2021 Field Visit

Finally….the 2021 field trip is underway. After the relaxation of travel restrictions from August 27th, with Switzerland added to the UK government green list, we’ve been able to start a small expedition to Findelen and Gorner glaciers to maintain the equipment, download data, and start out comparative photography project to show the extend of deglaciation in the Zermatt region.

Early indications are that whilst some data loggers reached capaity in July, the majority of data for the 2021 season are intact with equipment functioning properly. Weather conditions have been good – warm with cloud coverage between 0/8 and 3/8.

Findelen outwash plain, August 30th 2021

At Findelen, batteries have been changed for all of the logging sites, with data available from all loggers barring a couple. The glacier continues to retreat into the distance, a shadow of its former self as evidenced by the moraine extent in this image.

Red Paint – Prof. Liz Morris

As I walked down to the Gorner Glacier with a small group of David’s friends to scatter his ashes I was casting surreptitious glances at the exposed roches moutonees at the end of the path. A guilty conscience was troubling me. Now it seems unbelievable that any decent fieldworker would vandalise the environment she was studying; in 1976, believe it or not, I thought it would be fine to “touch up” interesting features with red paint so they could be recorded in photographs. So was the red rash still there on the roches moutonnees after 40 years? I didn’t spot anything, but in past years many people must have wondered what on earth had been going on.

I had just moved to the Institute of Hydrology after a 2 year post-doc at UEA looking at sub-glacial erosion.  Leslie Morland and I had written a paper on stress fractures in roche moutonnees and I wanted to continue to investigate sub-glacial features. DNC gave me the chance, with an invitation to join him in Switzerland, and I was soon happily recording chatter marks, crescentic gouges and fractures with a high tech (i.e. waterproof) yellow field notebook and  a very fetching matching yellow oilskin outfit.

I still have the data, but sadly my efforts didn’t seem to lead to any great insights about erosion, so the next time I joined Dave and the AGP team, in 1979, I had switched my attention to energy budget modelling over snow. Not far from the George Elliston Hut was an enticing patch of snow. I set up my AWS on possibly the most eccentric site ever chosen for boundary layer meteorology. However, the view was fabulous and I had the advantage of being near any extra sardines or Vesta curry that might be on offer – an important consideration in those days. I had been stunned to learn, on a visit to Peyto Glacier with Dave the previous year, that Canadian glaciologists lived on steak in the field, but the AGP was having none of it. Fresh bread got carried in on special occasions but I’m not sure Dave approved of such effete living.

None of us then could have imagined that the AGP would be still going strong now. I hope the current generation of young scientists gets as much out of their experiences on the Gorner Glacier as I did long ago – and it is as happy a time for them as it was for me.

Professor Liz Morris graduated from the University of Bristol in 1967 and remained at the Bristol Physics Department to study for a PhD. Her research interests include (i) basal processes of alpine glaciers (ii) development of physics-based models for hydrological and hydrochemical processes especially those involving snow and ice and (iii) the mass balance and dynamics of polar ice sheets. She has worked in the European Alps, Canadian Rockies, Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Svalbard and Antarctica.

Liz was appointed OBE in the Millennium Honours List for services to Polar Science and was awarded the Polar Medal in 2003. In 2012 she gave the Nye Lecture at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. In 2015 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Bristol and Honorary Membership of the International Association of Cryospheric Sciences. In 2016 she was awarded the Richardson Medal of the International Glaciological Society. 

IPCC: High Mountain Areas and Climate Change

A special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the inpact of climate change on high mountain areas can be downloaded from this link.

Amongst the key findings of the report are:

Observations show general decline in low-elevation snow cover, glaciers and permafrost due to climate change in recent decades

Glacier, snow and permafrost decline has altered the frequency, magnitude and location of most related natural hazards

Changes in snow and glaciers have changed the amount and seasonality of runoff in snow-dominated and glacier-fed river basins with local impacts on water resources and agriculture

River runoff in snow dominated and glacier-fed river basins will change further in amount and seasonality in response to projected snow cover and glacier decline with negative impacts on agriculture, hydropower and water quality in some regions.

The full citation reference is as follows:

Hock, R., G. Rasul, C. Adler, B. Cáceres, S. Gruber, Y. Hirabayashi, M. Jackson, A. Kääb, S. Kang, S. Kutuzov, A. Milner, U. Molau, S. Morin, B. Orlove, and H. Steltzer, 2019: High Mountain Areas. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)]. In press

Guardian Coverage: Impacts of River Engineering on River Channel Behaviour

The Guardian in the UK today covered the publication of research by the Alpine Glacier Project’s Neil Entwistle on UK rivers. The research shows that engineering and building defences might bring reassurance, but doing nothing is often more effective at reducing flooding.

The paper in Water can be found here, with the press coverage viewable at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/mar/03/rewild-releasing-britain-rivers-flooding

Uttarakhand Glacier / Tapovan Hydropower Dam Burst

A twitter thread from Zayd Abid-Waheed, Ph.D research student.

The Uttarakhan Glacier / Tapovan Hydropower Dam Burst

Some of you may have seen today the news regarding the devastating dam burst in the Himalatyas today so as a Ph.D student whose research al;igns with the context of todays event’s, I thought I would share.

How does something like this happen? To put simply, the force of water, sediment and ice that hit Tapovan was possibly triggered by a large chunk of Uttarakhand Glacier calving off and releasing a large amount of energy.

This sort of event if this theory is to be believed is typically caused by a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood or GLOF, an even that occuirs when a pocket of water held in or on a glacier suddenly releases causing a sudden surge of movement.

Such events rarely affect people but when they do they can be catastrophic with over 100 people potentially caught in the torrent. With that statistic in mind consider this: The Times of India reports that locals had flagged the dam as an impending disaster back in 2019.

This is sadly not an uncommon situation in the Himalayan region, where often corners are being cut to build designs that do not consider the force of freak events like this. In fact, this dam had yet to even complete construction.

Despite this however, Indian, Pakistan and other nations surrounding these mountains NEED these power plants to serve an ever growing population that requires energy. Energy that must be clean in order to ensure a future for this region that is sustainable.

This is why my research with the Alpine Glacier Project is so critical – understanding the dynamics of high mountain glacial systems and their impact on hydropower mitigates the impacts of events like today.

To ensure a safer, greener and more sustainable future we must work to use these natural processes that will increase in severity and frequency with a changing climate.

Follow Zayd on Twitter at @ZaydWaheed