Melting glaciers are keeping a special team of cartographers at Swisstopo, Switzerland’s national mapping agency, busy: they’re the ones charged with making changes to the Swiss alps on Swisstopo’s maps. The New York Times reports:
“The glaciers are melting, and I have more work to do,” as Adrian Dähler, part of that special group, put it.
Dähler is one of only three cartographers at the agency—the Federal Office of Topography, or Swisstopo—allowed to tinker with the Swiss Alps, the centerpiece of the country’s map. Known around the office as “felsiers,” a Swiss-German nickname that loosely translates as “the people who draw rocks,” Dähler, along with Jürg Gilgen and Markus Heger, are experts in shaded relief, a technique for illustrating a mountain (and any of its glaciers) so that it appears three-dimensional. Their skills and creativity also help them capture consequences of the thawing permafrost, like landslides, shifting crevasses and new lakes.
The article is a fascinating look at an extraordinarily exacting aspect of cartography. [WMS]
Tom Patterson’s latest is a panorama of Alaska’s Malaspina Glacier, with the St. Elias Mountains in the background. “I rendered this panorama to showcase a wild landscape in its entirety where human development is minimal. The sprawling Malaspina Glacier with its concentric rings of ice, rubble, and meltwater is front and center. I started this project in 2017 and then put it aside for four years. However, accelerating climate change brought newfound urgency to my mapping. I wanted to map this beautiful glacier while it still exists.”
Satellite imagery only goes back so far. To measure the rate of ice loss across the Himalayan glaciers, researchers turned to recently declassified spy satellite photos from 1975. The photos were used to create a digital elevation model (above) which was compared with more recent data. They concluded that the rate of ice loss was accelerating: it was twice as much from 2000 to 2016 than it was from 1975 to 2000. Columbia University, Science News. [Geography Realm]
Climate change means retreating glaciers, which exposes new islands, which means new maps. BBC News reports that five new islands off the northeast coast of Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in the Russian Arctic that was the site of hundreds of nuclear tests, were mapped by a Russian expedition. The islands were discovered in satellite photos by then-student Marina Migunova, now a naval oceanographic engineer.
The British Antarctic Survey—which despite its name focuses its attention on both polar regions—has released a new one-sheet map of Greenland and the European Arctic. The 1:4,000,000-scale map covers a region from Baffin Island to Novaya Zemlya to Scotland: a region that’s usually on the edges of maps of the Arctic and Europe rather than getting its own map. More importantly, it’s a very recent snapshot of a rapidly changing region: the retreating ice sheet in Greenland is revealing new landscapes. The map costs £12 and is available either folded or rolled from Stanfords and the Scott Polar Research Institute. [BBC]
Nature: “Glaciologists will soon have a treasure trove of data for exploring how Antarctica’s underbelly has changed over nearly half a century. An international team of researchers has scanned and digitized 2 million records from pioneering aeroplane radar expeditions that criss-crossed the frozen continent in the 1960s and 1970s. […] The digitized data extend the record of changes at the bottom of the ice sheet, such as the formation of channels as Antarctica’s ice flows, by more than two decades.” (Modern radar mapping of Antarctica apparently only began in the 1990s.) [WMS]
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “New maps of Greenland’s coastal seafloor and bedrock beneath its massive ice sheet show that two to four times as many coastal glaciers are at risk of accelerated melting as previously thought. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), NASA and 30 other institutions have published the most comprehensive, accurate and high-resolution relief maps ever made of Greenland’s bedrock and coastal seafloor. Among the many data sources incorporated into the new maps are data from NASA’s Ocean Melting Greenland (OMG) campaign.”
Using elevation data from stereo satellite observations, David Shean is mapping the retreat of some 1,200 mountain glaciers in the continental United States. “Until recently, glaciers in the United States have been measured in two ways: placing stakes in the snow, as federal scientists have done each year since 1957 at South Cascade Glacier in Washington state; or tracking glacier area using photographs from airplanes and satellites.” Shean’s method, which measures each glacier twice a year and uses automated software to track changes, seems to cover a lot more territory. [GIS and Science]