Ash from Iceland’s Glacier Volcano Threatens Health of Local Children

The prolonged eruption of the glacier volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010 released 250 million tons of ash (Source: Bjarki Sigursveinsson/Flickr).

The prolonged eruption of the glacier volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010 released 250 million tons of ash, exposing residents to dangerous levels of the substance. The spread of the volcanic dust and ash caused by this event has since raised concerns about the long-term health risks to vulnerable populations. A recent study by Heidrun Hlodversdottir and her co-authors of the physical and mental health of the local children following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano suggests that they were more likely to experience respiratory and anxiety issues than those who were not impacted by the eruption, among other negative effects.

The research, published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, assessed the health impacts of the eruption for a period of three years after the climate event. The authors analyzed both the exposed and non-exposed adult population through questionnaires aimed at examining their children’s and their own perceived health status in 2010, six to nine months after the eruption, as well as three years later.

Hlodversdottir and her co-authors explained in a joint response to GlacierHub that the winds carried the ash across Europe and North Africa, increasing concerns that the eruption could possibly affect the respiratory health of the local population. Precautions for susceptible individuals were issued in Europe by the World Health Organization and national health authorities following the eruption. According to the WHO, health surveillance systems in countries in the WHO European Region detected no exposure of the populations to volcano-related air pollution and no health effects potentially related to volcanic ash following the volcanic eruption, the authors said. However, the south and southeast of Iceland received a great deal of ash and residue during six weeks and several months following the eruption. Thus, the researchers compared data from exposed and non-exposed regions in Iceland. In 2010, they gathered demographic data from each child’s parents and asked questions about property losses. In 2013, those who participated in the study were contacted again for a second evaluation about perceived health status.

In 2010, the study revealed that children who had been exposed to the impacts of the volcano were more prone to respiratory problems, anxiety and worries, headaches, and poor sleep. Gisli Palsson, professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland, told GlacierHub that the latter three might also be related to concerns caused by radical changes in the children’s lives generated by the impact of the volcanic eruption.

In 2010, the study revealed that children exposed to volcanic ash were more prone to respiratory problems, anxiety, headaches and poor sleep (Source: Chris Ford/Flickr).

The authors of the study further indicated to GlacierHub that a threatening, uncontrollable and unpredictable natural event so close to people´s homes is a major stressor. “The ash from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption damaged property, reduced visibility, delayed transportation, and many inhabitants had to evacuate their homes for a period of time. The continuous ashfall darkened the environment to the point of turning daylight into night, as well as glacier flooding, heavy lightning strikes, loud volcanic sound blasts and lava flows; all impacting the daily life of the exposed residents,” the authors note.

Although the eruption did not result in casualties, these events were stressful enough and caused uncertainty during and after the eruption. These stressors, in addition to the physical effects of ash exposure, may have contributed to the negative impacts on the children’s well-being, they added.

In addition, while the study did not compare gender regarding the continuity of symptoms, the results when analyzed by gender demonstrated that exposed male children had a higher likelihood of experiencing sleep disturbances and headaches than non-exposed male children.

Hlodversdottir and her co-authors indicated that it is important to note that all the measures of children’s health were based on the parents’ reporting. “It is well documented that internalized difficulties such as anxiety symptoms are more prevalent among girls and that boys show more often externalized difficulties,” they said. “It is therefore possible that boys in our study did not express their emotions verbally as much as girls but rather expressed their emotions as physical symptoms, i.e. headaches and sleeping difficulties. It is also possible that the children´s parents interpreted their children´s symptoms and behavior differently instead of the volcano eruption having different effects on gender.”

The results from the evaluation made in 2013 suggested that certain health problems— for example, depression and sleeping disturbances— were still present years after the event. The prevalence of these issues was linked to the gravity of the hazard that children had experienced.

Moreover, the researchers investigated the predictive factors that could cause these symptoms. In this aspect, they found that children who had experienced material damages were at higher risk of mental issues such as anxiety and depression when compared to those who were not exposed to these situations.

The authors indicated to GlacierHub that disasters can generate mental damage to families. For this reason, disaster interventions should focus on assisting people impacted by climate events. There is limited research on the impacts and long-term health effects of volcanic eruptions on children’s health, as well as knowledge on disaster risk populations among youth.

The authors added that there are indications in the literature that the academic environment is a convenient area to inform youth regarding preparedness and possible risks. Furthermore, parents should be advised on how to discuss these issues with their children.

Over 500 million people are located near active volcanoes, and children are the most vulnerable to the impacts of volcanic hazards. For this reason, it is important that governments develop strategies to prevent and reduce possible health issues on vulnerable populations. In addition, there must be more of an effort to continuously assess the health of the most vulnerable populations following a natural hazard. As Hlodversdottir and her co-authors told GlacierHub, “Children are a particularly vulnerable group that needs developmentally appropriate treatments that are evidence-based and affordable. It is therefore of great importance that such service be funded and made available in the long term after natural disasters.”

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‘Fire & Ice on the Mountain’: A Conversation with the Filmmakers

Bill Gentile, an independent filmmaker and American University professor, has recently released a short documentary film, “Fire and Ice on the Mountain.” The film was produced on assignment for American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and investigates the connections between religion and climate change in Peru.

For the research, Gentile teamed up with Karsten Paerregaard, a Danish anthropologist who has studied Peru for the past 30 years. Together, they explore how the ongoing retreat of Huaytapallana Glacier, located near the city of Huancayo in the central highlands of Peru, affects the local people’s worldview, based on Andean cultural traditions, with particular emphasis on their spiritual relationship with nature and Pachamama (Earth Mother).

GlacierHub interviewed Bill Gentile and Karsten Paerregaard about the film to find out more about how climate change is forcing locals to adapt their traditions.

GlacierHub: Was the local community in Huancayo accessible and willing to share their thoughts on the changes they observed in the glaciers? Were they willing to discuss their religious beliefs?

Karsten Paerregaard: We were well received in Huancayo… Huancayo’s Catholic Church showed great interest in the video and took its time to introduce us to its work. The same happened when we visited the regional government in Huancayo and Pedro Marticorena, the laya mayor [head shaman] on his premises. People are generally keen to discuss the city’s environmental problems. Many are also pleased to relate these to religious issues even though they do not always agree on how religion and climate change are linked.

GH: How is the glacier important in the communities’ traditional practices and religious beliefs? What does it represent?

KP: Glaciers are critical to not only the city of Huancayo but also the neighboring rural communities. This is because they provide them with fresh water, as well as they symbolize the Apus (the mountain deities) whom the local believe control the water flow.

Glacier melt is a physical sign of a rapidly changing nature that causes widespread concern in the city, which is experiencing contamination in many respects: traffic, mining, garbage, etc. However, exactly how glacier retreat, water scarcity and pollution are related is a very contested question in Huancayo. Only a few attribute it to global climate change, and many believe that it is human activities that are causing the city’s environmental problems.

GH: How has the connection with the glaciers developed?

KP: Glaciers have always been there, and as such, they are seen as symbols of the Apu’s powers. Nevertheless, recently people have become concerned about the avalanches they occasionally cause— the last big ones took place in the early 1990s— and currently they are worried that they will disappear altogether. From being a symbol of respect and fear, they have now become  an issue of concern and compassion.

GH: How do Andean worldviews express themselves in the daily life of people in the region?

KP: Generally, people are rather syncretic in their religious belief, sometimes tapping into the Andean worldview and sometimes into Catholicism, but more recently the former has gained momentum. This is partly related to glacier melt and the concern for its consequences for Huancayo and partly to the growing feeling of insecurity and uncertainty about the future.

Many visit the mountains to ask Apus for favors in their personal lives, but at the same time, people are becoming aware of the impact of their own actions on the environment and, in particular, the glaciers. This creates confusion about the mutual relationship between humans and nature, which prompts people to review fundamental aspects of their religious beliefs.

GH: Why do you think the regional government is limiting the pollution in the Huaytapallana glacier? Do you think this is influenced by religious groups?

KP: Huaytapallana has been declared a protected area by the national government and it is the regional authorities’ responsibility to implement the regulations associated with its status. The different regional governments have tried to do this with varying degree of success.

Bill and I were impressed by their commitment, particularly by the young woman (Vanessa) who is currently responsible for protecting the environment of Huaytapallana. Regardless of the resistance she encounters from people visiting the glacier, including those who participate in the annual celebration of the Andean New Year at the foot of the glacier.

GH: How do you think the religious practices and festivities will be affected when the glacier retreat is even more advanced than it is?

KP: Glacier retreat attracts more people every year, which suggests that climate change is an issue of serious concern in Huancayo. Nonetheless, the growing number of participants is also a reason for concern.

Bill and I noticed that Pedro Marticorena, as well as some of his followers, are becoming more aware of the impact their activities are having on the glacier. Eventually, they have to modify these and adapt their religious practices and beliefs to the changing environment.

GH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Bill Gentile: The biggest challenge facing the project was finding characters who can help transmit important information from the field to the audience. I was lucky to be working with Karsten, who had the patience to put up with a person (me) pointing a camera at him and asking questions all day. He is a gold mine of information and is articulate enough to convey that information in a compelling way… In addition, and as Karsten points out, the many Peruvians whom we met on our journey were welcoming and generous with their time.

GH: How has the film been received?

BG: American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS), which funded my trip, was delighted with the way the film explains the issue of religion and climate change in Peru.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting published a piece on “Fire and Ice on the Mountain” on its website because it addresses the “under-reported, systemic issues” that the Pulitzer Center is most concerned about. I have been using the film in my classes as a teaching tool. Students and colleagues find it inspiring.

GH: What plans do you have for the film?

BG: I will be entering some film festivals and will continue to use it as a teaching tool.

GH: What is your greatest satisfaction in having made this film?

BG: As with any of the films I have made, my deepest satisfaction is taking part in the global conversation that we call “journalism.” I am lucky and privileged to be able to travel, to seek truth, to create, to meet fascinating people, to explore their lives and to communicate their reality to people in other parts of the world.As you know, we live in a time when truth is under attack. I take great pride and even greater satisfaction in defending it.

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Inequality, Climate Change and Vulnerability in Peru

Agriculture is the most affected activity by hydrological changes (Source: Musuq/Flickr).

Local communities in the Andes are dependent on water resources from glaciers and precipitation for their agricultural activities. Unfortunately, climate change has made these mountain populations highly vulnerable to alterations in the hydrological cycle. A recent study by Anna Heikkinen of the vulnerability of small-scale farmers in Ancash, Peru, suggests that climate change is just one of several factors placing pressure on farmers; rather, a collection of socio-political and economic factors are the main cause of vulnerability.

The research, published in the Iberoamericana – Nordic Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, measured the vulnerability to climate and hydrological changes of local communities along the Quillcay River basin, situated in the city of Huaraz in northern Peru. The river originates in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, which preserves the largest reserve of tropical glaciers in the world. Meltwater from glaciers is a major source of water for the communities located throughout the region. Additionally, as indicated in the study, rain contributes to the river watershed during the rainy season, which starts in October and ends in March.

The author investigated the relationship between glacier retreat, changes in rainfall patterns, and socio-economic elements on vulnerability in the region. For the research, she used mixed methods: a qualitative and a quantitative assessment. For the qualitative aspect, the researcher interviewed local authorities and 16 small-scale farmers about their perceptions of climate change and external supports. For the quantitative part, she analyzed statistical data of harvested areas, the value of agricultural products, and the growth rate of local population. The results of the quantitative method were then compared to the qualitative findings to endorse the results from the qualitative evaluation.

According to the research, water in the river has diminished as a result of a shorter rainy period and reduced glacier melt. Moreover, during the wet season, there are heavy and less continuous rains than what was observed decades ago. These findings were further supported by Junior Gil Rios, a water resource management specialist at the Peruvian National Superintendence of Sanitation Services, who told GlacierHub that it has been estimated that the rainy season has been reduced from six to three months, running from December to February.

“This does not indicate that it rains less,” he said. “The precipitation intensity has increased.”

The Valley of Quebrada Cojup in Huaraz. Several of the mountains that surround the valley have already lost their snowpack (Source: Anna Heikkinen).

Rural populations are highly vulnerable to these alterations in rainfall patterns and changes in the water level of the Quillcay river due to glacier melting because the main economic activities of these communities are small-scale agriculture and cattle production. As access to potable and irrigation water is limited, crops are impacted and income levels have fallen.

Javier Antiporta, a researcher at the regional NGO CONDESAN, told GlacierHub that local residents in the Quillcay river basin rely on glaciers as a main source of water. The accelerated glacier retreat and water scarcity represents a danger for the communities. In addition, variations in precipitation patterns have changed the crop seasons and reduced the agricultural area.

However, Heikkinen, the author of the study, told GlacierHub that climate change itself does not make these populations vulnerable, as it is often claimed.

“The vulnerability of population in the Quillcay River Basin has existed long before,” she said, noting other factors such as historical marginalization, transformations in political-economic structures, and globalized market forces.

The research points out that government officials, who were interviewed for the study, consider major socio-economic issues like education, technical agricultural knowledge, lack of political entitlement, and other problems as leading contributors to vulnerability and development.

“In the rural highland regions access to education, health care or social services is often limited, and therefore, rates of school attendance are low and illiteracy, malnutrition or infant and maternal mortality high,” Heikkinen explained. “Poverty levels in the rural highland regions are also relatively higher than elsewhere in Peru. People who already live in deprivation, not having the economic assets or other capacities to adapt, are the ones who are the most vulnerable to climatic changes.”

The majority of the population in the Quillcay River Basin are native Quechua speakers. Their main economic activity is small-scale agriculture (Source: Anna Heikkinen).

She further indicated that for smallholders in the rural highlands, it has become difficult to compete with the large-scale farming industry. Smallholders produce fewer crops and have higher production prices, higher transportation costs, more challenging climate circumstances, less access to modern irrigation technologies, and less knowledge in modern seeding techniques, for example.

“The challenges posed by climatic changes only make their situation worse,” Heikkinen said. “The options for other sources of income for highland farmers are very limited considering the long traditions of small-scale farming and limited access to education to be trained for other professions.”

The study revealed that in order to adapt to these changes, locals are seeking alternative livelihoods, constructing canals and irrigation systems, and diversifying their crops. Educated populations have the strongest adaptation capacities to climate changes, but the majority of the locals do not have access to education. To sustainably eliminate vulnerability, policies should aim for structural changes to reduce the inequalities between rural highland residents and other sectors. For example, policies should provide equal opportunities for political representation, promote greater autonomy in decision-making, improve infrastructure, and give fuller access to agricultural markets.

“These kinds of policies would create more possibilities for local people to be able to influence development, such as building roads, bridges, water management systems and schools of the region, and most importantly to have more equal opportunity to receive income and accumulate assets in order to to build capacities themselves to mitigate vulnerabilities as glaciers retreat,” Heikkinen said. The most important adaptation measure would be to transform the current social, political and economic structures to promote sustainable development to reduce the vulnerability of Andean local communities to climate change.

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Local Communities Support Reforestation in the Peruvian Andes

Human activities have drastically reduced the natural habitats of Polylepis, a rare genus of tree species that dominates the high-altitude forests of the Andes and can grow from an elevation of 3,000 meters close to the glacier line, at approximately 5,000 meters above sea level. A recent analysis by Beatriz Fuentealba and Steven Sevillano of reforestation efforts of Polylepis in Ancash, Peru, has highlighted the importance of local communities for the successful implementation of these activities.

Polylepsis forests, or queñuales, can grow from an elevation of 3000 meters close to the glacier line, at approximately 5000 meters above sea level (Source: Contours of a Country/Flickr).

The analysis, published in the book Beyond Restoration Ecology: Social Perspectives in Latin America and the Caribbean, focused on the project “Conservation Corridor of Polylepsis in the South of Los Conchucos” that was implemented by the non-governmental organization, the Mountain Institute. The project was developed in 2004 for a period of five years to preserve, restore and recover the Polylepsis forests or queñuales, as they are known in the Peruvian Andes— of the southern area of Conchucos in the Ancash region. This new study makes the results of the project available to a wide readership.

The Ancash region, located in the northern part of Peru, is known for the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, which runs through the region and preserves the largest reserve of tropical glaciers in the world. Polylepsis forests located in this area have received protection from the national government since 1975 when Huascaran National Park was created. The protection of the national park was strengthened in 1977 when UNESCO recognized it as a biosphere reserve.

Queñuales are a type of Andean forest ecosystem. Manuel Peralvo, a researcher at the regional NGO CONDESAN, told GlacierHub in an interview that these ecosystems generate multiple benefits that are key for the well-being of Andean communities including hydrological regulation, reduction of risks of natural hazards and long-term maintenance of Andean biodiversity.

As Beatriz Fuentealba told GlacierHub, Polylepsis forests in the Cordillera Blanca help store soil water and maintain a moist environment throughout the year. She explained that queñuales are important for water regulation because the roots of these species support the infiltration of water into the soil. The abundant leaf litter that the queñuales produce allows for more water storage and improves soil nutrients. These forests also support the protection of puquios, or water springs, situated near local communities.

Moreover, Fuentealba pointed out that queñuales also generate a distinct microclimate. As a result, they become a biodiversity refuge. “Inside queñuales there is less solar radiation, more moisture and extreme temperatures are attenuated,” she explained. This microclimate allows for the development of particular mosses and other plants that do not grow in other areas. Several bird species also depend on the natural resources located in these forests.

Queñuales are a type of Andean forest ecosystem that provide several benefits for local communities (Source: Fabrica de Ideas/ Facebook).

Steven Sevillano told GlacierHub that queñuales are recognized as islands of biodiversity. In addition, he pointed out that in a climate change scenario they will be key for high-Andean biodiversity conservation. For this reason, the disappearance of queñuales would not only indicate the loss of a rare species but also the loss of habitat for several other species that use these forests as a refuge.

Unfortunately, the queñual populations have sharply declined due to logging for firewood, clearing for pasture for ranching and other activities. In 1978, before the Mountain Institute implemented the project, several reforestation efforts had been developed. One of these initiatives was initiated by Pompeyo Guillen, a park ranger in Huascaran National Park, who promoted the planting of queñuales with the support of the population living in the surrounding areas. National government programs contributed to this initiative with food in exchange for the labor provided. In the last 20 years, private mining companies established in the region have further supported these activities by paying a wage to people who take part in reforestation work.  

The project “Conservation Corridor of Polylepsis in the South of Los Conchucos” sought to reach conservation agreements with local communities. Thus, it established ways for the project to support an increase in economic development of the local communities working on reforestation efforts. These conditions included cattle breeding, tourism promotion, and the improvement of local education. In exchange, the communities would propagate, reforest and preserve queñuales.

In 1978, before the Mountain Institute implemented the project, several reforestation efforts had been developed (Source: Fabrica de Ideas/Facebook).

“Participating in reforestation activities is not easy, it requires effort, time and attention in order to increase the success of the reforestation,” Sevillano told GlacierHub.

Despite these difficulties, such efforts allow participants to become engaged with conservation projects and to recognize the importance of these forests. They take care of them and appreciate them more because they also start to value their own efforts, he added.

Fuentealba indicated that the challenge of working with communities is understanding the reasons that each local community has for participation in reforestation initiatives, which leads them to participate in these activities. Furthermore, the approach of particular reforestation projects to include local populations differs.

Considering these experiences, the study suggests that a strategy to ensure the sustainability of reforestation projects of queñuales involves increasing the awareness of the benefits provided by queñuales, as well as connecting local communities with their natural resources.

When working in restoration efforts, it is not only relevant to understand the degradation level of the forests. It is also important to connect with local populations and comprehend how they will be impacted, their relationship with these ecosystems, and their values. Such participatory projects can reduce negative community impacts on forests while supporting positive ones.

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New Glaciological Center in Kazakhstan to Tackle Glacier Retreat in the Region

In the following months, Kazakhstan will start the implementation of a Central Asian Regional Glaciological Center. The center was established after the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, ratified an agreement last March between his country and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Central Asian Regional Glaciological Center will be located in Almaty, the largest city in the country, and has the objective to both contribute to the research of glaciology and improve the scientific understanding of the impacts of climate change on glaciers and the water cycle in the region. As stated by UNESCO, the center will improve coordination of research projects and information sharing between regional institutions currently working on glaciers. Moreover, it will aim to increase the capacities of Central Asian specialists in the field of glaciology.

Almaty, Kazakhstan (Source: Caroline_china/Flickr).

Christian Hergarten, a current research scientist at the Mountain Societies Research Institute at the University of Central Asia, told GlacierHub that he and his colleagues believe the regional research center will create local and regional ownership in terms of environmental data and information generation for Central Asia. “This should help to move glaciers higher on national agendas and render the effects of global warming on glaciers, water flow and storage a political priority in the area,” Hergarten said.

For Ryskeldi Satke, a researcher focused on Central Asia, countries must have more research hubs outside of the one in Kazakhstan for the sake of the whole region. “In my opinion, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan should have scientific collaboration regarding glaciers and water resources. It is a good step for Kazakhstan to develop research capacity and support scientific exploration in the field of glaciology,” he told GlacierHub.

Due to the relative aridity of the region, glacier meltwater is a key water resource for these countries, with glaciers relevant to the future development of the region. Major Central Asian rivers such as the Syr Darya and Amu Darya provide for the livelihoods of the people living in this semiarid region, for example, mostly through hydropower generation and irrigation agriculture. Hergarten added, “Many rivers in Central Asia have their sources in the high mountains where snow and glacier melt contribute substantially to runoff generation— between 10 and 30 percent.”

As stated in the draft proposal of the establishment of the center, thawed snow and glacial water in Central Asia is formed in high-mountainous areas. The zone of runoff formation in these locations determines the hydrological regime and provides water resources to the densely populated region. Unfortunately, these territories are not adequately monitored. This situation is responsible for inadequate information on glacier mass dynamics, among other deficiencies. The lack of factual information on processes and natural phenomena at high altitudes in cold mountain regions forces scientists to use secondary data and indirect methods to make assumptions when constructing forecast models. This explains the lack of consensus among scientists on the impact of climate change on the region’s water resources in general and glaciers in particular.

Almaty Lake, Kazakhstan. Source: David McCarthy / Flickr

Nazif Shahrani, professor of Anthropology, Central Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Indiana University, told GlacierHub that it is “critical and necessary” to monitor the global impact of changing ecological conditions and the Aral Sea’s virtual disappearance in the region, especially on the remaining glacier fields in the area. Moreover, the initiative by Kazakhstan, one of the richest and more populous nations in the region, is most welcome and will be beneficial, especially if it includes monitoring the glacier field not just within the boundaries of Kazakhstan but also in the other republics with glaciers, Shahrani noted. “The future viability of all five republics of former Central Asia and Afghanistan will depend on waters from the glaciers and the mountains of this region,” he said.

The dependence of Central Asian countries on mountain resources varies across Central Asia. While countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan rely heavily and immediately on mountain resources, the importance of mountain resources is less pronounced for Kazakhstan with its vast steppes and grasslands, according to Hergarten. “The Kyrgyz, Tajik and partly also the Uzbek economies depend critically on water originating from Central Asian mountain ranges for agricultural production, benefitting large parts of the population. But the economies also depend on mineral resources originating from mountains,” he said.

A child from Almaty (Source: Marusia/Flickr).

The negotiation and development of the agreement dates back to 2006 when Central Asian countries assessed the state of glaciers and water resources of the region during a workshop organized by UNESCO in Kazakhstan. During the meeting, the participants acknowledged the need for a regional center on glacier research. Six years later, an agreement on the establishment of the regional research center was signed in Astana, the capital of the country, during the official visit of the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. The Central-Asian Regional Glaciological Center will be implemented under the auspices of UNESCO as a category 2 organization, which indicates that the center is not legally part of the international organization. However, it is associated with it through an agreement between UNESCO and the country that will host the center.

“Kazakhstan is a prominent member of the international community and such status gives the Kazakh government more opportunities to implement or initiate regional cooperation based on the scientific data and research from the hub in Almaty. Regardless of the outcome, the research center is a good and positive sign for the region. Most likely, it will create more room and opportunities for the regional scientists to congregate and exchange scientific data on glaciers and water resources,” Satke concluded.

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New Research Center Advances Glacier Agenda In Peru 

On August 7th, in light of the rapid retreat of glaciers in the Andes, two Peruvian national organizations subscribed to an inter-institutional cooperation agreement to implement a glacier research center in the Peruvian city of Cusco. The agreement between the National Research Institute for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM by its acronym in Spanish), the leading glacier research institution in the country, and Cusco’s San Antonio Abad National University (UNSAAC in Spanish) aims to strengthen the scientific agenda for glaciology-applied research in the southern Andean region of the country.

INAIGEM’s Macro Regional Office of the South will be located in Kayra Estate, a meteorological agricultural experiment station founded in 1956 and managed since then by UNSACC. This office will coordinate research projects all over the southern region of Peru. Thus, INAIGEM will provide technical assistance to regional governments to develop appropriate policies in biodiversity, water resources, food security and glaciers, within the context of climate change.

Andenes in the local community of Vilcabamba in Cusco (Source: Musuq Allpa/Flickr).

Benjamin Morales, executive director of INAIGEM, stated during an interview for UNSAAC that for students from the university, the glacier research center will be a learning space where they will be able to investigate with expert researchers. Students from different faculties including geology, geography, biology and other social and environmental sciences will be able to participate in the research projects that the INAIGEM will develop in Cusco in the following months.

During an interview with Glacierhub, Morales highlighted the community approach to conducting research, as the institute is coordinating with regional and local governments, the private sector, and universities in each city of the Southern Andes. As the Peruvian online information portal Inforegion indicates, scientists are currently monitoring two important mountains near Cusco: Mount Ausangate, the fifth-highest mountain in Peru, and Chicón, relevant for its water supply to the Cusco region. Scientists are also monitoring neighboring areas between Cusco and Puno, part of the southern region of Peru on the border of Bolivia. INAIGEM will start a study at the Coropuna glacier in the region of Arequipa, for example. Coropuna, one of the highest mountains in Peru, is facing rapid glacier retreat due to climate change.

Mark Carey, a professor at the University of Oregon, told Glacierhub in an interview that partnerships between different types of institutions can effectively enhance glacier-related work in the Andes and beyond by combining the study of ice and society. They are an effective means of drawing together the natural and social sciences, as well as researchers and local communities, in an equal partnership of exchange and interaction.

Due to the direct relationship between glaciers and society, the partnerships with local communities in the southern Andes allow researchers to understand how glacier retreat is affecting cultural values, agricultural practices and the economy. Moreover, in several regions, local populations understand the changes that are produced by the natural Andean climate variability and have implemented their ancestral knowledge to adapt to those changes. An example of this is the local community of Vilcabamba, located in Cusco, has implemented an agricultural system similar to a terrace that was used by the Incas to increase the amount of cultivatable land available to farmers due to the reduction of water supply from Salkantay glacier, located on the twelfth highest mountain in the country.

The map shows the Cordillera Blanca in the north and the Cusco region in the South (Source: Google Maps).

It is important to have continuing research on glaciers in the Andes to contribute to the understanding of the future natural changes. In a country that traditionally encouraged the centralization of resources and areas of study in the capital city of Lima, institutes like INAIGEM are now supporting a decentralization process. Unlike most Peruvian national institutions, for example, INAIGEM is headquartered in Huaraz, a mountain city located at the base of the Cordillera Blanca. Furthermore, it has as an objective to promote and strengthen the environmental agenda and technological development in the Peruvian Andes, an area sometimes forgotten by Peruvians.

As Carey told Glacierhub, while the Cordillera Blanca is the most glacierized range in Peru (and in fact the most glacierized range in all of the world’s tropical regions), glaciers in the south of the country have been understudied in the last decades. In Carey’s opinion, the Macro Regional Research Office of the South will widen the glacier research that Peruvians have been conducting in the Cordillera Blanca for more than half a century. In developing countries such as Peru, the effects of glacier retreat greatly impact neighboring areas. For example, when glacier runoff from Cusco-area glaciers declines, it changes the hydroelectric output from the facilities of the Machu Picchu Hydroelectric Station.

Thus, Luis Vicuña, a researcher at the University of Zurich, explained in an interview with Glacierhub that there is a direct relationship between glaciers and society. “A wider understanding of the future of glaciers in our society implies research that involves different types of expertise in order to contribute to the understanding of the natural and physical changes, and also the cultural, political, economic and social changes that will determine the relationship between glaciers and society.”

Multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration can effectively enhance glacier-related work in the Andes and beyond. The cooperation agreement between INAIGEM and UNSAAC plans to facilitate the articulation of environmental scientific research with policy-making processes that regional governments need to  support local communities in adapting to climate change.

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