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Tibetan glaciers are shrinking at their summits.


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Posted
  • Location: Derbyshire Peak District South Pennines Middleton & Smerrill Tops 305m (1001ft) asl.
  • Location: Derbyshire Peak District South Pennines Middleton & Smerrill Tops 305m (1001ft) asl.

    High-Himalayan glaciers thinning.

     

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/robnunn/5312171842/

     

    This fascinating image shows a variety of textures formed in ice of the Khumbu glacier in Nepal; one of the main glaciers that drain the Everest area and a stop on the most common route to the summit.

    I’m sharing this image to illustrate some new scientific work on glaciers like this one in the highest parts of the Himalaya. Ponder this question to go with this photo; how do you determine whether a glacier at this altitude is shrinking or growing?

    Many glaciers at lower elevations are retreating; the position they stop at can be measured year after year, and they’re mostly retreating up valleys around the world. High in mountain ranges and far away from the terminus however, figuring out what a glacier is doing is difficult. Glaciers move down valleys and can stretch, crack, and bend as they do. Snow will pile up on glaciers in the winter and, as you see here, it can form some fascinating structures when it melts/evaporates in the summer.

    If you tried to measure the thickness of this glacier from the air, perhaps by bouncing lasers off it to measure the height, features like this would make it very difficult to get an accurate estimate. A few glaciers may be well tracked and people on the ground could actively measure the thickness, but most glaciers in the high-Himalaya are so remote that people aren’t going to regularly make that measurement.

    These glaciers are a major part of feeding the watersheds for the cities below, so monitoring their health is important. Some recently presented work by a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research strongly suggests these glaciers may be in more trouble than we think.

    If a glacier at these elevations is growing or even steady, it will add some snow at its summit every year and it will lose some mass at its base every year. At the highest parts of the glacier therefore, a new band of snow should be produced every year. That band of snow will contain remnants of other things happening in the atmosphere; volcanic ash, dust, or even manmade components.

    There are 2 easily measured horizons that should show up in these glaciers. From 1952 to 1963, aerial nuclear weapons tests produced radioactive tritium that would be stored in the ice layers, and in 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine produced a similar radioactive spike. If a scientist takes a core through a stable glacier in the Himalayas today and works downwards, those years should be easily recognized by the radioactive elements.

    These researchers sampled several glaciers that were previously unmonitored and looked for those years. In one glacier, the Guoqu glacier in Central Tibet, the bomb test signal shows up but the glacier does not include the Chernobyl signal or any volcanic eruptions following 1982. Other measures, such as mercury content, also only track up to the early 1980’s, suggesting that this glacier has not added significant mass since the early 1980s, a period of 3 decades. If later years were added, they have since ablated away.

    Another glacier in southern Tibet, the Lanong glacier, is in even worse shape. It contains neither the Chernobyl signal nor the atmospheric weapons test signal. That glacier has not been able to add mass at a normal rate for years; any ice added since the 1950s, and perhaps even earlier, has melted or ablated away.

    Many of these glaciers are unmonitored and since it is difficult to measure their thicknesses using any other technique people haven’t believed they could be in this bad of shape, but decades of mass loss in the investigated locations is a very disturbing trend. These results suggest that the glaciers of the high Himalayas, which supply water to hundreds of millions of people, are suffering the effects of a changing climate even worse than was expected. This type of sampling clearly needs to happen on a larger scale to better assess the health of these systems.

     

     

    Press report:
    http://tibet.net/2013/09/18/tibetan-glaciers-are-shrinking-at-their-summits/

     

    Image credit: Robert Nunn

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/robnunn/5312171842/

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    Posted
  • Location: Eastbourne, East Sussex (work in Mid Sussex)
  • Location: Eastbourne, East Sussex (work in Mid Sussex)

    It's all down to Indian cooking:

     

     

    Clean cookstoves could boost the health of women in the developing world while, at the same time, reducing the impact of soot on glaciers, according to research. The organisation Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves says the traditional mud stoves used in developing countries are a health problem that disproportionately affects women. In many traditional societies, cooking and fuel collection remains a woman's responsibility. And the black smoke from these stoves is wrecking the health of millions of people each year. 
     
    But more recently, acknowledged that the black smoke from the stoves is also heating the atmosphere and contributing to the decline of glaciers. Sooty particles from the open fires drift up to mountains where they settle on gleaming white ice, making it darker and more prone to absorbing heat from the Sun.
     
    A recent paper concluded that soot from Europe's industrial revolution could have shrunk Alpine glaciers. The same is happening now in the Himalayas where the glaciers supply tens of millions of people with meltwater which keeps rivers flowing during the dry season. A remedy that tackles both problems is a new-style cooker which reduces smoke by 80%. It also needs only half as much wood fuel, which reduces the strain on forests and saves people time.
     
    The mini marvel we witnessed in blazing action at Tanda in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is a twin stainless steel cylinder resembling a small bathroom pedal bin. The heat is controlled with remarkable precision by a battery-powered fan beneath. The local shop-keeper has bought the stove for his four daughters who do the cooking in the family. One, Sonali Maurya, tells me they're delighted because the old mud stove sometimes made the kitchen unpleasantly hot, turned the pots black and making her sisters cough.
     
    The cooker, designed by a Delhi research institute, Teri, cost about £40 under a scheme supported by UK taxpayers' aid. The design has also also been made open-source. But the alliance keeps a catalogue of other clean cook stoves. The task is to get models like it to the estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide that currently rely on mud stoves.

     

     

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24204668

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    Posted
  • Location: Beccles, Suffolk.
  • Weather Preferences: Thunder, snow, heat, sunshine...
  • Location: Beccles, Suffolk.

    Couldn't it simply be down to a drier atmosphere and less snowfall?

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    Posted
  • Location: Napton on the Hill Warwickshire 500ft
  • Weather Preferences: Snow and heatwave
  • Location: Napton on the Hill Warwickshire 500ft

    Couldn't it simply be down to a drier atmosphere and less snowfall?

     

    Last year the guardian was saying no ice loss.

     

    The world's greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows. The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall

     

     

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/feb/08/glaciers-mountains

     

    Maybe next year all will be well again

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    Posted
  • Location: Camborne
  • Location: Camborne

    Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures

     

    There is mounting evidence that climate change is triggering a shrinking and thinning of many glaciers world-wide which may eventually put at risk water supplies for hundreds of millions — if not billions — of people. Data gaps exist in some vulnerable parts of the globe undermining the ability to provide precise early warning for countries and populations at risk. If the trend continues and governments fail to agree on deep and decisive emission reductions at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, it is possible that glaciers may completely disappear from many mountain ranges in the 21st century.

     

    http://www.grid.unep.ch/glaciers/

     

    And also the Guardian three years ago.

     

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jan/25/world-glacier-monitoring-service-figures

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    There's much speculation on both sides regarding Tibetan glaciers and indeed glaciers globally, each responding to varying regional climatic influences. Obviously the impact of Tibetan ice loss could be large in human terms, and the suggestion that Kilimanjaro could be ice-free within 20 years would be highly symbolic.

    But it's surprising that there aren't more people following the fate of last remaining ice on Puncak Jaya in Indonesia, the Carstensz and Northwall Firn glaciers which might literally vanish at almost any time now

     

    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/83741855

    http://epress.anu.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/ch261.pdf

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    Posted
  • Location: North York Moors
  • Location: North York Moors

    It's a decidedly weak story to expand into alarmist propaganda.
    It actually says:


    “We used to think that glaciers at high elevations were pretty safe, but this study shows that this might not be the case — at least at certain locations,†he adds. “But we don’t know how common the phenomenon is.â€

    Ice cores from extreme elevations are few and far between. The only other Tibetan glacier that is known to be losing ice at high altitudes is the Naimona’nyi glacier in the southwest of the Tibetan Plateau

    Take into account an entirely contrary report from the previous year (when an IPCC pronouncement was not imminent!)
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/feb/08/glaciers-mountains

     

    The world's greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows.

    The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.

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