Border security will always be elusive — @HighCountryNews

The border between Nogales, Arizona, and Mexico around 1898.
“Nogales, Santa Cruz Co. Showing boundary line between Arizona and Mexico.” General view of center of town from hillside, looking west along International Street, ca. 1898~99
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

From The High Country News (Adam M. Sowards):

Reckoning with History is an ongoing series that seeks to understand the legacies of the past and to put the West’s present moment in perspective.

With their armed guards and imposing structures, American border crossings symbolize permanent frontiers. Boundaries are definitional places, lines that demarcate this side as different from that side. From a longer view, though, they look surprisingly transitory, governed by shifting policies and constantly modified and breached. Today’s incessant nationalist rhetoric concerning the border wall imagines a permanently secured boundary, but actual historical borders and policies have proven impermanent over time, a fact that should dampen expectations.

U.S. borders shifted regularly from American independence in 1783 through the first half of the 19th century, as the young, grasping nation bought, conquered and manipulated its way across much of the continent. The imperialist, racist ideology of Manifest Destiny fueled this constant border redrawing, a reminder that boundaries are neither natural nor permanent. The 1854 Gadsden Purchase added southern Arizona and a sliver of New Mexico and established the continental borders of the United States. They have remained the same ever since, though a waterway between Washington state and Vancouver Island remained in dispute until resolved in favor of the United States in 1872. Although the United States gained overseas acquisitions in the 1898 Spanish-American War, few Americans sought to extend continental territory during the last quarter of the 19th century. Once the boundaries seemed stable, Congress moved to restrict immigration, a process that changed the very nature and meaning of those borders.

The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act symbolized this shift. The law was the first to restrict immigration based on racial, or national, categories, in line with resurgent segregation in the American South and reservation policies in the West. The exclusion act all but stopped emigration from China. It also made deportation a policy enforcement option and led to racialized policing, a practice that hung over all Chinese communities here and created a “shadow of exclusion” or a “shadowed existence” for Chinese in the United States, according to historian Erika Lee.

By enacting this law, the U.S. government created illegal immigration and the resulting market for doctored papers and guides for illicit movement. Most illegal border crossings happened in the Northwest, sometimes through the same waters that caused the dispute between Washington and British Columbia, as members of Canada’s substantial Chinese immigrant population crossed over. By 1890, government agents estimated that 2,500 laborers a year were illegally moving from Canada into the United States. But surreptitious migration quickly grew along the southern border as well, as historian Patrick Ettinger has shown, as migrants adapted to changing conditions. Chinese laborers in Mexico learned how to cross with false papers or sneak over the border and quietly blend in. The few U.S. officials managing the southern border called for more money, more people and more technology, initiating a strategy and mantra that continues more than a century later. The federal government bulked up its border personnel and turned back many people, but by the 1920s, officials recognized their basic failure to stop illegal migrations.

During the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, American and Mexican soldiers guard International Street in Nogales. The border marker still stands today.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. did not build its first border fence to keep the fugitive crossers out, though; it built it to stop tick-infected cattle. Ticks had infested the Western cattle industry for decades. Northern states aimed to confine the problem to the Southwest by halting infected cattle, but the insects persisted, spreading Texas fever among cattle who had not developed immunity from exposure as calves. In 1906, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a massive eradication campaign and began quarantining cattle from Mexico. In 1911, the first fence funded by the federal government went up to stop “Mexican” cattle from infecting “American” cattle. As the historian Mary E. Mendoza, who unearthed this episode, has pointed out, it took no great leap for discourse to shift from pestilential animals to pestilential people, feeding on the common rhetoric that associated foreigners with dirtiness and disease. The fences grew and changed in their purpose. “Fences previously used for cattle became tools used to control and herd humans,” explained Mendoza. By the mid-20th century, American officials saw the border as a biological barrier, a place to stop both diseased animals and people perceived as a threat. Racism and indifference fed this formula. As a result, migrants shifted to more dangerous routes, resulting in greater risks and higher death totals. The ramifications are ongoing: Over time, fences designed to prevent cattle from dying became barriers that increased human mortality.

The first border fences built in 1911 were constructed to curb tick infestations of cattle. Pictured, cattle in Pie Town, New Mexico.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act further transformed the legal regime for the border. Although it widened opportunities for immigration from much of the world, the law, for the first time, established quotas from within the Western Hemisphere. As a result, Congress produced a system that guaranteed more immigrants flowing outside legal channels. Immigration policy in the 20th century followed narrow nationalist frameworks and generally failed to reckon with larger contexts, according to historian Mae Ngai’s brilliant book Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004). “That nationalism,” she wrote, “resists humanitarianism and remains blind to the causal connections between the United States’ global projections and the conditions abroad that impel emigration.” Ngai points out how deeply entwined the past and present of the United States are with the rest of the world, especially with Latin America, where the U.S. has protected its own material interests for two centuries

Occasionally, American officials have recognized the folly of border control. In 1927, an exasperated secretary of Labor, James Davis, declared, “Not even a Chinese wall, 9,000 miles in length and built over rivers and deserts and mountains and along the seashores, would seem to permit a permanent solution.” His remarks stand as a prescient assessment of the futility of “securing” the border by physical obstacles. Trying to stop movement there is much like clenching a handful of sand: The harder you squeeze, the more sand escapes. National lines of exclusion and control — represented today by steel walls — seem destined to fail in a world where capital, labor, ideas and cultural influence ping across boundaries as easily as opening an app on a smartphone. Entrenching those national(ist) walls can only lead to more dangerous and inhumane results.

Adam M. Sowards is an environmental historian, professor and writer. He lives in Pullman, Washington.

The latest briefing is hot off the presses from the Western Water Assessment #snowpack

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 15, 2019 via the NRCS.

Click here to read the briefing (scroll down):

Latest Briefing – January 14, 2019 (UT, WY, CO)

  • With below-normal or near-normal snowpack conditions and very low antecedent soil moisture, NOAA’s January 1 forecasts call for much-below-average (50-70%) or below-average (70-90%) spring-summer runoff across nearly all of the region’s basins. Unless there is significant improvement in snowpack conditions, most of the basins in Colorado and Utah that saw very low runoff in 2018 will face another year of hydrological drought.
  • After a mostly dry December, and a somewhat better start to January, snowpack conditions are overall slightly below normal for the region and for each state. As of January 14, most basins in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming are reporting between 85-105% of normal SWE Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Southwestern Colorado is still the driest area with 75-80% of normal SWE, though this is improved from mid-December. The SNOTEL basin average for the Upper Colorado River Basin is at 90% of normal.
  • NOAA CBRFC’s official January 1 seasonal runoff forecasts, along with those of the neighboring RFCs, call for much-below-average (50-70%) or below-average (70-89%) spring-summer runoff for the vast majority of forecast points in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Near-average (90-110%) runoff is forecasted for several points in north-central Colorado, and in the Arkansas Basin. The CBRFC January 1 forecast for Lake Powell April-July inflows is for 64% of average (4.55 MAF). The outlook for forecasted flow across the region is worse than the snowpack conditions alone would indicate, which mainly reflects the very low antecedent soil moisture in fall 2018 in most basins. (NRCS did not produce January 1 runoff forecasts due to staffing constraints.)
  • December was generally drier than normal across the region, aside from well-above-average precipitation in parts of central Utah, southwestern Colorado, and northeastern Wyoming Western US Seasonal Precipitation, with near-normal temperatures prevailing over the region Western US Seasonal Precipitation. In the first two weeks of January, a series of storms have left wetter-than-normal conditions over southern and central Colorado, southeastern Utah, and central and northeastern Wyoming, with dry conditions elsewhere.
  • Since early December, drought conditions have seen little change across the region WY Drought Monitor. The area of exceptional drought (D4) in the Four Corners region saw a smidgen of improvement. Abnormally dry (D0) conditions expanded slightly in northeastern Colorado after the very dry December there.
  • El Niño-ish? ENSO indicators have almost reached the multi-month thresholds for declaration of El Niño conditions, though the warm anomalies in the tropical Pacific have weakened in the last month ENSO Nino Regions Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies. If an El Niño event does officially and finally emerge, as is still likely, it will be weak and unlikely to persist past the spring. The CPC seasonal precipitation outlooks for the January-March 3-mo precip forecast, 1.5-mo lead and February-April 3-mo precip forecast, 1.5-mo lead periods still show slightly enhanced chances for above-normal precipitation for Colorado and adjoining states, consistent with historical tendencies during El Niño events.
  • Registration is open for the 2019 Governor’s Ag Forum

    Photo credit: Allen Best

    Click here for all the inside skinny:

    Registration Includes:

  • Pre-Forum Reception at Governor’s Mansion
  • Continental Breakfast
  • Breaks (light snacks and beverages)
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  • Forum Directory
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  • Questions? Contact us:

    “If you look at the projections for the [#ColoradoRiver’s] flow, modified by, exacerbated by #climatechange, it’s perfectly clear that #DCP is just an interim solution” — Bruce Babbit #COriver #aridification

    Verde River near Clarkdale along Sycamore Canyon Road. Photo credit: Wikimedia

    From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

    After Gov. Doug Ducey urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.

    “If you look at the projections for the river’s flow, modified by, exacerbated by climate change, it’s perfectly clear that DCP is just an interim solution,” Babbitt, who is also a former U.S. Interior secretary, told reporters Monday after Ducey finished his State of the State speech.

    Nearly 40 years ago, then-Gov. Babbitt helped push through the pioneering Arizona Groundwater Management Act by muscling a bipartisan group of legislators to approve it after years of inaction. That law set a 2025 deadline for Arizona’s largest cities to balance the pumping of groundwater with the recharge of rainfall and runoff into the aquifer.

    Monday, he and former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl sat in the front row of the State House chambers as Ducey exhorted legislators to pass the drought plan in time to meet a Jan. 31 federal deadline. U.S. Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman has warned she’ll move to take over management of the Colorado River if Arizona and other states don’t approve drought plans by that date.

    Babbitt said he was there at Ducey’s invitation. The Republican governor told legislators that Democrat Babbitt and Republican Kyl were examples of how you can succeed with water issues by “working with others, setting aside differences and putting our state and the greater good first.”

    Babbitt said he saw clear parallels between the passage of the 1980 groundwater law and the current struggle to pass the drought plan. That year, the Legislature enacted the law only after then-Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus threatened to halt work on the Central Arizona Project if it didn’t — a threat Babbitt has since admitted having secretly orchestrated with Andrus.

    “The parallel is that you reach a point at which you’re out of time and something must happen” Babbitt said. “That has an awakening effect on people.”

    Now, however, the seven river basin states face “a very difficult pathway” — a continued future of declining river supplies and increasing demand fueled by continued population growth, Babbitt said…

    The lengthy debate over the drought plan is a proxy for the much bigger questions about the dynamics between the river’s upper and lower basins, Babbitt said.

    “We’re taking more than our share” in the Lower Basin, while the Upper Basin hasn’t started taking all the water it’s entitled to use, he said.

    But he declined to discuss if the state can continue growing in population and economically in the face of decreasing flows on the Colorado. It supplies 40 percent of Arizona’s total water supply.

    “That’s a subject for another lengthy discussion,” after this drought plan is approved, Babbitt said…

    Babbitt said he’s increasingly confident that the drought plan will pass the Legislature, given that it’s become “front and center” in both the governor and legislators’ public statements.

    From The Voice of San Diego (Ry Rivard):

    The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the world’s largest banks.

    The river is not only the source of much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego, Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting system used by major farmers and entire states.

    Now, when talking about the river, water officials across the West use terms like bank, payback and surplus. Often the analogies to finance don’t stop there – they put money behind deals that dictate who gets water and who does not.

    This month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.

    The district – which delivers water across Southern California, including to San Diego – started rapidly withdrawing water from the river, which is stored behind Hoover Dam in Lake Mead.

    Metropolitan officials are worried that the federal government is about to step in to ration the river, which 40 million people depend on as it flows some 1,300 miles from its headwaters in Wyoming and Colorado to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico…

    Metropolitan’s immediate concern is that it will lose the ability to withdraw 600,000 acre feet of banked water from Lake Mead – enough water for roughly 7 million people. The district can only get half of that out this year, meaning it is in danger of losing lots of water…

    At last count, Lake Mead stood just six feet away from falling into shortage, the first step toward rationing water. There was already about a 50-50 chance the river would fall that far this year. The chances are even higher now, because Metropolitan’s plan to withdraw as much water as it can may cause the lake to drop four or five feet – though the lake will rise again as snow melts this spring.

    Once there’s a shortage, Arizona is supposed to be in trouble. At least on paper, California’s rights to the river’s water are so secure that Arizona’s water supply would have to run dry before California loses a single drop.

    That’s politically impossible since 7 million people live in Arizona and need water. So for several years, Metropolitan and a clutch of power-players across seven states have been trying to reach a different, more realistic deal. Their efforts have repeatedly stalled, mostly because of squabbling within Arizona, which is ironic because the state stands to lose so much unless something changes.

    The Arizona Chamber Foundation, a nonprofit business group, said without a deal the state’s access to water “could be caught up in the courts for decades or managed from Washington, D.C. Such uncertainty could be a drag on Arizona’s historic economic resurgence.”

    The deal would allow Metropolitan to withdraw banked water even during an official shortage. But now Metropolitan is preparing for the worst-case scenario, which is a combination of uncertainty and a banking freeze. Still, district officials hopes Arizona signs a deal in coming weeks.

    “We’re not at the point of no return,” said ​Bill Hasencamp, the district’s manager of Colorado River resources.

    Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said in a statement that he knew Metropolitan would begin trying to get its water out as quickly as possible…

    Last year, the agency that runs Arizona’s water system, the Central Arizona Project, got busted using water accounting quirks to get more water from the upper basin than it needed. Officials in the upper basin accused Arizona of threatening the water supply for 40 million people.

    For decades, water officials across the region have alternated between working together to share the river and fighting like hell to horde it.

    Following a long-running Supreme Court battle between California and Arizona, the Bureau of Reclamation in the mid-1960s created a modern accounting system to track who was using how much of the river from year to year.

    For the past two decades, the river has been in drought. Partly to cope with that, states and water agencies began to use that tracking system to create increasingly complex transactions. The original laws governing the river don’t anticipate users would save water one year and claim the right to use that water in future years, the practice known as banking. The old laws also don’t anticipate or even allow the sale of water across state lines.

    That has fallen by the wayside as a series of sophisticated transactions have proliferated, where states bank and transfer water.

    The Southern Nevada Water Authority, for instance, has sent enough water for several million of its residents to Arizona, where it is stored underground.

    When Nevada wants its water back, it won’t actually pump that water up from the ground. Arizona will curb its use of the Colorado River and let Nevada take water otherwise earmarked for Arizona.

    Likewise, if the new river-sharing deal happens, Nevada has promised to lend water to Metropolitan that, in turn, will help Arizona avoid devastating cuts.

    “It’s creative ways to live within the existing law of the river,” Hasencamp said.

    Indian tribes saw it another way. They complained early on that transactions would rely on water that actually belongs to tribes. On paper the tribe have rights to lots of water, even though they currently lack a real way to get most of that water from the river to their land. So other states are essentially banking on tribes not getting that water anytime soon.

    “It is logical to expect that the current water users will have even more incentive to resist the development of Colorado River water by the Navajo Nation in order to minimize their risk of shortage,” the tribe wrote in a 2007 letter to federal officials.

    A federal appeals court disagreed with the tribes’ arguments on legal grounds, though didn’t quite deny they had a point…

    There are two ways to get people to use less water. The first is to forbid them from using it, the regulatory approach. The second is to pay them not to, the market approach.

    Because regulations often end up in court, some water officials think throwing money at the problem is easier. Most Colorado River water is still used for farming. So when push comes to shove in a drought, cities will end up paying farmers to use less water.

    Over the past several years, cities from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Denver pooled their money to pay farmers to use less water.

    These payouts happened up and down both basins: In 2017, cities paid $635,000 to a New Mexican farmer who stopped growing corn, potatoes, alfalfa and beans along the San Juan River, one of the Colorado’s far-flung tributaries. They paid several farmers along the Price River in Utah about $370,000 to idle their fields or change how they water them. Several farmers along Fontenelle Creek in Wyoming changed how they watered their pastures and got a few hundred thousand dollars in return.

    These projects didn’t amount to much, a few million dollars to save about 11,000 acre feet of water…

    The biggest transaction of all is between the San Diego County Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District. The irrigation district, which provides water to farmers in Imperial County, holds rights to as much Colorado River water as the states of Arizona and Nevada combined.

    In exchange for billions of dollars, the Water Authority can use some of Imperial’s high-priority water rights for decades to come.

    For now, that deal insulates San Diego from some of the drama on the Colorado, but Water Authority officials have actually wanted to get in the mix.

    For several months, the Water Authority has said it would like to leave some of the water it buys from Imperial in the river. In doing so, San Diego water officials would forgo using water they spent a quarter century trying to get and fighting over in court.

    Dan Denham, the Water Authority’s assistant general manager, said San Diego could leave enough of that water in Lake Mead to raise its elevation by three feet…

    When the California drought left those northern rivers empty, Metropolitan began drawing as much water as it could from the Colorado. But when the drought ended here but continued on the Colorado River, Metropolitan began using as much Northern California water as it could and leaving water in Lake Mead. That’s some of the banked water it could now lose.

    Recently, Metropolitan projected how much it would cost to replace some of its Colorado River supplies in coming years. Depending on the scenario, that could cost between $80 million and $954 million, though those numbers are pretty rough and would be divided up among 19 million people who get water from the district.

    Denver: Heron Pond redevelopment poses environmental challenges

    Proposed Heron Pond Park via the City of Denver.

    Click here to read the master plan.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The 2-foot-deep pond holds toxic sludge laced with lead, arsenic and cadmium. Contaminated stormwater runoff from surrounding work yards worsens the brew…

    Denver’s willingness to embrace such a site for future parkland reflects the increasingly difficult challenge of establishing enough public green space to keep pace with population growth and development. Denver has fallen behind other U.S. cities in urban parks and open space. This is causing discomfort, hurting public health, exacerbating heat waves and risking costly problems with stormwater runoff.

    City officials interviewed by The Denver Post said they see establishing new green space as essential but, perhaps, impossible given the rising price of land. Yet voters recently ordered a sales-tax hike that will raise $45 million a year for parks and open space. This has compelled planners to pore over thousands of acres that could be preserved as green space.

    The problem, city officials said, is competing with private developers for land. Developers since 1998 have installed buildings, paved over natural terrain and otherwise overhauled vast tracts of the city — profiting from shopping plazas and upmarket apartments that eventually sell as condominiums. They’ve built higher, lot-line-to-lot-line in some areas, leaving less space to even plant trees.

    Turning to marginal industrial land, city officials said, may be Denver’s best hope for stabilizing a decline in green space per capita.

    Chief parks planner Mark Tabor said that, after establishing the new green space around Heron Pond, Denver officials could try to purchase the land around the Arapaho power plant south of downtown and in the rail yards northwest of downtown for preservation as large green space where natural ecosystems could be restored.

    This approach hinges on cleanup.

    It can be done, not just by excavating and hauling away contaminated soil but by using modern cleanup methods that remove acidity and toxic metals, said Fonda Apostopoulos, a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment engineer who managed decontamination of the Asarco smelters and 862 residential properties near Heron Pond.

    “The low-lying fruit of clean property in Denver is few and far between. ‘Brownfields’ are pretty much the only property people are developing,” Apostopoulos said.

    “It is all about exposure pathways” — the ways contamination can reach people, he said.

    Around Heron Pond, cleanup included excavation and replacement of soil around homes. Nine new monitoring wells will be installed between the smelter site and the South Platte River to make sure toxic metals no longer contaminate groundwater, Apostopoulos said, pronouncing the area safe for at least passive recreational activity.

    While cleaning up industrial wasteland costs hundreds of millions of dollars, “there are a lot of private-public partnerships that could do that,” he said. “Denver could get extra federal funding. They could get cleanup grants.”

    Proposed Heron Pond boundary via the City of Denver.

    Ice loss from Antarctica has sextupled since the 1970s, new research finds — The Washington Post #ActOnClimate

    From The Washington Post (Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis):

    An alarming study shows massive East Antarctic ice sheet already is a significant contributor to sea-level rise

    The Antarctic lost 40 billion tons of melting ice to the ocean each year from 1979 to 1989. That figure rose to 252 billion tons lost per year beginning in 2009, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That means the region is losing six times as much ice as it was four decades ago, an unprecedented pace in the era of modern measurements. (It takes about 360 billion tons of ice to produce one millimeter of global sea-level rise.)

    “I don’t want to be alarmist,” said Eric Rignot, an Earth-systems scientist for the University of California at Irvine and NASA who led the work. But he said the weaknesses that researchers have detected in East Antarctica — home to the largest ice sheet on the planet — deserve deeper study.

    “The places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places,” Rignot said. “They seem to be more extensive than what we thought. That, to me, seems to be reason for concern.”

    The findings are the latest sign that the world could face catastrophic consequences if climate change continues unabated. In addition to more-frequent droughts, heat waves, severe storms and other extreme weather that could come with a continually warming Earth, scientists already have predicted that seas could rise nearly three feet globally by 2100 if the world does not sharply decrease its carbon output. But in recent years, there has been growing concern that the Antarctic could push that even higher.

    That kind of sea-level rise would result in the inundation of island communities around the globe, devastating wildlife habitats and threatening drinking-water supplies. Global sea levels have already risen seven to eight inches since 1900.

    The ice of Antarctica contains 57.2 meters, or 187.66 feet, of potential sea-level rise. This massive body of ice flows out into the ocean through a complex array of partially submerged glaciers and thick floating expanses of ice called ice shelves. The glaciers themselves, as well as the ice shelves, can be as large as American states or entire countries.

    The outward ice flow is normal and natural, and it is typically offset by some 2 trillion tons of snowfall atop Antarctica each year, a process that on its own would leave Earth’s sea level relatively unchanged. However, if the ice flow speeds up, the ice sheet’s losses can outpace snowfall volume. When that happens, seas rise.

    That’s what the new research says is happening. Scientists came to that conclusion after systematically computing gains and losses across 65 sectors of Antarctica where large glaciers — or glaciers flowing into an ice shelf — reach the sea.

    West Antarctica is the continent’s major ice loser. Monday’s research affirms that finding, detailing how a single glacier, Pine Island, has lost more than a trillion tons of ice since 1979. Thwaites Glacier, the biggest and potentially most vulnerable in the region, has lost 634 billion. The entire West Antarctic ice sheet is capable of driving a sea-level rise of 5.28 meters, or 17.32 feet, and is now losing 159 billion tons every year.

    The most striking finding in Monday’s study is the assertion that East Antarctica, which contains by far the continent’s most ice — a vast sheet capable of nearly 170 feet of potential sea-level rise — is also experiencing serious melting.

    The new research highlights how some massive glaciers, ones that to this point have been studied relatively little, are losing significant amounts of ice. That includes Cook and Ninnis, which are the gateway to the massive Wilkes Subglacial Basin, and other glaciers known as Dibble, Frost, Holmes and Denman…

    “It has been known for some time that the West Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula have been losing mass, but discovering that significant mass loss is also occurring in the East Antarctic is really important because there’s such a large volume of sea-level equivalent contained in those basins,” said Christine Dow, a glacier expert at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “It shows that we can’t ignore the East Antarctic and need to focus in on the areas that are losing mass most quickly, particularly those with reverse bed slopes that could result in rapid ice disintegration and sea-level rise.”