Hidden History Revealed By Receding Glaciers

Michael Gwyther-Jones, Flickr

Well at least global warming is good for something.

The rise in Earth’s temperature is making snow lines and glaciers recede on mountain ranges all over the world. While this is a worrying trend, it’s revealing hidden bits of history to archaeologists.

In Norway, the receding Lendbreen glacier at 6,560 feet above the sea level has revealed an ancient wool sweater dating to the Iron Age. Carbon dating has revealed that it’s 1,700 years old. It was made of sheep and lamb’s wool in a diamond twill, and was well-worn and patched from heavy use. The Norwegian research team estimates that the person who wore it would have been about 5 feet, 9 inches tall.

The results of the study have recently been published in the journal Antiquity.

This isn’t the first discovery thanks to receding glaciers. The most famous, of course, is the so-called “Iceman”, a well-preserved corpse of a man who died in the Alps around 3300 BC. Last year we reported the discovery of the bodies of soldiers from World War One in the Alps. in Norway, about 50 textile fragments have been recovered in recent years, although the sweater is the first complete garment.

Most discoveries have been accidental, with hikers and mountaineers reporting their finds to the appropriate authorities. In the Iceman’s case, people originally wondered if the well-preserved body might have been a recent murder victim!

So if you’re hiking near a melting glacier, keep an eye out for ancient artifacts and bodies, and remember that it’s illegal to pocket them. Do science a favor and call a park ranger.

Norwegian Scientists Plan To Freeze Themselves In Polar Ice

polar
Wikimedia Commons

A hundred and twenty years ago, Norwegian scientist Fridtjof Nansen started a journey that made him one of the greatest explorers of all time. He set out to purposely get his ship frozen in the polar ice.

The reason? To study polar currents. His ship, the Fram, was purpose-built for the task. It needed to be; many crews had perished in the far north when their ships got frozen and then crushed by ice. The Fram spent three years stuck in the ice as the crew studied currents, took soundings and gathered a host of other scientific data that researchers are still sifting through. Not content with this adventure, Nansen set off on skis in a failed bid to be the first to the North Pole.

Nansen (1861-1930) was fascinated with the world of the Arctic. He was the first to ski across Greenland in 1888 and wrote about his adventures in The First Crossing of Greenland. This was the first of many exciting travel books he’d write. His most famous is Farthest North, his account of the Fram expedition. Nansen went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work helping refugees after World War I, including the many victims of the Armenian Genocide. His ship is preserved at The Fram Museum in Oslo.

Now researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute want to get their own ship frozen in the ice. They’re hoping to take an old Arctic research vessel that’s slated for the scrapyard and get it stuck in the ice during the winter of 2014-15.

They plan on studying the conditions of the ice, conditions that have changed markedly in the past few years. With the warming of the poles, most ice is only a year old, instead of being several years old like the ice that Nansen studied. This young ice is thinner, more saline, and has different reflective properties than older ice. Such a study may yield important data on how the Arctic is changing due to global warming.

You can read more about Nansen and the proposed project in an excellent two-part series on Science Nordic.

How Did China Misplace 27000 Rivers?

China's rivers are disappearing at an alarming rate. When China set out to conduct its First National Census of Water, government officials expected to get a better understanding of the country’s rivers and other aquatic resources. But the results of that census have left some environmentalists wondering what happened to all of China’s waterways and if there is a looming water crisis for the world’s most populous nation.

Prior to conducting the water census, China estimated that it had upwards of 50,000 rivers inside of its borders. But the findings of the three-year study indicate that that number is actually 22,909. That’s a loss of more than 27,000 rivers with a combined total water volume that would be about the equivalent of the Mississippi River. That is a significant amount of water to have completely vanished.

So what exactly happened to all of those rivers? China blames their disappearance on two factors – outdated mapping techniques and global climate change. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, China’s Deputy Director of the Ministry of Water Resources, Huang He, indicated that the original estimate was probably too high due to inaccurate topographic maps that trace their origin back to the 1950s. He also acknowledged that climate change has led to the loss of both water and soil throughout China.
Environmental activists aren’t convinced, however. While many acknowledge that better mapping technology has no doubt led to a more accurate river count, there is a widely held belief that China’s booming economy and terrible record on protecting the environment both had a big impact on the loss of these waterways. This is evident in the slow, but steady, drop in water levels on the country’s two longest rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow.

Considering how quickly China’s population continues to grow and its towns and cities are modernizing, there is great fear that the nearly 23,000 rivers that do exist there will not be adequate to meet the demands placed on them in the 21st century and beyond. To make matters worse, many of those rivers are already greatly polluted, which will likely lead to a host of other health problems in the future.

China won’t be the only nation dealing with water shortages in the future if climatologists are to be believed. Climate change is drying up rivers all over the world, not to mention shifting weather patterns and causing droughts. The difference is that most other countries don’t have a population anywhere close to the size of China’s and most aren’t inflicting as much damage on their waterways as the Asian country.

Predicting what the future holds is a difficult proposition. But lets hope that when China takes its Second National Census of Water it doesn’t lose more than half of its waterways once again.

[Photo Credit: Luo Shaoyang via WikiMedia]

Yosemite’s Largest Glacier Has Stopped Advancing

Yosemite's Lyell GlacierFor years we’ve heard environmental scientists and researchers tell us how climate change is having a profound effect on glaciers across the globe. In many parts of the planet, increased temperatures have caused the giant sheets of ice to dramatically recede or disappear altogether. That process has now begun to take place in one of America’s most iconic landscapes – Yosemite National Park.

Last week, the National Park Service announced that Lyell Glacier, the largest inside the park, has stopped advancing and is losing substantial mass. The NPS, working in conjunction with the University of Colorado, conducted a four-year study of the glacier, measuring its movement by placing stakes along the ice and recording their positions. Over that four-year period, those stakes didn’t move at all. The study also conducted research on the nearby Maclure Glacier, which runs adjacent to Lyell. The findings indicate that it is still advancing at a rate of about one inch per day, despite the fact that it has lost nearly 60% of its mass as well.

Glaciers build up over thousands of years due to the accumulation of ice and snow in mountainous areas. When they grow large enough their mass, combined with melt water, causes them to slide down hill at a generally very slow, but powerful, pace. When they stop moving altogether or start to retreat, it is because they no longer have the mass or moisture to push them downhill. This has increasingly been the case with some of the largest glaciers across the planet.

Research will continue over the next few years as scientists will record a host of climate data in and around both the Lyell and Maclure Glaciers. They’ll monitor the thickness of the snowpack, range in temperatures and rate of ice melt in an effort to further understand the effects of climate change on the two bodies of ice. It seems clear, however, that warming temperatures have already begun to have an effect.

[Photo Credit: Greg Stock]

Photo Of The Day: Snow On A Beach In South Korea

A fresh coating of snow can’t stop this child from enjoying a day on the beach in Gangneung, South Korea. Flickr user BaboMike describes the very surreal setting in which he captured today’s Photo of the Day:

Not the usual day at the beach. Fresh snow coupled with a beautiful day [makes for] a very unusual day out. No swimming or bikinis here. This kid was just throwing snow at his sister. Can’t blame him really.

Do you have any photos of weird weather phenomena? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user BaboMike]