Snowline tells a story on Suldenferner?

This is less of a blog post and more of a “look at this photo” post. I’m finally sorting through the ton of data collected from Suldenferner this summer and I thought its worth showing this photo taken from the north lateral moraine looking roughly eastward to the to end of the debris covered part of the glacier shown below as it shows a really sharp snowline lying across the debris cover:

It had snowed on the weekend of the 25/26th August, and when we arrived to the glacier on the 27th of August the snowline was cross cutting the glacier.

Looking at it now I am wondering if this snowline tells us where the debris covered ice is – such that the snow lasts a little longer where there is still near sub-surface ice as the ground temperature regime is different and the surface temperatures are likely lower than where the debris is metres thick, thus promoting the slightly longer survival of the snow fall onto that part of the glacier.

The angle of this shot nicely shows that the terrain where the snowcover is lying is also  a step higher – highlighting how a dusting of snow can really help with visualizing geomorphological  features – though only temporarily: Sunshine on Tuesday quickly removed most of the snow after this photo was taken.

Other causes of the feature shown in this photo could be shadowing by the Konigspitze/Zebru mountains, which could explain both the snowcover and terrain height difference as well. I’ll have to cross check this with maps of solar radiation, surface temperature and debris thickness to resolve which is the cause.


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HEFEX/HINTERACT summer of fieldwork

Whatever we call the field campaign we carried out at Hintereisferner this summer it was a cracker! We pulled together a team of specialists to combine:

  1. large scale terrestrial laser scans of Hintereisferner surface to see how the glacier is surface changed over August (Rudi Sailer from the University of Innsbruck)
  2. local photogrammetric and wind tower measurements from which we can calculate the surface roughness of the glacier which is an important control on how energy is exchanged between the atmosphere and the glacier (Mark Smith, Josh Chambers, Tom Smith from the University of Leeds)
  3. direct measurements of multi-level near surface turbulence to measure heat advection from the surrounding valley slope onto the glacier (Rebecca Mott, Max Kehl from KIT/IMK-LFU)
  4. multi-station monitoring of katabatic (downslope) airflow over the glacier (Iva Stiperski, Alexander Kehl, Lindsey Nicholson, Jordan Mertes from the University of Innsbruck)
  5. thermal imaging of near surface airflow over small sample sites on the glacier surface (Rebecca Mott, Max Kehl from KIT/IMK-LFU)

Boom! With a lot of effort, and help from our friends, we pulled off something cool on a shoe string budget. Massive thanks are due to all those that helped us: Philipp Vettori, Rainer Diewald, Paul Gruner, Anna Wirbel, Irmi Juen, Matthias Dusch, Michael Kuhn, the University of Lausanne who lent Rebecca several sonic anemometers, Heli Tirol and more …. danke!

The instrumentation consisted of a series of eight automatic weather stations with varying sensors installed on them. 5 of the stations used are MOMAA stations, designed by SensAlpin GmbH in Davos, Switzerland. These consisted of a stable tripod mast, with a 2D sonic anemometer at the top of an adjustable mast, ventilated temperature and humidity measurements and air pressure measurements, logged to a Campbell scientific catalogger and powered by solar panels. We took 5 stations with this basic set up and added sonic anemometers at 1.5 and 3.0m heights to 4 of them. 3 of these were placed in a transect from the edge of the glacier to the center line and the last was placed upglacier along the central flow line above the transect but below a weather station that has been operating seasonally on the glacier since 2014. The 5th and final MOMAA weather station was installed with additional mechanical anemometers at 1.5 and 3.0m height at the terminus of the glacier. In addition to the MOMAA stations and the permanent weather station on the glacier, 2 wind towers were installed and operated at the locations of the photographic plots, and later along the glacier central flow line to monitor katabatic (glacier downslope) winds. Here are the stations and sensors all being tested on the roof of our institute in July:

The stations were running between the 1st and 22nd of August 2018 (with a few minor data gaps when one instrument was found to be faulty, and one of the stations fell over!), and offer a valuable dataset for understanding the micrometeorology of the glacier. Here is one of the stations being installed:

The team from Leeds was funded through an INTERACT Transnational Access Grant, for their project  “Glacier Aerodynamic Roughness Estimate” (GLARE). You can read the GLARE team blogs about their trip here: The team from KIT was funded through a Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) grant, and the team from Innsbruck was funded primarily through an Austrian Science Fund (FWF) grant.

Here is an overview of the weather stations installed and operated during August (in UTM):

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The first product of the 6th (AR6) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  cycle, the Special Report on 1.5°C (SR1.5) above pre-industrial levels, has been approved by the Governments last week and was published on Monday morning. Yes, that means however much your government allows its members and other sources to deny climate change and its human causes, all the UN member governments (so basically all the countries of the world, aside from those not internationally recognised by all, like Palestine and Kosovo) agree with the statements made in this document. Time to hold them to doing something with this accepted knowledge.

Its an epic achievement to have made this happen in such a tight schedule and I commend all those involved for their intense and hard work on the publication. They fulfilled the governments’ request to show the present state (~1°C above pre-industrial temperature), the impacts within a 1.5°C warmer world and what difference this makes to the 2.0°C warmer world. They had to produce all socio-economic, emission and climate change scenarios from scratch, had to add more details of the latest scientific system understanding in order that the uncertainty ranges of the projections could be reduced sufficiently that the differences between these scenarios can be quantified.

They show that risks for society related to climate change can be reduced by minimising human induced climate change. They also show pathways for staying at 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Their expert opinion is that there is still a way, though the time window within which we need to achieve it is very small; only about 10 years from now. Global emissions would have to be reduced by half as soon as 2030, and brought down close to zero by 2050.

My colleague Prof Georg Kaser, who has been involved with the IPCC for many years now believes this to be the most important IPCC product ever published. Please have a read of the report, look at the headline statements and then consider sharing it, and its findings, widely.

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IACS working group on debris covered glaciers

A couple of years ago I spoke with Dr Joe Shea about the possibility and timeliness of setting up a collaborative working group of researchers working on debris covered glaciers, under the auspices of the IACS.

A proposal was duly drafted and submitted as a pre-proposal but changing jobs and commitments meant that the idea mouldered away. While Joe is no longer involved in the leadership, I’m happy to say that in particular the enthusiasm of Drs Dave Rounce and Francesca Pellicciotti, as well as Prof Regine Hock has helped revive the initiative, and now we’ve finally done it!

So we are happy to invite contributions to the efforts of the Working Group whose overall goal is to provide – for the first time – a comparison of (1) debris thickness estimation methods and (2) sub-debris ablation models, in order to advance our understanding of how debris impacts glacier response and improve our ability to incorporate debris cover into larger-scale modeling efforts.

The specific objectives are to:

  1. compare the available methods of mapping supra-glacial debris thickness, and assess their appropriateness for different applications
  2. compare the performance of available sub-debris ablation models, and assess their appropriateness for different applications.
  3. work closely with the debris-covered glaciers community to coordinate knowledge exchange

The working group was announced in the September 2018 IACS newsletter. More information can be found on the working group website, which will be updated with the latest developments. We look forward to supporting a fruitful drive forward in our global understanding of debris covered glacier systems.

We would like to engage as wide a group of scientists as possible in this working group, which will include young and senior scientists from a variety of geographic locations. In order to achieve this in a practical sense, we define two levels or participation: working group members and participants.

Members are expected to contribute to ALL of the following:

  1. actively contribute to the development of at least one of the two comparison projects, which includes model design, forcing data, and output variables
  2. produce model results for at least one of the comparison projects
  3. participate in group workshops (as far as possible)

In addition to members, we also welcome working group participants from a wider sphere of related debris-covered glacier research topics.

Participants are expected to participate in discussions and meetings (if possible) AND contribute to AT LEAST ONE of the following:

  1. contribute forcing data to one of the comparison projects
  2. provide data or code to foster knowledge exchange
  3. contribute services to journal special issues
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Old photos of Tirolean glaciers

Recently on a scorching summer day I retreated into the cool and dark of the Austrian Alpenverein (ÖAV) photo archive, with my colleagues Dr Christoph Klug and Dr Jordan Mertes looking for old photos of glaciers for a repeat photo project. The idea is to make repeat photographs in 2018 of some sample glaciers in North and South Tirol and show them as part of the remit of the GLISTT research project, which aims to develop an operational glacier monitoring system for the region, primarily based on high resolution satellite data. Here are Jordan and Christoph amidst all the boxes.

The ÖAV have an amazing collection of terrestrial and airborne photos of the Alps, as well as other mountains and countries and cultures worldwide.

It would be a full time job for someone with expert local knowledge of each local area to catalogue the whole collection, but much has been done. Some boxes of ‘random’ images remain however, piquing my interest.

Though we were looking for glaciers from North Tirol, I realized there’s a number from my main study site of Suldenferner so I’d better go back and have a look at those.

If anyone knows other good sources of old images of glaciers, do get in touch!

Other resources:

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Dye tracing at Suldenferner

This summer we are interested in seeing how the glacier hydrology at Suldenferner connects to the sediment fluxes in the meltwater river exiting the glacier.

  • Does meltwater discharge rate change over the summer?
  • Does the changing discharge affect the sediment flux?
  • If there are changes in the meltwater transfer efficiency does this mean changes in the drainage network, and how does that relate to the sediment discharge?

The Uni Innsbruck team is using dye tracing (with kind permission from Stelvio National Park), to investigate the hydrological part, while the Uni Bozen team monitors the sediment in the proglacial stream – both suspected sediment, and bedload. Its all part of the GLORI project which aims to understand how changing glaciers will affect river sedimentation in the coming decades.

At the end of June we were lucky enough to have Dr Cat Fyffe – a real expert in dye tracing on debris covered glaciers – join us. Here she is providing cheerful scale to a great basal ice exposure from which a meltwater stream emerges.

This area of the glacier is changing very rapidly this summer, and has retreated a lot over the last few years. The stream flow is very turbid, and at first we thought it must be a stream that flowed a longer distance at the bed of the glacier to pick up so much dirt, but our dye tracing experiments suggest that it is mostly a surface stream, that just happens to dip below the surface into this basal ice/medial moraine complex and picks up a lot of sediment just over the last tens of metres of its journey off the glacier.

Below is a gratuitous show of 50ml of liquid Rhodamine dye put in a few metres above a moulin in the centre of the glacier. Its shockingly bright initially, but invisible to the eye after a few hundred metres once it is diluted by the meltwater.


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Glacier surface debris in Patagonia – Glaciar Leones landslide

My colleague Emily Collier was doing fieldwork in Patagonia in 2017 and she sent me these lovely images of debris on some glaciers on the east side of the Northern Patagonian Icefield. I think these glaciers are (from top to bottom which is also North to South), Exploradores, Leones, Nef, Colonia and in the last image Pared Norte, Pared Sur and Picsis.

An article from 2016 by Neil Glasser and co-authors nicely summarizes change in the debris cover of the outlet glaciers of the Northern Patagonia Icefield. They find that ” … between 1987 and 2015 the total amount of debris cover has increased from 168 km2 in 1987 to 307 km2 in 2015. The proportion of debris-covered area has also increased, from 4.1% in 1987 to 7.9% in 2015, with the largest proportional increases occurring east of the ice divide (where 15.2% of the glacier ice is now debris covered).”

Looking at images from this publication its clear that there has been a large landslide on Glaciar Leones between 2015 and 2017. Compare the 2nd image above with those from Mauro Peltos blog post of March 2015:

The above photo is by Jill Pelto taken on 13th March 2015, and the one below is by Emily Collier on 1st April 2017.

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Suldenferner meltwater stream changes

I have an automatic camera overlooking the terminus of Suldenferner glacier, where we are now studying the meltwater fluxes and their relation to sediment fluxes in the context of the GLORI project with the Free University of Bozen.

Here is a nice video of this project:

As a quick look of how the meltwater stream outlets have changed over time I thought I’d look at an early and recent image, so here is a comparison of 22nd August 2015 with the 27th June 2018. Unfortunately, it seems that at some point when I was changing the memory card in the camera, I inadvertently altered the zoom so the original image pair does not line up perfectly. Luckily Jordan Mertes just showed me how to align them in Photoshop – yay! You can see fairly substantial changes in some of the terminus outflow streams and also apparent lowering in the upper part of the debris covered ablation zone.

June 2018
August 2015


I’ll readjust the zoom of the camera next visit which will offer a slightly wider view angle to capture more of the terminus region, and we will keep monitoring these changes.

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Lovely climate communication projects

So, I don’t get as many chances to do public communication of climate science as I’d like and its made a bit trickier for me here in Austria as I think (probably correctly) that my German is not good enough to be clear and authoritative on the subject, and that bothers me.

Anyway I came across Ed Hawkins blog about participating in the Hay Festival – at which he says “The Festival had paired up three environmental scientists with three artists and authors to produce a series of hour-long live events, and provided us with an opportunity to talk about science with a very different audience.” And I think its pretty awesome! Go and have a read/look/listen on his blog

I think such initiatives, making the message about climate change and our responsibility for it beautiful, accessible, stimulating, hopeful, fun and inspiring is the way we have to go.

I really love Ed Hawkins visualizations, for example, the one below shows annual global temperatures from 1850-2017, with the colour scale representing the change in global temperatures covering 1.35°C [data]:

Even more along the lines of data-to-art is the work of Jill Pelto, for example this one using uses measurements from 1980-2014 of the average mass balance for a group of North Cascade, WA glaciers:

Gorgeous, right? You can buy prints of these type of paintings from Jills Etsy website.

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Bitten by python

I’m learning to write code for my data analysis and numerical modelling work in Python. I quite like learning how to make tidy code and developing an understanding for the tricks of a specific language, but at the same time I’m deeply impatient as I really just want to get to the answer. I think what I’m saying is that if I had a time machine I’d really like learning programming. If.

Anyway the reality is that my students are better at it than me, and I have much to learn, and it  seems to take me ages. Luckily there is a heap of material out there to help make learning easier and faster. In fact almost overwhelming. Also its not just that I need to learn python but also all the useful packages I need in my work. So here are some resources that I am finding useful so far – I will update it as I find new things.

Tutorials/workshops/lecture notes:

Articles (suggested by my colleague Fabien Maussion):

If you have other recommendations, do let me know, both to help me and so I can add it to the list! In the meantime, enjoy some encouragement from xkcd ….

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