Artists Stage Glacier Worship to Fight Climate Change

Artist Ishmael Randal working on his site specific installation near the HAWAPI base camp © Maxim Holland
Artist Ishmael Randal working on his site specific installation near the HAWAPI base camp © Maxim Holland

In early October, Peruvian artist Maxim Holland attempted to make an offering of water to a remote and legendary tropical glacier in the Peruvian Andes named Pariacaca, which is situated 13,000 feet above the sea. He lugged 150 liters of bottled water up to the foot of the glacier with the intention of boiling it until it evaporated into the thin mountain air. But the firewood, sticks and cow patties he and the other artists accompanying him were able to collect at the site only kept the fire burning long enough to consume part of his liquid sacrifice. The rest, he carried back down the mountain. The performance piece was part of a 10-day retreat into the Peruvian Andes called HAWAPI 2014 that Holland organized to bring attention to climate change and its human and environmental impacts.

On October 6, Holland and an international group of 23 other artists plus a dozen Andean herders climbed up to the site just below the glacier, which is about an hour by car and two by foot from the nearest town, Tanta. They were accompanied by a pack of some 80 llamas that wound along the scrubby golden mountain trails lugging food and an odd assortment of art supplies for the group—huge copper plates, stretches of rebar, gutters, tanks of helium, welding equipment. When they arrived, they set up a solar-powered camp between two glacial lakes, and for the next ten days, they cooked, ate, slept, and battled the elements to create art in the shadow of the glacier.

HAWAPI, the Quechua word for “outside,” is an itinerant arts collective that stages art events in remote regions of Peru, and this one was timed to coincide with the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change. The meeting will convene in Lima in early December, just as work from HAWAPI goes up at the Lima Contemporary Museum of Art, a show that runs from Dec. 3- Jan. 9. Many of the pieces were installed permanently at the site of the mountain camp, but documentation of their creation will be part of the museum’s exhibit.

The HAWAPI base camp with the Piticocha lake in background. © Maxim Holland.
The HAWAPI base camp with the Piticocha lake in background. © Maxim Holland.

In mid October, the Peruvian government announced that climate change had shrunk the country’s glaciers by 40 percent over the past four decades, and that the meltwater has given life to 1,000 new high-altitude lakes since the 1980s. Peru hosts 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are particularly vulnerable to rising global temperatures, and the country’s glaciers are the source of most of the country’s drinking water. Without them, the rivers will run dry.

“I think it’s essential that the Pariacaca glacier be incorporated into the imagination of every resident of Lima, because it’s part of their inheritance and today it seems a little bit forgotten,” wrote Alejandro Jaime, one of the artists who participated in the project, in an email (translated from Spanish). Jaime has  a long history of producing art that showcases or addresses Pariacaca. “So, I find these creative projects like HAWAPI that are developed around this mountain symbol very healthy, that they broadcast the glacier’s presence and importance for those who drink its waters.”

 Alejandro Jaime working with the ice and snow on the glacier. © Maxim Holland.
Alejandro Jaime working with the ice and snow on the glacier. © Maxim Holland.

Glaciers have long been worshipped in the Peruvian Andes as sacred overlords of climate, keepers of rain, and they are still celebrated in annual rites called champería by many Andean communities, according to Frank Salomon, a scholar of the region.

“In any province in the Andes, most people have one particular mountain they think of being as the overlord of the climate in their area,” says Salomon. “That establishes relationships between people and mountains that have to be attended to. Otherwise, people are not in the right relation with their environment.”

Pariacaca could be considered among the most treasured of Peru’s glacier gods, particularly among scholars, given that the rituals practiced here during Incan times were recorded by a priest and preserved in a storied text known as The Huarochirí Manuscript.

The HAWAPI artists attempted to engage both with local environment and its culture during their stay in the mountains. The group invited residents of Tanta to come and visit midway through their residency, and some 70 townspeople showed up to perform traditional music and dances. Many of the artists also designed projects that gestured at ancient Inca rites and practices, and to man’s influence on nature.

Peruvian artist Ishmael Randal Weeks, for instance, carved a seat out of rock in a spot with a view of Pariacaca. The sculpted seat was meant as a direct reference to the Incan “Ushnus” still found all over Cuzco, stone carved seats often placed facing holy sites, such as mountains, and configured in such a way as to intersect with sacred lines that were thought to radiate out of the city. Randal also diverted a small waterfall near the camp through a series of gutters, to emphasize nature’s tendency to take its own course regardless of human interventions.

Pariacaca peak. © Maxim Holland.
Pariacaca peak. © Maxim Holland.

Haresh Bhojwani of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in New York attempted to launch his Carbon Cube project—but faced some complications. He planned to represent with helium balloons the amount of coal burnt each day in the world: 300 meters by 300 meters, which is as wide and as long as the Empire State Building. But the balloons were too fragile to survive the conditions on the mountain. Ultimately, the group managed to represent a single second of coal consumption, 7 meters by 7 meters, using string, in a collaborative effort to salvage the project.

A couple of New York-based drone artists, Nina and Georgi Tushev, also participated in the project virtually via a tiny drone sent in with the group. Other participants included Colectivo ¿Emergentes?, a group of young artists who create public art happenings in Lima; Amsterdam-based Peruvian artist Teresa Borasino; sound artists and climate change activists Frank Cebreros and Nahu Rodriguez; and sculptor and installation artist Raura Oblitas.

Holland and two other artists were intent on having direct contact with the glacier itself, so they made a four-hour hike out from the campsite. But the glacier was very visible from the camp. “We had a direct view of the glacier, it was a constant presence,” he said.

(Read more about artists who incorporate glaciers into their work on GlacierHub, here and here.)

Llamas being loaded with supplies in preparation for the hike up to the base camp. ©Maxim Holland.
Llamas being loaded with supplies in preparation for the hike up to the base camp. ©Maxim Holland.

As Glaciers Melt, Mt. Shasta Could See More Mudslides

Mt. Shasta, at 14,179 feet, the second highest peak in the Cascades mountains and the fifth highest in California. (©Joe)
Mt. Shasta, at 14,179 feet, the second highest peak in the Cascades mountains and the fifth highest in California. (©Joe)

A giant mudslide sent mud and debris hurtling down the southeastern flank of California’s Mt. Shasta in late September. Experts believe glacial melting, hastened by a three-year California drought, loosened giant ice blocks at the small Konwakiton Glacier midway up the peak, dislodging earth and rocks dammed up under the ice.

U.S. Forest Service climbing ranger Jonathan Dove of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest was on a ridge above the mudslide when it happened. “It sounded like a freight train barreling down the canyon,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Mt. Shasta’s September mudslide was the worst the area had seen in 20 years, according to U.S. Forest Service Hydrologist Steve Bachmann, who spoke with Redding.com. Bachman warned that another chunk of glacier could easily dislocate, shunting a new torrent of mud and boulders down the mountain.

Scientists attribute the accelerated melting on the Mt. Shasta glacier, in part, to a lack of insulating snow pack. And that’s bad news. Due to climate change, snowpack is expected to decline 25 percent to 40 percent statewide by 2050. Mt. Shasta, which is a dormant volcano in the Cascades mountain range, has the most glaciers of any mountain in California.

No one was hurt, and no homes were damaged from flooding, but the mudslide buried two roads in the tiny town of McCloud, in northern California’s Siskiyou County, under mud, large boulders and fallen trees. Authorities were forced to close the roads to traffic, and one of them will not likely be reopened until next year. The mudflows, which came down the appropriately named Mud Creek, also cascaded into McCloud River, popular with fishermen, and fed into Shasta Lake, which is only a quarter full due to drought.

McCloud River in summer. (©Carlos Wolters)
McCloud River in summer. (©Carlos Wolters)

Forest Service officials told the Sacramento Bee that the drought, combined with hot summer temperatures, may have created a small lake atop or within the glacier, causing a chunk of it to collapse, which then released the dammed up water in a small outburst flood. These glacial outburst floods have a name in Iceland: “jökulhlaup.” (Read more about them on glacierhub, here.)

Mt. Shasta’s Mud Creek has seen its share of mudslides in the past 100 years. The biggest occurred in 1924, when mud and debris spread over an area 8 miles by a half a mile, blocking the railroad tracks and severing water lines to the town of McCloud for two days. The mudslide made the front page of the local Redding Courier-Free Press six times in the weeks following the incident.

McCloud railroad. (©Drew Jacksich)
McCloud railroad. (©Drew Jacksich)

Copper Versus Ice: Chilean Mine Would Excavate Five Glaciers

Glaciers neighboring Chile's Andina mine. (©Cristobal Hurtado, please contact the photographer before using)
Glaciers neighboring Chile’s Andina mine. (©Cristobal Hurtado, please contact the photographer before using)

The glaciers of Chile are threatened not just by global warming, but by mining operations high in the snow-peaked Andes cordillera.

On July 24, Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, the world’s largest producer of the metal, proposed changes to a controversial $6.8 billion expansion of its Andina mine. Whether the new proposal gets the green light from environmental authorities could determine the fate of 26 glaciers in the central Andes, which form a watershed that supplies drinking water to the 6 million Chileans living in the country’s capital, Santiago.

Activists were not impressed. “Nothing has changed. Andina 244 will continue destroying glaciers,” Greenpeace Chile wrote in a response. In March, Chilean Greenpeace activists declared a “Glacier Republic,” a sovereign state covering 23,000 square kilometers of glaciers in Chile that already has over 15,000 “citizens,” to push adoption of a law to protect Chile’s glaciers. And on Sep. 27, two thousand people, many of them children wearing superhero costumes, marched to the presidential palace La Moneda, in Santiago, to urge president Bachelet to write glacier protection laws.

The site of Andina 244, Codelco's proposed expansion of its Andina copper mine. (©Codelco)
The site of Andina 244, Codelco’s proposed expansion of its Andina copper mine. (©Codelco)

The revisions to Codelco’s project, dubbed Andina 244, came in response to concerns voiced by environmentalists and local authorities in more than 2,000 public comments on the project. But those revisions would do little to alter the mine’s direct impacts on the glaciers.

Codelco had planned to remove six so-called rock glaciers to get at copper ore under the earth; opponents also charged that dust from the project would damage 20 visible ice glaciers that extend along the cordillera. Under the revised project, the range of the open-pit mine was shifted so that it will require partial removal of five rock glaciers instead of six, but the difference in total area is negligible: 89.94 acres instead of 89.97 acres. Codelco also announced that its own research, completed at the request of government authorities, showed that dust from the expansion would not accelerate melting at the neighboring visible ice, or white, glaciers. (Typically, little or no ice is visible at the surface of rock glaciers.)

At least one scientist found flaws in the company’s modeling: Alexander Brenning, a glaciologist from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who has spent many years studying Chile’s glaciers, said Codelco’s wind field data does not match data from meteorological stations in the area, which could skew its calculations of particle dispersion rates. Dust and particulate matter are known to accelerate melting of glaciers given that they darken the glaciers’ surfaces, causing them to absorb more heat from the sun. “You find subtle contradictions. According to their models, dust from their mine won’t affect white glaciers, but anecdotally they mention that you can sometimes see dust clouds from neighboring mine Los Bronces,” he said.

In the revised project, Codelco also proposed measures to protect water resources: it would recycle 65% of the water used at the mine and inject fresh water directly into a nearby river to compensate for loss of glacial meltwater. And the company promised to study and preserve glaciers that feed the area’s major rivers—Mapocho, Maipo and Blanco—over the life of the project, through 2058.

Rio Mapocho at Yerba Loca (“Crazy Herb”), a protected nature sanctuary. (©John Bankson)
Rio Mapocho at Yerba Loca (“Crazy Herb”), a protected nature sanctuary. (©John Bankson)

 

For the Chilean government, weighing water and ice against copper makes for a complicated calculus. Codelco is 100% owned by the state and provides 14% of the government’s revenues, making it a major lifeblood for the country, one of South America’s strongest economies. According to Codelco, Andina 244 would also generate 18,000 jobs over the next six years. The expansion of the mine is part of a larger revamp at Codelco that is apparently needed if the company is to maintain its position as the world’s number one copper producer. Profits were down by almost a third in the first half of this year due to a slide in global copper prices, according to Reuters. (Profit margins, though, are a very generous 40%.)

Some 31,000 glaciers span the Chilean side of the Andes cordillera, which represent 82% percent of all glaciers in South America. Among these are thousands of rock glaciers, which are quite different from the glittering blue ice sheets and jagged crowns and slopes of translucent white that most people associate with the term. Rock glaciers are glacier-like formations consisting of angular rock blocks, between which glacier ice is packed, but not visible. They are just as important to water reserves as white glaciers .

Santiago with the Andes mountains towering behind it, Spring 2013. (©Armando Lobos)
Santiago with the Andes mountains towering behind it, Spring 2013. (©Armando Lobos)

Despite a lack of good laws governing the country’s glaciers, Chilean authorities do have some bite when it comes to protecting them. In July of 2013, a Chilean court suspended the operations of Pascua Lama, a mine run by Canada’s Barrick Gold, after indigenous communities were able to prove that the company had damaged glaciers near the mine, violating its environmental permit.

“Environmental awareness in Chile has been increasing over the last 20 or 30 years,” said Brenning. “NGOs are getting stronger, and the environmental thoroughness with which different government bodies involved examine those projects has been increasing over the last decade, in particular the glaciology group of the Chilean water authority.”

A march in defense of water, partially in protest of Andina 244, on April 26, 2013 in Santiago's Parque Almagro. (©Rafael Edwards)
A march in defense of water, partially in protest of Andina 244, on April 26, 2013 in Santiago’s Parque Almagro. (©Rafael Edwards)