Book about glacier research on Vernagtferner

Heidi Escher-Vetter worked at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences section of Geodesy and Glaciology for decades focusing her research on examining the methods of glacier monitoring and analysing the results of the changing Ötztal glaciers. In 2020 she has prepared a book describing her personal experiences of this work history and its now available for pre-order.

thumbnail of Vernagtferner_Flyer_WEB

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The massive European Geosciences Union annual conference is online as #shareEGU20 this year due to global pandemic conditions. This is unusual but offers a new model for conference exchanges going forward, and I’ll note some thoughts on this here.

  • The sessions are now open to the public, and free, which is a massive change, and a good one!
  • Its great that a large number of people have uploaded display materials which will be publicly accessible (mostly under CCBY licensing), although you could choose to do this in previous years I see this also as a massive advantage to open science that so many are doing this year.
  • The chat format is a bit strange, but I have the feeling that its also a bit of leveller and has some positive aspects for inclusion, and people are behaving very nicely with it, despite it being faceless.
  • I imagine its also helpful for people who don’t feel confident speaking up in English, whether its giving a presentation or asking questions, the text format might help.
  • On the other hand it was pointed out to me that its exhausting for dyslexics … wow – I bet it is!
  • Although it can get a bit hectic I like that several topics can be discussed in parallel – its very efficient this way, and I think presenters are perhaps getting more feedback overall – and certainly a more even distribution of feedback.
  • My impression is that people are preparing and reviewing material and this is a huge advantage in generating valuable and engaged discussion of the material.
  • Plus some people have done AMAZING jobs of uploading cool content:like videos of their presentations or interactive website presentations. Very impressive examples of making the most of the new format.
  • I also like that the material is open for online comments for an extended period, which gives people more time to engage with the science being presented.
  • Its still overwhelmingly large as a conference, and many sessions seems to have overlapping themes making it hard to know if you are ‘getting’ all the contributions on a particular topic (this is problem in the in-person conference as well).
  • Some sessions are doing ‘external’ video conferencing sessions – which is a cool and flexible option for smaller sessions, but also introduces a random element in the timetable you had to register for some sessions and not others, for example I missed registering for a session that I did not notice was not an online chat.
  • Its a pity that some of the short courses are not offered – as these are a very valuable part of EGU.
  • For conveners its extremely valuable to have a side audio chat going on, and I guess this functionality could be added within the EGU online platform in the future.
  • Possibly, it could be valuable to have the functionality of ‘threads’ in the live chat but I’m not 100% convinced this will be an advantage, as focussed discussion can already be switched to the presentation comments section as is.

All in all, I had low expectations but found that it worked remarkably well – congratulations EGU and all the scientists and administrators making it work!

I’m just listing the contributions that I’m involved in here so the the University asks me for updates on my participation I can just copy/paste from here without having to remember it:

Session CR4.1/GM7.8: Evolution of glacial-periglacial-paraglacial landscapes and debris-covered glaciers

Convener: Johannes Buckel. Co-conveners: Adina Racoviteanu, Evan Miles, Lindsey Nicholson, Tobias Bolch, Anne Voigtländer,Jasper Knight, Darren Jones

Displays | Chat Wed, 06 May, 08:30–12:30
… tweeting about this from @RockyGlaciers

The statistics for this session were: 192 participants in the online chat session, 38 abstracts were in there, of which 27 had display materials uploaded and presented, which was a pretty good turnout.

Ice thickness measurements of the debris covered Ngozumpa glacier, Nepal

  • Lindsey Nicholson, Fabien Maussion, Christoph Mayer, Hamish Pritchard, Astrid Lambrecht, Anna Wirbel, and Christoph Klug  … Wed, 06 May, 10:45–12:30 | D2523
Results of the IACS Debris-covered Glaciers Working Group melt model intercomparison

  • Francesca Pellicciotti, Adria Fontrodona-Bach, David Rounce, and Lindsey Nicholson … Wed, 06 May, 10:45–12:30 | D2524
The challenge of non-stationary feedbacks within the response of debris-covered glaciers to climate forcing

  • Anna Wirbel, Lindsey Nicholson, Christoph Mayer, and Astrid Lambrecht … Wed, 06 May, 10:45–12:30 | D2527
Sediment dynamics in glacierized catchments: a comparison study from two proglacial streams in the Sulden catchment (Eastern Italian Alps)

  • Michael Engel, Velio Coviello, Anuschka Buter, Ricardo Carillo, Sushuke Miyata, Giulia Marchetti, Andrea Andreoli, Sara Savi, Christian Kofler, Vittoria Scorpio, Lindsey Nicholson, and Francesco Comiti …Thu, 07 May, 08:30–10:15 | D1146

A multi-scale investigation of geometrically derived z0 from Hintereisferner, Austrian Alps

  • Joshua Chambers, Mark Smith, Thomas Smith, Duncan Quincey, Jonathan Carrivick, Lindsey Nicholson, Jordan Mertes, Rudolf Sailer, and Ivana Stiperski … Mon, 04 May, 16:15–18:00 | D2693

And finally the 3rd IACS Working Group on Debris Covered Glaciers meeting on Thursday!

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Records of loss and the left behind

At the start of my MA in Art&Science at the University for Applied Arts in Vienna, we introduced out background to our fellow students. As part of this I made a sort of display about how working on glacier change is very human, low tech+high tech, carefully executed, but sometimes messy, sometimes emotional kind of activity. This became a wall installation, but shortly afterwards I made a digital version of it too:

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The practice of my science

I am currently studying for an MA in Art&Science at the University for Applied Arts in Vienna (die Angewandte). At the opening of the course we had to present something about our background. I prepared a recreation of a scientists desk to try and illustrate the mild chaos that can ensue from the multiplicity of tasks we need to do and keep track of. I accompanied it with the following text:

The practice of my science

The lowest of low-tech: digging holes in snow, weighing snow in a Ziploc with a hand held scale, pencil notes in a book. Aching muscles in a majestic setting, it takes exactly how long you expect it to, results proportional to physical effort and preparation.

High tech: electronics, precision sensors, laser scans, surrogate worlds coded into reality on supercomputers: It all takes much longer than expected.

In answering a question , another arrives, then …

Read (so many) journal articles | (Read books to understand the articles) | Learn how to code … then learn better | Write a proposal; rewrite it | Buy the gear; program, test, install it | Prepare a new course – its got to be innovative | Teaching/grading/coaching/mentoring | Analyze the data | Read more papers about statistics, get confused and frustrated | Write a paper, then another, another … more is the way we are judged | Respond to reviews, and review others | Accounting, meetings, reports, emails, journalists | Looming conference deadline | I should tell the public what I do …

Really? Should I?

It’s a messy storm of activity. Time to think deeply only snatched in between things. So much for the ivory tower. Is this what you imagined?

Actually, this was a refection on how I feel about being so rushed in science. If I look at my schedule as an Associate Professor, one full day/week is taken up with meetings, then 2-3 with teaching (including preparation time, and assessment time, and responding to students questions), so theres at best about 1.5 days/week for ‘all the rest’ of the rest of the activities. Its not much time in which to produce innovative science and outreach, when viewed that way. On the other hand academia is flexible and I think we need to use time blocking and heavy handed prioritising to boost the outputs of what we want to achieve. This start-of-MA exercise really helped crystallise in my mind what I love and struggle with about working in academia. An interesting beginning for sure, and a first example of how ‘artistic’ practice can help self-reflection, resetting proprieties and shine a different sort of light on issues.

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Glaciers on Mt Kenya

Its been years since I visited Mt Kenya and it feels like a lifetime ago. I am feeling a sort of longing for the land of the giant lobelia and vertical bog of Mt Kenya and also for all the good times and wonderful adventures I had throughout Kenya. I miss it.

As you can see, its an incredibly beautiful environment, and glaciers so close to the equator are a very special case. These glaciers are projected to disappear by about 2030, so

  • Is climate change largely responsible for the rapid retreat of the glaciers of Kenya?
  • Are there other factors that might be more responsible for the loss of ice?

Well, the summary of the research (from our research group and a lot of earlier research by Stefan Hastenrath and his colleagues) shows that climate change is impacting the glaciers and, in the case of Mt Kenya, this is likely to be due to both warming and drying of conditions at the peak of Mt Kenya, such that the glaciers are melting faster and at the same time receiving less snow.

The drying of Mt Kenya is a signal found across East Africa – at the mountains like Mt Kenya and Kilimanjaro and in the lowlands. Precipitation amounts become more variable and generally less, and wet seasons become shorter. The drying is caused by change in sea surface temperature patterns over the Indian Ocean that control the moisture transport towards East Africa. This change in sea surface pattern was found to be a consequence of global warming.

More importantly than its direct influence on ice melt, the warming signal on Mt Kenya leads to a higher proportion of rainfall instead of snowfall. This means a lack of mass input to the glacier and a decrease in albedo, which causes a higher absorption of solar radiation and thus increased melt.

Research findings suggest that the glaciers on Mt Kenya formed under climate conditions that must have differed substantially to those of recent decades, and as such the glaciers will not survive. Indeed the modern day conditions at the summit indicate temperatures only just below freezing, so in a general sense, this location is not currently very conducive to glacier formation or survival.

The especially rapid rate of recent retreat may also be partly a feedback caused by glacier shrinkage thus far leaving only very small ice bodies on Mt Kenya.  Larger glaciers can form their own cooler microclimate, which reduces ice melting, and also a large glacier is also less vulnerable to ice melt due to heat emitted from the surrounding exposed rocks when they are warmed by the sun, as the glacier margin is small relative to its total volume. Small glaciers do not create a very strong microclimate and the glacier margins are large compared to their total volume so melting at the glacier edges can play an increasingly important part of glacier melt as the glacier shrinks.

The key publications from our research group on changes of Lewis glacier are:

  • Prinz R., Heller A., Ladner M., Nicholson L. and Kaser G.  (2018) Mapping the loss of Mt. Kenya’s glaciers: an example of the challenges of satellite monitoring of very small glaciers, Geosciences8(5), 174,
  • Prinz, R., Nicholson,L. and Kaser, G. (2012) Variations of the Lewis Glacier, Mount Kenya, 2004-2012. Erdkunde, 66 (3), 255-22.
  • Prinz, R., Fischer, A., Nicholson, L., Kaser, G. (2011) Seventy-six years of mean mass balance rates derived from recent and re-evaluated ice volume measurements on tropical Lewis Glacier, Mount Kenya. Geophysical Research Letters, 38, L20502, doi:10.1029/2011GL049208.

The key publication from our research group on the climate control is:

  • Prinz, R., Nicholson, L.I., Mölg, T., Gurgiser, W., and Kaser, G. (2016) Climatic controls and climate proxy potential of Lewis Glacier, Mt. Kenya, The Cryosphere, 10, 133-148.

I also have several other relevant blog posts on this topic (search for ‘Lewis Glacier’)

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