Roundup: French Presidential Visit, Trek Itinerary, and Dangerous Glacial Lakes

French president visits glacier to witness climate change

Francois Hollande
Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, right, and France’s President Francois Hollande, left, talk on the Solheimajokull glacier, in Iceland on Oct. 16 (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool).

“PARIS — The French president took a few steps on an Icelandic glacier Friday to experience firsthand the damage caused by global warming, ahead of major U.N. talks on climate change in Paris this year. Francois Hollande went to the shrinking Solheimajokull glacier, where the ice has retreated by more than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) since annual measurements began in 1931.”

To read more about the President’s visit, click here.

 

How to find Yosemite’s disappearing glacier

Lyell Glacier
Photo of Lyell Glacier from 1903 on site at Lyell Glacier last week in high country of Yosemite National Park (Courtesy of Josh Helling, The Chronicle)

“The Lyell Glacier, once a mile wide and Yosemite’s largest glacier when measured by John Muir in 1872, could melt off and disappear in as soon as five years, according to park geologist Greg Stock, if warm temperatures at high elevations continue. Chronicle outdoors writer Tom Stienstra visited the park to report on the glacier’s vanishing. This is the trek itinerary.”

Click here to read more.

 

Global warming creating dangerous glacier lakes in Himalayas, finds study

Life-threatening flood from Chorabari lake in 2013 (Courtesy of the Hindustan Times)
Life-threatening flood from Chorabari lake in 2013 (Courtesy of the Hindustan Times)

“As the black clouds heavily pregnant with water vapour hovered over Dehradun on June 15, 2013, it looked ominous. Around 13,000 feet above the sea level, rain was already tanking up Chorabari Lake, a water body created by melting glaciers. On June 16 midnight, the heavy rain caused the lake’s rock bank to collapse, sending down a flash flood that swept through the holy Himalayan pilgrimage site Kedarnath, killing 5,000 people.

There are 1,266 such Chorabari lakes in Uttarakhand’s Himalayan regions, some of which have been created fresh by the rapid retreat of glaciers due to global warming, found a study by Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, an autonomous body of the central government.”

To read more about the study’s findings, click here.

 

Photo Friday: Exploring Imja Tsho in Nepal

Check out photos of Imja Tsho (or Imja Lake), a glacial lake created by the accumulation of meltwater at the foot of the Imja Glacier in the Himalayas in Nepal. The meltwater, located at the toe of both the Imja and Lhotse Shar glaciers, is held in place by a terminal moraine.

Enjoy the landscape and aerial views below of this Himalayan glacier lake.

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The Question of Black Carbon

Black carbon has only recently emerged as a known major contributor to climate change, especially for the Arctic. Formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, black carbon absorbs light more strongly than any other particulate matter, especially when deposited onto glaciers and snow cover. Here, it lowers their reflectivity, thereby absorbing atmospheric heat and resulting in earlier spring melt and higher temperatures.

New research, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, is attempting to address research gaps in this new but significant climate agent by quantifying and analyzing black carbon concentration and deposition in Svalbard, the major archipelago north of Norway.

The study, focusing on black carbon on the Holtedahlfonna glacier in Svalbard between 1700 and 2004, found significant rises in black carbon concentration from the 1970s until 2004 , with unprecedented levels in the 1990s.  Importantly, the study concludes that the increase in black carbon concentration “cannot be simply explained by changes in the snow accumulation rate at the glacier,” or simply by glacial melt and shrinkage in Svalbard. This indicates that black carbon was instead deposited in increasing quantities during this time period.

Svalbard
Burgerbukta Glacier, Svalbard. Courtesy of Wikipedia

The study raises some puzzling differences between black carbon concentrations and deposition in Svalbard and between previous data from other Arctic regions. While Svalbard’s black carbon values increased rapidly from a low point in 1970 until 2004, reaching a high in the 1990s, black carbon analyzed in Greenland ice cores indicated generally decreasing atmospheric black carbon concentrations since 1989 in the Arctic.

This difference is likely at least partly explained by differences in the specific methodologies used in the studies, such as the operational definition of black carbon that determined which size particles were included in the study.

The Svalbard study collected its data by filtering the inner part of a 125 m deep ice core from the Holtedahlfonna glacier through a quartz fiber filter. The filtrate was analyzed using a thermal-optical method, while previous comparable studies used an SP2 (Single Particle Soot Photometer) method. The different methodologies used between studies makes it hard to assess the validity of the studies’ findings.

Indeed, previous studies on black carbon on Himalayan and European ice cores have repeatedly shown different and contracting trends when measured with different analytical methods, even when studies examined the same glaciers. This indicates a significant need for more and improved research on black carbon research in the Arctic.

Burgerbukta Glacier, Svalbard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Burgerbukta Glacier, Svalbard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Black carbon concentrations, as the study reveals, are immensely complicated and depend on a variety of factors, such as air concentration of black carbon, the amount of precipitation, local wind drift patterns post-deposition, sublimation, and melt. Black carbon concentration can also be affected by sudden changes in snow and ice accumulation, or seasonal melt. These factors make it difficult for scientists to collect faithful data of black carbon concentration over time.

However, black carbon data in the Arctic is incredibly important: in the Arctic, black carbon is a more important warming agent than greenhouse gases. Its levels are intensely impacted from local and regional emission sources near Svalbard, such as forest and wild fires and flaring at gas wells in Russia, impacts that are difficult to accurately quantify, the researcher state.

While this study sheds light on recent trends of black carbon levels in Svalbard, it raises some key questions about the particle’s measurement, suggesting a need for further development of accurate black carbon measurement techniques and for further research on the role black carbon plays in Arctic warming.

Photo Friday: A Snapshot of Svalbard

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago tucked in between Norway and the North Pole. Especially known for its views of the Northern Lights and its summer “midnight sun,” in which sunlight graces the archipelago 24 hours a day, Svalbard is also known for its glaciers, which cover around 60 percent of Svalbard’s land area.

Project Pressure, a charity documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers, posted incredible photos of Southern Svalbard’s glaciers. Project Pressure hosts a wide collection of incredible, free-to-use images, so be sure to check out their website here.

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Many thanks to Chris Arnold, the photographer of these photos. Check out his website here.

 

Political Tug of War Over Greenland’s Mining Industry

Greenlanders are engaging in a fierce ongoing debate about whether to develop the country’s onshore mineral resources into a robust mining industry.

Since gaining political autonomy from Kingdom of Denmark in 2009, the government of the world’s largest non-continental island has long been brainstorming how to solve its increasing financial woes. When a 2008 US Geological Survey documented the potential for more than 50 billion BOE (barrel of oil equivalent) in the Greenland region, rapid political support emerged for the development of a national mining industry.

Colored houses clustered at the foot of Qaaqarsuaq
Colored houses clustered at the foot of Qaaqarsuaq. Courtesy of BBC.

Indeed, with the rise of temperatures and subsequent melt of icecaps and glaciers, the available surfaces for extraction in Greenland are rapidly increasing, and are being trailed by the arrival of small scale mining companies and exploration wells.

Greenland’s particular mining and extraction of fossil fuels would have noticeable ramifications on encouraging the country’s long-term use of carbon-emitting energy sources, ensuring and reinforcing an energy dependence that the 2009 European Commission’s Market Observatory for Energy study predicts to last for quite some time. However,  climatologists warn that fossil fuel extraction will further contribute to rising Arctic temperatures, which are causing the melting of the ice caps and glaciers in the first place.

Nalunaq Gold Mine,  Greenland’s first gold mine.
Nalunaq Gold Mine, Greenland’s first gold mine. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Companies are exploring the mining potential of a long list of minerals in Greenland, including iron ore, copper, oil, zinc, lead, uranium, fluoride, gold, rubies, and rare-earth minerals, which are commonly used in the manufacturing of mobile phones, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Greenland’s major political parties, all unanimous in support for the development of the mining industry, hope to capture the rich benefits of oil taxes, royalties, employment opportunities, and financial independence, and therefore perhaps increased political independence, from Denmark.

However, elections have proceeded with caution as politicians battle over the pace at which to attract foreign investors to the market and over the employment of uranium mining, which was recently relieved of a decades-old ban on the practice.

Greenland citizens, however, are deeply divided over the ambitious plans to develop the mining industry.

Some believe a robust mining industry development could solve Greenland’s struggling economy. The country’s locals, historically sustaining themselves through hunting and fishing, have faced a faltering economy and a declining population, particularly in the town of Narsaq. When the its largest employer, a shrimp processing plant, closed a few years ago after the shrimp population fled to cooler northern waters, the town lost over 80 jobs.

Town slaughterhouse manager Henning Sonderup told BBC, “Many people are unemployed,” he says. “Lots of families from Narsaq have moved out to other cities, so we have to do something.”

Local Susanne Lynge sees mining as a potential solution to the government’s financial woes.

“Our local government needs money,” she says. “I wish they would open the mining,” she told BBC News as she led a protest calling for the local council to speed up the construction of a new school.

Local protest calling for the council to speed up construction of a new school.
Local protest calling for the council to speed up construction of a new school. Courtesy of BBC.

Sonderup added that a stable industry could bring economic prosperity and development back to Greenland.

“New school, bigger hospital, better airport, new harbor, new roads, everything. Greenland will be on the map again,” he said.

The site of the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earth element project in southern Greenland
The site of the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earth element project in southern Greenland

Other citizens in Narsaq, however, deeply oppose the mining industry’s encroaching presence, concerned about environmental impacts such as pollution, radioactivity, and threats to biodiversity.

One resident, Agathe Devisme, remarked, “People coming to Greenland are looking for something pure,” she says. “It’s the last corner of the world not touched by pollution. If there is any kind of radioactivity in the area, they will not like it.”

In addition to these environmental threats, Greenland’s extraction industry poses major geopolitical and economic implications onto the hazy future of Arctic oil extraction. A 2015 study estimated there to be 100 billion barrels of oil and natural gas reserves in Arctic, but concluded that Arctic reserves could not be exploited if global temperature increases were to be kept under the generally agreed “safety limit” of 2ºC. With the approach of December’s UN negotiations and international climate deal, environmental policymakers will be watching Greenland’s move.

Record-speed melting ice in Greenland
Record-speed melting ice in Greenland (Courtesy of Brendan Delaney/Shutterstock)

Greenland Minerals and Energy’s operations manager Ib Laursen believes that a mining industry can still adhere to sustainability goals.

“Other countries like Canada and France have uranium mining,” he says. “If they can do it, we can do it in Greenland, we can take best environmental standards and put them to work here.”

Several recent studies and working papers, most recently a paper on developing energy sectors in the Arctic in the soon-to-be-published Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic, seek to predict the unknown future of Greenland’s mining industry and environmental policy. The Energy Security Institute at Brookings offers its own interpretation of the future in a 2014 report, as does MaRS Discovery District in this blog post.

For many, the debate over the development of Greenland’s mining industry hinges not on whether to capitalize on the economic benefits of a mining industry, but on whether the industry can balance tense sociopolitical tensions in the Arctic and extract resources in a sustainable and environmentally-safe manner.

 

Roundup: “Wild card” glaciers, luxury ice cubes, & glacial dynamics

This West Antarctica glacier is a ‘wild card’ for world’s coastlines

An edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf.
An edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf. Courtesy of Jim Yungel / NASA

“Scientists who have been raising alarms about the endangered ice sheet of West Antarctica say they’ve identified a key glacier that could pose the single most immediate threat to the world’s coastlines – and are pushing for an urgent new effort to study it. The glacier is not one that most Americans will have even heard of – Thwaites Glacier along the Amundsen Sea. It’s a monstrous body that is bigger than Pennsylvania and has discharged over 100 billion tons of ice each year in recent years.

The glacier is both vast and vulnerable, because its ocean base is exposed to warm water and because of an unusual set of geographic circumstances that mean that if it starts collapsing, there may be no end to the process. But it’s also difficult to study because of its location – not near any U.S. research base, and in an area known for treacherous weather. As a result, the researchers are also calling for more support from the federal government to make studying West Antarctica’s glaciers, and Thwaites in particular, a top priority.”

To read more about the Twhaites ice shelf, click here.

Luxury ice cubes? Greens slam ‘insane’ plan to carve Norway glacier

 

Courtesy of svaice.com  “A controversial plan to harvest ice cubes from a melting Norwegian glacier and sell them in luxury bars across the globe has drawn criticism from the head of WWF Norge, who said that such an idea proves the world has gone completely insane….
The idea to use parts of Svartisen – mainland Norway’s second largest glacier which is projected to melt over the next century – is being pushed forward by Norwegian company Svaice. In FebruarySvaice won a grant from the local Meloy municipality, which is enthusiastically backing the project and is due to meet on Wednesday to decide on the project’s future.”
Read more here.

Observed latitudinal variations in erosion as a function of glacier dynamics

UBC scientist Michele Koppes
UBC scientist Michele Koppes. Courtesy: Michele Koppes

“Climate change is causing more than just warmer oceans and erratic weather. According to scientists, it also has the capacity to alter the shape of the planet. In a five-year study published today in Nature, lead author Michele Koppes, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, compared  in Patagonia and in the Antarctic Peninsula. She and her team found that glaciers in warmer Patagonia moved faster and caused more erosion than those in Antarctica, as warmer temperatures and melting ice helped lubricate the bed of the glaciers.

“We found that glaciers erode 100 to 1,000 times faster in Patagonia than they do in Antarctica,” said Koppes. “Antarctica is warming up, and as it moves to temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius, the glaciers are all going to start moving faster. We are already seeing that the ice sheets are starting to move faster and should become more erosive, digging deeper valleys and shedding more sediment into the oceans.”

To learn more about the study’s findings, click here.

Photo Friday: Timelapse of New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier

The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s Glacier Photograph Collection is an online, ever-expanding, searchable collection of photographs of glaciers. Photos in the collection date back as far as the mid-1800s until the present, making it as an important historical record dating that allows those interested to examine the effect of climate change on glaciers. The collection contained over 15,000 glacial photographs as of June 2010!

This week, we take a closer look at New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier, a 12km-long glacier on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Check out the photo timelapse from 1951 to 2015 below!

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Roundup: Grounding Lines, Fault Lines and Algae-filled Pits

NASA reports on the Hidden Melting of Greenland’s Glaciers

“What’s causing this ‘big thaw’? Rignot’s team found that Greenland’s glaciers flowing into the ocean are grounded deeper below sea level than previously measured. This means that the warm ocean currents at depth can sweep across the glacier faces and erode them.“In polar regions, the upper layers of ocean water are cold and fresh,” he explains. “Cold water is less effective at melting ice. The real ocean heat is at a depth of 350-400 meters and below. This warm, salty water is of subtropical origin and melts the ice much more rapidly.”

To learn more, click here.

Biological interactions between Microalgae and Glacial Grazers

Microalgae
Microalgae. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Glaciers are known to harbor surprisingly complex ecosystems. On their surface, distinct cylindrical holes filled with meltwater and sediments are considered as hot spots for microbial life. The present paper addresses possible biological interactions within 5 the community of prokaryotic cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae (microalgae) and relations to their potential grazers, additional to their environmental controls…. We propose that, for the studied glaciers, nutrient levels related to recycling of limiting nutrients is the main factor driving variation in the community structure of microalgae and grazers.”

Read more about the study here.

Italy’s glaciers retreated by 40 percent: WWF

Matterhorn glacier
Courtesy of Wikipedia

“ROME: Alpine glaciers in Italy have lost an estimated 40 percent of their area over the last three decades, a recent report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has said.
“The situation of glaciers on the Italian side of the Alps is very worrying,” Xinhua news agency on Friday quoted Gianfranco Bologna, scientific director of WWF-Italy and co-author of the report as saying. The Hot Ice report was unveiled earlier this week, ahead of a crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference due to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11.”

Read more here.

 

Photo Friday: Iceland through Instagram

This week, Fulbright scholar and researcher M Jackson shares a glimpse of her work and travel in Höfn, Iceland, which she deems “cryosphere paradise,” as captured through Instagram.
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M Jackson is a U.S. Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon. She’s currently based in Höfn, Iceland, through a U.S. Fulbright-National Science Foundation Arctic Research Grant, where she’s researching glacier/society relationships.  The images here are all within an hour’s drive of Jackson’s home in Artbjarg, Höfn, and show the outlet glaciers pouring from the largest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajökull. Jackson will spend the winter exploring these glaciers and getting to know the Icelandic people who live near their peripheries.
Many thanks to M Jackson for sharing her photos with us. You can follow her on Instagram at @mlejackson. This is her second appearance in GlacierHub, following an an earlier post on her previous research.

India’s Hydroelectric Plans Threaten Local Comunities

 

Indigenous Buddhist tribes in northeast India are protesting government plans to build fifteen new hydroelectric sites along their settlement region. The Monpa tribe, which lives along the Tawang river basin in over 234 scattered settlements in Arunachal Pradesh, fears that the hydroelectric projects will affect their religious sites and monasteries, as well as the region’s springs, and biological diversity, which carry large cultural significance for the tribe. The region is also at risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), which could have hazardous impacts on hydroelectric projects.

Black Cranes
Black-necked cranes by a lake in Tibet. Courtesy of Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua Press/Corbis

The government is proceeding with the construction of one particularly contentious hydroelectric site: a 780MW station along the Nyamjang Chhu river that threatens a cultural and religiously significant migration site of endangered black-necked cranes. This site will occupy the middle of a 3-km stretch of the Nyamjang Chhu river, which is partially fed by the region’s glaciers and along which eight black-necked cranes reside during their winter migration.  The Monpa eagerly await the birds’ arrival, and revere their species as the reincarnation of the sixth Dalai Lama.

In late July of 2015, the Save Mon Region Federation sent a letter to the Expert Appraisal Committee of the ministry, accusing NJC Hydropower, the independent company building the Nyanjan Chhu hydroelectric site, of purposely concealing information about the black-necked cranes’ wintering site. Allegedly, the company didn’t cooperate with the study’s researchers until the end of winter, when the black-necked cranes had left their wintering site.

A Monpa monk spins prayer wheels at Tawang monastery
A Monpa monk spins prayer wheels at Tawang monastery. Photo courtesy of Anupam Nath/AP

“The hydroelectric projects will totally destroy natural habitats in the region,” Asad Rahmani, scientific adviser of the Bombay Natural History Society, told the Guardian. “When planning such projects, we’re not paying attention to their impact on local culture. The electricity is for people like us in the cities, but all the damage is suffered by the local people.”

In addition to going ahead with the highly disputed site placement, the Dehli government has plans for another fourteen proposed hydroelectric projects in the Tawang region. These projects are part of major government efforts to bring power to the 300 million people living without electricity by 2022. The government will also increase solar, wind and coal generation in the next seven years.

“We don’t need so many hydel projects to meet the electricity demand of our people,” Save Mon Region Federation’s general secretary, Lobsang Gyatso, told the Times of India. “Small hydro-projects would suffice. All these large dams are meant to generate electricity to be sold outside, at the cost of our livelihoods and ecology.”

To express concerns about the new hydroelectric plans, villagers in the Tawang region organized a large rally in December of 2012. The protesters alleged that the government had developed hydroelectric projects with private utility developers without proper consent from the residents in the region. The region currently maintains a ban against public gathering.

In addition, the relatively unexplored, mountainous region in the Eastern Himalayas is especially prone to the risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), as are most regions of this type, which poses risky problems to hydroelectric development.

GLOFs are one of the major hazards of mountainous, glacial regions, especially those susceptible to climate change. Tawang’s lakes and rivers are mainly supplied by snowmelt and the melting glaciers of the Himalayas. The lakes, while usually dammed by end-moraines, have a tendency to flash flood, which induces large volumes of flowing water, large quantities of sediment runoff, as well as potential flowing boulders and the risk of washing away mountain valleys. GLOFs are often responsible for catastrophic flooding, large losses of property, and human life.

While the region’s dams have a combined capacity of about 2800 MW of power, a recent study stated that GLOFs and their associated risk are likely to have a “direct impact” on the commissioned hydropower projects in the region, as well as on the Monpa population living downstream of the glacial lakes and hydroelectric projects.

The study aimed to detect potential dangerous lakes to proposed hydroelectric sites, as well as to quantify the volume of water discharge and to predict the hydrograph, or rate of flow versus time, at the lake sites at risk of GLOFs.  The researchers estimated that at peak flow, flooding at one particular dammed lake likely of flooding would take as little as an hour and ten minutes to reach a downstream hydroelectric site, posing great risk to the site. Despite promises from the governmental parliament, no public consultation on the Tawang river basin study report has yet been held.

The Monpa protestors remain focused on the threats the hydroelectric sites pose to their cultural and religious traditions. Each of the 234 Tawang settlements along the river will be affected by at least one hydropower plant, and construction for the sites will demolish roughly 615 acres of forest. Monpa residents also fear the disruption of sacred pilgrimage sites and springs.

Roundup: Swiss Blankets and Data, Participation in Tajikistan

Blankets covering Swiss glacier to halt ice melt is a temporary fix

Blankets cover Swiss glacier
Photo courtesy of nycity.today

“From a distance, the Rhone glacier seems perfect, but when seen closely, the surface is covered with white blankets for slowing down the melting of the rapidly retreating ice. The dusty, white fleece covers a huge area near the glacier’s edge. But there is a Swiss tourist attraction hidden under the blankets. It is a long and winding ice grotto with shiny blue walls and a leaky ceiling that has been carved into the ice here every year since 1870.

While poking at a piece of cloth lying besides the way that leads toward the cave’s opening, David Volken, a glaciologist working with the Swiss environment ministry, said that for the last eight years, they have been covering the ice cave with such blankets to decrease the ice melt.”

Click here to read more.

A participatory method to enhance the collective ability to adapt to rapid glacier loss: the case of mountain communities in Tajikistan

2“A 2010 participatory case study in the Zerafshan Range, Tajikistan, disclosed a local lack of awareness of climate change and its consequences. We present a social learning method based on scenarios and visualization. The process exposed a remarkable potential for comprehensive adaptation, including in water harvesting, choice of crops and livestock, environmental enhancement, skills and conflict management. We recommend the approach as a model to promote local collective adaptive capacity development. The case study revealed high risks of massive out-migration from mountain villages if adaptation starts too late: countries with a high proportion of mountain agriculture might see significant losses of agricultural area, a reduction in food production and an increase in conflicts in areas where immigration occurs.”

To read more about the study and its findings, click here.

Influence of land use and climate change in glacial melt and hydrological process

“Land use and climate change play a significant role in hydrological processes. This study assesses the impact of land use and climate change in a snow and glacier dominated high altitude watershed, located in the southwestern part of Switzerland…. Our study shows a decrease in the summer peak flow and an early start of the melt driven peak flow. The major change observed in this study is the rising period of the hydrograph, i.e. in May and June an early shift is observed in the discharge. Independent analysis from land use change and climate change shows that the peak flow reduction occurs as a result of land use change, but the peak flow together with the timing of peak flow occurrence is also influenced by climatic change. The combined effect suggests a reduction of peak flow and early melt driven streamflow in the future. Information obtained from this study can be useful for water managers, especially for the hydropower based energy production sector in the Rhone watershed.”

To learn more, click here.

Photo Friday: Bagrote Valley in the Karakoram

This Photo Friday, GlacierHub shares photos of the Bagrote Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northernmost region of Pakistan.

These photos, taken by photographer Farman Karim Baig, illustrate the wide diversity of glacial landscapes: these photos of the valley highlight the contrast between the snowy, mountainous peaks of the nearby Hinarche Glacier and the stark, dry, low-lying valley foreground. The valley is also filled with forest and rivers.

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Many thanks to photographer Farman Karim Baig and the Pamir Times for allowing us to share his photos of the region.