The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00310: Disgorging Glaciers

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts: melting glaciers, global warming, organic contents, archeology

Attention Conservation Notice: It's about dead, rotting stuff falling out of ancient ice.


Are you Italian? I'll be in Torino on May 4.

The planet's warmer than it's been in a thousand years.

It's been a decade since they dug "Otzi the Iceman" out of a melting glacier in the Alps. Otzi news sources.

There's a more recent Canadian Iceman named "Kwaday Dan Sinchi," found, unfortunately, without his head.

The "Siberian Ice Maiden" wasn't released by global warming; they dug her up out of the permafrost. But boy, what a cool kit she had. Tattoos, headdresses, the works. tml

Science magazine, 19 April 2002 Vol 296, pages 444-446

"Melting Glaciers Release Ancient Relics" by Kevin Krajick

"As alpine glaciers around the world succumb to warming,
scientists are reaping grand harvest of frozen organic
objects – and with them previously unavailable
information on past wildlife, human culture, genetics,
climate, and more.

"Tissues with intact DNA and archaeological objects of wood and bone provide pictures that stone tools only hint at, and because they can all be radiocarbon dated, there
is little guessing about chronology. Up to now, such
well-preserved objects from the last 10,000 years – after
the retreat of the last great ice sheets – had been
vanishingly rare in most parts of the world. (((I suppose
there's some faint hope to be found in the sure knowledge
that, a mere 11,000 years ago, places like New York City
were under miles of solid ice.)))

"Because the frozen objects are so valuable – and
decay so fast once exposed – a growing cadre of
scientists is trying to predict and comb fertile spots.
'The potential for discovery in many fields is
tremendous,' says Yukon Territory wildlife biologist Rick

Farnell, who is based in Whitehorse and heads and interdisciplinary team that now regularly harvests Yukon ice. 'It's one of the few positive things to climate change.'"

Links: Rick Farnell specializes in molten caribou dung. t.html Scientist Beth Shapiro makes the scene at melting ice in the Yukon.

"Vanishing Ice

"Glaciers have been thinning and retreating since the mid-19th century – Switzerlands's have declined a third in volume since 1860 – but now the pace is accelerating and with it the urgency to collect stranded perishables. Many regions have not been so warm for 8000 years of more, so some frozen objects may be at least that old.

"In March, the University of Colorado published a report by glaciologist Mark Dyurgerov estimating that mountain glaciers worldwide are losing 90 cubic kilometers of ice a year, with those in Alaska, the Andes, and central Asia dwindling particularly fast." (((Horrifying – yet not too surprising when you consider that chunk of
Antarctica that just melted. It was the size of a small
European country.)))

"Glaciologist Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University, Columbus, says that the Qori Kalis glacier in the Peruvian Andes, which has retreated by 4.7 meters a year since the 1960s, has suddenly started wasting that much in a week and that the famous snows of Mount Kilimanjaro may be completely gone by 2015." (((Can't say they didn't warn us about it; can say that oil companies made sure the US government wouldn't do anything useful. What will "glaciologists" call themselves when there aren't any glaciers left? "Starving climatic refugees," that might be a good guess.)))

(...) "Dozens of bird species migrate over the ice fields and surprisingly often crash by the flockful, later to turn up in snowbanks like raisins in a fruitcake. Even whole forests are sometimes encased by advancing ice, as shown by large intact ancient trees washing out of glaciers in Alaska and Switzerland. (...) Humans have

also crossed glaciers far more often than previously
thought. (...) Some natives and later travelers –
including countless 19th century gold prospectors –
starved, froze or plunged down the emerald-shaded depths
of crevasses. 'Some of these people have a long way to
go, but we'll see them again,' says Gerry Holdsworth, a

glaciologist at the University of Calgary, Alberta.

(...) "So far, the artifacts are stunning. There are wooden weapons shafts of birch, spruce and willow up to 2 meters long, some with antler projectile points attached. One point still has caribou blood on it. There is a finely-serrated ivory blade of unknown purpose. (....) The group has even found two bows of maple, apparently carried over the glaciers 80 kilometers from Alaska, where maples grow.

"The Canadian Iceman himself, found just south of the Yukon, wore a squirrel-fur cloak and a finely woven hat much like those seen in the region today and carried a bone-and-metal knife, a spear, and a snack of dried fish

in a leather bag. About 20 when he died, he was dated to
'only' about 550 years ago – disappointing scientists but
delighting northwestern Native Americans, because he could
be someone's great-ancestor. (...) The Native Americans
dubbed the frozen mummy Kwaday Dan Ts'inchi – Long Ago
Person Found – and started their own DNA analysis project

to see to whom he might be related. (...) After making sure that scientists had enough samples, in July 2001 Indians held a potlatch, cremated him, and had his ashes airlifted by helicopter close to where he died.

(...) "To get ahead of the curve, scientists are now trying to pinpoint good prospecting spots. 'We know things melt out, but the real problem is predicting exactly where they'll appear,' says archaeologist James Dixon of the University of Colorado Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).

"Dixon and glaciologist William Manley, also of INSTAAR, heave spent the last 3 years assembling a Global Information System model to map potentially fruitful areas in Alaska, which hey hope to apply to other areas of the world. Their charts overlay glaciological data, such as the altitude below which particular glaciers are melting, with information such as trade routes, ancient stone quarries, mineral licks, and other places where people and animals may have been." (...)