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Increase in glacial lake volume drives flood risk – PreventionWeb



By Erin Guiltenane

Glaciers are retreating on a near-global scale. It takes only a short drive from Calgary up to the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefields to see an example of the changing landscape apparent within our lifetime.

A new study led by Dr. Dan Shugar, PhD, with collaborators from governments and universities in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, uses satellite data from NASA and Google Earth Engine to analyze all of the world’s glacial lakes. Published in Nature Climate Change, it is the largest-ever study of glacial lakes in terms of geographic scope.

The study found that the volume of water in glacial lakes has increased by 50.8 cubic kilometres — about 50 per cent — since 1990. To put that number into context, the increase in glacial lake water over the last 30 years is equivalent to the volume of 20 million Olympic-size swimming pools. 

Glacial lake volumes around the world currently total approximately 156 cubic kilometres of water. While some of the water from melting glaciers ends up flowing into the oceans, a substantial amount also feeds glacial lakes, which have been growing dramatically over the last several decades. Because of this, communities in areas downstream from these growing glacial lakes are increasingly at risk of destruction due to serious flooding.

World’s largest study of glacial lake water volume reveals dramatic growth since 1990.

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Big data analysis tools allow for expanded study scope

Shugar is an associate professor in the Department of Geoscience, and director of the Environmental Science Program. As the leader of the Water, Sediment, Hazards, and Earth-surface Dynamics (waterSHED) Lab, he works across a variety of landscapes and time frames to understand how the Earth’s surface evolves, particularly as a result of contemporary climate change.

His work on this study began as part of a grant from NASA that focused on using satellite remote sensing and other tools to understand changes in High Mountain Asia.

Initially, he had planned to use NASA’s Landsat data, aerial photos, and declassified spy imagery to examine approximately two dozen lakes over the span of five decades and hand-traced the changes.

Shugar and his former student at the University of Washington Tacoma decided to take advantage of new data analysis tools to scale up the analysis — a decision that would not have been possible a decade ago. “We wrote some scripts in Google Earth Engine, an online platform for very large analyses of geospatial data. We first wrote the code to look at all lakes in High Mountain Asia, and then decided to look at all glacial lakes in the world,” Shugar explains. “From there, we were able to build a scaling relationship to estimate volume based on the area of this large population of lakes.”

This change in the process allowed them to look at the data in five-time steps since 1990 to look at all the glaciated regions of the world except for Antarctica and analyze how the lakes changed over that period.

”Using these cloud-based big data tools was critical,” Shugar says. “We ended up analyzing 254,795 Landsat scenes. A couple of years ago, this project would have been impossible to do on a global scale — there would have been so many terabytes of data that it would have been impossible to download and process all of it.”

Increase in glacial lake volume poses the greatest dangers to downstream communities

The models used to date by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to translate glacier melt into sea-level change assume that water from glacier melt is instantaneously transported to the oceans.

However, Shugar explains, “They know not all water is making it into the oceans immediately. However, until now, there was no data to estimate how much was being stored in lakes or groundwater. That was one of our driving reasons to scale up the study to a global analysis.

“Assuming all of the glacial lakes dumped at once — which is not happening — that 156 cubic kilometres of water spread out evenly across all oceans would raise sea level by about 0.43 millimetres. The sea level component is not large, but it was unknown until now.

“The volume of water being stored is important for a number of reasons,” he continues. “While one is to understand how the climate is affecting glaciers and sea levels, the most important consideration is the change in the risk landscape.”

Glacial lakes, which are often dammed by ice or glacial sediment called a moraine, are not stable like the mountain lakes most are used to seeing. Rather, they can be quite unstable and they can burst their banks or dams, causing massive floods downstream. These kinds of floods from glacial lakes, also known as glacial lake outburst floods or GLOFs, have been responsible for thousands of deaths over the last century, as well as the destruction of villages and infrastructure and livestock.

“This widespread glacial lake expansion represents a threat to communities and ecosystems — something people have not been thinking about in the public climate change discussion,” says Dr Jeffrey Kargel, PhD, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and a co-author on the paper.

“Glacial melting is associated with the loss of freshwater and rivers like Colorado. This is a new dimension of the problem that needs to be considered.”

“The big issue is for many parts of the world where people live downstream from these hazardous lakes, mostly in the Andes and in places like Bhutan and Nepal, where GLOFs can be devastating,” Shugar says. “Fortunately, organizations like the UN are doing or facilitating a lot of monitoring work and some mitigation work where they’re lowering the lakes to try and decrease the risks.

“Since we don’t have much in the way of infrastructure or communities that are downstream, the chances of a GLOF having major impacts in North America are fairly low. But we’re not immune to it.”

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NASA Astronaut Will Vote From Space – KCCU



On Election Day, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will be more than 200 miles above her nearest polling place. But she’s still planning to vote — from space.

“It’s critical to participate in our democracy,” Rubins told the Associated Press. “We consider it an honor to be able to vote from space.”

Rubins, who has a Ph.D. in cancer biology from Stanford and was the first person to sequence DNA in space, is currently training for her upcoming six-month mission on the International Space Station.

Voting from the space station is similar to voting absentee from anyplace on the planet — except instead of relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the ballot, Rubins will get hers forwarded electronically from Mission Control in Houston.

“Using a set of unique credentials sent to each of them by e-mail, astronauts can access their ballots, cast their votes, and downlink them back down to Earth,” the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum explained in 2018.

The ballot is then sent to the county clerk for tabulation.

American astronauts have been able to cast ballots from above for over two decades now, ever since a Texas lawmaker learned that astronaut John Blaha couldn’t vote in the 1996 presidential race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. At the time, Blaha was serving on Russia’s Mir Space Station, a predecessor to the ISS.

“He expressed a little bit disappointment in not being able to do that,” Republican State Senator Mike Jackson told NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce in 2008.

Voting from space had never really been an issue before then, because NASA astronauts typically spent no more than about two weeks on shuttle missions. But with the advent of the space station, Americans were sometimes on missions for months at a time.

So a new law was born. “I can attest to how important one person’s vote is because my first election I won by seven votes out of over 26,000,” Jackson said.

Texas lawmakers approved the measure in 1997, and then-Gov. George W. Bush signed it into law. That same year, astronaut David Wolf became the first American to “vote while you float,” as NASA cheekily put it.

“I voted alone up in space, very alone, the only English speaker up there, and it was nice to have an English ballot, something from America,” Wolf told The Atlantic in 2016. “It made me feel closer to the Earth and like the people of Earth actually cared about me up there.”

Most NASA astronauts live in Houston, so since that Texas law was passed, several astronauts have been able to cast ballots from above. This isn’t even the first time Rubins has exercised her orbital privilege; she also voted in the 2016 presidential election from the space station — listing her address as “low-Earth orbit.”

“I think it’s really important for everybody to vote,” Rubins said. “If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

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Estee Lauder Pays NASA $128000 for Photo Shoot in Space – BNN



(Bloomberg) — Estee Lauder Cos. is sending its newest skincare formula into space, and it’ll cost only about as much as paying a big influencer for a few Instagram posts.

The U.S. cosmetics giant is spending $128,000 for NASA to fly 10 bottles of its skin serum to the International Space Station. Once there, astronauts will take pictures of Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair in the cupola control tower, which has panoramic views of the cosmos. The images will be used on social media, with the company planning to auction one bottle off for charity when the items return to Earth this spring.

The global recession, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, has pushed brands to get more creative with their advertising because consumers are cutting back. Within beauty, several companies are spending less on traditional ads, while looking for new ways to break through the glut of content out there. In a press release, Estee Lauder highlighted it being the “first beauty brand to go into space” as a means to tout its “skincare innovation.”

The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket that will transport the skin serum as part of a supply run is scheduled to launch on Tuesday night from Wallops Island, Virginia. The Cygnus cargo craft will then dock on the space station early Saturday.

Estee Lauder’s push into micro-gravity is part of NASA’s effort to commercialize low-earth orbit and make it a domain where private enterprise eventually does business as routinely as the government conducts spacewalks. Companies from Goodyear Tire & Rubber to Merck & Co have used space for research, and NASA is hoping to expand its use, including private citizens visiting the space station.

“We need to expand people’s perspective on what we can accomplish in space,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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A dazzling full 'harvest moon' is set to illuminate Vancouver skies next week – North Shore News



While the weekend forecast calls for rain, Vancouver skies are expected to clear next week, which is just in time for the glorious full Harvest moon. 

Earlier this month, locals were treated to a full corn moon. Last year, September’s full moon was a full ‘harvest moon,’ which takes place in two years out of three. However, since October’s full moon falls closest to the fall equinox this year, it will carry the harvest title. 

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According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “this full Moon name is attributed to Native Americans because it marked the time when corn was supposed to be harvested.”

The Harvest Moon gets was given its name because farmers needed its silvery light to harvest crops. It has since inspired a rather dreamy, beautiful song by Canadian icon Neil Young, too.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac also notes that Native peoples would give distinctive names to each reoccurring full moon to mark the change of seasons. As such, many of these names arose when Native Americans first interacted with colonialists. 

The October moon will be at its fullest in Vancouver on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 2:05 p.m. 

Stargazers should opt to travel as far away from city lights as possible in order to avoid light pollution that will obscure the clarity of heavenly bodies. While this works best in more remote places, anywhere that has a higher elevation will also provide more ideal viewing conditions.

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