Should Alberta Legally Protect Its Glaciers?

A recent article in the journal Appeal by Jennifer Cox of the University of Calgary discusses the possibility of legislation regimes for the roughly 700 glaciers in Alberta, Canada. She reviews existing laws and considers alternative forms which might protect these valuable, rapidly-shrinking ice bodies.

Murray Fraser Hall, University of Calgary Faculty of Law (source: LSAC)
Murray Fraser Hall, University of Calgary Faculty of Law (source: LSAC)

Cox argues that existing laws in Canada do not protect glaciers, which she describes as sui generis, or unique. She asserts that Alberta should consider drafting legislation devoted to them, and explores how other countries— like Argentina, Kyrgyzstan, and Switzerland— have legally protected their own glaciers.

Cox begins by mentioning the important status of glaciers. Glaciers provide many ecosystem services and also have touristic and economic value for sightseeing, as well as ecological and scientific value. However, climate change is the greatest threat to Alberta’s glaciers. Since glaciers retreat and their water storage capacity diminishes, problems related to the legal rights of water resources will occur. Moreover, melting glaciers could also lead to possible floods,which some researchers think could be a major problem for Alberta.

Considering that glaciers can provide so many functions and but also spur conflict or disaster, Cox recommends that legislation for glaciers should be created in Alberta and that lawmakers should consider both the pitfalls and successes of laws in other countries first.

Cox raises a slew of questions about glaciers and the law:

As glaciers retreat and their incredible water storage is used up, who gets priority to the water? What happens to the riparian rights downstream when the primary source disappears? Who can tourist companies and national parks sue when one of their main attractions disappear? What if precious minerals, such as gold or copper, are discovered underneath Alberta’s glaciers? Who has rights to glaciers? Is there a right to glaciers? Can glaciers be removed and sold? If so, who gets the pro ts?26 What happens to borders, provincial or international, when the glaciers that differentiate them melt? Who will be liable in the case of a GLOF?

Moraine Lake Alberta Canada(Credit: Flickr)
Moraine Lake, Alberta (Credit: Flickr)

In order to answer the questions above, the author tries to articulate the current situation and to give some recommendations for Alberta from a legal perspective.

The Canada Water Act, the Canada National Parks Act, Alberta’s Provincial Parks Act,and Canada’s other federal and provincial climate change laws do not provide useful guidance related to the legal status of glaciers. The provincial and federal parks acts do not give a layer of direct protection for glaciers within their boundaries, and climate change regulations focus mostly on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. As for the Canada’s common law, water riparian rights are neither logically stated nor practically protected. Although international law could provide theoretical guidance, its principle is still legally inapplicable to the glaciers of Alberta. Thus, no legal regime on glaciers currently exists in Alberta.

Fort McMurray Wildfire in Alberta Canada Deemed Extreme(Credit: NASA)
Fort McMurray Wildfire in Alberta Canada Deemed Extreme (Credit: NASA)

“Alberta should look to create legislation that is aimed directly at glaciers,” Cox concludes. “Proactive legislation would protect this unique economic and environmental resource for Albertans and Canadians for decades to come.”

Meanwhile, wildfires continue to ravage Alberta and might take several months to extinguish. This unusually large set of wildfires reflects the influence of climate change, and points to the urgency of fighting climate change. As Cox shows, legal systems can be a crucial element in such fights.

Roundup: More Cars, Skiers but Fewer Helicopters This Summer

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

 100 YEARS OF PARKS

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Visitors gathered at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park (Source: Montana Standard)

From MONTANA STANDARD:

“After Yellowstone National Park welcomed a record 4 million visitors in 2015, what will America’s first national park do for an encore in 2016?Probably more of the same. Tourism experts are predicting that 2016 should be another banner year for Montana’s tourism industry. Montana hosted 11.7 million nonresident travelers in 2015, an 8 percent increase from 2014. However, the $3.6 billion, in spending represented a decrease of 8 percent from the previous year.

UM’s research shows that Yellowstone and Glacier National Park represent the biggest draw to out-of-state travelers. A number of events that will coincide with the centennial of the National Park Service could also boost visitation this year.”

Read more here.

 

Group wants Glacier Park helicopter tours permanently grounded

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Glacier Hotel had its share of colorful characters and events. (Source: Missoulian)

From Missoulian:

“Click on a website Mary T. McClelland created a few days ago, and you’ll see waves lapping at the shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

McClelland this week released an open letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on behalf of Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition, which calls for an end to scenic helicopter tours over the park by 2017.

Glacier’s solitude has been shattered by hundreds of helicopter overflights,” McClelland’s letter says, “and the incessant noise pollution endured by wildlife and visitors is destroying what Glacier stands for – the pinnacle of natural beauty and tranquility.”

 Read more here.

Top 5 Glaciers to Ski This Summer

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Before dropping the Middle Teton, Griffin Post and his crew had the opportunity to contemplate their sanity. (Source: OnTheSnow)

From OnTheSnow:

“If hiking for your turns during the spring means you’re committed, what does hiking for you turns during the peak of summer make you? Aside from chemically unbalanced, it makes you lucky. A number of glaciers still exist in North America (believe it or not), from the Sierras to the Tetons, offering skiers and riders not only an endless winter, but endless views as well. Here are our top-five spots to scratch (or should we say shred) that summer itch.

1. Grand Teton National Park: Glacier Route, Middle Teton

2. Glacier National Park: Salamander Glacier

3. Mount Shasta: Hotlum-Wintun Glacier

4. Sierra Nevada: Palisade Glacier

5. Mount Rainier: Paradise Glacier”

Read more here.

Aromatic, Medicinal Plants Flourish in the Himalayas

In the region of the Himalayas from Bhutan, Nepal, and India, many aromatic plants grow and comprise a part of local people’s lives as medicine and food. In their review paper “Himalayan Aromatic Medicinal Plants: A Review of their Ethnopharmacology, Volatile Phytochemistry, and Biological Activities” in the journal Medicines, Rakesh K. Joshi, Prabodh Satyal, and William N. Setzer analyze in detail the nutritional and medicinal value of 116 aromatic plant species.

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Cymbopogon martinis (source: Wikipedia)

The Himalayas are well-known as the world’s highest mountain range. The authors’ research area, located in the southern margin of the Himalaya range, is actually a narrow band of biodiversity. It is called by some researchers the center of plant diversity in the Himalayas. The monsoon brings rains concentrated in the summer and contributes a great deal to the rich biodiversity. The authors report, citing prior research, that “The Indian Himalaya is home to more than 8000 species of vascular plants of which 1748 are known for their medicinal properties.”

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Artemisia marítima (source: Wikimedia)

The authors of the review paper indicated that the plants growing in high elevation are important for local people. Those plants provide both nutrition and medicinal functions. Some of those wild plants have been eaten by people since ancient times, while the medicinal effects have been noticed just recently. In the article, the authors list the ethnopharmacology, biological activities, and essential oil compositions of Himalayan aromatic plants. Some of them not only are useful but have some special characteristics.

For example, there are around 400 species in the genus Artemisia, like mugwort and wormwood, growing in the temperate regions, and 19 species of this genus in Himalayan regions have been recognized as medicinal herbs. The plants of this genus are traditional medicines discovered a long time ago by indigenous cultures. Most species have strong aromas, and can be smelled from a long distance. Due to their strong aromas, some of the plants in this genus are used as incense and insecticide. For example, the leaf extract of Artemisia japonica is used to treat malaria, while a paste of the leaves is applied externally to treat skin diseases in northern Pakistan. Another species, Artemisia maritima, is used by several Himalayan peoples to treat stomach problems and intestinal worms.

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Artemisia michauxiana (source: PFAF)

When it comes to the Cinnamomum genus, which is in the laurel family, many people are quite familiar with the common spice, cinnamon. Chefs treat it as one important flavor and some people like cinnamon flavored coffee or tea. The Cinnamomum genus is another typical aromatic plant that are green from spring to winter. Their aromatic oils are preserved in the leaves and bark. In the Himalayan areas, eight out of 250 total species have been found. There are still many other genus of aromatic plants providing food and medicine for local people in the Himalayan places, such as the genus Cymbopogon, which is also known as lemongrass.

With its distinct environment of glacial and river valleys, the Himalayas nurture a rich biodiversity. Traditional herbs still play an important role in people’s health. More species are joining in the group of medicinal herbs. As a result, it should be highlighted that plants in Himalayas demand protection considering the challenge of climate change, environmental degradation, and other threats.

Photos: Glaciers from the National Snow & Ice Data Center

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), was founded in 1976 as an information hub with the main goal of providing support for research in the field of the frozen world, including glaciers, snow, ice, and frozen ground. The services of NSIDC involve scientific data management, data access tools, scientific research, and public education. The NSIDC scientists cooperate with data providers and users to keep past, current, and future data accessible online for the purpose of Earth and climate studies. The scientists also conduct research related to glaciers, snow, and more via remote sensing technology in order to better serve the scientific community. As a non-profit organization, the data online provides access for those people interested in related topics to gain information.

To know more about glaciers and other work, visit NSIDC.

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Building a Database of Dramatic Glacial Floods

Glacial lake outburst floods are a type of deluge that occurs when a moraine–a natural dam, made of rock, sediment and ice–breaks, releasing the glacier-fed lake behind it. As a consequence, some scientists have said that it is necessary to build a database of past glacial lake outburst floods to manage and monitor the threat of future ones.

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Rockslide flood on the Hunza River in Pakistan (source: NASA)

A recent paper by Adam EmmerVít Vilímek, Christian Huggel, Jan Klimes and Yvonne Schaub in the journal Landslides, “Limits and challenges to compiling and developing a database of glacial lake outburst floods,” reports the challenges that scientists faced when compiling and developing such a database.

The database, with its list of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), can be found here. The earliest flood listed in the database occurred in 1790 in the Patagonian Andes and one of the most recent happened in 2012 in the Peruvian Andes. The database also includes what triggered the flood, with evocative descriptors like “rockfall / landslide into lake,” “earthquake,” and “icefall / snow avalanche into the lake.”

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Sabai Tsho Lake before the moraine dam breach. (Source: treks.org)

The International Programme on Landslides started the database project in 2013. The specific goal was to collect data and create an accessible database of glacial lake outburst floods that have occurred across the globe. Many sources were used for the database construction: the worldwide real-time database of earthquakes provided by USGS, the NatCatSERVICE database of major disasters managed by Munich Reinsurance (Munich RE 2003), and other global databases. To be specific, a GLOFs-inventory compiled for Europe in support for the Glaciorisk project, contains 333 GLOFs in the Alps and 85 in Iceland as well as ice avalanches caused by ice-dammed lakes.

By the end of October 2015, around one hundred GLOFs, only one fifth of the total number, were chronicled on the website. But more GLOFs are being gradually added from region to region.  

There is increasing demand for a natural disaster database construction considering that the frequency of extreme events is on the rise. Scientists who did researches in this field gradually find the necessity of building such a database. Glacial lake outburst floods have become one of the most studied issues and thus the database construction has drawn great attention. The database can be roughly divided into the global and regional databases and case studies. The database of glacial lake outburst floods is on a global scale, trying to include glacial floods worldwide for easier access as well as more convenient scientific analysis. In order to construct the global database, the separate and detailed regional record should be unified and also updated with most recent outburst flood events, the case studies. Now the global glacial databases have 450 glacial lake data source.

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Glacier Lake Outburst Flood in northern Pakista (Source: weadapt.org)

There are some challenges in the process of database construction. With various types of data sources, the precision of the information about particular lake outburst floods is slightly doubtful.  It is generally agreed that the source of scientific papers is the most reliable. As for improving the data validation, scientists believe that the involvement of local experts who master the regional knowledge related to glaciers to verify the data source should be added into the procedure.

The database construction has received broadly positive feedback especially from the scientific community according to the data requests and availability and has begun to serve as a collaboration platform for different scientific institutions worldwide, although setbacks and limitations still exists. With precise data of glacier such as its movement over the slope below, it is a convenient way for scientists to conduct research, hazard analysis. The analysis result can even be used for insurance companies with the assessment of disaster levels, the paper argues. Considering its great importance in risk assessment and disaster analysis, progress including the involvement of local experts should continued to be made for the development of the glacial lake outburst floods database in the future.

 

Roundup: Glaciers are Visited by Tourists, Scientists and Microbes

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

Glacier National Park prepares for busier season this year

From KPAS:

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local retailer near Glacier National Park (source: Kpax)

Glacier National Park continue to celebrate their 100th year anniversary and anticipates a very busy upcoming summer season and even launched a new program. “Last year we saw a 3%-4% increase in visitation. It was our highest visitation on record; 2.3 million people we welcomed here at Glacier National Park. This year we anticipate an even higher visitation,” park spokeswoman Margie Steigerwald said. This marks the first year for Every Kid in a Park, a program launched by the National Park Foundation. Steigerwald says its purpose is to introduce more kids and their families to the national park system.”

Read more about this anniversary here.

Scientists fly glacial ice to south pole to unlock secrets of global warming

From  The Guardian:

Project leader Jérôme Chappellaz examines a sample. Photograph: Lucia Simion (Source: The Guardian)

“In a few weeks, researchers will begin work on a remarkable scientific project. They will drill deep into the Col du Dôme glacier on Mont Blanc and remove a 130 metre core of ice. Then they will fly it, in sections, by helicopter to a laboratory in Grenoble before shipping it to Antarctica. There the ice core will be placed in a specially constructed vault at the French-Italian Concordia research base, 1,000 miles from the South Pole. The Col du Dôme ice will become the first of several dozen other cores, extracted from glaciers around the world, that will be added to the repository over the next few years. The idea of importing ice to the south pole may seem odd – the polar equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle – but the project has a very serious aim, researchers insist.”

Read more about this ice core repository here.

Microbes and toxins frozen within glaciers could reveal the future of human life on Earth—or threaten it

From Phys.org:

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The world’s glaciers hold tiny particles and microbes that offer clues to past climate change, atmospheric toxins and even global epidemics.(Source: Phys.org)

“Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes once noted that “the little things are infinitely the most important.” It’s a belief that investigators at the University of Alberta obviously share. Whether they’re seeking to understand the tiniest forms of life, taking small steps toward major breakthroughs or influencing students in subtle but profound ways, U of A researchers and educators are proving that little things can make a big impact. If aliens came to Earth on a fact-finding mission after the extinction of the human species, they could do worse than head straight for what’s left of the planet’s glaciers. Frozen in the ice is a wealth of information not only on our past climate over hundreds of thousands of years, but also on the toxins we spew into the atmosphere, even the diseases and plagues to which we succumb.”

Learn more about these organisms and toxins here.

Photo Friday: The Kerguelen Islands

The Kerguelen Islands, part of the French Southern and Antarctic lands, are located in the southern Indian Ocean.The islands are among the most isolated places on Earth, over 3200 km away from the nearest populated area. The largest island is Grand Terre (120 by 150 km). It contains the capital city of Port-aux-Francais. On the islands, there are only around 100 people, mostly scientists, sheepherders and fishers. The local people use only ships for travel and transport. The Kerguelen Islands also have a nickname,  the Desolation Islands.

The climate on the island is incessant with howling winds as well as rain almost every day throughout the year. The wind, whipping at about 49 degrees South in the Southern Hemisphere, places Kerguelen through the path of the belt of westerly winds, called “Furious Fifties.” The frigid temperatures have provided  conditions for the creation of multiple glaciers which are scattered across the island. The largest, Cook Glacier, located on the southwest section of the island, looks like a white cap decorated with ice. Mount Ross, covered with snow in the southeast, is one of the youngest volcanic mountain in the world.

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How Melting Glaciers Can Change Regional Climate

Fresh water melting from glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere could make contributions to climate change, according to the recent study, “Glacial lake drainage in Patagonia (13-8 kyr) and response of the adjacent Pacific Ocean,” by Neil F. Glasser and others in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. These findings are consistent with previous studies in North America and Europe.

It is not surprising to learn that climate change causes glaciers to melt, but perhaps counterintuitive to realize that glacial melting itself might intensify regional impacts of climate change, such as precipitation.

“The study is important because we are currently concerned about the volumes of fresh water entering the oceans from the melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and this gives us an indication of the likely effects,” Glasser said in an email to GlacierHub.

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The austral winter (June-Sept) surface temperature anomaly (source: Nature)

Deglaciation— the process of gradual glacier melting— has been found in North America and Europe to influence abrupt changes in climate. It works like this: the melting of vast volumes of ice can lead to the formation of large freshwater lakes, which can flow into the ocean; the freshwater from these lakes is less dense than the saltier waters of the ocean. An addition of such fresher, and less dense, waters can influence the structure of the ocean’s layers, which vary in their temperature, saltiness, and density. This structure also affects the currents within the ocean, which are driven largely by density (heavier water sinks, and lighter water rises) and the transfer of heat and water vapor between the ocean and the atmosphere.

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The indication of contemporary North Patagonian Icefield (NPI) and South Patagonian Icefield (SPI) (source: Nature)

The Younger Dryas (a sharp temperature decline in most of the Northern Hemisphere between 12,900 and 11,700 year ago), and other cooling events around 8000 years ago, are evidence of impact of the addition of freshwater into the oceans. There was no specific research in the Southern Hemisphere on this topic before this study; other researchers have known about past fluctuations, but not of the effects on oceans and climate. In order to clarify the principles in detail, the author and other researchers selected Patagonia as the target area. Patagonia, located at the southern end of South America, is an important area to test and interpret the records of environmental change because of its climatically sensitive location for its location near the core of westerly winds which greatly influence precipitation.

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Southern Patagonia Icefield (source: NASA)

The research tried to establish the dates of three stages of rapid glacial lake drainage in the Pueyrredón basins of Patagonia using a group of methods called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), which determines how long ago mineral grains were last exposed to sunlight and as a consequence can be used to estimate the date. In general, the lake drainage occurred between 13,000 and 8000 years ago. The water initially flowed eastward into the Atlantic, and then reorganized westward into the Pacific in new drainage routes formed as a result of deglaciation.

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Geomorphological evidence for the extent of the former glacial lakes (source: Nature)

New geomorphological mapping and new OSL dates not only showed the glacial lake nature and evolution of the region, but also reconstructed the glacial lake system and associated drainage routes. By adopting coupled ocean-atmosphere model simulations, the understanding of ocean-climate interactions in the Southern Hemisphere has been significantly advanced. The study indicates that a great sea density change caused by salinity variance off the southern tip of South America could lead to significant impacts on the structure of coastal ocean layers, and thus the long-term regional climate and precipitation changes.

The research was also supported by the proxy data of the Andes and other eastern South Pacific data gathered from natural records of climate variability, such as tree rings and ice cores. Those proxy data indicated the relationship between the oceanic circulation and fresh water melting from glaciers during the deglaciation of the Patagonian Icefields, showing in particular a decrease in precipitation. These findings combine to further reinforce the fact that melting glaciers can affect the local climate. While previous studies were focused on the fact that the climate change has led to glacier melting, glacier melting can also influence the climatic system.

Addressing Mountains in a Peruvian Village

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Farmers from Pinchollo village clean a water reservoir for the glacial melt water from Hualca Hualca mountain. Source: A. Stensrud

From 2010 to 2012, Astrid Stensrud, currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Oslo, researched climate change in the Colca Canyon of southern Peru, as part of the project “From Ice to Stone” from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. With climate change, water insecurity has caused new uncertainties for farmers in this part of Peru. For her article “Climate Change, Water Practices and Relational Worlds in the Andes,” Stensrud researched water practices to provide an anthropological perspective on how local people adapt to climate change. The research is based on ethnographic material generated during eight months of fieldwork in various villages of Peru, located at different altitudes in the Colca-Majes-Camaná watershed. Examining climate change from a social science perspective can complement natural science perspectives, because it allows for an analysis of the integrated relationship between infrastructure, technology, material objects, and culture. Taking this connected web into account, water serves as a link to join every part, including not only natural factors but also social and cultural ones. Stensrud’s research shows that these aspects are connected, offering locally-based solutions to address the current water crisis caused by climate change.

Stensrud spoke with Glacier Hub by email.

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Farmers from Pinchollo village, Peru. Source: A. Stensrud

GlacierHub: As an anthropologist, why did you decide to focus on the intersection of culture, water security, and climate change— and what does looking at culture add to the climate change conversation?

Astrid Stensrud: Climate research has been largely dominated by the natural sciences, but social anthropologists ask different questions and have the advantage of doing long-term, in-depth fieldwork among people affected by climate change and declining water supplies. Anthropology can contribute by drawing attention to cultural values and everyday politics that shape climate-related knowledge and responses to environmental change. Understanding climate change is not only about melting ice and changing precipitation patterns. In order to understand how climate change affects lives, it is necessary to look at stories and narratives, imaginations of the past and anticipations of the future, and knowledge, values and worldviews that inform people’s actions and engagements with the environment.

GH: Why did you choose the Colca Valley in Peru as the site for your research?

AS: I was invited to join a research project called “From Ice to Stone” at the University of Copenhagen for two years in 2010-2012, and it was led by anthropologist Karsten Paerregaard who has been doing ethnographic research in Colca Valley since the 1980s. Since this is an arid area, water access and irrigation have always been crucial issues in Colca, and these concerns are now exacerbated because of climate change. In my current position as a postdoctoral researcher in the research project “Overheating: the three crises of globalization” at the University of Oslo, it was a natural choice to return to the Colca-Majes watershed in order to continue the research on perceptions and responses to climate change and neoliberal economic policies.

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The celebration after finishing the work on the reservoir. Source: A. Stensrud

GS: In the course of your research, what was your biggest surprise?

AS: I was surprised to find that issues of water and climate change were so visible and present in conversations among people. I was expecting to patiently dig for information, but when I arrived to Chivay in March 2011, water was discussed in private and public arenas on an everyday basis, and climate change was a term that was used extensively. Later on, I realized that this was not necessarily a good thing, for example when the threat of climate change is used to make poor farmers pay for licenses for water use rights. Climate change was also used as an excuse by a mining company in their response to farmers’ complaints about disappearing water sources nearby a mining site; they claimed that the mine was not to be blamed, because the culprit was global warming.

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The return trip to the village. Source: A. Stensrud

GS: You use the word “cosmopolitics” in your study. What does it mean, and how does that word help explain water issues in the Colca Valley?

AS: Here I am inspired by the anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena, who has used the term “indigenous cosmopolitics” – or a “pluriversal politics” – to describe a politics that would allow for disagreements on the definition of nature itself, and accept nature as multiplicity. It contributes to my argument that different water practices enact multiple versions of water, for example relational water and modern water, and that a stronger ethnographic focus on material practices can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of climate change effects and water politics. In Colca Valley, it might for example say something about why relating to mountain-beings is not “indigenous religion,” but part of communities’ responses to water scarcity.

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A canal leads the glacial meltwater from the Hualca Hualca mountain to the reservoir. Source: A. Stensrud

GH: Colca Valley is deep. Are the glaciers visible from the villages? Does the fact that people do (or don’t) see them regularly influence the way that they think about them?

AS: Yes, the Colca River runs through the deep Colca Canyon. However, the villages are not located at the riverbank, but further up in the mountainsides, and they have very clear views of the mountaintops that used to be covered by glaciers – permanent snow and ice – but which now are black. When it has snowed and the mountains are white, people comment upon their beauty. The visibility of the mountaintops makes the absence of the glaciers very dramatic.

GH: At GlacierHub, we focus on glaciers. But perhaps we think about them more than the people who live near them. Did glaciers come up spontaneously in conversation, or only if you asked about them?

AS: When explaining the topic of my research for people, or when asking questions about weather and water, the first thing that many people mentioned was the lack of snow on the mountaintops and the permanent ice that had disappeared, causing dry pastures and other problems. So I did not have to ask specifically for the glaciers for people to tell me about them. Their visibility and their importance for water provision (at least in some of the villages) made their disappearance into a matter of concern for farmers.

Roundup: Glacier Tragedy, Artists, Melting Glacier Candles

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news. 

Siachen Glacier Tragedy: An Opportunity for Peace?

From National Geographic:

“The death of over a hundred Pakistani soldiers due to an avalanche on April 7 has brought forth the forgotten frozen frontiers of Siachen in the news cycle. This is the world’s highest battlefield where more die of hypothermia than of battle wounds and yet no end is in sight for this senseless conflict. Seven years ago, I wrote an article for India’s Sanctuary Asia magazine on how to quell this conflict using ecological approaches. This was a very practical solution modeled after the Antarctic treaty, which erstwhile adversaries such as the United States and the Soviet Union signed at the height of the Cold War.”

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To learn more about the research, click here.

These Artists Covered A Glacier In A Blanket To Save It

From FASTCOEXIST:

“In a summer or two, climate change might turn the highest mountain peak in Sweden into the second highest. For the past two decades, the 40-meter-thick glacier on top of Kebnekaise mountain has been shrinking, on average, a meter every year.The project is the third in a series of art projects that looks at geoengineering and the human desire to control the climate and weather. As the artists started researching ice, they read about attempts to slow the ice melt on the Rhone glacier in Switzerland by covering it with blankets.”

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To learn more about the research, click here.

These Melting Glacier Candles Have a Point to Make

From CURBED:

“These candles are made in the shape and color of glaciers so when they melt, as candles tend to do, they are making a point. And that point is: the glaciers are melting. A little on the nose? Perhaps, but you have to at least give Icelandic designer Brynjar Sigurðarson a hand for executing a concept in a very straightforward, clearly communicated way. And also for designing some nice looking candles, which are being produced by Spanish brand PCM.Mini glacier candles remind you of global warming as they melt”

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To learn more about the research, click here.

Photo Friday: 10 Indian soldiers were killed in an avalanche

In the Himalayan region, at least 10 Indian soldiers were dead due to an avalanche which engulfed their station near the Siachen Glacier. The India’s Defense Ministry made an announcement on Thursday. After the accident, Indian Army and Air Force personnel were sent to the accident spot to search for possible survivors even though temperatures on the Siachen glacier range from -25 C to -42 C.

“It is with deepest regret that we have to state that chances of finding any survivors are now very remote,” the ministry said in a statement.  Earlier in January, an avalanche hit a patrol party and four soldiers were dead in this accident. On the Siachen Glacier, the border between India and Pakistan, extreme weather conditions have already killed many soldiers stationed here. “Since 1984, India has lost 869 troops due to the extreme weather events,” said S. D. Goswami, a spokesperson for the Indian Army’s Northern Command.

The most recent news indicates that the soldiers who were trapped in the avalanche all died. Public opinion in India remains strongly in favor of maintaining this base, despite the ongoing loss of life that it entails.

Glacier Floods in the Central Himalayas

A river basin in the Central Himalayas is at risk of dramatic glacial lake outburst floods, which can cause great loss in downstream areas, according to a recent study in the journal Mountain Research and Development.

Rongbuk glacier melt lake, south of Everest Base Camp.(Credit: Greenpeace)

Glacial lakes form as glaciers melt, and they can burst and cause floods when an ice dam, or an earthen and rock dam formed by a glacial moraine, fails. In recent years, glacial lake outburst floods have received increasing attention. In the face of the threat posed by these floods, the study conducted by Narendra Raj Khanal
 and two other researchers identified the lakes most at risk of causing floods and proposed that it is necessary to construct monitoring and early-warning systems to warn people of an imminent flood, should one occur.

With global warming, more and more glaciers are melting and the volume of rivers and lakes downstream has increased; the naturally-occurring dams might not be strong enough to hold the extra water. The researchers found that glacial lake outburst floods increased in the Himalayas from 1910 to 2000, albeit insignificantly.

The mountain Stroller White is reflected in Mendenhall Lake on Friday, May 10, 2013, in Juneau, Alaska. Also pictured are the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Mendenhall Lake, in Juneau, Alaska. (Credit: Climateprogress)

Scientists remain worried about the possible floods from melting glaciers because floods could lead to not only property loss but also the the loss of human life. The records of previous glacial lake outburst floods events demonstrate the danger they have. In 1935, when the Taraco glacial lake burst, wheat fields were submerged and yaks were “swept away,” according to the study. In the 1981 Quxing Village’s flood, a village as well as bridges, homes, and part of a hydroelectric dam were damaged. Furthermore, considering the boom of tourism and international trade in Nepal and China, the cost from floods has dramatically risen. Local people’s lives are under threat too; the study reports that thousands of people live in areas that could be hit by a glacier lake outburst flood, and that millions of dollars of property are at risk.

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The shadow of melting glaciers.(Credit: SSRC)

In order to identify glacial lakes that are at risk of bursting and flooding, the scientists first did some general research on the target area, which was the Poiqu/Bhote Koshi/Sun Koshi, a transboundary river that originates in China and flows into Nepal and India. Using satellite imagery and Google Earth, the scientist found large-volume lakes; they also conducted fieldwork. They eventually identified 10 critical lakes— among them, six they described as “very critical”– that were at the highest risk of flooding and then used equations to specifically estimate the volume of those lakes. Afterwards, they tried to calculate the possible loss if floods were to occur. The scientists finally recommended risk reduction strategies.

A current early-warning system composed of sensors and automatic sirens is located proximate to the Nepal-China Friendship Bridge. However, the scientists found the adopted systems are not effective enough at warning people with enough time, and point out that there’s no system downstream.

As a result, they recommended a better monitoring and an early-warning system. The authors write: “It is recommended that the monitoring systems transmit information by wireless technology in real time to a management center staffed with (or linked to) experts who can judge whether the discharge or water level is abnormally high and indicative of an increased glacial lake outburst floods’ risk.”