Human Capital Investments for Glacier Countries

In October 2018, the World Bank launched the Human Capital Project, which is focused on promoting global economic growth and equity. Its primary component is the Human Capital Index (HCI), an assessment of children’s access to basic human rights around the world. The HCI takes into account information about children’s health and education, using these indicators to compile an ultimate score of the future generation’s productivity as it relates to the country’s economic potential. Read more about the Human Capital Project in the official published booklet, openly available here.

Countries with glaciers face many challenges associated with climate change, and having strong, healthy, educated populations will contribute to their adaptive capacity. Thus, the Human Capital Index has many implications for glacier countries.

What makes up the Human Capital Index?

The HCI is separated into three components, each of which are made up of statistical indicators:

  1. Survival
    • Probability of survival to age 5 (0-1)
  2. Education
    • Expected years of school (0-14)
    • Harmonized test score (300-625)
  3. Health
    • Fraction of children under 5 not stunted (0-1)
    • Fraction of 15-year olds who survive to age 60 (0-1)
World map with HCI quartile scores shaded for every country (Source: The World Bank).

How do we interpret countries’ individual HCI scores?

Through compilation of the above indicators, each country will receive a HCI score from 0-1. Every country is then ranked into quartiles, with the top quartile representing the countries with scores in the top 25 percent of the world, third quartile representing the next 25 percent of countries, and so on.

According to the Human Capital Project Booklet, “A country in which a child born today can expect to achieve both full health (no stunting and 100 percent adult survival) and full education potential (14 years of high-quality school by age 18) will score a value of 1 on the index.”

Take Switzerland, which received an HCI score of 0.77, as an example. A score of 0.77 means that the future productivity for a worker born today, given current levels of survival, education, and health, is 23 percent lower than what it could be. Likewise, Nepal, which received an HCI score of 0.49, could improve by up to 51 percent based on its current state.

What are the implications for glacier countries?

On the right is a table which includes data from the HCI, HDI (Human Development Index), and GDP per capita for several glacier countries, with cells color-coded to the quartile they match on the map above. The HDI measures a country’s achievement in several categories of human development beyond the confines of economic growth; read more about it here

The HCI ranks glacier countries in similar ways to how they are ranked by the HDI and GDP per capita, with some exceptions. For example, Chile has a relatively high HCI score and HDI score when compared with its GDP per capita. In 2006, Chile launched Chile Crece Contigo (Chile Grows With You), a program focused on early childhood development. Chile’s actions showcase it as an example of a middle-income country that has made the policies highlighted by the HCI feasible on a large scale. Other examples of countries who scored higher on the HCI than their relative GDP per capita are Austria and New Zealand. 

The graph to the left shows the relationship between HCI score and GDP per capita for several glacier countries. Countries that are above the line show high HCI scores relative to their GDP per capita, and countries below the line show low HCI scores relative to their GDP per capita.

This points to the importance of investment in human capital for countries of any income level. In addition, though GDP per capita and HCI scores are positively correlated, countries must allocate part of their income to investment in human capital in order to receive superlinear benefits (meaning they would be placed above the line). 

How do these indicators translate to economic potential?

The survival, education, and health of people in any country can be estimated by the HCI’s parameters. There is a direct link between the education and health of individuals and their potential productivity as workers. Once more, there is a direct link between worker productivity and a country’s ability to increase their GDP in the long-term.

Simply put, investing in the well-being of the future generation is absolutely essential to a country’s long-term economic success. Investing in the children of today will help ensure increased productivity, reduced poverty, and a better quality of life when they become of working age. This will also help countries increase their GDP, allowing for sustainable growth and more opportunity to invest back in survival, education, and health measures for the next generation.

What are the barriers to investment in human capital?

One barrier to investment in human capital is time. Investment in children will likely not see any return for at least another 18 years. Due to both political and economic benefits, policymakers may be inclined to focus on what can be done in the short-term to improve people’s lives, such as building bridges and roads. This attachment to immediacy can lead to an underinvestment in the survival, education, and health of today’s children.

Glacier countries are particularly vulnerable to the accumulating effects of global climate change. However, the slow process of glacial melting and the delayed return on investment in today’s children may similarly lead residents of glacier countries to focus on problems and solutions that are more pressing in the short term. Nonetheless, to increase their prosperity into the future, glacier countries benefit from considering the importance of investing in human capital.


Want to know more about the Human Capital Index?

Video of the Week: The World Bank’s Human Capital Index

Video of the Week: The World Bank’s Human Capital Index

This Video of the Week provides an introduction to the World Bank’s newly released Human Capital Index (HCI); it explains what the Human Capital Index is, how it works, and why it is important. 

The HCI measures investment in human capital in countries around the world. It highlights the necessity of basic human rights for children of the next generation of workers, such as: social and economic equality, good health, proper nutrition, and access to education. Proper investment in human capital is essential to facilitate economic development and prosperity on the national level. At the individual level, investment in human capital works to help people reach their true potential, provide for their future families, and improve overall quality of life.

This index also calls attention to existing disparities between glacier countries. The United States, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Iceland, and New Zealand have HCIs ranking in the top (fourth) quartile of countries; Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Kyrgyzstan rank in the third HCI quartile; Tajikistan and Nepal rank in the second HCI quartile. Bolivia and Bhutan both lacked data to calculate HCI values.

Watch the video below, and explore the World Bank’s Human Capital Project webpage for more information.

Discover more glacier news at GlacierHub:

2018: An Exceptional Year of Losses for Swiss Glaciers

North of Nightfall: Glaciers, Mountain Biking and Climate Change

Horn Signaling at a Medieval Icelandic Monastery

2018: An Exceptional Year of Losses for Swiss Glaciers

In 2018, Swiss glaciers lost over 2.5 percent of their overall volume, reported the Swiss Academy of Sciences in a recent press release. This corresponds to 1.4 billion cubic meters of ice that melted from Switzerland’s glaciers in just one year.

Swiss glaciers: Findelen Glacier 2018 on GlacierHub
The Findelen Glacier, in the Monte Rosa region of southern Valais, Switzerland. Only glaciers at the highest altitudes (over 2000m) had snow thickness losses of less than one meter (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

However, this year of exceptional melting actually began with a rather promising winter season. The 2017-2018 winter commenced earlier than expected in Switzerland, starting in the first days of November and continuing through December with reported snowfall above average levels. January also saw higher temperatures than normal, as well increased precipitation.

While snow depth below 1000m elevation was around half the expected average by January, snow above 2000m elevation was still twice the expected average in March, representing the highest snow levels seen in the past 20 years.

GlacierHub interviewed the author of the press release, Matthias Huss, who said, “After the winter measurements in April and May, we actually thought that this might be a good year for the glaciers at last.” Huss is also the leader of the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS) and a glaciologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland.

Swiss glaciers: rivers of glacial melt at Findelen Glacier 2018 on GlacierHub
On the Findelen Glacier, even above 3000m elevation, rivers of glacial melt flowed well into September (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

However, both April and May were hot and dry, decreasing snow at altitude to relatively normal levels. Then, the months from April to September were characterized by drought conditions and high temperatures, making it the third-hottest and overall driest summer on record.

“This is probably the largest annual shrinkage since the mega-heatwave of 2003,” said Martin Beniston, an honorary professor and former director of the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, in an interview with GlacierHub.

Both Beniston and Huss told GlacierHub that, had it not been for this snow-rich winter, Switzerland’s glaciers would have faced even more extreme losses. Indeed, the above-average quantities of snow in the Alps during winter 2017-2018 helped offset some loss of ice this summer.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College and the director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project commented on the implications of 2018’s extreme melting. “The significance of a big year of melt followed by another is there will be no comparable rebound,” he said.

Swiss glaciers: Pizol Glacier in 2006 and 2018 reveals massive glacial retreat on GlacierHub
A comparison of the Pizol Glacier in 2006 to 2018, revealing massive glacial retreat and ice covered in debris (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

Wilfried Haeberli, a glaciologist and professor emeritus at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, put this year’s loss in perspective. “Since the turn of the century the average loss rate of all glaciers in the Alps can be estimated at around 1-2 percent per year. The loss rate of 2018 is roughly twice this amount,” he noted in an interview with GlacierHub. Together in the last 10 years, Swiss glaciers have lost one-fifth of their volume, which is enough to cover the entirety of Switzerland with 25 cm of water

While certainly extreme, losing 2.5 percent of glacial volume in one year is not unprecedented. Years with observations of “extreme” glacier melt are becoming both more frequent and more severe. Huss recalled the years 2015 and 2017, when Swiss glaciers lost comparable amounts of ice, saying, “2018 was not absolutely exceptional, in terms of the last decade. And this is of course the actually worrying news.”

Pelto, Beniston, and Haeberli echoed similar sentiments, saying that the observed losses for Swiss glaciers were, “exceptional but not unusual,” and that 2018 was, “hardly a surprise,” but instead, “part of a long-term development, which is in agreement with robust results from model simulations about global warming and glacier vanishing,” respectively.   

On a global scale, glaciated areas in several other countries saw noticeably higher snowlines and rapid volume loss due to melting in 2018. Some notable examples of this widespread glacial retreat include: the Lowell Glacier in Yukon, Canada; the Taku Glacier in Alaska, U.S.; the Chubda, Angge, and Bailang Glaciers along the Bhutan-China border; and the Inostrantsev and Pavlova Glaciers in Novaya Zemlya, off the coast of northern Russia.

Swiss glaciers: Lake at the tongue of the Rhone Glacier on GlacierHub
The Rhone Glacier developed a lake at its tongue again in 2018, due to the exceptional melting (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

“The fact that high snowlines and mass balance loss are affecting glaciers in every corner of the world indicates that this is not a regional change, but that global climate change is the driver,” said Pelto. 

Huss also pointed out the difficulty of deducing whether extreme conditions in the past few years is due to weather variability, or whether we are to experience these extremes as our new normal. However, noting that the volume loss for Swiss glaciers in the past decade was more than expected based on projected scenarios for the 21st century, he is certain that, “if it is the latter, then we might expect Swiss glaciers to disappear even earlier than expected.”

According to Beniston, since the 3rd Assessment Report of the IPCC in 2001, projections have estimated that at the current rate of climate change, glaciers will decline by anywhere from 50 to 90 percent by 2100. “[This year] provides a measure of things to come,” he said, “in the sense that by the second half of the 21st century, what are considered extreme summers today (like 2018) will become average summers.”

Ultimately, Haeberli told GlacierHub he sees these striking glacier mass losses as “writing on the wall,” indicating that opportunities for action to reduce impacts of global warming are now being lost. He closed his comments by calling upon the necessity of “rapid deceleration” of greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit negative effects on living conditions on Earth and allow us more time to “develop well-reflected sustainable adaptation strategies.”

Photo Friday: Exhibiting The Icebergs

This Photo Friday features “The Icebergs,” painted by Frederic Edwin Church in 1861, on permanent display at the Dallas Museum of Art. “The Icebergs” draws on a combination of influences: Church’s real-life observations during his month-long voyage in the North Atlantic Ocean, accounts written by other explorers, and the mysterious, ethereal quality of the Arctic. At a Sotheby’s auction in 1979, the painting sold for $2.5 million, the most any American painting had sold for at public auction at the time.

Frederic Edwin Church, “The Icebergs,” 1861, Oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt (Source: Dallas Museum of Art).


Frederic Edwin Church, “The Icebergs.” Close-up of broken mast (Source: Dallas Museum of Art).


Frederic Edwin Church, “The Icebergs.” Close-up of water and cave going through the iceberg (Source: Dallas Museum of Art).


Frederic Edwin Church, “The Icebergs.” Close-up of the painting’s main featured iceberg (Source: Dallas Museum of Art).

Biodiversity Reversals in Alpine Rivers

A recent study on the Borgne d’Arolla, a glacier-fed stream in the Swiss Alps, shows that there is less biodiversity among macroinvertebrates than expected in the summer and higher biodiversity than expected in the winter. Chrystelle Gabbud, a geologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and her associates, found that the rates of streambed disturbance in the Borgne d’Arolla were also much more frequent than normal observations of disturbance in glacial rivers, even during times of peak discharge. The team’s results were published in September in Science of the Total Environment and attribute the above biodiversity inversion phenomenon to the increased frequency of flushing events.

The Borgne d’Arolla (Source: bulbocode909/Flickr).

Why is it that glacier-fed rivers in the Alps are experiencing even more flushing events? Evidence points toward the impacts of global climate change, as rising temperatures influence increased glacial melting and sediment production during the summer months, which in turn means that flushing must be facilitated more often.

Summertime runoff in glacier-fed Alpine rivers is exceptionally useful for supplying water for hydroelectric power production. The flow of water is abstracted at water intakes, which hold back both water and sediment, functioning similarly to dams but on a smaller scale. Intakes also have a relatively low threshold for how much sediment can accumulate before they must be flushed. This means that in basins with high erosion, namely glaciated basins, this flushing happens more frequently. In the summer months, when glacial melt is at its peak, flushing of water intakes can occur up to several times a day. Flushing disrupts the streambed, increases water turbidity, contributes to river aggradation, and negatively affects the macroinvertebrate community both in abundance and biodiversity.

Gabbud and fellow researchers collected samples of macroinvertebrates (animals that do not have a backbone but that are large enough to be seen with the naked eye, such as crustaceans, worms and aquatic insects) at several locations over the course of two years (2016 and 2017) to determine the impacts of flushing water intakes on species biodiversity and abundance. The surrounding tributaries served as controls for the Borgne. The researchers’ findings effectively contradicted the normal expectations for seasonal biodiversity changes.  

Normal biodiversity expectations anticipate that both species richness and abundance should be higher during the summer months, from June to September, which also correspond to the highest water temperatures. However, Gabbud and her team found that biodiversity of macroinvertebrate populations in the Borgne d’Arolla during winter months (and coldest water temperatures) was comparable to the expected levels for the surrounding tributaries during the spring and summer. The Borgne was found to be mostly devoid of life in the summer months, a result which the researchers primarily attribute to the high frequency of flushings.

Figure A depicts the geographical location of the study. Terms in bolded black are the locations of each water intake, and red circles indicate sampling stations. Figure B shows the Bertol Inférieur intake (Source: Gabbud et al., 2018).

The team also compared observations in 2016 to those in 2017. Variations in flushing frequency and duration between the two years led Gabbud and her associates to two determinations. One, that more flushing had a direct negative impact on the presence of macroinvertebrate biodiversity and abundance. Two, that flushings with shorter duration also correlated with higher rates of streambed disturbance.

In addition, they found that as the frequency of flushing decreased, macroinvertebrate populations started to return. Outside of the summer months, flushing happens much less frequently. In a four-day period between flushes, biodiversity was almost able to reach pre-disturbance levels.

A graphical abstract, magnifying both a water intake and a macroinvertebrate species downstream (Source: Gabbud et al., 2018).

The researchers’ observations led them to recommend that the frequency of flushing at the water intakes be decreased and the duration of flushing be increased. They stipulate that higher magnitude flushings, resulting from taking too much time between events, could also have negative impacts. Thus, this situation creates a tension between maintaining hydropower and maintaining biodiversity, a major policy issue.

Currently, Switzerland has a single set of regulations regarding mitigating impacts and restoring ecological areas being used for hydropower generation. There are provisions related to sediment management; however, guidance provided by the Swiss National Government does not mention water intakes by name, instead only addressing dams and maintaining sediment connection.

Seeing as water intakes govern over 50 percent “of hydropower impacted rivers by basin area” in the Swiss Alps, Gabbud and her team emphasize that future regulations must incorporate both sediment management and flow management.

Roundup: Disappearing Acts, Sound Signatures, and Cryoconite Holes

China’s Disappearing Glaciers

From Chinese Academy of Sciences: “Xinjiang, a land of mountains, forests and deserts, is four times the size of California and is home to 20,000 glaciers — nearly half of all the glaciers in China. Since the 1950s, all of Xinjiang’s glaciers have retreated by between 21 percent to 27 percent.”

Read more about glacial retreat in China here.

The Tianshan No. 1 glacier is rapidly melting—scientific estimates report that the glacier could completely disappear within the next 50 years (Source: Rob Schmitz/NPR).


Glaciers Have Signature Sounds

From Sonic Skills: “In early 2015, an international group of geophysicists published an article claiming that particular patterns in the sounds of glaciers might reveal where and how those glaciers were calving. They had made sound recordings with hydrophones—underwater microphones—and taken photos at the same time. This enabled them to link various glacier sounds to distinct forms of ablation through ‘acoustic signatures.’”

Read more about glaciers’ signature acoustics here.

An aerial shot of a tidewater glacier. Sound-recording instruments are used especially for studying movement of tidewater glaciers (Source: Jon Nickles/PIXNIO).


Cryoconite Holes on the Qaanaaq Glacier

From Annals of Glaciology: “Cryoconite holes are water-filled cylindrical holes formed on ablation ice surfaces and commonly observed on glaciers worldwide.. Results suggest that the dimensions of holes drastically changed depending on the weather conditions and that frequent cloudy, warm and windy conditions would cause a decay of holes and weathering crust, inducing an increase in the cryoconite coverage on the ice, consequently darkening the glacier surface.”

Read more about cryoconite holes and glacial darkening here.

Aerial photo of meltwater streams in Greenland. Dark spots on the surface of the glacier are the result of cryoconite (Source: Marco Tedesco (NASA)/Flickr).