NASA Satellite Images Show Massive Ice Avalanche in Tibet
On July 17, 130 million cubic yards of ice and rock suddenly let go from a glacier in Tibet, hurtling down six-tenths of a mile and killing nine herders along with 350 sheep and 110 yaks. Scientists were baffled. Now, by examining satellite images before and after the event, they think it is an example of a rare glacial surge, when a glacier moves at 10 to 100 times its normal speed. Some researchers believe that climate change at high elevations can trigger such surges.
"It doesn't make sense," said Tian Lide, a glaciologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITPR) in Beijing, who runs a research station in Rutog. Most avalanches occur on slopes of 25 to 45 degrees, but the Rutog avalanche, as this event is known, started from a flat area some 17,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level. When it came to rest, it covered an area of nearly 3.8 square miles to a depth of almost 100 feet. The only other event of comparable size was the 2002 collapse of the Kolka Glacier in the Caucasus. That avalanche killed 140 people.
An entire tongue of the Rutog glacier in Northwest Tibet collapsed at once. Lide noted that the glacier came down with such force that it widened the gully it came to rest in. Two different satellites captured before-and-after pictures of the area. NASA's Operational Land Imager acquired an image on June 24, just about a month before the avalanche. The European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 satellite captured an image of the debris field on July 21, days after. The pre-collapse imagery revealed that the glacier was already showing signs of change.
Glacial surges can be caused by meltwater at the base of the glacier, which essentially lubricates the surface it flows over. These types of surges can have a sudden onset and a very high flow rate. Many surge-type glaciers are found in Western Tibet.
Researchers from Moscow State University and the University Center for Engineering Geodynamics and Monitoring in Moscow have investigated the Kolka avalanche on the ground. Glacial surges are not new there; events dating back to at least 1902 are known. They found striations in the moraine rocks, which they'd never seen before.
"Moraine rocks are not scraped by the glacier because they move with it," Dmitry Petrakov, a geologist at Moscow State University, said. "But at Kolka, the collapse happened so fast that the ice mass must have simply flown over the moraine, producing striations several millimeters deep in minutes."
They found that the avalanche moved with tremendous speed, perhaps up to 112 miles per hour. They concluded that it was a surge event.
A year after the Kolka collapse, the researchers still found the area unstable. In the days following the Rutog avalanche, cracks occurred in nearby glaciers. Temperatures in the Tibetan plateau have risen 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade, twice the global average. One-tenth of the permafrost has melted in just the past decade. Rapidly melting glaciers have added to the number of lakes by 14 percent since 1970 and 80 percent of existing lakes have grown, flooding towns and pastures. In addition, precipitation in the area has increased 12 percent since 1960.
EcoWatch reported Aug. 26 on the issues facing this area, known as the "Third Pole." The Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau hold the largest mass of ice on Earth after the polar regions. The loss of these glaciers threatens the water supply for 1 billion people in China, India and Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Southeast Asia.
Mount Everest climbers may one day climb ice-free https://t.co/8rTp6XI25o via @EcoWatch #climatechange https://t.co/sMCOeuDREu— Climate Council (@Climate Council)1472691961.0
In response to the Rutog avalanche, China Radio International reported, "Experts believed that the icefall is a result of global warming, which has caused melting and cracking of the glaciers."
Those killed in the Rutog avalanche were residents of Dungru village in Rutog county in Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
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