Meru – The Story of The Impossible

The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011. Photo: Jimmy Chan.

A spine-chilling documentary of three climbers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, premiered in New York last week. It shows how they maintained a fine balance between insanity and persistence as they filmed their climb of the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru.  It is grim trying to understand the drive it took to attempt the climb twice, especially after the first climb resulted in a nearly fatal disaster.

The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011. Photo: Jimmy Chan.

During a climb on Mount Everest in 1999, Conrad discovered the body of a legendary English Mountaineer, George Mallory, which made him famous worldwide. Conrad was profoundly inspired by Mallory’s theory of climbing a mountain “because it’s there”. The idea of tackling Meru, “The Impossible,” never stopped haunting him after conquering  Mount Everest.

“There’s an intrinsic reward that we get from doing it, the challenge of it. The camaraderie and the teamwork that climbing has, that is between two people, is a pretty unique and special thing” Conrad said during an interview with Matthew Lickona.

This is a view of Mount Meru as seen from Tapovon Basecamp. The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
Mount Meru as seen from
Tapovon Basecamp, 2011. Photo: Jimmy Chan.

Mount Meru reaches more than 21,000 feet above the sacred Ganges River in Northern India, and is filled with obstacles that are both nightmares and alluring calls to some of the world’s best climbers. In fact, the Shark’s Fin is more of a flat wall than a mountain. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, director of the documentary, describes Meru as “anti-Everest”, because there are no Sherpas who can offer help during climbing.

Jon Krakauer, the bestselling author of Into Thin Air, said in the film, “You can’t just be a good ice climber. You can’t just be good at altitude. You can’t just be a good rock climber. It’s defeated so many good climbers and maybe will defeat everybody for all time. Meru isn’t Everest. On Everest you can hire Sherpas to take most of the risks. This is a whole different kind of climbing.”

The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011. Photo: Jimmy Chan.

The Sark’s Fin route is composed of glacier, snow and rock, which requires a high level of competency in various types of climbing. More importantly, there is no room for setting up a tent. Climbers have to sleep in portaledges that hang on the straight wall of Mount Meru.

In October 2008, the three friends started the adventure, but were force to retreat after a snowstorm cost them several days and reduced their supplies to nearly nil. During the worst parts of the ascent, they could only travel few hundred meters in one day. However, they had made it just a hundred meters below the peak of the summit. They returned to their family and swore never to attempt the expedition again.

The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011. Photo: Jimmy Chan.

But dissatisfied with the first failed attempt, the team decided a second attempt was necessary,  even after promises Conrad made to his family and a severe injury Renan suffered in an avalanche. To them, Meru was a dream for which they were willing to risk their lives. There is nothing more rewarding and worthy than the moment when they reached Meru Peak after 11 days of struggle.

The journey was filled with “friendship, sacrifice, hope, and obsession”, said Jimmy, who is also the co-director of this documentary.

Jimmy Chan and I at Angelika Film Center, New York. August, 2015
Jimmy Chan and I at Angelika Film Center, New York.

He added, “I’ve spent much of my life in the mountains as both a climber and as a professional photographer. I always wanted to make a film that gave an audience the visceral experience of going on a difficult alpine big wall climb. I hoped to give people a glimpse of the stakes, the risks and sacrifices involved.”

Meanwhile, Jimmy is also looking after Himalayan residents and their culture. As a board member of Machik, he engages in developing opportunities for education, capacity building, and innovation in Tibet. So far, the organization has initiated six programs to support community-based education for young Tibetans. “It’s quite rare for foreign athletes, who use the Himalayas as tools to mark their triumphs, to actually invest in the local people. Jimmy Chin is one of those rare ones”, said Tsechu Dolma, a former writer at GlacierHub.

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Photo Friday: Quyllur Rit’i – Eulogy for Glaciers

In the ancient Andes, high mountains were worshiped for their power of controlling the weather as well as crop productivity. Moreover, Andean people honored these mountains as being the origin of their culture, the home of powerful spirits, and the linkage between the Earth and sky. Hence, it is not surprising that they hold ceremonies every year to show their respect to those mythical giants. In fact, more than 50 ceremonial sites have been found near high mountains by archaeologists.

The shrine of Quyllur Rit’i is located in the Sinakara valley in the Cusco Region of Peru, at which the spiritual and religious Star Snow Festival is held every year. It is close to Ausungate peak, which is over 20,000 ft.

Catholic pilgrimages began since 1783 when a local shepherd boy encountered a mysterious white youth, who appears to be the child Christ based on the legend. The festival is held in mid-June and on September 14. Over 10,000 pilgrims as well as tourists will gather at the site annually, even though Quyllur Rit’i is quite difficult to reach. After all, it is a valuable opportunity to enjoy spectacular ritual dance.

Here are some photographs of the Quyllur Rit’i. Read more about the festival here.

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Perishing On The Peak

On a journey to Kullu Valley in northern India, David Nixon witnessed death of a fellow traveller. As an honorary research fellow at University of Exeter, Nixon published an article, seeking to explore the theological meaning behind this unanticipated tragedy.

Rohtang Pass. Source: HUS0/Flickr
Rohtang Pass. Source: HUS0/Flickr

It began on a trek towards the Pir Panajal region, an extremely remote mountainous area. On day four of the trip, Nixon noticed that his friend Simon had trouble climbing to Rohtang Pass at 4700 meters and had to ride a pony while the guide carried his backpack. Rohtang Pass, translated as “pile of corpses” in Tibetan, is known for its bad weather conditions that caused several fatalities in the past. It links the Kullu Valley with the Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh, both of which are surrounded by glacier-covered mountains.

The glacier-covered roads made it even more difficult for the team to proceed. On the descent, Nixon fell on ice and wounded his temple. The group split in two – a faster group and a slower group – since Simon and Nixon and some others had a hard time catching up.

Rohtang Pass. Source: chopr/Flickr
Rohtang Pass. Source: chopr/Flickr

The next day, Nixon saw that Simon could hardly move forward, even with the guide desperately pushing him, and he knew that wasn’t a good sign. After rejoining the faster group and having dinner, he watched Simon being carried back to the camp by other teammates. A retired policeman tried to save Simon through CPR, even though it was clear that Simon was already dead.

Afterwards, Nixon delivered a prayer for Simon, and the group set up a cairn with some Buddhist prayer flags. They carried Simon’s body in a sleeping bag on the back of a pony until it was taken over by a senior team from the Indian travel agency in Delhi and repatriated to London. According to the coroner, Simon had died from cardiorespiratory arrest and pulmonary edema as a consequence of altitude sickness, which could have been prevented if he went back when he initially felt sick.

Rohtang Pass. Source: B Balaji/Flickr
Rohtang Pass. Source: B Balaji/Flickr

For Nixon, this experience had a profoundly spiritual meaning. He noted that the context of mountains and countryside could be related to Biblical imagery. Specifically, the valley in which Simon’s bier quietly disappeared as it was carried along and the mountain embedded in cold and dark rocks reminded him of the scene of the glorious and magnificent evocation of death by the Psalmist. Psalm 23 says that, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they protect and comfort me”.

Rohtang Pass. Source: marksquared/Flickr
Rohtang Pass. Source: marksquared/Flickr

Nixon believes that Simon’s identity had been eternally fixed on the mountains in Kullu Valley. Similarly, the identity of the whole traveling group had also been altered.

Upon reflection, Nixon found there was little to comfort him and others who were marked by Simon’s death. He believes that the wilderness of the mountains is associated with the later wilderness of exile. “If, as Brueggemann maintains, the ‘Jesus movement’ was the next step on the way from exile to land, then Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness are also part of this dynamic”, he wrote. “Without seeking the discomfort and the dislocation, I recognize that a reconceptualization of God, a new turn in spirituality, is a gift to be welcomed,” he said.

Nixon pointed out that exploring theological meaning behind stories is what human beings do to give sense and order to surrounding world, and “impose meaning on the remorseless flow of events in which they are swirling.” As Nixon showed, high mountain landscapes can evoke these meanings with great power.

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Roundup: Tidewater Glaciers, North Cascades, Antarctic Bacterium

The Culprit for Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss

Source: Christine Zenino/Flickr
Greenland Ice Sheet. Source: Christine Zenino/Flickr

“Overall mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet nearly doubled during the early 2000s resulting in an increased contribution to sea-level rise, with this step-change being mainly attributed to the widespread frontal retreat and accompanying dynamic thinning of tidewater glaciers. Changes in glacier calving-front positions are easily derived from remotely sensed imagery and provide a record of dynamic change […] In this study multiple calving-front positions were derived for 199 Greenland marine-terminating outlet glaciers with width greater than 1 km using Landsat imagery for the 11-year period 2000–2010 in order to identify regional seasonal and inter-annual variations. Our results suggest several regions in the south and east of the ice sheet likely share controls on their dynamic changes, but no simple single control is apparent.”

Read more here.

Area Changes of North Cascades Glaciers

North Cascades Glaciers. Source: Sean Munson/Flickr
North Cascades Glaciers. Source: Sean Munson/Flickr

“We present an exhaustive spatial analysis using the geographic, geometric, and hypsometric characteristics of 742 North Cascades glaciers to evaluate changes in their areal extents over a half-century period. Our results indicate that, contrary to our initial expectations, glacier change throughout the study region cannot be explained readily by correlations in glacier location, size, or shape. Our statistical analyses of the changes observed indicate that geometric data from a large number of glaciers, as well as a surprisingly large amount of spatial change, are required for a credible statistical detection of glacier-length and area changes over a short (multidecadal) period of time.”

Read more here.

 

The Small Tough Organisms

Growth of cold-sensitive mutants on Antarctic Bacterial Media containing stressor. Source: D. Sengupta et al (2015).
Growth of cold-sensitive mutants on Antarctic Bacterial Media containing stressor. Source: D. Sengupta et al (2015).

“A population of cold-tolerant Antarctic bacteria was screened for their ability to tolerate other environmental stress factors. Besides low temperature, they were predominantly found to be tolerant to alkali. Attempt was also made to postulate a genetic basis of their multistress-tolerance […] A number of multistress-sensitive mutants were isolated. The mutated gene in one of the mutants sensitive to low temperature, acid and alkali was found to encode citrate synthase. Possible role of citrate synthase in conferring multistress-tolerance was postulated.”

Read more here.

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What Do Black Southern Cod Like to Eat?

In the freezing waters of Patagonia, southern Chile, the black southern codfish takes what it can get. With different levels of salinity and nutrients at the mouths of fjords and channels, the black southern codfish maintains regional feeding habits, a new study has found.

Source: Douglas Scortegagna/Flickr
Source: Douglas Scortegagna/Flickr

Researchers Matthias Hüne and Rodrigo Vega, from the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB) and Fisheries Development Institute in Chile, collected fish samples in gill nets to observe and evaluate how the feeding pattern variation of black southern cod is influenced by oceanic and continental water in the Staples Strait in Captain Arancena Island and Puerto Bories in the Ultima Esperanza fjord. Since the black southern cod, an ice fish, is extremely abundant in Patagonia, Hüne and Vega wanted to better understand the trophic structure of the species, which will contribute a more complex understanding of the trophic ecology of fish in Chile.

In the coming years, glacier melt is likely to reduce the salinity in surrounding oceans in these regions off southern South America. As a result, the diversity of prey species for the black southern cod will most likely be promoted, meaning that the oceanic food webs may become more complex. It is plausible that those fish will not be intensively affected by changing climate because they are highly adaptable to both higher temperature and lower salinity environments.

The black southern cod, Patagonotothen tessellata, in southern Chilean Patagonia. (Credit: Fundación Ictiológica)
The black southern cod, Patagonotothen tessellata, in southern Chilean Patagonia. (Credit: Fundación Ictiológica)

By dissecting fish samples, the authors of the study were able to determine the diet composition of the species in selected regions. The authors investigated the spatial differentiation in diet composition of black southern cod by taking into consideration both environmental factors (salinity, temperature, oxygen concentration) and biological factors (gender, size). Through this study, they were able to develop a series of factors that predicts the spatial variation for the diet of the fish.

Ultimately, Hüne and Vega ascertained that in Staples Strait, the black southern codfish primarily preys on polychaetes, multi-segmented worms that have fleshy bristles protruding from each segment and which are present from abyssal depth to rocky shores.In Puerto Bories, however, the black southern codfish preys mainly on algae and on crustaceans, including ostracods (“seed shrimp” with two shells that exist in almost all aquatic environments, including hot springs) and gammarids (shrimplike creatures which can swim upside-down, backwards or on their sides). Even though there is hardly any difference in the diet pattern among different sexes of the fish, small-sized black southern cod were found to have relatively lower proportion of empty stomachs.

There is no doubt that environmental variables play a vital role in affecting the feeding variability of the black southern cod. Theoretically, the fish is prone to consume more diverse prey items where there is higher temperature and lower salinity, which accounts for the relatively high prey diversity in Puerto Bories. The adequacy of potential prey species could largely be attributed to suitable environmental conditions. According to Clarke and Johnston, the metabolic rate of fish in warm water is anticipated to be comparably higher, which could be an explanation for the phenomenon.

Source: Giacomo Costagli/Flickr
Source: Giacomo Costagli/Flickr

Furthermore, the research found that small-sized black southern cod mainly prey near the surface of the ocean (or in benthic zone), where the majority of their food comes from ostracods and gammarids. Nevertheless, large-sized species spend most of their time in preying on polychaetes in the water column. Hence, there is no surprise that most of the black southern cod from Puerto Bories were smaller than specimens from Staples Strait.

In conclusion, the black southern cod from different locations exhibits various feeding patterns, in which temperature and salinity of the ocean, as well as their physical condition, play an important role in shaping diet. Generally speaking, diversity of prey items is positively correlated with high temperature and low salinity. However, quantity or size of prey is positively associated with high salinity. In other words, the black southern cod from ocean-influenced regions tend to prey on more diverse food sources; and fish from continent-water-influenced regions feed on larger species and have heavier stomach contents. As a result of these qualities, this species seems resilient in the face of climate change.

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Iceberg Calving Boosts Methane Emissions

Glacier calving. Source: Mack Lundy/Flickr
Glacier calving. Source: Mack Lundy/Flickr

The substantial increase in methane concentrations in tropical wetlands can be attributed to the last Glacial Period, when icebergs calving off North America introduced massive influxes of fresh water into the North Atlantic, new research shows.

Calving of glaciers in the North American ice sheet, also known as Heinrich events, released large icebergs into the North Atlantic Ocean. The authors of this new study, Rachael H. Rhodes and her colleagues from Oregon State University, found that Heinrich events in the Hudson Strait may have enhanced rainfall in the Southern Hemisphere, which in turn led to increased methane production in tropical wetlands when the wetlands flooded.

Effect of increased Southern Hemisphere weighting of tropical rainfall seasonality on intense land rainfall distribution. Source:  Rachael H. Rhodes et al., 2015.
Effect of increased Southern Hemisphere weighting of tropical rainfall seasonality on intense land rainfall distribution. Source: Rachael H. Rhodes et al., 2015.

“Essentially what happened was that the cold water influx altered the rainfall patterns at the middle of the globe. The band of tropical rainfall, which includes the monsoons, shifts to the north and south through the year,” Rhodes explained during an interview with Ed Brook, a professor at Oregon State University.

“Our data suggest that when the icebergs entered the North Atlantic causing exceptional cooling, the rainfall belt was condensed into the Southern Hemisphere, causing tropical wetland expansion and abrupt spikes in atmospheric methane,” she added.

According to the study, each individual Heinrich event could have long-term impacts on tropical climate and hydrology, specifically over 740 to 1520 years. Four specific Heinrich events were linked to methane signals. Each of these events deposited “relatively thick and spatially extensive sediment, which was rich in detrital carbonate.”

Iceberg lake. Source: Tim Hamilton/Flickr
Iceberg Lake. Source: Tim Hamilton/Flickr

With a newly developed continuous measurement technique, Rhodes and her colleagues produced an accurate record of atmospheric methane concentrations for West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide ice core in high resolution. More importantly, they detected methane emission anomalies in Southern Hemisphere.

“Using this new method, we were able to develop a nearly 60,000-year, ultra-high-resolution record of methane much more efficiently and inexpensively than in past ice core studies, while simultaneously measuring a broad range of other chemical parameters on the same small sample of ice,” said Joe McConnell from Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, who contributed to perfecting the measurement technique.

Glacier calving. Source: Angela Sevin/Flickr
Glacier calving. Source: Angela Sevin/Flickr

The findings could have implications for better understanding greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of past glacial calving on climate change.

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Icy Adventures in Norway

Hiking in Sunnmøre, Part 4: Regndalen. (Source: Severin Sadjina/Flickr)
Hiking Site in Sunnmøre, Regndalen. (Source: Severin Sadjina/Flickr)

If you want to walk and climb on glaciated areas for an extraordinary experience, you should visit Norway before the glaciers melt away. You do have some decades ahead, though, before glaciers really become scarce there. Still, rising  temperatures have caused a dramatic decrease in glacial volume in Norway as in other parts of the world. As this trend intensifies, glacier tourism will be largely limited in the future.

Norwegian sunset near Tromso, Norway (Source: Diana Robinson/Flickr)
Sunset near Tromso, Norway (Source: Diana Robinson/Flickr)

There are many opportunities to explore glaciers. There are over 1600 glaciers in Norway, which cover an area of roughly 2600 square kilometers. Most of the glaciers are in mountainous regions along or near the coast, particularly in southwestern and northern Norway. You could choose among guided day tours, longer tours, glacier surface walks, glacier lake kayaking, terminal face walks, ice climbing, and more. But climate change will change the nature of glacier tourism. A 7-year follow-up study conducted by Trude Furunes and Reidar J. Mykletun considered five components of the development of glacier tourism: natural resources, access, demand, entrepreneurship, and the need for skilled delivery of tourism services. Data in the study was collected through analysis of websites, repeated interviews, and participant observation.

Engabreen (Source: Nathanael Coyne/Flickr)
Engabreen (Source: Nathanael Coyne/Flickr)

Most glacier tourism activities involve the edges of the glacier, especially the glacier arm area, which are neither too steep nor too dangerous to enter. Glacier tourism generally occurs from June to August, when snow accumulated during winter has finished melting. A large portion of the study’s respondents expressed concern about impacts of climate change on glacier recession. After all, ice melting limits the accessibility of glaciers. In 2003, some operators decided to include more mountain walks in the tour package due to ice melting, which in the end led to dramatic decline in clients. In 2007, as some glaciers became inaccessible, some operators had no choice but to move to different glaciers in order to minimize financial loss.

Low entry cost attracted many investors into the glacier tourism business, causing a great deal of competition in the region. “Several activity companies pop up. But the Briksdal glacier is now closed due to the reduced glacier area, which makes it difficult to run safe glacier guiding here. This has led to increased tourism on the Nigard glacier,” said one respondent. More and more companies chose to tailor activities for their clients instead of providing highly commercialized products. “Competitors still exist, but they have changed their activity,” said another respondent.

A route between Aurlands and Briksdal in Norway. (Source: Lee Gwyn/Flickr)
A path between Aurlands and Briksdal . (Source: Lee Gwyn/Flickr)

Many operators claimed that they treated safety as priority and few accidents had occurred. “We focus strongly on safety, and use two guides per group, where one is certified. We also focus on equipment needed. It is important that the clients don’t perceive high risk, but get a unique experience.” Another operator stated that, “we have had no accidents, only bone fractures.”

According to T. Furunes and R. J. Mykletun, there was a 30% decrease from 2003 to 2009 in the number of visitors and operators, due to decline in natural resources and access. However, they suspected that relatively rapid melting of glaciers in Central Europe would likely to prompt glacier tourism in Norway. In a sense,  glacier loss in Central Europe could make Norwegian glacier tourism seem more attractive.  This study thus confirms the uneven and complex effects of global warming and its consequences for glacial retreat on national tourist industries.

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PhotoFriday: Kali Moves Into New Home

McDonnell Polar Bear Point of the Saint Louis Zoo welcomed its first occupant – Kali on May 5, 2015. Kali is a two and half year-old, 850-pound orphaned male polar bear. He was turned over to US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) after his mother was killed by an Alaska Native hunter. His new home is located adjacent to Penguin and Puffin Coast at the Zoo, where a large dive pool is bounded by expansive split view windows. “This wonderful habitat shows our commitment to protecting polar bears, which are declining in the wild and are highly vulnerable,” said Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President and Chief Executive Officer of the Saint Louis Zoo during interview with the Intelligencer. “By working to not only conserve polar bears in the wild but to offer a wonderful habitat for breeding and caring for bears, we can help save these iconic animals.” Let’s take a peak at how Kali explores his new home at Saint Louis Zoo.

As you know, sea ice is crucial to polar bears in terms of survival. Polar bears take advantages of ice floes and breath holes when hunting seals or fish. Dramatic sea ice reductions resulted from increasing temperature has lead to rapid decline in polar bear population. Moreover, polar bears also make use of icebergs which are formed from calving glaciers. The Inuit, indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic, recognize this association between polar bears and icebergs.

Aiming to reduce its carbon footprint, the Saint Louis Zoo has carried out sustainable practices. In addition, it tries to promote sustainable behaviors among visitors. Here are some photographs of polar bears.

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For more information about the Saint Louis Zoo and Kali, visit here.

 

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New Cyanotoxins Surface in Polar Region

Yellowstone National Park (Source: Kyla Duhamel/Flickr)
Scientists found that cyanobacteria live in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. They convert nitrogen gas to nitrogenous compounds after sunset for their cell growth. (Source: Kyla Duhamel/Flickr)

Death by cyanobacteria-made microtoxins is not pleasant. The toxins damage the nervous system, especially anatoxin-a, also known as a Very Fast Death Factor.

As the global temperature increases, concerns about the range of these toxins are growing. For the first time, anatoxin-a has been found as far north as the polar regions, according to a new paper by Ewelina Chrapusta, a PhD candidate in molecular biology at Jagiellonian University, in Krakow, Poland, and her colleagues. They revealed that some cyanobacteria were capable of combining different types of toxins, in particular microcystins and anatoxin-a.

Source: Roger Bunting/Flickr
Source: Roger Bunting/Flickr

According to G. Zanchett and E.C. Oliveira-Filho, global climate change is anticipated to lead to the rapid development of hazardous cyanobacterial species with “increasing growth rate, dominance, persistence, geographical distribution, and activity”. In particular, glacier melt will provide more suitable habitats for cyanobacteria and lead to higher production of cyanobacterial toxins in the polar region.

Microcystins and anatoxin-a are produced by freshwater cyanobacteria. Their high toxicity makes them a serious threat to other organisms, including livestock and humans. According to J. Patockaa and L. Stredab, these toxins act extremely rapidly and could cause death in minutes or hours, depending on the dose.

Source: Christopher Sessums/Flickr
Source: Christopher Sessums/Flickr

In 1996, the first outbreak of cyanobacterial toxins poisoning occurred in Caruaru, Brazil, killing 76 patients from liver failure. Another episode happened in Brazil in 2000, which involved 2000 cases of stomach flu and 88 fatalities within roughly 40 days. These toxins are recognized as secondary metabolites. They allow the cyanobacteria to flourish under nutrient-rich conditions and reproduce exponentially.

Cyanobacteria are the most significant component of microbial and plant communities, especially in polar ecosystems, because they can provide microhabitats for other organisms. Specifically, they create a cohesive and diverse biocrusts on moist soils and in freshwater reservoirs of nutrient-poor habitats, especially glacial moraines. The biocrust serves as shelter for a variety of organisms, including rotifers, fungi, green algae, and viruses. Even though the ability of crust-forming cyanobacteria to produce toxins has been well demonstrated in temperate and tropical regions, the “ecological role of cyanotoxins in polar ecosystems is poorly understood,” according to Chrapusta.

Source: Anita Gould/Flickr
Source: Anita Gould/Flickr

As a result of global warming, increased frequency of cyanobacterial blooms pose severe threats to human health in communities worldwide, especially those that rely on glacier melt-water to live. Chronic exposure to cyanobacterial toxins in humans could increase the risk of organ damage, which may develop into cancer.

More research is needed to fully understand the extent to which rising global temperatures will influence cyanobacteria populations and their ability to produce toxins in the future. Moreover, specific species of cyanobacteria, which combine microcystins and anatoxin-a, need to be identified so that the distribution of such toxins could be monitored and projected accurately. In any case, the detection of anatoxin-a at high latitudes is a serious warning sign of possible dangers that may come in the future.

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Photo Friday: Cryoconites and Glacier Tables

Have you ever seen dark cavities on glaciers, which are also referred to as “cryoconites”? These holes, which can be meters deep,are created from debris on top of glaciers. Dark-colored debris, including soot, dust, and pollen, speed up the melting process of glacial ice as a consequence of their low reflectivity to incoming sunlight. In some cases, glacial surface debris can also form pits in the ice through chemical melting. Hence, most of the glacial thaw holes are filled with melt-water, which become home to cyanobacteria, fungi, and other microbes. However, some large solid debris, in particular boulders, will prevent the ice beneath from melting as surrounding ice, forming glacier tables. Here are some photographs of cryoconites and glacier tables.

Learn more about glacial surface debris here.

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PhotoFriday: GlacierHub Writer Supports Nepal Recovery

© IOM 2015
© IOM 2015

On April 25, 2015, a catastrophic earthquake rattled Nepal killing over 8000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Areas of Nepal continue to remain unstable as a result of continuous landslides. According to the International Centre of Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, five out of six critical landslides that blocked rivers since the earthquake are located in Nepal. Hundreds of people died from a landslide in Langtang, which was triggered by the quake. Landslides will easily cause disastrous impacts in local mountain communities who have already suffered from the quake.

© DFID
© DFID

The quake also cracked a huge hydroelectric dam and damaged many others. With the monsoon weeks away, there are growing concerns that heavy rainfall will cause the landslides tobecome even more destructive. Coupled with melting glaciers, intense monsoon rainfall is expected to trigger flooding in a country that’s already broken from the aftershocks of the devastating earthquake.

The government has made little progress in mapping landslide-prone areas, said Bishal Nath Upreti, a retired geology professor and chairman of the Disaster Preparedness Network in Nepal, in Malaymail Online. “It’s very hard to convince the government. They didn’t think it was so important,” Upreti said. “It’s urgent to start now.”

© DFAT
© DFAT

“Donating money to Nepal immediately after the crisis is the easy part”, Tsechu Dolma, a GlacierHub writer, emphasized in a post recently published on NBC News. More importantly, local governments should concentrate on reaching rural families who need fast support, and building long-term strategy for Nepal.

Dolma proposed a three-phase plan to build resilience in Nepal. In the early phase, she strongly recommended channeling funds to trustworthy local organizations, which are capable of providing direct relief in mountain communities. In the middle phase, she believes that reconstructing essential infrastructures, including local schools and hospitals, is extremely important. Lastly, attention should be paid towards developing “grassroots community resilience” to increase Nepal’s adaptive capacity to extreme weathers and disasters.

Here are photographs of Nepal after the earthquake, provided by Tsechu. Read more about her article on NBC News.

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Adaptation to Drought in Peruvian Andes

Community-based adaptation strategies are essential for dealing with drought in the Peruvian Andes, according to a new study by Ralph Lasage et al. published in Sustainability.

Extreme Droughts in Quechua (Source: CGIAR Climate/Flickr)
Extreme Drought in  Andean Region (Source: CGIAR Climate/Flickr)

Over 80% of residents in the Peruvian Andes rely on agriculture as a major source of income and are highly dependent on the availability of water resources. But in the past, droughts associated with El Nino events have been devastating for these communities and led to increased migration from rural areas to cities. According to Ralph Lasage and a team of researchers from VU University Amsterdam and Amsterdam University College, the drought of 1982 resulted in 60% – 70% reduction in highland agricultural production.

And water availability in the Andes is set to continue to decline as glaciers recede. Effective water management systems and adaptation measures on the local scale play significant roles in reducing the impacts of climate change on the glaciers thousands of people rely on, Lasage and his team found.

Aguas Calientes (Source: Mariano Mantel/Flickr)
Aguas Calientes, Peru (Source: Mariano Mantel/Flickr)

When glaciers melt, the risk of outburst floods increases dramatically. In 1941, the glacial lake Palcacocha in the Peruvian Andes burst and tons of water crashed into the city of Huaraz, killing around 5,000 people. In the following decade, two more glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) occurred in the Cordillera Blanca in north-central Peru due to excessive water released when glacier moraine dams failed. To address the issue, the Peruvian government strengthened terminal moraine dams, sophisticated valve systems, and drain pipes to prevent extensive damage when future GLOFs occurs. In addition, it initiated glaciological unit, which helped prevent many outburst floods and significant fatalities.

Andean Vista (Source: pdh96/Flickr)
Andean Vista (Source: pdh96/Flickr)

However, outburst flooding is not the only glacier melt-related issue that concerns Peruvians. Droughts associated with climate variability, which threaten the country’s water supply, pose a major concern for residents of the South American nation. Shrinking glacier volume during this century is projected to intensify. But hydrological data gaps limit scientists’ ability to understand cycles of flooding and droughts. it is difficult for them to assess vulnerability to floods and droughts on regional level.

Through their study, Lasage and his team presented a stepwise participatory approach to create a vulnerability index and develop community-based adaptation measures. The study was conducted in the Chorunga catchment, which is “representative of the environmental and socio-economic conditions of farming communities across the Andes”. They found that improving the efficiency of water usage and storage was a bigger challenge for communities than creating water storage at high elevations close to glaciers.

Location of the Chorunga study area in the Ocoña River basin. (Source: Ralph Lasage et al., 2015)
Location of the Chorunga study area in the Ocoña River basin. (Source: Ralph Lasage et al., 2015)

The Chorunga catchment, which is part of the Ocona River basin, is a poor rural area where roughly “68% of the population live in poverty, compared with 14% for the whole of Peru”. Located in the south of the Cordillera Blanca, the Chorunga catchment received the majority of its water irrigation comes from the Coropuna Glacier, which lost 37% of its total volume and has been rapidly retreating, in the form of melting glacier water. In addition, the team conducted in-depth study of the functioning of the villages’ irrigation systems and the governance of water resources. Perceived vulnerability was evaluated alongside a variety of socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, including income, education, access to water, and etc.

Quilted Fields, Andes (Source: Rod Waddington/Flickr)
Quilted Fields, Andes (Source: Rod Waddington/Flickr)

Lasage and his team started by gathering information on local households’ perception of their vulnerability to droughts and the effectiveness of proposed adaptation strategies through questionnaires and face-to-face interview in the Chorunga catchment. The vulnerability index was defined as the product of “exposure” (or frequency of drought periods) and “sensitivity” (or perceived impacts of a drought on people’s livelihoods) divided by “response efficacy” (or perceived effectiveness of adaption measures in response to reduced water availability). In addition, the team gathered information on the governance of water resources as well as irrigation systems through in-depth interviews with government offices, NGOs, and local colleges. More importantly, the team collaborated with a variety of Peruvian stakeholders (e.g. local farmers, Water Associations, Irrigation Commissions, and etc.) and initiated several possible adaption measures. Ultimately, some adaption measures were selected on the basis of climate projections and investment costs.

Ocoña River meets Pacific Ocean (Source: beyondhue/Flickr)
Ocoña River meets Pacific Ocean (Source: beyondhue/Flickr)

Glacier recession has been accelerating since the 1970s, which will likely lead to the disappearance of the glaciers. As a result of rising temperatures, a large portion of the precipitation comes in the form of rainfall instead of snow. Therefore, water availability is anticipated to decline during growing season for crops on the long run even though increased melting glacier water will slightly contribute to water runoff in the short term. In other words, additional melt-water from glacier retreat will not make a difference in increasing discharge, because the effect of reduced precipitation due to high temperatures will most likely be overwhelming.

La Raya Pass (Source: David Stanley/Flickr)
La Raya Pass, Peru (Source: David Stanley/Flickr)

The vulnerability analysis reveals that households with a larger area of irrigated land tends to be less vulnerable to droughts; households with lower income are more vulnerable but less willing to adapt to climate change; and people with a higher education appear to be less sensitive to drought and willing to cope with adaptation measures. There is a strong correlation between households’ water availability and their vulnerability to droughts.

Cayetano Huanca, Peru (Source: Oxfam International/Flickr)
Cayetano Huanca, Peru (Source: Oxfam International/Flickr)

The selected adaptation measures concentrated on improving the efficacy of water usage and storage in the Chorunga catchment. In particular, surface dams were constructed to store rainfall during the wet season, and to be used during the dry season. Low-cost gravity drip irrigation systems and water-efficient crops were introduced to maximize crop production in the fields with limited amount of water. In addition, roof-water harvesting systems were installed to increase useable water. Generally speaking, the implementation of such adaptation measures will possibly increase households’ water availability during the dry season, and hence reduce their vulnerability to droughts.

“The stepwise approach proved to be suitable to structure the process of developing and implementing adaptation measures jointly with a wide range of stakeholders in a rural area in Peru. It enabled the inclusion of information ranging from the local to the global scale and led to the joint implementation of several community-based measures”, said Lasage et al.

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