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Photo Friday: Northwest China’s #1 Glacier

Posted by on Jun 23, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Images | 0 comments

Photo Friday: Northwest China’s #1 Glacier

Spread the News:ShareIn February 2016, the government in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region announced that tourists would no longer be permitted to stand atop its retreating glaciers. According to the memo, tourism was a direct cause of glacial retreat. China is home to 46,377 glaciers, and the government has a particular reason to be concerned with the state of its glaciers in this region: comprising 1/6 of China’s land mass, Xinjiang is home to 18,311 of them. The Tian Shan Glacier No. 1, which has existed for a reported 4.8 million years, is expected to disappear within 50 years. Though the glacier is only accessible via roads that would give Indiana Jones pause, it remains a popular tourist destination. Josh Summers has been living in Xinjiang since 2006 and runs a well-regarded travel blog that provides hard-to-find information for foreign tourists interested in visiting the far-away region. Today, we travel to Xinjiang to see this glacier before it disappears.       Watch Josh’s drive from Urumqi to Tian Shan Glacier No. 1 via ‘Highway’ 216:       Spread the...

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Water Stress in the Naryn River Basin

Posted by on Jun 22, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics, Science | 0 comments

Water Stress in the Naryn River Basin

Spread the News:ShareAround the world, meltwater from snow and glaciers has provided surrounding communities with water for irrigation and hydropower, but climate change is altering the timing and volume of the annual water flow cycle. This issue is pressing in eastern Kyrgyzstan, where the glaciers and snowpack of the Tien Shan Mountains form the headwaters of the Naryn River, which flows westward across Kyrgyzstan before crossing the border into Uzbekistan. A recent study in the journal Water by Alice F. Hill et al. analyzed water chemistry from the Naryn River Basin to find changes in the contribution of mountain headwaters to river discharges that flow downstream to agricultural areas. Agriculture accounts for 29 percent of the country’s GDP (2010 figures) and more than half of its labor force. The study’s aim was to capture key hydrologic transitions over the diverse domain by using a hydro-chemical mixing model, known as End Member Mixing Analysis, to distill multi-variate water chemistry data from samples, in order to quantify water contributions from river discharge to agricultural areas serving larger populations. By using a remotely sensed product to quantify the rain, seasonal snow, and glacial melt inputs, the study found that when glacial ice mass decreases, it contributes less to river water supplies. Government Policies and Water Management These trans-boundary water sources have been a topic of relations between the Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan since their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, with water resource management poorly coordinated between the five republics. Recently, new infrastructure, such as dams and diversions, have been developed, creating problems for neighbors that live downstream. “The Kyrgyzstan government insists increased precipitation and snowmelt are to blame for natural hazards and fatalities. Scientists have yet to determine the cause of such weather anomalies in Southern Tian Shan,” said Ryskeldi Satke, a Kyrgyz journalist, in an interview with GlacierHub. “On the other hand, it was known that climate change worries experts and researchers over its impact on snow melt in the Tian Shan and Pamirs. Subsequently, more ground research and cooperation would be needed to explain weather patterns in the region.” Kyrgyzstan has over 8,000 glaciers, accounting for 4.2 percent of the country’s territory. The consumption of irrigation water for agriculture represents 94 percent of total water use, while only three percent is allocated to households and industries. Livelihoods depend on the river flow from these glaciers, which have been shrinking since the 1930s, according to research. In order to better understand the implication of the infrastructure developments, Hill and her colleagues conducted a survey in both upstream and downstream communities. They asked questions relating to changes in water availability for irrigation, food, and recreation, as well as changes in household activities, estimated income, and income structure over the last 15 years. Community Survey The researchers conducted the survey across a 440 km stretch of the Naryn River to better understand the challenges that the people of the Naryn basin face in obtaining adequate water supplies. All communities reported an overall decrease in water access over the last 15 years. Therefore, some communities installed groundwater wells, mainly in higher portions of the basin. Since the 1960s, the Toktogul district, for example, has been limited by low water availability, scarcity in lands and funds, and a lack of trust in the government. Unfortunately, farmers were not given the proper resources or equipment to build an irrigation or water distribution system, according to the study. There was a lack of government support for farmers who were unable to deal with the harsh conditions on their land, the researchers noted. Therefore, yields began to decrease and the irrigation systems deteriorated. This led the farmers and surrounding neighbors to believe...

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Climate, Economy, Family: Migration in the Bolivian Andes

Posted by on Jun 21, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts | 0 comments

Climate, Economy, Family: Migration in the Bolivian Andes

Spread the News:ShareHigh in the Bolivian Andes, the pace of glacial retreat is accelerating, which may significantly decrease the amount of glacial meltwater available to streams and aquifers critical to farming communities in the region’s river basins. In addition to the long-term threat posed by glacial retreat, these communities are also threatened by economic uncertainty and climatic variability. As a response to livelihood insecurity, many Bolivian farmers choose to migrate, temporarily or permanently, to nearby urban centers. But how exactly are migration decisions understood within these migrant households? In a recent chapter in Global Migration Issues, Regine Brandt and her team interview farmers in two Andean valleys to understand the factors contributing to migration decisions. The research demonstrates that migration has increased in importance as a livelihood strategy and that rural Bolivians consider environmental factors, social ties and economic needs together when making these decisions. To obtain these findings, the team conducted research in the municipality of Palca, a high-altitude rural area where 80 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. They asked members of migrant farming households in two separate glacier-fed river basins to describe any factors that had influenced temporary or permanent migration decisions. In analyzing their data, the researchers looked to the frequency with which each causal factor was mentioned in each interview. If, for example, climate change was mentioned several times as a factor for a household, but social conflict was only mentioned once, climate change was understood to be of greater importance to that household in making their decision. According to Raoul Kaenzig, one of the article’s co-authors, the impact of glacial retreat on farmers in the Andean highlands is still poorly documented. In the 1980s, Bolivia underwent a severe drought and has since experienced a rise in the frequency of extreme weather events, as well as a shift in rainfall patterns. In response, some peasants changed their agricultural practices, while others began sending individual family members to urban areas. Internal migrants rarely travel beyond their home region and maintain connections to their rural origins, often spending only part of the year in nearby cities, according to the study. In Bolivia, migration is seen as a means of contributing to the greater household economy— an individual may migrate to find work but with the intention of helping to support the family back home. In an interview with GlacierHub, Corinne Valdivia, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, explained how the threats posed to farmers in this and surrounding regions have increased in recent years. “The production risks have increased in the region of the North and Central Altiplano of Bolivia, as well as in Southern Peru, with longer periods without rainfall, and short and intense rains,” she said. “Pests and diseases have also increased. These threaten the livelihoods of families who are producing for their consumption and for the market. Migration is a strategy to address this, but in turn means that less labor is available to tackle the stresses posed by the changing climate.” For 60 percent of the regional migrants interviewed in the study, better educational opportunities were the primary driver of their migration decision. Additionally, nearly every respondent pointed to an increasingly unpredictable climate as a factor in their migration. Individuals living near the Illimani glacier, which has become a symbol of climate change in Bolivia, were significantly more likely to emphasize climatic variability, glacier retreat and water problems as factors in their migration than those living near a less iconic symbol of glacial melting, Mururata. The authors attribute this difference to a combination of observable environmental change and discourse. Unsurprisingly, off-farm...

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Putting Your Best Tusk Forward: Narwhals and Climate Research

Posted by on Jun 20, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Putting Your Best Tusk Forward: Narwhals and Climate Research

Spread the News:ShareIn 1576, Queen Elizabeth I paid the equivalent of half a million dollars for a unicorn horn, which she believed could neutralize poison. Of course, it wasn’t a unicorn horn at all, but a narwhal tusk, remarkable in its own right. Today, over 440 years later, narwhals continue to surprise and attract attention. A recent paper in Biology Letters by Kristin Laidre et al. examined narwhal visits to glacial fronts in West Greenland. “We don’t fully understand the relation between narwhals and glaciers,” professor Mads Heide-Jørgensen of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources told GlacierHub. Laidre added, “Narwhals in places like the Canadian Arctic, for example, have limited access to glacial habitat. However, in Greenland, most narwhals are close to glaciers in summer because Greenland is so glaciated, and there are glaciers along the entire coastline.” It has long been observed that narwhals visit glacial fronts in the summer and autumn, but it is unknown why they seek out this habitat. “Glaciers are productive regions,” commented Laidre. “They attract prey, there’s upwelling and nutrient cycling, and sometimes even osmotic shock to small invertebrates which attracts fish… We hope future studies will help us understand this, but we don’t know exactly why they go there.” Belugas, the “sister species” to the narwhal, also favor freshwater habitat in the summer, seeking out shallow water estuaries. To begin answering this question, Laidre took a novel approach, forming an international, cross-disciplinary team that included scientists from the U.S., Denmark, and the U.K. “The idea was to get biologists and glaciologists to collaborate and share data in an interdisciplinary way,” Laidre said. The team evaluated which glacial characteristics draw narwhals by collecting data from 15 satellite-tagged whales and following their movements through the fjords of Melville Bay in West Greenland. The narwhals demonstrated three preferences: they spent more time at glaciers that discharge a fresher, rather than siltier melt; they preferred slower-flowing glaciers, which are more stable and calve less; and they favored thicker glacial fronts, perhaps because they maximize access to freshwater. Sea ice also provides important habitat for narwhals. “All narwhal populations winter, and some even summer, in dense sea ice concentrations,” said Heide-Jørgensen. In summer, narwhals spend time in the high Arctic where ice has receded, and in fall, the ocean freezes solid, pushing the narwhals away from shore, Laidre explained. “They swim away from the forming ice and move offshore, where they overwinter in dense ice cover with cracks so they can breathe. Narwhals are highly associated with sea ice, perhaps the most of all whales,” he said. Heide-Jørgensen indicated that narwhals will seek out the sea ice when it decreases in coverage rather than wintering in open water. “Reduction of sea ice therefore implies a reduction in habitat, and this will again introduce a reduction in prey base or carrying capacity. In short, less sea ice means less narwhal habitat and eventually less narwhals,” he said. Laidre agreed that “changes in sea ice and the marine ecosystem will likely be the most important factor” to the future of narwhals as climate changes. Since 1979, sea ice freeze-up has occurred almost a month later in Baffin Bay and Melville Bay, where this study took place, and glaciers, of course, are retreating. But far from being simple victims of global warming, narwhals can aid in the collection of data that can help mitigate climate change. In 2005 and 2007, Laidre took advantage of narwhals’ capacity for deep dives and tendency to winter in sea ice, outfitting narwhals with temperature and depth sensors. Narwhals regularly dive over 1,700 meters to...

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Glacier Countries Condemn Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Glacier Countries Condemn Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Spread the News:ShareCountries around the world were quick to condemn Donald Trump when he announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. Unsurprisingly, small countries with glaciers, with their direct experience of climate change, have joined this round of condemnation. However, the details varied from country to country. And relatively few voices in these countries have emphasized the connection between their own experience of climate change and their opposition to Trump’s action.   Latin America The strongest reaction came from Peru, where the national government issued an official declaration on June 1, within hours of Trump’s announcement. It stated “The Government of Peru receives with concern and disappointment the announcement made by the Government of the United States of America to denounce the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.” The declaration underscored the actions of Peru in hosting a major international climate meeting that led up to the Paris Agreement, and in being the first country in Latin America to ratify it. Newspapers in Peru also expressed their condemnation. A center-left newspaper, La República, stated on June 2 that Trump “has turned his back on the world.” The more conservative El Comercio emphasized that the U.S. was isolating itself from the other nations of the world. Jesús Gómez López, the director of Peru’s Huascarán National Park, where the majority of the country’s glaciers are located, told GlacierHub, “This decision of the Trump administration is regrettable. It is a great concern that it works against progress that has been made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” He mentioned his particular concern about the rapid loss of glaciers in tropical areas. Chile, another South American country with large glaciers, also issued an official response. On June 1, the Foreign Minister issued a statement indicating the country’s “great concern and deep disappointment.” It emphasized Chile’s vulnerability, citing floods and forest fires, and reiterated the country’s commitment to reducing its emissions of greenhouse gasses. Greenpeace Chile spoke against Trump’s decision and used the occasion to launch a petition to oppose oil exploration. The country director of Greenpeace, Matías Asun, called for a national law to protect glaciers.   Europe European nations also responded strongly to Trump’s action. In Iceland, the European country where glaciers occupy the largest proportion of the national territory, the Minister of the Environment, Björt Ólafsdóttir, expressed her disappointment with Trump’s decision on June 1. She also recognized that some states, like California, were taking independent action in alignment with the Paris Agreement. Dagur B. Eggertsson, the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city, offered a visible response. He announced on June 2 that the city would shine green light on  Harpa–its music hall and conference center, and an iconic symbol of contemporary Iceland–as a sign of commitment to the Paris Agreement. Several Norwegians expressed their concern to GlacierHub. Marianne Lien, an anthropologist at the University of Oslo, wrote “Trump news is no longer even funny or interesting. His withdrawal from the Paris agreement is just another move in a series of events that makes the US more and more marginal in world politics, and especially regarding global climate policy. This opens up a space for others to take a lead, such as the EU and China. Perhaps Trumps withdrawal is a wake-up call to some, and could inadvertently raise even more awareness about the politics of climate change.” Rasmus Bertelsen, the Barents Chair in Politics at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, linked Norway and Iceland with Sweden, Denmark and Finland. He stated “President Trump’s speech withdrawing from the Paris Agreement marks a watershed in post-World War II...

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Roundup: A Shrinking Lake, a Deepening Lake, and Ice below Sea Level

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Roundup, Science | 0 comments

Roundup: A Shrinking Lake, a Deepening Lake, and Ice below Sea Level

Spread the News:ShareGlacial Retreat Shrinks Yukon’s Largest Lake From CBC News: “Kluane MLA Wade Istchenko says receding water levels on Kluane Lake are posing a problem for his constituents — and he wants the government to respond. The lake level first dropped last year, after the Kaskawulsh Glacier retreated so much that its meltwater abruptly switched direction, away from Kluane Lake. Researchers have blamed climate change for the geologic phenomenon referred to as ‘river piracy’.” You can read more about how Istchenko proposes the legislature respond here.   Spillway Lake in Nepal Deepens From Water: “Since the 1950s, many debris-covered glaciers in the Nepalese Himalaya have developed large terminal moraine-dammed supraglacial lakes, which grow through expansion and deepening on the surface of a glacier. As temperatures continue to rise and lakes continue to grow in area and volume, they pose a flooding risk to the Sherpa villages down-valley.” Learn more about how the Ngozumpa Glacier’s terminal lake is growing here.   Melting an Ice Sheet from Below From Nature: “Because the East Antarctic Ice Sheet seems so cold and isolated, researchers thought that it had been stable in the past and was unlikely to change in the future — a stark contrast to the much smaller West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which has raised alarms because many of its glaciers are rapidly retreating. In the past few years, however, “almost everything we thought we knew about East Antarctica has turned out to be wrong”, says Tas van Ommen, a glaciologist at the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston, near Hobart. By flying across the continent on planes with instruments that probe beneath the ice, his team found that a large fraction of East Antarctica is well below sea level, which makes it more vulnerable to the warming ocean than previously thought. The researchers also uncovered clues that the massive Totten glacier, which holds about as much ice as West Antarctica, has repeatedly shrunk and grown in the past — another sign that it could retreat in the future.” Read more about uncertainty in the East Antarctic here.     Spread the...

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