Glaciers discovered in 'cursed' mountains of Albania

Jan 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of geographers from the University of Manchester have discovered a group of glaciers in one of Europe's most inhospitable places.

Drs Philip Hughes, Jeff Blackford and PhD student Rose Wilkinson, from the University’s Quaternary Environments and Geoarchaeology Group, found four in the 'Cursed' mountains of Albania last year.

They were following up Dr Hughes' 2006 expedition, funded by the Royal Geographical Society, to a nearby spot in Montenegro researching features carved into the landscape by past glaciers.

But he got more than he bargained for when he stumbled upon the real thing - a glacier which was until that point completely undiscovered. In 2009, they found four more in Albania.

Some of the findings were published in the December 2009 edition of the journal "Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research", and a new research paper will appear in "Earth Surface Processes and Landforms" this year.

The glaciers are at the relatively low level of 2,000 metres - almost unique for such a southerly latitude. Most glaciers at this latitude are usually much higher, and many only survive on higher mountains further north, such as the Alps.

The Prokletije mountains - known as the 'cursed' mountains in Albanian - extend from northern Albania and Kosovo to eastern Montenegro in the Western Balkans.

The glaciers - the largest of which is currently the size of six football pitches - vary in size every year according to the amount of winter snowfall and temperatures during the following summer.

However, the geographers think at least eight glaciers were present in neighbouring mountains during the 19th century, correlating with the culmination of the 'Little Ice Age' in the European Alps.

Physical Geography lecturer at the University’s School of Environment and Development, Dr Philip Hughes said: "We were amazed that - as far as we know - no-one, apart from local shepherds, were aware of the existence of these glaciers and it was tremendously exciting to find them.

"The fact that the mountains were until only recently surrounded by war and lawlessness might explain why they have proved so elusive.

"Only ten years ago, this area was out of bounds and crossing the border from Montenegro into Albania was prohibited.

"Another probable reason why we weren't aware of their existence is that very few people live in these mountains and there's so much late-lying snow and shadow they are not even visible on Google ."

Though the region is experiencing weak signs of recovery, the region is still politically precarious.

But one day the researchers hope the glaciers will be enjoyed by visitors to the area - which is comparable to the Alps in terms of its attractiveness and size.

Dr Jeff Blackford said: "The reason why these glaciers can form at such a low attitude - and so far south - is that there are sufficient quantities of windblown snow and, in particular, avalanching snow.

"Though these remaining glaciers seem to be relatively robust in response to regional climate change, it's clear that there were more glaciers in the area a hundred or so years ago.”

He added: "While more glaciers existed a hundred years ago because of cooler temperatures, it is very difficult to predict the future fate of these remaining glaciers.

“This is because of the strong local controls on climate in the high mountains.

“But if it gets warmer then these glaciers will melt away."

The scientists hope to make it to the Prokletije mountains to continue their research later this year.

PhD student Rose Wilkinson said: "The trip provided me with an important opportunity to progress my research, which looks at how vegetation responds to changes in climate over the past 500 years.

"These glaciers - which have not been studied before - will hopefully create an interesting record of environmental change in this area."

Explore further: Strong quake hits east Indonesia; no tsunami threat

More information:
-- Twenty-first Century Glaciers and Climate in the Prokletije Mountains, Albania is published in the journal: "Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research" in December 2009: instaar.metapress.com/content/273213h3t4370272/

-- Little Ice Age glaciers in the Balkans: low altitude glaciation enabled by cooler temperatures and local topoclimatic controls in the journal "Earth Surface Processes and Landforms" to be published in 2010 and currently in press: www3.interscience.wiley.com/jo… l/123206091/abstract

Related Stories

Glaciers eroded mountains faster

Dec 11, 2005

U.S. researchers have have documented how fast glaciers eroded the topography of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Canada.

Global glacier melt continues

Jan 29, 2009

Glaciers around the globe continue to melt at high rates. Tentative figures for the year 2007, of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, indicate a further loss of average ice thickness ...

Shrinking glaciers threaten China

Nov 02, 2007

China's glaciers in western Xinjiang Uygur region are shrinking alarmingly due to global and regional warming, posing a threat to the oases in the area.

Glaciers feeding Ganges may melt down

Jul 01, 2005

Indian scientists say carbon dioxide and other emissions will cause the melt down of glaciers feeding the Ganges River before the century's end.

Western Canada's Glaciers Hit 7000-Year Low

Oct 30, 2007

Tree stumps at the feet of Western Canadian glaciers are providing new insights into the accelerated rates at which the rivers of ice have been shrinking due to human-aided global warming.

Recommended for you

Strong quake hits east Indonesia; no tsunami threat

12 hours ago

A strong earthquake struck off the coast of eastern Indonesia on Sunday evening, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, and authorities said there was no threat of a tsunami.

Scientists make strides in tsunami warning since 2004

Dec 19, 2014

The 2004 tsunami led to greater global cooperation and improved techniques for detecting waves that could reach faraway shores, even though scientists still cannot predict when an earthquake will strike.

Trade winds ventilate the tropical oceans

Dec 19, 2014

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
5 / 5 (2) Jan 27, 2010
"The glaciers - the largest of which is currently the size of six football pitches - vary in size every year according to the amount of winter snowfall and temperatures during the following summer."

Based on everything else written here these must be the only glaciers in the world that vary in size based on the amount of precipitation.
yyz
5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2010
I wish they would have provided coordinates so I could "discover" them in Google Earth.
dachpyarvile
1 / 5 (1) Jan 31, 2010
The central point of the mountains where these glaciers are located is: 42°41'08"N 20°14'10"E

If I have not mistyped something the above coordinates should take you near enough to where you want to look. I have not looked at Google Earth and there may not be enough resolution in the present images to display the glaciers, however. YMMV.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.