Stories tagged glaciers

Oct
15
2010

I'm watching you...: No, not you, JGordon. Get over yourself.
I'm watching you...: No, not you, JGordon. Get over yourself.Courtesy NOAA Photo Library
I always assumed that I was under near-constant supervision by government satellites. I figured that because satellites can’t really see me inside stores (where I do all my shoplifting), they’d be making up for lost time by watching me put stolen clothing on the dog (in the yard) and having my bubble baths (near a window).

At first it was creepy … but then it was sort of comforting. Like a nightlight. A nightlight that’s always looking at you.

Well, it turns out that my privacy may actually be pretty low on NASA’s list of priorities.

See, a new online system was just launched in the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, which should allow scientists and concerned organizations access to images from NASA satellites. Cool, I thought. I’ll get a fancy new hat. But, no, it just so happens that the images aren’t of me relaxing on the roof, or of me washing my car in carwash-appropriate clothing—they’re images of the Himalayas, and the massive glaciers they hold.

I wouldn’t say that I’m “devastated,” exactly. But I am crushed. I thought we—NASA and I—had something. I mean, yes, those images are recorded and distributed to track the effects of climate change on Himalayan glaciers, and, yes, the glaciers appear to be shrinking at an alarming rate, and, yes, more than a billion people depend on the water released by those glaciers, but … what about my feelings?

Hopefully, the data provided by the satellites will help the people in vast regions of Asia to prepare for floods and, perhaps eventually, severe shortages of fresh water.

In the meantime… I guess I’ll just hide some nanny-cams around the house. To feel looked after, you know?

[It's Blog Action Day 2010, and this year's theme is water.]

The Extreme Ice Survey is a really fascinating project that documents melting glaciers using time-lapse photography. Check out their videos--the changes they've documented in just a few years are a bit scary!
(P.S. It's also a great complement to our current photo exhibit Double Exposure.)

Jun
30
2010

Double Exposure: A new photo exhibit at SMM!
We often hear about global warming as an invisible chemical process, but rarely do we meet its direct impacts face-to-face. A new exhibit on Level 6 puts the evidence right before your eyes, and it might just give you a chill. Double Exposure: Aerial Photographs of Glaciers Then and Now opened in early June and runs through Labor Day (Mon. Sept. 6). It compares old and new photos of glaciers in Alaska and the Alps. The exhibit is a precursor to the upcoming exhibit Future Earth, opening Fall 2011, which will ask, "How do we survive and thrive on a human dominated planet?" (More on Future Earth coming soon!)

How to get to the exhibit:
Stop by on your way to dine at the Elements Cafe! Take the lobby elevators or musical stairs to Level 6 and turn right. You can't miss it!

More about Double Exposure
Global climate change is more obvious in glaciers and oceans than it is in the atmosphere because air reacts very quickly to changes in temperature. Ice and water, on the other hand, react very slowly due to thermal inertia--they only show changes in temperature that are slow and build up over time. So, by the time a change shows up in the oceans or glaciers, we can conclude that it's a long-term cumulative effect rather than a temporary fluctuation. This is why the Double Exposure project is so important.

Double Exposure follows the work of David Arnold, a freelance journalist and photographer who set out to duplicate the work of photographer Bradford Washburn. Washburn had photographed glaciers in Alaska and the Alps in the 1930s and 1960s. To create a visual record of climate change, Arnold worked from 2005-2007 to photograph some of the same sites as Washburn from the same vantage points. As you compare the old and new images, you can see that significant melting and changes in the flow of water took place in as little as 45 years.

As a visitor to Double Exposure, you'll learn how to read a glacier and interpret the photographs yourself with the exhibit to guide you. You'll learn how Arnold solved the challenge of duplicating Washburn's photos with physics. You'll also learn about current impacts, trends, and potential solutions to global warming.
So, please come check out these amazing photos!

Mar
27
2009

Ever wonder just why the Red River seems to flood so regularly? North Dakota State geology professor Don Schwert says:

"Fargo and Moorhead sit on one of the flattest surfaces on Earth. It's the lakebed of what was a gigantic lake at one time--glacial Lake Agassiz. Lake Agassiz was here from about 12,000 years ago to about 9,000 years ago, and after the lake drained, it left behind sediments that formed this flat surface. These sediments form the basis for wonderful soils, but they form as well this flat surface off of which water is reluctant to drain. And so the Red River is doing the best it can in trying to process water across this flat landscape. But what happens is that, during times of floods, as we're having now, water spills out of the channel and onto the bed of the old glacial lake, and the glacial lake sort of reappears."

"The Red River Valley is unusual compared to other river valleys around the world. Most river valleys are effectively carved by the rivers themselves (if you think about the Colorado River, or the Mississippi River). But the Red River Valley, the river itself couldn't have begun to flow until glacial Lake Agassiz drained about 9,000 years ago. Now the importance of that statement is that we normally measure the ages of rivers around the world in terms of hundreds of thousands of years, millions of years, maybe even tens of millions of years, and here we have a river that began to flow about 9,000 years ago, and began to flow across this flat surface. It hasn't had time and it hasn't had the energy to carve any kind of meaningful valley. The lakebed of Lake Agassiz becomes the effective floodplain in times of flooding, and the river spills out onto the old lakebed, and glacial Lake Agassiz kind of reappears."

"One of the problems with the Red River is that floods can't be confined, in an engineering sense, by means of dams. A dam crosses a river valley, and water builds up behind it, and it can store water. Well, here we have this expansive surface: the feature we call the Red River Valley is actually the lakebed of Lake Agassiz, and in some places it's 60 or 70 miles wide, and there's no way, really, of effectively managing water in terms of reservoir storage in the southern Red River Valley.... There's really no other river in the world like it."

"[The Red River flows north, which is not really unusual.] But it does have a consequence: typically, in the Red River Valley, a spring thaw begins in the southern portion of the valley. So waters are released in the southern portion of the valley and begin slowly to work their way northward at about the same pace, perhaps, as the the thaw is working its way northward along the valley. So as waters are being delivered northward, waters are also being released in portions of the valley. And everything's kind of clumping together and keeps on building up as the river and its waters and the flood are processed northward. So it becomes very problematic, particularly in the northern portion of the valley: massive, shallow, expansive floods. In 1997, in portions just north of the North Dakota border on into Manitoba, one could measure the flood, in terms of width, at 60 to 70 miles wide. An Ohio River flood might be 1,000 yards. Here it's 60 to 70 miles wide, so it's an incredibly expansive flood. It's sort of a rebuilding of the old lake, in that sense."

"Urban development, or urbanization, is a problem worldwide in terms of helping to exacerbate flooding of rivers. If we think about the path of a raindrop before human settlement, that raindrop would take a long time being delivered into the main drainage. But here in Fargo-Moorhead, or cities elsewhere around the world, we can process that raindrop in a matter of minutes or a couple hours in there, and it's immediately delivered into the channel. When we think about parking lots and shopping malls, housing and driveways and streets, highly efficient drainage ditches or drain tiles in agricultural fields--all of that is processing water, all of that is accelerating the delivery of water into the main stem drainages."

(You can listen for yourself at the link above.)

Glacial Lake Agassiz and the Red River Valley: Not all of this huge area was underwater at one time, but Lake Agassiz was bigger than all the Great Lakes put together and held more water than all the lakes in the world today.
Glacial Lake Agassiz and the Red River Valley: Not all of this huge area was underwater at one time, but Lake Agassiz was bigger than all the Great Lakes put together and held more water than all the lakes in the world today.Courtesy Figure 1-2 from A River Runs North, by Gene Krenz and Jay Leitch, Red River Water Resources Council (1993)

Lake Agassiz
Lake AgassizCourtesy North Dakota Geologic Survey

More interesting resources:

Minnesota Public Radio posted this cool time-lapse, shot over 20 minutes, of sandbag operations at the Fargodome on Wednesday, 3/25.

One more interesting/worrisome thing to consider: the area of Canada once covered by the glaciers and glacial Lake Agassiz is still slowly rebounding after being pressed down by the weight of the ice. According to the New York Times,

"For the north-flowing Red River, that means its downhill slope, already barely perceptible, is getting even less pronounced with each passing year, adding to its complexity, and its propensity to flood."

Research showing that the glaciers of Glacier National Park might be gone by 2030 was wrong. New aerial surveys of the park's glaciers found them to be retreating faster than previously thought. Park scientists with the USGS now think the park could be glacierless by 2020.

Sep
25
2008

Rubber ducky you're the one...
Rubber ducky you're the one...Courtesy Mark Ryan
Boy, times must be getting tough if NASA’s latest endeavor is any indication. Researchers from the space agency recently dropped a whole slew of rubber ducks into openings in Greenland's Jakobshaven Glacier in hopes of understanding how and where melt waters from the ice sheet ends up in Baffin Bay. They’re also trying to understand why glaciers increase their speed during the summer months. The Jakobshaven Glacier, which is suspected of calving the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912, is Greenland’s fastest moving glacier. The current thinking is that melt water forming on top of the ice flow during the summer months travels down narrow tubes called moulins to the glaciers base where it acts as a lubricant thus speeding up the ice sheet's movement. This isn’t exactly rocket science, is it? Anyway, each little ducky carries a label with the words "science experiment" and "reward" printed on it in three languages, along with an email address. The researchers hope that those who come across the toy quackers will contact them with information about when and where they found them. So far no one has gotten back to NASA but agency officials are confidant when they do it will add to our understanding of glaciers and their role in rising sea levels. So why has NASA has resorted to using such a low-tech approach? One source claims it's because a previous test using a metallic probe failed to return any data. Another source claims the probe is being used in conjunction with the rubber bath toys. Whatever the case it looks duck hunting season has opened.

SOURCES and LINKS

CNN story
NetworkWorld story
Discovery Channel story
Animation about Jakobshaven Glacier

Mar
23
2008

The Briksdal Glacier: Not at its most impressive. Just look away.
The Briksdal Glacier: Not at its most impressive. Just look away.Courtesy xdmag
Across the globe, glaciers are suffering the humiliation of being seen in a state of exacerbated shrinkage.

Having gone so long without serious scrutiny as to their size, the bedroom door has been thrown open on the glaciers of the world, leaving them flailing to cover up what little is left of theirs to cover up.

“What did you expect?” Points out one glacier. “We’re cold. that’s what happens.”

Climatologists would disagree, however, on the cause of the shrinkage, if not the shrinkage itself, viewing the phenomenon as a key indicator of a warming climate. Average glacial shrinkage, it is reported, has risen from about 30 centimeters a year between 1980 and 1999, to 1.5 meters in 2006.

The glaciers, as they retreat like “frightened turtles” into their mountain refuges, are causing alarm not only as indicators of global climate change, but for their own diminishing potential to supply fresh water for “drinking, agriculture, industry, and power generation.”

Glaciers are believed to have started shrinking globally around 1850, although the rate of shrinkage looks to have increased dramatically in the early 80’s, and Dr. Wilfried Haeberli, director of the World Glacier Monitoring service, says that “the latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight.”

An article in Science magazine notes two of Greenland's largest glaciers, which were thought to be shrinking, have recently stabilized and even increased in mass. Previous estimate of rapid melting were based on just a few observations over a short period of time; additional study showed that the melting period was something of an anomaly.

Glaciers in the North American Rockies are changing in response to rising global temperatures and other variables. Free presentation at Macalester College by Professor Kelly MacGregor 7:00 pm, Thursday, 10/26/2006 in Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel.