Receding glacier causes immense Canadian river to vanish in four days

A view of the ice canyon that now carries meltwater from the Kaskawulsh glacier, seen here on the right, away from the Slims river and toward the Kaskawulsh river. Photograph: Dan Shugar/University of Washington Tacoma

An immense river that flowed from one of Canada’s largest glaciers vanished over the course of four days last year, scientists have reported, in an unsettling illustration of how global warming dramatically changes the world’s geography.

The abrupt and unexpected disappearance of the Slims river, which spanned up to 150 metres at its widest points, is the first observed case of “river piracy”, in which the flow of one river is suddenly diverted into another.

For hundreds of years, the Slims carried meltwater northwards from the vast Kaskawulsh glacier in Canada’s Yukon territory into the Kluane river, then into the Yukon river towards the Bering Sea. But in spring 2016, a period of intense melting of the glacier meant the drainage gradient was tipped in favour of a second river, redirecting the meltwater to the Gulf of Alaska, thousands of miles from its original destination.

The continental-scale rearrangement was documented by a team of scientists who had been monitoring the incremental retreat of the glacier for years. But on a 2016 fieldwork expedition they were confronted with a landscape that had been radically transformed.

Kaskawulsh glacier map

While the Slims had been reduced to a mere trickle, the reverse had happened to the south-flowing Alsek river, a popular whitewater rafting river that is a Unesco world heritage site. The previous year, the two rivers had been comparable in size, but the Alsek was now 60 to 70 times larger than the Slims, flow measurements revealed.

The data also showed how abrupt the change had been, with the Slims’ flow dropping precipitously from the 26 to 29 May 2016.

Geologists have previously found evidence of river piracy having taken place in the distant past. “But nobody to our knowledge has documented it happening in our lifetimes,” said Shugar. “People had looked at the geological record, thousands or millions of years ago, not the 21st century, where it’s happening under our noses.”

Between 1956 and 2007, the Kaskawulsh glacier retreated by 600-700m. In 2016, there was a sudden acceleration of the retreat, and the pulse of meltwater led to a new channel being carved through a large ice field. The new channel was able to deliver water to the Alsek’s tributary whose steeper gradient resulted in the Slims headwater being suddenly rerouted along a new southwards trajectory.

In a geological instant, the local landscape was redrawn.

Where the Slims once flowed, Dall sheep from Kluane National Park are now making their way down to eat the fresh vegetation, venturing into territory where they can legally be hunted. The formerly clear air is now often turned into a dusty haze as powerful winds whip up the exposed riverbed sediment. Fish populations are being redistributed and lake chemistry is being altered. Waterfront land, which includes the small communities of Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, is now further from shore.


Sections of the newly exposed bed of Kluane Lake contain small pinnacles. Wind has eroded sediments with a harder layer on top that forms a protective cap as the wind erodes softer and sandier sediment below. These pinnacles, just a few centimeters high, are small-scale versions of what are sometimes termed “hoodoos.” Photograph: Jim Best/University of Illinois

A statistical analysis, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that the dramatic changes can almost certainly be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. The calculations put chance of the piracy having occured due to natural variability at 0.5%. “So it’s 99.5% that it occurred due to warming over the industrial era,” said Best.

The Yukon region is extremely sparsely inhabited, but future river piracy could have catastrophic effects on towns, villages and ecosystems that have sprung up around available water, according to an analysis accompanying the paper, by Rachel Headley, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. “If a river changes course so drastically that the drainage basin no longer reaches its original outlet, this change might eventually impact human and biological communities that have grown around the river’s original outlet,” she said.

I’ve visited the Yukon several times, spending months exploring every wonderful nook and cranny from every corner of the Yukon. I loved nature’s bounty offered there, as well as the various people and cultures of the Yukon. I’m old now, but would love to have the opportunity to visit that incredible land once more before humanity changes it forever.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

Border Patrol struggles to recruit agents amid immigration crackdown

‘We’re already behind. We’re not hiring fast enough to keep up with the attrition.’ Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown has a problem: not enough Americans are willing to carry it out.

The Border Patrol is losing agents faster than it can replace them, putting a question mark over the president’s plan to ramp up the force.

Air and Marine Operations, a separate agency, is also struggling to find pilots and other employees.

“If you know people who are enthusiastic about border security please send them to Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” Ronald Vitiello, the Border Patrol chief, said in an appeal this week. “We’re already behind. We’re not hiring fast enough to keep up with the attrition.”

Trump has ordered the agency to add 5,000 agents to beef up patrols and surveillance in advance of his proposed border wall. But its current 19,000-strong force is already 2,000 shy of a target set during the Obama administration.

Officials said tough screening, especially a lie-detector test, rejected many qualified candidates, and that tough conditions such as living in remote, rugged areas prompted more than 1,000 agents to quit every year.

“Some people just don’t want to live there,” said Randolph “Tex” Alles, acting deputy commissioner of CBP, a 60,000-strong agency that includes Border Patrol. “Hiring challenges are not new. Attracting and recruiting high quality individuals is a challenge for us.”

Border Patrol officials are especially nervous that a planned expansion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) – Trump has ordered it to add 10,000 agents – will precipitate a stampede to the sister organisation. “There’s a real concern that a lot of that will come from Border Patrol,” Huffman said.

Vitiello, his boss, was even bleaker: “[They] could get them all from CBP.”

Ice looks for undocumented people in the US, so its agents live in cities, not desert outposts, and the agency offers more overtime opportunities.

It has another recruitment advantage: no lie-detector test. About two-thirds of CBP applicants fail the polygraph, the Associated Press reported in January.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

 

The Great Barrier Reef, a problem for the planet

How did the Great Barrier Reef reach ‘terminal stage’?

Back-to-back severe bleaching events, caused by warming oceans, have affected two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, new aerial surveys have found. Climate change is not the only challenge – runoff-affected water quality, reef-killing crown of thorns starfish and the destruction of Cyclone Debbie also threaten the reef’s health. Scientists are warning that Australia has little time left to act on climate change and save the world’s largest living structure.

Inherently democratic in its size and closeness to the shore, the Great Barrier Reef is truly the people’s reef. Looking back on the first great struggle for the reef between the Australian people and the fossil fuel industry, Wright wrote thatif disasters in the shape of weather, accident and climate change lie ahead, the work done already has shown what can be done to shield it from such dangers and has proved that people will agree, in the event, to supplying the help it needs”.

Unhappily, those disasters are now upon us. Global warming brought the great bleaching of 2015-16 and the dreadful and unprecedented sequel over the summer that has just finished. Our reef is in dire trouble.

But while the people’s reef is grievously wounded, it is still very much alive. And life fights for life. Innumerable animals are now doing what creatures do, navigating the hazards of life as best they can to survive and reproduce in the warming waters. Given time and the right conditions, the people’s reef can recover and life will flourish again.

Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef hit by back-to-back mass coral bleaching.

The big lie propagated by Australian government and big business is that it is possible to turn things around for the reef without tackling global warming. As scientists have made clear, it isn’t – we have to stop climate pollution to give our reef a chance.

It is true that Australia can’t save the reef alone because climate change is a global problem. But that does not mean we are powerless to act and we should not be deterred. Because when you love something deeply – as we Australians cherish our people’s reef – then you do all that is within your power to save that thing which you hold so dear. And there is much that is within our power to do.

So what is to be done? The answer does not lie in false techno-fixes or the faux-democratic farrago of the government-business funded Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. Australia’s greatest contribution to global warming is through our coal, exported and burned in foreign power stations. So our most determined Australian efforts to save the reef must be directed to closing down the coalmining industry, while ensuring decent new jobs and fair transitions for all affected workers and communities.

Again, the balance of power seems loaded against us. First the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and now the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, have betrayed both the reef and the trust of the Australian people by snivelling across the seas, pledging allegiance to the Carmichael coalmine. All too often, the rest of big business is complicit in the crisis by explicitly or tacitly supporting the coal industry. Financial institutions such as CommBank continue to invest in the fossil fuel projects that are bringing disaster to the reef.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

The behind-the-scenes complicity of Ivanka Trump

Ivanka and daddy Donald.

Until Ivanka Trump’s interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning which aired this past Wednesday, it was unclear what Ms. Trump’s role in the White House actually involves, other than possession of a top-level security clearance, attendance at multiple high-level meetings and the occupation of a coveted West Wing office.

Now, at least we know that a large part of Ms. Trump’s position is, as she presents it, the White House’s “Oh, Dad!”-er In Chief.

“I speak up frequently. And my father agrees with me on so many issues. And where he doesn’t, he knows where I stand,” Ms. Trump assured Ms. King.

“Can you give us – ” Ms. King said.

“It’s not my administration,” Ms. Trump responded, all but adding an “I just work here.”

Specifics, it seems, are for little people.

Ms. King’s curiosity in this matter is understandable. Throughout the election and beyond, Ivanka Trump was bandied about as Team Trump’s token-but-highly-influential moderate, a lady moderate, no less. Ms. Trump was, we were to understand, the modern young woman who made it okay to vote for the guy who boasted of being able to “Grab ’em by the pussy.”

It was insinuated, often by Ivanka herself, that she would, in some behind-the-scenes old-fashioned daughterly way, keep her dad in line, at least as far as it came to issues such as women’s health care.

“Do not be alarmed by Mr. Trump’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood and his apparent openness to penalizing women who choose to have an abortion,” Americans were essentially told. “This man is not American Ceausescu. For he has a girl-child! A New York girl-child!” But, months in, it is difficult – in all the actions, failed actions and in the stated agenda of Donald Trump’s team – to find a shred of a policy that might conceivably have been influenced by the kind of character Ivanka Trump has been attempting to play.

What is increasingly clear about most of the Trump family members is that even though they are collectively attempting to run the United States now, they seem to share an expectation that the media will continue to write the same kind of puff-piece, brand-promoting, semi-fawning stories about them as they have mostly seen go to print – only now there should be more of them.

The assumption seems to have been that, having achieved office, an entire library of in-flight magazine prose should be devoted to the Trumps. Even remotely hardball questions are characterized by the family and their supporters as way out of bounds.

“I put it into trust. I have independent trustees,” Ms. Trump said waspishly when asked the should-have-seen-it-coming-like-a big-soft-beach-ball question about the current status of her business.

That would be the same business that issued an e-mail Style Alert drawing reporters’ attention to the sight of “Ivanka Trump wearing her favourite bangle from the Metropolis Collection on 60 Minutes,” brazenly hawking a $10,800 (U.S.) diamond bracelet.

“But the trustees are family members, right? Your brother-in-law and your sister-in-law?” said Ms. King, on behalf of sentient life everywhere.

“They are,” Ms. Trump said, “But they’re completely independent. And I’m transparent about that.”

Well, thanks, Ms. Trump, that didn’t even attempt the smell test.

Is Ivanka trying to tell us that she acknowledges that her family members are in fact members of her family? Are we meant to be impressed by this remarkable display of honesty? (Although, to be fair, I’m not sure I’d cop to Eric.)

“I’d like the perks of power, hold the accountability,” is the gist of all Trump family communications.

Read the other half of the complete article by Tabatha Southey on the Globe and Mail newspaper web site.

Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers are a sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserve and are the military’s eyes and ears in the north.

They provide patrols and detachments for national-security and public-safety missions in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada that can not conveniently or economically be covered by other parts of the CAF.

The Canadian Rangers protect Canada’s sovereignty by:

  • Reporting unusual activities or sightings;
  • Collecting local data of significance to the CAF; and
  • Conducting surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required.

Canadian Rangers by the numbers:

  • Approximately 5000 – current number of Canadian Rangers;
  • Over 200 – number of communities where Canadian Rangers live; and
  • 26 – dialects/languages spoken by Canadian Rangers, many of whom are Aboriginal.

The Rangers’ Tasks

The Canadian Rangers are the military’s eyes and ears in the sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada. Appropriately, their motto is Vigilans, meaning “The Watchers.”

As members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the Canadian Rangers:

  • Conduct and support sovereignty operations:
  • Conduct sovereignty and surveillance patrols and training
  • Conduct North Warning Site patrols
  • Report suspicious and unusual activities
  • Collect local data of military significance

Conduct and assist in CAF domestic operations:

  • Conduct coastal and inland water surveillance
  • Provide local knowledge and expertise
  • Participate in search and rescue operations
  • Provide support in response to natural or man-made disasters and humanitarian operations
  • Provide assistance to federal, provincial/territorial or municipal authorities

Maintain CAF presence in the local community:

  • Instruct and supervise youth in the Junior Canadian Rangers (JCR) Program, a program that has significantly improved the quality of life of young people in the most isolated areas of Canada
  • Support and participate in events in the local community (such as Yukon Quest, Canada Day, and Remembrance Day)

Canadian Rangers in the past have

  • Conducted routine search and rescue operations;
  • Provided assistance during the avalanche at Kangiqsualujjuaq in northern Québec;
  • Provided support during the drinking water crisis in Kashechewan, Ontario; and
  • The Rangers perform their tasks exceptionally well and are extremely valuable to the CAF.