Tag Archives: glaciers

Filled and distorted craters on Mars

A very distorted and filled crater on Mars
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Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated and cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 25, 2020. The entire image was dubbed “Cluster of Filled Craters”, but I decided to highlight the crater of the cluster that was most strangely distorted of them all. The material that fills all the craters in the full image is almost certainly buried ice and is dubbed concentric crater fill by scientists.

This crater is located in the northern lowland plains the mid-latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees, where planetary scientists have found ample evidence of many such filled craters and glaciers.

Not only does the crater’s interior seemed filled with glacial material, its distorted rim suggests that it has been reshaped by glacial activity that might have covered it entirely over the eons as the mid-latitude glaciers of Mars waxed and waned with the extreme shifts that happen regularly to Mars’ rotational tilt. Moreover, there is strong evidence that in these lowland northern plains an underground ice table exists close to the surface, allowing for more distortion over time.

The overview map below provides some location context.
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Glacier country on Mars

Glacial flow in Protonilus Mensae
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Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on May 24, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and provides a wonderful example of the kind of evidence of buried glaciers found extensively in the mid-latitudes of Mars.

This particular region, called Protonilus Mensae, is a region of chaos terrain at the transition zone between the southern cratered highlands and the northern lowland plains. I have featured a number of cool images in Protonilus, all of which show some form of buried glacial flow, now inactive.

The last cool image above was one that the MRO science team had picked to illustrate how to spot a glacier on Mars.

In this particular image are several obvious glacier features. First, we can see a series of moraines at the foot of each glacier in the photo, each moraine indicating the farthest extent of the glacier when it was active and growing. It also appears that there are two major layers of buried ice, the younger-smaller layer near the image’s bottom and sitting on top of a larger more extensive glacier flow sheet. This suggests that there was more ice in the past here, and with each succeeding ice age the glaciers grew less extensive.

Second, at the edges of the flows can be seen parallel ridges, suggestive also of repeated flows, each pushing to the side a new layer of debris.

Third, the interior of the glacier has parallel fractures in many places, similar to what is seen on Earth glaciers.

Protonilus Mensae, as well as the neighboring chaos regions Deuteronilus to the west and Nilosyrtis to the east, could very well be called Mars’ glacier country. Do a search on Behind the Black for all three regions and you will come up with numerous images showing glacial features.

Below is an overview of Protonilus, the red box showing the location of this image. Also highlighted by number are the locations of the three features previously posted and listed above.
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Martian eroding ridges amid brain terrain

Brain terrain and bisected ridges on Mars
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Today’s very cool image is cool because of how inexplicable it is. To the right, cropped to post here, is a photo taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of an area of what they call “Ribbed Terrain and Brain Terrain”.

I call it baffling.

Nor am I alone. At the moment the processes that create brain terrain (the undulations between the ridges) remain a complete mystery. There are theories, all relating to ice sublimating into gas, but none really explains the overall look of this terrain.

Making this geology even more baffling are the larger ridges surrounding the brain terrain, all of which appear to have depressions along their crests. Here too some form of sublimation process appears involved, but the details remain somewhat mysterious.
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The edge of an eroded buried Martian glacier

The edge of an eroded buried Maritian glacier
Click for full resolution image.


Cool image time! The image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on April 6, 2020.

The image shows the dying edge of a debris flow coming down from a mesa, the edge of which can be seen as the dark slopes in the upper left. The white arrows point up slope. It is located in the chaos terrain of a mid-latitude region called Deuteronilus Mensae, in the transition zone between the southern highlands and northern lowlands, where many such glacial-like features are found. I featured a similar nearby glacial edge only two months ago, where the image showed the glacier’s break up and collapse at its edge.

Here, the debris flow isn’t breaking up so much as crumbling away, its edge a line of meandering depressions, with the uphill slope covered with many knobs and tiny depressions, reminiscent to me of the many features I see in caves, where the downward flow of water shapes and erodes everything to form cups and holes and knobs, all the same size. If you click on the full resolution image and zoom into that debris slope and then compare it with the linked cave formation photo, you will see the resemblance.

We are almost certainly looking at a buried inactive glacial flow coming off that mesa, though it appears to be eroding at its foot. The overview image to the right shows the context, with the red dots indicating this image as well as similar features in adjacent mensae regions (featured in the linked images above). While the chaotic and rough terrain found along this transition zone does not make them good first settlement sites, the ample evidence of vast reservoirs of buried ice, combined with a variety of topography, will likely someday make this good real estate for those living on Mars.

The icy Phlegra Mountains: Mars’ future second city

Icy glaciers in the Phlegra Mountains of Mars
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About a thousand miles to the west of the candidate landing site for SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft rises a massive mountain wall dubbed the Phlegra Mountains, rising as much as 11,000 feet above the adjacent lowland northern plains.

Phlegra Montes (its official name) is of special interest because of its apparent icy nature. Here practically every photograph taken by any orbiter appears to show immense glacial flows of some kind, with some glaciers coming down canyons and hollows [#1], some filling craters [#2], some forming wide aprons [#3] at the base of mountains and even at the mountains’ highest peaks [#4], and some filling the flats [#5] beyond the mountain foothills.

And then there are the images that show almost all these types of glaciers, plus others [#6]. Today’s cool image above is an example of this. In this one photo we can see filled craters, aprons below peaks, and flows moving down canyons. It is as if a thick layer of ice has partly buried everything up the highest elevations.

None of this has gone unnoticed by scientists. For the past decade they have repeatedly published papers noting these features and their icy appearance, concluding that the Phlegra Mountains are home to ample buried ice. SpaceX even had one image taken here [#3] as a candidate landing site for Starship, though this is clearly not their primary choice at this time.

The map below gives an overview of the mountains, their relationship to the Starship landing site, and the location by number of the images listed above.
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Large glacier-filled crater/depression on Mars?

Glacier-filled depression?
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Cool image time! The photograph on the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on December 21, 2019. It shows the eastern half of the floor and interior rim of a large squarish-shaped crater or depression in what seems to be an unnamed region of chaos terrain located in the transition zone between the Martian southern highlands and the northern lowland plains.

The floor of this depression has many of the features that indicate the presence of a buried ice glacier, including flow features on the depression floor, linear parallel grooves, and repeating moraine features at the slope base. In fact, all these features give the strong impression that this crater is ice-filled, to an unknown depth.

Chaos terrain, a jumble of mesas cut by straight canyons, are generally found in this transition zone, and could be an erosion feature produced by the intermittent ocean that some believe once existed in the northern lowlands. Whether or not an ocean lapped against these mesas and created them, this chaos terrain is believed to have been caused by some form of erosion, either wind, water, or ice.

Wide context view

The location is of this chaos terrain in that transition zone is illustrated by the context map to the right. It sits on the edge of the vast Utopia Basin, one of the largest and deepest northern lowland plains. It also sits several hundred miles due north of the planned landing site of the Mars2020 rover in Jezero Crater. There is a lot of chaos terrain in this region, with lots of evidence of buried glaciers flowing off the sides of mesas.

Today’s image, with its numerous features suggesting the presence of a buried glacier filling the depression, reinforces this evidence.

Closer context view, showing the chaos terrain region

What impresses me most about this particular depression — should it be ice-filled — is its size. I estimate from the scale of the image that the depression is about six miles across, somewhat comparable though slightly smaller than the width of the Grand Canyon. And yet, unlike the Canyon it appears to have a wide flat floor across its entire width. The second context map to the right zooms in on this chaos region to show how relatively large the depression is. It would not be hard to spot it from orbit. We don’t know the depth, but even if relatively shallow this depression still holds a heck of a lot of water ice.

While the depression appears like a crater in lower resolution wider photographs, higher resolution images suggest it is not round but squarish. Why is not clear, and unfortunately MRO’s high resolution camera has taken no other images of it. This image was also one of their terrain sample photographs, taken not because of any specific research request, but because they need to use the camera regularly to maintain its temperature. This location, having few previous images, fit this schedule and made sense photographing.

Thus, no one appears to be specifically studying this location, making it a ripe subject for some postdoc student who wants to put their name on some Martian geology.

Remnant moraine on Mars

Remnant moraine on Mars
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Cool image time! Using both Martian orbiters and rovers scientists are increasingly convinced that Mars has lots of buried glaciers in its mid-latitudes. These glaciers are presently either inactive or shrinking, their water ice sublimating away as gas, either escaping into space or transporting to the colder poles.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows some apparent proof of this process. Taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on December 23, 2019, it shows a weird meandering ridge crossing the floor of a crater. The north and south parts of the crater rim are just beyond the cropped image, so that the gullied slope in the image’s lower left is actually a slope coming down from that rim.

My first reaction upon seeing this image was how much that ridge reminded me of the strange rimstone dams you often find on cave floors, formed when calcite in the water condenses out at the edge of the pond and begins to build up a dam over time.

This Martian ridge was certainly not formed by this process. To get a more accurate explanation, I contacted Dan Berman, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, who had requested this image. He explained:
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Further explorations at candidate Starship Mars landing site

Beginning of Possible Glacial Unit near candidate Starship landing sites
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Close-up on exposed lower layer

Cool image time! Even though it appears that SpaceX has completed its first round of images of its candidate landing sites surrounding the Erebus Montes mountains in the Arcadia Planitia plains in the Martian northern lowlands, this does not mean that other planetary scientists are not asking for more images of this region, for their own scientific research.

The photograph on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was released in the early November image download from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Uncaptioned but dubbed “Beginning of Possible Glacial Unit,” it shows what appears at first glance to be a relatively featureless area south of Erebus Montes, out in the flat plains.

A closer look suggests otherwise. For one, the full image shows darker and lighter areas. The close-up to the right, its location indicated by the white box in the wider image above, also shows several intriguing depressions that appear to be revealing a knobby lower layer. In fact, in the full image it appears that the darker areas are areas where material has covered that knobby lower layer. Where it is bright the ground resembles the floors of these depressions, knobby and complex.

I do not know why they label this the “beginning” of a glacial unit. What I do know is that the research of this region has consistently found evidence of a lot of buried ice. To quote Donna Viola of the University of Arizona noted, “I think you could dig anywhere to get your water ice.” The knobby features to me suggest a surface that is showing signs of sublimation, where the exposed ice is slowly eroding. Think of what happens to a block of ice when you spray warm water on it. As it melts it leaves behind just these kinds of strange formations.

Overview of all MRO images at Starship candidate landing site

The red box in the map on the right shows the location of this photograph relative to the other images taken for SpaceX. The white boxes are the company’s images taken for Starship. The black boxes are the images it obtained in 2017 when it was thinking of sending a Dragon capsule to Mars.

This map does not show all images taken by MRO’s high resolution camera in this area, but the coverage is very scattered, with many gaps. Over time I suspect these gaps will be filled more quickly than other northern plain regions, because the scientists know that SpaceX has an interest in this area. That interest means there is an increased chance that a mission will fly here in the relatively near future, which in turn is going to generate more scientific interest as well.

Mars Express confirms ancient glaciers in northern Martian mid-latitudes

Perspective view of Deuteronilus Mensae
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The European Space Agency’s orbiter Mars Express has confirmed the presence of large fractured ice sheets suggestive of buried and ancient glaciers. These ice sheets are within one region on Mars located in the mid-latitudes where many such glacial features have been found. They are also in the transition zone between the northern lowlands and the southern highlands.

This landscape shows clear and widespread signs of significant, lasting erosion. As is common with fretted terrain, it contains a mix of cliffs, canyons, scarps, steep-sided and flat-topped mounds (mesa), furrows, fractured ridges and more, a selection of which can be seen dotted across the frame.

These features were created as flowing material dissected the area, cutting through the existing landscape and carving out a web of winding channels. In the case of Deuteronilus Mensae, flowing ice is the most likely culprit. Scientists believe that this terrain has experienced extensive past glacial activity across numerous martian epochs.

It is thought that glaciers slowly but surely ate away at the plains and plateaus that once covered this region, leaving only a scattering of steep, flat, isolated mounds of rock in their wake.

Smooth deposits cover the floor itself, some marked with flow patterns from material slowly moving downhill – a mix of ice and accumulated debris that came together to form and feed viscous, moving flows of mass somewhat akin to a landslide or mudflow here on Earth.

Studies of this region by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [MRO] have shown that most of the features seen here do indeed contain high levels of water ice. Estimates place the ice content of some glacial features in the region at up to 90%. This suggests that, rather than hosting individual or occasional icy pockets and glaciers, Deuteronilus Mensae may actually represent the remnants of an old regional ice sheet. This ice sheet may once have covered the entire area, lying atop the plateaus and plains. As the martian climate changed this ice began to shift around and disappear, slowly revealing the rock beneath.

Overall, the data coming from both Mars Express and MRO increasingly suggests that there is a lot of buried glacial ice in the mid-latitudes. Mars might be a desert, but it is increasingly beginning to look like much of the planet is a desert like Antarctica, not the Sahara.

Mid-latitude Martian glacier?

Glacier on Mars?
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Cool image time! I have posted a lot of Mars photographs in the past few months showing possible glaciers in the mid-latitudes of Mars, where scientists think they have identified a lot of such features. Today is another, but unlike many of the previous examples, this particular feature more closely resembles a typical Earth glacier than almost any I have so far posted.

Based on the image’s title, “Lineated Valley Fill in Northern Mid-Latitudes,” given by the science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I suspect that it remains unproven that these are features of buried glacial ice. Thus, they use a more vague descriptive term, lineated, to avoid pre-judging what these features are.

Nonetheless, a glacier is sure what this lineated valley fill looks like. See for example the Concordia confluence of two glaciers in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan, near the world’s second highest mountain, K2. Though obviously not the same, you can see many similarities between this Martian feature and Concordia.

MRO has taken only three photographs of this particular valley, with one image useless because it was taken during a dust storm. Yet, the other good image, farther downstream in this valley, shows very similar features.

The valley itself is formed from chaos terrain, located in the transition zone between the southern cratered highlands and the flat northern lowlands where a possible intermittent ocean might have once existed. Thus, for buried ice to be here is quite possible.

Ancient glacier flows on Mars

Ancient glacial flow in Euripus Mons
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Cool image time! In the recent download of images from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I found the image on the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here. It shows an example of the many glacial flows coming off of the slopes of Euripus Mons, the sixteenth highest mountain on Mars.

We know these are glaciers because data from SHARAD, the ground-penetrating radar instrument MRO, has found significant clean ice below the surface, protected by a debris layer that insulates it. As planetary scientist Alfred McEwen of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory in Arizona explained to me in a phone interview yesterday,

These are remnant glaciers. Basically they form like glaciers form. They are not active or if they are they are moving so extremely slowly that effectively they are not active.

If you look close, you can see that this particular glacier was made up of multiple flows, with the heads or moraines of each piled up where each flow ended. In addition, this overall glacier appears to have been a major conduit off the mountain, following a gap between more resistant ridges to the east and west.

The sequence of moraines suggest that when the glacier was active, it experienced alternating periods of growth and retreat, with the growth periods being shorter and shorter with time. As a result each new moraine was pushed less distance down the mountain as the previous one.

Euripus Mons is interesting in that it has a very large and distinct apron of material surrounding it, as shown in the overview image below.
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Weird glacial features in Martian crater

weird glacial feature in crater on Mars
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Cool image time! In reviewing today’s October release of new images from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I came across the strange geology shown in the image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here.

The uncaptioned image calls these “glacial features within crater.” The crater is located at 35 degrees north latitude in Arabia Terra, one of the more extensive regions of the transition zone between the northern lowlands and the southern highlands. It is also located within the northern band from 30 to 60 degrees latitude where most of the buried Martian glaciers are found.

The most abundant type of buried glaciers are called concentric crater fill (CCF) because they are found inside craters, and often show decay in a concentric manner. This weird feature likely falls into that category, though I would hardly call these glacier features concentric.

I’m not even sure if this is an impact crater. If it is, its rim has been heavily obscured, making it look instead like an irregular depression with one outlet to the south. In fact, I suspect it is possibly one of the lakes that scientists believe pepper this part of Arabia Terra and might have contained liquid water two to three billion years ago. That water would have later frozen, and possibly become covered by dust and debris to protect it.

According to present theories, Mars is presently in a period where its mid-latitude glaciers are shrinking, the water sublimating away and being transported back to its poles. The weird formations here suggest this process. Imagine what happens when you spray warm water on a big block of ice. It dissolves, but randomly to form weird shapes.

In this case the glacier is shrinking randomly where the ice has gotten exposed. In the thin Martian atmosphere, it transitions directly from a solid to a gas, sublimating into the atmosphere to leave these inexplicable shapes.

Tongue-shaped glaciers on Mars

Tongue-shaped glacier on Mars
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Cool image time! I could also call this another example of mass wasting, which it appears to be according to my understanding of Martian geological processes. However, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter science team dubbed this image “Tongue-Shaped Glaciers in Centauri Montes,” and I have no right to disagree with them.

The image to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and brightened to post here, shows the most prominent tongue-shaped glacier in the full image. The two curved ridges to the south of the glacier’s tip are almost certainly old moraines of debris pushed there during earlier events, when the glacier material extended farther out. In fact, if you look close you can see that this tongue lies on top of a larger older tongue that lines up with the closer of these two ridges.

This feature is located at 37 degrees south latitude, which puts it inside Mars’s southern glacial band that extends from 30 to 60 degrees latitude. According to the present defined types of Martian glaciers, this tongue is what scientists have dubbed a lobate debris apron, a glacier that in many ways resembles glaciers we see on Earth.

The location of this feature is especially interesting, especially because other images have found that it is not unique to this region.
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A bullseye on Mars

Layered crater at equator
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Cool image time! In researching my piece last week on the glaciers of Mars I had wanted to include a picture of a typical concentric glacier-filled crater, the most widespread glacial feature on the Martian surface, found in a band at latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees. (You can see the example I found at the link above, near the end of the article.)

To find that picture I searched the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) archive. Among the images I found was a captioned image taken very early in MRO’s mission showing a crater with concentric rings very similar to the concentric glacial-filled craters. The image at the right is that crater, the image reduced and cropped to post here. As described in that caption,
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The glaciers of Mars

The glaciers on Mars

For the future colonists of Mars, the question of finding water will not be that much of a problem. Not only have planetary geologists mapped out the existence of extensive water-ice in the Martian poles, they have found that the planet apparently has widespread glacier deposits in two mid-latitude belts from 30 to 60 degrees latitude.

The question will be whether those Martian settlers will be able to easily access this water. The data so far suggests that much of the Martian underground water at high latitudes is likely mixed with dust and debris. Extracting it might not be straightforward. There are hints that the ice table at latitudes about 55 degrees might be more pure, but could be somewhat deep below ground, requiring the settlers to become miners to obtain their water. Moreover, all these high latitude locations are in environments that are more hostile, and therefore more difficult to establish a colony.

What about the glaciers? The global map of Mars above, reduced and annotated to post here, shows what are believed to be extensive glacial deposits at lower latitudes, and comes from a recently published paper on the subject. The different colors indicate the different types of glacial deposits the scientists have identified.

Green and yellow indicate what scientists call lineated valley fill (LVF) and lobate debris aprons (LDA) respectively, glacial deposits found in the transition zone between the southern highlands and either the northern lowland plains or the basins of the southern hemisphere, Hellas and Argyre. These glaciers are in many ways most similar to glaciers found on Earth, flows heading downhill along natural geographic features.

Magenta represents concentric crater fill (CCF), glacier features which seem very evenly distributed across both the northern and southern lower mid-latitude belts. Here scientists appear to have detected buried ice within the floors of craters.

The paper which included this map focused on describing a new glacial feature, something they dubbed valley fill deposits (VFD), that they had found so far in only one place, as indicated by the black square on the map.

The photograph below and on the right, reduced and cropped to post here, is from figure two of the linked paper.
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Glaciers growing on Greenland

Greenland's growing Jakobshavn Glacier
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Despite what the fake mainstream media and leftist Democratic Party politicians insist on telling us daily, the Greenland icecap remains largely stable, and shows no sign of disappearing anytime in the near future.

The image on the right, reduced to post here, is a series of images produced by radar instruments flown by a NASA airplane over Jakobshavn Glacier during the past three years and released this week by its project scientists. As noted in the release,

These images show the mass Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier has gained from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. Areas with the most growth are shown in dark blue. Red areas represent thinning. The images were produced using GLISTIN-A radar data as part of NASA’s Ocean’s Melting Greenland (OMG) mission.

While this research is absolutely worthwhile, the mission has clearly been shaped by the global warming activism in NASA and the climate science community. Thus, the scientists for this mission are forced to say this on their website:

Humans are changing the climate by burning fossil fuels for energy. These add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which trap extra heat from the sun and warm the air and oceans.

I would bet however that the scientists for this project remain very skeptical about this NASA political statement. That they highlighted here a glacier that is growing, in contradiction to the routine media and activist claims that Greenland’s ice sheet is disappearing, indicates this.

Tony Heller at his climate blog today posted a very good summary of the very stable state of Greenland’s icecap, while also pointing out the dishonest and incompetent reporting about it from mainstream media sources like the Washington Post and Fox News. Check it out. As he concludes:

There has been no trend Arctic sea ice since the start of MASIE records thirteen years ago.

Greenland glaciers are growing. The last two years had near record surface mass gain. The current journalistic standard of cherry picking a day here and there, and then misrepresenting the meaning of it, is journalism at its worst.

The data shows a decline in that icecap in the early part of this century, followed by a significant recovery in the past three years. As he says, there has been no trend.

Be aware of this when ignorant politicians like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) try to tell you we are all going to die of global warming in mere years. These fear-mongers know nothing, and should be laughed from the stage.

Park Service removes signs saying glaciers to be gone by 2020 and 2030

The National Park Service has finally recognized reality and removed or changed its displays at Glacier National Park that as recently September 2018 had said that the glaciers would be gone by either 2020 and 2030.

At the same time, the park service is still clinging, quite bitterly if you ask me, to its religious faith in global warming, even though the glaciers in the park have not been shrinking at all in recent years.

The National Park Service (NPS) quietly removed a visitor center sign saying the glaciers at Glacier National Park would disappear by 2020 due to climate change.

As it turns out, higher-than-average snowfall in recent years upended computer model projections from the early 2000s that NPS based its claim glaciers “will all be gone by the year 2020,” federal officials said.

“Glacier retreat in Glacier National Park speeds up and slows down with fluctuations in the local climate,” the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which monitors Glacier National Park, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Those signs were based on the observation prior to 2010 that glaciers were shrinking more quickly than a computer model predicted they would,” USGS said. “Subsequently, larger than average snowfall over several winters slowed down that retreat rate and the 2020 date used in the NPS display does not apply anymore.”

NPS updated signs at the St. Mary Visitor Center glacier exhibit over the winter. Sign changes meant the display warning glaciers would all disappear by 2020 now says: “When they completely disappear, however, will depend on how and when we act.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text illustrates the political agenda of the park service, something they have no mandate to have.

If you want to see how stupid the signage was, read my report when Diane and I visited Glacier in summer of 2017. As I wrote then,

The park’s sloppiness and political posturing here however does serve to produce one good, though certainly unintended, result. It helps to discredit the National Park Service’s global-warming activism, which hasn’t been based on good science for quite awhile. It will also help to raise the skepticism of ordinary park visitors, who will either notice the contradictions, or laugh at the absurdity of the prediction that the glaciers will vanish only three years hence.

I guess the park service finally got tired of dealing with the ridicule.

Argentine scientist indicted for creating census of glaciers

An Argentinian scientist has been indicted on criminal charges for the standard manner in which he designed Argentine’s glacier census.

The lawsuit was filed by a grassroots group after the Veladero mine in northwestern Argentina spilled cyanide into the Jáchal watershed in September 2015. Another spill in the same area occurred this past September.

[Ricardo] Villalba, who led the National Institute of Snow, Ice and Environmental Research (IANIGLA) in Mendoza from 2005 to 2015, launched Argentina’s first comprehensive glacier inventory in 2012. Based on satellite images, the inventory set a minimum glacier size of 1 hectare. “The process of making that inventory wasn’t unusual. That size cutoff is standard practice,” says Bruce Raup of the University of Colorado in Boulder, who is also director of the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space project, an international glacier monitoring project. Argentina’s inventory includes 30 ice masses covering about 400 hectares in the Veladero area, Villalba says.

The indictment argues that the 1-hectare limit and the lack of an on-site inspection led to “the exclusion—and resulting lack of protection—of many bodies of ice” around Veladero that should have been considered priorities because of their importance as water sources.

I would say that this is an example of the dog biting the hand that feeds it. The article notes that Villalba is “sympathic” to the activists who filed the lawsuit. They however don’t care about that. They instead want to use his research and the law to distort how glacier research is done in order to gain power over water use that actually has little if anything to do with glaciers.

Global warming and Glacier National Park

One of the main activities for almost everyone visiting Glacier National Park is to drive across the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which crosses the mountains and probably has some of the most spectacular scenery of any road in the United States. During our visit this week we entered the park from the west side, spent several days there hiking trails, then took this road across to the east side, where we did more hiking.

The highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road is Logan Pass. The park service has built a visitor center there, where everyone stops to do a short hike and admire the views. The trail head for the more challenging Highline Trail, which we did soon after arrival, is also here.

Outside the Logan Pass visitor center are a variety of displays. One focused on the changing environment at Glacier, and not surprisingly, it made a point of talking about the documented shrinkage of the glaciers during the past century. Below is an image of the pertinent quote from that display:

Display outside Logan Pass visiter center

When I saw this I was quite amused. The glaciers in the park are expected to be gone in only three more years, by 2020? Not a chance. I thought, they are going to have to change this sign soon. In fact, based on my experience with past failed global warming predictions, I was actually surprised they had let this display stay there this long, and hadn’t already made it vanish to be replaced with a new doomsday prediction that was far enough in the future that they could use if for awhile to generate new fear (and funding) before it too turned out to be wrong.

Anyway, in driving east and down from Logan Point, Diane and I eventually reached the east entrance to the park, where there was another visitor center. Like Logan Pass, this center also had a collection of outdoor displays, with one display once again focused on the park’s changing environment. Below is the pertinent quote from that display:
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A glacier on Mars

A glacier on Mars

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution, is a Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter picture taken on March 28, 2016 of a glacial flow coming down off of mountains in Mars’ northern mid-latitudes. The mountains are to the south and beyond the bottom right. The flow is to the northwest. The full image can be found here. As noted on the image site,

These flow-like structures were previously called “lobate debris aprons,” but the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument on [Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter] has shown that they are actually debris-covered flows of ice, or glaciers. There is no evidence for present-day flow of these glaciers, so they appear to be remnants of past climates.

Need I say it? This is water, on Mars, and in abundance. Think that this might be good real estate when those first settlers arrive?

Largest glacier calving event ever filmed

An evening pause. Hat tip Phill Oltmann. I had sworn I had posted this already, but now can’t find it on BtB. And even if I have posted it, it is worth watching again. My only comment is that I am baffled by the film’s description of the event as “horrifying.” I don’t find this natural event horrifying, I find it awe-inspiring. It reminds us that the scale of the universe if far far beyond anything we can imagine.

Finding caves on Mars

A new study of pits on Mars has isolated one particular type of pit that has all the features of an Earth-like cave entrance, with a large number located in the regions around the giant volcanoes where evidence of past glacier activity has been found. From the abstract:

These Atypical Pit Craters (APCs) generally have sharp and distinct rims, vertical or overhanging walls that extend down to their floors, surface diameters of ~50–350 m, and high depth to diameter (d/D) ratios that are usually greater than 0.3 (which is an upper range value for impacts and bowl-shaped pit craters) and can exceed values of 1.8. Observations by the Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) show that APC floor temperatures are warmer at night and fluctuate with much lower diurnal amplitudes than nearby surfaces or adjacent bowl-shaped pit craters.

In other words, these pits are deeper with steeper and overhanging walls that suggest underlying passages. They also maintain warmer temperatures at night with their day/night temperatures changing far less than the surface, similar to caves on Earth where the cave temperature remains the same year-round.

The study’s most important finding, from my perspective, was the location of these pit craters.
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The hidden glaciers of Mars

The glaciers belts of Mars

Scientists, using computer models and radar data obtained in orbit, have detected large belts of glaciers in Mars’ upper middle latitudes, buried beneath a layer of dust.

Several satellites orbit Mars and on satellite images, researchers have been able to observe the shape of glaciers just below the surface. For a long time scientists did not know if the ice was made of frozen water (H2O) or of carbon dioxide (CO2) or whether it was mud.

Using radar measurements from the NASA satellite, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have been able to determine that is water ice. But how thick was the ice and do they resemble glaciers on Earth? A group of researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have now calculated this using radar observations combined with ice flow modelling.

The press release has one typo that is important. The belts appear to be located between 30-50 degrees latitude, not 300-500 (the degree sign became a 0 by mistake).

It is important to recognize the uncertainty of this discovery. Orbital images have seen features that suggest glaciers. The evidence that it is water-ice and that the water-ice is still largely present comes from the computer models. Computer models are notorious for seeing things that end up not being there.

Nonetheless, this result is important. It is further strong evidence that Mars still contains a lot of water locked in its immediate subsurface, where future colonists can mine it and use it to survive and build their homes.

India extends Mangalyaan’s mission by six months

Western slopes of Arsia Mons

Having successfully completed its nominal six month mission and continuing to operate perfectly, ISRO has extended the mission of India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter for another six months.

Take a gander at the images the orbiter has been sending down. Quite impressive. The cropped image on the right shows the western slopes of the giant volcano Arsia Mons, with white water vapor hovering above those slopes. (Click on the image for the full resolution version.) The water vapor is significant because scientists believe that this region once had many glaciers, and that much of that water is still present and trapped below the surface as ice, possibly in many of the caves that are there. The vapor’s presence, a routine occurance here, strengthens this theory.

Glaciers on Mars!

A geological study of orbital images of Gale Crater has led scientists to conclude that the crater was once covered in glaciers.

To carry out the study, the team has used images captured with the HiRISE and CTX cameras from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, together with the HRSC onboard the Mars Express probe managed by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Analyses of the photographs have revealed the presence of concave basins, lobated structures, remains of moraines and fan-shaped deposits which point to the existence of ancient glaciers on Gale. In fact they seem to be very similar to some glacial systems observed on present-day Earth. “For example, there is a glacier on Iceland –known as Breiðamerkurjökull– which shows evident resemblances to what we see on Gale crater, and we suppose that is very similar to those which covered Gale’s central mound in the past,” says Fairén.

This is not the first place on Mars where scientists believe glaciers once flowed. The northwestern slopes of Arsia Mons, one of Mars’s giant volcanoes in the Tharsis Bulge, is also believed to have once harbored glaciers.

For the past four years the glaciers in Glacier National Park have stopped shrinking.

The uncertainty of science: For the past four years the glaciers in Glacier National Park have stopped shrinking.

“We had this sort of pause,” Fagre said of shrinking at Sperry Glacier and, by extrapolation, other glaciers. “They pretty much got as much snow as they needed.” Sperry covered 0.86 square kilometers in 2005, 0.83 in 2009 and 0.82 in 2013, illustrating the “pause” in its retreat as there was a 0.03 square kilometer loss from 2005 to 2009, but only 0.01 in the last four years, from 2009 to 2013, Fagre said.

The article spends a lot of time talking about how the shrinkage is about to resume and the glaciers are certain to disappear, but this pause in glacier shrinkage corresponds nicely with the 17 plus year pause in warming that has been going on.

And then there’s this: Great moments in climate forecasting.

And this, also from Steve Goddard: In 1971 the world’s top climate scientists said fossil fuels would cause an ice age by 2020.

I especially like the quote from the last article, where these experts say that there is “no need to worry about the carbon dioxide fuel-burning puts in the atmosphere.” These are the same experts who have have spent the past three decades since 1988 telling us that CO2-caused global warming was going to kill us all.

Are the glaciers in the Himalayas shrinking? A third paper published today falls between one study that said no and another that said yes.

The uncertainty of science: Are the glaciers in the Himalayas shrinking? A third paper published today falls between one study that said no and another that said yes.

The new estimate raises further questions about satellite and field measurements of alpine glaciers, and ”will set the cat among the pigeons,” says Graham Cogley, a remote-sensing expert at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. … Although the ICESat results show twice as much ice loss as the re-interpreted GRACE data, this figure is still three times lower than regional losses estimated on the basis of field studies.

A new study suggests that the glaciers in the Himalayas are shrinking, with different regions shrinking much faster than others.

The uncertainty of science: A new study suggests that the glaciers in the Himalayas are shrinking, with different regions shrinking much faster than others.

This study both supplements and contrasts other work which suggested that the western Himalayan glaciers were not shrinking.

It is interesting that the article above does not give any specifics on the rate of shrinkage, other than to say it is getting faster in some areas. Instead, the focus of this work centers more on the discovery that India’s monsoon winds have a significant influence on glacier growth or retreat.

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