Walking to the Mountain, Dancing at the Shrines: An Andean Pilgrimage

Zoila Mendoza, an anthropologist and the chair of the Department of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis, is also the producer of a documentary recorded in the high Andes of Peru. “The Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i: The Walk Experience,” first released in February 2015, has won five honors, including a 2016 International Gold Award for Documentary and Short International Movie Awards, held in Jakarta earlier this month.

Pilgrims from Pomacanchi nearing a pass, on the walk to Qoyllur Rit'i (source: Z. Mendoza)
Pilgrims from Pomacanchi nearing a pass, on the walk to Qoyllur Rit’i (source: Z. Mendoza)

Mendoza’s film provides a detailed view of the largest pilgrimage in the Andes. Each spring, about 50,000 people, many of them indigenous Quechua, travel to the sanctuary of the Señor de Qoyllur Rit’i in the Cusco region of Peru, located at 4,800 meters above sea level at the foot of a glacier. At this site, they perform ritual dances and pay homage to the miraculous image of Christ on a rock and to the mountain itself, the glacier-covered Qollqepunku. Mendoza accompanied villagers from the community of Pomacanchi on three different annual pilgrimages, as they walked the 135 kilometers from their home village to the sanctuary. This journey takes three days and two nights, and leads them over four high passes. Her video shows the continuous music of flute and drums that accompanies the entire pilgrimage, as well as the dances in Pomacanchi, at points on the path to the shrine, and at the shrine itself.

The film documents the integration of sounds, sight and movement that together compose the pilgrimage experience. With its close-up view of a group of pilgrims, showing the heavy loads they carry on the journey and the long hours of vigorous dancing, it conveys the depth of their devotion of the pilgrims to the saints and mountains. In an email interview, Mendoza discussed the production of her documentary with GlacierHub.

Zoila Mendoza at the head of the line of pilgrims, walking from Pomacanchi to Qoyllur Rit'i (source: Z. Mendoza)
Zoila Mendoza at the head of the line of pilgrims, walking from Pomacanchi to Qoyllur Rit’i (source: Z. Mendoza)

GlacierHub: Though many people who have described the pilgrimage of Qoyllur Rit’i emphasize the importance of dance, you have subtitled your film “The walk experience.” Why do you place such importance on walking? What relations do you see between walking and dancing?

Zoila Mendoza: This was a result of my experience with the people of Pomacanchi, for whom doing the walk itself was the most important aspect of the whole pilgrimage. Walking has been the way of travel for Andeans for millennia, the same word is used in Quechua for “walking” and “traveling”: puriy. Even today, with the available motorized vehicles, many Quechua-speaking people in the countryside still spend several hours a day walking to go to their fields, herding their animals, etc. As I argue at length in my articles, the walk to Qoyllur Rit’i is carried out with the incessant music of flute and drum so, even at moments of rest and of introspection, the music is always there. There is a tune for walking and one for worshiping and saluting. The walk has also a choreography since it has to be done in a single file with the icons and flags in front and the music in the back. The whole musical walk can be considered a “dance” to the sanctuary.

 

Pilgrims kneeling at Qoyllur Rit'i, with Qollqepunku glacier in the background (source: Z. Mendoza)
Pilgrims kneeling at Qoyllur Rit’i, with Qollqepunku glacier in the background (source: Z. Mendoza)

GH: Your film depicts other bodily movements in addition to walking and dancing. In particular, you show the importance of two other bodily gestures: carrying heavy items, such as rocks and pottery icons that represent chapels, and kneeling in front of sacred sites or along paths. What do these gestures represent?

ZM: The participants use the same gestures to salute and pay homage to the sacred images and to the mountains. Carrying rocks uphill and unloading them is a way to kinesthetically level or flatten the ground (pampachay in Quechua) in order to heal any possible unevenness that might have emerged between the humans and the higher powers that are the saints, the Christ figures, and other sacred images and the mountains. They kneel and pray to both the images and the mountains. They do all of this always with music as an accompaniment.

 

Musicians from Pomacanchi at Qoyllur Rit'i (source: Z. Mendoza)
Musicians from Pomacanchi at Qoyllur Rit’i (source: Z. Mendoza)

GH: In your discussion, you emphasize that the pilgrimage combines beliefs in pre-Columbian mountain spirits and in Catholic saints. Do the people of Pomacanchi see these as separate beliefs, or as one set of beliefs? And are their participants’ own understandings of these beliefs changing?

ZM: This question addresses a very important issue that emerges when scholars and non-scholars bring up when they address Andean festivals. They always want to separate the pre-Columbian and the Catholic components. But in my 30 plus years of studying festivals, I have never run into a situation where the participants see those beliefs as separate. Sometimes they are forced to make that distinction because of the questions posed to them or because of outside repression that seeks to remove elements deemed primitive or pagan. In my case I had to put it in the documentary because I know it would be a question that many viewers would be asking in their heads. The participants’ own understandings of the beliefs are always changing. New stories come along, new practices are brought in, new names and new logics are integrated into the system.

 

GH: The majority of the pilgrims travel from the village to the sanctuary, with only the Ukukus—the men wearing bear costumes—continuing up to the glacier itself. Do the Ukukus perform particular rituals during the walk to the sanctuary? Do they sing in falsetto only on the climb to the glacier, or at other points as well?

ZM: During the walk, the main role of the Ukukus is that of guarding the order and the good behavior of the pilgrims. They also take on the role of the main helpers for the procuring of water and other elements for cooking during the trip. In my experience with Pomacanchi people, some of the most knowledgeable members of the group were the Ukukus who tended to be the more experienced having done the trip the most times. During the walk they did not perform different rituals than the rest and did not speak or sing in falsetto. I have only heard falsetto at the sanctuary.

 

Dancers in Pomacanchi before their departure on the pilgrimage (source: Z. Mendoa)
Dancers in Pomacanchi before their departure on the pilgrimage (source: Z. Mendoza)

GH: In recent years, the ukukus have stopped the practice of taking ice from the glacier. Do the ukukus, and other pilgrims from Pomacanchi, comment on this change? Do they harvest other kinds of ice at Qoyllur Rit’i, such as frozen stream or pond water? 

ZM: Many of the rituals and practices that seem to be important for other participants in the festival do not seem as important for the people of Pomacanchi, even though they still take the crosses up to the glacier and then bring them back the next day with the rest of the groups, there did not seem to be much expectation about this part of the ritual. This might have changed since the bringing down of the ice ceased around 2004, and I have only traveled with them since 2006 when the ban was already established. But I did not see people interested in taking melted ice or water from the streams that come down, as I have seen people from other places do. They are also not interested in the large procession at the principal shrine, which takes place on the main day of the pilgrimage. Instead of participating, they pack up to go during that time. Finally, they have never taken part in the so-called 24-hour pilgrimage that takes place the last day and night of the celebration when the groups carry the image of the Lord of Tayankani, closely associated with the miraculous image of Christ, to the town of Ocongate and perform important rituals at sunrise.

 

GH: A number of sources on Qoyllur Rit’i comment on the changes in the pilgrimage that have been brought about by global warming, particularly the shifts in climbing to the glacier. But other factors are also transforming the pilgrimage: the expansion of roads in the region, indigenous movements in Peru, the growth of tourism that brings foreigners to the pilgrimage. What future do you see for Qoyllur Rit’i?

ZM: Change has been a constant in this pilgrimage from the beginning, different factors have made it the biggest of the Andean region. At least one scholar, with whom I agree, Guillermo Salas Carreño, has argued that in fact the apparition and cult to the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i started only in the 1930s and not at the end of the eighteenth century as was widely believed. He suggests that it was stimulated by local conflicts and later fueled by nativist movements. Roads, tourism, and indigenous and other current movements (e.g. movements to stop the government contracts with the mining companies) only make the pilgrimage more important and better known. As I state at the end of the documentary, since people in the Andes place great importance on the integration of kinesthetic, visual and auditory experiences in their everyday lives and other cultural practices, rituals such as Qoyllur Rit’i will continue to play a central role in their lives.

 

A DVD of this film is available at a discount to GlacierHub readers.
From the US: go to the distributor’s website. Click on the “Apply for discount” button, and mention you saw the post at GlacierHub. You will then receive an email with an individualized discount coupon with a 20% discount off the list purchase price. Individuals who are not connected to an educational institution should let us know that in the comments section of the discount request page.
From outside the US: contact the distributor directly at: info@berkeleymedia.com, and mention you saw the post at GlacierHub. You will then receive instructions on how to order the DVD.

Roundup: Cold War waste, glacier retreat, and “glacier quakes”

Cold War Waste Buried Beneath Melting Greenland Ice

Nuclear power plant at Greenland's Camp Century during the Cold War (Source: US Army)
Nuclear power plant at Greenland’s Camp Century during the Cold War (Source: US Army)

From Scientific American: “When the U.S. military abandoned Camp Century, a complex of tunnels dug into the ice of northwest Greenland, in the mid-1960s, they left behind thousands of tons of waste, including hazardous radioactive and chemical materials. They expected the detritus would be safely entombed in the ice sheet for tens of thousands of years, buried ever deeper under accumulating layers of snow and ice.”

“But a new study suggests that because of warming temperatures that are driving substantial melting of the ice, that material could be exposed much, much sooner—possibly even by the end of this century—posing a threat to vulnerable local ecosystems.”

Read more here.

Researchers manipulate Andean stream to mimic glacier retreat

Antisana Ecological Reserve in Equador, where the study took place (Source: Stefan Weigel)
Antisana Ecological Reserve in Equador, where the study took place (Source: Stefan Weigel)

From Nature Communications: “Glacier retreat is a worldwide phenomenon with important consequences for the hydrological cycle and downstream ecosystem structure and functioning. To determine the effects of glacier retreat on aquatic communities, we conducted a 4-year flow manipulation in a tropical glacier-fed stream. Compared with an adjacent reference stream, meltwater flow reduction induces significant changes in benthic fauna community composition in less than 2 weeks. Also, both algal and herbivore biomass significantly increase in the manipulated stream as a response to flow reduction.”

Read the full study here.

“Glacier quakes” causing a stir in Alaska

Hundreds of small seismic events have occurred in an area near Pothole Glacier. From the Alaska Earthquake Center
Hundreds of small seismic events have occurred in an area near Pothole Glacier. From the Alaska Earthquake Center

By KTUU: “Earlier this summer, the scientists at the Alaska Earthquake Center began monitoring a swarm of small earthquakes in an area about eight miles west of Mt. Spurr. According to State Seismologist Dr. Michael West, they probably aren’t earthquakes at all…The Alaska Earthquake Center worked with the Alaska Volcano Observatory and largely ruled out volcanic activity. That left glaciers as the most likely explanation.”

“Most ‘glacier’ quakes are caused by large icebergs calving into water. West says some of these can be felt hundreds of miles away. Glaciers can also cause the ground to shake from crevassing, grinding against the underlying rock and pieces falling off ice falls.”

Learn more here.

Melting Glaciers Through the Artist’s Lens

In northern Germany  a small open-air art exhibition,  Outdoors Installation, is showcasing the work of six photographers who capture the dramatic changes glacial ice has undergone in the last hundred years across the world.  In alliance with the glacier focused charity, documentary and climate change advocacy group, Project Pressure, the diverse artists are working collectively to spread awareness of climate change though their powerful images.

The 14 images displayed at the environmental education park, Schleimünde Pilot Island, are only a small sample of the Project Pressure artists’ work.  The exhibit, which opened July 16 and will close in September, is a precursor to a larger touring exhibition which will launch next year.

Outdoors Installation was brought to the public with support from the German environmental non-profit group, The Lighthouse Foundation, who purchased the island from the German government in 2008.

Project Pressure’s Outdoors Installation (Source: Project Pressure)

The founder of Project Pressure, Klaus Thymann, said that he believes visual art depicting retreating glaciers can be a powerful tool to increase awareness of climate change, forging a way through the complex science that isolates the average person.  

“Art energizes, it’s a positive touch point, it can spread interest.  A lot of people find science difficult, inaccessible and complicated so they do not engage with it,” Thymann said in a Skype interview with GlacierHub. “If we can use art to get people to engage with scientific issues, we are at least some of the way there to dealing with the underlying issues [of climate change].”

Thymann, born in Denmark, is one of the six photographers featured at the Outdoors Installation.  The other artists include an American fisherman, Corey Arnold, as well as Scott Conarroe, a Canadian whose landscape photography extends to depict industrial works, and Peter Funch, a Danish photographer who has photographed series on human relations and cities. Rounding out the lineup is Mariele Neudecker, a UK-based German artist who works in a variety of mediums and the Nigerian-native Simon Norfolk, who has photographed the war in Afghanistan. Though each artist has a distinctive approach, they all show the intensity and the bleakness of melting glaciers.

One of Thymann’s displays, a juxtaposition of two aerial photographs of Helheim and Fenris Glaciers in Greenland from 1933, and again a starker picture taken in 2012, has a complicated political backstory.  

Glacier du Baounet, France (Source: Scott Conarroe)

In the first half of the twentieth century, Norway and Denmark were in a dispute over sovereignty of a remote section of eastern Greenland.  In hopes to substantiate its claim, Denmark set forth expeditions to survey the unknown region. In 1933, a series of aerial photographs of Greenland’s coasts, thus its coastal glaciers, were taken by Danish explorer Keld Milthers.  The photos were eventually archived in Copenhagen, forgotten, and later rediscovered by Kurt Kjær of the Statens Naturhistoriske Museum in 2009.  

On a trip in 2012, Thymann then took aerial photographs of the same glaciers once documented years past.  The two contrasting shots of the same Greenland glaciers show clear evidence of the ice mass receding over seventy years.

Lewis Glacier_Kenya_Simon Norfolk_2014
Fire marking past glacier front of Lewis Glacier, Kenya (Source: Simon Norfolk)

Comparing an old photograph with a new one is not the only way Project Pressure artists capture the climate-induced changes to glaciers.

Another artist traveled to a glacier and set up a line of fires to mark its former extent. Conarroe, another photographer featured in the exhibit, said “I think Simon Norfolk’s work from the Lewis Glacier is useful and fascinating.  Living in Canada and Switzerland, African glaciers are not so on my radar…. The fire+ice contrast… [is] an efficient indication of how much the glacier has retreated,” when he was asked what other artist featured at the Outdoors Installation struck him the most.    

From her studio in Bristol, United Kingdom, German born featured artist, Mariele Neudecker, spoke of how it is important to reflect “reality” in art.

Qôrqup Glacier_Greenland_Mariele Neudecker_2015
Qorqup Glacier, Greenland (Source Mariele Neudecker)

“I think it is important to make work about the world we live in, and our perceptions of the multi-faceted reality around us,” Neudecker explained in an email correspondence with GlacierHub.  Neudecker immerses viewers into the world of glaciers through 3D imagery.  She captured the two images displayed at the Outdoor Installation using a stereo camera, according to Neudecker.

When viewed with the naked eye each image appears as a mix of red and blue, but when the work is taken in through 3D glasses or a stereoscope, the viewer is forced out of the two dimensional world of conventional photography.

Thymann told GlacierHub that artists are still planning expeditions into the field to gather additional captivating subject matter.  He hopes to reveal those and many more pieces of glacier art at the traveling exhibit Project Pressure aims to bring to the public.

On Russian Glaciers, Algae Imitate Goldilocks

Setting up research camp on glacier in Suntar-Khayata Mountains (source: Melnikov Permafrost Institute)
Setting up research camp on glacier in Suntar-Khayata Mountains (source: Melnikov Permafrost Institute)

Glaciers might seem like places that are hostile to life, but it turns out that microorganisms like algae and photosynthesizing bacteria (known as cyanobacteria) can flourish on them. A team of researchers recently investigated these life forms on four glaciers in the Suntar-Khayata Mountains in eastern Siberia, a range that’s home to nearly 200 glaciers. After three research expeditions during melt seasons, two of which relied on a helicopter for transport, they discovered that the snow algae followed a Goldilocks approach: they were most abundant in the middle of the glaciers.

According to the study, published online in March in the journal Polar Science, the researchers took samples from the glaciers with a stainless steel scoop, then later analyzed them at a laboratory at Chiba University in Japan, the home institution of four of the scientists. They found that there were two main taxa of the green algae on the glaciers: a species with a round shape called Chloromonas sp, and a filament-like species called Ancylonema nordenskioldii. The found that the first species prospered more in the snowy areas of the glaciers, and the second, on ice.

Microscopic photographs of impurities (A) and pigmented ice algae, Ancylonema nordenskioldii (B) (source: Polar Biology)
Microscopic photographs of impurities (A) and pigmented ice algae, Ancylonema nordenskioldii (B) (source: Frontiers in Earth Science)

What’s more, they found that algae had more biomass— in other words, were more abundant— in the middle of the glaciers. The top part? Too snowy. The bottom part? Too much water runoff.

“The decrease in biomass in the upper part of the glaciers can be explained by an increase in the snow-cover frequency with altitude reducing the light intensity of the algal habitats,” the researchers posit. “On the other hand, the decrease in biomass in the lower area has been explained by the amount of running meltwater on the glacier surface.” In other words, the upper portions remain snow-covered the longest, so the algae there have the shortest period of sunlight required for growth. The lower portions receive the largest amount of meltwater, so the algae there are more likely to be washed off the glacier surface.

The authors report that these findings are similar to those from research that’s been carried out on the Arctic. And while they found the same types of green algae and cyanobacteria each year they did research, they did find that the total amount of biomass of the algae changed over the years. For example, on one glacier, 2012 saw the largest amount of algal biomass, which the authors attribute to the weather— it was hotter that year, so the melt season was longer.

The authors conclude by acknowledging that the connection between the algae’s abundance and the temperature should be researched more, and nod towards the future impacts of climate change. “Further studies are necessary to evaluate the impact of expected climate warming in the Arctic region in the coming century on the microbial community on the glaciers,” they write. And the study may also serve more generally as a reminder of the complexity of ecosystems, even in habitats as harsh as glaciers. Though the lowest portions of glaciers are typically the warmest, they are not necessarily the ones that are most hospitable to life. Instead, each glacier is a complex ecosystem, with distinctive spatial patterns that merit close attention.

Glacier 31 in Suntar Khayata Mountains (source: Melnikov Permafrost Institute)
Glacier 31 in Suntar Khayata Mountains (source: Melnikov Permafrost Institute)

For New Zealand Visitors, Helicopters Offer Only Way Onto Two Glaciers

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The Franz Joseph Glacier. (Photo: G Morel via Flickr)

The only way for visitors to walk on two iconic glaciers in New Zealand, the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, is by taking a helicopter ride— a situation that probably won’t change in the foreseeable future, a spokesperson for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has told GlacierHub.

The Associated Press reported in March, under the headline “Hiking on New Zealand glaciers banned because of rapid melting,” that it had become impossible for visitors to hike up onto these glaciers because of the dangers posed by their quick recession. It also noted that the number of people who could walk on the glaciers had been cut in half now that helicopters have become the only way to venture onto them, compared to before when people could hike up onto them.

Helicopter carrying tourists landing on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand (source: Ingolfson/Wikimedia)
Helicopter carrying tourists landing on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand (source: Ingolfson/Wikimedia)

Jose Watson, a communications adviser for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand, explained the situation in an email to GlacierHub:

There are rivers that come out of the terminal face (front) of the glacier and these rivers often change course meaning that tracks, bridges and viewing points are regularly moved. The glacier is receding, and has reached a point where it is no longer possible to access on foot, so if people want to walk on the glacier they can do so by booking a helihike with one of the guiding companies. A helihike takes people up onto a safe spot on the glacier and walk goes from there. Walking access has not been “banned” as such, but it’s not possible, or safe at the moment, and this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

While helicopters might be a quick and exciting way for tourists to see the glaciers, they are not without their risks— last year, a Squirrel helicopter crashed on the Fox Glacier, claiming the lives of seven people. That deadly event was one of seven accidents involving aircraft and glaciers in New Zealand since 2008.

Almost one million people traveled to see New Zealand’s glaciers in 2015, the Associated Press reported. The beautiful glaciers and striking scenery are part of what lures people to the country.

“It’s the uniqueness, the rawness of the environment,” Rob Jewell, chairman of the Glacier Country Tourism Group, told the AP.  

And for now, unfortunately, helicopters are the only way to experience that raw environment on these two shrinking glaciers.

Photo Friday: Send Us Your Glacier Selfies

At GlacierHub, we don’t just love science— we’re passionate about art and photography, too. We’ve featured work by Zaria Forman and Diane Burko, and each Friday we share photographs of glaciers and other mountain scenes. Now we’re excited to try something new: We’d like to invite our readers to share photographs that you’ve taken of glaciers. Specifically, we want your glacier selfies.

President Barack Obama has already demonstrated this, in a video selfie with a glacier he shot in September last year in Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, during a trip to the Arctic focused on climate change.

“Behind me is one of the most visited glaciers in Alaska,” Obama said. “It is spectacular, as you can see. And we’ve been able to spend the day out here, just learning more about how the glaciers are receding. It’s a signpost of what’s happening with a changing climate.”

DCIM102GOPRO
Photo, via Flickr, by Florence.S.

In that spirit— in recognition of the beauty of glaciers, their threatened status, and glaciers as places that humans interact with— we’d like to invite you to submit your own glacier selfies. We want selfies of you standing in front of, on, or near a glacier. This invitation is open to anyone who might visit a glacier: a researcher or scientist, tourist or traveler, or someone who lives near one.

We will likely publish some of these images on GlacierHub. The photos (no videos, please) should be relatively recent, and should be true selfies. Please email submissions to glacierhub@gmail.com with a note giving us permission to publish them, along with some basic information: your name, the glacier’s name, the date it was taken, and what you were doing there. (And don’t take any risks while taking the selfie!)

Please email us your photos by May 1– although if you have a trip to a glacier planned after that, let us know. 

‘Ice Cubed’: A Conference on the Many Sides of Ice on April 15

As melting polar icecaps and receding glaciers have generated a global consciousness of the planet’s fragility, ice is now more than ever a subject of fascination and analysis, whether historically or in the contemporary world. On April 15-16, the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University will host Ice Cubed–a two-day conference exploring the wide range of possibilities and contradictions of ice in contemporary analysis and artistic expression.

Ligorano_Anthropocene
“Dawn of the Anthropocene.” New York City. Photo by Nora Ligorano.

With support from two Columbia organizations–the Center for Science and Society and the Heyman Center for the HumanitiesIce-Cubed will bring together artists, academics, scholars, and scientists to explore the generative possibilities of ice as a medium for bridging disciplines within and beyond the academy in an era of global warming.

The conference will begin on the morning of Friday April 15 with a full schedule of interdisciplinary academic panels organized around themes from making and melting ice to material structures. Presentations by humanists  and scientists from Columbia and beyond–including Robin Bell of the Lamont Earth Institute, Hasok Chang of Cambridge University, and SIPA’s Ben Orlove–will be followed by a screening and discussion of Isaac Julien’s 2004 video installation, True North.

Barry Lopez, March 24, 2003
Barry Lopez. Photo by David Liittschwager.

On Friday evening at 6, Ice Cubed is pleased to welcome the public to a Keynote Conversation between Pulitzer prize-winning composer John Luther Adams and writer Barry Lopez, author of the National Book Award-winning Arctic Dreams. As artists with long experience living and working in the Arctic, Adams and Lopez will discuss the ways in which the stark, ice-bound landscapes of the Far North become incorporated into their work, and what happens when the boundary between artist and activist blurs under the pressure of contemporary climate change. This special event will include a reading of Lopez’s “The Trail: A Short Short Story,” and a performance of Adams’s “…and bells remembered…” by Sandbox Percussion.

Saturday’s schedule offers a continuation of the scholarly discussion around ice, capped off by a Art + Science WALK, co-organized with City as Living Lab, in which GlacierHub’s managing editor Ben Orlove and public artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese will lead conference participants and the public through the Morningside Heights neighborhood. Since 2013, landscape artist Mary Miss and City as Living Lab have been organizing artist-scientist led WALKs with the goal of bring artists, scientists, and the broader community into conversation around contemporary social and environmental issues. Ice Cubed is thrilled to have partnered with City as Living Lab, and to be able to offer the WALK as part of the conference program. For those who attend Friday and Saturday morning events, footage of Ligorano’s and Reese’s work–including “Dawn of the Anthropocene,” a melting ice sculpture that coincided with the 2014 UN Climate Change Summit and the People’s Climate March–will be on view at the conference.

John Luther Adams
John Luther Adams. Photo by Pete Woodhead.

The organizers of Ice Cubed, Maggie Cao and Rebecca Woods, are both postdoctoral fellows at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. The idea for the conference originated in the Fall of 2015 when Cao, who holds an appointment as Assistant Professor of Art History at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Woods, who will begin a tenure-track position in the History of Technology at the University of Toronto in July of 2016, discovered their mutual interest in things icy and cold. Cao works on nineteenth-century American landscape painting, with a particular interest in objects and art produced in polar settings, and Woods studies the history of cold (natural and artificial) in the British Empire. From conversation around this shared interest, and taking inspiration from recent discourse around the cryosphere, came the idea to host a discussion across disciplines within the academy, and beyond.

All Ice Cubed events will take place on the Columbia Morningside Campus, and are free and open to the public. No advanced registration is necessary, although those who wish to attend the WALK can email Rebecca Woods in advance in order to meet up with the group as it sets out from the Columbia Campus at 11:45 on April 15. This will be a great opportunity for the public to meet and mingle with conference speakers and participants.

Full details, including times, locations, and speaker bios, are available on the conference website.

Ancient Cultures Inspire Current Adaptations in the Andes

Ben Orlove giving a talk, Lowe Art Museum, Miami (source: Univ. of Miami)
Ben Orlove giving a talk, Lowe Art Museum, Miami (source: Univ. of Miami)

On 24 February, GlacierHub’s managing editor, Ben Orlove, gave a talk titled “Bodies, Objects, and Power in Andean Landscapes and Waterscapes” at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami. His lecture was one of a series of public talks linked to the exhibit “Kay Pacha: Reciprocity with the Natural World,” the first major display of the museum’s extensive holdings of pre-Columbian art from Peru. The exhibit, curated by Traci Ardren of the university’s Department of Anthropology, presents the Andean belief that humans and nature are involved in mutual exchanges, each supporting the other. This worldview is connected to the Andean emphasis on dualities, in which two entities, sometimes subdivided into four sub-parts, complement each other and form a whole.

Orlove underscored the linkage of landscapes and waterscapes to indicate that Andean peoples see land and water as basic elements that constitute nature, in contrast to Western views that emphasize land as primary, and see water as a secondary substance that travels over the land. He discussed the Inca name for their empire, Tawantinsuyu, the four-parts-together, with the imperial capital of Cusco located at the point where the four parts meet. He stressed the importance of water management for the Inca Empire. They constructed terraces which were watered by irrigation canals, allowing the expansion of the cultivation of maize—a prized crop, served at the ritual feasts, many tied closely to an annual calendar, that celebrated the relationships that linked the imperial rulers, local ethnic communities, and the spirits of the mountains and the earth.

Pre-Columbian khipu from Peru (source: Lowe Art Museum)
Pre-Columbian khipu from Peru (source: Lowe Art Museum)
Villagers in Tupicocha, Peru, displaying khipus (source: F. Salomon)
Villagers in Tupicocha, Peru, displaying khipus (source: F. Salomon)

An extensive network of roads and storehouses allowed goods to be moved throughout the empire. To keep track of goods and to facilitate their redistribution, the Incas used an accounting system known as khipus. These khipus are complex structures of knotted cords, still incompletely understood, which served as records, and perhaps as abacus-like calculators as well.  

Contemporary indigenous cultures in the Andes

Orlove emphasized the radical disruption in Andean life that was brought about by the conquest of the Incas by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. This cataclysm ended the Inca Empire, decimated populations, and forced local peoples into harsh labor in mines. He emphasized that much of the indigenous technology and culture has nonetheless survived to the present. He presented four cases in which these traditions evolved into new forms that address the concerns of contemporary indigenous communities. Drawing on Frank Salomon’s research in Tupicocha, Peru, Orlove discussed a village which preserves ancient khipus and honors them in an annual festival in which they are brought out of a storehouse, unwrapped and displayed, and then wrapped and stored once again. These rituals offer insights into the ancient practices of the Incas. In a similar fashion, the annual, ritual-filled  construction of a canyon-spanning bridge, made entirely from ropes of local straw, sheds light on earlier practices, and provides testimony of the ties of reciprocity that connect the villages involved in the construction.  

The other two cases in Orlove’s talk examined high-elevation regions with glacier-covered peaks. Zoila Mendoza’s study of the Qoyllurrit’i pilgrimage, held each year before the winter solstice to a glacier peak, also shows the importance of annual ritual cycles. As Mendoza has noted, “mountains have been the focus of veneration and ritual [in the Andes] since pre-Hispanic times.” Orlove included images from Mendoza’s video of the pilgrimage in his talk.

Pre-Columbian shovel used for irrigation rituals (source: Lowe Art Museum)
Pre-Columbian shovel used for irrigation rituals (source: Lowe Art Museum)

The pilgrims’ visit to the site in the Cusco region had long included a tradition of harvesting ice from the glacier, but the glacier’s retreat has led them to suspend this custom, a change that causes them great concern. They still worship at other shrines and go up to the mountain, but now return without glacier ice. 

Villagers in Pinchollo, Peru, displaying shovels used in irrigation maintenance rituals (source: A. Stensrud)
Villagers in Pinchollo, Peru, displaying shovels used in irrigation maintenance rituals (source: A. Stensrud)

Astrid Stensrud’s research in the Colca Valley of Arequipa shows how agricultural villagers work to maintain and extend irrigation canals in the face of glacier retreat which has reduced water supplies. The community work parties that dig and reinforce canals involve festivals, tied to an annual calendar of rituals, that draw on centuries-old cultural symbols. As in the case of Qoyllurrit’i, the regularity of the traditions promotes close attention to environmental change; in this instance, the villagers draw on traditions to adapt to climate change.

Current adaptation projects

Orlove concluded with a discussion of the indigenous responses to climate change which draw on these cultures. In addition to the Colca Valley case mentioned above, he selected, as one example among many, the Cusco-based group Asociación Andes. A group of indigenous communities have set aside lands at different elevations in which they experiment with native crop varieties. They monitor the results to see which varieties perform best in the context of higher temperatures, irregular rainfall, and new pest outbreaks.

pre-Columbian ceramic figure displaying a staff of office (source: Lowe Museum of Art)
Pre-Columbian ceramic figure bearing a staff of office (source: Lowe Art Museum)
Villagers from Calca, Peru, with leader bearing a staff of office (source: Asociación Andes)
Villagers in Calca, Peru, with leader bearing a staff of office (source: Asociación Andes)

As Orlove emphasized, the project leaders draw on long-established symbols of authority, such as ritual staffs, to coordinate the villagers’ efforts across a wide region. To underscore the integration of ancient traditions with elements from the modern world, he showed a photograph of a local indigenous woman who was making a video recording of the discussion of the agricultural experiments.

This Andean case is not the only one in which established traditions inform adaptation to climate change. Comparable examples can be found in other mountain regions of the world, including the Himalayas, the Alps and the Tien Shan. As Orlove suggested at the end of his talk, indigenous cultures’ resilience is a valuable resource for a world that is facing climate change.

Researchers Question Glacier Study

This article has been republished on GlacierHub and was originally posted on the personal blog of Joseph Michael Shea. Shea is a glacier hydrologist with the International Center for Integrated Mountain (ICIMOD) and is currently based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Follow him on Twitter here

A paper published last year in the Indian journal Current Science (pdf) has recently been raised in the Indian parliament. A number of scientists have been rightfully critical of this paper in different online forums. In this post, I’m going to take a quick look at the results of the paper, which are surprising to anyone familiar with the current state of Himalayan glaciology.

Why are the results surprising? Based on a sample of 2018 glaciers, the paper’s authors suggest that nearly 87% of the glaciers in the region have stable snouts, while 12% have retreating termini, and < 1% are advancing.

There are a number of issues with these figures, which lead the authors to the incorrect conclusion  that glaciers in the region are actually in steady state. In no particular order, these issues are:

  1. Glacier snout position is determined by a complex range of factors, including climate, dynamics, and lag times. Over short periods (i.e. less than 10 years, as in this paper) the behaviour of the terminus may not be indicative of the overall health of a glacier.
  2. Glacier retreat is a very different thing from glacier mass loss. Glaciers lose mass primarily due to downwasting (surface lowering), not terminus retreat. And study after study has confirmed that glaciers across the region (except for the Karakoram) are losing mass.
  3. The position of the terminus on debris-covered glaciers can be  difficult to interpret, and it will not respond to climate change in the same way as the terminus on clean (debris-free) glaciers. The authors do not distinguish between debris-covered and clean glaciers in their terminus assessments.
  4. Its not clear how the 2018 glaciers were sampled. There are over 54,000 glaciers in the HKH region, and while a 3% sample size is not too bad, biased sampling for debris-covered or large glaciers make extrapolations to the entire population problematic.

Finally, the “stable” glacier examples given in the paper actually show glaciers in retreat! Here is a Landsat pair (data available at www.earthexplorer.usgs.gov) from 2001 and 2014 for the Gangotri Glacier, in the Garwhal Himalaya (Figure 7 in theCurrent Science paper):

gangotri

Not only is the  Gangotri (the main north-flowing glacier in the center of the image) in retreat, but you can also literally see the downwasting occur as the distance between the active ice surface and the large lateral moraines gets bigger. Smaller glaciers throughout the region also appear to be in retreat.

The authors also use the example of Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram Range (Figure 8 in the Current Science paper). This is the terminus of a massive glacier system (ca. 700 km²) and the Landsat pairs I pulled from 2000 and 2013 also appear to show retreat and deflation at the terminus:

Siachen

Bottom line: the Current Science paper is simply not credible. The conclusion that > 80% of glaciers in the region are stable is based on incorrect interpretations of satellite imagery, a possibly biased sampling method, and an unjustified reliance on short-term changes in terminus position as an indicator of glacier health.

Meeting at COP21 Seeks Coordination of Glacier Countries

Eighteen people, representing seven small mountain countries, gathered on 8 December at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris to discuss glacier retreat and its consequences. They reviewed the issues that they considered most serious and considered the possibility of forming an international organization of glacier countries.

Meeting 5 December 2015 of Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations to COP21 with Ben Orlove and Christian Hueggel source: Svetlana Jumaeva)
Discussion 5 December 2015 of Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations to COP21, Christian Huggel and Ben Orlove and Christian Hueggel to plan 8 December meeting (source: Svetlana Jumaeva)

This meeting included representatives from Tajikistan, Bhutan, Peru, Bolivia, Switzerland, Austria and Norway; among them were country negotiators at the COP21, leaders in national agencies and NGOs, and officials within bilateral aid organizations, as well as academics and one UN official. It was organized by Ben Orlove, the managing editor of GlacierHub, a professor at Columbia University and a member of the working group of the Mountain Societies Research Institute at the University of Central Asia. He attended COP21 as an official observer of the Nepal-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The meeting was facilitated by Miguel Saravia of CONDESAN, the Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion, who facilitated the access at the COP site to Peru’s office suite. This facility, available to the Peruvian delegation and their guests, provided a haven of quiet and privacy, conducive to discussion and reflection, within the bustle of the COP.  It drew on the suggestions of the representatives of the glacier countries, expressed in prior conversations and meetings with Orlove in the months leading up to the COP; in the days before the 8 December meeting, delegates from Kyrgyzstan and Nepal, whose schedules impeded participation in that meeting, offered a number of ideas that were included in the discussion there.

Event in Peru Pavilion at COP21 immediately prior to meeting of glacier country representatives source: Ben Orlove
Event in Peru Pavilion at COP21 immediately prior to meeting of glacier country representatives (source: Ben Orlove)

The impetus of the meeting came from examples set by other organizations that bring together countries sharing common climate change impacts. These include the Alliance of Small Island States, the Arctic Council, and the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. Another such group, the Delta Coalition, which was announced at the COP on 2 December, links 12 countries to make deltas more visible in global policy discussions, establish partnerships, and undertake concrete actions in order to increase resilience in these regions.

Though the sense of the meeting was that further discussion and study was needed before a Council of Small Glacier States or some similar organization could be established, the group achieved a number of positive steps: examining possible activities for such an organization, conducting a ranking exercise of concerns, reviewing cases that could offer suggestions for the organizations, and establishing concrete action steps to take before the next meeting of the group.

At the outset of the meeting, the participants agreed on the great breadth of possible activities for an organization of glacier countries. Eric Nanchen of the Swiss-based Foundation for the Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions spoke of “knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and capacity-building,” to which Rasmus Bertelsen of Norway’s University of the Arctic added “policy-shaping networks.” The social actors within the countries similarly ranged broadly across government, universities, local communities, civil society institutions, and businesses.

Discussion at meeting of glacier countries source: Deborah Poole)
Discussion at meeting of glacier countries (source: Deborah Poole)

The participants also recognized a variety of structural forms. Emphasizing the value of drawing on existing efforts, Andrew Taber of the Mountain Institute (TMI) argued for inclusion within larger mountain organizations, such as the Mountain Forum or the Mountain Partnership, within which TMI has a leadership role. Others, such as Benjamín Morales Arnao of Peru’s National Institute for Research in Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, underscored the distinctiveness of glaciers, with their close association with climate change; Firuz Saidov and Anvar Khomidov of the Tajikistan Committee for Environment Protection indicated the specific issues of water resource management and hazards faced by glacier countries at the headwaters of international watersheds. Summarizing this discussion, Thinley Namgyel, Chief Environment Officer of the Climate Change Division of Bhutan’s National Environment Commission, emphasized that any new group would “not want to duplicate” existing efforts.

As a first step to provide focus, Orlove led the group in a ranking exercise. The participants reviewed an initial set of glacier-related issues and added other issues to the list. Each one then allocated five points across these issues, giving no issue more than two points. Three issues—hydropower planning and water resources, disaster risk reduction and early warning systems, training and human resource development—all rose to the top. The other issues—reduction of black carbon, tourism planning, biodiversity and ecosystem management, and outmigration from mountain areas—received much smaller numbers of points. The rankings from the Asian and Latin American delegates were quite close to those of the European delegates.

Participants at meeting of glacier countries, COP21 8 December 2015 source: Ben Orlove)
Tajik and Peruvian participants at meeting of glacier countries (source: Ben Orlove)

With these issues in mind, participants offered examples of prior activities. Jorge Recharte, the Andes Program Director of TMI, discussed an exchange program which linked Peru, Nepal and Tajikistan: researchers, government officials and community members formed committees to plan for early warning systems and risk reduction for glacier lake outburst flood hazards. He pointed to the great potential of incorporating local knowledge into research and adaptation, though he also reminded the group of the challenges of assuring ongoing funding—a point that others recognized. Muzaffar Shodmonov of the Tajikistan State Agency for Hydrometeorology spoke of coordination of glacial monitoring across a number of countries. Bertelsen suggested that the group consider as an example the University of the Arctic, based in Norway’s Tromsø University. This university links a number of other universities in countries within the Arctic Council, and has served effectively to develop and apply knowledge. He suggested that the emerging plans  of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) to develop a Himalayan University Consortium might be a similar center; Orlove suggested that it could be linked to the University of Central Asia.  Matthias Jurek, an Austrian involved with the United Nations Environmental Programme, also mentioned a number of programs that draw together research and adaptation efforts in different glacier countries, including UNESCO’s International Hydrological Program. Like Bertelsen, Jurek suggested points of overlap between glacier projects and polar endeavors—linking glaciers to the global cryosphere as well as to mountains. This connection had also been raised by Pam Pearson of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, who spoke with several participants moments before the meeting but who was unable to attend due to prior commitments.

Discussion at meeting source: Deborah Poole)
Discussion at meeting of glacier countries (source: Deborah Poole)

As the meeting progressed, the discussion shifted to concrete action steps. Namgyel’s emphasis on the need for additional work underscored this direction. Jurek proposed a mapping exercise to develop a full list of glacier-related institutions in small mountain countries involved in research, adaptation programs, training and communication. Orlove suggested close attention to the human and social dimensions of glacier retreat, as well as the physical and hydrological aspects. Orlove also proposed developing a grid that would examine the different combinations of activities, structural forms and issues, as a way to locate “low-hanging fruit” that could serve as initial efforts to link countries. The Central Asia-Himalaya link suggested the possibility that such efforts could be drawn on selected regions, rather than the full range of glacier countries around the world.

As the end of the hour allotted for the meeting approached, the participants discussed possible venues for the next meeting of the group. Several people mentioned the World Mountain Forum in Uganda in October 2016 and COP22 in Morocco in November 2016, which is likely to have a thematic focus on water issues, though the possibility of a separate standalone conference was also raised. The participants agreed to remain in contact. This conference indicated that small mountain countries can do more together than they can do alone. The broad awareness of the potential for such coordinated action should provide the stimulus for future actions.

Threat from Himalayan Glaciers Larger Than Expected

By Jingchao Wang and Xuefei Miao

Impacts of climate change in river systems are likely to have considerable social, economic, ecological and political implications, according to a new study published in the journal of Regional Environmental Change.

In order to understand governance mechanisms for climate adaptation in the region, a systematic review methodology was applied to 33 different papers that describe adaptation projects to examine adaptation responses in the riparian countries of three Himalayan river basins at three different levels—policy objectives, institutions and practice. The authors found that most studies focus on the Ganges River Basin. Since 2011 to 2012, the number of studies about climate change adaptation in the region have significantly increased.

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The icefall of Khumbu glacier, in the Nepali Himalayas (Source: Nature)

Himalayan glaciers are the source of numerous large Asian river systems, which support rich ecosystems and irrigate millions of hectares of fields, thereby supporting more than one billion people who live in their catchments. The three major Himalayan river basins—Brahmaputra,Ganges and Indus—are spread over six countries in South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan).

The region is home to around 1.3 billion people, predominately those of low economic status, living in the three basins that cover more than 2.20 million square kilometers. India’s National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) estimates that more than half of India’s poor communities live on the main stem of the Ganges and that by 2050, this population is expected to rise to approximately 720 million from an estimated 500 million in 2001.

Given the large geographical spread of the three river basins along with the huge number of poor people living in the region, adaptation to the anticipated adverse impacts of climate change is soon expected to feature dominantly in the mainstream policy discourse of the concerned countries, the authors wrote. Though each country in the region faces major threats, very few cross-country adaptation projects have been achieved, the new study shows.

A review of adaptation projects found that existing projects tend to focus on livelihood security, rather than water availability, which is a major concern for communities in the region. Already communities are vulnerable to droughts and floods and glacier melt excpected to exacerbate coastal and inland flooding, especially in Bangladesh.

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Researchers went to Himalayas to collect ice cores(Source: NASA)

With climate change amplifying current levels of variability, more lives are at risk and global projects to alleviate local poverty face greater uncertainty and even failure. Large-scale population migration could add to global social instability as millions of people are forced to leave their homes. Considering the different levels of development among countries, difficulties exist in order to conduct large-scale projects, the authors said.

But a number of challenges make international projects difficult to implement. Most countries make their domestic interests a top priority, but climate change knows no national boundaries.

In addition, local cultures vary and some communities consider their cultural heritage as more valuable than economical benefits they could gain from adapting to climate change. A large number of religious sites and structures in the Indian Himalayas, where Buddhism was born, are threatened by climate change. Moreover, due to Himalayan plateau region’s unique environment, distinct biodiversity has formed. Climate change can destroy this heritage and may cause a lot of serious ecological problems, but the review showed that 30 percent of studies on climate adaptation indicate a gap in local awareness about the threats posed by climate change, which will impact peoples’ ability to respond to the challenges presented by climate change.

In order to operationalize adaptive practice effectively, scientists should widen the knowledge base, promote national and regional initiatives to conduct research, develop knowledge and data sharing and establish a cooperative framework to advance an agenda for the exchange of experience and better practices, the authors concluded. As many of the rivers in the region share trans-boundary systems, cross-country cooperation and dialogue among and within jurisdictions should be a priority. However, without clear climate policy objectives and without successful cross-country collaborations, it will not be easy to develop effective adaptation to climate change.

From a policy perspective, it is not merely necessary but urgent to build functional institutional mechanisms at both national and regional levels for addressing and responding to climate change through adaptation measures.

“Apart from India and Bangladesh, there is still ambiguity in goal setting which may constrain policy implementation,” the authors wrote. “At the institutional level, the observation that most of countries are in the process or have already designed structures for knowledge generation and management reflects the capacity for operationalizing the policy mandate of strengthening the scientific base for informed decisions.”

Antarctic Bacteria Prove Resilient

Peptide Sequencing and Identification of Proteins in an Antarctic Bacterium Pseudomonas Syringae. Courtesy of Libertas Academica/Flickr.
Peptide Sequencing and Identification of Proteins in an Antarctic Bacterium Pseudomonas syringae. Courtesy of Libertas Academica/Flickr.

Surviving in Antarctic conditions takes more than cold-resilience for bacteria, recent research from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology found.

Using six different stressors in lab conditions, from temperature stress to pH change stress to salt and oxidative stress, the researchers were able to test bacterial resistance in the environments they are likely to encounter in Antarctica. In Antarctic glaciers, bacteria are likely to experience extreme cold, in thermal vents extreme heat, and in dried up lakes high levels of salinity. Often, bacteria experience more than one stress factor at a time.

Tests were carried out on ten different bacteria strains, which were grown separately and exposed to different conditions. A number of mutant bacteria developed from a strain of Pseudomonas syringae Lz4w, were also tested so that researchers could identify some of the genetic factors that allowed bacteria to develop stress resilience.

Researchers found that of all the stress conditions, the bacteria strains were better able to tolerate alkaline conditions. The bacteria did not fare so well under acidic conditions, which bacteria can face in Antarctic glaciers that contain some mineral acids.

Other stress tolerance levels varied depending on the bacteria strain. For example, Arthrobacter kerguelensis survived oxidation stress better than Pseudomonas meridiana. Under Ultra-Violet radiation, most of the bacteria strains died.

Antarctica - Gerlache strait. Photo courtesy of Rita Willaert/Flickr.
Antarctica – Gerlache strait. Photo courtesy of Rita Willaert/Flickr.

“Our investigation on tolerance of cold-adapted Antarctic bacteria to other environmental stressors fills the void in the present state of knowledge on the stress-adaptability of Antarctic bacteria,” the authors wrote. “The alkali-tolerance of all of the cold-tolerant Antarctic strains reveals their similarity with some other cold-tolerant bacteria isolated some time back from the Himalayan glacier.”

Researchers also found that bacteria that were exposed to multiple stress factors developed multi-stress protective molecules from proteins, lipids or other types of molecules which allowed them to be more resilient.

By looking into some of these proteins, the researchers were able to begin developing an understanding of the genetic elements that allowed bacteria to develop a tolerance for multiple stressful conditions. The findings could provide insights in the development of resilient  bacteria strains through genetic engineering.

“The multistress-protective potential of a metabolic enzyme, as evidenced in this study, reveals intricacy in the mechanism involved in stress adaptation of bacteria,” the authors concluded.