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Watch 25 Years of Glacier Movement in 1 Second GIF

“Anybody can create these.”
November 29, 2015, 2:00pm
Image: F. Paul, The Cryosphere, 2015 & USGS/NASA.

With the 21st annual global climate change conference set to begin on Monday, all eyes are trained on Paris, where thousands of world leaders representing 190 nations will converge to discuss how to save our planet from total climate-induced disaster. If these leaders and climate scientists are covering all their bases, this will involve a chat about glaciers, which the European Space Agency's Climate Change Initiative has labeled as an "essential climate variable."


To help promote a more fruitful discussion, University of Zurich glaciologist Frank Paul has put together a few timelapses of glaciers in the Karakoram, a mountain range in Asia that is home to some of the world's tallest peaks, including K2. The timelapses were put together using satellite images from 1990 to the present, and the results were published in The Cryosphere on Thursday.

"From a scientific point of view, the key motivation for this research was to understand the highly variable behavior of the glaciers in the Karakoram," said Paul in a statement. "We have known about this for over 50 years, but still have a very limited scientific understanding of what is going on there. The animations are a very practical way to get a better overview and follow the changes through time."

Using freely available software and satellite images that are available to the public via the US Geological Survey, Paul combined 7-15 images to create a 1 second time lapse that shows glacier flow over the last quarter of a century, speeding up their actual rate of movement by about 800 million times. Such research is important because it does an excellent job of showing glacial change over time, something which would be difficult to determine simply by comparing images side by side due to the timescales involved.

Glaciers are depicted in colors ranging from light blue to cyan, clouds are white, water is dark blue, vegetation is green, and bare terrain ranges from pink to brown.

Each animation shows interesting aspects of glacial movement. The Baltoro timelapse, for instance, shows how fast the glacier is flowing without changing its front, whereas the Panmah image shows several glaciers surging into one another.

"Most importantly, anybody can create these animations," said Paul. "Everything required to do it – both images and software – is freely available, so I recommend trying this at home."