The Future of Glaciers

“Losing a glacier means losing a huge protector of the planet. Let’s find out why!” 

Notes

The Future of Glaciers is a 20-minute lesson that shows us how much the world of glaciers has changed and how Anne’s art has evolved with it. The glaciers have drastically retreated and scientists say we’re reaching a tipping point. We need a new individual and collective approach to save them, but we already have the solutions. 

“Glaciers are one of the most important watchmen of climate change, and the survival of ALL of us, wherever we live on this planet, depends on their wellbeing.”

Learn FREE with videos and interactive exercises

Introduction

Video youtube

Anne uses the history and symbolism of her works to document the beauty and fragility of glaciers, and to talk about their importance for us and our planet. 

She describes the dramatic consequences of receding glaciers: global warming, the rise of sea levels (and feedback loops) and shows how there are already solutions to avoid the tipping point. 

Download here the video script 

Art and Science - RECEDING GLACIERS I and RECEDING GLACIERS II

RECEDING GLACIERS I

RECEDING GLACIERS II

MORTERATSCH, SWITZERLAND, MARCH 2014

I had just returned from Antarctica and my senses were still enchanted by the magnetism of its formidable glaciers. Unapproachable, their constant cracking and crumbling an extraordinary spectacle and a striking reminder of their demise. 

I was finally able to get close here, where their power has been muffled but their magnetism still reigns. To touch their ancient crystal ice is spellbinding. I placed my symbols. For a frozen moment the glacier stood still in time. 

A DEEPER LOOK

Since the preindustrial era, the temperature in Switzerland has risen by almost 2°C, twice the global average. At this rate, half of the 1,500 Alpine glaciers – including the majestic Aletsch Glacier, UNESCO heritage – will disappear in the next 30 years. And if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all the glaciers in Switzerland and in Europe risk melting almost completely by the end of the century.

With the melting of the glaciers, Switzerland is losing an important water reserve, which according to estimates could supply the population of Switzerland with fresh water for 60 years.

But technology can help us. The Morteratsch Glacier continues to diminish at the rate of 40 meters per year, and experts predict it may have entirely disappeared by the year 2100. A new pilot project has been presented, aiming at slowing the melting of glaciers through new technology which is climate neutral and respects the environment: a huge amount of water produced by the thaw would be collected at a high altitude, recycled in the form of snow and then returned to the glacier.

Art and Science - ANTARCTIC & SOUTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL SKULLS

ICEBERG, ANTARCTICA, FEBRUARY 2014

The expedition leader said docking an iceberg was too dangerous as it could capsize at any moment. That’s what actually gives them such beautiful shapes, sculpted by the waves and the constant turtling. I was finally allowed 30 minutes. I quickly placed the seal skulls, borrowed from a Ukrainian biologist, around the whale bone.  When I finished my TimeShrine, the wind suddenly dropped and the white setting sun radiated a golden light. Gold can make white blue.

A DEEPER LOOK

The Antarctic Peninsula is among the world’s most quickly warming regions due to the climate crisis, with a rise of almost 3°C over the last 50 years. And some studies now indicate that a third of Antarctica’s glaciers risk collapsing. In July 2021 the World Meteorological Organization confirmed a new record temperature of 18.3°C reached in Antarctica on February 6, 2020 at the Argentine research station Esperanza.

Unless climate change is drastically reduced by the end of the century, the sea level is expected to rise between 60 cm and 110 cm, with disastrous consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who live in coastal areas. Antarctica’s vast frozen expanses act as a global thermostat, regulating the world’s climate system. White ice coverage cools the atmosphere through the albedo effect (the measure of a surface’s ability to reflect sunlight) while the dark surface of the sea absorbs the sunlight’s warmth and plays a crucial role in the thermal balance of the ocean. The water at the surface, which is colder and has higher salinity, sinks to the depths, creating the ocean currents that carry warmth from one part of the globe to another. The Antarctic Ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus playing an important role in the carbon cycle. The Antarctic Ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 can change due to the warming of the ocean, since warm water absorbs less CO2. 

Plus, Antarctica’s glaciers contain “snapshots” of the atmosphere dating back centuries and millennia, making them a very important means of understanding the history of our climate, and with it, our planet.

Art and Science - FOLLOW THE BLUE THREAD SERIES

PRESENA GLACIER, ITALY 

The TimeShrines aim to create awareness by showing what we risk losing. But seeing glaciers covered up makes us realize that awareness is no longer enough, that we’re beyond that, that we’ve already entered an age of adaptation.

One concrete example of this are the geotextile covers spread over glaciers to keep them from melting too fast. The glacier itself has become an artistic installation, a TimeShrine.

A DEEPER LOOK

Given the accelerating retreat of the Alpine glaciers, which according to projections risk almost entirely disappearing by the end of the century, people are looking for ways to slow their melting as much as possible. 

One solution suitable for various locations in the Alps is literally covering a glacier with geotextile fabrics. Normally made of polyester or polypropylene fiber, geotextiles are 3 to 4 millimeters thick. When spread out over a glacier they reflect sunlight and protect the layer of snow and ice below them from heat and ultraviolet rays. 

The albedo indicates a surface’s ability to reflect the sun’s rays. Geotextiles are useful because they increase the albedo, reducing the solar energy absorbed and in doing so lessening the melting of the snow.  

Some studies indicate that geotextiles can reduce the melting of snow and ice by 50% to 70%. When the Presena Glacier is covered with geotextile fabrics in the summer, a depth of 2.5 meters of ice are saved, a total of 400,000 cubic meters. However, these solutions can’t stop the glaciers’ melting – they can only slow down the process. 

Analysis

Analysis to be developed through individual or group research

The Paris Accords are the first universal and legally binding agreement on climate change. They were adopted at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, which wished to limit global warming to well below 2°C, aiming at a maximum of 1.5°C above the preindustrial period. We all need to work together to reach this ambitious goal. How? 

To decrease the greenhouse gasses emitted every year, all countries need to choose to use energy that comes from renewable sources (sunlight, wind, water) and not from fossil sources. We can do our part too by asking governments to invest in innovative technologies and to implement clean energy plans, but also by trying to save energy with our behavior, like getting around by bike or public transportation (preferably electric) and choosing more efficient electrical appliances. Even recycling helps reduce gas emissions. Planting trees is not only good for the spirit, it’s another way to reduce the amount of CO2 present in the atmosphere. 

Glaciers are our greatest fresh water reserve, so protecting glaciers means protecting ourselves. But it’s also important not to waste water. How? 

Beyond the banal but useful suggestions, like not leaving the water on when we’re not using it, running dishwashers and washing machines only when full, and so on, it’s a good idea to think about saving water even through our diets. Various studies show that eating less red meat would lower the average western European country’s water footprint by 35%. Let’s remember that it takes 2,000 liters of water, the equivalent of 23 five-minute showers, to make one hamburger.