Last-Chance Tourism Spurs Eco-Consciousness and Climate Change

The last-chance tourism market is booming. As many of the world’s natural wonders deteriorate and vanish, glaciers and coral reefs especially, people are urged to see them before it’s too late. Social media and tourism markets are massively influential in spurring wanderlust and driving our desire for travel.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a once vibrant coral reef busy with thousands of fish species, is suffering severe coral bleaching and loss of fish habitat. (Source: Jorge Lascar/Flickr)

Last-chance tourism is paradoxical. Tourists often visit remote destinations to take in the beauty and experience a place that may not be the same in the future. But in doing so, they are contributing to climate change, negatively impacting these destinations through carbon-intensive travel.

A recent study published in Annals of Tourism Research discusses the ethical challenges of last-chance tourism. Lead author Mark Groulx and colleagues examined tourists’ willingness to offset the environmental footprint of their travel by participating in carbon offset programs. The study is significant in understanding the role of place identity and attachment in this sector of tourism and the complexities around stewardship.  

Schemes are often presented as a voluntary fee. They allow travelers to invest in carbon reduction projects that balance out the carbon footprint of their travel. These projects could include carbon capture technologies or forest conservation efforts, as well as prevention of new emissions through investing in building wind farms and other green technologies. However, many tourists do not engage in offsetting schemes with rates of engagement below 10 percent for most popular tourist destinations.

The team compared two locations in Canada vulnerable to climate change: polar bear tourism in Churchill, Manitoba and glacier tourism in Jasper National Park. Polar bear populations are well known to be threatened by climate change. The call to save these beloved animals is a key selling point by activists in combating climate change. Warming directly impacts glaciers, and many of the world’s most important glaciers may disappear within the century.

Churchill is famous for its polar bear viewing, which has grown significantly since the 1980s. Birding, beluga whale watching, aurora borealis viewing, and dog sledding are also popular activities. Polar bear populations are in decline as seasonal sea ice diminishes especially during summer. According to a previous study, the Churchill polar bear population could become extinct in as little as 30 years.

Three polar bears enjoying some sun in Churchill. (Source: Trevor Bauer/Flickr)

Jasper National Park is one of the most heavily visited parks in Canada with a total of 2.33 million visitors in 2016. According to the authors, the Athabasca Glacier is a considerable tourism draw at the park. It hosts a number of visitor infrastructures such as the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. The glacier, however, continues to retreat from climate change. Historical photography referenced in the new study reveals that the Athabasca Glacier receded approximately a kilometer between 1917 and 2006.

The survey conducted at the two sites was designed to measure visitors’ willingness to participate in carbon offsetting. Visitors were asked if they were willing to participate in carbon offset schemes, and if so, how much they were willing to spend. They were also asked how concerned they were about climate change: extremely concerned, concerned, or not concerned. Since the researchers knew that many visitors were unfamiliar with carbon offsets, they provided a simple explanation in the survey. Data was collected from visitors who engaged in glacier or polar bear viewing activities. They amassed a total of 267 surveys for Churchill and 396 for Jasper National Park.

Researchers found that visitors at Churchill were significantly more concerned about climate change than visitors in Jasper National Park. A greater percentage of people were willing to buy carbon offsets. Churchill visitors were also willing to pay far more for carbon offsets than JNP visitors, with a mean of $166.03 (Canadian) compared to $54.99 from JNP tourists. Those from both sites who were willing to purchase offsets also had a much greater sense of nature relatedness, place identity, and place attachment than those not willing.

Snow crawlers transport tourist up and across the glacier before returning to the lodge at Jasper National Park. (Source: diffuse/Flickr)

A review of 66 studies suggests that a stronger sense of place attachment and identity may foster climate change concern, which might influence travelers to engage more in carbon offsetting schemes. One explanation for the difference between Churchill and Jasper National Park tourists is the attraction of polar bears. Polar bears are considered to be a “highly-charismatic mega fauna” and are seen as the international mascot for climate change. People are able to connect more easily to the plight of these cute and endangered animals, and they are much better at capturing public attention and promoting emotional involvement relative to physical landscapes.

Although travelers produce a substantial carbon footprint through last-chance tourism, it may help bolster the sense of place attachment and identity that encourages tourists to engage in carbon offsetting. People sometimes build personal connections to places they visit, and this value they put on locations may lead them to take meaningful action to preserve them. Tourism is one of the most effective methods to getting people to engage in offsetting schemes. Once we develop an attachment, we are more likely to take on a responsibility to caring for the destination and contributing to environmental wellbeing.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Tourism in Tibet

Glaciers, Geoheritage, and Geotourism

The Andes Challenge: Extreme Sports, Tourism, and Science in Peru

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Photo Friday: Taurus Mountain Range and the Last of Turkey’s Glaciers

Almost half of Turkey is made up of mountainous terrain. The country was once home to several large glaciers, however over time, their areas of coverage has decreased tremendously.

The Taurus Mountain range, Toros Dağlari in Turkish, is located on the southern edge of Turkey. This great chain of mountains runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast, towards the borders of Syria, Iran, and Iraq. About two thirds of the country’s glaciers currently lie within this range, with some of the highest peaks reaching heights of between 10,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level (3,000 to 3,700 m).

A photo of the snow-capped Taurus mountains of Turkey, taken in 2006. (Source: Dan/Flickr)

Toros means ‘bull’ in Latin, and the origin of the mountain’s name is useful in perceiving past climate. According to World Atlas, the bull symbolizes Near Eastern storm gods in ancient Mesopotamia. The mountains are home to several storm-god temples, and they historically received heavy rainfall.

Snow and ice remain year-round on some of the highest peaks in the region. (Source: Zeynel Cebeci/Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey receives most of its precipitation in winter, and because of irregular topography, regions vary greatly in weather and climate. In recent decades however, Turkey has received less and less annual winter rainfall in the western region. This is where many of the country’s largest glaciers reside. Summer temperature also continue to rise with global warming. These might have been major contributing factors to glacier shrinkage. Turkey has also experienced significant drought periods in the last few years, with rainfall far below annual average levels.

Mt. Demirkazik is the highest peak in the Taurus mountain range, with a summit of 12,323ft (3,756m). (Source: Zeynel Cebeci/Wikimedia Commons)

Since the 1970s, over half of Turkey’s ice cover has vanished. According to a study published in Remote Sensing of Environment, in more than 40 years, the total glacial area fell from 25km2 in the 1970s, to 10.85km2in 2012-2013. Scientists attribute these changes to higher minimum summer temperatures. Five glaciers have disappeared, and the current glaciers have greatly declined.

Mount Ararat, one of the few remaining glaciers in Turkey, is pictured here with an Armenian monastery in the foreground. (Source: Andrew Behesnilian/Wikimedia Commons)

Today, glaciers in Turkey exist in the high peaks in south-eastern and central Taurus mountains, and the eastern Black Sea mountain range. 

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United Nations Steps for Building Functional Early Warning Systems

Communities around the world have been faced with sharp increase in disasters and severe weather events, resulting in extensive damage devastation. Hurricanes, cyclones, and glacier avalanches are some examples of events that have had significant consequences on vulnerable communities and human wellbeing. In order for societies to withstand major disasters, they must take precautionary actions and measures to prepare for impact and prevent potentially devastating outcomes.

Source: United Nations Development Program, Europe and Central Asia

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently released a report on early warning systems (EWS). “Five Approaches to Build Functional Early Warning Systems” aims to support innovation and the development of systems through highlighting methods that have been successfully tested in southeast Europe, South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), and Central Asia. It emphasizes the importance of these systems as a necessary tool for improving quality of life and in building resilient nations.

The UNDP recognizes the effects of disasters on communities, particularly to developing countries and more vulnerable populations. “Around 85% of the people exposed to earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and droughts live in developing countries, and more than 69% of all people killed by disasters between 1996 and 2015 were classified as receiving a low or lower-middle income.”

The frequency and magnitude of natural disasters are expected to rise with global warming, with millions more at risk each year. According to the publication, about 90 percent of major disasters from 1995 to 2015 were linked to climate and weather, with damage costs increasing exponentially to over trillions of dollars today. EWS can be powerful in preventing great monetary loss, reducing disaster mortality rates, and also improving quality of life.

Melting glaciers, for example, not only present a natural hazard from ice and cliff breakage, but also increase the risk of hydrological drought. The document looks at a project in Uzbekistan, a desert country that has long relied on Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers. These rivers descend from the 7000 meter peaks of the Tien Shan to the east, supplying cities and agriculture, particularly cotton, a key export crop. These rivers are now much reduced, and changes in meltwater patterns puts future water availability and security at risk. The current drought EWS, established by the Republic of Uzbekistan and multiple partners, monitors runoff and supply to manage finite water resources.

View of Tian Shan mountains. Tian Shan, translates to “celestial mountains”, and its highest peak is currently at about 7,439 meters. (Source: Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr)

A number of challenges and obstacles to successful EWS are addressed. An efficient, functioning system requires a design planned with regard to the social, economic, and environmental conditions of a region. What technology is available for use? What role does infrastructure play in disaster warnings? How do communities effectively respond to these systems? These are some questions governments, institutions and organizations must consider to avoid a possible system failure.

Andrew Kruczkiewics, a senior staff associate at the International Research Institute of Columbia University, told GlacierHub that some of the challenges associated with EWS are centered around availability and use. He said that some reasons they’re not used are lack of forecasting skill, lack of mandate, or confusion on timing of action. “A functional EWS is one that allows for an action to be taken to decrease the probability of impact. This action could be as simple as raised awareness, or as large as evacuation” he added.

Water is being distributed here in the Horn of Africa. Certain regions of Africa have been experiencing increased frequency of drought. EWS can help in preparation of resources and early action. (Source: Oxfam/Wikimedia)

So what does successful EWS implementation look like? According to the publication, there are five main areas of intervention vital to attempt to overcome these challenges: institutional and regulatory arrangements, technological solutions, community-based solutions, private sector engagement, and international cooperation and data sharing. These approaches to EWS are considered innovative and beneficial in tackling the aforementioned challenges.

The effectiveness of the application of these solutions, however, have only been observed in particular regions in Europe and Asia. This report has not analyzed the effectiveness of projects in Africa, South America, or south Asia. These are regions that are expected to be adversely impacted by climate change induced natural disasters, with some marginalized populations particularly vulnerable to disaster events.

Although the publication is not representative of effective projects in many vulnerable regions, it acknowledges the complexities of developing successful EWS. These solutions are useful components in initial design of a EWS, however the complex social systems must be identified, understood, and accounted for in order to address challenges and promote disaster resiliency.

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Video of the Week: Preserving Sheepherding and Tradition Among Nepal’s Tamang Community

The Tamang community are an indigenous group in Nepal that have depended on cattle rearing for the last three centuries. Located in the northernmost part of central Nepal, herding is a livelihood that has long held a significant role in the culture of this rural, indigenous Himalayan community. Shepherding among the Tamang, however, has dwindled over the last few decades as younger generations are becoming less likely to take up the tradition passed down from older generations.

Manchhiring Tamang’s documentary “A Day in the Life of a Himalayan Shepherd” beautifully captures the vast Himalayan landscape and sheepherding practices of the Tamang valley. The film recently debuted at the 12th annual Colony Short Film Festival in Marietta, Ohio, where it was runner up in the Best Documentary category.

Source: Colony Film Festival/Facebook

The short film follows 45-year-old Khariman Tamang, a shepherd following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Despite the harsh climate and  physical challenges of caring for his sheep, he takes great pride in the rich cultural tradition within the Tamang community.

Khariman lives in Sertung, a stunning yet isolated region located in the upper Dhading district in central Nepal. He provides for his wife, two sons, and daughter through sheep herding.

Shepherds in the region must leave their families for six months of the year to move their herds to colder climates. Tamang herders roam the valley with their flocks in constant search of ideal weather conditions that produces abundant grasses for feeding. Shepherds sometimes visit their families between seasons and during special holidays and festivals.

Sheep provide the people of Tamang with food, dairy products for medicinal and cosmetic products, and wool for clothing and other necessities. Wool plays an essential role in Tamang culture. It is often used for making traditional clothing, beds, blankets, carpets, and rugs. Family members and neighbors borrow and exchange woolen products, bolstering livelihoods and enriching connections among the Tamang community.

Some herds can consist of up to 200 sheep. (Source: Manchhiring Tamang)

GlacierHub met with Manchhiring Tamang, who was born and raised in the Tamang village depicted in the film.  He has worked as a research journalist with a focus on the indigenous groups of Nepal and tourism. His father and grandfather were also sheep herders in the valley.

Manchhiring, who now lives with his family in New York City, aims to show people the beauty of the culture and traditions of the Tamang community in Nepal. This film gives viewers a glimpse into the lifestyle of this age-old tradition which has seen a major shift in recent years. He spoke to us about how the sheep herding practice has changed over time with new generations.

“This profession amongst this modest community is on the verge of extinction, and the older generations are forced to think whether this will be the last generation involved in this job sector,” said Manchhiring.

(Left to right) GlacierHub Editor Ben Orlove, Director Manchhiring Tamang, GlacierHub Author Nabilah Islam, Manchhiring’s friend Tuilal Chhun.

Kathryn March, an anthropologist at Cornell University familiar with the Tamang people of Nepal, told GlacierHub that as climate patterns shift and seasonal precipitation becomes more erratic, traditional knowledge becomes increasingly unreliable. The timing of funerals, weddings, and other cultural rituals is thrown into uncertainty by climate change.

March added that working-age men in particular are increasingly moving out to  Gulf countries and Southeast Asia. “The previous household economic strategies of trying to have multiple sources of income, from agriculture and herding and trade or seasonal employment, have been radically transformed into widespread dependence on remittances from outside wage labor, ” she said.

Manchhiring hopes to preserve the traditional practices of the Tamang people through “A Day in the Life of a Himalayan Shepherd.” He said: “I want people to know the hardness and struggle of country people like my uncle who are struggling to keep up their ages old tradition, struggle of dilemma as to whether to abandon their tradition or to keep it.”

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The New Science Editors of the Journal of Glaciology

The world’s glaciers, many of which have been around for millions of years, are in danger. Glaciers today are retreating faster than ever recorded. Some glaciers in tropical regions are on the verge of disappearing in the coming decades. Climate scientists and glaciologists are on the frontlines of understanding how climate change is threatings iconic glaciers, impacting tourism, ecosystems, and communities dependant on glaciers for water.

The Journal of Glaciology has recently brought on several new science editors. Although the journal is now over 70 years old, it’s gained importance and readership over the years as awareness of climate change has grown. The journal and its editors cover mostly the natural sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics as well as the impacts of climate change on human societies.

GlacierHub interviewed several of the journal’s incoming authors. They come from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds, from a focus on the Greenland ice sheets to the glaciers and water cycle of the Himalayas. Experts told us about their goals for working with the journal and their expectations for the future of the field of glaciology and climate science. 

Karen Cameron

Karen Cameron (Source: Aberystwyth University)

Karen Cameron is research fellow at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom. As a glacial microbial ecologist, she studies the effects of microbiota on glacier surfaces, and how they may contribute to ice darkening, a driver of glacier melt. Cameron is an expert on Greenland ice sheets. In one of her most recent studies, she and other researchers examined the potential expansion of Greenland’s “dark zone,” an area of the ice sheet covered in dust, black carbon, and pigmented algae.

“I look forward to contributing towards the scientific community by helping to shape and encourage outputs relating to the ecology of glacial environments. Over the coming years, there should be many exciting developments in this field. For example, I expect to see a surge in reports relating to the effect of microbial communities on reducing albedo (surface reflectivity), which enhances glacial and sea ice melt. I also expect to see more robust estimations of the contributions that glacial and permafrost microbial communities make to current and future methane budgets. Similarly, investigations into the role of microbial communities in cycling valuable nutrients and making them available to downstream ecosystems, will likely feature. Finally, there should be exciting developments in the exploration of cryospheric organisms for potential drug development and biotechnological usage.”

Shad O’Neel

Shad O’Neel (Source: USGS.gov)

Shad O’Neel is a research geophysicist at the Alaska Science Center. His area of expertise includes glacier and ice sheet contributions to sea level rise, which is consequential to millions of people living along coastlines experience more frequent flooding. O’Neel also examines seismic activity at glaciers and iceberg calving events, which presents a considerable environmental hazard. Some of his more recent work focused on river discharge in subarctic Alaska suggests a link between glacier retreat, aquifer recharge, and lowland river discharge.

“I was brought on to the editorial staff to work on papers related to mountain glaciers due to my background working on them. My goal is to help promote high-quality papers related to processes and changes ongoing across Earth’s mountain glaciers. In particular, I am interested in mass balance. At the basin scale, emerging methods (e.g. ground penetrating radar) show potential to reduce uncertainties in mass change. How we aggregate observations and use them to constrain regional mass balance estimates and/or inform models is another topic I hope passes through my Journal of Glaciology inbox.”

Iestyn Barr

Iestyn Barr (Source: Manchester Metropolican University)

Iestyn Barr specializes in applications of remote sensing, GIS, and modeling in high-latitude environments. As a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, he instructs courses in glacial systems and geomorphological processes. His most recent publication compares effects of soil erosion and flooding from 1.5 degrees Celsius warming versus 2°C. Much of Barr’s previous research assesses historic glacial morphology and retreat, with substantial work done on the history, dimensions, and dynamics of the glaciers in Kamchatka, Russia. 

“My goal in working for the journal is to promote glaciology in general, and particularly to continue the excellent (and long running) success of the Journal of Glaciology. One of my particular areas of interest is looking at interactions between volcanoes and glaciers (‘glaciovolcanism’). Specifically, looking at volcanic impacts on glacier dimensions and dynamics; using glacio-volcanic landforms to reconstruct past glaciers; and considering the possibility that future glacier retreat might not only be driven by, but also force, volcanic activity.”

Argha Banerjee

Argha Banerjee (Source: IISER Pune)

Argha Banerjee is a glaciologist knowledgeable in the Himalayan glaciers. He is a professor of earth and climate sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune. In a recent study, Banerjee, along with three other researchers, evaluated the effects of avalanches on mass balance in glaciers. They developed methods to attempt to quantify net avalanche contributions to mass balance, a feat which hasn’t been done before, and applied their methods to three Himalayan glaciers.

“My academic and personal experience over the past few years have made me appreciate the strong connections that Himalayan glaciers share with Himalayan climate, water cycle, landscape evolution, ecology, and so on. To be able to explore these connections is what makes Himalayan glaciology fascinating to me. I would love see more articles related to Himalayan climate, hydrology, and geomorphology in the journal. More studies of Himalayan snow/precipitation processes over all scales, too. I think we need to do a bit more about some of these gap areas to gain more confidence on the projections that we are making.”

Elisabeth Isaksson

Elisabeth Isaksson (Source: Elisabeth Isaksson)

Elisabeth Isaksson studies climate history and variability through analyzing ice cores in the Arctic and Antarctic. She is a senior research scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute. Isaksson is also interested in organic contaminant pollution in snow and ice from Svalbard. Some of her previous work looks at amplified levels of black carbon in the Arctic and the impacts from climate change in the region. In places like Tibet and the Arctic, black carbon concentrations on glaciers are becoming well understood by scientists to be a strong force for increased retreat and melt.

“In the three decades that have passed since I started working with polar glaciers, the situation and challenges related to glaciology have indeed changed a lot. Back in the 1980s, we just started looking for signs of any changes that could be related to global climate warming in the Antarctic; now the signs are obvious, and things are changing rapidly. To make progress and move science forward I think that we need to find new ways of working together across scientific disciplines, which at times can be time-consuming and challenging because of our traditions in scientific training. There are also new scientific areas related to melting glaciers that are particularly interesting; one example is biological production (bacterial biomass, for instance) both on melting glaciers and at glacier fronts. As a scientific editor for an important glaciological journal I am looking forward to learn more about these research fields.”

Read More at GlacierHub: 

What the Newest Global Glacier Volume Estimate Means for High Mountain Asia

Increased Focus on Mountains in the IPCC’s AR6 Report

Asia’s Water Supply Endangered by Third Pole Warming

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Asia’s Water Supply Endangered by Third Pole Warming

It is well known that warming will deeply affect glaciers and ice at the poles. Many of the effects are observable today and will continue to impact wildlife, people, and their environments. Scientists are now beginning to better understand climate change in cold regions, such at the Andes and the Alps, outside the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica.

In a recent news article by Nature, researchers look at the climatological and glacial changes in the ‘third pole’, which encompasses the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and the Tibetan Plateau. They also consider the need for enhanced monitoring of the glaciers and water supply, to help scientist better understand the extent of glacier retreat now and in the future.

Third Pole Water in Sustaining Asian Societies

The Ganges river flows through India and Bangladesh. It is one of the most sacred rivers in Hinduism, and millions rely on its water for daily life. (Source: Travelbusy.com/Flickr)

The third pole is one of the major freshwater resources in Asia. Meltwater from glaciers feed into some of the major rivers in Asia, including the Ganges, Yangtze, and Brahmaputra rivers. According to the article, these river basins provide critical freshwater resources to about one-fifth of the world’s population.

Water is inextricably linked to the rise of Asian societies, bestowing them with rich agricultural output and ensuring stability and longevity in a sometimes brutal climate region.The struggle for water in modern history is a global story… But nowhere has the search for water shaped or sustained as much human life as in India and China” says Sunil Amrith in a feature by Quartz India.

A dependable, predictable supply of meltwater is the pillar upon which these societies rest. Climate change could topple that foundation. As groundwater and aquifers dry up in India, water resources from glaciers will become even more necessary. Analysts from NITI, a policy think tank in India, said to New Security BeatCritical ground water resources that account for 40 percent of India’s water supply are being depleted at unsustainable rates”. Hydropower is a growing clean and renewable energy resource for many sectors across China, and irrigation plays a substantial role in crop production for rural communities. The loss of glaciers and rivers could mean dire economic impacts on these regions.

Projected Changes in Climate and Peak Water

Climate patterns over the third pole are now shifting. As temperatures rise and glaciers continue to melt, more glacial lakes will form and river will begin to dry out. The authors cited recent research which indicated that a projected weakening of the annual Indian monsoon will bring significantly less precipitation and snow over the Himalayas. As a result, the current mass-balance of glaciers in the region will be offset by more runoff than snow accumulation.

Many of the world’s highest peaks can be found in the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. This region is considered to be active and prone to tremors, earthquakes, and landslides. Falling ice from glacier melt present an additional natural hazard. (Source: weinkala/Flickr)

The change in mass-balance results in glacier retreat, occurring faster today than historic rates of decline. Eventually, many glaciers will reach their peak water output, with some as early as 2020. Peak water is the level at which glacier melt water output is at its maximum, and it’s considered to be the “tipping point” of water supply. Societies may benefit from the peak water with temporary outflow of more meltwater in rivers, yet the long-term effects will be detrimental.

Although peak water is short-lived, it will be particularly advantageous to some areas projected to experience less precipitation. However, once glaciers reach this level, they will continue to output less and less water. Other regions such as the Andes will also experience peak water, with many glaciers having already have met this max water output level. The loss of glaciers and rivers could be disastrous to dependent societies.

Room for Improvement: Monitoring Retreat and Risks

The authors also wrote about the hazards and risks associated with glacier retreat. Communities living in mountainous regions face with the risk of collapsing debris from glaciers. According to the piece, in October 2018, glacier debris and the resulting landslide dammed the Yarlung Tsangpo River. This led to flooding downstream, affecting regions as far as Bangladesh. According to an article by AGU100, a prompt evacuation prevented any lives from being lost.

Glacial avalanches pose a considerable threat to millions along Asia’s vast network of rivers and streams. According to researchers from the article, only 0.1 percent of glaciers and lakes in the region have monitoring stations, and few high-altitude areas have weather stations. There are plans to install over 20 new stations in the third pole area, which is a big improvement from the current 10 stations in the area. Proper training is necessary to properly operate weather monitoring technology and adequate collection of data.

This map outlines the third pole region, depicting the distribution of monitoring stations, as well as some major glaciers and river networks. (Source: Gao et al./Nature)

The study also prioritized the importance of sharing this data with global and regional climate models, and making the needs of the local people central in climate change discussions. It is imperative that the changes in the third pole to be globally recognized, to better serve local communities and societies in safeguarding water security and cultivating sustainability.

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Video of the Week: What Glacier Melt Means for Humpback Whales

In our Video of the Week, marine biologists examine how climate change might impact humpback whales in the waters off the coast of Chile. Melting Patagonian glaciers add freshwater to the ocean ecosystem, which is likely to change the water’s chemical composition, threatening the food supply of humpbacks.

Climate change is already affecting humpback migration patterns in other parts of the world. And changing climate conditions around Svalbard, Norway is altering the habitat of white whales.

The video, shared by the AFP news agency, emphasizes the importance of protecting vulnerable, marine ecosystems.

Researchers utilized buoys to gather information. Buoys can be useful in measuring such things as temperature, salinity, and pH levels, which can help monitor ecosystem changes and make projections about future conditions.

Check out more news on GlacierHub:

Millennial Climate Effects on a Lake Ecosystem in Southern Chile

GLOF Risk Perception in Nepal Himalaya

Argentina’s Retreating Turbio Glacier Creates a New Lake

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Millennial Climate Effects on a Lake Ecosystem in Southern Chile

With climate change, people are eager to understand environmental changes over the last few millennia. Unfortunately, regions in the Southern hemisphere are not as well understood as those in the Northern hemisphere, where more data sources are found. This information can be useful in estimating future environmental changes.

A recent study published in the journal The Holocene, scientists examine the millennial changes in the environmental conditions in the Lake Pastahué ecosystem of Chiloé Island, located in southern Chile. Two particular climate events within this period are compared: the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), which was a period of warming from 800 and 1300, and the Little Ice Age (LIA), when temperatures dropped between 1300 and 1850. Scientists investigated signals of climate change in history through analyzing sediment samples from the lake. They also examined historical records to help reconstruct past environmental conditions.

Houses on stilts line the edge of Chiloé Island (Source: Backpackerin/Pixabay)

Biological indicators (pollen and midges) and sedimentological indicators (organic matter and magnetic susceptibility) provided information on the past ecology. Tiny pollen particles that slowly settle into the earth signify historic plant and forest compositions. Midges, popular for fly-fishing, were used as indicators of the trophic changes in lake. Sedimentological indicators allowed researchers to establish a chronological timeline of the core sample, and provided useful information on soil quality.

Researchers found that the highest percentage of pollen was observed during the MCA period. The particles came from trees typically found in the temperate Valdivian forests, suggesting warm conditions. An absence of aquatic plant species, along with an increase in plant species suggests decreased precipitation and increased temperature. Midges adapted to warm conditions were found in this sample, as well as species adapted to semi-terrestrial ecosystems. This suggests the lake was impacted by surrounding terrestrial ecosystem, or a lower water level. These findings were then compared to historical records from 1100-1350, where similar conditions were also observed in Central Chile.

For the LIA period, records show that the climate in central Chile was cooler and more humid beginning in 1350. Pollen results match those of cold events from the Northern Hemisphere. Pollen from trees and shrubs found typically in the North Patagonian forest were recovered, reflecting cold and humid conditions. Aquatic species are much more abundant in this sample, suggesting a larger lake basin. The vegetation structure was also noted to evidence a more humid environment than the earlier period.

Patagonia stretches around 260,000 square miles across South America, consisting of glaciers, steppes, and forests. (Source: Max Pixel)

Historical records of San Rafael Glacier give us a glimpse into the past environment of the region. On a journey from Chiloé to San Rafael Glacier in 1766, a priest described ice floating along the coast up to the glacier. At a later period, Captain Enrique Simpson, a military officer and Admiral of the Chilean Navy, referenced the dimensions of the glacier during his explorations of Chilean archipelagoes in 1875. He reveled at the size of the glacier, describing it as more than a thousand meters high and extending many miles from north to south. According to the article, an explorer at a later period, Hans Steffen in 1910, shared similar findings. “Studying the location and the current dimensions of this huge glacier, we found almost no difference with description given by Captain Simpson on his voyages,” said Steffen.

GlacierHub spoke with Michael Kaplan, a glaciologist who studies climate history in South America. Kaplan considered it novel that the researchers used many techniques and examined historical records in the article. He found it useful to include the historical records of the extensiveness of glaciers, especially considering the state of glaciers in South America today. This reference helps show how climate changes have impacted glaciers and influenced retreat over the course of the millenium. Kaplan also felt that researchers have effectively represented environmental changes in this region during the MCA and LIA. “They show that these events had some manifestation in southern South America, and that’s a really important finding of the paper,” he added.

San Rafael is a major outlet glacier of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field in southern Chile. (Source: Mujer Chilena/Flickr)

Scientists from the study have also observed a growing reduction in tree pollen for the last century. They found that most midge species have diminished. The absence of species related to high nutrient levels suggests that the nutrient conditions at the lake were lower than previous periods. Conditions at this time were warmer and drier than the LIA, and this supports tree ring data which presents the previous 100 years as some of the driest in recent centuries. These environmental changes can be expected to intensify if the climate continues to experience dry conditions.

Marcos Mendoza, an anthropologist who studies environment in Latin America, commented on the relevance of this information for climate projections. Mendoza also told us that these types of studies can be useful in understanding how tree and plant species might respond to future climatological changes. “As indigenous communities, scientists, land managers, and others begin to anticipate how changing temperatures and precipitation patterns will affect the Latin American region of Patagonia, studies like Castro et al. provide windows onto past environmental and climatological conditions,” he said.

This study is useful in understanding the sensitivity of environmental systems to changes in climate. Although historical require careful digging through sources, they can be useful in filling in the gaps in our understanding of past environmental conditions. Reconstructing past conditions can help assess potential changes as well, which may impact people and their environments.

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

This week’s Photo Friday features two restless, glacier-covered volcanoes in Kamchatka, a peninsula lying on the Pacific coast of the Russian Far East.

The alert level for the Sheveluch and Ebeko volcanoes is currently code orange, meaning they are exhibiting “heightened unrest with increased likelihood of eruption” or a volcanic eruption is underway with “no or minor ash emission,” according to the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT).

The volcanoes could potentially emit ash plumes, which would impact a nearby airport as well as low-altitude domestic aircraft and international flights. Over 700 planes, transporting thousands of passengers, fly in the vicinity of Kamchatka’s volcanoes each day, according to KVERT.

NASA satellite imagery of the Sheveluch Volcano. Red areas are hot spots related to lava flows. (Source: NASA)

Eruptions of glacier-covered volcanoes, such as Sheveluch and Ebeko, can create lahars, or mudflows, which sometimes threaten nearby communities. Lahars occur when hot water and eruption debris mixes with glacial water.

Sheveluch is one of the most active volcanoes in the region. Ash plumes are seen traveling south-east and then eastwards in this image from 2012. (Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight/Flickr)
Ebeko erupted in September 2018 and has remained restless ever since. (Source: amanderson2/Flickr)
A small explosion crater is seen at one of Ebeko’s three summits. Craters form when volcanoes erupt, emptying out magma and leaving a circular depression. (Source: Rdfr/Wikimedia Commons)

Kamchatka is home to 160 volcanoes, 29 of which are currently active and six of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.

RELATED: Debris-Covered Glaciers Advance in Remote Kamchatka

RELATED: When Lava Hits Ice in Russia’s Far East

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Video of the Week: Cascading Glacier Melt in Northern Pakistan

Our Video of the Week takes place in a remote mountainous region of northern Pakistan. The video, shared by the World Meteorological Organization, was shot by a villager from the Ghizer district, which is located in the Gupis Valley in Baltistan. Glacier melt and snow is seen descending from a nearby valley, alarming residents.

Northern Pakistan is home to over 5,000 glaciers. The region is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with an increasing number of glacial lakes forming in mountain valleys in recent years. The melt is likely coming from the nearby Baltoro Glacier, one of the longest nonpolar glaciers in the world. Many of these glaciers are melting rapidly due to climate change, posing a great threat to nearby mountain communities. 

Discover more news on GlacierHub:

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

A Survey of the UNESCO Andean Glacier Water Atlas

Erasmo Glacier, Chile Terminus Collapse and Aquaculture

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A Survey of the UNESCO Andean Glacier Water Atlas

UNESCO recently published a report which addresses the effects of global warming on the glaciers of the Andes. The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas examines the changing climate patterns across western South America, as well the historical and projected rates of retreat of important glaciers in the region. Increased melting will impact societies reliant on glaciers for water resources. The eventual loss of glaciers presents a challenge for countries to address.

An aerial view of the Ojo del Albino glacier in Argentina (Source: Andrew Shiva/Wikimedia Commons)

The Andes are the longest continental mountain range in the world, spanning the western edge of South America through several countries. These mountains are considered to be the water towers for the surrounding populations. They provide water to about 75 million people living within the Andes region and 20 million downstream along surrounding rivers. The Andes continue to have a significant influence on local cultures and economies. The impending loss of these glaciers may cripple dependent communities, industries, and various sectors across South America.  

Key Messages and Future Projections

The atlas identifies several key messages essential for discerning the changes in the Andes. Projections indicate that temperatures in the tropical Andes could increase between 2°C and 5°C by the end of the 21st century. The recent IPCC SR1.5 report emphasized the devastating effects of just 1°C of warming, such as extended periods of drought and extreme global heat events. The Andes will likely experience increasingly hotter years with warming driving further glacier retreat.

The report notes that changes in precipitation are harder to project than temperature changes. Nonetheless it presents serious concerns for some regions across the Andes. The atlas refers to the IPCC for precipitation projections. In the southern Andes region, precipitation will greatly decrease by the end of the century, including Chile and Argentina in particular. These regions will likely experience drought events, and loss of glaciers may be devastating to the environment and its people.

Scientists have also observed rapid retreat in glaciers in the tropical Andes, as well as lower-altitude glaciers. According to the atlas, one glacier which remains in Venezuela will likely disappear by 2021. Many large tropical glaciers exist in Peru, including Quelccaya Ice Cap, which may disappear by 2050 at the current rate of warming. Glaciers are also quickly retreating in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. This retreat and volume loss of glaciers is “locked in,”and glaciers will continue to retreat no matter what. Even with a moderate level of emissions, the IPCC projects that barely a fifth of the glaciers will remain by the end of the century, with some reduced to barely 3 percent of their current size.

Pico Humboldt, the second highest peak in Venezuela, is home to the country’s last glacier (Source: Okty/Wikimedia Commons)

Impacts of Retreating Glaciers

The loss of glaciers and glacial meltwater is inevitable. As warming continues, a majority of glaciers will soon experience “peak water” (which occurs when melting exceeds new mass accumulated by snowfall), likely within the next 20 years. Many tropical Andes glaciers already reached peak water in the 1980s and have been outputting less water since. Although many countries will benefit from peak water, the aftereffects of less meltwater outflow will heavily strain the available water supply.

Bolívar Cáceres, a specialist of the tropical Andes who worked on the atlas, told GlacierHub about some of the effects of glacier retreat and possible methods for adapting to water scarcity. “One of the indirect effects of long-term melting in communities is the reduction of visitors. Since glaciers no longer exist in some places or become very difficult to climb, tourists are currently opting out and most likely will go to other places in the future,” he said. This will affect local economies that depend on tourism flow and the resources generated. As for adaptation, Cáceres believes that promoting technologies in agriculture and livestock areas to better manage water resources is essential for sustainability.

Water quality will also be affected by the loss of glaciers. Bryan Mark, an expert on Andes and Peruvian glaciers, added: “Recently glacier-free landscapes feature lots of unconsolidated materials that tend to result in more sediment laden, erosive, and ‘flashy’ discharge streams.'” Sediment pollution presents a number of problems for the water supply, including degrading the quality of drinking water for locals and their livestock. Mark also highlighted the importance of diversifying water reservoir resources, utilizing groundwater, small dams, and precipitation capture as alternate water resources.

Vibrant houses and high-rises in the Andean city of La Paz, Bolivia (Source: Matthew Straubmuller/Flickr)

Efficacy and Practicality of Policy Recommendations

The atlas examines the significance of glacier retreat on communities. It provides policy recommendations for countries to sustainably secure future water availability. Some examples include implementing preventative measures for natural glacier-related hazards and developing climate services for water resource management. Although these recommendations are intended to provide direction towards sustainable water supply management, there are concerns of clarity, implementation, and effectiveness of these policies.

Dirk Hoffmann, an expert on glaciers in high mountain ecosystems, commented on the effectiveness of the policy recommendations on communities. “The policy recommendations are all very interesting, but on the whole seem to be somewhat too general as to be useful to specific decision maker,” he said. Hoffmann views the recommendations as well intended and believes the atlas to be effective in raising awareness of these issues. In a practical sense, however, they are too far removed to help decision makers, he said. A clear indication as to whom these recommendations are directed towards would be beneficial.

Deeply entrenched valley below the tree line, with a small town at the river’s edge (Source: UNESCO)

Mark Carey, an expert of the Peruvian Andes, shared similar thoughts on the effectiveness of these recommendations. Carey stated that the lack of social science and humanities research on vulnerability and unequal impacts of shrinking glaciers is an issue. “Vulnerability is framed in ways to conceptualize homogenous ‘affected populations,’ such as those in agriculture or urban areas, rather than understanding the complicated social divisions and power imbalances embedded in the diverse social groups,” he said. Carey added that although the science is necessary, the complex human dimensions of climate change adaptation are essential.  

The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas recognizes the importance of improving interactions between science and policy, bringing awareness of key issues surrounding the loss of glaciers in the Andes. This is a major step towards successful adaptation; climate scientists, social scientists, and policymakers will need to collaborate to effectively allocate resources for sustainable management of the challenges associated with glacier retreat.

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Roundup: Government Shutdown Impacts National Parks

The current government shutdown has now entered its third week, and it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

The shutdown began on midnight EST on Saturday, December 22, making it the third government shutdown of 2018. President Trump wanted to move forward with building a Mexican border wall, which would require an estimated $5 billion. The House of Representatives, in which the Democrats are a majority, has been unwilling to go above the current $1.3 billion budget for general border security. Trump has threatened to extend the shutdown for a long period until he gets the demanded funding. Click here for a breakdown of the events leading up to the shutdown. 

This shutdown has left about 800,000 government workers without their salaries. Many have shared their personal stories with CNN about not being able to pay bills and rent on time. They describe their difficulties in providing for their children and families. Many have sought temporary jobs to help keep themselves afloat. Vital public benefit programs might also be at risk. According to CBS Newsfunding for SNAP, the national food stamp program, has not been allocated since the start of January. If the shutdown continues through March, no money will remain for the millions of Americans who rely on this program for food security.

Many national parks have also felt the impact of the government shutdown, including some major destinations home to glaciers. Parks are still largely accessible to the public, and entrance fees are not being collected. However, the lack of public services has been a major issue for visitors and local businesses. Here are some glacier parks that are currently suffering some impacts as a result of the shutdown.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State has had a partial shutdown on some parts of the park. This closure has affected tourism and traffic in the area which would normally be high during this time and around the Christmas and New Year holidays. The popular road to Paradise has experienced a forced closure, and local firms around the entrance have been vocal about the lost business. Local retailers, restaurants, and hotels in particular are being challenged by the lack of tourism. According to The Olympian, business owners that rely on the tourism industry have reported a decrease of sales and hotel reservations than would normally be expected at this time of year.  

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, has had significant problems with sanitation and waste. Restrooms have been closed and there are no park staff available for supervision. Some visitors of the park have opted to dispose of their various forms of waste alongside some of the roads. Mountains of garbage and human waste has led to some closures in areas of the park, like Wawona Road and Hodgson Meadows. National Geographic says that national parks like Yosemite face long-term damage from the government shutdown, and parks should be closed completely to prevent further harm to the environment.

GlacierHub spoke with a motel employee from Yosemite Cedar Lodge, who told us how business has been affected since the shutdown. According to our source, who wished to remain anonymous, there hasn’t been a large change in business, although some guests have left early. She told us that it’s hard to say exactly if it’s because of the government shutdown, but it could also be due to the recent nearby fires or other factors as well. As for the waste situation, we were told that having no ranger supervision in the parks has allowed guests to act without restraint.

The lack of park supervision may also be a contributing factor to a recent death at Yosemite. Since the start of the shutdown, three people have died in national parks. One tragedy took place in Yosemite on Christmas day, where a man slipped down a hill and fell into a river, injuring his head. Investigation of the incident was delayed because of the ongoing shutdown. A study that draws on data from 2005 to 2016 indicates that about 1.1 person dies per month in Yosemite, roughly 0.6 per month in Glen Canyon and 0.4 in Great Smoky, the three locations where the deaths occurred. Though people have died over the years in these parks, the deaths in recent weeks are at a more frequent rate than usual, suggesting that the government shutdown and lack of services may have contributed to this pattern. 

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Some parks have received visitors but with limited activity. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have remained open during the shutdown, although visitor services is unavailable. In a statement for the Casper Star-Tribune, Deputy Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said that visitors to Grand Teton should take caution for their own personal safety, as there are no staff available for guidance and assistance. Entrances are not staffed, and the park’s websites and social media accounts are not being maintained or updated, leaving the public uninformed on current conditions.

In Yellowstone, winter routes remain open although gates are not staffed and government facilities are not available. All regulations for snow-related activities remain in place, and all buildings and bathrooms are closed. Community members in the Yellowstone area have recently taken matters into their own hands. Concerned about the lack of care of park facilities, local residents have gathered to clean outhouses and take out trash. Businesses have donated supplies to help with the much needed cleanup efforts.

Glacier National Park

Some glacier destinations, however, have not been heavily impacted. The shutdown has made little difference at Glacier National Park, which is usually quiet during the winter with road closures from heavy snows. Bathrooms are still closed because of the shutdown, but trash cans are not reported to be overflowing due to the low amount of traffic relative to other parks. Businesses have said that they haven’t been affected much, and conditions are as typically expected despite the shutdown.

GlacierHub spoke with Mauri Pelto, professor of environmental science Nichols College and director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. Pelto also does work with NASA Goddard and the USGS. He told us that the shutdown has prevented some NASA glacier projects and programs from being executed properly. The USGS, which tracks ongoing conditions in the national parks, currently conducts monitoring. Weather and environmental observations at the national parks with glaciers have been collected but are not being reported by the U.S. government, jeopardizing long-term projects.

“Sometimes shutdowns, even relatively short shutdowns, can push the planning and budgeting process for some of these programs, which can greatly affect future research,” stated Pelto. He also described the effects on the Northern Cascades National Park in Washington. Roadways are mainly forest roadways, which have also closed as a result of the shutdown. Smaller roadways have not received maintenance since the shutdown, and there are concerns as to how conditions will be once the roads open up again, whenever that may be.

There is very little information on conditions at the Northern Cascades and other national parks on the U.S. National Park Services webpage. Lack of information on closures, visitor services, and tips for taking precaution during the shutdown period greatly impacts tourism and safety. Although parks are still mostly accessible, proper staff supervision and visitor services are needed to ensure the safety of visitors and the overall wellbeing of the parks.

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