I recently spent a delightful few days wandering around Grindelwald with my friend (and paleclimatologist) Brad Markle. Isn’t it nice?
On one particularly fine sunny day we got to talking about websites, blogging, tweeting and so on. I am quite a proponent of this actually, even though initially it seems its going to take way too much time away from the more important science activities that we actually are judged on, get jobs on, and feel pressured to produce more of.
That is writing papers of course.
I have mixed feelings about this heavy weighting of success on the number of papers published by scientists, as I think it has some negative consequences for the integrity of the science being produced, as well as being responsible for making a glut of incremental papers instead of a smaller number of more complete, well thought out, and well-reviewed papers. However, that topic is not for this blog, and also its a hard thing for me to take a stance on as my own publication list is generally too short, low impact, and of marginal interest, so I need to be careful not to sound bitter and like I am just making excuses for my own shortcomings.
So, on to the business at hand. Let me first tell you a story about how I began to develop my own small web presence, then I will follow up with what I get out of it, and why I have grown to appreciate what it offers far more than I did at my cynical outset.
I made this website as I thought it might increase my chances of getting a grant from the FWF. I googled what would be the easiest way to do this, and concluded: WordPress. I decided if I could not make a webpage in half a day then it was too much time to invest. With WordPress I managed to meet this tight time constraint and had the bare bones of my website by 11am. I was however a bit annoyed to see that (at least at that time) you could not avoid having a blog page with WordPress. I thought “Curses! I’ve not time for that! I can’t even get my own papers written”. But I was stuck, as to start again with a package that did not require a blog component would mean going over my half-day time rule. For some months before this, a friend of mine who works in sustainability had been trying to get be to join Twitter. She advised me that you can use it as a filtered news feed to keep up to data on thing of interest to you. I realised that I could link a Twitter feed onto my website thereby making some updates to the page even if I was too lazy to write real blogs. So I joined Twitter as well.
Yes, I was pretty cynical. But now I like it a lot, and here are some reasons why.
I chose my website content to serve my own interests. It helps me:
My blog helps me in even more ways:
Tweeting helps me in different ways:
So there you have it. My first rule of my web and social media presence is that I don’t let it take too much of my time. That means if its hard to do something technical with the webpage, or some potentially interesting blog topic would take a weeks worth of otherwise un-necessary research, then it won’t get done. My second rule is that I don’t let Twitter get me depressed by the onslaught of achievement that it delivers to my screen. Rule #1 is easier than rule #2, but I hope this blog helps convince some people to get involved. The public deserve that we learn to communicate our science better. Have fun!
There are always so many things to do and learn about! Its fun having Jordan Mertes here in Innsbruck for a while, as he is expert in using Structure from Motion tools to develop surface terrain models. I’ve dabbled in this a fair bit but usually feel a bit out of my depth and am not always sure if I have generated models of the best possible quality.
The principle is that you take a bunch of photos of an object or surface of interest, from a variety of angles and distances and specialized software can be used to identify a large number of common features in the images, perform a suite of positional calculations on these and determine where the photos was taken from and also the 3D form of the surface being photographed. Its pretty cool stuff. Anyone can do it! Like many colleagues of mine, I use Agisoft Photoscan software, which you must pay for, but there are other freeware versions using the same principles such as Visual Structure from Motion. All you need is a camera and a computer and a natty idea …
Ben Partan and I took a bunch of images and videos in 2013/2014 to see how well we could use this kind of photogrammetry and software to create surface models of snow penitentes in Chile to compare with the models we generated using the Microsoft Kinect as a close range 3D camera (see Nicholson et al., 2016).
Penitentes are a hard challenge for terrestrial photography as the contrast is poor and the surface is complex and shadowed. It was a very good learning ground for us – we could see how well different configurations of photo vantage points compared to extracting frames from videos, and we tried both cheap and high quality cameras.
Below is an example model of snow penitentes in a river bed, where we tested all our equipment and set up. The image is a screenshot from Agisoft Photoscan software. You can see from the camera positions indicated in blue that we were trying two approaches: (1) taking an array of photos from a single location and moving on to do the same at another, and (2) taking a single photo, and then moving along a meter to take the next one.
You can read much more about Structure from Motion (SfM) applications in earth science in this new book: Structure from Motion in the Geosciences by Jon Carrivick, Mark Smith and Duncan Quincey, and in Westoby and others (2012). A very timely publication indeed as these techniques are booming in earth science and perhaps especially in glaciology at present. You can read more about the penitentes we measured in our publication in the Cryosphere.
Westoby, M. J., Brasington, J., Glasser, N. F., Hambrey, M. J., & Reynolds, J. M. (2012). “Structure from-Motion” photogrammetry: A low-cost, effective tool for geoscience applications. Geomorphology, 179, 300–314. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2012.08.021
I like to follow the work of my colleagues and office mates, and both Ben Marzeion and Kristin Richter were recently involved in publishing a paper in Nature Climate Change that demonstrates that human activities dominate the recent sea level rise.
The key findings are that in the first half of the 20th century, only about 15 % of sea-level rise were of anthropogenic origin, but human emissions caused about 70 % of sea-level rise between 1970 and 2005, as summarized in the infographic below.
Interesting times at the Imja lake in 2016. The Nepali Army are lowering the water level by 3m. The thought behind this is that is a lot of water hemmed in behind an ice cored moraine, and that this poses a flood threat as (i) an ice cored dam is fundamentally not very reliable and is expected to be less so under continued regional climate change and (ii) ongoing glacier retreat causes the lake to keep expanding. A nice clear summary is given on the From a Glaciers Perspective blog written by Mauro Pelto.
According to what I’ve read in the news the army has airlifted a lot of heavy equipment up to do this engineering work at just over 5000m. Quite a feat already.
From the Kathmandu Post: “The DHM in technical and financial support from the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility is implementing the $7.2 million Community Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction Project (CFGORRP) that aims to reduce possible loss of human lives and infrastructure from a glacial lake outburst flooding in Solukhumbu and the downstream Tarai and Churia districts of Mahottari, Siraha, Saptari and Udaypur.“
Army Airlifts equipment to drain Imja water by 3 metres [Kathmandu Post 03.06.2016]
Nepal lake: Work begins to drain rising waters near Everest [BBC news 02.06.2016]
Dave Rounce of the University of Texas contributed a great blog about the Imja lake to the EGU website: http://blogs.egu.eu/divisions/cr/2016/07/28/fieldwork-at-5000-meters-in-altitude/, which includes some rare footage of floodwaters exiting the nearby Lhotse glacier and flowing towards Chukung on 12 June 2016, by Elisabeth Byers.
The risk assessment of glacier lakes such as the Imja is a tricky business (e.g. Emmer and Vilimek, 2013). They are considered more dangerous if (a) the moraine dam is narrow, and if (b) ice or rock avalanches into the lake are likely, as these trigger waves that can overtop the moraine dam and in the process of doing so instigate a rapid erosion of the dam which could ultimately cause an outburst to occur. The Imja lake was previously being drained by a narrow spillway that meandered across 100s of metres of moraine dam to enter the downvalley river flow, deeming it relatively stable. Furthermore, the Glaciersonline site about the Imja lake notes that geophysical data collected by Reynolds International shows that much of the moraine dam is not ice cored and therefore is much more stable than some moraine lake dams. However, this lake, which is more than 1.5km long, 600m wide and 90m deep in places, is currently the fastest growing lake in Nepal, expanding at over 40m/year, and a series of lakes are expanding around this spillway. If these small lakes within the moraine dam continue to expand, the effective width of the moraine dam will be reduced over time. At the same time, as the lake expands upglacier, eating away at the ice which is no longer replenished by sufficient from accumulation from above the upglacier expansion of the main lake might eventually mean that the lakewaters will be overlooked by steep slopes from which avalanches are likely.
Thus clip from the forthcoming movie Outburst illustrates some of the main risk criteria that are causes for concern regarding glacier lake outburst floods, using the example of an un-named lake in the Hongu valley:
The Imja lake, and the threat it may or may not present has been a cause of tension between the local community and researchers and media outlets that emphasize, and are alleged to exaggerate, the catastrophic likelihood of a flood. For example, it was sad for me to hear stories of how residents of Namche, which lies 100s of metres above the river in the valley below, were so panicked about the threat of a flood from the Imja lake occurring during the earthquake of April 2015, that some people were fleeing uphill, even though even if all of the water from the Imja lake were to escape, Namche itself would certainly not be affected directly. This seems to indicate a failure to communicate the threat accurately and effectively, despite the ongoing efforts of groups such as ICIMOD and The Mountain Institute and the HiMAP project. Hopefully their continued efforts, and wider community collaboration will change this over time.
Imja lake GLOF risk has in the past been assessed as moderate, and on this basis I guess (not very scientific I know, but I have not had time to really dig into the limited number of high quality hazard assessments made on some of these lakes!) there might be glacier lakes in the Himalaya that are more likely to be the sources of outburst floods in the near future. However, as the fastest growing glacier lake in Nepal, the government recently identified it as one of the 6 most dangerous lakes in the country, and, as this region is so important for tourism in Nepal, and downstream communities are concerned about potential flooding, the decision to act has been taken. Given the size of the lake and how it is developing it may be a timely intervention, although of course the catch with averted disasters is that its never clear if there would have been a disaster without the intervention.
To my knowledge, the most comprehensive survey of glacier lakes in the Himalaya is that carried out by ICIMOD, which is freely available to download here, and is well worth a read for its balanced view on our current knowledge, risk assessment and communicating risk.
Here is the flowchart used to identify the lakes posing a critical risk:
Emmer, A. and Vilimek, V (2013) Review Article: Lake and breach hazard assessment for moraine-dammed lakes: an example from the Cordillera Blanca (Peru). Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 1551–1565
ICIMOD (2011) Glacier lakes and glacial lake outburst floods in Nepal. Kathmandu: ICIMOD.
Debris-covered glaciers are a particularly large component of the mountain cryosphere in the eastern Nepalese Himalaya:
The Ngozumpa glacier is a debris covered glacier (just out of the image above to the west) and also the largest glacier in Nepal. It was the target of our fieldwork in April. As you can see in the photo below it presents pretty challenging terrain to work on. Access to the glacier is made difficult because of high upstanding moraines around it. Nevertheless we wanted to get onto this glacier and measure how thick the ice is.
The motivation for this is twofold: Firstly, the total volume of ice in the Himalaya is poorly known so every data point that can be added helps improve estimates of how much water is stored in glaciers there. Secondly, we need to know the ice thickness in order to be able to apply numerical models of how the glacier will behave.
To measure the thickness of the glacier we set out to use ground penetrating radar. This sends out a low frequency radio wave that penetrates the glacier ice and is reflected back from the glacier bed towards the surface. The time it takes to receive the reflected signal can be converted into a representation of ice thickness. We had both Narod and Dolores radar systems with us, and antennae that could span 2-20MHz frequencies. These are long cable antennae that need to be laid out and moved across the glacer surface.
To my knowledge the only previous measurements on this glacier are from Sarah Thompsons PhD thesis, in which she measured ice thicknesses of 80m just above what is called the Spillway lake, so about 1km from the terminus. This is quite interesting as the maximum depth of this lake is about 30m suggesting that its might still be underlain with lots of ice.
Hamish Pritchard is leading the charge in analysing the ice thickness data as he has already collected similar data from the Langtang region of central Nepal. The radar data from these glaciers is generally quite noisy and it can be difficult to see a strong bed reflector, but by taking a lot of measurements and by measuring extended profiles, the bed is easier to identify.
Thompson, S., Benn, D. I., Dennis, K., Luckman, A. (2012) A rapidly growing moraine-dammed glacial lake on Ngozumpa Glacier, Nepal.Geomorphology,145–146, 1–11
I’m just back from JIRP, whch was once again pretty amazing. I encourage you to have a read of the students blogs, some are about science and others about the JIRP experience, but in either case they are an enlightening view into the minds of the participating students, allowing us to see their deep reflections on what they are learning during the program.
As part of the program groups of students take on specific research projects while on the ice, with the aim of generating sufficient results to present them in a poster at the Fall AGU meeting at the end of the year. The biogeochemistry group were tasked to look at the glaciers surface nutrient loading and nutrient flux in the glacier meltwater. While awaiting for the arrival of thier mentors Sarah Fortner and Natalie Kehrwald, we experiemented with using hand-held albedometers to measure the imact of different amounts of mineral dust and soil on the surface of the glacier.
Here are the students and APU Geologist Jen Witter setting up the experiment site and the foot of the Camp 10 nunatak (note how the dust loading compares visually to the photo of the ablation zone in my previous post):
We levelled five 3’x3′ (yes those are American feet – Lucas Beem introduced me to the term ‘freedom units’ when we realised this was the only tape measure available …) patches of snow, left one clean, added some red-coloured green algae over the second, and then over the final 3 plots we sprinkled 848g of mafic, 848 g of felsic and 1696g of felsic material from the local nunatak as evenly as we could. Over the next few days we measured the surface lowering using terrestrial photogrammetry to make digital models of the surface and by measuring the length of small dowels installed in the centre of each plot, and albedo using a Kipp and Zonen CNR1 held 0.5m above the surface of each plot. Here is how they compare:
The plots with mineral soil on them underwent more surface lowering than the clean and algae covered plots, and this is mose likely related to their lower surface albedo. The 4 days of measurement coincided with cloudly and rainy weather so the impact of the albedo diferent and resultant alteration of the absorption of incident shortwave radaition is likely a minimum – we might expect the differences in surface lowering to be greater if it had been sunny conditions.
The group found that the albedo measurements were sensitive to the position of the person holding the radiometer which is not really surprising as the CNR1 instrument captures electromagnetic radiation from a 180° hemispere in the shortwave. This means it can ‘see’ the person holding the instrument, as well as those of us nearly and the neighbouring surfaces as well. This raises issues of repeatability and accuracy of these albedo measurements, but the students will also use a more focussed field spectrometer with Allen Pope to investigate the links between available nutrients in the snowpack and surface albedo.
Last year I prepared a post for the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) blog. In the end it was not published, as understandably its better to hear from students. I can also say that students write much more interesting pieces than I do, and I encourage you to have a read of the blogs if you are interested in JIRP. Nevertheless, what my unblogged post from last year says is this:
And here I sit. Trying to prepare and improve practical exercises in glaciology that can be done with no more than paper and pencil, and ideally even with less. Gulp. Always a challenge. Interesting as here in Innsbruck I am currently learning from my colleague Fabien Maussion how to better use Jupyter-notebooks to make cool interactive practical exercises for our students when everyone has a computer to hand. Moving from one extreme to the other means its impossible to be lazy. Some exercises do not translate between the two formats.
April and May seem a long time ago already, but it was a very busy time, with lots to report!
For my current research projects, an international team of researchers headed off to the Ngozumpa glacier in Nepal. The team from the University of Innsbruck was myself, Anna Wirbel (PhD student), Costanza del Gobbo (MSc student), Lorenzo Rieg (PhD student) and Uschi Blumenthaler (from www.enveo.at) joined us; Christoph Mayer, Astrid Lambrecht and Alex Groos came along from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, Hamish Pritchard and Mike McCarthy (PhD student) from the British Antarctic Survey; Mohan Chand from Kathmandu University and Anna Sinisalo from ICIMOD. A wonderful team of experts and it was both a pleasure and a privilege to work with such good people.
The aims of the research trip were to:
It felt quite a mission to organise so many people from so many institutions, but I’m happy to report, it was really very successful. I received excellent and uncomplicated logistical support from Himalayan Ecstasy (in particular Sujan Bhattarai), and was also supported by Rijan Kayastha for application for research permits for this study. It would have been much more stressful without their help! We are also all grateful for the support of Kami Sherpa and his staff at Gokyo Resort Lodge in Gokyo, who kept us all well fed and happy!
The data collected will be used to assess the performance of various ways of determining debris thickness, to estimate the volume of this large glacier, contribute to volume estimates of glacier ice throughout the Himalaya, and provide inputs and bounding conditions for numerical models of the Ngozumpa glacier.
While on fieldwork in the Khumbu Himal (full disclosure: in fact while sitting in the excellent Danphe bar in Namche), Costanza and I were chatting to local residents (the barman Jack and his friends) about the best way to disseminate information about the research of the numerous glacier scientists working in the area.
I was talking about the website I set up to try and create a shared archive of the ongoing and past projects in the region (which I blogged about before), and I was basically laughed at, and told no one looks at boring websites anymore, and it all has to be on Facebook.
Well, it would be rude to have this conversation and not do anything in response, so I then went ahead and made a Facebook page for any scientist working on glaciers in the Khumbu Himal to use. Basically, everyone on our shared email@example.com account was given access to the Facebook password and can upload their own outreach material there.
For example here is a post by Sarah Thompson:
The website and Facebook page are actually dual purpose: (1) Now that so many scientists are working on glaciers in this region, its not uncommon for multiple groups to be carrying out overlapping research without knowing it, so by posting project on the website and activities and results on the Facebook page, scientists can see what each other are up to and minimise unnecessary overlap while maximising added value that can be generated through collaboration and data sharing. I love this stuff as I think executors of publicly funded science have a duty to use the money as efficiently as possible to reap maximum output and benefit. (2) The Facebook page can serve as a single dissemination stream that can be used by all the glaciologists working in the area, so interested residents or visitors need only check out one, collectively controlled, source for the latest information.
The current participants are those listed on the twin website and we would be delighted to accept new participants – just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or a message to the Facebook page!