But with snowfall decreasing and glaciers melting because of climate change , researchers are finding it harder to access their favorite research tools. They are having to adjust protocols, safety measures, and scientific models to combat the changing conditions. Data is harder to harvest, while at the same time being less consistent, making it even more difficult to study and understand the world as it changes.A decade ago, scientists taking measurements on glaciers needed only basic mountaineering skills, like skiing and using crampons. But as warming temperatures have made crevasses wider and snow bridges thinner, a lot more technical mountaineering education and experience is now needed. “It absolutely just makes getting around on the glacier not only more challenging, but in some aspects more hazardous,” McNeil says.
His team spends a lot more time on the glacier “roped up”—where each team member is tied to the others, so if one person falls through a thin patch of ice, the others can stop their fall. This makes moving on the glacier much slower. And when a snow bridge over a crevasse becomes so thin that it’s impassable, then finding another route to reach a data collection site can take even more time.
Such sites are located all over glaciers and are often marked with a mass balance stake. These metal stakes—usually tick marked with measurement lines—are inserted at known depths on the glacier. They’re then visited multiple times a year to measure how much ice has accumulated or been lost at these points. But as snow and ice melt, reaching some stakes can become impossible.