Weather from Boulder, Colorado
While 99 percent of Earth’s land ice is locked up in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the remaining ice in the world’s glaciers contributed just as much to sea rise as the two ice sheets combined from 2003 to 2009, says a new study led by Clark University and involving the University Colorado Boulder.
The new research found that all glacial regions lost mass from 2003 to 2009, with the biggest ice losses occurring in Arctic Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes and the Himalayas. The glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic sheets lost an average of roughly 260 billion metric tons of ice annually during the study period, causing the oceans to rise 0.03 inches, or about 0.7 millimeters per year.
The study compared traditional ground measurements to satellite data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, and the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, missions to estimate ice loss for glaciers in all regions of the planet.
“For the first time, we’ve been able to very precisely constrain how much these glaciers as a whole are contributing to sea rise,” said geography Assistant Professor Alex Gardner of Clark University in Worcester, Mass., lead study author. “These smaller ice bodies are currently losing about as much mass as the ice sheets.”
A paper on the subject is being published in the May 17 issue of the journal Science.
“Because the global glacier ice mass is relatively small in comparison with the huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, people tend to not worry about it,” said CU-Boulder Professor Tad Pfeffer, a study co-author. “But it’s like a little bucket with a huge hole in the bottom: it may not last for very long, just a century or two, but while there’s ice in those glaciers, it’s a major contributor to sea level rise,” said Pfeffer, a glaciologist at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research
ICESat, which ceased operations in 2009, measured glacier changes using laser altimetry, which bounces laser pulses off the ice surface to determine changes in the height of ice cover. The GRACE satellite system, still operational, detects variations in Earth’s gravity field resulting from changes in the planet’s mass distribution, including ice displacements.
GRACE does not have a fine enough resolution and ICESat does not have sufficient sampling density to study small glaciers, but mass change estimates by the two satellite systems for large glaciated regions agree well, the scientists concluded.
“Because the two satellite techniques, ICESat and GRACE, are subject to completely different types of errors, the fact that their results are in such good agreement gives us increased confidence in those results,” said CU-Boulder physics Professor John Wahr, a study co-author and fellow at the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.
Ground-based estimates of glacier mass changes include measurements along a line from a glacier’s summit to its edge, which are extrapolated over a glacier’s entire area. Such measurements, while fairly accurate for individual glaciers, tend to cause scientists to overestimate ice loss when extrapolated over larger regions, including individual mountain ranges, according to the team.
Current estimates predict if all the glaciers in the world were to melt, they would raise sea level by about two feet. In contrast, an entire Greenland ice sheet melt would raise sea levels by about 20 feet, while if Antarctica lost its ice cover, sea levels would rise nearly 200 feet.
The study involved 16 researchers from 10 countries. In addition to Clark University and CU-Boulder, major research contributions came from the University of Michigan, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Trent University in Ontario, Canada, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies in Boulder, NASA’s ICESat satellite was successfully operated from the CU-Boulder campus by a team made up primarily of undergraduates from its launch in 2003 to its demise in 2009 when the science payload failed. The students participated in the unusual decommissioning of a functioning satellite in 2010, bringing the craft into Earth re-entry to burn up. ICESat’s successor, ICESat-2, is slated for launch in 2016 by NASA.
-CU media release-
The Earth’s climate zones are shifting at an accelerating pace, says a new study led by a scientist at the CU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.
The acceleration of change means that the species inhabiting each zone have less time to adapt to the climatic changes, said lead author Irina Mahlstein, a CIRES scientist who works at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “The warmer the climate gets, the faster the climate zones are shifting. This could make it harder for plants and animals to adjust.”
The study is the first to look at the accelerating pace of the shifting of climate zones, which are areas of the Earth defined by annual and seasonal cycles of temperature and precipitation, as well as temperature and precipitation thresholds of plant species. Over 30 different climate zones are found on Earth; examples include the equatorial monsoonal zone, the polar tundra zone and cold arid desert zone.
“A shift in the climate zone is probably a better measure of ‘reality’ for living systems, more so than changing temperature by a degree or precipitation by a centimeter,” said Mahlstein.
The scientists used climate model simulations and a well-known ecosystem classification scheme to look at the shifts between climate zones over a two-century period, 1900 to 2098. The team found that for an initial 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, about 5 percent of Earth’s land area shifts to a new climate zone.
The models show that the pace of change quickens for the next 3.6 F of warming as an additional 10 percent of the land area shifts to a new climate zone. The paper was published online in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 21.
Certain regions of the globe, such as northern middle and high latitudes, will undergo more changes than other regions, such as the tropics, the scientists found. In the tropics, mountainous regions will experience bigger changes than low-altitude areas.
In the coming century, the findings suggest that frost climates — the coldest climate zone of the planet — will largely decrease. In general, dry regions in different areas of the globe will increase, and a large fraction of land area will change from cool summers to hot summers, according to the study.
The scientists also investigated whether temperature or precipitation had a greater impact on how much of the land area changed zones. “We found that temperature is the main factor, at least through the end of this century,” said Mahlstein.
John Daniel at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory and Susan Solomon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology co-authored the study.
-CU press release
More may be eligible, with the expansion of heating assistance program , but applications are due by the end of April.
There is still time for Boulder County residents to apply for winter heating assistance through the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP),
LEAP helps low-income residents who meet income criteria and other eligibility factors pay their winter heating bills. The program is designed to pay the highest benefit to households with the highest heating costs.
“Energy costs have continued to increase throughout the recent economic downturn,” said Theresa Kullen, an eligibility manager with Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services (BCDHHS). “We want to make sure that people know this help is available, because it can make the difference between whether or not someone can also afford groceries or a visit to the doctor in a given month.”
In addition, Boulder County residents who may not have previously qualified for heating assistance may now be eligible. The Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services (BCDHHS) continues to oversee local expansions of the Heating Assistance Program and can provide help for households with income limits higher than those in LEAP.
Boulder County residents who were previously ineligible for LEAP due to income limit reductions may now qualify for help with heating bills through the Heating Plus program. This new program has gross monthly income limits of 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (for a family of three, this amounts to about $3,000 per month).
Those who want to find out more about whether they qualify or want to apply for the assistance should email Erica Penz at Boulder County LEAP, or call 303-682-6783. Boulder County will continue to accept applications through April 30, 2013.
Boulder County, Colo. – Boulder County and the City of Boulder will begin audible testing of the countywide emergency sirens at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 1. The test is the first of the annual season of monthly emergency audible siren tests, which take place on the first Monday of each month from April through August.
The audible siren tests will occur twice on each testing day, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., on April 1, May 6, June 3,July 1 and Aug. 5.
Siren tests ensure that all systems and procedures are working properly during the season of peak flood danger. The tests also promote public awareness of the warning sirens located throughout Boulder County.
Louisville, Superior and Jamestown sirens will only participate in the first audible test of the season on April 1. After this test, residents in these communities will not hear the sirens unless there is an emergency.
Should Boulder County experience severe weather during one of the planned audible tests, the siren tests for that day may be cancelled. For updated information, visit www.BoulderOEM.com.
Residents are encouraged to review their own emergency preparedness plans and discuss what they would do in the event of a flash flood or other emergency. For more information about personal preparedness, visitwww.readycolorado.com.
About the countywide alert system
Used to alert residents to potential danger from a flood or other immediate threat, there are 25 outdoor warning sirens in place across Boulder County, including in Boulder, Erie, Jamestown, Lafayette, Louisville, Lyons, Marshall, Eldorado Springs, Superior and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
All Boulder County sirens undergo weekly tests throughout the year, using a software program that performs a “silent” test.
For more information, visit www.BoulderOEM.com.
“Spring is a great time of year to get out on your land and begin preparing your property for wildfires.”
Boulder County, Colo. – The Boulder County Forest Health Initiative is pleased to announce the Community Forestry Sort Yard operating schedule for 2013. Two sort yard locations are open each summer to provide residents a free of charge location to dispose of logs and slash cut from their land.
The sort yards do not accept yard clippings, raked up pine needles, root balls, construction materials, dirt, furniture, household trash or wood with metal in it. Sort yard staff will refuse loads that contain unacceptable items.
Allenspark/Meeker Park Sort Yard
- Spring hours: Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 24th thru June 15th
- Summer/Fall hours: Tuesday thru Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 30th thru Oct. 19th
Nederland Area Sort Yard
- Spring hours: Tuesday thru Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 1st thru July 6th (closed July 4th)
- Summer/Fall hours: Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 20th thru Oct. 12th (these dates are tentative)
The Community Forestry Sort Yards may have additional closures during the open season due to weather, staff training or other administrative requirements. To check the operational status of a sort yard please call 303-678-6368.
Boulder County encourages all of its residents to be good stewards of their backyard forest and to implement effective wildfire mitigation on their land.
“The spring is a great time of year to get out on your land and begin preparing your property for wildfires,” said Ryan Ludlow outreach forester with the county’s Land Use Department. “Simple actions like picking up downed branches, raking away all pine needles within 5 feet of your structures, cutting tall dead grass and moving leftover winter firewood piles off of porches and placing them at least 30 feet away from the home can really help improve the chances of your home surviving the next wildfire.”
If you want to learn more about how to implement effective wildfire mitigation on your land join us at the Nederland Community Center on May 11 for a half day workshop focused on “Firewise Landscaping.” Learn how to transform your home’s perimeter into an area that you can not only use, but also looks good and helps protect your home from wildfire.
For more information about the sort yard program or how to implement proactive wildfire mitigation on your land, contact Ryan Ludlow, Boulder County Forest Health Initiative’s outreach forester, at 720-564-2641 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creeping climate change in the Southwest appears to be having a negative effect on pinyon pine reproduction, a finding with implications for wildlife species sharing the same woodland ecosystems, says a University of Colorado Boulder-led study.
The new study showed that pinyon pine seed cone production declined by an average of about 40 percent at nine study sites in New Mexico and northwestern Oklahoma over the past four decades, said CU-Boulder doctoral student Miranda Redmond, who led the study. The biggest declines in pinyon pine seed cone reproduction were at the higher elevation research sites experiencing more dramatic warming relative to lower elevations, said Redmond of CU’s ecology and evolutionary biology department.
“We are finding significant declines in pinyon pine cone production at many of our study sites,” said Redmond. “The biggest declines in cone production we measured were in areas with greater increases in temperatures over the past several decades during the March to October growing season.”
The cones in which the pinyon seeds are produced are initiated two years prior to seed maturity, and research suggests the environmental stimulus for cone initiation is unseasonably low temperatures during the late summer, said Redmond. Between 1969 and 2009, unseasonably low temperatures in late summer decreased in the study areas, likely inhibiting cone initiation and development.
The study is one of the first to examine the impact of climate change on tree species like pinyon pines that, instead of reproducing annually, shed vast quantities of cones every few years during synchronous, episodic occurrences known as “masting” events. Redmond said such masting in the pinyon pine appears to occur every three to seven years, resulting in massive “bumper crops” of cones covering the ground.
In the new Ecosphere study, the researchers compared two 10-year sequences of time. In addition to showing that total pinyon pine cone production during the 2003-2012 decade had declined from the 1969-1978 decade in the study areas, the team found the production of cones during masting events also declined during that period.
Some scientists believe masting events evolved to produce a big surplus of nut-carrying cones — far too many for wildlife species to consume in a season — making it more likely the nuts eventually will sprout into pinyon pine seedlings, she said. Others have suggested masting events occur during favorable climate conditions and/or to increase pollination efficiency. “Right now we really don’t know what drives them,” Redmond said.
“Across a range of forested ecosystems we are observing widespread mortality events due to stressors such as changing climate, drought, insects and fire,” said CU’s Barger. “This study provides evidence that increasing air temperatures may be influencing the ability of a common and iconic western U.S. tree, pinyon pine, to reproduce. We would predict that declines in pinyon pine cone production may impact the long-term viability of these tree populations.”
Wildlife biologists say pinyon-juniper woodlands are popular with scores of bird and mammal species ranging from black-chinned hummingbirds to black bears. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Northern Arizona estimated that 150 Clark’s Nutcrackers cached roughly 5 million pinyon pine nuts in a single season, benefiting not only the birds themselves but also the pines whose nuts were distributed more widely for possible germination.
For the new study, Redmond revisited nine pinyon pine study sites scattered throughout New Mexico and Oklahoma that had been studied previously in 1978 by Forcella. Both Forcella and Redmond were able to document pinyon pine masting years by counting small, concave blemishes known as “abscission scars” on individual tree branches that appeared after the cones have been dropped, she said.
Since each year in the life of a pinyon pine tree is marked by a “whorl” — a single circle of branches extending around a tree trunk — the researchers were able to bracket pinyon pine reproductive activity in the nine study areas for the 1969-1978 decade and 2003-2012 decade, which were then compared.
Pinyon pines take three growing seasons, or about 26 months, to produce mature cones from the time of cone initiation. Low elevation conifers including pinyon pines grow in water-limited environments and have been shown to have higher cone output during cool and/or wet summers, said Redmond. In addition to the climate-warming trend under way in the Southwest, the 2002-03 drought caused significant mortality in pinyon pine forests, Redmond said.
“Miranda’s ideas and accompanying results will be of value to ecologists and land managers in the deserts of the Southwest and beyond,” said Forcella, now a research agronomist in the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. “The work is evidence that the University of Colorado continues to cultivate a cadre of high-caliber graduate students for which it rightfully can take tremendous pride.”
Pinyon nuts, the Southwest’s only commercial source of edible pine seeds today, were dietary staples of indigenous Americans going back millennia.
For more information on CU-Boulder’s ecology and evolutionary biology department visit http://ebio.colorado.edu.
CU researchers say deep ice cores show past Greenland warm period may be ‘road map’ for continued warming of planet0
A new study by an international team of scientists analyzing ice cores from the Greenland ice sheet going back in time more than 100,000 years indicates the last interglacial period may be a good analog for where the planet is headed in terms of increasing greenhouse gases and rising temperatures.
The new results from the NEEM deep ice core drilling project led by the University of Copenhagen and involving the University of Colorado Boulder show that between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago during the Eemian interglacial period, the climate in north Greenland rose to about 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today. Despite the strong warming signal during the Eemian — a period when the seas were roughly 15 to 25 feet higher than today — the surface of the north Greenland ice sheet near the NEEM facility was only a few hundred yards lower than it is today, an indication to scientists it contributed less than half of the total sea rise at the time.
The NEEM project involves 300 scientists and students from 14 countries and is led by Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, director of the University of Copenhagen’s Centre of Ice and Climate. CU-Boulder geological sciences professor and ice core expert Jim White is the lead U.S. investigator on the project. The National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funded the U.S. portion of the effort.
The new Nature findings showed that about 128,000 years ago, the surface elevation of ice near the NEEM site was more than 650 feet higher than present but the ice was starting to thin by about 2 inches per year. Between about 122,000 and 115,000 years ago, Greenland’s surface elevation remained stable at roughly 425 feet below the present level. Calculations indicate Greenland’s ice sheet volume was reduced by no more than 25 percent between 128,000 years ago and 122,000 years ago, said White.
A paper on the subject was published in the Jan. 24 issue of Nature.
“When we calculated how much ice melt from Greenland was contributing to global sea rise in the Eemian, we knew a large part of the sea rise back then must have come from Antarctica,” said White, director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “A lot of us had been leaning in that direction for some time, but we now have evidence that confirms that the West Antarctic ice sheet was a dynamic and crucial player in global sea rise during the last interglacial period.”
Dahl-Jensen said the loss of ice mass on the Greenland ice sheet in the early part of the Eemian was likely similar to changes seen there by climate scientists in the past 10 years. Other studies have shown the temperatures above Greenland have been rising five times faster than the average global temperatures in recent years, and that Greenland has been losing more than 200 million tons of ice annually since 2003. The Greenland ice loss study was led by former CU-Boulder scientist Isabella Velicogna, who is currently a faculty member at the University of California, Irvine.
The intense melt in the vicinity of NEEM during the warm Eemian period was seen in the ice cores as layers of re-frozen meltwater. Such melt events during the last glacial period were rare by comparison, showing that the surface temperatures at the NEEM site were in a cold, nearly constant state back then. But on July 12, 2012, satellite images from NASA indicated 97 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet surface had thawed as a result of warming temperatures.
“We were quite shocked by the warm surface temperatures observed at the NEEM ice camp in July 2012,” said Dahl-Jensen. “It was raining at the top of the Greenland ice sheet, and just as during the Eemian period, meltwater formed subsurface ice layers. While this was an extreme event, the present warming over Greenland makes surface melt more likely, and the predicted warming over Greenland in the next 50-100 years will very likely be so strong that we will potentially have Eemian-like climate conditions.”
The Greenland ice core layers — formed over millennia by compressed snow — are being studied in detail using a suite of measurements, including stable water isotope analysis that reveals information about temperature and greenhouse gas levels and moisture changes back in time. Lasers are used to measure the water stable isotopes and atmospheric gas bubbles trapped in the ice cores to better understand past variations in climate on an annual basis — similar in some ways to a tree-ring record.
The results from the Nature study provide scientists with a “road map” of sorts to show where a warming Earth is headed in the future, said White. Of the nine hottest years on Earth on record, eight have come since the year 2000. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that temperatures on Earth could climb by as much as 11 degrees F by 2100.
Increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from sources like vehicle exhaust and industrial pollution — which have risen from about 280 parts per million at the onset of the Industrial Revolution to 391 parts per million today — are helping to raise temperatures on Earth, with no end in sight, said White.
“Unfortunately, we have reached a point where there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it’s going to be difficult for us to further limit our impact on the planet,” White said. “Our kids and grandkids are definitely going to look back and shake their heads at the inaction of this country’s generation. We are burning the lion’s share of oil and natural gas to benefit our lifestyle, and punting the responsibility for it.”
In the past, Earth’s journey into and out of glacial periods is thought to be due in large part to variations in its orbit, tilt and rotation that change the amount of solar energy delivered to the planet, he said. But the anthropogenic warming on Earth today could override such episodic changes, perhaps even staving off an ice age, White said.
While three previous ice cores drilled in Greenland in the last 20 years recovered ice from the Eemian, the deepest layers were compressed and folded, making the data difficult to interpret. Although there was some folding of the lowest ice layers in the NEEM core, sophisticated ice-penetrating radar helped scientists sort out and interpret the individual layers to paint an accurate picture of the warming of Earth’s Northern Hemisphere as it emerged from the previous ice age, White said.
In addition to White, other CU-Boulder co-authors on the NEEM paper include INSTAAR scientist Bruce Vaughn and graduate student Tyler Jones of INSTAAR and CU-Boulder’s Environmental Studies Program.
“It’s a challenge being on the ice sheet, because we are out of our comfort zones and are working long, physical hours in an environment that is extremely cold and where the sun never sets,” Jones said. “Being a member of the research team allowed me to understand the ice core recovery process and the science behind it in terms of learning more about past climates and the implications for future climate change.”
Other nations involved in NEEM include Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Other U.S. institutions involved in the effort include Oregon State University, Penn State, the University of California, San Diego and Dartmouth College.
A video and a slide show on the project will be available on the CU-Boulder news site by clicking on the story headline at http://www.colorado.edu/news.
$250k will be available to businesses, commercial property owners from Jan. 1 – Apr. 15
Boulder County, Colo. – Businesses and commercial property owners in Boulder County will be eligible for a new round of rebates for energy efficiency upgrades beginning in the early part of 2013.
EnergySmart is pleased to announce that $250,000 in rebates will be available for eligible business or commercial property projects completed between Jan. 1 and Apr. 15, 2013 or until funds are committed.
“We’re pleased to be able offer these additional incentives to local businesses,” said Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor. “Although funding from the federal ARRA grant will run out in mid-2013, our municipal and county officials and staff are committed to helping businesses continue to implement energy efficient improvements throughout the New Year.”
Already more than 500 EnergySmart Businesses throughout Boulder County have implemented energy efficiency projects that will save them more than $11 million a year. EnergySmart has awarded over $1 million in rebates to businesses since November 2010, supporting the investment of over $6.5 million in energy efficiency projects in commercial buildings located in our communities.
“The savings in power along with the reduced stress on the HVAC system and the overwhelming appreciation from the tenants makes this one of the best investments I have made in Commercial Real Estate,” said Rich Carlisle of BC Properties in Louisville.
EnergySmart is offering rebates to businesses and commercial property owners for over 120 qualifying energy efficiency measures. Previously awarded rebates will not count toward caps in this round. Solar photovoltaic (PV) and other renewable energy measures are eligible for rebates for commercial properties that achieve 15% energy savings through EnergySmart.
More information is available at www.EnergySmartYES.com. The rebate application will be available online Jan 2. Interested businesses are encouraged to call an Energy Advisor at 303-441-1300 to ensure your projects meet the eligibility requirements for both EnergySmart and local utility rebates. Payments will be made to qualifying applicants upon completion of projects on a first-come, first-served basis. Projects completed in 2012 are not eligible for 2013 rebate funds.
EnergySmart provides a suite of services to help businesses and homes in all Boulder County communities identify valuable energy-saving opportunities and assist residents and business owners through the energy upgrade process. For more information or to sign up, call an EnergySmart Advisor:
Or visit www.EnergySmartYES.com
The program is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the U.S. Department of Energy’s BetterBuildings grant program and is sponsored in partnership by Boulder County, the cities of Boulder and Longmont, Xcel Energy and Platte River Power Authority.
Tomorrow, December 19, 2012, Sheriff Joe Pelle will rescind the current Fire Ban. The recent precipitation has reduced the fire danger threat by increasing the amount of moisture in the grasses and the other fuels.
CU Boulder research team finds massive crevasses and bendable ice affect stability of Antarctic ice shelf0
Gaping crevasses that penetrate upward from the bottom of the largest remaining ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula make it more susceptible to collapse, according to University of Colorado Boulder researchers who spent the last four Southern Hemisphere summers studying the massive floating sheet of ice that covers an area twice the size of Massachusetts.
But the scientists also found that ribbons running through the Larsen C Ice Shelf – made up of a mixture of ice types that, together, are more prone to bending than breaking – make the shelf more resilient than it otherwise would be.
The research team from CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences presented the findings Dec. 6 at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco.
The Larsen C Ice Shelf is all that’s left of a series of ice shelves that once clung to the eastern edge of the Antarctic Peninsula and stretched into the Weddell Sea. When the other shelves disintegrated abruptly – including Larsen A in January 1995 and Larsen B in February 2002 – scientists were surprised by the speed of the breakup.
Researchers now believe that the catastrophic collapses of Larsen A and B were caused, at least in part, by rising temperatures in the region, where warming is increasing at six times the global average. The Antarctic Peninsula warmed 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the middle of the last century.
The warmer climate increased meltwater production, allowing more liquid to pool on top of the ice shelves. The water then drained into surface crevasses, wedging them open and cracking the shelf into individual icebergs, which resulted in rapid disintegration.
But while the meltwater may have been responsible for dealing the final blow to the shelves, researchers did not have the opportunity to study how the structure of the Larsen A and B shelves may have made them more vulnerable to drastic breakups – or protected the shelves from an even earlier demise.
CU-Boulder researchers did not want to miss the same opportunity on the Larsen C shelf, which covers more than 22,000 square miles of sea.
“It’s the perfect natural laboratory,” said Daniel McGrath, a doctoral student in the Department of Geography and part of the CIRES research team. “We wanted to study this shelf while it’s still stable in order to get a better understanding of the processes that affect ice shelf stability.”
McGrath worked with CIRES colleagues over the last four years to study the Larsen C shelf in order to better understand how the warming climate may have interacted with the shelf’s existing structure to increase its vulnerability to a catastrophic collapse.
McGrath presented two of the group’s key findings at the AGU meeting. The first was the role that long-existing crevasses that start at the base of the shelf and propagate upward – known as basal crevasses – play in making the shelf more vulnerable to disintegration. The second relates to the way a type of ice found in areas called suture zones may be protecting the shelf against a breakup.
The scientists used ground penetrating radar to map out the basal crevasses, which turn out to be massive. The yawning cracks can run for several miles in length and can penetrate upwards for more than 750 feet. While the basal crevasses have been a part of Larsen C for hundreds of years, the interaction between these features and a warming climate will likely make the shelf more susceptible to future disintegration. “They likely play a really important role in ice-shelf disintegration, both past and future,” McGrath said.
The research team also studied the impact of suture zones in the ice shelf. Larsen C is fed by 12 distinct glaciers, which dump a steady flow of thick ice into the shelf. But the promontories of land between the glacial outlets, where ice does not flow into the shelf, allow for the creation of ribbon-like suture zones, which knit the glacial inflows together and which turn out to be important to the ice shelf’s resilience. “The ice in these zones really holds the neighboring inflows together,” McGrath said.
The suture zones get their malleable characteristic from a combination of ice types. A key component of the suture zone mixture is formed when the bottoms of the 12 glacial inflows begin to melt. The resulting freshwater is more buoyant than the surrounding seawater, so it rises upward to the relatively thinner ice zones between the glacial inflows, where it refreezes on the underside of the shelf and contributes to the chaotic ice structure that makes suture zones more flexible than the surrounding ice.
It turns out that the resilient characteristics of the suture zones keep cracks, including the basal crevasses, from spreading across the ice shelf, even where the suture zone ice makes up a comparatively small amount of the total thickness of the shelf. The CIRES team found that at the shelf front, where the ice meets the open sea, suture zone ice constitutes only 20 percent of the total thickness of the shelf but was still able to limit the spread of rifts through the ice. “It’s a pretty small part of the total ice thickness, and yet, it still has this really important role of holding the ice shelf together,” McGrath said.
Other CU researchers involved in the Larsen C project were Konrad Steffen, former director of CIRES; Ted Scambos, of CIRES and CU-Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center; Harihar Rajaram, of the Department of Civil Engineering; and Waleed Abdalati, of CIRES.
Monday, December 03, 2012
On Monday, December 03, 2012 at 12:00 p.m., Sheriff Joe Pelle enacted a fire ban for;
The mountain corridor of Boulder County. The mountain corridor includes all unincorporated areas west of Highway 93 and Highway 36 (North and South Foothills Highways and Broadway Avenue in the City of Boulder) including Rabbit Mountain Open Space.
The wild and dramatic cascade of ice into the ocean from Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, an iconic glacier featured in the documentary “Chasing Ice” and one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, will cease around 2020, according to a study by the University of Colorado Boulder.
A computer model predicts the retreat of the Columbia Glacier will stop when the glacier reaches a new stable position — roughly 15 miles upstream from the stable position it occupied prior to the 1980s. The team, headed by lead author William Colgan of the CU-Boulder headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, published its results today in The Cryosphere, an open access publication of the European Geophysical Union.
The Columbia Glacier is a large (425 square miles), multi-branched glacier in south-central Alaska that flows mostly south out of the Chugach Mountains to its tidewater terminus in Prince William Sound.
Warming air temperatures have triggered an increase in the Columbia Glacier’s rate of iceberg calving, whereby large pieces of ice detach from the glacier and float into the ocean, according to Colgan. “Presently, the Columbia Glacier is calving about 2 cubic miles of icebergs into the ocean each year — that is over five times more freshwater than the entire state of Alaska uses annually,” he said. “It is astounding to watch.”
The imminent finish of the retreat, or recession of the front of the glacier, has surprised scientists and highlights the difficulties of trying to estimate future rates of sea level rise, Colgan said. “Many people are comfortable thinking of the glacier contribution to sea level rise as this nice predictable curve into the future, where every year there is a little more sea level rise, and we can model it out for 100 or 200 years,” Colgan said.
The team’s findings demonstrate otherwise, however. A single glacier’s contribution to sea level rise can “turn on” and “turn off” quite rapidly, over a couple of years, with the precise timing of the life cycle being difficult to forecast, he said. Presently, the majority of sea level rise comes from the global population of glaciers. Many of these glaciers are just starting to retreat, and some will soon cease to retreat.
“The variable nature and speed of the life cycle among glaciers highlights difficulties in trying to accurately predict the amount of sea level rise that will occur in the decades to come,” Colgan said.
The Columbia Glacier was first documented in 1794 when it appeared to be stable with a length of 41 miles. During the 1980s it began a rapid retreat and by 1995 it was only about 36 miles long. By late 2000 it was about 34 miles long.
The loss of a massive area of the Columbia Glacier’s tongue has generated a tremendous number of icebergs since the 1980s. After the Exxon Valdez ran aground while avoiding a Columbia Glacier iceberg in 1989, significant resources were invested to understand its iceberg production. As a result, Columbia Glacier became one of the most well-documented tidewater glaciers in the world, providing a bank of observational data for scientists trying to understand how a tidewater glacier reacts to a warming climate.
Motivated by the compelling imagery of the Columbia Glacier’s retreat documented in the Extreme Ice Survey — James Balog’s collection of time-lapse photography of disappearing glaciers around the world — Colgan became curious as to how long the glacier would continue to retreat. To answer this question, the team of researchers created a flexible model of the Columbia Glacier to reproduce different criteria such as ice thickness and terminus extent.
The scientists then compared thousands of outputs from the computer model under different assumptions with the wealth of data that exists for the Columbia Glacier.
The batch of outputs that most accurately reproduced the well-documented history of retreat was run into the future to predict the changes the Columbia Glacier will most likely experience until the year 2100. The researchers found that around 2020 the terminus of the glacier will retreat into water that is sufficiently shallow to provide a stable position through 2100 by slowing the rate of iceberg production.
The speediness of the glacier’s retreat is due to the unique nature of tidewater glaciers, Colgan said. When warming temperatures melt the surface of a land glacier, the land glacier only loses its mass by run-off. But in tidewater glaciers, the changes in ice thickness resulting from surface melt can create striking changes in ice flow, triggering an additional dynamic process for retreat.
The dynamic response of the Columbia Glacier to the surface melt will continue until the glacier reaches its new stable position in 2020, at roughly 26 miles long. “Once the dynamic trigger had been pulled, it probably wouldn’t have mattered too much what happened to the surface melt — it was just going to continue retreating through the bedrock depression upstream of the pre-1980s terminus,” Colgan said.
Colgan next plans to attempt to use similar models to predict when the Greenland glaciers — currently the major contributors to sea level rise — will “turn off” and complete their retreats.
The future for the Columbia Glacier, however, looks bleak. “I think the hope was that once we saw climate change happening, we could act to prevent some irreversible consequences,” Colgan said, “but now we are only about eight years out from this retreat finishing — it is really sad. There is virtually no chance of the Columbia Glacier recovering its pre-retreat dimensions on human time-scales.”
The study was funded by NASA, and co-authors on the paper include W. Tad Pfeffer of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Harihar Rajaram of the CU-Boulder Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, Waleed Abdalati of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration in Washington, D.C., and Balog of the Extreme Ice Survey in Boulder, Colo.
Analysis of 90 years of observational data has revealed that summer climates in regions across the globe are changing — mostly, but not always, warming –according to a new study led by a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences headquartered at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“It is the first time that we show on a local scale that there are significant changes in summer temperatures,” said lead author CIRES scientist Irina Mahlstein. “This result shows us that we are experiencing a new summer climate regime in some regions.”
The technique, which reveals location-by-location temperature changes rather than global averages, could yield valuable insights into changes in ecosystems on a regional scale. Because the methodology relies on detecting temperatures outside the expected norm, it is more relevant to understand changes to the animal and plant life of a particular region, which scientists would expect to show sensitivity to changes that lie outside of normal variability.
“If the summers are actually significantly different from the way that they used to be, it could affect ecosystems,” said Mahlstein, who works in the Chemical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory.
To identify potential temperature changes, the team used climate observations recorded from 1920 to 2010 from around the globe. The scientists termed the 30-year interval from 1920 to 1949 the “base period,” and then compared the base period to other 30-year test intervals starting every 10 years since 1930.
The comparison used statistics to assess whether the test interval differed from the base period beyond what would be expected due to yearly temperature variability for that geographical area.
Their analysis found that some changes began to appear as early as the 1960s, and the observed changes were more prevalent in tropical areas. In these regions, temperatures varied little throughout the years, so the scientists could more easily detect any changes that did occur, Mahlstein said.
The scientists found significant summer temperature changes in 40 percent of tropical areas and 20 percent of higher-latitude areas. In the majority of cases, the researchers observed warming summer temperatures, but in some cases they observed cooling summer temperatures.
“This study has applied a new approach to the question, ‘Has the temperature changed in local areas?’ ” Mahlstein said. The study is in press in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.
The study’s findings are consistent with other approaches used to answer the same question, such as modeling and analysis of trends, Mahlstein said. But this technique uses only observed data to come to the same result. “Looking at the graphs of our results, you can visibly see how things are changing,” she said.
In particular the scientists were able to look at the earlier time periods, note the temperature extremes, and observe that those values became more frequent in the later time periods. “You see how the extreme events of the past have become a normal event,” Mahlstein said.
The scientists used 90 years of data for their study, a little more than the average lifespan of a human being. So if inhabitants of those areas believe that summers have changed since they were younger, they can be confident it is not a figment of their imagination.
“We can actually say that these changes have happened in the lifetime of a person,” Mahlstein said.
Co-authors on the study were Gabriele Hegerl from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Susan Solomon from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
CIRES is a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NOAA.
A new University of Colorado Boulder study shows for the first time that episodes of reduced precipitation in the southern Rocky Mountains, especially during the 2001-02 drought, greatly accelerated development of the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
The study, the first ever to chart the evolution of the current pine beetle epidemic in the southern Rocky Mountains, compared patterns of beetle outbreak in the two primary host species, the ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine, said CU-Boulder doctoral student Teresa Chapman. The current mountain pine beetle outbreak in the southern Rockies — which range from southern Wyoming through Colorado and into northern New Mexico –is estimated to have impacted nearly 3,000 square miles of forests, said Chapman, lead study author.
While the 2001-02 drought in the West played a key role in pushing the pine beetle outbreak into a true regional epidemic, the outbreak continued to gain ground even after temperature and precipitation levels returned to levels nearer the long-term averages, said Chapman of CU-Boulder’s geography department. The beetles continued to decimate lodgepole pine forests by moving into wetter and higher elevations and into less susceptible tree stands — those with smaller diameter lodgepoles sharing space with other tree species.
“In recent years some researchers have thought the pine beetle outbreak in the southern Rocky Mountains might have started in one place and spread from there,” said Chapman. “What we found was that the mountain pine beetle outbreak originated in many locations. The idea that the outbreak spread from multiple places, then coalesced and continued spreading, really highlights the importance of the broad-scale drivers of the pine beetle epidemic like climate and drought.”
A paper on the subject was recently published in the journal Ecology. Co-authors on the study include CU-Boulder geography Professor Thomas Veblen and Tania Schoennagel, an adjunct faculty member in the geography department and a research scientist at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. The National Science Foundation funded the study.
Mountain pine beetles are native insects that have shaped the forests of North America for thousands of years. They range from Canada to Mexico and are found at elevations from sea level to 11,000 feet. The effects of pine beetles are especially evident in recent years on Colorado’s Western Slope, including Rocky Mountain National Park, with a particularly severe epidemic occurring in Grand and Routt counties.
Chapman said the most recent mountain pine beetle outbreak began in the 1990s, primarily in scattered groups of lodgepole pine trees living at low elevations in areas of lower annual precipitation. Following the 2001-02 drought, the outbreak was “uncoupled” from the initial weather and landscape conditions, triggering a rise in beetle populations on the Western Slope and propelling the insects over the Continental Divide into the northern Front Range to infect ponderosa pine, Chapman said.
The current pine beetle epidemic in the southern Rocky Mountains was influenced in part by extensive forest fires that ravaged Colorado’s Western Slope from roughly 1850 to 1890, said Chapman. Lodgepole pine stands completely burned off by the fires were succeeded by huge swaths of seedling lodgepoles that eventually grew side by side into dense mature stands, making them easier targets for the pine beetles.
“The widespread burning associated with dry years in the 19th century set the stage for the current outbreak by creating vast areas of trees in the size classes most susceptible to beetle attack,” said Chapman.
Veblen said a 1980s outbreak of the pine beetle centered in Colorado’s Grand County ended when extremely low minimum temperatures were reached in the winters of 1983 and 1984, killing the beetle larvae. But during the current outbreak, minimum temperatures during all seasons have been persistently high since 1996, well above the levels of extreme cold shown to kill beetle larvae in laboratory experiments.
“This implies that under continued warming trends, future outbreaks will not be terminated until they exhaust their food supply — the pine tree hosts,” said Veblen.
Chapman said there has been a massive and unprecedented beetle epidemic in British Columbia, which also began in the early 1990s and has now has affected nearly 70,000 square miles. “It is hard to tell if this current beetle epidemic in the Southern Rockies is unprecedented,” she said. “While warm periods in the 16th century may have triggered a large beetle epidemic, any evidence would have been wiped out by the massive fires in the latter part of the 19th century.”
Veblen said while the rate of spread of the mountain pine beetle in lodgepole pine forests has declined in the southern Rocky Mountains during the past two years because of a depletion of host pine population, U.S. Forest Service surveys indicate the rate of beetle spread in ponderosa pine forests on the Front Range has increased sharply over the past three years. “The current study suggests that under the continued warmer climate, the spread of the beetle in ponderosa pines is likely to grow until that food source also is depleted,” Veblen said.
“Our results emphasize the importance of considering different patterns in the population dynamics of mountain pine beetles for different host species, even under similar regional-scale weather variations,” said Chapman. “Given the current outbreak of mountain pine beetles on the Front Range, their impact on ponderosa pines is certainly something that needs further study.”
A 2012 study by CU-Boulder Professor Jeffry Mitton and graduate student Scott Ferrenberg showed some Colorado pine beetles, which had been known to produce only one generation of tree-killing offspring annually, are producing two generations per year due to rising temperatures and a longer annual warm season. Because of the extra annual generation of beetles, there could be up to 60 times as many beetles attacking trees in any given year, according to the study.
In addition, a 2011 study led by CU-Boulder graduate student Evan Pugh indicated the infestation of trees by mountain pine beetles in the high country across the West could potentially trigger earlier snowmelt and increase water yields from snowpack that accumulates beneath affected trees.
Reichert family will receive $20,000 worth of energy upgrades
Boulder County, Colo. – John Reichert and his family received a pleasant surprise today when the Boulder County Commissioners and EnergySmart staffers visited to award them the Grand Prize in the EnergySmart Home Energy Makeover.
The Home Energy Makeover grand prize, valued at approximately $20,000, includes a new energy efficient furnace, air sealing and insulation upgrades to the attic and crawlspace/basement, an energy efficient water heater, cooling system upgrades, and $4,000 to use for recommended energy upgrades of the homeowner’s choosing.
John and Kathleen Reichert live in Boulder with their son, James, 6. They purchased their home intending to make it a more sustainable place to raise their family. “Have you ever been caught by a six-year-old for putting an aluminum can in the trash?” John said. Shortly after moving in, however, John’s position at work was eliminated and Kathleen’s hospice-care salary didn’t allow for the planned upgrades.
The Reichert family made it through three rounds of selection to win the grand prize. In round one, their home was identified as one of the top fifteen poorest performing homes having received an EnergySmart assessment.
In round two, the Reicherts submitted a short essay explaining why they needed a Home Energy Makeover, which was selected as one of three finalists by a panel of local energy expert judges. In round three, the three finalists were interviewed and the Reicherts were chosen as the best fit for the award.
Earlier this week, four homes won equal second place prizes, including a new energy efficient furnace, home air sealing and insulation upgrades, and $1,500 to use toward a recommended energy upgrade of the homeowner’s choice.
Contest prizes were largely donated by local contractors:
• Grand Prize package: Solar City
• Insulation/air sealing: EcoHandyman, ThermalCraft Insulation, EcoSmart Homes, ERC Insulation.
• Furnace installations: Service Experts, SAC Mechanical
EnergySmart focuses on improvements that will reduce energy waste, improve comfort, and produce cost-savings for both residential and business participants. Services include energy assessments and expert advisor assistance with finding contractors and all available rebates and financing options for energy efficiency upgrades.
Since the program’s launch in January 2011, EnergySmart has helped more than 6,600 residents and 2,200 businesses throughout Boulder County.
EnergySmart is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the U.S. Department of Energy’s BetterBuildings grant program and is sponsored in partnership by Boulder County, the City of Boulder’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) tax, the City of Longmont, Xcel Energy and Platte River Power Authority. For more information, visit www.EnergySmartYES.com or call 303-544-1000 (for homes) or 303-441-1300 (for businesses).