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.

1 comment:

  1. Really nice, personal account. In the department we did some work on glacier recession from the Rwenzori mountains in Uganda - you might want to speak to Richard Taylor about it.