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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

My AGP Experience: Zayd Abid-Waheed, Ph.D Student

In October 2017, a group of tired students stared slack jawed out of the windows of a Gornergrat Railway carriage. It was the first time most of us had ever experienced an Alpine environment. I can remember the stunned silence as we took in the landscape. It lasted almost the entire journey, the mountains doing all the talking for us. I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment led me towards my studies with the Alpine Glacier Project.

My name is Zayd Abid-Waheed and I am a PhD student researcher awarded a grant by the Alpine Glacier Project. Whilst I always enjoyed science, I had never undertaken Alpine field research before, so when the opportunity came to be part of the 2017/18 field season I applied. The experiences I had during that trip changed my perspective on the nature of science and the importance of academia.

Zayd at the Gornergletscher Gauge

Reading the original report from 1959 linked to the first ever Alpine Glacier Project expedition that night in Switzerland, I was mistaken to assume that this was just another scientific paper. However, this was something more. This was the start of a legacy, the first step in a journey of scientific dedication and repetition. This blog is about its importance and my own experiences.

Repeatability is fundamental to the scientific method. Replication can prove that results of a single study reflect overall trends. However, glacial system processes are typically slow, with trends on scales of weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and beyond. As such, the long-standing records of the Alpine Glacier Project are so important – they are essential in showing how an alpine valley responds to a changing climate through deglaciation.

Hiking from elevation

My own experience was very different to the 1975/1976 season. Our primary objective was to automate data collection as much as possible. Meters and loggers were installed as well as a general refurbishment of equipment housing. This was my opportunity to get stuck in with more hands-on data collection as had been performed since the 1970’s. Meltwater samples were collected over the course of an afternoon on the hour, every hour. These samples were returned to the David Collins Suite Laboratories at the University of Salford and were analysed.

In addition to the water samples, in the following season the project continued to collect data through the installed loggers. My research added to the historical dataset made available by Professor Collins and the many waves of students that assisted him with project expeditions.

“By using our findings here, we can learn more about other parts of the world, such as the Himalaya, where meltwater availability is critical for hydropower production, irrigation and water resources development, and where floods have devastating impacts on humanity”

This quote from the original mission statement of the Alpine Glacier Project has been one that I’ve referred to on multiple occasions as to why the repetition and legacy of this study is so important to me. The years of study here serve more than being the longest unbroken record. Rather they work in two distinct ways, firstly to inspire and create more researchers with drive and dedication to investigate the unknown, and secondly in the face of a changing climate and a world that remains vulnerable. These research avenues can help humanity understand and mitigate the effects of a warming atmosphere and may leave the world in a better place than how they found it. I hope that through the same vigorous scientific methods of dedication, repetition and good practice that the AGP legacy will continue to inspire through my own studies.