Himalayan Glaciers

There has been an almost worldwide recession of glaciers since the last ice age, including within the HimalayasThe Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region extends 3500 km across eight countries from central Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east (Figure 1). This region contains the largest amount of ice outside the polar regions and feeds the major South Asian river basins, including the Ganges, Indus, and Brahmaputra. There are over 54,000 glaciers in the HKH region which are highly vulnerable to global climate change, experiencing significant warming (0.21 ± 0.08 ◦ C/decade) over the past few decades.

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Figure 1. The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region

Glaciers act as natural hydrological buffers, releasing melt water during summer and early autumn in particular. They  are natural reservoirs storing water as ice instead of using a dam. Millions of people depend on the waters from the rivers fed by snow and glacial melt for domestic use, agriculture, hydropower and industry. As the glaciers shrink so does the melting and consequent runoff they provide.

HKH Mass balance

Figure 2. Mass loss from the Asiatic High Mountains compared to other regions. (Dyurgerov and Meier, 2005)

Most Himalayan glaciers have both retreated and lost mass since the mid-19th century as shown by cumulative mass balance (Figure 2) as well as changes in length. Between 2003 and 2009, Himalayan glaciers lost an estimated 174 gigatonnes of water, equivalent to almost half of the River Ganges’ annual runoff volume. Substantial glacial mass and area losses are projected in the coming decades for most parts of the HKH based on climate models and glacio-hydrological projections. Warmer temperatures will also cause more precipitation to fall as rain than snow, resulting in melting ice not being replenished.


Figure 3a. West Rongbuk Glacier, 1921 (Image. GlacierWorks)


Figure 3b. West Rongbuk Glacier, 2009 (Image. David Breashears)

Hydro-meteorological stations are limited in the Himalayan region. With increased interest in the future of Himalayan glaciers, regional South Asian countries as well as international institutions are collaborating for further field expeditions to install automated weather stations and gather additional data. Read more on field work done in the Himalayas.

Snow and Ice Research in the Himalayas – Video Courtesy Susan Hale Thomas


Bolch T, Kulkarni A, Kääb A, Huggel C, Paul F, Cogley J, Frey H, Kargel J, Fujita K, Scheel M. 2012. The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers. Science 336: 310–314, doi: 10.1126/science.1215828.

Dyurgerov, M.B. and Meier, M.F., 2005. Glaciers and the changing Earth system: a 2004 snapshot (Vol. 58). Boulder: Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado

Shrestha, A.B., Agrawal, N.K., Alfthan, B., Bajracharya, S.R., Maréchal, J. and Oort, B.V., 2015. The Himalayan Climate and Water Atlas: impact of climate change on water resources in five of Asia’s major river basins. The Himalayan Climate and Water Atlas: impact of climate change on water resources in five of Asia’s major river basins.



Death of the Clean Power Plan

President Trump signed an executive order today to dismantle the clean power plan.

The Clean Power Plan is a policy Obama passed in 2015 to reduce pollution from power plants, the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution. It aims to reduce carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants by 32% by 2030. The plan requires states to use low-emission fuel sources to meet standards.

We have not quite covered energy topic yet but to summarize –
i) Coal industry hasn’t been a major source of employment for a long time. According to Energy Department analysis coal mining now accounts for fewer than 75,000 U.S. jobs.
ii) By contrast, renewable energy now accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs.

coal mining jobs trends NYT

Here is a scientific article on this executive order.
Bloomberg article

Based on what you know about climate change from this course and given this information, do you think this order might bring coal jobs back?  Do you think the economy will benefit from this executive order or do you think the environmental costs of the additional unchecked pollution and increase in carbon dioxide concentration will outweigh the economic benefits? Do you think the US will be energy independent as a result of this type of executive order?

Why should you care about Fracking?

Question for comment

1) For your community in central Massachusetts which would you rather they invest in solar, wind or natural gas resources and why?

2) Which states account for most of the natural gas production ? (Resource link)

As fossil fuel prices rise our search for new means of extracting usable fossil fuels has expanded.  One of the new methods that has become usable is releasing natural gas-methane from shales that contain considerable amounts of trapped gas.  Shales are rocks that are made of mud, and the gases have been trapped in the rocks since formation many millions of years ago.  To release the gases we drill into the rock layer, and then frack it, hydraulically fractured.   The diagrams below indicate the number of locations in the US where this resource is or could be tapped.  The method is described in the next two diagrams.  The key is to release the methane gas by fracturing the shale rock to allow the gas to be released from the rock.  The fracturing is done with highly pressurized fluids.



This natural gas that can only be extracted with fracking is of considerable value. In 2000, approximately 26,000 hydraulically fractured wells produced 3.6 billion cubic per day (Bcf/d) of marketed gas in the United States, making up less than 7% of the national total. By 2015, the number of hydraulically fractured wells had grown to an estimated 300,000, and production from those wells had grown to more than 53 Bcf/d, making up about 67% of the total natural gas output of the United States. EIA estimates that natural gas production from hydraulically fractured wells now makes up about two-thirds of total U.S. marketed gas production.

Here, resource for natural gas weekly updates.

frack prices

To date three problems have emerged as a result of  the 2005 ruling that fracking was exempted from regulation by the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) leaving it up to the states to monitor and regulate a rapidly increasing number of fracked wells.

1) Contamination of surface water from fracking fluids and erosion from the drilling preparation and pipeline laying process. Radioactivity associated with drilling. Fish kill from drilling.

2) Depletion of water resources for the drilling process in Texas during a drought.

3) Release of natural gas that propagates up through the rock contaminating water wells in Pennsylvania. Also see Duke University study

Keystone XL Pipeline

This is the story of a brilliant plan that has considerable positive and negative impacts.  We have to consider four different points of view: consumers, land owners-neighbors, oil industry, and environmental groups, each has different valid concerns and can realize different consequences.

The oil sands cover an area of 14.5 million hectares in Alberta, Cananda, with the remaining established reserves comprising 169.9 billion barrels of extremely heavy crude oil, referred to as bitumen. Approximately 16 percent of the 169.9 billion barrels is currently under active development. It is projected the reserves will last until 2045. The value of that amount of oil at $100 per barrel is $16.9 trillion. The benefit is clear to the oil industry.

The Keystone oil pipeline system is designed to carry up to 830,000 barrels of petroleum per day from the oil sands of boreal forests in western Canada to oil refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. About half of the system is already built, including a pipeline that runs east from Alberta and south through North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Landowners are compensated for the pipeline crossing their land, but cannot say no in general.

There are existing pipelines for tar sands crude that has averaged a spill month including spills in seven different states. This oil is different and more corrosive than regular oil and has led to numerous problems as a result.

As consumers we are the least impacted since the majority of the oil will be exported overseas. It is Canadian oil transported to our coast for refining and shipment.

The president has rejected this pipeline plan for now.

What is your stance on this pipeline and why?

Keystone XL Pipeline Map (Washington Post)]


Oil Industry:


Keystone Rejection

Suncor Tar Sands Mining

Keystone Pipeline

Other Tar Sand Pipelines being added



Nebraska, Texas, Michigan

Environmental Impact:


Carbon tracker

[Adapted from M. Pelto]

Solar Power Today

Solar Energy Expansion US, China and Germany

Solar Energy has lagged far behind wind in terms of development because, it has not been as cost effective. Two countries that have forged ahead with success in this area are China and Germany. What is leading to this success? How does the model for sun-a prosumer model differ from other economic models?

Germany leads the world in solar energy production from photovoltaic plants despite not being that sunny. So certainly nations like Australia, China and the United States could follow suit and produce much more.solar-pv-capacity-and-addtitions


Germany has followed a model that leaves much of the development cost up to the consumer, who is also the producer, or prosumer. Hence, this can occur more rapidly. It also means the prosumer is part of the key profit takers in the industry. germany-people-powered-2012-003

Energy usage peaks in the daytime and during the summer in many regions, hence solar can be critical in meeting peak loads, which offsets storage issues. In 2013 Germany had several occasions where solar provided more than 50% of all electricity.

Part of the success has been due to the lower cost of emplacing solar panels, which mainly is realized from the more rapid emplacement, lowering labor costs. In th US costs for payoff of solar vary from city to city, due to rebates and tax incentives. The cost in 2012 was $5500 per kwatt, by 2013 it was down to $5000 per kwatt, Germany is close to $2000 per kwatt.


In the United States solar power is becoming much more competitive leading to a large growth in capacity, led by California. This has led to increased employment.

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ITC-Impact-Factsheet-Fig1_0China is leading the way in solar PV manufacturing today, which is an economic plus. China is also the leader in solar heating, typically with rooftop water heating.
solar pv manufacsoalr heating

How competitive is solar today?

Germany Feed in Tariff

Solar leasing


North Dakota Access Pipeline

The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline is designed to transport 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken and Three Forks Oil Fields in North Dakota to a crude oil market hub located near Patoka, Ill. From there, the oil would ultimately be sent to refineries in the Midwest and on the Gulf Coast.  The 1,100-mile-long pipeline crosses four states, beginning near Stanley, N.D., and ending at Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline has a diameter of up to 30 inches and has been 60 percent built at this time.

The pipleine developer is Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, Texas.  They obtained federal permits for the $3.8 billion pipeline in July, two years after it was first announced. The company says that pipelines are safer than moving oil by rail. The oil pipeline travels mostly across private land and thus avoids much of the major pipeline oversight. dakota-map

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and supporters have been rallying in camps near the pipeline construction alignment since last April in Cannon Ball, N.D. Opponents on the ground today number between 800 to 1,000 people. The encampment is said to be the largest gathering of Indian people in North America  in the past century.

The pipeline’s opponents argue the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was never adequately consulted on the project, which threatens their water supply, as well as that of millions of people downstream from the pipeline’s proposed crossing under the Missouri River. Construction has already damaged the tribe’s sacred and cultural sites, including burial sites. The tribe demands a stop to further destruction of its cultural heritage.nodap-routes

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, holds the last easement, located next to the Missouri River, needed for the pipeline to be built.The government law enforcement is led by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the National Guard and officers from police departments from surrounding states have been mobilized in the area. This despite the peaceful nature of the protesters. Law enforcement are often clad in riot gear and use armored personnel carriers, all-terrain vehicles and surveillance aircraft.





Adapted from M. Pelto

Assessing Water Quality

[Adopted from Mauri Pelto at Nichols College]

We do need to take specific detailed water quality measurements to quantify the extent of water pollution issue. However, many water pollution issues can be qualitatively identified visually. Below are a series of videos of streams of varying water quality that emphasize key parameters to observe. In each stream we were also measuring the water quality quantitatively.


  1. What is covering the stream bottom?
    Lots of algae suggests high nutrient levels and low dissolved oxygen.
    Lots of moss indicates water that is relatively unpolluted.
    If the rocks are covered with a uniform coat of brownish material this is typically algae with sediment coating, often is a monoculture.
    Clean, bare rocks indicates an area of higher flow velocity, erosion and good water quality.
  2. Soapy bubbles or foam? Is there substantial foam on the surface of the water. It requires some degree of turbulence to generate, and if it persists and piles up, it is suggestive of high levels of nutrients, phosphates and nitrates.
  3. How clear is the water? If the water is not clear, it is likely due to either algae, eroded sediment, or substantial chemical pollution. Eroded sediment is typically limited to after rain events and turns the water a turbid brown from Latte to Cappacino colored. Algae is a lighter density and easier to suspend and just gives the water a darker brown or green cast. Water that is clear but has a bit of a yellow brown color-much like weak tea is clean. The color comes from tanic acid derived from forest litter decay. Other chemical pollution often gives the water a hazy appearance.
  4. Diversity of life? A diverse number of plants growing in the water and the associated insects and aquatic life is a good sign. If all you see is algae or a bottom that is a dark color with limited aquatic plant life that is not a good sign. If you look under rocks and see larvae of insects the more the merrier for water quality.
  5. Discoloration? There can be an oily sheen or a rusty cast to areas along the shore or bottom. The rusty color is often associated with algae and bacteria that capture iron, and can be natural in a region of rocks that are yielding considerable iron via weathering, but more often is not natural.Below is a growing list of examples for comparison.

Beach Equilibrium

Beaches in equilibrium have four things:

1) Dunes are a mix of sand and vegetation and lack steep slopes. Dunes allow wave overwash.
2) No steep slopes, bluffs. Bluffs are often sandy but steep. No wave can overwash
3) Extensive development that prevents beach migration.
4) Interruption of Longshore transport. Longshore transport always exists, so it is only when it is interrupted by barriers or a natural deep channel that is a problem for downshore beaches.

Beaches lacking dunes, having abrupt slopes changes, barriers or development preventing longshore transport or wave overwash are not in equilibrium.

Below are two galleries. The first is a series of examples. Followed by the beaches you have to analyze for the assignment.

Gallery I: Examples of beach in or not in equilibrium

Gallery II: Answer YES or NO if the following beaches are in equilibrium?

Beach renourishment

With sea levels rising, renourishment of beaches has become a billion dollar per year industry.  What is this process and when is it a good investment?

Beach erosion is replaced by dredging sand typically from offshore to renourish the beach.  The process is costly several million dollars per mile on the typical shorefront.  With sea level rising at 3.2 mm/year this puts more and more pressure on beaches; which means more beaches need renourishing and the new sand may not endure.  Thirty years ago there was one renourished beach, Miami Beach.  Today on the east coast there are not many major beaches that have not been renourished.  A list with costs is provided by Western Carolina University. Below are some visual examples or renourished beaches.  The key to determining if it is a good investment is:

  • What is the duration of the repaired beach?
  • Does it prevent damage?
  • Value of real estate it protects?