On Top of a Melting Glacier!

August 19, 2012

We went to a glacier in central Switzerland. It is a tourist attraction. It was the most unsustainable tourist place I have been to in my life. Usually, at tourist places, they try to have you do things that preserve the site. In the United States at the parks, you are not allowed to take anything away. Dunes are protected at the parks that have dunes along Lake Michigan, etc. But, here, there are thousands of tourists walking on the glacier, there is a cave that they carved out of the glacier, there is even a sledding area. The sledding area may not be too bad because it is on fresh snow that fell this winter. When you look at the pictures, the white snow fell last winter. If the ice is dark, that is the glacier. The day that we went, it was one of the hottest days in Switzerland history. We measured 37 C (99 F) on our car thermometer. On the glacier, it was 14 C (57 F). The sun was shining brightly and the snow and ice was melting rapidly. The people who work here are very concerned about the melting of the glacier. They said that there has been a lot of melt back in the last decades and that the glacier is getting smaller.

In the pictures, you will see white felt canvas laid over the ice and snow. It looks like they are trying to keep the ice from melting in strategic locations along the glacier. They also have a snow maker at the top of the glacier. I talked to two of the young workers on the glacier. One was from England and the other from Switzerland. You can see their picture below. They were putting up fence posts on the edge of the glacier. I'm guessing they did not want anyone to fall off. That looked like a dangerous job. If they went 2 meters back, they would fall 1000 meters down the mountain. They said that the people who run the mountain are trying to come up with ways to preserve the ice and snow. Making snow could be one of them but the hard part is getting water to the summit in the winter. I don't know if there is some way to store the water up there. Do you have any suggestions of what they can do to preserve the glacier? Please post them under comments.


August 18, 2012: Visit to Uzwil, Switzerland Secondary school

Today Markus had a GLOBE teacher training. There were 8 teachers at the training and I could tell that they were all very engaged. His topic today was ice and snow associated with the Seasons and Biomes Project of GLOBE. Markus talked about GLOBE in general and the Student Climate Research Campaign. Then, I introduced the surface temperature field campaign that is going to run from December 1-31, 2012. Markus is planning on having his class participate in the surface temperature field campaign. I hope that some of the other teachers do as well.

I asked the teachers to break into groups of two and to develop a research question that they wanted to research using the infrared thermometers. The teachers really took change. They talked in their groups for about five minutes. I didn’t have to say anything and they got up and went outside to do their research. One group looked at the difference in temperature between leaves on a tree in the sun and some in the shade. Another group looked at the temperature of cars. They found that the white cars were 45 C while the black cars were 60 C. If you want a cooler car, choose a white one. Tanya and Mara took the temperature of the water pool and found it to be about 17 C. I thought that was cold but they did not.

Markus talked about how glaciers are receding in the Alps. It was all in German so I did not understand it all. I did my best though. He had the teachers do experiments with rocks on a chunk of ice that they melted with a heat lamp and they all set up their GLOBE frost tubes.

Take a look at the pictures to see if you see anything strange. Let me know if what you notice in the comments below.

Markus said that the teacher workshop was sponsored by his Canton, St. Gallen. There are 26 Cantons in Switzerland. I’ve heard that the government of Switzerland is based on the United States. I gather that the Cantons are the equivalent of states in the US. You may know that Switzerland has four official languages, German (Swiss German to be more precise), French, Italian and Romansh. The official language of the St. Gallen Canton is German. Most people here speak enough English for us to get along. The only problem we had on our trip was at the border from Germany. We did not know what a Zoll was. I figured a toll but wasn’t sure. The guy at the border yelled at me because I did not speak German.  

After the workshop, Kathleen and I drove up to the mountains. I had it in my head that Switzerland was all mountains. It was a surprise to me but all of Switzerland is not mountains. It is all hilly, but the hills near Uzwil are pretty small.

We must have brought the hot weather with us. It is 32 C as we drove through Urdorf, Switzerland. Interestingly, Markus was talking about how hot days like these that melt the glaciers in the Alps. This is the hottest day that they have had in Switzerland this year. Then, Saturday, Aug. 18, the temperature reached 37 C (about 100 F). That is a hot temperature anywhere.           

I’ll post more about the glacier on Mount Titlis tomorrow.

Data Analysis

On August 17 after visiting with Markus’ classes, Markus’ wife Esther took Kathleen and I to St. Gallen. It is a nice quaint town on the eastern side of Switzerland. It is the town that Esther grew up in. There is an old part of the city that used to be surrounded by a wall during the Middle Ages. That part of town is still there. On the day that we went, everyone was preparing for a festival in the old part of town. One of the nice things to do in Europe is to visit the very old churches. That is what we did. I didn’t know that the churches often have clocks on them. At the church, Esther helped me take surface temperature observations at 4 locations around the church: 1. paving stones, 2, paving stones in the shade, 3. grass, and 4. slate slabs. These observations were taken around 3 pm and the sky was completely clear. After averaging the 9 temperatures according to the GLOBE protocol, the temperatures were as follows:

1. paving stones: 34.0 C

2. paving stones in the shade: 23.6 C

3. grass: 31.4 C

4. slate slabs: 45.2 C

As you can see, the slate slab was by far the hottest. Interestingly, the paving stones which seem to be a more traditional way of making side walks and roads here is nearly as cool as the grass. If you look back to the observations that we took around the hotel in Frankfurt, you can see that in this case, the grass and slate slabs have a similar difference in temperature, 13 C, while in Frankfurt, the difference was 11 C. I really find it interesting that the traditional paving stones have nearly the same temperature as grass. Maybe we have stumble on a way to keep urban heat island at bay. At, it will employ a lot of pavers.





On the first day that Kathleen and I were in Germany, we conducted a surface temperature field experiment around the hotel we were staying at. We chose 3 sites for our experiment: 1. a brick sidewalk in front of the hotel, 2. a grassy area behind the hotel and 3. a pond with a fountain behind the hotel. We took all of the observations with 10 minutes and cloud cover did not change, overcast with altocumulus and cumulus clouds.

The average temperatures were as follows:

1. Brick side walk – 35.3 C   2. Grass -  24.3 C    3. pond- 23.2 C (shown in yellow in the image from Google Earth).

I could actually feel the warmth radiating off of the bricks. I was somewhat surprised how hot they were given the cloudy day that we had. I thought it was interesting as well that the pond and grass were about the same temperature. The grass was not shadowed by the building when I took the measurements.


August 17, 2012

Today I went to Uzwil Secondary School with Markus Eugster. In the picture below are the courtyard of the school, the phenology cameras that Markus has looking at the vegetation and the start of his GLOBE phenological garden. The phenological garden is broken into four pieces, winter, spring, summer and fall. I found out that the schools name is just Uzwil Secondary School. Markus said that it is nothing fancy

I met with two classes and it was a great time.  The first class was a geography class taught by Daniel Zahner. He is a good sport. He posed with the monkey. I asked the students what geography was. They told me it had to do with the earth and why things are where they are. I told them that Toledo, Ohio where the University of Toledo  is (the place where I work) was founded because it was a good port on the Great Lakes. I asked them why Uzwil was where it is. Once astute student said that it was a mid-way point where travelers could stop along the road. The students were very bright in general.

A teacher in Toledo, Melody Tspranis wanted me to ask the students about the snow in the Alps last winter. The students told me that there was lots of snow and that there was no drought like the one in the United States. If anyone else has a question for the people that I meet along the way, please post it in the comments.

I talked to the class about the surface temperature field campaign and I showed them the infrared thermometers. Markus has a set of five IRTs from Cason that he plans to use this December. I am so grateful to have dedicated teachers to work with on the surface temperature field campaign. I explained to the students how land cover can affect surface temperature. One of the students said that a parking lot will be warmer than grass in general.

That’s all for now.





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