Communities

Flood Early Warning Systems Leave Women Vulnerable

Posted by on Feb 9, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Flood Early Warning Systems Leave Women Vulnerable

Spread the News:ShareGlacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) pose an immediate threat to locations in mountain regions where rising temperatures contribute to glacier melt. This risk makes it crucial that communities at risk to GLOFs develop early warning systems (EWS) to alert residents of impending danger. In order for EWS to be effective, gender needs to be prioritized. In a recent paper published by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Mandira Shrestha et al. evaluated flood early warning systems in Bhutan and found that many EWS exclude women, who are especially susceptible to natural disasters like GLOFs. GLOFs, which are difficult to predict and devastating to local populations, occur when meltwater is suddenly released from a lake just below a glacier. When this occurs, large amounts of water rush down valleys, picking up debris. They can lead to many deaths and to extensive destruction of fields and property.   In total, Bhutan has 24 lakes which are capable of causing GLOFs.  As temperatures rise, glacier melt increases, leading to exposed moraines and larger volumes of water. However, an EWS can help save lives during a GLOF, especially if it is combined with preparatory actions before a flood occurs. In Bhutan, the EWS was first introduced in 1988 as part of the Hindu Kush Himalayan – Hydrological Cycle Observing System (HKH-HYCOS), a project developed by ICIMOD, national governments in the region, and the World Meteorological Organization. However, Shrestha et al. found that none of the current policies in Bhutan’s EWS address specific needs and experiences of women during natural disasters. In planning documents, women are described as victims, rather than presented as playing an important role in disaster risk management. The Bhutan EWS contains four major elements, also found in other warning systems: risk assessment, monitoring and warning, dissemination and communication, and response capability. The Bhutanese government first prioritized flood early warning systems in 1994, following a detrimental GLOF, which killed 12 people, destroyed 21 homes, and washed away nearly 2,000 acres of land. Shrestha et al. point out that even a good warning system would not be fully effective in preventing such a tragedy if it fails to reach vulnerable populations like women, as well as other such populations including children, disabled people, and the elderly. As Shrestha et al. explain, while women in Bhutan make up 49% of the population and legally have equal rights and access to education, public services, and health care, most women engage in household labor, while men dominate political work. The authors indicate that only 25 percent of women in Bhutan are involved in non-agricultural work. Extensive male out-migration in Bhutan, as elsewhere in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, leaves women to carry out the work in domestic agriculture. As a result, Bhutanese women are excluded from decision-making processes at community or larger scales. This pattern is reflected in other nearby countries as well.  One study done on disaster-affected people seeking mental health care in Bangladesh, which has the highest natural disaster mortality rate in the world, found that women have higher mortality rates in natural disasters, and are also extremely vulnerable in the aftermath of a natural disaster. For example, they are more likely to face food shortage, sexual harassment, and disease, among other issues. Shrestha et al. describe how the social structure in Bhutan leaves women dependent on men for receiving disaster information, because these details are shared in public places, where women typically do not go. Many of the alerts are done through sirens, but some women cannot hear them as they are located in towns rather than rural areas. Even if women do receive the information, it is...

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Roundup: Carbon Sinks, Serpentine Syndrome and Migration Dynamics

Posted by on Jan 30, 2017 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Roundup, Science | 0 comments

Roundup: Carbon Sinks, Serpentine Syndrome and Migration Dynamics

Spread the News:ShareRoundup: Carbon, Serpentine, and Migration   Dwindling Glaciers Lead to Potential Carbon Sinks From PLOS ONE: “Current glacier retreat makes vast mountain ranges available for vegetation establishment and growth. As a result, carbon (C) is accumulated in the soil, in a negative feedback to climate change. Little is known about the effective C budget of these new ecosystems and how the presence of different vegetation communities influences CO2 fluxes. On the Matsch glacier forefield (Alps, Italy) we measured over two growing seasons the Net Ecosystem Exchange (NEE) of a typical grassland, dominated by the C3 Festuca halleri All., and a community dominated by the CAM rosettes Sempervivum montanum L… The two communities showed contrasting GEE but similar Reco patterns, and as a result they were significantly different in NEE during the period measured. The grassland acted as a C sink, with a total cumulated value of -46.4±35.5 g C m-2 NEE, while the plots dominated by the CAM rosettes acted as a source, with 31.9±22.4 g C m-2. In spite of the different NEE, soil analysis did not reveal significant differences in carbon accumulation of the two plant communities, suggesting that processes often neglected, like lateral flows and winter respiration, can have a similar relevance as NEE in the determination of the Net Ecosystem Carbon Balance.” Learn more about the colonization of a deglaciated moraine here.   Vegetation and the Serpentine Syndrome From Plant and Soil: “Initial stages of pedogenesis (soil formation) are particularly slow on serpentinite (a dark, typically greenish metamorphic rock that weathers to form soil). This implies a slow accumulation of available nutrients and leaching of phytotoxic (poisonous to plants) elements. Thus, a particularly slow plant primary succession should be observed on serpentinitic proglacial areas. The observation of soil-vegetation relationships in such environments should give important information on the development of the serpentine syndrome (a phrase to explain plant survival on serpentine)… Plant-soil relationships have been statistically analysed, comparing morainic environments on pure serpentinite and serpentinite with small sialic inclusions in the North-western Italian Alps….Pure serpentinite supported strikingly different plant communities in comparison with the sites where the serpentinitic till was enriched by small quantities of sialic rocks.” Find out more about the serpentine syndrome here.   Climate Changes Landscape of South American Communities From Global Migration Issues: “Mountain regions are among the most vulnerable areas with regard to global environmental changes. In the Bolivian Andes, for example, environmental risks, such as those related to climate change, are numerous and often closely intertwined with social risks. Rural households are therefore characterized by high mobility, which is a traditional strategy of risk management. Nowadays, most rural households are involved in multi-residency or circular migratory movements at a regional, national, and international scale. Taking the case of two rural areas close to the city of La Paz, we analyzed migration patterns and drivers behind migrant household decisions in the Bolivian Andes… Our results underline that migration is a traditional peasant household strategy to increase income and manage livelihood risks under rising economic pressures, scarcity of land, insufficient local off-farm work opportunities, and low agricultural productivity… Our results suggest that environmental factors do not drive migration independently, but are rather combined with socio-economic factors.” Read more about migration dynamics here. Spread the...

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The Skagit Eagle Festival

Posted by on Jan 19, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News, Tourism | 0 comments

The Skagit Eagle Festival

Spread the News:ShareThe Bald Eagles of the Skagit River (source: Joshua Johnson/YouTube). Floating down the Skagit River in Washington state in a small boat in the winter, you will likely spot many bald eagles along your trip. With wings spreading wide, the eagles soar freely in the sky, having recently returned from northern Canada and Alaska to the Skagit River to hunt migrating salmon. The Skagit salmon depend on the glaciers of the Cascade Range to keep the waters of the river healthy and optimal for breeding. With an abundant salmon population, the eagle’s numbers have become so plentiful during the winter season that the region runs a month-long eagle-watching festival and a year-round interpretive center dedicated to the migrating birds. During eagle-watching season in eastern Skagit County, which begins in January, tourists and birdwatchers arrive from all over the world to track the bald eagles. First started in 1987, the Skagit Eagle Festival is now a popular annual event. Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce in the small town of Concrete, it features many activities, including local music, floating tours, outdoor walks and educational programs, including a Salmon Run along the river. During this year’s Skagit Eagle Festival, Native American celebrations also took place along the glacier-fed river, which remains very important to the local tribes. The Samish Indian Nation’s cultural outreach coordinator Rosie Cayou-James and native musician Peter Ali teamed up to organize a special “Native Weekend” at Marblemount Community Hall, featuring Native American history, storytelling and more. Local tribal elders and experts made educational presentations and performed native music at the event. Cayou-James, the main organizer of the weekend, told GlacierHub, “The eagle festival is a way to honor the ancestors. I cannot speak for the other tribes, but the Samish feel very connected to eagles and orcas.” The Skagit River runs from high in the Cascades to Puget Sound, benefiting both the people and animals that live along the river. It provides a habitat for the five major species of Pacific salmon. Consequently, the river has the country’s largest wintering populations of eagles outside of Alaska. But the health of the eagle and fish populations in the Skagit River depends on the health of the glaciers of the region, which are suffering as a result of climate change. “Climate change has damaged the natural flow of salmon, which is the main source of survival for resident eagles and orcas,” Cayou-James explained to GlacierHub. Samish history instructs members to protect the proper relationship to the land and its resources, including the Skagit River and surrounding glaciers, by teaching how the natural and spiritual worlds “cannot be separated,” according to the Samish Indian Nation website. In total, there are around 375 glaciers in the Skagit River watershed, as reported by the Skagit Climate Science Consortium. The glaciers keep the flow of the Skagit River high throughout the summer. In addition, glacier water keeps nearby rivers at low temperatures throughout the year, making them optimal for salmon. The salmon rely on the cool glacier-fed water to survive. Without glaciers, stream temperatures become higher and keep climbing, becoming lethal to adult salmon. Because glaciers are extremely sensitive to climate change, higher temperatures have increased rates of melting, reducing snow accumulation in the winter and changing the timing and duration of runoff. Worse even, the glaciers of the Cascades have not been able to fully rebuild themselves in the winter through accumulated snowfall. The glaciers of the Cascades have shrunk to half of what they were a century ago, according to the United States Geological Survey. In addition, the average winter freezing elevation in the Skagit has risen consistently...

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Nepali Artist Speaks This Week in New York and New Hampshire

Posted by on Jan 11, 2017 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Communities, Featured Posts, Images, News | 0 comments

Nepali Artist Speaks This Week in New York and New Hampshire

Spread the News:ShareThis week provides a rare opportunity to hear the story and view the work of Tenzin Norbu – artist, hereditary lama, and social entrepreneur of Dolpo, Nepal – who divides his time between his mountain community, a studio and gallery in Kathmandu, and traveling around the world to promote his art and the work he does to support his community. He will present at talk at the Trace Foundation at 132 Perry Street in New York at 6:30 p.m. on January 12. He will also be in residence at Dartmouth College from January 17-31, where he will give talks and hold painting demonstrations. Norbu studied traditional painting as well as Buddhism from his father, following a lineage that dates back more than 400 years. He focused particularly on thangka, a kind of painting on cotton, or silk appliqué work, featuring Buddhist deities, scenes and images.  Norbu’s repertoire ranges from traditional imagery to contemporary depictions of daily life, religious practice, and landscapes, including the glaciated peaks of his home region of Dolpo and of Tibet. His paintings were highlighted in the 1998 feature film Himalaya (Caravan), the only Nepali film to have been nominated for an Academy Award. Over the past twenty years, Norbu’s work has exhibited widely, from Kathmandu and New York City, to Aarhus (Denmark), Monaco, Lucerne, Paris, Osaka, Tokyo, and Thimphu (Bhutan). Norbu was a featured artist in Transcending Tibet, an exhibition organized by Trace Foundation, and Tradition Transformed: Tibetan Artists Respond, held at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. Norbu is the illustrator of five children’s books, including Clear Sky, Red Earth: A Himalayan Story, a project on which he collaborated with Sienna Craig and which has been published in both English and Tibetan. In collaboration with international NGOs and the local community, Norbu helped create the Kula Mountain Primary School, which provides free education to over one hundred children in this remote region. Norbu is also leading the restoration and repair of cultural heritage sites across Dolpo, including murals in the famous Shey Gompa, featured in Mathiessen’s Snow Leopard. The Dolpo region consists of high glaciated peaks, broad meadows, and several valleys which descend from the crest of the Himalayas. It comprises one of the most forbidding environments in which humans live, and yet, the region has supported thriving populations of agriculturalists and pastoralists for at least a millennium. For centuries, the people of Dolpo engaged in trade, bartering across ecological zones across the Himalaya and into Tibet; in this exchange flowed not only utilitarian goods and products but also religious teachings and texts,  medicinal plants, and high-value commodities like precious minerals and animal pelts. In the past two decades, trade in yartsa gunbu (caterpillar fungus, known also as Cordyceps sinensis or Ophiocordyceps sinensis) has dramatically transformed Dolpo’s rural economy. The use of yartsa gunbu in Tibetan and Chinese medicine has a long history, but today it has become a widely-traded and fetishized commodity: with an eight-fold increase in value (from $700 to $5800 per pound) caterpillar fungus has become the mainstay of household economies across the Tibetan Plateau and neighboring highlands like Dolpo. However, the demand for the fungus has been linked to violence and environmental degradation and has generated concerns over resource sustainability. In Dolpo, in particular, the yartsa gunbu harvest has been sharply contested and subject to less regulation than in other Himalayan enclaves, like Nubri in Gorkha District. The impacts of climate change and habitat modification on this high-value  but ultimately  vulnerable natural resource are unknown but sure to disrupt an economy and, arguably, mindset in Dolpo that has become centered...

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Photo Friday: Upper Naryn River Valley, Kyrgyzstan

Posted by on Jan 6, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Images | 0 comments

Photo Friday: Upper Naryn River Valley, Kyrgyzstan

Spread the News:ShareLast fall, I traveled in the upper Naryn River valley in Kyrgyzstan, taking part in a field trip organized by the University of Central Asia’s Mountain Society Research Institute. This organization put me in touch with a local researcher, Samat Kalmuratov, who accompanied me on visits to villages and nature reserves, serving as guide and interpreter. The Naryn River drains the high glaciated peaks of the Tien Shan range in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It flows westward, forming the Syr Darya at its confluence with the Kara Darya River, and continuing through the agricultural Fergana Valley into Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In former times, it reached the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake. These photographs of the river, its valley and inhabitants show both significant continuity and major changes in recent decades.                 Spread the...

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How Arctic and Subarctic Peoples Perceive Climate Change

Posted by on Dec 29, 2016 in Adaptation, All Posts, Art/Culture, Communities, Featured Posts | 0 comments

How Arctic and Subarctic Peoples Perceive Climate Change

Spread the News:ShareIndigenous Arctic and Subarctic communities face social and environmental challenges that could impact their traditional knowledge systems and livelihoods, decreasing their adaptive capacity to climate change. In a paper featured in Ecology and Society, Nicole Herman-Mercer et al. discuss recent research that took place during an interdisciplinary project called Strategic Needs of Water on the Yukon (SNOWY). The project focused on how indigenous communities in the Lower Yukon River Basin and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta regions of Alaska interpret climate change. Global warming has had a significant impact on these regions, with mean annual temperatures increasing 1.7°C over the past 60 years, according to the study. Rising temperatures are predicted to further change water chemistry, alter permafrost distribution, and increase glacier melt. These changes have had a massive impact on the residents living in the Yukon River Basin and their indigenous knowledge, as well as on the basin itself. For example, the basin’s largest glacier, the Llewellyn Glacier, has had a major contribution to increased runoff.  With environments changing at an ever-rapid pace around the world, more studies have begun to focus on indigenous knowledge and climate change vulnerability. Scientists believe it is important to understand indigenous culture because indigenous knowledge informs perceptions of environmental change and impacts how communities interpret and respond to risk. The focus of previous studies in the Arctic and Subarctic had been on older generations in the community, whose observations help shape historical baseline records of weather and climate. These records are frequently missing or incomplete. However, as Herman-Mercer et al. explain, the role of younger generations in indigenous Yukon communities is often overlooked, despite younger people driving community adaptation efforts in response to climate change. Additionally, Kusilvak County, Alaska, where Herman-Mercer et al. focused their study, has a median age of 21.9 years, which makes it the youngest county in the United States. During the project, Herman-Mercer et al. studied four villages with populations under 1,000 people. These villages are home to the native Alaska communities of the Yup’ik and Cup’ik peoples, named for the two main dialects of the Yup’ik language. These indigenous communities are traditionally subsistence-based, with the availability of game and fish, such as moose, salmon, and seals, determining the location of seasonal camps and villages. Herman-Mercer et al. interviewed residents to better understand the communities’ observations of climate change and relationship with the environment. For example, the Yup’ik and Cup’ik people traditionally believe in a reciprocal relationship between humans and the environment, which influences how they view natural disasters and climate change. Rather than seeing these events as naturally occurring, the communities believe that environmental events are punishment for improper human behavior. As a result, the Yup’ik and Cup’ik people have cautionary tales of past famines and poor harvest seasons caused by immoral behavior. These tales also contain information on how to survive hardships using specific codes of conduct. Herman-Mercer et al. relied on three methods to obtain interview participants for the study. First, the researchers had local partners and facilitators recruit members of the communities who were seen as experts. Then a community dinner was held in order to introduce the research team and SNOWY to the Yup’ik and Cup’ik people. Lastly, the researchers used a “snowball” approach in which the team encouraged participants to recommend other people for the study. Nicole Herman-Mercer explained to GlacierHub that all but two of the interviews were conducted in English. For the two remaining interviews, a translator was used. In order to avoid influencing answers, the researchers refrained from using the phrase “climate change” when speaking with the Yup’ik and...

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