“There have been plenty of times we went to a pole and you could see it, but there is a moat of crevices that are 10 to 20 feet wide,” says Ben Pelto, a postdoc researcher at the University of British Columbia . “And it’s like there’s no way we can get over to that effort anymore. It affects the amount of research you can do and the security you can do it with.”
The danger has also been increased for scientists working just above the snow line on mountains. For Karapetrova, the massive temperature fluctuations can cause rock falls or avalanches, making it dangerous for her to move on the mountains near June Lake in California, where she collects her snow samples.
Each researcher mentioned having to move their sampling seasons earlier or having to work faster in fewer months due to the longer and hotter summers. Karapetrova has been limited to collecting samples in June and July, where previous scientists could collect all the way into August. Jason Geck, an associate professor at Alaska Pacific University specializing in glaciology, has taken students on an annual research trip in May to collect samples of the Eklutna Glacier near Anchorage for over a decade – but he has had to move it to April , because melting occurs earlier.
“It’s great to have a couple of students out for two or three weeks on the glacier to get the hands-on field experience,” he says. “Now it will be condensed into a day. From an educational perspective, students suffer. “Geck has also resorted to using helicopters to travel, instead of hiking or skiing, for efficiency and safety – which of course contributes even more to climate change.
As the security and availability of high mountain snow and glaciers decreases, the biggest loss is data consistency. Even simply moving data collection points a few hundred meters or from one side of a glacier to another can introduce inconsistencies. Some areas of a glacier are more shady, steeper, or more windy, changing the rate at which snow accumulates and ice melts.
And the data losses are getting bigger. A weather station on the Gulkana Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range, which has been collecting weather data since the 1960s, will be shut down for the next three years. As the glacier has retreated, it is left behind pockets of ice from which rocks can slide, making access to the station too problematic and dangerous, ending a consistent weather record that stretches back over half a century. There is a new weather station a few kilometers up the glacier that will replace it, but it will never be quite the same.
“Any long-term series data is very valuable,” Geck says. His biggest fear is reaching a mass balance pole to see it lying on its side because the snow has melted too much to keep it upright. “It’s not a fun thing to show up and see his rod on the ground,” he says. Geck estimates that every time a rod overturns, it’s about $ 1,000 worth of labor, equipment, and knowledge lost. He has started placing time-lapse cameras to record the bet, so if they fall, he knows when and is still able to extract some information.