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Glaciers Play Starring Role in COP20 Climate Conference

Posted by on Dec 11, 2014 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Science | 0 comments

Glaciers Play Starring Role in COP20 Climate Conference

Spread the News:ShareGlaciers play at least three different roles at COP20, the global climate conference taking place in Lima, Peru. The COP20 is the largest meeting this year of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The 192 member countries of the UNFCCC meet annually in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. COP20 is a lead-up to 2015 COP21 in France, whose objective is the signing of a legally binding agreement that would guarantee significant reductions in greenhouse gasses. Most simply, glaciers are cited in newspaper articles, NGO statements, briefings by research institutes and reports by intergovernmental organizations as incontrovertible proof that climate change is producing dramatic impacts on ecosystems and societies around the world. They are featured in displays that seek to convey the urgency of addressing climate change, particularly in the Mountains and Water Pavilion within “Voces por el Clima,” (Voices Speaking for Climate) an exhibition that calls for greater attention to climate change. Glaciers also play a critical role in specific countries with major roles at COP20. Host country Peru contains about 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. The glaciers are crucial to Peru, because they supply drinking water and water for agriculture, hydroelectricity and industry, such as agro-exports and mining. Glaciers are also important in China and the United States, the countries whose agreement on climate change, announced on November 11, provided significant impetus to COP20. These countries are the world’s No.1 and No.2 carbon polluters. Presidents Xi and Obama staked out ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions as a way to galvanize other countries to make their own cuts. Mr. Obama announced that the United States plans to emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020. At the same time, Mr. Xi announced vowed that clean energy sources like solar power and wind mills would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030. Both China and the United States have numerous glaciers. China’s glaciers, concentrated in the western and northern parts of the country, cover nearly 60,000 square kilometers. In the United States, glaciers, primarily located in Alaska, cover over 75,000 square kilometers). They are rapidly shrinking in both countries, and also in France, the host of COP21 next year, where Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, has seen significant glacier loss in recent decades. Finally, glaciers are specifically featured in two events at COP20, both on December 11th. A presentation by a Pakistani organization, the Moutain and Glacier Protection Organization (MGPO), and its partners, “Integrated Climate Risk Management for a Resilient World reports on adaptation projects near Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan. The event also includes lectures by the Ministers of Environment of the Netherlands and Tuvalu, concentrating on climate change and disasters in mountains, and their impacts on highland, lowland and coastal areas. The other event is “Climate Change in the Andes and Global Cryosphere,” organized by two NGOs, ICCI (International Cryosphere Climate Initiative) and CPC (Climate Policy Center). They focus on the irreversibility of changes in glaciers and other ice- and snow-covered regions. Their discussions will center on tracing the implications of these changes for science-based commitment levels in the Paris 2015 COP. Taken as a whole, these different documents and activities show the power of glaciers to demonstrate the significance of climate change and to stir people to action. GlacierHub is tracking...

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Major Conference Attracts Continuing Attention to Black Carbon

Posted by on Nov 28, 2014 in Adaptation, All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Major Conference Attracts Continuing Attention to Black Carbon

Spread the News:ShareThis past month, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Nepalese Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment hosted the International Conference on Mountain People Adapting to Climate Change. The large attendance and extensive coverage of this conference brought a great deal of attention for the Hindu Kush Himalaya region and its specific climate vulnerability. One of the central topics of discussion during the conference was the effect of black carbon deposits on the region’s glaciers. Although there is some lingering uncertainty about the precise magnitude and reach of the effects of this substance, members of the conference agreed that evidence is sufficient to begin the creation of  goals to reduce it in the near future. Building #climateresilience for mountain people http://t.co/eEwt5aCnH3 @icimod pic.twitter.com/O5o1hES6ue — UNFCCC (@UN_ClimateTalks) November 13, 2014 Reaching this consensus is important, because the Hindu Kush Himalaya range is essential to the health of the greater Asian continent. The range spans eight countries, covers 3 million square kilometers, and is the source of ten of Asia’s major river systems. The effects of black carbon on the region’s glaciers could have broadly negative consequences for ecosystems and livelihoods. Black carbon has a double impact. Primarily, it darkens snow and ice. The dark color allows more sunlight to be absorbed by the snow and ice, which increases melting. Secondarily, black carbon is an air pollutant,. Although the tiny particles do not remain in the air for long periods, they can be inhaled by humans and cause serious respiratory problems. Though they remain currently unrestricted, black carbon emissions are becoming an increasing concern in the region. Sources of black carbon in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region include cook-stoves, diesel vehicles, and the industrial burning of coal. In fact, one third of the black carbon suspended in the atmosphere hovers over India and China, and these particles cause at least 30% or more of the melting of glaciers in the region. Many of the gravest effects of black carbon have been well established in scientific literature, but some aspects of the substance remain up for debate. Nonetheless, “it is never wrong to start to reduce emissions of black carbon as soon as possible and as vigorously as possible,” concludes Dr. Arun Shrestha, Senior Climate Change Specialist at ICIMOD. Shifts to other forms of energy use could reduce black carbon significantly. We work with uncertainities, role of #science should be in reducing them, says Atiq Rahman @icimod #adaptHKH pic.twitter.com/aOct9LPSOt — Udayan Mishra (@oootheyan) November 10, 2014 The conference was a clear step toward covering these critical topics in meaningful ways. “The conference’s outcome will not change everyday life of mountain people right from tomorrow,” stated Dr. David Molden, the ICIMOD’s Director General, to Xinhuanet, “but it will help us formulate policies for better adaptation solutions.” The conference marked a shift in decision-making practices, because it brought together environmental and health experts. Their efforts are bringing black carbon to a more prominent position in adaptation planning. Spread the...

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Photo Friday: A Visit To Amdo, Tibet

Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Images | 0 comments

Photo Friday: A Visit To Amdo, Tibet

Spread the News:ShareKhashem Gyal is a photographer who recently documented residents of Amdo, Tibet, located in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau in the series included here. Amdo’s glaciers are the source of Asia’s major rivers including the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers. Gyal is one of the core members of Plateau Photographers, a participatory multimedia project that trains “ethnic minority” students on the Tibetan Plateau in digital storytelling and culture documentation. Amdo Tibet residents (photo: Khashem Gyal) Amdo Tibet residents (photo: Khashem Gyal) Amdo Tibet residents (photo: Khashem Gyal) Amdo Tibet residents (photo: Khashem Gyal) Plateau Photographers’ three-part mission is to train members in still photography and video capture, culture documentation, visual storytelling, and multimedia technology skills, to disseminate locally-generated media in Plateau communities, and to present information and knowledge about Plateau communities to a larger audience. Khashem Gyal graduated from Qinghai Nationalities University with a major in Tibetan Literature. Aside from his work with Plateau Photographers, he is founder of the Amilolo Film Group, dedicated to educating young Tibetans about digital video production and encouraging a new generation of Tibetan filmmakers. Khashem Gyal has directed numerous short films about Tibetan life and culture. Valley of the Heroes is his first full-length documentary film. Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com. Spread the...

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Bhutan’s Glaciers and Yak Herds Are Shrinking

Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Experiences, Featured Posts | 0 comments

Bhutan’s Glaciers and Yak Herds Are Shrinking

Spread the News:ShareOf the things that my colleagues and I hoped to see on our trek in Bhutan, only one was missing: ice. Ed Cook and Paul Krusic, both tree ring scientists, found the groves of ancient trees they had planned to take sample cores from, and our trails led us to the villages where I talked with farmers about weather and crops, thanks to interpreter Karma Tenzin. But though I kept checking the summits of the mountains that towered over us as we hiked along valleys and climbed over ridges, no glaciers came into view. Our trek started in Chokhortoe, the home village of our horsedriver Renzin Dorji, nestled on a small bench of flat land near a river. I had thought that we might see glaciers when we ascended the slopes from the valley. But forested ridges rise up sharply on both sides of the river, protecting the valley from the harsh winds of the Tibetan plateau but also blocking the highest snowpeaks from sight. In fact, most of the local people I met had never seen a glacier at all. They live in villages like Chokhortoe, located in sheltered valleys where they can grow their crops, hardy varieties of wheat and barley and buckwheat. From the vantage point of these valleys, the glaciated crests of the Himalayas are hidden behind by mountain ridges. When the villagers travel to sell their crops, they generally head south towards the market towns closer to the border with India at lower elevations. The gates still stand which mark the old trails north to Tibet, but that trade ended with the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950s. And the population growth and economic expansion in India has led to strong demand for Bhutanese crops in that country. Even our horsedriver, Renzin, had not travelled to the northern areas where the glaciers could be seen. Only one villager, Sherab Lhendrub, had stories to tell me of the glaciers. A man in his late sixties, he has decades of personal experience to draw on. He used to travel to high pastures late in the spring, to bring a season’s worth of supplies to the three herders who cared for his yak herd. The herders would stay up at the summer camp for months, milking the female yaks and making butter and cheese. Each year he went up a second time, in the fall when the heavy snows and hard frosts were approaching, to assist the herders in closing up the summer camp and accompanying them on the two-day trek down to the winter pastures at a lower elevation. In his many years of travel, he observed the gradual reduction of the vast white cap of ice that covers the jagged peaks of Gangkhar Puensum, the Three White Brothers Mountain, which is also the highest unclimbed summit. This glacier retreat has had not just visual, but practical consequences as well. Sherab told me that Monla Karchung, the White-covered Mountain Pass, retains its name but not its color. More importantly, it is now difficult to cross. Herders used to walk confidently across the glacier to reach a distant valley, trusting in the yaks’ uncanny ability to sense crevasses under the snow. Now the herders walk gingerly across the slippery black boulders, if they cross the pass at all. Sherab stood up and pantomimed someone walking carefully as he told me the story of a herder who lost his footing there. The man’s lower leg slid down and wedged between two boulders. The momentum of the fall pitched his body to one side, snapping his shinbone in...

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Satellite Images Offer Clues to Causes of Glacial Lake Flooding

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Science | 0 comments

Satellite Images Offer Clues to Causes of Glacial Lake Flooding

Spread the News:ShareSatellites are now allowing us to track the behavior of icy glacial lakes on the Himalayan Mountains–in particular the conditions that lead to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), which have become increasingly frequent in the region over the past 20 years. Researchers from the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment and the State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Sciences in China published a study in PLOS One in December of last year that catalogued data from lakes in the central Himalayas between 1990 to 2010. The scientists, Drs. Yong Nie, Qiao Liu, and Shiyin Liu, used images from Landsat scientific satellites to count and measure glacial lakes in the region. As the longest running remote sensing project, Landsat has over 40 years of images available across the globe. GLOFs – floods that occur when a lake dammed by a glacier or glacial moraine is released – are hazardous to communities located at elevations below the burst lake. Flooding and debris flows damage infrastructure, cause property loss, and can take lives, as GlacierHub has reported in prior posts. It is widely believed that rising temperatures due to climate change and reduced albedo of the ice from cryoconite (also known as carbon dust particles) are melting the glaciers at higher rates and causing lake volumes to rise, which in turn increases the risk of GLOF events. But the specific processes that lead to GLOF outbursts are not well understood. By looking at lakes at four time points (1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010), at different elevations (from 3,500 to 6,100 meters), of different types (pro-glacial and supraglacial), and of varying sizes, the researchers were able to identify which lakes expanded faster and burst more frequently to understand which ones pose the greatest risk of GLOFs. Overall, it was found that total lake surface area for the 1,314 lakes in the central Himalayas had increased over the 20-year period. Drs. Nie, Liu and Liu found that more lakes on the northern side of the central Himalayan range were expanding rapidly. They also found that pro-glacial lakes (lakes at the terminus of a glacier) grew faster than supraglacial lakes (lakes on the surface of the glacier). Some pro-glacial lakes are connected directly to glaciers while others are not, but those that were connected grew far faster. Additionally, larger pro-glacial lakes were likely to flood sooner than smaller ones and more changes to glacial lakes occurred at the altitudes between 4,500 and 5,600 meters. The dynamics of alpine glacial lakes are complex, but this study could help communities monitor lakes at high risk of flooding and to create early-warning systems and disaster preparedness plans. PAPER DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083973.g002 Spread the...

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