Drying Peatlands in the Bolivian Andes Threaten Indigenous Pastoral Communities

The  Andes  are the longest mountain range in the world, stretching 4,500 miles long and spanning seven South American countries: Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Andean ecosystems include peatlands, grasslands, shrublands, salt flats, forests, and alpine regions. Mountain peatlands, or bofedales, play a particularly central role in the rearing of llamas and alpacas, which provide wool and meat to Andean, pastoral communities.

Alpacas at Sajama National Park, Bolivia (Source: Karina Yager)

Alpacas at Sajama National Park, Bolivia (Source: Karina Yager)

In order to remain productive and green, bofedales require continuous water supply from precipitation, groundwater, and glacial outflow. Without adequate water flow, bofedales are likely to dry up. Climate change and poor irrigation exacerbate the drying of bofedales.

A recently published research article in Springer Nature analyzes bofedal changes due to decreased water availability in Sajama National Park (PNS) in Bolivia. Karina Yager, NASA researcher and Stony Brook University professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, leads the scientific investigation.

Using satellite image analysis, vegetation studies, and traditional ecological knowledge, Yager and fifteen of her colleagues, from institutions in the U.S. and South America, study land cover changes over a 30-year timeframe and identify communal perspectives on drying bofedales.

Yager shared to GlacierHub: “traditional ecological knowledge gives voice to the human dimensions of land cover and land use change which are often overlooked; in this case with the bofedales, locals help us to understand both the climatic and social drivers of bofedal change, from shifting weather patterns, to water access, to herd management.”

Highlighting the Study’s Findings

Yager and some of her colleagues completing a vegetation survey of plant species growing in bofedales in Sajama National Park
(Source: Karina Yager)

PNS contains five pasture areas, where Andean communities reside. The pasture areas include: Sajama, Lagunas, Caripe, Papelpampa, and Manasaya. Members from all five communities participated in focus group sessions to share information regarding bofedal condition, climatology, and potential irrigation actions.

A Manasaya herder shared to the researchers: “the pastures of the bofedal are dying because not enough water is entering any longer. In some places that are dry, you can hear how the water runs below and you can see that there are places where the bofedal is sinking. There are holes; we cover them so the livestock do not fall in.”

Through field work and data collection, the researchers find that three communities within PNS—Sajama, Lagunas, and Manasaya—show significant loss of healthy bofedales. These land changes will likely result in decreases to animal health and communal livelihoods. In addition, completely dried bofedales are difficult to restore and likely take generations to recover.

Yager states to GlacierHub: “These are peatland systems that are relatively slow growing and have developed in many cases over several millennia. Some of the systems in Sajama are over four thousand years old, and unfortunately some have become completely desiccated within the last five to ten years.

Some bofedal systems would take generations to recuperate, and others may just be completely lost.”

On the other hand, increases in healthy bofedal land cover is observed in the two other, irrigated PNS regions of Caripe and Papelpampa. This finding signals that proper irrigation management and communal-based pasture management are critical to the conservation of bofedales.

Photo Friday: Norway’s Picturesque Sognefjord

Nicknamed the King of the Fjords, Sognefjord is the longest and deepest fjord in Norway, spanning 127 miles in length and reaching a depth of 4,265 feet below sea level. Steep cliffs around the fjord reach elevations of over 5,570 feet.

Fjords are long, narrow inlets of the sea, situated between mountainous coastline on either side. Fjord formation occurs when significant glacial retreat reaches bedrock level. The glacial retreat then leads to land erosion and the creation of a U-shaped valley, which fills with seawater, resulting in unique geological features such as Sognefjord.

This week’s Photo Friday captures Sognefjord’s picturesque views, beauty, and expansiveness.

Sognefjord, Norway (Source: Simon X, Flickr)
Sognefjord, Norway (Source: Kari Siren, Flickr)
Sognefjord, Norway (Source: bjarne.stokke, Flickr)
Sognefjord, Norway (Source: Thorbjørn Øvrebø, Flickr)
Sognefjord, Norway (Source: Sabin Merino Basterretxea, Flickr)

Read more on GlacierHub:

Not All Iceberg-Generated Tsunamis Are Alike. Here’s How They Differ

Trump’s Interior Pick Wants to Heighten California Dam

Great Biodiversity of Puyuhuapi Fjord

Unearthing Rock Glaciers: Hidden, Hydrological Landforms

Rock glaciers are distinctive, geomorphological landmasses composed of rock, ice, snow, mud, and water. Unlike exposed ice glaciers, the majority of ice and water is located within the rock glaciers’ underground permafrost. Above-ground characteristics of rock glaciers include unique tongue-shaped terminations, rock debris, and mountainous ridges.

Rock glaciers are frequently overshadowed by neighboring ice glaciers and overlooked due to their hidden nature. Although often forgotten, rock glaciers are common features in many mountain regions of the world and provide supplementary streamflow when water is needed most during dry, warm years.

Cross-section of a rock glacier which includes the above-ground layer, the permafrost core, and the hydrological system (Source: Schaffer et al.)

A Chilean-based scientific review team, from the Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA), published a study that evaluates the hydrological value of rock glaciers in the semiarid Andes (SA). Rock glaciers in the SA are rarely studied, so this group, led by scientist Nicole Schaffer, attempts to shed light on the region’s hidden landforms.

The SA is “a transition zone between the extremely arid region north of 25°S and the humid climate south of 40°S … over the twentieth century, total precipitation has declined and desertification has been recognized internationally as a critical problem,” states Schaffer et al.

Using published data sampling from the La Laguna Basin in Chile, the review team estimates glacial water contributions of the Llano de las Liebres, Las Tolas, Empalme, and Tapado Rock Glaciers using discharge measurements. Water discharge measurements collect the volume of moving water down a stream per unit of time.

Overall, rock glaciers in the semiarid Andes are believed to provide meaningful contributions to streamflows. The team’s findings indicate that the rock glaciers in the La Laguna Basin contribute between 9 to 20 percent of the total streamflow in the region.

How Will Rock Glaciers Respond to Warming Temperatures?

Through climate projections and historical evidence, the scientific community believes that rock glaciers will likely be less vulnerable to climate change.

North Cascades, Washington National Park (Source: Richard Droker, Flickr)

Due to the sheer size and high elevation of rock glaciers in the Chilean Andes, there will likely be delayed response times to climate change. As temperatures increase, smaller and lower elevation rock glaciers will likely thaw before substantial, high mountain rock glaciers.

U.S. Forest Service scientist Connie Millar studies both the historical and ongoing influences of climate change on rock glaciers in the western U.S. Millar’s research includes hydrological studies of rock glaciers in the Great Basin and ice glacier canyon mapping in the Sierra Nevada.

Millar said: “[Rock glaciers may] lag in response to climate change and maybe it’s more on scale of hundreds of years rather than thousands of years and it depends of course on where it is … and how quickly and how they respond to warming.”

North Cascades, Washington National Park (Source: Richard Droker, Flickr)

Alexander Brenning, scientist at Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany, also offers insight on the potential impacts of climate change.

Brenning shared: “Rock glaciers are complex systems that may react in various ways. The most worrying of all scenarios is the acceleration and even collapse of rock glaciers. Climatic warming may play a role in this scenario since it is expected to increase the availability of liquid water within the otherwise frozen rock glacier.”

Ultimately, rock glacial responses to climate change are highly variable and dependent on glacial size, elevation, and geographical location. To learn more about the climatic impacts, greater awareness of rock glaciers and further in-depth research is required.

Video of the Week: Glacial Thinning in Greenland

Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier is one of Greenland’s largest tidewater outlet glaciers. This type of glacier terminates in the sea, leading to frequent calving and releases of ice. Kangerdlugssuaq, which translates to “large fjord” in Greenlandic, is located on the southeastern coast of Greenland.

Ph.D. candidate Michalea King, who studies Greenland outlet glaciers at Ohio State University, created this week’s video of the week. The GIF documents glacial thinning in the 21st century on Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier.

The GIF’s x-axis shows the glacier’s change in elevation, which is measured in meters. The y-axis displays the glacier’s upstream distance, which is measured in kilometers. The upstream distance measures the distance of the glacier’s stream channel from the sea to the inner glacier. An upstream distance of 0 kilometers is located at the termination of the glacier, near the sea. And an upstream distance of 35 kilometers is located further inland, towards the inner part of the glacier.

The short video shows a decrease in glacial elevation over time. Years 2000 to 2005 are colored in blue, 2006 to 2010 are colored in green, and 2011 to 2016 are colored in yellow. The most recent recording, from 2017, is colored in orange.

Yellow and orange years reveal noticeable decreases in glacial elevation, meaning that the Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier is losing ice mass. The upstream distance, specifically from 5 to 15 kilometers, shows a greater loss of elevation than other upstream distances. This means that regions near the glacier’s termination, by the sea, are particularly vulnerable to ice mass loss. Decreasing ice mass over time is likely due to increased ice calving events.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Epidemics and Population Decline in Greenland’s Inuit Community

Massive Impact Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland Glacier

Roundup: Catastrophe on Mt. Ararat, Albedo Effect in the Alps, and Meltwater in Greenland

Supraglacial Lakes Are Not Destabilizing Greenland’s Ice Sheet, Yet

Rising Temperatures Threaten Biodiversity Along the Antarctic Peninsula

The 800-mile-long Antarctica Peninsula, which extends northward off of western Antarctica, is one of the fastest warming regions on the planet. The peninsula’s climate has warmed 3 degrees Celsius over the last 50 years, according to the British Antarctic Survey.

The Antarctic Peninsula, boxed in red (Source: United States Geological Survey)

Hundreds of glaciers, such as Crane and Sheldon, scatter the peninsula’s icy terrain. Rising temperatures have led to significant glacial melting on the Antarctic Peninsula. Large-scale glacial meltwater flows into nearby seas resulting in ecosystem disruption, which increases biodiversity vulnerability. Plant and animal species that cannot adapt to the changing conditions face extinction on the peninsula.

In an article published in Limnology and Oceanography, researchers examine how the changing climate of the Antarctic Peninsula impacts the biodiversity and decomposition of macroalgal communities.

Aquatic macroalgae are large, photosynthetic planets that can be seen without the use of a microscope. Macroalgae include a variety of seaweed species that are usually attached to the sea floor.

All three types of macroalgae, brown, red, and green algae, inhabit the coastal waters off of the Antarctic Peninsula.

When storms, erosion, and ice movement occur, macroalgae detach from the seafloor and become free-floating. Free-floating seaweed gets eaten, washes ashore, or decomposes in the ocean. Excess free-floating seaweed leads to biodiversity loss within the local ecosystem.

Red algae (Source: Peter Southwood, Creative Commons)

Lead-author Ulrike Braeckman from the Marine Biology Research Group at Ghent University and twelve additional authors from research institutions in Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands, and Belgium examined the accumulation and degradation of free-floating seaweed over time. Braeckman and her colleagues traveled to King George Island, which is located to the west of the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, to complete the study.

Specifically, the researchers analyzed two native seaweed species—red algae, Palmaria decipiens, and brown algae, Desmarestia anceps.

To examine the degradation rates in a lab setting, the researchers sampled sediment cores from the research site. Each core was roughly 9.8 inches long. Next, freeze-dried, shredded versions of the macroalgae and seawater were added to the sediment cores. Seawater was replaced every second day to avoid metabolite accumulation or improper chemical breakdown.

The researchers used stable isotope labeling of carbon and nitrogen, two chemical elements found in decomposed plant material, to understand the seaweed degradation rates. Stable isotope labeling is a valuable research technique used to measures the ratios of chemical elements.

Brown algae, Lobophora variegata (Source: John Turnbull, Flickr)

The results of the study indicate that Palmaria decipiens degraded quicker than Desmarestia anceps. In the research setting: Plamaria decipiens degraded in 31 days while Desmarestia anceps degraded in 48 days. The results confirmed the researchers’ initial hypothesis.

Increasing glacier melting results in expanding macroalgae growth associated with detritus [decomposition] accumulation at the seafloor in this area …the degradation of the macroalgal detritus [decomposition] in this study evolved over time, and the patterns were indeed species specific”, state Braeckman et al.

Therefore, some macroalgae species such as Palmaria decipiens decompose faster than other macroalgae species, which makes these species more susceptible to extinction on the Antarctic Peninsula. Climate change on the peninsula will likely contribute to future biodiversity loss as species struggle to adjust to the altered environment.  

Read More on GlacierHub:

Mongolia’s Cashmere Goats Graze a Precarious Steppe

Ragnar Axelsson Documents Iceland’s Disappearing Glaciers

New Running Record Set in Antarctica in a Chilling Race Against Time


Lahars Increase Stress-Tolerant Vegetation on Explosive Popocatépetl

Popocatépetl, or Smoking Mountain in the Aztec language, is an active stratovolcano, situated in central Mexico. Stratovolcanoes are steep, sloping volcanoes, characterized by their powerful eruptions and thick, slow-moving lava flow.

Mexico City with Popocatépetl hiding in the clouds (Source: Giovanni Paccaloni, Flickr)

At 8:26 am on March 6, Mexican authorities reported an explosion on Popocatépetl, according to the Mexico Daily News, which created a colossal ash plume reaching almost 4,000 feet into the atmosphere. As the explosive activity continues, an ash advisory remains in effect.

Popocatépetl is located about 43 miles from Mexico City, which has a population of 21.2 million people. As a result of the eruption, residents south of Mexico City are advised to keep all windows closed, use damp cloths around their noses and mouths, and drive slow due to the magnitude of ash on the ground.

Research published in the Journal of Vegetation Science shows an increase in stress-tolerant, competitive vegetation due to lahar activity on Popocatépetl. Lahars are fast flowing, destructive mudflows, often caused by eruptions and very hot flows of ash, lava, and gas. Lahars may also occur due to heavy precipitation.

Popocatépetl’s summit crater featuring Ventorillo and Noroccidental Glaciers (Source: NASA)


Glacier-covered volcanoes, such as Popocatépetl, are more susceptible to lahar activity due to glacial melting that occurs during eruptions. Reaching up to 2,200 °F, lava will melt everything in its path, including ice. As a result, glacial water can mix with dirt and debris to form dangerous lahars, which can destroy nearby ecosystems. 




Research Findings on Popocatépetl

In the study, researchers affiliated with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México analyze the leaf traits of 67 vegetation species on the Huilóac gorge. The gorge is located on the eastern slope of the volcano. The research project incorporates a total of 9 years of data.

Some of the analyzed species include Stevia tomentosa (small flowers), Roldana lobata (large herbs), Fragaria mexicana (strawberries),  Villadia batesii (evergreen succulents), and Stipa mucronata (grass).

Popocatépetl Volcano with flowering vegetation and hills (Source: nic0704, Flickr)

Using CRS (Competitive, Stress-Tolerant, or Ruderal) cataloging, the collected species were assorted into one of three categories. Competitive species adapt to productive, undisturbed environments. Stress-Tolerant species adapt to disturbed, harsh environments. And ruderal species adapt to disturbed, nutrient-rich environments.

The results of the study show that short-living vegetation with effective seed dispersal thrives in this cruel ecosystem.

The researchers conclude that “the change from ruderal/competitive to stress-tolerant and competitive species with time suggests that the most recent lahar event played a major role in sorting species according to their tolerance for disturbances”.

Increase in stress-tolerant species, such as conifers and alpine grasses, show that lahar activities play a role in species sorting. As vegetation adapts to favor resilience, it will transform Popocatépetl’s landscape. 

Read more on GlacierHub:

Using Film to Reduce Risk on Volcanoes

Exception or Rule? The Case of Katla, One of Iceland’s Subglacial Volcanoes

Images Show Active, Glacier-Covered Volcanoes in the Russian Far East

Roundup: Geopolitics in South Asia, “Last Chance Tourism,” and Antarctic Fjords

Glacier Geopolitics In South Asia

From the Daily Times: “India threatens Pakistan to stop its water flow from the Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej [Rivers] to Pakistan. In response Pakistan said that they are not concerned if New Delhi diverts its water from eastern rivers. India has already withdrawn the most favored nation (MFN) status to Pakistan and increased the duty import up to 200 percent. This all is due to the Pulwama attacks in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), where a suicide bomber killed more then 40 CRPF troops on 14th of February.”

Read more about the geopolitical dispute here.

“Last Chance Tourism”

From the Annals of Tourism Research: “With reference to virtue ethics and ethics of care, this paper discusses ethical challenges of tourism consumption and the last chance tourism marketplace … findings extend current discourses on last chance tourism by situating visitors’ lack of care for climate threatened destinations as a response to a tourism market that normalizes the consumption of socio-ecological decline.”

Read more about “last chance tourism” in the research article “Place stewardship among last chance tourists” here.

Paradise Bay, Antarctica (Source: Michael Morris, Flickr)

Biological and Optical Properties of Glacial Meltwater in Antarctic Fjord System

From Plos One: “As the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region responds to a warmer climate, the impacts of glacial meltwater on the Southern Ocean are expected to intensify. The Antarctic Peninsula fjord system offers an ideal system to understand meltwater’s properties, providing an extreme in the meltwater’s spatial gradient from the glacio-marine boundary to the WAP continental shelf. Glacial meltwater discharge in Arctic and Greenland fjords is typically characterized as relatively lower temperature, fresh and with high turbidity.”

Learn more about Antarctic fjord systems and the associated biological and optical properties here.

Hovgaard Island, Antarctica (Source: Steven-ch, Flickr)


Read More on GlacierHub:

Glacier Countries Condemn Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

An Impossible First: Colin O’Brady Completes Solo Trek Across Antarctica

Large Populations of Jellyfish Found in West Antarctic Fjords


Increased Focus on Mountains in the IPCC’s AR6 Report

On January 20th through the 25th, over 250 climate experts gathered in Durban, South Africa for Working Group II’s First Lead Author Meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). Working Group II, which evaluates climate change-associated vulnerabilities, impacts, and adaptation, will feature a “Cross-Chapter Paper” on mountains. These papers are new features for both Working Group II and the AR6 Synthesis Report.

The paper on mountains will include authors from several chapters within Working Group II. The authors come from several different mountainous countries such as Switzerland, Nepal, India, Austria, Russia, Ecuador, and the UK.

“It’s really good to see mountains receiving serious attention in the 6th assessment cycle of the IPCC, with the 1st Lead Author Meeting in Durban laying a good foundation,” Philippus Wester told Mountain Research Initiative, a collaborative research network that focuses on mountain regions and sustainable development.

The IPCC’s most recent climate report, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), brought startling news about the imminent threats of climate change.

Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate,” state the authors of the special report.

A 1.5°C temperature increase will likely lead to an increased frequency in extreme temperatures and an increase in frequency, intensity, and amount of heavy rain in many regions. Temperature increases will likely lead to an increase in drought intensity as well. Additionally, glaciers and ice sheets will likely melt faster, and glacial extent is likely to decrease in most mountainous areas.

The IPCC, established in 1988, was founded by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization in order to summarize and report research on climate change, risk assessments, and policy recommendations. The IPCC is well known for its collaborative assessments on the science of climate change.

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which was published in 2014, cited human influence and greenhouse gas emissions as the main drivers of climate change. Climate conversations for the IPCC’s next Synthesis Report, AR6 have already begun. AR6 will feature written contributions from each of the three Working Groups as well as a complete, Synthesis Report.

Comments from Working Group II & Cross-Chapter Paper Authors

Co-lead authors of the cross-chapter paper are Carolina Adler, from the Mountain Research Initiative, and Philippus Wester, from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). ICIMOD is known for its mountain research advocacy and focus in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Adler, who’s also lead author of Chapter 17, “Decision-making options for managing risk,” said that AR6 will have “greater emphasis and focus on the solutions space to the observed and projected impacts of climate change, particularly on adaptation” and increased “focus on mountains as a specific geographic context in which to assess climate change.”

Working Group II authors, Ben Orlove and Erin Coughlan (Source: Ben Orlove)

GlacierHub asked report authors Christian Huggel and Veruska Muccione, both from the University of Zurich, about their thoughts on the Working Group II report and AR6’s overall progress thus far.

Huggel, lead author of Chapter 12, “Central and South America,” and an author of the chapter on mountains, said: “Because [AR6] is more solution oriented, I think we will need to go deeper also in non-peer-reviewed literature. For example, in adaptation, there is now a rich experience in many regions of the world, but this is only documented in the peer-reviewed literature in a limited way.”

He adds: “ I also think that we will address more than in other reports problems of more complex nature such as cascading risks, i.e. not just risks from e.g. a hurricane, but how such hazards combine with human systems, and how it could bring human systems to failure.”

Some of the Working Group II authors brainstorming during the Working Group II’s First Lead Author Meeting (Source: Ben Orlove)

Muccione, lead author of Chapter 13 “Europe” and an author of the mountains chapter, reveals that AR6 will feature IPCC research yet to be published.

She said: “The three IPCC special assessments, e.g. the SR15 already published, and the other two assessments (SROCC and SRCCL) scheduled to be published later this year make up an important body of research for the AR6.” The SROCC, or the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, and the SRCCL, or the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, will both be finalized in September 2019.

Working Group II’s report, as well as the AR6 Synthesis Report, are still in the beginning stages, but significant progress is clearly underway. Working Group II’s Second Lead Author Meeting will take place in July in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Looking ahead, the IPCC’s three Working Group reports will begin to be published in 2021. The AR6 Synthesis Report will follow in 2022.

Read More on GlacierHub:

New IPCC Report Offers New Data, Stern Warnings, Hope

Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Outlines Potentially Dire Impacts of Climate Change

What Glacier State Congressmembers Think of a Green New Deal

Roundup: A Milestone in Cooperation, Early Warning Systems, and an Avalanche in Peru

International Glacier Monitoring Turns 125

From the World Glacier Monitoring Service: “In 2019, we will celebrate the 125 year jubilee of internationally coordinated glacier monitoring jointly with IACS during the IUGG General Assembly in Montreal, Canada, and with our National Correspondents during the WGMS General Assembly. The General Assembly will be split into three regional meetings which allows us to focus on regional challenges and networks and to cut in half the related carbon footprint.”

Read more about the upcoming meetings here.

Improving the Efficiency of Early Warning Systems

From “Five Approaches to Build Functional Early Warning Systems,” a report published by the United Nations Development Program: “This publication aims to support UNDP practitioners and partners (international organizations, nongov­ernmental organizations, governments, as well as civil society organizations) in the process of setting up or improving early warning systems. Distinct from the many existing step-by-step guides and checklists, this publica­tion identifies targeted interventions which can boost the efficiency and effectiveness of early warning systems in five key areas.”

Read more about the UNDP’s recommendations here.

UNDP Logo (Source: EuroClio)

Avalanche on Pucaranra Mountain

From the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio: “This Tuesday, an avalanche was recorded in the Pucaranra mountain, which fell on the Palcacocha lagoon and partially affected two of the siphons that control the level of the same, in the district of Independencia, in the province of Huaraz, Áncash region. […] The event was recorded on video by the surveillance system of the lagoon, implemented by the National Institute of Glacier and Mountain Ecosystem Research (Inaigem). In the images it is observed that the block of ice generated waves, which were retained by the safety dam of 7 meters high.” (Translation via Google Translate)

Read more about the avalanche here.

Lake Arhuaycocha, Peru (Source: Edubucher)


Read more on GlacierHub: 

Climate Change Behind More Frequent & Powerful Avalanches in Alaska

An Impossible First: Colin O’Brady Completes Solo Trek Across Antarctica

Flood Early Warning Systems Leave Women Vulnerable

Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Outlines Potentially Dire Impacts of Climate Change

Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region are projected to shrink by one-third by the end of the century even if average global temperature rise is held to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Age levels, according to the authors of a new comprehensive report, The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment

Glacier melt of that magnitude has widespread implications. Nearly two billion people live within the 10 river basins that make up the HKH region, and food produced there is consumed by 3 billion people.

The HKH region is green filled. Major, expansive network of river basins that includes the Ganges, Indus, Yangtze, and Yellow Rivers. (Source: Introduction to the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment)

The report is likely the most comprehensive climate assessment of the area: It includes input from over 300 experts, researchers, and policymakers. 

The HKH region, which spans 3.5 million square kilometers, across eight countries, contains two of the world’s highest peaks, Mount Everest and K2

“This is a climate crisis you have not heard of,” Philippus Wester, a lead author of the report, told The New York Times. “Impacts on people in the region, already one of the world’s most fragile and hazard-prone mountain regions, will range from worsened air pollution to an increase in extreme weather events.”

Key Climate Findings

Factors such as climate change, globalization, human conflict, urbanization, and tourism are quickly altering the HKH region, the assessment authors say.

Warming in the HKH region is strongly attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The authors say that if average, global temperature rise is 1.5°C, the HKH region will see an additional 0.3°C temperature rise. 

In other words: The region could warm as much as 1.8°C even under ambitious efforts to limit human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. And the northwestern Himalayas and Karakoraman expansive mountain range of 207,000 square kilometers that extends from eastern Afghanistan to southern China, could experience at least a 2.2°C temperature rise.

Karakoram Highway with Rakaposhi peak featured in the frame (Source: Shozib ali, Wikimedia Commons)

This warming could lead to increased glacial melt, biodiversity loss, and decreased water availability, the authors say. The Tibetan Plateau, which lies south of the Himalayas, will likely face decreased snow cover as temperatures rise. Elevation-dependent warming is a major contributor to the geographic changes in this region.

Other future climate changes include increased frequency of extremely warm days and decreased frequency of extreme cold ones.

The State of the HKH Cryosphere

The Hindu Kush Himalaya cryosphere is comprised of glaciers, snow, ice caps, ice sheets, and permafrost. Future temperature changes will influence the timing and magnitude of meltwater runoff. The report’s authors find that snow-covered areas will decrease and snowline elevations will rise.

Bhagirathi Peaks, Garhwal Himalaya (Source: Richard Haley, Flickr)


Loss of glacial volume in the region will increase runoff and the size of glacial lakes, resulting in a higher potential for Glacier Lake Outburst Floods, or GLOFs, and other hazards. Thawing permafrost is also expected to continue, resulting in the weakening of mountain slopes and peaks.

Messages to Policymakers

“Climate change impacts in the mountains of the HKH are already substantive. Increased climate variability is already affecting water availability, ecosystem services, and agricultural production, and extreme weather is causing flash floods, landslides, and debris flow,” according to the assessment’s authors.

Without immediate mitigation and adaptation policies, they conclude that the region’s glaciers—and therefore Hindu Kush Himalaya residents—face extraordinary threats.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Mapping and Monitoring Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Ice Loss, Gravity, and Asian Glacier Slowdown

Photo Friday: Marc Foggin & the Mountains of Central Asia

Roundup: Collapsing Glaciers, Invertebrates, and Resilient Mountains

Collapsing Glaciers in The Himalaya–Hindu Kush mountain ranges & the Tibetan Plateau

From Nature: “Tibetan communities are dealing with the impacts of collapsing glaciers. In October 2018, debris dammed the Yarlung Tsangpo River, which forms the headwater of the Brahmaputra, threatening areas as far afield as Bangladesh with flooding.”

Read more about how collapsing glaciers are affecting Asian communities and their water supply here.

Tibetan Plateau (Source: Andrew and Annemarie, Flickr)

Benthic Communities in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

From Ecological Applications: ” In this study, we describe contrasting responses to an apparent regime shift [in food particle size] of two very different benthic communities in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. We compared species-specific patterns of benthic invertebrate abundance and size between the west (low productivity) and east (higher productivity) sides of McMurdo Sound across multiple decades.”

Read more about the changes to benthic invertebrates in Antarctica here.

McMurdo Sound, Antarctica (U.S. Department of State, Flickr)

Resilient Mountain Solutions in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

From UNFCCC: “Research at ICIMOD has revealed that temperatures in the mountains have increased significantly faster than the global average, and are projected to increase by 1–2°C on average by 2050. Precipitation patterns and water availability are likely to change.”

Read more about Resilient Mountain Solutions such as vulnerability reduction and improved ecosystem services here.

Hindu Kush Range, Pakistan (Source: Akbar Asif22, Wikimedia Commons)


RELATED: South Georgia Island’s Novosilski Glacier Is Retreating Rapidly

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RELATED: Ice Loss, Gravity, and Asian Glacier Slowdown

An Impossible First: Colin O’Brady Completes Solo Trek Across Antarctica

On the 26th of December, 33-year-old American Colin O’Brady skied across an imaginary finish line on the Ross Ice Shelf at the foot of the Leverett Glacier.

Colin O’Brady completed his historic trek across Antarctica on the Ross Ice Shelf. (Source: Alan Light, Flickr)

Upon reaching the glacier, O’Brady became the first person to cross Antarctica unaided by wind. Borge Ousland was the first to transverse the continent using a kite in 1997. Others have attempted this 932-mile journey unaided, but all have failed. 

O’Brady began his extreme trek at the Messner Start on the Ronne Ice Shelf, about a mile away from his friend and fellow competitor, Louis Rudd, a British Army captain and adventurer well known for previous expeditions on Greenland and Antarctica. The two began their race across the the continent on November 3rd. O’Brady completed the tremendous feat 54 days later. Rudd followed two days behind.

O’Brady’s Antarctic expedition began at the Ronne Ice Shelf, crossed through the South Pole, and ended on the Ross Ice Shelf (Source: Jeandré du Toit, Wikimedia Commons)

Even with summer conditions in Antarctica, the southern continent remains a daunting setting. The two explorers faced brutal storms, high-speed winds, and chilling temperatures on their route. O’Brady even experienced frostnip, the precursor to frostbite, on his nose and cheeks due to the brutal conditions. Not to mention, they each pulled heavy sleds with tents and supplies weighing about 375 pounds. O’Brady and Rudd had no human contact or supply restock throughout their expedition. O’Brady used social media and a satellite phone, however, to keep in touch with the outside world. The athlete credits some of his success to his expedition manager and wife, Jenna Besaw, for her support and guidance.

“Despite how hard it is to step outside of your comfort zone, the magic of life and growth happens when you point your compass toward the limitless horizon of your dreams and commit to the journey,” O’Brady wrote in an Instagram post. Throughout his expedition, O’Brady frequently turned to Instagram to keep his curious followers informed about his whereabouts, daily struggles, and brushes with beauty.

The 932-mile journey included a detour through the South Pole, which O’Brady reached on day 40 and Rudd on day 41. It was a close race between the two explorers throughout the journey. But on Christmas morning, O’Brady completed the final 77.54 miles in a single, 32-hour-long push to the finish line. O’Brady called it his “Antarctica Ultramarathon.” He wrote on Instagram: “I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey.”

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Day 54: FINISH LINE!!! I did it! The Impossible First ✅. 32 hours and 30 minutes after leaving my last camp early Christmas morning, I covered the remaining ~80 miles in one continuous “Antarctica Ultramarathon” push to the finish line. The wooden post in the background of this picture marks the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where Antarctica’s land mass ends and the sea ice begins. As I pulled my sled over this invisible line, I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided. While the last 32 hours were some of the most challenging hours of my life, they have quite honestly been some of the best moments I have ever experienced. I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey. I’m delirious writing this as I haven’t slept yet. There is so much to process and integrate and there will be many more posts to acknowledge the incredible group of people who supported this project. But for now, I want to simply recognize my #1 who I, of course, called immediately upon finishing. I burst into tears making this call. I was never alone out there. @jennabesaw you walked every step with me and guided me with your courage and strength. WE DID IT!! We turned our dream into reality and proved that The Impossible First is indeed possible. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela. #TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

A post shared by Colin O'Brady (@colinobrady) on

O’Brady’s monstrous feat, detailed in a series of New York Times pieces written by Adam Skolnick, is one of immense courage, physical and mental strength, and perseverance. He will go down in history for his seemingly impossible first—traversing alone and unassisted what is possibly the most treacherous landscape on Earth.