‘When the Glaciers Disappear, Those Species Will Go Extinct’

‘When the Glaciers Disappear, Those Species Will Go Extinct’

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: April 17, 2019 SNIP: When it was built in the early 1900s, the road into Mount Rainier National Park from the west passed near the foot of the Nisqually Glacier, one of the mountain’s longest. Visitors could stop for ice cream at a stand built among the glacial boulders and gaze in awe at the ice. The ice cream stand is long gone. The glacier now ends more than a mile farther up the mountain. As surely as they are melting elsewhere around the world, glaciers are disappearing in North America, too. This great melting will affect ecosystems and the creatures within them, like the salmon that spawn in meltwater streams. This is on top of the effects on the water that billions of people drink, the crops they grow and the energy they need. Glacier-fed ecosystems are delicately balanced, populated by species that have adapted to the unique conditions of the streams. As glaciers shrink and meltwater eventually declines, changes in water temperature, nutrient content and other characteristics will disrupt those natural communities. “Lots of these ecosystems have evolved with the glaciers for thousands of years or maybe longer,” said Jon Riedel, a geologist with the National Park Service who has established glacier monitoring programs at Rainier and other parks. Streams that are mostly fed by glacial meltwater often have unique species that have adapted to the cold conditions. Reducing or eventually eliminating the contribution of this meltwater will raise stream temperatures. Even a small temperature increase can have potentially negative effects. “Certain species like cold water,” said Alexander M. Milner, a professor...
Siren sounds on nuclear fallout embedded in melting glaciers

Siren sounds on nuclear fallout embedded in melting glaciers

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: April 10, 2019 SNIP: Radioactive fallout from nuclear meltdowns and weapons testing is nestled in glaciers across the world, scientists said Wednesday, warning of a potentially hazardous time bomb as rising temperatures melt the icy residue. For the first time, an international team of scientists has studied the presence of nuclear fallout in ice surface sediments on glaciers across the Arctic, Iceland the Alps, Caucasus mountains, British Columbia and Antarctica. It found manmade radioactive material at all 17 survey sites, often at concentrations at least 10 times higher than levels elsewhere. When radioactive material is released into the atmosphere, it falls to earth as acid rain, some of which is absorbed by plants and soil. But when it falls as snow and settles in the ice, it forms heavier sediment which collects in glaciers, concentrating the levels of nuclear residue. As well as disasters, radioactive material produced from weapons testing was also detected at several research sites. One of the most potentially hazardous residues of human nuclear activity is Americium, which is produced when Plutonium decays. Whereas Plutonium has a half-life of 14 years, Americium lasts 400. “Americium is more soluble in the environment and it is a stronger alpha (radiation) emitter. Both of those things are bad in terms of uptake into the food chain,” said...
Melting glaciers contribute a third of sea-level rise

Melting glaciers contribute a third of sea-level rise

SOURCE: National Geographic and Phys.org DATE: April 8, 2019 SNIP: Like an ice cube on a hot summer day, many of Earth’s glaciers are shrinking. Last January, a study in Nature Climate Change showed the world’s glaciers are the smallest they’ve been in human history, revealing radiocarbon material that hasn’t been exposed for 40,000 years. Now, new research published in Nature quantifies how much the world’s lost glaciers have contributed to rising sea levels. Glaciers have lost more than 9 trillion tons (that is 9,625,000,000,000 tons) of ice between 1961 and 2016, which has resulted in global sea levels rising by 27 millimeters in this period. The largest contributors were glaciers in Alaska, followed by the melting ice fields in Patagonia and glaciers in the Arctic regions. Glaciers in the European Alps, the Caucasus and New Zealand were also subject to significant ice loss; however, due to their relatively small glacierized areas, they played only a minor role when it comes to the rising global sea levels. They found mountain glaciers contribute roughly a third of measured sea-level rise—the same contribution to sea-level rise as the Greenland ice sheet and more than the contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet. Their research also highlighted that many of the world’s glaciers may disappear in the next century. The global mass loss of glacier ice has increased significantly in the last 30 years, and currently amounts to 335 billion tons of lost ice each year. This corresponds to an increase in sea levels of almost one millimeter per...
Climate change could melt decades worth of human poop at Denali National Park in Alaska

Climate change could melt decades worth of human poop at Denali National Park in Alaska

SOURCE: USA Today DATE: March 31, 2019 SNIP: There’s good news and bad news at Denali, North America’s tallest mountain. The bad news is that the 66 tons of frozen feces left by climbers on the Alaska summit is expected to start melting out of the glacier sometime in the coming decades and potentially as soon as this summer, a process that’s speeding up in part due to global warming. The good news is that this year, for the first time, the guide companies that lead many of the 1,200 climbers who attempt the summit each year have voluntarily decided to start packing out their human waste. This comes just a year after the National Park Service instituted a policy that all such waste below 14,000 feet must be carried off the mountain. The poop problem is very real. Climbers scaling Denali, previously known as Mount McKinley, generate close to 2 metric tons of human waste each year, according to the National Park Service. (The average human “deposit” weighs half a pound and the average length of a climber’s stay on the mountain is 18 days, which is how researchers got the figure of 66 tons over the course of the past century.) Initially, human waste was left in snow pits on the Kahiltna glacier, the most common route up, or thrown into deep crevasses at higher elevations. It was believed that the waste would be ground up in the ice over time. It turns out that what goes around comes around, even in a glacier, Loso said. He performed several experiments that show the buried feces eventually resurface...
Polar Warning: Even Antarctica’s Coldest Region Is Starting to Melt

Polar Warning: Even Antarctica’s Coldest Region Is Starting to Melt

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: March 28, 2019 SNIP: No place on Earth is colder than East Antarctica. Home to the South Pole and making up two-thirds of the southernmost continent, the vast ice sheets of East Antarctica — formed over tens of millions of years — are nearly three miles thick in places. The temperature commonly hovers around -67 degrees Fahrenheit (-55 degrees Celsius); in 2010, some spots on East Antarctica’s polar plateau plunged to a record-breaking -144 degrees F. Now, however, parts of the East Antarctic are melting. Research into what’s happening in East Antarctica is still in its early stages. It’s hard to decipher what exactly is taking place on a gigantic continent of ice with just a few decades of satellite data and limited actual measurements of things like snowfall and ocean temperatures. But according to one controversial paper released earlier this year, East Antarctica is now, in fact, shrinking, and is already responsible for 20 percent of the continent’s ice loss. Scientists are seeing worrying signs of ice loss in the East Antarctic. Glaciers are starting to move more quickly, dumping their ice into the Southern Ocean; in satellite images, depictions of the fast-moving ice light up in red, like a panic sign. A melting East Antarctic is deeply worrying. The Antarctic as a whole contains about 90 percent of the planet’s ice — enough in theory to raise global sea levels an average of roughly 200 feet should it all...