Glaciers and Society

Canadian Military Support for Arctic Science?

Posted by William Colgan on April 14, 2016
Commentary, Communicating Science, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

I wish Canada would seriously consider developing a stronger civilian-military partnership in the areas of Arctic science and defense. The highly efficient partnership between the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Air National Guard (ANG) in Greenland provides an impressive example.

IMG_6514

A US Air National Guard ski-equipped C-130, here dropping off researchers and equipment at Dye-2 on the Greenland Ice Sheet, costs approximately CAD 9000 per flight hour.

The 109th ANG wing essentially transports scientists and their equipment from the continental US to research bases in Greenland, and sometimes even on to the ice sheet, in return for full-cost payment from the NSF. The NSF-ANG full-cost special airlift arrangement (SAAM) delivers one C-130 transport plane flight hour for about CAD 9000.

In Canada, by comparison, High Arctic researchers generally travel to the main Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP) research base in Resolute, Nunavut, via commercial flights. A single Ottawa to Resolute round-trip ticket is about CAD 4000. But this ticket only comes with a 32 kg baggage allowance, and researchers are generally heavy packers. With checked bag penalties reaching almost CAD 200, it is easy to spend another CAD 1000 on baggage over above ticket price. Often, there is also an institutional overhead of about 40% on commercial purchases, meaning funding agencies ultimately pay close to CAD 7000 to get a single Canadian researcher and their equipment to Resolute; not far off a C-130 flight hour.

Flights to Resolute might seem like an esoteric topic, but Canada sends a lot of researchers there. The PCSP supports approximately 850 field researchers each year. That means at least CAD 3.4M in the direct cost of commercial air tickets, or closer to CAD 6.0M when indirect (overhead and baggage) costs are factored in. The NSF-ANG partnership seems to suggest that Canada could be getting more bang for these bucks. For example, while commercially flying ten researchers and equipment roundtrip between Ottawa and Resolute is about CAD 70K (incl. indirect costs), the ANG can fly more than twice that payload on the same route for about 81K. The ANG can even land that payload “open field” far from any airport.

025 Apr 23, 6 35 31 AM

Researchers and equipment in a US Air National Guard C-130, en route to the Greenland Ice Sheet Dye-2 ski-way, during the Arctic Circle Traverse 2013 (ACT13) campaign.

Adopting a civilian-military partnership for Canadian Arctic research would clearly improve the return on expenditure for Canadian research agencies, while also providing an almost zero-cost mechanism for increased military presence in the Canadian Arctic, which translates into enhanced standby transport or search-and-rescue capacity. The NSF-ANG partnership also shows that in addition to producing tangible benefits, “soft” benefits associated with direct, widespread, and meaningful interaction between military and civilian personnel can be cultivated.

So, I am delighted to hear that the Canadian military is learning how to build ski-ways on which ANG C-130s can land. For an Arctic researcher like myself, the next ideal step would be getting skis on a Canadian C-130 (technically converting it into an LC-130), and then getting research agencies to pay the military to fly that ski-equipped C-130 to some useful field sites throughout the Canadian High Arctic!

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New Report: Applied Glaciology Primer

Posted by William Colgan on November 13, 2015
Applied Glaciology, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

The Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) has been involved in several applied glaciology projects since the early 1980s, such as assessments for the hydropower plants now operating at Ilulissat and Nuuk, and glacial lake outburst flood assessments for Isortuarsuup and Qorlortossup in South Greenland. In a report entitled “Unique applied glaciology challenges of proglacial mining” in this year’s Report on Geological Survey Activities, we provide a brief overview of four unique glacier-related geotechnical challenges confronting industrial operations adjacent to a glacier. We discuss these four especially unique applied glaciology challenges in the context of a new generation of mining projects that seek to excavate through glaciers to reach sub-glacial ore, such as the active Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan and the approved Isua Mine in Greenland. The four uniquely glacier-related geotechnical challenges we discuss are supraglacial runoff, subglacial water flow, ice movement and supraglacial access roads. We also highlight how climate change is poised to further exacerbate these geotechnical challenges, as increased meltwater production generally enhances both water flow and ice flow into proglacial sites. We hope this report can serve as a quick survey of recent applied glaciology activities for non-specialists.

ROSA_sites

Site overviews of the recently approved Isua project in Greenland (left) and the recently approved Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell and Brucejack projects in Canada (right).

*W. Colgan, H. Thomsen and M. Citterio. 2015. Unique applied glaciology challenges of proglacial mining. Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland Bulletin. 33: 61–64.

*This report serves as the citation for the proglacial mining projects open-file located here.

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New Book: Iluliaq – Isbjerge – Icebergs

Posted by William Colgan on September 22, 2015
Climate Change, Communicating Science, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to write a preface for Iluliaq – Isbjerge – Icebergs, which contains 100+ pages of watercolours and photographs depicting diverse icebergs around Greenland, along with accompanying Danish/English narration about the iceberg lifecycle (ISBN 978-87-93366-34-3 | available here). I am very supportive of projects like this, which seek to bridge the arts-sciences chasm. It was actually science-editing the iceberg factoids in this book that compelled me to start providing mass loss rates in equivalent tonnes per second in my subsequent publications. I now find saying that Greenland is losing 262 gigatonnes of ice per year, is more abstract than saying it is losing 8300 tonnes per second. Evidently, my perspective was shifted by this delightful project! Below I provide the preface in full.

iluliaq

Preface for Iluliaq – Isbjerge – Icebergs:

“While an individual iceberg is ephemeral, icebergs are a ubiquitous feature of Greenland’s landscape. The shifting nature of icebergs, a constantly drifting and capsizing population, makes them challenging to observe. As they are partway through the transition from glacier ice into ocean water, icebergs are somewhat peripheral to both glaciology/geology and oceanography. Despite these intrinsic difficulties in their study, however, icebergs have never been more important to society than today. Due to climate change, Greenland’s glaciers are now flowing faster than a century ago. The resulting increase in Greenland’s iceberg production is now raising global sea level by 2 cm each decade.

In contrast to the iconic climate change indicators of diminishing sea ice area and glacier volume, there are now more icebergs being produced than a century ago. This provides a very strong motivation to understand the iceberg lifecycle. This lifecycle begins with a thunderous calving at genesis, followed by years of slow drifting and reduction, and quietly ends when the last ice melts into water. In this book, Pernille Kløvedal Nørgaard, Martin von Bülow and Ole Søndergaard provide visually compelling insights on selected aspects of this lifecycle.

By ensuring they not only communicate the natural majesty, but also climatic importance, of Greenland’s icebergs, the authors are helping icebergs assume a rightful place in contemporary public consciousness. The sense of humility evoked by the icebergs depicted here will be familiar to Arctic enthusiasts. These photos and watercolours represent multiple expeditions and extensive travels around Greenland. Similar to documentarians and artists who have accompanied polar expeditions since the Victorian Era, the authors have intentionally sought out a harsh environment, and invited confrontation with adverse conditions, to encapsulate a unique feature of Earth that most people could otherwise never appreciate. Society benefits from such hardy souls, whose passion for nature allows bleak and inaccessible landscapes to be transmitted into our civilized homes.”

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Kokanee Glacier Beer and the 1962 “Bomb Horizon”

Posted by William Colgan on August 28, 2015
Cold War Science, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

Dear Kokanee Beer,

I was delighted to hear that, in celebration of Kokanee’s founding in 1962, you’ve decided to sponsor some glaciology research in exchange for the recovery of five liters of glacier ice from 1962. It just so happens that 1962 is also an auspicious year for glaciologists. We glaciologists know 1962 as the “bomb horizon”, due to a worldwide peak in the atmospheric deposition rates of radionuclides derived from thermal weapons testing. Tsar Bomba, the largest thermal-nuclear weapon ever tested, with a yield of over 50 MT, had just been detonated the previous fall (30 October 1961). The USSR conducted about 40 thermal-nuclear weapons tests in 1962, and the US conducted closer to 100! After each test, the radionuclide fallout drifted around the atmosphere for a few weeks before raining down on the landscape, glaciers included.

Fortunately for us glaciologists, the glaciers proved to be really effective in retaining those radionuclides under subsequent snowfall. These days, we can just drill a deep hole in a glacier, lower down a gamma spectrometer, find the peak in radioactivity, and get a quick estimate of the 1962 depth. As you can see from the attached graph of radioactive 137Cs decay with depth, the present-day radioactivity of the 1962 “bomb horizon” is about equivalent to the background radioactivity found today at the glacier surface. So, 1962 melted glacier water is definitely not worse to drink than 2015 melted glacier water, I was just thinking that instead of calling your beer Deja Brew, maybe you should perhaps consider Thermonuclear Haze or even Cesium Peak to really give a fair nod to your 1962 glacier roots?

Yours truly,

William Colgan, Ph.D.

Thermo_Wiki2

Figure 1 – Annual count of world wide thermo-nuclear weapons tests between 1945 and 2013. By far, 1962 was the peak in number of weapons tested. (from Wikipedia)

Thermo_profile

Figure 2 – Profile of radioactive cesium (137Cs) with depth, as well as control profile from a  cadmium (109Cd) source located on the detector, recovered from the Devon Ice Cap in the Canadian Arctic in 2005. The arrow points to the apparent 1962 “bomb horizon”. We talk about using this independent dating technique for ice cores in Colgan and Sharp (2008).

Colgan, W. and M. Sharp. 2008. Combined oceanic and atmospheric influences on net accumulation on Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut, Canada. Journal of Glaciology. 54: 28-40.

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Glacier Mining Photos & Videos (Open File)

Posted by William Colgan on February 03, 2015
Applied Glaciology, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

I have started this open file of selected glacier mining photos and videos with content mostly gleaned from Twitter. At present its coverage is limited to Kumtor Mine, Kyrgyzstan, but I am interested in content that illustrates the unique geotechnical challenges of working with glaciers from other proglacial mining projects too. So please contact me if you have some!

Photos

Open ice pit at Kumtor Mine, Kyrgyzstan in 2013 (via Ryskeldi Satke).

Open ice pit at Kumtor Mine, Kyrgyzstan in 2013 (via Ryskeldi Satke).

6 - активисты Саруу, июль 2013 посещ Кумтор

An excavator used for glacier mining at Kumtor Mine, Kyrgyzstan (via Ryskeldi Satke).

4 - активисты Саруу, июль 2013 посещ. Кумтор

A glacier cut face at Kumtor Mine, Kyrgyzstan (via Ryskeldi Satke).

 

Videos

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Proglacial Mining Projects (Open File)

Posted by William Colgan on January 08, 2015
Applied Glaciology, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

Proglacial mines, meaning mining operations adjacent to, or very close to, glaciers, face a variety of unique glaciological challenges not present in conventional mining operations: (1) Removing ice overburden to access a subglacial ore introduces both ice excavation and ice flow management challenges. (2) In addition to potential crevasse hazards, supraglacial vehicle access roads must use adaptive engineering to counteract ice movement (both horizontal and vertical) as well as differential surface ablation. (3) Tremendous glacier meltwater runoff, concentrated during the summer melt season, can be difficult to route across highly transient glacier surfaces in order to minimize site inflow/contact water. (4) The dust created by open pit operations or access roads can darken the surface of nearby glaciers, enhancing their solar absorption and surface melt rates, and ultimately expand the impact footprint of a mine. (5) The catastrophic drainage of supraglacial and/or ice-dammed lakes represent outburst flood hazards which can rapidly increase site inflow rates. (6) Subglacial hydrology can interact with the groundwater seepage in underground mining operations beneath glaciers. We touch on some of these glaciological hazards in the new textbook: “Snow and Ice-Related Hazards, Risks, and Disasters”. These geotechnical challenges make proglacial mining projects very unique. I started this “open file” inventory of proglacial mining projects (past, present and future) and their associated glaciological challenges as I pull together information for an applied glaciology review paper. Please alert me to any errors or oversights!

ProjectPrime
Minerals
LocationGlaciological ChallengesApparent
Status
Isua
[Fig. 1]
Fe 65.195 °N, 49.790 °W
(Greenland)
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- supraglacial lake outbursts
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Approved in 2013.
Kumtor
[Fig. 2]
Au41.862 °N, 78.196 °E
(Kyrgyzstan)
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Active since 1997.
Kerr-Sulphurets-
Mitchell
[Fig. 3]
Au, Ag, Cu, Mo56.491 °N, 130.335 °W
(Canada)
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Approved in 2014.
TutoN/A76.417 °N, 68.269°W
(Greenland)
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
Historic project (1955 to 1959).
GranducCu56.247 °N, 130.089 °W
(Canada)
- ice removal / flow management
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Historic project (1964 to 1983).
MalmbjergMo 71.964 °N, 24.289 °W
(Greenland)
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Prospect.
Brucejack
[Fig. 3]
Au, Ag56.468 °N, 130.164 °W
(Canada)
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
Approved in 2015.
Maarmorilik
(Phase Two expansion)
Zn, Pb71.094 °N, 51.027°W
(Greenland)
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Prospect.
Svea Nord | Gruve
[Fig. 6]
C77.893 °N, 16.689 °E
(Norway)
- subglacial miningActive since 2001.
El Morro
(La Fortuna expansion)
[Fig. 4]
Cu, Au33.167 °S, 70.274 °W
(Chile)
- darkening of nearby glaciersActive since c. 2008.
Permit suspended in 2014.
Pascua Lama
[Fig. 5]
Au, Ag29.327 °S, 70.035°W
(Chile / Argentina)
- darkening of nearby glaciersActive since 2010.
Permit suspended in 2013.
KvanefjeldU60.963 °N, 45.957 °W
(Greenland)
- darkening of nearby glaciersProspect.
Red MountainAu, Ag55.970 °N, 129.721 °W
(Canada)
- proglacial and/or subglacial depositsProspect.
Grasberg [Fig. 7]Au, Cu4.060 °S, 137.146 °E
(Indonesia)
- darkening of nearby glaciers
- glacier removal to access subglacial deposit
Active since c. 1995.

Below are some site overview figures, they are available for distribution without attribution tags as well. I hope to make one for each project by the end of 2015. Content on this page can be cited as:

Colgan, W., H. Thomsen and M. Citterio. in press. Unique Applied Glaciology Challenges of Proglacial Mining. Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland Bulletin.

Isua_Mine

Figure 1 – The Isua Mine in Greenland: Contemporary ice margins, proposed approximate pit area, and winter 2005/06 ice surface velocity vectors overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Kumtor_Mine

Figure 2 – The Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan: Historic ice margins and contemporary mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell_Mine_Brucejack_Prospect

Figure 3 – The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine and Bruckjack Prospect in Canada: Contemporary ice margins, approximate mine surface areas, and proposed supraglacial access roads overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

El_Morro_Mine

Figure 4 – The El Morro mine in Chile: Contemporary ice margins and mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Pascua_Lama_Mine

Figure 5 – The Pascua Lama mine on the Chile/Argentina border: Contemporary ice margins and mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image. The Valadero mine is also visible immediately south of the Pascua Lama mine.

Svea_Nord_and_Gruve_Mines

Figure 6 – The Svea Nord / Gruve Mines in Svalbard (Norway): Contemporary ice margins and underground mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Grasberg_w_label2

Figure 7 – Grasberg Mine in Indonesia: Contemporary mine area and ice margins in a 2003 Landsat image.

 

 

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Glacier Mining: Geotechnical and Social Exceptionalism

Posted by William Colgan on November 07, 2014
Applied Glaciology, Climate Change, Glaciers and Society / 1 Comment

When the glaciology lexicon was in its infancy, Carl Benson described glaciers as “monomineralic metamorphic rocks” in his pioneering work with the US Army Engineers1. Given the lower density and strength of ice than coal, it may seem like glacier ice is an easy overburden to remove for open pit mining. Experience, however, has demonstrated that there are exceptional geotechnical challenges associated with removing glacier ice overburden. These challenges stem from geometry, hydrology and phase, all of which change far more rapidly in glaciers than hard rock2. The apparent surge of a waste rock pile at the Kumtor Mine, in Kyrgyzstan, highlights the exceptional geotechnical challenges confronting Centerra Gold in maintaining the world’s largest open ice pit mine.

With glaciers serving as a highly visible indicator of climate change, glacier mining projects often face exceptional social challenges in comparison to conventional hard rock mining projects. The Pascua Lama Mine, which spans the Chile-Argentina border, highlights how glacier preservation is a global movement that adapts to local issues. Glaciers therefore serve as the basis for a “glocal”, or globalized local, social movement3. Barrick Founder Peter Munk has commented on the social challenges confronting Pascua Lama: “It’s not enough to have money, it’s not enough to have reserves, it’s not enough to have great mining people. Today, the single most critical factor in growing a mining company is a social consensus – a license to mine.”4

The combination of long term increases in resource demand, retreating glaciers due to climate change, and improved mining technology and prospecting techniques, are making the exploitation of pro- and sub-glacial mineral deposits more feasible. This means a more widespread confrontation of the geotechnical and social exceptionalism of glacier mining in the coming decades!

Kumtor_1975_2013

Glacier and waste rock extent between 1975 and 2013 in the vicinity of Kumtor Mine (from Landsat archive).

PascuaLama

Glaciers in the vicinity of the Pascua Lama Mine on the Chile-Argentina border (from WikiCommons).

1Benson, C. 1962. Stratigraphic studies in the snow and firn of the Greenland ice sheet. Snow, Ice and Permafrost Research Esatablishment. US Army. Research Report 70.

2Colgan, W. and L. Arenson. 2013. Open-Pit Glacier Ice Excavation: Brief Review.
Journal of Cold Regions Engineering. 27: doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CR.1943-5495.0000057.

3Urkidi, L. 2010. A glocal environmental movement against gold mining: Pascua–Lama in Chile. Ecological Economics. 70: 219-227.

4Smith, C. 2014. Sustainability Challenges: When Good Intentions Backfire. NSEAD Knowledge

Additional Landsat images of Kumtor here.

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KSM Project gets provincial approval

Posted by William Colgan on November 03, 2014
Applied Glaciology, Climate Change, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) gold mine in British Columbia received provincial approval last week. The federal permitting decision is expected in November. The suite of three open pits are in close proximity to glaciers, with the ultimate outline of the Mitchell pit intersecting the present extent of Mitchell Glacier. The proponent report filed by Seabridge Gold Inc states: “The current recession rate of the Mitchell Glacier has been estimated by Seabridge geologists at 100 m per year. As mining progresses, melting of the ice is expected to clear the area for the ultimate pit and create space needed for a series of diversion dams and ponds as well as the required debris catch basins upstream of the diversion inlets.” Seabridge is also seeking to excavate a 22 km long haulage tunnel that will convey 120,000 tonnes per day of ore underneath glaciers north of the open pits. A 38 km long glacier road, which ascends Berendon Glacier, crosses a local topographic divide, and descends an unnamed glacier, will provide winter access to the trio of open pits. The Berendon Glacier access road would be close proximity to the Knipple Glacier access road proposed by Pretium Resources Inc to access the nearby Bruce Jack Mine. Presumably the KSM project will be keeping a close eye regional glacier projections!

Controversial Canadian KSM mine gets key govt. permits

KSM (Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell) Project: Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

KSM_glacier_road

Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Project glacier access road during the winter. The road ascends Berendon Glacier in the east, crosses the local topographic divide, and descends an unnamed glacier in the west.

KSM_site_map

Site map of the Mitchell Pit at the Kerr-Sulphurets-Michell gold mine. Purple line denotes haulage tunnel. Dashed black line denotes ultimate extent of Mitchell Pit. White areas denote glacier extent.

 

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Jumbo Glacier Resort: Certification Lapse?

Posted by William Colgan on October 09, 2014
Glaciers and Society / No Comments

The environmental assessment certificate of Jumbo Glacier Resort is set to lapse. The certificate was issued to Glacier Resorts Ltd. in 2004, to build an all-season ski resort in the Purcell Mountains, in Southwest British Columbia, Canada. The absence of a “substantial start” to construction by October 12 would mean the ten-year old environmental assessment certificate cannot be renewed. The Ktunaxa First Nation have contested the project, primarily over concerns it would threaten the Qat’muk Grizzly Bear population. The project would also develop four glaciers (Dome, Jumbo, Commander and Farnham) within a larger ski area. The completed resort would have twenty ski lifts, ferrying skiers up to 3,400 metres elevation, with a 6,300 bed ski village in the valley below. Unlike Europe, North America does not seem to have a particularly strong tradition of developing glaciers into skiing areas.

Huffington Post Canada: Time Running Out For Jumbo Glacier Ski Resort As Construction Deadline Approaches

Ktunaxa First Nation: Qat’muk

Jumbo Glacier Resort

 

jumbo_glacier_resort

Site of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort. (from www.qatmuk.com)

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A Thaw in the Siachen Glacier Conflict?

Posted by William Colgan on October 01, 2014
Climate Change, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

The Siachen Glacier conflict shows signs of thawing. This week Pakistan’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Haji Muhammad Adeel has called for Siachen Glacier to be declared a non-military zone. India and Pakistan have disputed ownership of the 70 km glacier, and 1000+ square kilometers of surrounding territory, since it was occupied by India in 1984. In the subsequent three decades of conflict India and Pakistan are estimated to have each suffered approximately 2000 fatalities, primarily due to extreme environmental conditions (a ceasefire was declared in 2003). The border between Pakistan and India in the Siachen Glacier region was left undeclared in the 1972 Simla Agreement.

Of interest to glacier watchers: Haji Muhammad Adeel cited increased human activities on the glacier that have accelerated surface melt, as well as increased natural hazards in the form of flash floods and changing weather patterns, in his call for both countries to withdraw their troops from the glacier basin. With approximately 3000 soldiers from each country stationed in the valley, the Siachen Glacier is presumably the most densely populated glacier in the world. If withdrawal does happen, the extensive military infrastructure would offer great logistical support for civilian science in a region where glaciers are an exceptionally important water source in a changing climate!

The Nation: Declare Siachen a non-military zone

Wikipedia: Siachen Conflict

Siachen_Glacier_solider_photo_The_Nation

Solider at Siachen Valley. (from The Nation: Declare Siachen a non-military zone)

 

Siachen_line_of_control_UN_map_clipped

An approximately 80 km gap, spanning Siachen Glacier, in the India-Pakistan line of control resulting from the 1972 Simla Agreement. (from Wikimedia Commons)

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