Diane Burko’s New Exhibit, New Book, New Focus

Diane Burko at Raudfjorden, Svalbard. 2013 (source: D. Burko).

GlacierHub has featured the striking paintings and photographs of Diane Burko on several occasions (see here, here, here and here). A retrospective, Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives: Bearing Witness to Climate Change, presents her recent and current work. It is now on display at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where it will run through September 30, 2017.

A catalog, with the same title as the exhibit, has been published. It includes reproductions of 40 of her pieces, along with an introduction by the Walton Art’s Center curator Andrea Packard, an article by William Fox of the Nevada Museum of Art which places Burko’s work in the context of mountain art, and an analytical essay by the art critic Carter Ratcliff, who has written on other American artists, including John Sargent Singer and Andy Warhol.

Cover of catalog which accompanies Burko’s current exhibit (source: Walton Arts Center).

The exhibit and catalog include work from Norway, Argentina, Greenland, and Antarctica, showing Burko’s engagement with the cryosphere. Her work adopts the task of promoting awareness of climate change. Her work also presents her simply as a painter and photographer with careful attention to technique and form and deep familiarity with many currents in modern and contemporary art.

Burko is at the forefront of new explorations of the art/science frontier. She does not simply present scientific maps and charts as data, or as beautiful images. Rather, she leads her viewers to see them as objects in the world that co-exist with art and with the natural world itself. In this way, she allows us to see our rapidly changing world more clearly, to think about it more deeply, and to engage with it more fully.

We recently interviewed Burko on the works in this exhibit and catalog. We were pleased that Burko’s publisher agreed to offer the book to readers of GlacierHub at a 20% discount. Details appear at the end of the interview.

 

GH: Some paintings show brushstrokes that reveal your motion, as you painted them. These paintings offer an oblique view. This is a contrast with the overhead view of other paintings, with cracks in the dried pigment, which suggest flying above a glacier landscape filled with crevasses. Are you seeking to convey a different experience of yours, or a different aspect of the glaciers?

Nunatak Glacier #1, #2. 2010 (source: D. Burko).

DB: This diptych Nunatak Glacier is an earlier work from my first project called Politics of Snow, shown in 2010. That catalog can be seen on my site. At that point, all the images I painted were “out-sourced” from USGS, National Snow and Ice Center or individuals. This example of repeat photography contrasts Bradford Washburn’s 1938 shot with a photojournalist’s effort to repeat the same vantage point in 2005. I made this painting in 2010. The style is more consistent with the way I was painting at the time. I think the “oblique view” is customary for this kind of documentation by glaciologists.

 

GH: Some of these paintings offer two views of the same peak from the same point, with different light and weather, a bit like Monet’s haystacks and views of Notre Dame. Some of your other work emphasizes  the surprise of the first encounter with a glacier, or the challenges of arriving in a harsh environment. These multiple views point to longer stays, to growing familiarity. Is this a theme you are seeking to evoke?

Matterhorn Icon Series 8. 2007  (source: D. Burko).
Matterhorn Series 6. 2007 (source: D. Burko).

DB: The curator, Andrea Packard, selected 6 out of the 12 original paintings from this Matterhorn Series – actually my first attempt to address issues of climate change in 2007 (also in that Politics of Snow show). By including Series VI and VIII, she could say the exhibit surveyed the last decade.

Your Monet reference is so apt being that I spent six months on a residency in Giverny and enjoy working in series. However my strategy here was to provoke the viewer. I thought naively that by seeing so many different versions of this iconic mountain one might think about the snow and the melt. I realized it was too subtle an idea and quickly turned to the “repeat” strategy which was the core of this major exhibition.

 

GH:  Some paintings involve new use of line, particularly the arc of a circle which echoes the other lines in the painting, which may indicate the partially obscured shorelines. The arc might evoke a parallel, one of the lines of latitude which become tight circles close to the poles. Does this use of line offer a reference to cartography, to the abstraction of science, or to something else— or is it non-referential altogether?

Arctic Melting July 2016 (After NASA). 2016 (source: D. Burko).

DB: You are spot on! YES, it is a device I have used. You are referring here to Arctic Melting, July 2016.  This one also used latitudinal lines and indicates how Landsat images are sometimes put together— with mosaics— so yes, I love combining/contrasting painterly gestures with scientific markers.

Arctic Cyclone, August 2012 (after NASA).
2012-2013 (source: D. Burko).

I try to utilize cartographic, scientific references whenever possible, most notably in a painting which was hanging in the American embassy residence in Helsinki: Arctic Cyclone, August 2012 (after NASA) as part of the Arts in Embassies Program of the US Department of State.

UNESCO National Heritage II. 2015 (source: D. Burko)

Here is another example, this one painted a year earlier than Arctic Melting. It’s called UNESCO National Heritage II. Also in the show.

In a more recent work, not included in this exhibition, I’ve taken those lines to a more abstract level with a series about the Beaufort Sea which experienced dramatic melt last summer. Here is one example.

Visions of the Beaufort Sea I. 2016 (source: D. Burko).

GH: One image seems strikingly new for its depiction of dust-covered snow and ice, its direct display of recently-melted ice (the valley in the middle), the heavy shadow in the back, and the high horizon line. Taken together, these convey powerfully the loss that has already occurred in glacial landscapes. What was your experience of making this?

Viedma Landscape, 2015 (source: D. Burko).

DB: That is NOT a painting but a 40” x 60” archival inkjet print taken from my expedition to the Patagonian Ice Field in Argentina – it’s the Viedma Glacier! More of them on my photo site.

 

GH: Carter Ratcliff describes your paintings as “referential” rather than abstract. What relationship do you see between this word and the more common term “representational”? Do you find that this term fits your work?

DB: I love his use of this word. I am not trying to copy but rather referencing my personal experience, knowledge gained from the science, and a deep sense of urgency.

 

GH: You have been addressing climate change in your work for some years now. What are the new thoughts and feelings that have come to you in the last year about this approach? 

DB: Another perfect question! I have been focused on climate change for the past decade. Now more than ever, in this shameful political era, I am committed to continuing my efforts to express the urgency of this issue through my practice and also through public engagement.

In terms of a specific direction in my practice: I am about to leave the frozen waters to explore warmer ones around the equator. I am about to embark on a project with three other collaborators called: Kai-Apapa which means coral reef in Hawaiian. Here is our site: www.kaiapapa.com.

Off of Mossman. 2017 (source: D. Burko)

On my recent trip Down Under, I flew over the Great Barrier Reef and began a new photographic series – not yet on my site. Here is a sneak preview.

 

To order Burko’s Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives at a 20% discount, go to the book website http://glacialshifts.com/, click on the “buy book” button and enter the code: glac1. This offer will run through June 30, 2017.

Palcacocha Icefalls Demonstrate Hazard Vulnerabilities in Peru

Recent Calving Events at Lake Palcacocha

Glacier front subject to calving, Lake Palcacocha (source: Jeff Kargel).

In the last week, calving events at Lake Palcacocha in the Peruvian Andes released masses of ice from a glacier on Mount Pucaranra. The ice fell into the lake, sending waves across the lake that destroyed infrastructure designed to prevent dangerous outburst floods. Fortunately, the waves were not high enough to overtop the moraine dam and send floodwaters downstream, where they could have taken many lives and damaged urban infrastructure. A glacial lake outburst flood from Palcacocha devastated Huaraz, the largest city in the region, in 1941, killing about 5,000 people. Other, more recent, glacier floods in the region have also been very destructive.

Marco Zapata, the director of glacier research at INAIGEM, the Peruvian National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, spoke about the events recently in a press conference reported in the Peruvian daily El Comercio. A Spanish-language video of the full press conference is available online.

Pucaranra Glacier, Lake Palcacocha, and syphons at the moraine (source: INDECI).

Zapata indicated that the calving event occurred around 8 p.m. on May 31. The resulting waves, three meters in height, were strong enough to move and damage ten large pipes, rendering them inoperable. These pipes, known locally as “syphons,” are designed to draw water from the lake at times when its level is high; in this way, they were thought to reduce flood risk significantly. They had been a point of local pride, seen as a successful application of modern technology to protect against the dangers to which the region has long been subject.

Zapata mentioned that the waves also destroyed several gauges and a sensor which measures lake levels. And the event was not an isolated one, at least according to a regional newspaper, which reported a second calving event at 5:40 a.m. on June 2.

Syphons in operation, releasing water, before recent icefalls (source: Facebook/Vision Informativa Huaraz).

Representatives of INAIGEM and two other organizations, the National Water Authority and the local municipality of Independencia, visited the lake a few days later. They found that the workers on Pucarthe site had restored two of the drainage pipes. These officials anticipated that the other eight will soon be functional.  Zapata and the other authorities called for increased investment in infrastructure at the lake to reduce the risks of a flood. They estimated that an expenditure of US $6 million would prevent about $2.5 billion in potential damages, including a hydroelectric plant and irrigation facilities on Peru’s desert coast; it would also protect the lives of the 50,000 people who live in the potential flood zone.

The Causes of the Calving Events

These events were not entirely unexpected. Marcelo Somos Valenzuela, a postdoctoral fellow at the Northeast Climate Science Center at the University of Massachusetts, is the lead author of a study, published last year in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, which concluded “there is consensus among local authorities, scientists and specialists that Lake Palcacocha represents a glacier lake outburst flood hazard with potentially high destructive impact on Huaraz.” This paper also stated that a “small avalanche” like the ones that recently occurred are “the highest likelihood event” and that they would “produce significantly less inundation.”  Somos Valenzuela wrote to GlacierHub, “There are empirical models and hydrodynamic models which provide estimates of the height of the wave in the lake… In this case, it seems that the ice-fall was small, and 3 meters is a reasonable estimate of the wave height.”

Workers inspecting syphons at Palcacocha (source: INDECI).

Moreover, several sources indicated high risks at this time of year. Noah Walker-Crawford, an anthropologist at the University of Manchester, spoke recently with the workers at the drainage site at the lake. He wrote to GlacierHub, “According to the people who work at the lake, the icefalls were likely due to unusually strong fluctuations between cold nights and warm days.” He mentioned that they said “there is a block of ice that is ready to fall, but we hope that that won’t happen.”

Jeff Kargel, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, told GlacierHub that both calving events and avalanches at Palcacocha “dump energy into the lake, and if they are large and sudden enough, a big wave can form. As with other more classical tsunamis, the shoaling in Palcacocha toward the south end of the lake— where the syphons are— can cause a relatively small displacement wave to build up to a much larger size when it nears the shore. Avalanches and calving events are frequent occurrences at this lake, and both should be especially active in the late May-July period, which tends to be the dry season, hence mainly sunny, thus allowing high solar radiation. The air temperature doesn’t vary much throughout the year, this being deep into the tropics, so variations in sunny versus cloudy days are the main seasons.”

Weather data at Palcacocha, May 2017 (source: INAIGEM).

The weather data indicate some warm days in May at Palcacocha. The data also demonstrate that May had less rain than usual, particularly toward the end of the month. Such dry weather is typically associated with less cloud cover, supporting Kargel’s suggestion and a report in a regional newspaper, Ancash Noticias, which stated that “intense solar radiation” in recent weeks had been the cause of the calving events. The data also support the observations of the local residents about the temperature fluctuations between day and night, since cloudless nights in this region are colder than ones with overcast skies.

Responses to the Calving Events

What can be done to protect Huaraz and neighboring communities from floods, now that the syphons are damaged? Mark Carey gave a long-term view to this question. “Palcacocha has its history of death, destruction, and near misses,” he wrote to GlacierHub. “The issue is partially one of climate change and ever-shrinking glaciers that have caused the lake to expand and fill with more water, creating a hazard waiting to morph into a disaster if Palcacocha’s dam ruptures. Avalanches provide the trigger to help destroy dams.” Referring to Peruvian activities, starting in the 1940s, to lower the lake level and to reinforce the moraine, he added, “The story is also one of engineering and technology. Since the 1990s, funds and political support for actual glacial lake engineering projects have been extremely limited. Now we have regular declarations of states of emergency at Palcacocha, but no engineering projects to provide a more long-term solution.” He also pointed to the need for “an early warning system, and… educational programs to train the population how to respond in the event of an outburst flood or alarm system.”

Workers repairing damaged syphons, Lake Palcacocha (source: Facebook/Municipalidad Distrital de Independencia).

It might be thought that the damage to the syphons would generate support for such solutions. However, obstacles still limit effective responses. Barbara Frazer, a journalist based in Peru for many years, offered a note of concern, linking these events with other disasters in Peru. She told GlacierHub, “Peru’s response to natural disasters is improving, but the country still clearly lags in prevention. The most recent flooding on the coast was an extreme reminder, but every year, there are also landslides on the Central Highway, and children die of pneumonia during the cold snaps high in the Andes. And every year, there’s an emergency response, but little or no long-range planning. Part of that is due to the way responsibilities and budgets are divided among the various levels of government, part to turnover of government staff, and part simply to a lack of a culture of prevention and planning.”

A recent online exchange in Huaraz shows awareness in the region of these issues raised by Carey and Frazer. Most discussants call for greater investment in infrastructure to protect the areas below Palcacocha. However, others suggest that self-interested government agencies play up the risk in order to increase their budgets, which they will divert to personal ends. A scientist, Sonfia González, commented that the regional government lacks the skills needed to manage risks. Others expressed a concern that publicizing the risks would harm the region by reducing tourism. These disagreements point to a lack of confidence, at least on the part of some local residents, in the agencies whose task it is to protect them from natural hazards.

The calving events confirmed scientific research in the area. They also showed the weakness of the existing infrastructure, designed to protect the region from floods. And the discussions in Huaraz show a second, equally serious deficit: the limits of the trust between society, experts, and public agencies, even in ones of the areas of the world most familiar with glacier risks.

Cracks in the Paris Agreement

Major cracks have appeared in recent months in Petermann Glacier in Greenland and the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. These cracks are advancing and will soon release enormous icebergs into the ocean, one the size of the state of Delaware. They will allow ice from the interior of Greenland and Antarctica to flow into the ocean, contributing to sea level rise. Coastal areas in the U.S. will experience increased flooding, disrupting ports and airports, and interfering with the American economy that Trump claims to support, as well as causing harm to societies and ecosystems around the world.

 

And today a major crack appeared in the Paris Agreement, with Trump’s announcement of his intention to pull the U.S. out of it. This crack threatens to release, not icebergs, but distrust and despair, and disrupt the mechanisms that had begun to slow down global greenhouse gas emissions. This crack— in policy agreements rather than in masses of ice— can be sealed, by efforts of other countries, and of states and cities in the United States and by actions of the corporations and organizations that sought to keep the U.S. in the agreement.

 

The laws of physics indicate that ice will continue to flow from Greenland and Antarctica, at least as long as global warming is not abated. But the processes within global society are not as inevitable. With concerted action, the Paris Agreement can still be a vital force to preserve our planet from one of the greatest threats it has ever faced.

Elliott Green’s Paintings of Mountain Mindscapes

Beach Mountain by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
Beach Mountain by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

Elliott Green is an artist known for the diversity of his images. Born in Detroit, he studied literature and took up drawing before settling into painting. His recent exhibit at Pierogi Gallery in the Lower East Side of New York includes a number of works which look like landscapes, since they show mountains, the ocean and the sky. But they also contain other fantastic elements with colors and shapes that seem to depict inner imaginings rather than the natural world.

This exhibit  impressed GlacierHub, as it impressed reviewers such as Peter Malone, who said that Green “strides confidently right over the rumbling fracture” between representation and abstraction. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Jana Prikryl stated “His compositions demonstrate the movement of the universe on both the macro and the micro scales. They … are first and last human documents, their rhythms legible to the pulse and not above trying to accelerate it.”

Green’s paintings in this exhibit remind us that people experience nature, not just with their senses, but with their minds. The many different textures in his works, produced by using sponges, knives and squeegees to apply paint, as well as brushes, suggest distinct modes of perception. As our eyes turn from one feature to another, our minds explore other associations. He shows us how the landscapes in front of our eyes become mindscapes as we view them. GlacierHub interviewed Green last week.

Human Nature by Elliott Green (source:: Elliott Green.Pierogi)
Human Nature by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

GlacierHub: Your show is titled “Human Nature.” It explores the relation of what is human and what is nature. The painting “North of the Hippocampus,” with its cool blue cloud-filled skies, tall mountains, and other forms, points both to a location in the world and to a space beyond the hippocampus, the component of the brain that is essential to memory. Do you seek to juxtapose transient and long-lasting elements both in the brain and in the external natural world?

Elliott Green: The paintings show imagined places. Very often the titles are anatomical names, usually locations in the brain, but sometimes glands and hormones.

On a map of a brain, the Hippocampus is just below the entorhinal cortex, where a person’s spatial memory shows activity on an MRI. It’s the place where you register where you are–the neural GPS, where psyche meets place.

North of the Hippocampus by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
North of the Hippocampus by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

This idea of syncing psyche and environment occurred to me when I began painting a range of different weather systems across a long, single sky along the top of a canvas. I used that as a code for emotions, which move in rapidly changing sequences.

This analogy was augmented by having distant mountain shapes getting larger toward the fore. This too became a method for describing temperament, an arrangement of sharp and round shapes which correspond in some degree to hospitality and hostility, like caressing fingertips or slicing claws. Combining gentle and dangerous shapes seems like a good way to depict how a person might view the world.

It’s something we all know, that our physical selves are reconfigured earth matter, composed of calcium and iron and water and all the other minerals that roll down a mountain during a storm. This is just another way to revision that greater overview.

 

Psychoid Moraine by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
Psychoid Moraine by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

GH: Your paintings challenge the viewer’s efforts to separate out real objects and mental images. “Psychoid Moraine” invites the viewer to locate the moraine, and offers the long, diagonal gray area as a possibility. The yellow sky, red stripes and horizontal lines might be elements of the psychoid energy which Jung described. Do you see parallels in the processes which shape landscapes and the human self?

EG: Viewers’ first impressions are that they are seeing a familiar scene. Then the unusual components reveal themselves, and metaphors occur to them. The viewing becomes a mental exercise to understand the differences and relationships of the elements.

In the case of “Psychoid Moraine,” I did see that gray zone as a dividing rift that could apply as a metaphor for psychical fragmentation or a gouge and wound.  But the painting is so lyrical that the scarring doesn’t seem disastrous.

 

Fist and Shadow by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
Fist and Shadow by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

GH: Your paintings challenge the viewer’s innate tendency to judge depth. Many contain distinct horizon lines and contrast foreground and background, suggesting distance, but also lack shadows, and the relative size of elements are hard to guess.  Do you wish to resist the viewer’s effort to become oriented?

EG: When a brain determines that a picture is a landscape, it will accept some things that would never be so in the reality. For example reflecting water does need to reflect what is behind it– as long as the water is shimmery, almost any image can substitute.

My landscape paintings transitioned from the kind of abstract paintings that try to convey the workings of bodily interiors– invisible feelings and unconscious thought.  In those paintings, space and time can be spliced and twisted. I tried to keep those poetic freedoms when I converted to the new framework, and used as many tangents and asides as I could without undermining the overall sense of distance and space.

That effort  sometimes involves taking liberties with scale, introducing multiple horizons, and piercing new dimensions with niches of foreign abstractions. I feel it in my gut when an object is too big or small for where it is positioned in the composition.

 

Aerolith by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
Aerolith by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

GH: Your paintings contain large, brightly-colored elements, some with sharply defined edges, some of which fade off softly. “Aerolith” is a striking example. Do you see connections between the variable boundedness of natural objects and human experiences?

EG: I think I know exactly what you mean. I used to think a lot about this– how the edges of a subject meet the background behind it. For example, if the figure was hard and sharp edged, that meant it was self involved, egotistical and alienated.  And if one had soft boundaries it meant it was attuned to its environment, could dissolve into to it to become part of the larger world.  I thought I would rather be like the second type of thing.

You are being graciously cautious in your questioning because you know that I’m an improvisational artist who makes intuitive paintings that have several possible meanings at once so that they can continue to be interesting over a long period of time.

 

Fire Drip by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
Fire Drip by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

GH: The white masses in “Mineral Ancestors,” “Beach Mountain,” and “Fire Drip” can seem like glaciers, an element which Roberta Smith noted in her review of your show in the New York Times. The red masses suggest desert mountains. Do you seek to evoke specific features of nature (as you do at times with parts of the human body, as in “Fist and Shadow”), or are the forms more generalized?

EG: There’s a lot of lava-like and ice-like formation in these paintings, especially the larger ones—“Mineral Ancestors” and “Human Nature.” And “Beach Mountain” was named with William “Strata” Smith in mind, the geologist who I learned about from Simon Winchester’s book, The Map that Changed the World. He found the fossilized seashells on a  Scottish mountaintop and ascertained that the world had to be much older than anyone believed at the time.

Mineral Ancestors by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
Mineral Ancestors by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

Bringing together scenic landmarks from around the globe is like having a diorama filled with a comprehensive sampling of  specimens. It adds to the sense of expansiveness when making paintings on that epic scale.

When the hot colors confront the cold colors, it makes an energy, like wind, and when the meeting of landforms is very abrupt, it causes a feeling of agitation and dramatic excitement.  I admit, the melting right side of “Mineral Ancestors” is a little ominous.

 

GH: Do your paintings express any thoughts you have about current environmental crises?

EG: I have thought that these paintings are a way to make nature more human, to personify it, in order to cultivate more compassion for it.  My mountain ranges have an animism, a personification that is projected from my psyche. The natural world is already a beautiful place, so why do I need to remake it more like people? It’s another way in.

The Photon Skirt by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi)
The Photon Skirt by Elliott Green (source: Elliott Green/Pierogi).

But, you are asking me to what degree do these paintings refer to climate change, glacier melting, and sea level rise. It occurs to me now that the first example of this kind of painting appeared about four months after Hurricane Irene. That storm got my attention, but in my studio I guess I was just thinking about how weather serves as a great metaphor for emotion.

I have learned more about climate change through documentaries and lectures, away from the studio. I know I’m feeling distressed like everyone else. It is disturbing, frustrating, angering and sad, and I’m sure these feelings are reverberating through our collective consciousness. My paintings have absorbed this deep sense of being upset without my trying to force such a momentous theme onto them.

Glacier Researchers to Join Worldwide March for Science

Science rally in Boston, Feb. 19 (source: GenXMedia/Twitter)
Science rally in Boston, Feb. 19 (source: GenXMedia/Twitter).

Large groups plan to assemble on April 22 in Washington, D.C. and cities across the world as part of the March for Science to demonstrate their support of science and the role of scientific evidence in guiding policy. Glacier researchers and other cryosphere specialists are preparing to join their colleagues from other disciplines in this global expression of concern.

Locations of satellite marches on April 22 (source: March for Science)
Locations of satellite marches on April 22 (source: March for Science).

The March for Science has grown over a short period, the idea first emerging soon after the 2017 Women’s March in January. It quickly gathered momentum with large numbers of adherents on social media, drawing inspiration from the 2014 People’s Climate March. The organizers selected April 22, Earth Day, as the date for the events. By February, 27 scientific associations had joined as partner organizations to co-sponsor the march. To date, 107 organizations are sponsoring the event, with 429 satellite marches planned in 42 countries.  

In addition to seeking to assure funding for scientific research, the march has a number of other goals: supporting scientific education, promoting diversity and inclusiveness in science, affirming science as a democratic value, and advancing the role of scientific evidence in policy-making.  Though some have voiced a concern that the march could serve those who seek to attack science, by politicizing science and presenting scientists as an interest group, the march’s supporters have argued for the urgency of taking a public stand in the face of unprecedented threats to scientific research and to the belief in science itself.

Poster for satellite march, Greenland (source: IceSheetMike/Twitter)
Poster for satellite march, Greenland (source: IceSheetMike/Twitter).

One of the march’s earliest sponsors was the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific organization, with over 120,000 members. Agustin Fuentes of the University of Notre Dame, the chair-elect of the anthropology section of the AAAS, spoke recently with GlacierHub about the back and forth discussions across the membership when the idea first came up. “The leadership stood up right away and spoke publicly,” he said, adding  that this “galvanized the membership.”  

Fuentes further underscored the importance of science at a time when, as he said, “the structure of the planet is changing so fast.” He continued, “We are at a point of almost no return. I never expected to see video footage of glaciers shrinking…We’ve known of this global disruption climatologically, and it’s been ramped up politically. People who engage in science have to speak up now.” He spoke as well of primates, the “canaries in coal mines for the world’s forests,” with over 60% of primate species listed as threatened.

Scientists at demonstration at AGU annual meeting, San Francisco, December 19, 2016 (source: DeLucia/Twitter)
Scientists at demonstration at AGU annual meeting, San Francisco, December 19, 2016 (source: DeLucia/Twitter).

Robin Bell of Columbia University, the president-elect of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), linked cryosphere processes with the importance of the march. The AGU, with over 60,000 members, was one of the march’s first sponsors. “The march is a chance for us to talk about how science matters,” she said. “Science is important for society, and it’s non-partisan.”  

“We’re still making basic discoveries about how ice sheets work,” Bell continued, referencing her own work in Antarctica. These findings are important to society because of “the linkage to sea level rise” and the threats to port facilities in the current economy, where “goods move all around the world.”  She emphasized that the march was global, with other countries besides the US needing to assure the role of science in policy and decision-making.

Flyer for satellite march, Busan, South Korea (source: March for Science/Facebook)
Flyer for satellite march, Busan, South Korea (source: March for Science/Facebook).

Alisse Waterston,  the president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), described to GlacierHub her organization’s path to supporting the march. At the AAA’s 2016 annual meeting in mid-November, less than two weeks after Election Day, members voiced their wish to take action. “It was remarkable to see such a strong sense of solidarity, of deep concern because of the rhetoric,” she said. The annual meeting led to a number of initiatives that began in late November and December.

Valorie Aquino, one of the three co-organizers of the March for Science and an anthropologist from the University of New Mexico, approached the AAA in January to ask for support. Waterston felt it was an excellent opportunity for the AAA “to leverage its capacity and work in solidarity with individuals and with other organizations.” The march serves to oppose what she termed an “assault on people, assault on the most vulnerable, and assault on knowledge itself.”

Laura Ogden, an anthropologist at Dartmouth, and head of the AAA’s Anthropology and Environment Section (A&E), is mobilizing A&E to support the March. She described her work with the indigenous Yaghan community in Tierra del Fuego. Her current research, a “collaborative archive project,” examines photographs of glaciers from the early 1900s. She traveled with the Yaghan to visit these glaciers and discussed changes with them.  She explained that for the Yaghan, “the loss of glaciers are related to the loss of lands, the loss of language and of rights.”

Susan Crate, an anthropologist at George Mason University and a member of the AAA’s Task Force on Climate Change, raised similar points from her work in Siberia, where she has collaborated with permafrost scientists in the management of hayfields crucial to the indigenous Sakha, who raise horses and cattle. Permafrost thawing and changing patterns of snowfall and snowmelt leave hayfields flooded, ravaging long-established livelihoods. Crate emphasized “the need to invest deeply in understanding the diversity of ways that people experience all these changes,” echoing what Ogden termed “understanding how climate change is part of this bigger story” of vulnerability.   

Poster for satellie march, São Paulo, Brazil (source: MarchCienciaSP).

A cryosphere scientist who works at a federal agency had a different response to the march. “You should be aware in advance that— as an [agency] employee— I cannot speak to the media about, nor participate in, public actions wearing my ‘[agency] hat,” he wrote in response to GlacierHub’s request for an interview. “The administration here is going strict on this requirement, as they don’t want to give any reason for any next budget slashing, which is becoming increasingly possible by the day, and specifically on a planned political action. I don’t want to provide anyone with an excuse to lash out on my work. Hope you understand.”

In a subsequent conversation, he elaborated his points: “Marching is easy. You are with thousands of people. There’s an energy in the crowd. But back in the office, there are daily battle lines when you are on your own. That is far more demanding than the march, which I fully support.”

Planning satellite march in Valdivia, Chile (Source:ScienceMarchCL/Twitter)
Planning satellite march in Valdivia, Chile (Source: ScienceMarchCL/Twitter).

He continued, “The true heroes will be science managers, agency people and university administrators who will be supporting and protecting the scientists. They are the ones who will preserve NSF [the National Science Foundation], NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and NASA [the National Aeronautics and Space Administration].” He paused, and then completed his thought: “They probably won’t come to the march. But on Monday they will come back to the office and they will fight.”   

To find a march near where you live, visit this site. And to learn how to make a model glacier in a wheelbarrow to bring with you to the march, look here.

 

Earthquake in Peru Creates Fear of Glacier Floods

An earthquake in Peru earlier this year produced significant ground shaking in highland regions of the country. It set off a wave of panic that glacial lakes in the Andes might burst their banks and create devastating floods.

Residents of Chimbote in the street immediately after the earthquake (source: Bolognesi Noticias/Twitter)
Residents of Chimbote in the street immediately after the earthquake (source: Bolognesi Noticias/Twitter).

The quake, of magnitude 5.3 on the Richter scale, took place at 1:42am local time on January 28. As reported by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Hazards Program, its epicenter was located under the Pacific Ocean, about 55 kilometers from the port of Chimbote in the region of Ancash, where the shaking was most instance. It was felt up and down the coast, as far north as Trujillo and as far south as Lima. The tremors also extended inland.

This earthquake was the first of a cluster. The second occurred five hours later in the town of Ica to the south of Chimbote. The third took place two hours after that, near Arequipa, still further to the south. These were smaller—4.7 and 4.4, respectively—but close enough in time to create a stir in the media, with extensive coverage all day long in national media. Moreover, Peru had experienced mudslides and debris flows in the months before the earthquake, adding to the sense of concern.

The first earthquake was a source of great concern in the highland areas closest to Chimbote, particularly in the Callejón de Huaylas—the long valley along the Santa River, just below the Cordillera Blanca, the mountain chain which contains the largest area of glaciers in Peru. The regional capital of Huaraz and several other sizable towns are located in this valley, which has experienced a number of destructive glacier lake outburst floods. Christian Huggel, a Swiss glaciologist who was working in the area at the time, wrote, “We felt the earthquake here in Huaraz during the night.” He added, “I did not see any damage in the morning, so everything seems to be okay around here.”

Map of the Chimbote earthquake (source: USGS)
Map of the Chimbote earthquake (source: USGS).

Benjamin Morales, the director of Peru’s National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, told GlacierHub that “the heavy rainfall and landslides in central and southern regions [of Peru]” added to the concern following the earthquakes, sensitizing the whole country to the risk of natural hazards even though risks were not as severe in Ancash and north of the country, where, he said, “rainfall is lower.”

Tony Oliver-Smith, an anthropologist at the University of Florida with extensive experience in the region, indicated to GlacierHub that the timing of the events, in the middle of the rainy season, was significant. He wrote, “Those of us who have worked in the Callejon de Huaylas are always alert to the effects of earthquakes and landslides, particularly in the rainy season,” when soils are moist, and more likely to erode.

The greatest fear was in Carhuaz, a provincial capital to the north of Huaraz. It lies near Huascaran, the tallest peak in the Cordillera Blanca, and the site of one of the world’s largest glacier lake outburst floods in 1970. This event, triggered by an earthquake, led to a debris flow which covered the town of Yungay, with about 6,000 fatalities.

Street in Carhuaz (source: Punki/Flickr)
Street in Carhuaz (source: Punki/Flickr)

A series of smaller aftershocks which followed the main earthquake kept the tensions high in Carhuaz. A Peruvian newspaper, Primera Página, reported that people were concerned that “blocks of ice would detach from glaciers and fall into the lake.” The resulting waves could overtop the rock walls that rim the lake and create a flood.

The residents of Carhuaz were also aware that the town had become more vulnerable to floods. A few months earlier, villagers had vandalized equipment that had been installed at a high mountain lake, called Laguna 513, directly above the town. The instruments, brought to the region at significant expense, were designed to provide warnings if the lake destabilized and threatened to flood the settlements below. As Morales, Huggel and other sources told GlacierHub, the reasons for this destruction are still not clear; they could have involved distrust of foreigners involved in the project, or beliefs that local spirits were offended by the equipment, or simply rivalry between different political factions.

A recent video offers testimony to the damage at the site:

Whatever the precise motivation of the people who attacked the warning system, the timing of the earthquake, coming soon after it was disabled, added to the concern. Primera Página reported that people felt “unprotected.” Cesar Portocarrero, a Peruvian glaciologist who lives and works in the region, wrote to GlacierHub, “In Carhuaz they felt the shaking and of course they immediately thought about the lake where the early warning system had been completely destroyed. It is very sad that the instruments were taken away.”

In the weeks after the earthquake, the aftershocks abated and concerns diminished. Patricia Hammer, an anthropologist who lives outside Carhuaz, wrote to GlacierHub in February of the “tremor,” saying that it left “little impact here in the highlands.” Nonetheless, the region remains vulnerable to earthquakes and floods. The challenges in establishing locally acceptable warning systems make these risks even greater.

How Many Super Bowl Ads Showed Glaciers?

Like many of our readers, we at GlacierHub watched the Super Bowl LI on Sunday.

We were pleased to see that several of the ads showed mountains that have—or might have—glaciers on their summits.

We invite you to email us at mailto:glacierhub@gmail.com and let us know which of these look like real glaciers to you. And if you saw any other ads that might have included glaciers, let us know that too. We’ll report the results to you within a week.

Here are the candidates we noticed.

The guy about to open a can of beer in the Busch ad

busch superbowl ad

 

Melissa McCarthy about to fall into a crevasse in the Kia ad

kia superbowl ad

 

The skier stuck on a lift in the Ford ad

Ford superbowl ad

Photo Friday: Upper Naryn River Valley, Kyrgyzstan

Last fall, I traveled in the upper Naryn River valley in Kyrgyzstan, taking part in a field trip organized by the University of Central Asia’s Mountain Society Research Institute. This organization put me in touch with a local researcher, Samat Kalmuratov, who accompanied me on visits to villages and nature reserves, serving as guide and interpreter.

The Naryn River drains the high glaciated peaks of the Tien Shan range in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It flows westward, forming the Syr Darya at its confluence with the Kara Darya River, and continuing through the agricultural Fergana Valley into Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In former times, it reached the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake.

These photographs of the river, its valley and inhabitants show both significant continuity and major changes in recent decades.

 

Herding sheep on horseback in upper Naryn Valley, November 2016 (source: B. Orlove
Herding sheep on horseback in upper Naryn Valley, November 2016 (Source: B. Orlove).

 

Tien Shan mountains, Salken Tor National Park, November 2016 (source: B. Orlove)
Tien Shan mountains, Salken Tor National Park, November 2016 (Source: B. Orlove).

 

Unfinished hydroelectric plant, begun in 1980s, upper Naryn Valley, October 2016 (source: B. Orlove)
Unfinished hydroelectric plant, begun in 1980s, upper Naryn Valley, October 2016 (Source: B. Orlove).

 

Yaks in the upper Naryn River valley, October 2016 (source: B. Orlove)
Yaks in the upper Naryn River valley, October 2016 (Source: B. Orlove).

 

Tributary of the Naryn River, Salken Tor National Park, October 2016 (source: B. Orlove)
Tributary of the Naryn River, Salken Tor National Park, October 2016 (Source: B. Orlove).

 

Naryn town, site of a University of Central Asia campus, seen from the west, November 2016 (source: B. Orlove)
Naryn town, site of a University of Central Asia campus, seen from the west, November 2016 (Source: B. Orlove).

 

Boy filling water containers at a village well, upper Naryn Valley, November 2016 (source: B. Orlove)
Boy filling water containers at a village well, upper Naryn Valley, November 2016 (Source: B. Orlove).

 

Recent Steps at the Mountain Societies Research Institute

Bernadette Dean, associate dean at UCA, at MSRI meeting (source: Ben Orlove_
Bernadette Dean, associate dean at UCA, at MSRI meeting (source: Ben Orlove)

Participants at a meeting held in Kyrgyzstan on 29-30 October 2016 reviewed recent developments of the Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI), a unit of the University of Central Asia (UCA). They discussed MSRI’s future directions, focusing on research, education and development programs. The participants included the five members of the MSRI Working Group that provides support and oversight to the Institute, as well as key personnel of the MSRI and senior staff of the UCA. The event built on an earlier meeting in 2015. It was followed by a two-day trip to Naryn province in Kyrgyzstan, with a visit to the first campus of UCA and several environmental facilities.

Bohdan Krawchenko, director general and dean of graduate studies at UCA, opened discussions at the meeting, held at UCA offices in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. He explained the context of the university, acknowledging the challenges that Central Asia faces, particularly governance issues and the slow economic growth that results from weak commodity prices and a reliance on remittances. He pointed out opportunities to improve productivity and advance technological knowledge by building a new set of higher education institutions attuned to the region’s history and cultures.

UCA campus in Naryn (source: Ben Orlove)
UCA campus in Naryn (Source: Ben Orlove).

Krawchenko also emphasized accomplishments. The first UCA campus, in the town of Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, opened in 2016. Its recruitment efforts resulted in a large pool of applicants, from which they selected the top sixth, on a competitive basis. There are 71 students in the first cohort, a number which will increase to 150. The current student body is diverse, with a large number from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and a good representation from other countries in Central and South Asia. Moreover, 56 percent of the students come from small towns and rural areas, following the UCA’s mission to broaden its base beyond the capital cities and large towns.

He noted that the construction and student recruitment at the second campus, in Khorog, Tajikistan, is progressing well, with the opening date set for 2017, ahead of schedule. Work is advancing on a third and final campus, in Tekeli, Kazakhstan, as well. Krawchenko commented on the Institute of Public Policy Administration, another UCA unit broadly parallel to MSRI, which has had successful postgraduate certificate programs and a set of working papers that have attracted attention throughout the region.

MSRI researcher (left)and head of local water committee, discussing irrigation canal maintenance (source: B. Orlove)
MSRI researcher Samat Kalmuratov (left) and head of local water committee, discussing irrigation canal maintenance (source: B. Orlove)

Diana Pauna, the dean of arts and sciences, presented other developments at UCA. The preparatory program at the Naryn campus has succeeded in bringing the students to a fully international level of quantitative and English-language skills. She spoke about the steps that have been taken in faculty recruitment, potentially a challenge given the location of the campuses in provincial cities. Currently a quarter of the faculty come from North America and Western Europe, another quarter from India, Turkey and China, and half from Central Asia, reflecting the progress of the Central Asia Faculty Development Program.

Pauna then focused on the Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) program, which will be the fourth and final department at UCA, along with economics and business, media and communications, and information technology, each of which offer concrete support to EES. She discussed the steps that have been taken to develop curriculum, providing practical laboratory and field-based experiences that provide strong local content and prepare the students for capstone projects which can lead directly to employment. She emphasized the importance of the program in linking Central Asia’s natural resources with development and sustainable livelihoods, and in addressing issues of climate change, such as glacier retreat. Bernadette Dean, the associate dean at UCA charged with directing undergraduate programs, joined Pauna in exploring the complementarities between MSRI’s research mission and the teaching focus of EES, and the potential for applied outreach programs as a way to develop these possibilities.

Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, the chairman of UCA’s Board of Trustees, joined the meeting by Skype for a full discussion of the EES program. The group paid close attention to the question of providing local content in curriculum. They discussed career paths for graduates, exploring capstone courses and internships that could build ties with local partners. Disaster risk reduction programs offer a concrete possibility in this region, where glacial retreat and other changes increase flood risk.

Marc Foggin, MSRI scientist, speaking at the MSRI meeting (source: Ben Orlove)
Marc Foggin, MSRI scientist, speaking at the MSRI meeting (source: Ben Orlove)

The second day of the meeting focused on the MSRI strategic plan, which has been developed by the director, Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, along with two MSRI scientists, Marc Foggin and Christian Hergarten. It centered on three cross-cutting themes: climate change and adaptation; mountain livelihoods, well-being and globalization; and the sustainable development goals promulgated by the UN. Foggin discussed a program of Learning Landscapes, with long-term ecological research and monitoring, which could promote poverty alleviation by promoting and supporting ecosystem services. These Learning Landscapes could be sites for MSRI research as well as for EES instruction.

Foggin pointed out that the mountains of Central Asia are recognized as a global diversity hotspot, and that the location of the three branches of UCA in mountain provinces allows for extensive field research in close proximity to the campuses. He cited as an example of training at outreach the partnerships that have been established with 10 schools in Naryn province, where teacher support programs contribute to environmental monitoring. The discussion of the MSRI strategic plan concluded with a review of the publication’s programs and a consideration of achieving financial stability.

Snow at the pass between Bishkek and Naryn (source: Ben Orlove)
Snow at the pass between Bishkek and Naryn (Source: Ben Orlove).

On the morning of 31 October, the working group departed for Naryn, joined by Schmidt-Vogt, Dean, and two MSRI researchers from agronomy and biodiversity programs. After leaving Bishkek, the group reached a pass at 3000 meters which was already covered in snow. They stopped to take photographs of the herds of yaks that had come down from their summer pastures earlier that month, and then continued on to tour the campus and meet with officials and students at lunch and  dinner. They also visited a weather station at a school in a nearby village, Döbölü, discussing environmental monitoring and reviewing relations with the national meteorological service.

Ben Orlove and four UCA undergraduates from Tajikistan (source: UCA)
Ben Orlove and four UCA undergraduates from Tajikistan (Source: UCA).

The field visit provided ample opportunities to observe the issues of mountain sustainable development that had been discussed more abstractly in Bishkek. The group heard that pastoralists aced problems in haymaking because of the wet summer in 2016, a growing issue with greater seasonal variability in recent decades. They learned that low technical and educational levels have impeded grading and certifying meat to permit export to international markets, where prices are much higher than locally; only four firms in the lower western provinces of Kyrgyzstan have met these standards, but the mountain provinces, with abundant herds and pasture, lag behind.

The Central Asian subspecies of red deer at a nature reserve (source: Ben Orlove)
The Central Asian subspecies of red deer at Naryn Nature Reserve (Source: Ben Orlove).

Visits to Salken Tor National Park and Naryn Nature Reserve demonstrated the potential for biodiversity research and conservation. Kyrgyz scientists make active use of camera traps to observe wildlife, but have had difficulties in receiving permission to use radio collars, once again because of international standards that are difficult to meet in such remote, poor areas. The group showed great interest in the videos of snow leopards and bears at the former and a center for recuperation of a population of the vulnerable local subspecies of red deer, Cervus elaphus bactrianus, at the latter. They commented that UCA and MSRI had the potential to help these units to achieve greater self-sufficiency and ease their reliance on sporadic international support.

The final conversations focused on maintaining the ties between the working group, MSRI, EES and other units at UCA, and concrete discussions of future visits to Naryn, and to the new campus in Khorog as well.

Photo Friday: New Images of Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier may be the glacier-covered peak most frequently shown in images on GlacierHub. Yet we never tire of it. Other people also seem to feel an enthusiasm for this extraordinary mountain, since they make their photographs publicly available. Here are some selections that have struck us. Taken from the air, from the sea and from land, they capture some of the mountain’s many aspects–sometimes remote, sometimes in the midst of human activity. They show that a mountain can never fully become familiar, because it can always be seen afresh.

 

Rainier from the west (source: Mobilus in Mobili/Flickr)
Rainier from the west (source: Mobilus in Mobili/Flickr)

 

Rainier from Puget Sound (source: Tiffany von Arnim/Flickr)
Rainier from Puget Sound (source: Tiffany von Arnim/Flickr)

 

Wildflowers on Rainier (source: Sigma Seedharan/Twitter)
Wildflowers on Rainier (source: Sigma Sreedharan/Twitter)

 

 

Rainier from the air (source: Rose Condrieu/Twitter)
Rainier from the air (source: Rose Condrieu/Twitter)

 

 

Rainier, reflected in a lake (source: Michael Green/Twitter)
Rainier, reflected in a lake (source: Michael Green/Twitter)

An All-Woman Climbing Team in the Andes

climbing-chachacomani
Ascending Chachacomani (source: Griselda Moreno)

Mujer Montaña—“Woman Mountain” in Spanish—participated in a recent project of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), in which women climbers from Latin America and Europe carried out ascents of peaks in two mountain ranges in the Bolivian Andes. They established mountaineering records, achieving first all-female ascents and opening new routes. They met another goal as well,  promoting exchanges between people of different cultures and worldviews. And, in their distinctive way, they built awareness of mountains in the context of climate change—a key goal of the UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award Platform, which supported the project.

Sunset in the Bolivian Andes (source: Griselda Morano)
Sunset in the Bolivian Andes (source: Griselda Moreno)

This project, supported by a number of government agencies and tourism firms in South America and Europe, brought together the members of Mujer Montaña, a Latin American group founded in 2013, with representatives of the Women’s High Mountain Group of the French Federation of Alpine Mountain Clubs (a UIAA member since 1932). In total, four women from South America and eight from Europe took part in the project.

Making offering to Pachamama (Earth Mother) and the apus (Mountain Lords) (Source: Griselda Moreno)
Making offering to Pachamama (Earth Mother) and the apus (Mountain Lords) (Source: Griselda Moreno)

The group started out in the Quimsa Cruz range on 28 July, staying there through 7 August. Traveling from their base camp at 4,400m, they climbed a new route up Torrini (5800 m). The second stage in the Cordillera Real, from 10 to 19 August, included ascents of Chachacomani (6100m), Janq’o Uyu (5520m) and Jisk’a Pata (5510m). The final stage, in the city of La Paz, involved a meeting on 22 August with students at the Catholic University of Bolivia, discussing issues of mountain protection, climate change and glacier retreat. On the last day, 23 August, they participated in a program with teachers and schoolgirls which linked climbing and self-esteem, and addressed issues of female empowerment. Carolina Adler, the president of the UIAA Mountain Protection Program, took part in the Janq’o Uyu ascent, as well as the last two days in La Paz.

Dawn on Chachacomani (source: Griselda Moreno)
Dawn on Chachacomani (source: Griselda Moreno)

The group is preparing a documentary film about their expedition, and preparing their next climbs, scheduled for November, which will take place in Ecuador. And they are waiting for the selection of the 2016 UIAA Mountain Protection Award winner. That will be announced October 14 in Brixen, Sudtirol, Italy during the 2016 UIAA General Assembly.

GlacierHub interviewed Lixayda Vasquez, one of the participants in the project. Vasquez comes from Cusco, Peru. In addition to Spanish, she also speaks Quechua, a major indigenous language of the Andes.

Lixayda Vasquez (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)
Lixayda Vasquez (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)

GH: What do you see as the significance of all-woman climbing expeditions?

LV: I think that what is most important is to stop seeing mountains as a place where only strong men, the ones with “big muscles,” can go. In recent times, many women in my country have wanted to explore new experiences for themselves, experiences which take them outside their comfort zone. They leave this zone, filled with myths and a whole machismo complex. And they discover that when they go outdoors, they enter a wonderful world where they never feel alone, because they are connected with nature.

It’s not necessary to go to the mountain in expeditions that are composed only of women, or only of men. The best way is for men and women to complement each other. We can remember that men and women are parts of the same world. And we can both bring our distinct contributions to make this world better.

 

Lixayda Vasquez, on her 21st birthday, on the summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)
Lixayda Vasquez, on her 21st birthday, on the summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)

GH: As a climber who speaks Quechua, have you ever used Quechua on an expedition?

LV: Quechua once saved my life.

I was with a group of friends from the climbing club in Cusco. We were trying to ascend Chicón, a snow peak in Cusco. It was already dark when we were returning to our camp near a village. A group of people came up towards us. Some of them were very drunk. They thought that we were the thieves, the ones who had stolen their alpacas several days earlier.

They were ready to kill us, burn our bodies and bury us there, where no one would ever find us. That is what they told us. We were terrified. We tried to explain that we were climbers, but none of them had ever heard of that.

We were in that situation until I said the magic word: chicarapuiku [We are completely lost]. As soon as I said that, they all calmed down, and finally they listened to us.

 

Lixayda Vasquez leading an ascent of Ausangate (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)
Lixayda Vasquez leading an ascent of Ausangate (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)

GH: You are from the mountain city of Cusco, and you have seen the snow peak of Ausangate since you were a little child.  How have your connections with mountains changed over time?

LV: I had the good fortune to spend a lot of my childhood in the town where my grandparents live, very close to the high Vilcanota Cordillera. When I looked out my window there, every day I would see imposing mountains, and Ausangate was among them. I would spend hours gazing at them and imagining myself up in them. When I was 19, I got to know a group of rock climbers, and we arranged for a mountain guide to teach us about mountain climbing. That changed my life. I’ve never stopped climbing since then. When I was 23, I fulfilled my dream of looking out from the summit of Ausangate and recognizing the towns and valleys of my childhood. Now, a more mature person, I plan to live connected to the countryside and to the mountains. I will ascend what the mountain lets me ascend.

 

Lixayda Vasquez will participate next month in an expedition of Mujer Montaña in Ecuador, where she will pass through other Quechua communities and ascend other Andean peaks. You can follow her on Facebook.

 

Glacier Countries Help the Paris Agreement Enter into Force

Small Glacier Countries Take a Big Step

Paris Agreement Tracker, October 6, 2016 (source: WRI)
Paris Agreement Tracker, October 6, 2016 (source: WRI)

On October 5, several small mountain countries with glaciers—Austria, Bolivia, and Nepal—undertook an important step in advancing global action on climate change. They helped the Paris Agreement reach the threshold to enter into force and become legally binding. This Agreement, the outcome of the UNFCCC COP21 last November, is widely recognized as the most important international accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

For the Agreement to enter into force, two conditions had to be met. The Agreement had to be ratified by at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, and these Parties—nearly all of them nations—had to account in total for at least 55% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Both of these steps were completed on October 5 through the ratification by 10 nations, including the three mentioned above, and one additional party, the European Union. This step closely follows the ratification by another small glacier country, New Zealand, on October 4. According to the terms of the Agreement, its entry into force will take place 30 days after the two conditions were met. That will occur on November 4, at COP22 in Marrakech. Morocco.

Minister and parliamentarians discussing climate change in Kathmandu (source: Batu Krishna Uprety/Twitter)
Minister and parliamentarians discussing climate change in Kathmandu (source: Batu Krishna Uprety/Twitter)

Though each country had taken many factors into consideration as it weighed the possibility of ratification, it is striking that some mentioned glaciers specifically. Nepal’s official statement comments, “Nepal highlights that the Paris Agreement is a living instrument meant for serious implementation, in tandem with 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and hopes that its sincere implementation would help us adapt and mitigate the recurring problems such as landslides, floods, melting of glaciers, erratic and extreme weather patterns, and loss of biodiversity directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.”

The somber tone of this statement suggests a broad awareness of the threat of climate change in that country, where the ratification was the product of a unanimous vote in Nepal’s Parliament. Such moments of unity are rare in a country marked by fractious politics.

New Zealand deposits instrument of ratification at UN (source: Paula Bennett/Twitter)
New Zealand deposits instrument of ratification at UN (source: Paula Bennett/Twitter)

There was also strong agreement in New Zealand, where parliamentary votes are often highly contested. This point was noted by the country’s Minister for Climate Change, Paula Bennett—a person of mixed indigenous Maori and European heritage—in her statement to the press. “I’d like to thank the select committee and my parliamentary colleagues for the cross-party support of New Zealand’s involvement in this significant agreement.” She emphasized the importance of the event. “New Zealand has helped make history today by ratifying the Paris Agreement. … Although New Zealand contributes only a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, our contribution counts.”

 

Earlier Actions on the Paris Agreement

These recent actions follow on the steps taken by other countries, which ratified the Agreement earlier and brought it closer to the 55/55 threshold. Of particular importance were the small island states, who were among the first to ratify when it opened on April 22. China and the United States both agreed to ratify on September 5, when the two heads of state, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, met in Hangzhou.

Signing of Peru's instrument of ratification, Lima (source:MINAM)
Signing of Peru’s instrument of ratification, Lima (source:MINAM)

Peru, another glacier country, was also an early ratifier. It undertook this step on July 22, the first Latin American country to do so, in a major event attended by the President, Ollanta Humala, and the ministers of foreign relations, of the environment and of culture. The official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Relations linked the Paris Agreement to COP20, held in Peru in 2014, where the Lima Call for Climate Action was signed.

Benjamin Morales, the director of Peru’s National Research Institute for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM), explicitly linked his country’s attention to glaciers and its early ratification. In an email interview, he stated, “Peru is one of the countries that is most vulnerable to climate change. With the creation of INAIGEM [in 2015], it showed its commitment to carry out concrete actions to combat climate change.” The ratification of the Agreement was another such action, he added.

Jorge Recharte, the director of the Andean Program at the Mountain Institute, also underscored this link. In an interview, he stated

Peru ratified the Paris agreement on July 22, 2016. This step culminated an incremental process of climate awareness in the nation that, in no small part, was driven by the rapid recession of glaciers in Peru’s 19 ranges. Peru’s mountain agenda was promoted by civil society and government agencies since the International Year of Mountains in 2002. COP20 in Lima Peru, culminated a period of over ten years in which Peru was an active stakeholder promoting global action to deal with climate change. During this process one of the main difficulties to promote the Mountain Agenda more forcefully was the lack of harmony in strategies and control of the process between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the technical agencies in the country, initially with the National Council for the Environment (CONAM). With the creation of the Ministry of Environment (MINAM) in 2008, the mountain agenda was eventually moved to MINAM’s Directorate of Biodiversity. Thu, while Peru has on the one hand taken action internally to respond to climate change impacts on mountains, on the other hand its role engaging other mountain countries to negotiate support and promote more visibility of mountain peoples in the global arena has unfortunately faded. With the signing of the Paris Agreement, cooperation among mountain countries is more relevant than ever in order to jointly promote the incorporation of mountain needs in climate and development mechanisms (e.g. the Green Climate Fund (GCF) or the UN Millenium Development Goals).

Iceland's Minister of Foreign Affairs deposits instrument of ratification (source: Lilja Alfredsfottir/Twitter)
Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs deposits instrument of ratification (source: Lilja Alfredsfottir/Twitter)

Other small glacier countries were important early ratifiers, including Norway on June 20 and Iceland on September 21. These two countries may have taken this step earlier since they are not members of the European Union and could act in advance of other European countries. Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Lilja Alfreðsdóttir described the ratification as an act of solidarity. “By ratifying the Paris Agreement, Iceland has joined hands with a number of countries in paving the way for this immensely important global agreement to enter into force as soon as possible, ” she said. “Iceland stands shoulder to shoulder with many of the world’s most ambitious states when it comes to addressing climate change.”

Several small glacier countries—Chile, Switzerland, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Bhutan–are among the group of countries which have not yet signed the Agreement.

Ryskeldi Satke, a journalist in Kyrgyzstan, wrote to GlacierHub, “It is difficult to say when Kyrgyzstan will ratify the Paris Agreement. The Kyrgyz government took a step forward by signing it and the ratification should follow as expected.” He noted “the Tian Shan, Kyrgyzstan’s main mountain range, have been dramatically losing glacier mass in the last 50 years. This process is not likely to stop.  Climate change is going to be one of the challenging tasks for the country to deal with in the decades ahead. Certainly, Paris Agreement is a positive step for the Central Asian nation because Kyrgyzstan is not capable to manage climate change impact on its own.”

Matthias Jurek, a Programme Management Officer of UN Environment working on mountain ecosystems, offered his views of the actions of the small glacier countries as a set. He warned against overinterpreting the lack of ratification by a few of them. In an interview with GlacierHub, he wrote, “I would be very cautious in making assumptions…about the background why certain (mountainous) countries have not yet deposited their instrument of ratification. The procedures of ratification processes… can be very time-consuming. I would not question the political will of these countries.”

Jurek concluded “the mountain countries that have already deposited their instrument of ratification [serve] a good and positive signal to inspire others to do the same.”

It is striking to see how small island countries were among the first to ratify the Agreement, and how small glacier countries were among the ones to bring it into force. The melting of glaciers in the latter contributes to the sea level rise that impacts the former. In both cases, small vulnerable countries played large roles in addressing problems which they face–and which the whole world faces as well.