Study: Glaciers defied hotter temperatures 9000 years ago

BYU professor Summer Rupper doing field work with Switzerland's Gornergrat glacier. Her newest study details how a group of Himalayan glaciers grew despite a significant rise in temperatures.

From BYU News

Ice, when heated, is supposed to melt.

That’s why a collection of glaciers in the Southeast Himalayas stymies those who know what they did 9,000 years ago. While most other Central Asian glaciers retreated under hotter summer temperatures, this group of glaciers advanced from one to six kilometers.

A new study by BYU geologist Summer Rupper pieces together the chain of events surrounding the unexpected glacial growth.

“Stronger monsoons were thought to be responsible,” said Rupper, who reports her findings in the September issue of the journal Quaternary Research. “Our research indicates the extra snowfall from monsoonal effects can only take credit for up to 30 percent of the glacial advance.”

As Central Asia’s summer climate warmed as much as 6 degrees Celsius, shifting weather patterns brought more clouds to the Southeast Himalayas. The additional shade created a pocket of cooler temperatures.

Temperatures also dropped when higher winds spurred more evaporation in this typically humid area, the same process behind household swamp coolers.

The story of these seemingly anomalous glaciers underscores the important distinction between the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”

“Even when average temperatures are clearly rising regionally or globally, what happens in any given location depends on the exact dynamics of that place,” Rupper said.

The findings come from a framework Rupper developed as an alternative to the notion that glaciers form and melt in direct proportion to temperature. Her method is based on the balance of energy between a glacier and a wide range of climate factors, including wind, humidity, precipitation, evaporation and cloudiness.

Gerard Roe and Alan Gillespie of the University of Washington are co-authors of the new study.

Knowing how glaciers responded in past periods of climate change will help Rupper forecast the region’s water supply in the coming decades. She and collaborators are in the process of determining how much of the Indus River comes from the vast network of glaciers far upstream from the agricultural valleys of India and Pakistan.

“Their study can be used to help assess future glaciological and hydrological changes in the most populated part of our planet, which is a region that is now beginning to experience the profound effects of human-induced climate change,” said Lewis Owen, a geologist at the University of Cincinnati who was not affiliated with this study.

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50 thoughts on “Study: Glaciers defied hotter temperatures 9000 years ago

  1. It supports the logic of not being alarmed about climare change but the alarmists will love this. Heads we win, tails you lose.

  2. Once again, geologists bring substance to the table.
    This, of course, is why the vast majority of us geoscientists (myself included) are skeptical – we know that climate has varied far more radically in the geologic past than it has currently, without the help of SUV’s & CO2.

  3. As is widely suspected: Glacier growth & retreat is more closely correlated with precipitation swings…as opposed temperature swings.
    Oh but that’s right so the glaciers…if they build or recede….its still all due to anthropogenic global warming, right?
    Glacier damned if ya do and glacier damned if ya don’t.
    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  4. this group of glaciers advanced from one to six kilometers.
    “Stronger monsoons were thought to be responsible,” said Rupper

    The Indian/Himalayan monsoons are driven by temperatures in central Asia. Higher temperatures = stronger monsoons = higher precipitation as snowfall in the Himalayas.
    So there is no real surprise here if you understand how the monsoons work.
    Although it relates to one the most frequently repeated adverse consequences of Global Warming and hence the justification for the enormously expensive, so called, mitigations, such as Cap and Trade.
    according to the Third Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel
    on Climate Change (IPCC, 2001). This is certain disaster for fragile ecosystems like glaciers.
    Seventy percent of the worlds freshwater is frozen in glaciers. Glacier melt buffers other
    ecosystems against climate variability. Very often it provides the only source of water for
    humans and biodiversity during dry seasons. Freshwater is already a limited resource for much
    of the planet, and in the next three decades, the population growth is likely to far exceed any
    potential increase in available water.
    The Himalayas have the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar caps. With glacier
    coverage of 33,000 km2, the region is aptly called the “Water Tower of Asia” as it provides
    around 8.6 X 106 m3 of water annually (Dyurgerov and Maier, 1997). These Himalayan glaciers
    feed seven of Asia’s great rivers: the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze
    and Huang Ho. It ensures a year round water supply to millions of people.

    This is deceptive nonsense. All else being equal ‘melting’ glaciers increase river flows. Increasing glacial mass decreases river flows.
    And note the reference to ‘dry seasons’. People assume it means summer as this is the dry season in temperate zones. In fact the dry season in Himalayan monsoonal areas is the winter. ‘Melting’ glaciers would be largely a summer phenomena and hence have little effect on winter river flows.
    Then of course almost all Himalayan rivers are dammed, so any ‘buffering’ is irrelevant.
    And as the study above shows, global warming would increase Himalayan river flows due to increased monsoonal precipitation, and increase glacier mass, increasing the so called buffering.
    As I said, deceptive (but extremely expensive) nonsense from the IPCC’s ‘settled science’.

  5. spangled drongo, I’ve missed your wonderful screen name lately. Can you tell us what it means?
    Jeff L, right on. Natural variability completely explains the climate, without any need for an extraneous variable like the minor trace gas CO2.
    Now, on to the article: how can anyone credibly claim that a temporary change of 0.7° C will cause the melting of a glacier that is already many degrees below freezing?

  6. I forgot to mention,
    This is certain disaster for fragile ecosystems like glaciers.
    Nothing lives on glaciers (except a few very hardy bacteria) so how can they have an ‘ecosystem’.

  7. Of course you do.
    You understand both the sheer scale of the natural forces and the time scales involved.
    Which is not to say there have not been, and will be, short term, decades, centuries, millenia variations in local climates over which we have no control.
    Or that we do not affect local climate on a tiny scale. We do.
    But in the face of changes induced by great natural forces we must simply adapt as we always do.
    But to imagine that our few numbers and puny technology can affect a planet on a global scale shows both arrogance and ignorance in equal measure.
    Human beings are not the centre of the universe or even of this planet, it is folly to suppose so. It is even greater folly to suppose that anything we can do would affect the planet except on a purely local scale.
    But don’t tell that to the politicians, they seem to believe they can command great natural forces with a wave of the hand.
    We shall control global temperature and global climate. they cry.
    How? Delusional or what?
    Kindest Regards.

  8. “She and collaborators are in the process of determining how much of the Indus River comes from the vast network of glaciers far upstream from the agricultural valleys of India and Pakistan.”
    Gee whiz, here I’ll do it for you: The volume of water in the Indus River annually comes from the rainfall in the basin plus the net of snow/ice melt and new accumulation – irrigation/evapotranspiration. Have I missed anything? By the way, I have emailed the WGMS (World glacier monitoring people) about the fact that their last report was for 2005/2006 and a preliminary for 2006/2007. Do you suppose, given all the anecdotal evidence for recovery of world glaciers that they may be waiting until after the Copenhagen warm-in. Surely the data must be in by now (or its too late!)

  9. Smokey (19:37:44) :
    The Spangled Drongo is an Australian Bird……. It’s insectivorous.
    I have a couple of them in the back garden this very moment, capering about. Medium sized, black, reddish eye, long tail that curls outward at the ends.

  10. Spangled drongo, now there is something I have to see.
    Have you seen the pill boxes on the cliffs above Casuarina Beach?
    Mt Isa in 1960 was an interesting place, at least in the eyes of a four old boy.

  11. The article and research reflect the fact that the condition of glaciers, like the climate itself, cannot be explained in simplistic terms. A multitude of naturally variable factors are involved.
    From one of my blog entries at the first of the year… (Tuesday, January 6th, 2009 / The Story Of Glaciers )
    In the area of the Muir Glacier, the McBride and the Burroughs Glacier have been retreating. But, others have stopped their retreat in recent times and are advancing, they are growing. The John Hopkins Glacier stopped its retreat and began advancing during these modern times of satellite records. It is not an anomaly, a lone rogue. The Grand Pacific, Lamplugh, Margerie, and Reid glaciers are currently advancing. The Brady Glacier has been advancing since 1794 as the Muir retreated.
    The greatest amount of warming in recovery from the LIA occurred prior to 1900. The current temperatures are pretty much ideal for man, though cooler than other times during the Holocene. Earth’s glaciers have retreated due to natural variation in climate and conditions. Many glaciers are now advancing due to natural variation in global climate and conditions specific to the region where they exist.
    I stated above; Glaciers are not a simple gauge which one can use to claim unusual warming or temperatures greater than those of the past. As you can see from my examples, in the same geographical area some glaciers can be retreating, while others, advance.

  12. “The Spangled Drongo”. What a brilliant name for a bird! I’ve an Aussie mate who calls me a drongo so now I know what he means. At least I’m not spangled…
    Seriously though, this post on glaciers is just another confirmation of my belief that ‘the more you find out, the more you realise how little you know’. Would that ‘climate scientists’ were as humble…

  13. Philip_B (19:44:05) :
    I forgot to mention,
    This is certain disaster for fragile ecosystems like glaciers.
    Nothing lives on glaciers (except a few very hardy bacteria) so how can they have an ‘ecosystem’.

    Ecosystem is the complex of biotic factors interacting with abiotic factors. The glacier plus cryobacteria and other organisms living there form an ecosystem.
    We don’t consider only the abiotic factors (physical and chemical factors) like an ecosystem; we must add the biotic factors which interact with those abiotic factors for being talking of an ecosystem.

  14. I’ve just noticed an ‘automatically created post’ above:
    “Global Warming of 7C ‘Could Kill Billions This Century’”
    I can see the headlines now: “Global Warming of -7C ‘Could Kill Billions This Century’”

  15. I visited Exit Glacier near Seward, Alaska, last week.
    There is a prominent National Park Service display of how the glacier’s extent has changed over time (I wish there is a way to post the picture).
    I was amazed to see how much the glacier had retreated since 1950 — around a mile. Clearly, AGW must be to blame.
    However, I was just as amazed to see how much it had retreated between 1815 (the earliest date for which the investigators could establish a terminal moraine) and 1915 — around a mile and a half. In fact, the rate of retreat for Exit, and all other glaciers in Alaska, has been essentially continuous for over 200 years — as long as anyone has been around to measure the things.
    So I guess AGW is to blame, except when it isn’t.
    BTW, there was another display discussing how the glacier had effected the landscape, referring at one point to how thick the glacier was during the Little Ice Age, which (according to the display) started around 1200 AD and ended around 1900.
    One more bit of news from Alaska. In 2008, ice fields in Alaska got thicker by 20 feet. For the first time since anyone has been around to measure the things.

  16. I see this as a scientist extending her conclusion to “accomodate” global warming.
    There are probably grant money issues to be satisfied.
    I thank God I work for a private company. They may not publish my results when they don’t like them. But they will,at least, not ask me to lie.

  17. As soon as I sight articles with the terms ‘ hotter’ and ‘colder’ temperatures, I go back to wondering if a fire can burn itself!

  18. Re: Hey Skipper’s note – I have recently (June ’09) returned from the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska where we were informed it was growing at 22 feet per day.
    In contrast, the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies is receding and has been doing so for the past 10,000 years (according to the Columbia Icefield brochure).
    As with graphs, one can choose which ‘facts’ to use to promote your chosen beliefs.

  19. Scientist discovers that the ice in my glass melts due more to local conditions rather than to global conditions.

  20. It is my understanding that the scientists in India have told the West and Gore to mind your own business when it comes to ‘their’ glaciers. They have kept track for millenia, and they don’t like being sold alarming predictions, when they know otherwise.

  21. Spangled Drongo
    A bit off topic, but I thought I should tell my story about spangled drongos (or is it drongoes?). I once visited the Cairns Southern Treatment Plant (sewerage) while they were cleaning one of their huge concrete, cylindrical tanks. The sides of the tank were covered in cockroaches and lots of birds were swooping down and lazily picking them off. Mainly crows, butcher birds and spangled drongoes, many more than I had ever seen before. What a sight and smell.
    The spangled drongo is a very beautiful bird, appearing either glossy-black or shimmering very dark blue-green at times in the sun. With their long forked tail, they are excellent, acrobatic flyers and can catch insects on the wing, much like a swallow or swift. They are much more acrobatic than currawongs (larger also with long tail) or butcher birds, magpies and crows, which all have shorter tails.
    Wonderful name for a wonderful bird.

  22. Jimmy Haigh
    I should have added that in the Australian vernacular a “drongo” is a bit of an idiot. I do not know why this bird was called an idiot, but the “spangled” part obviously refers to its shimmering black-green appearance in the sun.

  23. I have recently (June ‘09) returned from the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska where we were informed it was growing at 22 feet per day.
    That is one of the few that is actually growing. All the rest have been retreating for the last 10-12,000 years (thank goodness for that). Exit Glacier just happened to be one where the retreat over the last 200 years is very well documented. Same for Columbia Glacier in BC.
    Thanks to Warmenism, I know all but the last fifty years was natural. Gore be praised.

  24. Alan from Australia (00:38:27) :
    “…in the Australian vernacular a “drongo” is a bit of an idiot.”
    Yup – I guess that’s why my Aussie mate calls me a drongo…

  25. As to the topic of glaciers:
    Is there any institution that has a website that observes the general state of glaciers worldwide? I am thinking of something similar to the rightside tabs on WUWT for sea ice, sunspots, etc?
    I know that there are many thousands of glaciers in the world and that not all of them have been studied. If anyone knows a good location to keep up with the glaciers I’d be interested in seeing it.
    Thanks
    Tim

  26. “Their study can be used to help assess future glaciological and hydrological changes in the most populated part of our planet, which is a region that is now beginning to experience the profound effects of human-induced climate change,” said Lewis Owen, a geologist at the University of Cincinnati who was not affiliated with this study. [Emphasis added.]
    Now, why would the university paper throw in such a connection to “human-induced climate change”, by an unaffiliated commentator, that was not made by the researchers, themselves?

  27. SPATIAL PATTERNS OF HOLOCENE GLACIER ADVANCE AND RETREAT IN CENTRAL ASIA
    Summer Rupper
    Brigham Young University, Department of Geological Sciences, Provo, UT;
    University of Washington, Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Seattle, Wa
    Gerard Roe
    University of Washington, Department of Earth and Space Sciences and Quaternary Research Center, Seattle, WA
    Alan Gillespie
    University of Washington, Department of Earth and Space Sciences and Quaternary Research Center, Seattle, WA
    http://earthweb.ess.washington.edu/roe/Publications/RupperEtAl_Holocene_QR.pdf

  28. Thanx to all for the info on the spangled drongo. I guess I was mistaken thinking it referred to an STD.

  29. “Global Warming of 7C ‘Could Kill Billions This Century’”
    Well, I suspect nearly 6 billion people will die this century, no matter what “Global Warming” does.
    As glacier growth is mostly controlled by precipitation, and warming is supposed to increase that, if the glaciers are shrinking, does that mean warming isn’t happening?
    This is so confusing.

  30. Smokey (07:13:11) :
    “Thanx to all for the info on the spangled drongo. I guess I was mistaken thinking it referred to an STD.”
    No – that would be the drangled spongo.

  31. By the size and shape of its beak, I would say it eats most anything, not just insects. Similar to our ravens. It would also not astound me to discover that this bird is actually quite intelligent. Having an omnivore beak requires a bigger brain that can think, plan, and figure out how things work.

  32. And to stay on topic, once a mountain range stops rising, all of its glaciers will eventually disappear. Even Greenland and Antarctica glaciers, when ever these land masses move into lower latitudes.

  33. Remember the good old days when they meant the same thing?
    The story of these seemingly anomalous glaciers underscores the important distinction between the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”

  34. Hey Skipper (22:19:32) :
    I was amazed to see how much the glacier had retreated since 1950 — around a mile. Clearly, AGW must be to blame.
    However, I was just as amazed to see how much it had retreated between 1815 (the earliest date for which the investigators could establish a terminal moraine) and 1915 — around a mile and a half. In fact, the rate of retreat for Exit, and all other glaciers in Alaska, has been essentially continuous for over 200 years — as long as anyone has been around to measure the things.

    Similar in observation to another portion of my previously mentioned blog entry from January 6th, 2009 titled “The Story Of Glaciers”

    Glaciers are oft addressed by Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warmers. The Muir Glacier in Alaska did retreat, but, did so for over 200 years. Glacier Bay did not exist in 1740 and what is now the mouth of the bay was just a wall of ice against the sea. A paper ( LINK ) from 1923 speaks of records about Glacier Bay and goes back to 1794 and the glacial retreat.
    The bay, which once was nothing but a huge amount of glacial ice, already existed as a bay when Muir visited in the late 1800’s. Over the recent past 60 years the Muir Glacier retreated a distance of 7 miles; (.12 miles per year). It is now almost 60 miles from the mouth of the bay. So 50+ miles of retreat occurred prior to 1940; (.25 miles per year average). That figure is gracious in using 1740 as the start point. The figures; .12 miles per year verses .25 miles per year, illustrate the Muir Glacier retreated more than twice as fast in the past than it has in modern times. Additionally; the greatest volume of Muir Glacier ice, as opposed to glacial length or extent, melted long before the beginning of modern industrial activity.
    We have all heard about the catastrophic retreat of glaciers during the 20th century and supposedly increased rates of retreat during the late 1990s. Glaciers don’t just retreat geographically, they also thin. In most cases they, (being three dimensional), also narrow. Glaciers historically pointed to by the AGW crowd retreated at a faster rate in the past, and, lost most of their volume of ice long ago. Long before the use of fossil fuels. Long before the 20th century.
    The glaciers which have retreated slightly faster, are reflecting they entered modern times with far less ice volume, and, far thinner than they were in the past. They are not a demonstration of runaway global warming. Glaciers are not a simple gauge which one can use to claim unusual warming or temperatures greater than those of the past.

    I find it sad and amusing at times when someone points to a particular glacier as proof of Global Warming. Usually and investigation of that glacier will show that, like the Muir, most ice volume loss / glacial retreat occurred long before the industrial revolution. Long before the 20th century. It is amazing that so many fail to mention the history of a glaciers retreat.

  35. Pamela Gray (08:38:27) :
    And to stay on topic, once a mountain range stops rising, all of its glaciers will eventually disappear. Even Greenland and Antarctica glaciers, when ever these land masses move into lower latitudes.

    This time you have me confused Pamela.
    I agree that, in some regions, the altitude of a glacier will impact its status. I don’t believe a static altitude would, by itself, mean a glacier would disappear and that other factors would have to come into play for it to retreat. Am I incorrect?
    I do agree that land masses such as Greenland and Antarctica moving to lower latitudes would have an impact on their glacial inventory. That, of course, assumes that earth maintains the same orbital characteristics as it currently has, the effect of changes in ocean location and currents, etc.
    Some time ago in a discussion I stated that if man really wants to force a change in the climate ( precipitation, drought, storm patterns, and temperatures ) all he needs to do is remove the Isthmus of Panama.

  36. I recall a commenter, I think at Tim Blair’s old blog, commenting that while visiting the Swiss Alps that their version of a Parks Service showed how the glaciers were smaller in Roman times than today. Personally, I blame chariot over-use.

  37. I believe this study will begin the decoupling of glaciology from AGW. In fact, there was never any reason to suppose that glacier advance or retreat has anything to do with supposed forcings of a couple of watts/m2. Yet, when skeptics have pointed out that there are many glaciers still advancing, the warmists always retort that this is merely due to micro climate. Now they will be forced to admit that even retreating glaciers are the result of micro climate.

  38. Glacier movement can be as bad a metric for climate change as daily weather.
    For daily weather the cure is more time…say 30 years.
    For glacier movement the cure is less time…say the past 35 years, with any pre-existing (usually melting) trends removed.
    “…9000 years ago. While most other Central Asian glaciers retreated under hotter summer temperatures, this group of glaciers advanced…”
    This is comparable to the current situation of some Karakorum mountain glaciers. They are expanding, while the other Himalayan glaciers are retreating.
    savethesharks (19:31:39)
    “Glacier growth & retreat is more closely correlated with precipitation swings…as opposed temperature swings.”
    I’ve read that warmer waters around Greenland and Antarctica have led to the increased snowfall on land.
    I think that this might also apply to ‘nearby’ (high latitude) mountain glaciers that are increasing; in New Zealand, Chili, Argentina and western Norway.
    And, I’ve seen the higher precipitation explanation given for the Shasta/Trinity mountain glaciers.
    Philip_B (19:35:09)
    “All else being equal ‘melting’ glaciers increase river flows. Increasing glacial mass decreases river flows”
    Conceivably, a prolonged cold spell might reduce river flows. But the glacier and the snowpack would move downhill, until they reached warmer temperatures.
    Retreating (melting) glaciers will increase river flows for a few decades until the ice and its meltwater are all gone. And then this summertime water supply will be gone.
    The Chinese understand this. They are building dams to store some of the water that is now stored in the glaciers.
    John Trigge (23:24:26)
    Hey Skipper (01:06:41)
    “Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier on the North American continent. It has been thickening and advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska…This is in stark contrast with most glaciers which have thinned and retreated during the last century. This atypical behavior is an important example of the calving glacier cycle in which glacier advance and retreat is controlled more by he mechanics of terminus calving than by climate fluctuations…”

  39. This is what might be called a ‘statement of the bleedin’ obvious’.
    There’s some very good examples in the European Alps of microclimates which get snow under different wind conditions and, hence, may show markedly different snow conditions in winter, which is of course very important to the ski tourism industry.
    For example: the Jungfrau resorts of Wengen, Grindelwald and Muerren get far more snow early in the winter on NW to NE winds than on SW winds, when they tend to get rain via Foehn.
    In contrast, Zermatt, Saas Fee and the upper Rhone Valley (Goms) get humungous snowfalls on SW to SE winds, but almost nothing on NW winds.
    You could therefore easily imagine that a century of climate where SW to SE winds predominated could lead to advancing glaciers in the Zermatt And Saas valleys, with rapidly retreating glaciers on the Northern side of the 4000m Jungfrau peaks.
    Last winter was a classic example of huge early snowfalls in the valleys to the south and east Rhone valley on SW to SE winds bringing huge numbers of Foehns to the Jungfrau. Luckily for them, they got one big dump before Christmas too.
    You could easily see a similar situation of sorts happening in Britain.
    If the Azores high moves north marginally for a century, then SE Britain will become warmer and drier, whereas NW Britain will become cooler and wetter in summer. And if the high moves further north west in winter, then Scotland could become far colder and snowier in winter, although Greenland would become much milder.
    It may be time for a global conversation with local weather gurus, who may well not be ‘scientists’. If you document 20,000 sets of local knowledge passed down over decades if not centuries, then we may get to a position approximating to knowledge. Because that knowledge can be used to compare to ‘models’.

  40. Suggesting glaciers respond to temperature alone is like saying river flow responds to temperature alone. A glacier is merely a river flowing very slowly, more rainfall will result in increased flow or thickness. Temperature does play a smaller role, but rainfall is the key. Thats why the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are growing at the moment, whereas the nearby Tasman and Hooker glaciers are receding. Plus large glaciers can take hundreds of years to respond, as build up of ice or fern is required at the headwaters to push the glacier further down the valley.
    So if the glaciers are currently declining in India, does that imply global cooling by their logic?

  41. Tim F (04:35:31) :
    “As to the topic of glaciers:
    Is there any institution that has a website that observes the general state of glaciers worldwide?”
    Gary Pearse (20:03:13) :
    “I have emailed the WGMS (World glacier monitoring people) about the fact that their last report was for 2005/2006 and a preliminary for 2006/2007. Do you suppose, given all the anecdotal evidence for recovery of world glaciers that they may be waiting until after the Copenhagen warm-in. Surely the data must be in by now (or its too late!)”
    Tim, here is the link: http://www.wgms.ch
    but don’t hold your breath, they are a couple of years behind. I urge everyone interested to email them to get a response on the 2007/2008 season. You will note when you do look at 2006 and preliminary 2007 that there is an increase in the number of world glaciers for the latest report.

  42. Oops, last sentence should read:
    You will note when you do look at 2006 and preliminary 2007 that there is an increase in the number of world glaciers advancing for the latest report.

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