region. Currently, the page has 7,139 members, who monitor the photographs of icebergs and their locations.

Davis personally witnessed the higher density of icebergs in the North Atlantic over the last four years, and added that many of the icebergs drifted near coastal communities, where people were able to photograph them. The shipping industry is well-practiced at dealing with these icebergs, she said. More concerning to her is the interaction between icebergs and the offshore oil industry.

Diane Davis inspired a character in the Broadway musical “Come from Away,” and met Prime Minister Trudeau when the show toured in Newfoundland (Source: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

Carey concurs with Davis’ concern. “Icebergs only pose a risk when people get close to the bergs, or when an iceberg drifts close to human populations, infrastructure like docks or drilling platforms, or boats,” he said.

In March 2017, for example, Husky Energy’s SeaRose floating platform came within 463 meters of a large iceberg, threatening 84 crew members and 340,000 barrels of crude oil aboard. The board that monitors industry in the oilfields off Labrador suspended operations for SeaRose, the first such suspension in over a decade.

“Iceberg risk is not just about iceberg production or numbers of bergs in the shipping lanes,” Carey said. “It is also influenced by how often and how many people live, work, travel, and vacation near icebergs–and these numbers are on the rise all the time.”

Glacier Researcher Receives Major National Geographic Award

M Jackson (source: Annie Agnone).

M Jackson has recently completed her Ph.D. at the department of geography at the University of Oregon, based on her research on cultural perceptions of glacier retreat in Iceland. She has held U.S. Fulbright Scholarships in Iceland and Turkey, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. Her book While Glaciers Slept draws together family narratives of loss and death with environmental narratives of climate change, linking together mourning and courage, devastation and hope. She is one of the authors of a widely-recognized article on feminist perspectives in glaciology.

Jackson has led National Geographic Student Expeditions programs in Alaska and Iceland. She received recognition earlier this year as a 2017 National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She described this award and the events surrounding it in an interview with GlacierHub.

GH:  Could you please tell us one or two of the most memorable points of your time with the other NatGeo explorers?

M Jackson and other Emerging Explorers, at National Geographic Explorers Festival 2017 (source: National Geographic).

MJ: One of my favorite moments was on the third or fourth day of the National Geographic’s Explorer’s Festival, when I slipped into a small side room in the middle of the day just to take a breath amidst the many activities and events. So I walked into this room, saw a small chair, and I sat down, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. And when I opened my eyes, sitting directly across from me was Sylvia Earle (aka Her Deepness, or The Sturgeon General). [Earle is a leading marine biologist, and was the first female chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.] She was looking directly at me and smiling. And she said, “Hi M!” And for me, this was pretty incredible. Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence, has long been a hero of mine due both to her decades of incredible work and because she’s been such a pioneer and advocate for women in science. And for her to know me, and be so gracious with her time and supportive of my work— this was a very important moment for me.

A second moment that stands out was the first day, meeting the other 2017 Explorers. These were men and women from across the globe, all leaders in diverse fields, all gathered together in this place to talk about the work they love to do and genuinely interested in each other! And sitting there, listening to conversations about Zika, the Okavango, dinosaur fossils, glaciers, indigenous genome sequencing, participatory mapping in Chad, bomb-sniffing rats, jaguars, Gorongosa National Park [in the Great Rift Valley in Mozambique], orangutan dental health, photographing hummingbirds, and underwater robots, it was amazing to understand the similarities of all these different research foci and the potential for collaboration.


GH:  What were one or two of the surprises about your position as a NatGeo explorer?

M Jackson at Evolving Planet panel at Emerging Explorers Festival (source: National Geographic).

MJ: The surprise about being a 2017 NGS Explorer is the emphasis on collaboration. Across the board, throughout the symposium, whether Marina Elliot was talking about finding fossils within Rising Star [Cave] in South Africa, Tierney Thys was discussing bringing nature into jails, Neil DeGrasse Tyson was talking about how he became an explorer, Anand Varma telling us how he photographed parasites, or Adjany Costa describing how she walked 1,000 miles from the Okavango Delta in Botswana to the river’s headwaters, every one of these Explorers accomplished what they did through collaboration with other researchers, explorers, local people, and immense networks of supportive people. Accordingly, the emphasis as an Explorer is to collaborate— every person I talked with told me about the work they did and actively stretched to see where our work overlapped, what collaborative potential existed. None of us can do the work we do without the support of huge constellations of people and institutions.


GH: You have written very thoughtfully about the limits of the idea of exploration, and the masculine bias contained within it. As a feminist, what is your reaction to having the title of “explorer” bestowed on you?

M Jackson on sea ice in Iceland (source: Jill Schneider).

MJ: In times past, to be an “Explorer,” a person was traditionally a privileged male. There are obvious exceptions, but this was the general trend. Today, having the title of “Explorer” bestowed upon me alongside a group of diverse people (including other women and indigenous peoples) suggests that the idea of who can be an explorer, and how exploration is defined, has changed significantly and upended traditional conceptualizations of “explore.” This heartens and excites me. Look at the group of people named 2017 Explorers! Ideas about exploration are shifting, and more diverse peoples from across the human spectrum are challenging what exploration means.  More people, more voices, more views, more ideas, more diversity—all exploring this business of being human today. I am incredibly honored, and motivated, to represent and express what modern exploration means, and what an Explorer looks like in today’s context.


GH: You visited glaciers some years ago in the Kaçkar Mountains in Turkey, so different from Iceland. What connections do you see between those earlier experiences and your more recent work in Iceland?

M Jackson [left] and Sigrún Sveinbjörnsdóttir [right] at Hón, Iceland (source: Instagram).
MJ: Whether I’m with glaciers in, for example, northern Turkey, Alaska, Iceland, or Canada, I find that local people tend to create fascinating relationships with ice, relations that are incredibly important to examine in today’s Anthropocene. If we can make sense of the multitudes of ways people and ice relate, and how climate change contours those modern relations, I think we can really move the needle in how we understand how people everywhere relate to their own local changing environments.


GH: You are an American, and Nat Geo is an American organization. But glaciers are found around the world, and glacier retreat is a global process. Do you see any specifically American elements in your work in Iceland, or in your connection to NatGeo?

M Jackson during field work in Iceland (source: James Bernal).

MJ: I am an American, and if anything, being an American in the field in other countries seems to open more conversations about climate change. The climate change/science/culture wars in America are well known internationally, and I find that people from diverse geographies often want to talk with me about what is happening in America and American politics. For example, when an academic article I co-authored about a feminist approach to glaciology was misrepresented in the American media in 2016, and I was subsequently harassed online by climate deniers, many colleagues I was working with in Iceland struggled to understand how such things could occur. How could publishing academic work result in sexualized and highly gendered harassment? I find that talking through both my own experiences and American climate change politics generally opens up into insightful conversations about climate change experiences, engagements, and reactions within the various countries and communities I work within.


GH: In your NatGeo talk, you said, “Glaciers are part of who I am.” This experience of feeling an intermingling between yourself and the natural world is different from some other notions of exploration, in which the explorer encounters the natural world as Other. Has exploration been changing? 

M Jackson during field work in Iceland (source: James Bernal).

MJ: I impact what I research, and what I research impacts me. I’ve explored glaciers for decades, and who I am today is shaped by the experiences I’ve had with ice across the planet. To me, it is natural that glaciers inform who I am. While sometimes in science the researcher disappears from the research process, I think researchers and explorers are human beings first, participating in multitudes of lived, human experiences alongside what they study— be it glaciers in the Arctic or molecules in a lab. I try to be as open about that process as possible.

Photo Friday: Iceland through Instagram

This week, Fulbright scholar and researcher M Jackson shares a glimpse of her work and travel in Höfn, Iceland, which she deems “cryosphere paradise,” as captured through Instagram.
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M Jackson is a U.S. Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon. She’s currently based in Höfn, Iceland, through a U.S. Fulbright-National Science Foundation Arctic Research Grant, where she’s researching glacier/society relationships.  The images here are all within an hour’s drive of Jackson’s home in Artbjarg, Höfn, and show the outlet glaciers pouring from the largest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajökull. Jackson will spend the winter exploring these glaciers and getting to know the Icelandic people who live near their peripheries.
Many thanks to M Jackson for sharing her photos with us. You can follow her on Instagram at @mlejackson. This is her second appearance in GlacierHub, following an an earlier post on her previous research.