Thursday, 22 October 2015

Caught me red-handed!!

With this whole controversial topic of the issues we as a global community may face with a gradually melting world, I wanted to take some time out to explain what got me so passionate about this topic in the first place.

As you may not know I went to Southampton University to study my undergraduate degree in BSc Geography. My dissertation and the findings of the work was the main cause for my concern of the future of cryospheric melting. My dissertation aimed to look at glacial fluviology and the impacts of glacial melt of the proglacial landscape. My study site was located in the Swiss Alps, covering two glacial systems; the Gornergletscher and the Findelengletscher located in close proximity to the mountain region of Zermatt. Readings of water and air temperature, cloud cover, water pH and solutes, discharge, river cross sectional area and suspended sediment concentration were taken at hourly intervals on the two systems for 3 days at each site. The results I gathered showed alarming implications to not only damming systems but potential issues with structural damage to the urban habitable region of Zermatt where the melt water flowed through. At the current rate glacial melt and retreat, the damming systems in the Swiss Alps (which ultimately control the discharge reaching the urban regions) will be exerted to extreme stress and potential for flash flooding or a great need for further investment into better damming systems. Furthermore, with increased discharge you can expect increased suspended sediment load, eroding the dam turbines leading to potential hazards in the future. This was only my first cause of concern about climatic changes impacting the cryosphere.

Image 1: Large volumes of water entering a glacial moulin on the Gornergletscher

Wanting to investigate this further, me and my colleagues spent the rest of our time climbing up to the glaciers and recording the glacial ablation on the surface, and I can tell you now, we were all shocked with the results. Surface melt rates reached a net loss of up to 5 cm a day in certain parts of the glacier. New moulins (surface entrances to the glacier where water channels flow down: see Image 1) seemed to appear each day, indicating increased melt rates and leading to glacial movement of the snout into warmer lower altitudes. We also noticed chunks of the glacial snout (Image 2) began to break off at rates you could only imagine seeing on a David Attenborough documentary!

Image 2: Large blocks of ice break off the snout of the Findelengletscher

The overall picture of what I'm trying to say here is that climate change is occurring, and its impacting our planets glaciers at a much faster rate any of us can imagine. People who have seen these incredible features up close will all say the same thing as well. They are awe-inspiring, yet, they are altering at rates unprecedented to recent history. Not only are the notable changes of importance here, but the secondary impacts which are usually unseen to the naked eye (such as dam damage and risk to future flash flooding in urban areas) are equally as important, if not more worrying than watching the glaciers disappear.

Now you have seen an overview to the topic and why I'm passionate about the possible implications a melting world will bring, I will focus on some of the major global issues which we are facing now with the melting world.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Introduction: The melting world

The cryosphere, encompassing the Earth’s ice masses – notably Antarctica, the Arctic, the Greenland Ice Sheet and glacial systems, is currently under threat from the impacts of climate change.  If mitigation or adaptation methods are not implemented sooner rather than later, the impact of a globally melting world will affect everyone on this planet in one way or another. This blog will attempt to answer two remaining questions which are currently unanswered; 1) Can we survive? And 2) Have we reached a point of no return? But first we must understand why the Earth in noticing increased temperatures.
Current records show that the Earth is undergoing a warming period like any other seen in recent history. As seen in data provided from the IPCC, between 1880 and 2012, warming has been recorded at about 0.85oC with most of this warming being seen post World War II era. Using temperature reconstruction models, it is evident that temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere and around the world have rocketed above the norm. This has been deduced to anthropogenic activities over the past 100 years, through the increasing production of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and activities which alter the environmental conditions.       

So why is this happening and what are the consequences which have followed? Well, this could be linked to the evermore globalised and interconnected world we live in, combined with further technological advances over the past 150 years and a growing global population. The increasing use of the finite fossil fuels we have left on this planet to not only produce goods for purchase, but to make daily lives easier, has seen a rise in dangerous Greenhouse Gas Emissions such as CO2. This ‘thickening of the Earth’s blanket’ has meant that rates of radiative forcing have increased, leading to a warming of the Earth. But what are the consequences of this warming? The list of problems created is endless. In all biomes and environments around the world, climate change has impacted them all in some form with arguably the most notable changes occurring in the cryosphere. This recognition of an altering planet is the reason why scientists such as Gabrielle Walker have questioned if we have reached the point of no return. Can we survive this warming period, and if we can, how are we already adapting to survive in a frightfully altering Earth?