Video of the Week: Coronavirus Protests in Pakistani Karakoram

In recent weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has sparked mass protests around the US However, the US is not the only country dealing with unrest as a result of the public health crisis. India and Lebanon have seen demonstrations based on concerns over lockdown restrictions or lack of government aid. Recently, the Astore District in northern Pakistan, a region home to a vast number of glaciers, has experienced student led protests. The Pamir Times, a local news station recently published an article l with an accompanying video of the protests.

The student-led protests took place in Gilgit-Baltistan, located  in the Karakorams of northern Pakistan. As in other coronavirus demonstrations around the world, the protestors were concerned with the government response to  the pandemic. The students accused the Astore administration of mismanaging the coronavirus situation. They detailed how sick patients were continuing to live with quarantined people. Additionally, they said the facilities available for coronavirus patients were inadequate. Concern over treatment of sick patients and the safety of those in quarantine is growing in this area, as Astore has become a hotspot.

The video documenting the protests shows students marching through a marketplace, animatedly chanting. Some protestors are seen stopping to be interviewed on camera. The mountains provide a strikingly picturesque backdrop to the unrest. The Karakorams in Pakistan hold some of the world’s largest and longest mid-latitude glaciers. About 37 percent of the region is glacierized. These glaciers supply meltwater to locals for irrigation and domestic consumption, playing a particularly important role in the summer, after the snowmelt in spring has abated.

Rakaposhi, a mountain in the Karakoram Mountain Range (Source: Wiki Commons/Razaashrafsbs)

Unfortunately, mountain environments are particularly vulnerable to climate change and the Karakoram has not been immune. Glaciers in Pakistan are retreating, which poses multiple challenges for communities in the Astore District. Changing glacial landscapes reduce freshwater availability, affect tourism and hydroelectricity production, and in some cases even lead to cross-border conflict.

The recent coronavirus protests indicate the multiple challenges  in Gilgit-Baltistan. Though the pandemic has created new short-term threats, climate change remains as an ongoing obstacle to sustainable development in this region. GlacierHub will continue to cover the ongoing pandemic and its effects on those living in glacierized regions.

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Photo Friday: Ecuadorian Photographer Highlights Country’s Glaciers

Photographer David Villacrés’ Twitter feed is teeming with various types of landscape photographs— from city streets to starry night skies and enormous volcanoes. For the Ecuador-based Villacrés, his home country is his muse. “All you need is Ecuador” is a frequent hashtag on his posts. Primarily a nature photographer, he often photographs the Ecuadorian Andes, which is home to the country’s glaciers.

Given Ecuador’s proximity to the equator, it might surprise some that the country’s highest peaks are home to ice caps and small outlet glaciers. Ecuadorian glaciers can be found on the Cordillera Occidental and the Cordillera Oriental, two mountain chains in the Andes that reach as high as nearly 20,000 ft. Glaciers situated among these mountain chains occur on both non-volcanic and volcanic peaks. The glacierized volcanic peaks include the Cotopaxi Volcano, which erupted as recently as August 2015; an eruption that lasted nearly six months. Cotopaxi is listed as one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. However, it is edged out by Chimborazo for the title of Ecuador’s highest volcano. Like Cotopaxi, the Chimborazo Volcano is also glacier-clad, but much less active in recent millennia. This month, Villacrés posted an image of three volcanoes from different Ecuadorian provinces, including the Chimborazo Volcano.

Glaciers play a fairly significant role in Ecuadorian life and culture. Meltwater from glaciers in the Ecuadorian Andes feed rivers that sustain communities living nearby. The mountains, volcanoes and glaciers are also a draw for tourists. However, these natural resources are rapidly shrinking. Due to volcanism and climate change, glaciers in Ecuador are disappearing, leaving less freshwater for humans and agriculture.

Cotopaxi volcano. Read more about glacier-covered volcanoes on GlacierHub and be sure to check out David Villacrés’ Twitter for more images of Ecuador’s natural beauty.

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Dolomites, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Center of Mounting Controversy

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was established after World War II in an effort to create an “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.” Today, UNESCO plays many roles—maintaining peace and equity, encouraging sustainable development, advancing cooperation, sciences and communication, and preserving culture. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, the Dolomites in Italy are now becoming a source of controversy.

The Gardena Pass in the Dolomites (Source: Wiki Commons/Moroder)

The Dolomites is a mountain range spanning more than 140,000 hectares in Northern Italy. Comprised of 18 peaks, the Dolomites boast breathtaking scenery with sheer mountain cliffs, glaciers, and clear mountain lakes. The mountains are a sought-after tourist destination, particularly for thrill-seekers who can ski and mountain climb during winter, and paraglide and hang glide in the summer. Free climbing has also been a tradition in the Dolomites for over a decade.

The mountain range’s rich history is not only defined by its outdoor activities. Communities in the Dolomites speak three languages, German, Italian, and Ladin, an early Romance language. The mountain range also served as a front during World War I from 1915 to 1917, where Italian and Austrian forces clashed. Between battles and natural forces such as avalanches, landslides and frostbite, 150,000 soldiers died in the Alps during WW1. Today, retreating glaciers are beginning to expose buried relics of the Austrian stronghold.

World War I memorial on Mount Piana, location of the “Open Air Museum of the First World War” (Wiki Commons/AnaisGoepner)

The UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, was formed in 2010 by several Italian provinces and regions. The Foundation is responsible for coordinating the effective management of the mountain range and acts as an intermediary between local authorities and the Italian Ministry for the Environment. According to Jacopo Pasotti, an Italian Journalist who specializes in scientific and environmental reporting, climate change and land use changes currently pose significant threats to the Dolomites. Speaking to GlacierHub, Pasotti explained that the mountains are highly developed in many places, with heavy traffic during peak tourism. Fewer snow days and less snowfall would have affected tourism, if it were not for the government subsidies that have allowed ski resorts to increase artificial snow production. Pasotti stressed the importance of creating protected areas tourists can’t access to protect the natural landscape and wildlife. But he does not hold out hope for the region’s glaciers, “under all scenarios this very sensitive area is going to lose the majority of its glaciers in the next few decades.”

Mountain Wilderness is a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 in Biella, Italy by mountaineers to pursue the preservation of the country’s natural environment and culture of mountain regions. The group encourages sustainable tourism. It has recently taken issue with the management of the Dolomites and is particularly concerned over threats from tourism. Last month, the organization published an electronic letter on their website declaring it was removing itself from the Board of Supporters of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, stating its displeasure with the management of the Dolomites. Signed by Mountain Wilderness President Franco Tessadri, the letter states, “We were assured (in 2017, then postponed to 2018, then again to 2019) that UNESCO would make a further visit to check the management of the Dolomites heritage. This never happened.”

The Marmolada Glacier, 2015 (Source: Wiki Commons/DarTar)

The Mountain Wilderness letter accuses the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation of focusing its attention on tourism marketing rather than sustainable management– a complaint no doubt exacerbated by increased tourism in recent years. The non-profit took particular offense at the Foundation’s failure to condemn the use of vehicles on mountain trails. Mountain Wilderness also criticized the Foundation for failing to effectively communicate with its supporters. They reference a joint letter sent by national and local environmental associations to the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation. According to Mountain Wilderness, this letter was ignored. In their letter withdrawing from the Foundation’s Board of supporters, Mountain Wilderness stated, “That silence was extremely offensive to all the signatory associations, not only to Mountain Wilderness Italy, as if the Foundation had freed itself of the burden of environmentalists with a shrug of its shoulders.”

When reached for comment, the UNESCO Dolomite’s Foundation stated, “we are pleased to inform you that the Board of Directors of the Foundation has acknowledged Mountain Wilderness Italia’s willingness to leave the Board of Supporters, despite the great attention paid in recent years to dialogue and confrontation. As you surely know, the situation in Italy for the coronavirus is still serious and the lockdown still in place. Once the situation will allow it, a confrontation at political level will be proposed to Mountain Wilderness Italia.”

The Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites (Source: Wiki Commons/Moroder)

Alessandra Giannini, a climate scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society fondly remembers a family trip to the Dolomites in the mid-1970s. She and her family stayed in San Martino di Castrozza, where they hiked nearby trails and picked blueberries, which her sister ate straight from the bush. Giannini told GlacierHub she remembers finding the lighter colors of the mountains’ barren peaks particularly striking. Years later, she now knows the lighter colors on the barren peaks are due to their oceanic origin.

When asked about preservation efforts and management, Giannini stated that at the time when her family visited the Dolomites, there was “no such thing as any restrictions, except that it was forbidden to collect rare flowers.” Giannini described how her mother noted how much the Dolomites had changed since she visited in the 1950s. Her mother was surprised how different even the small town of San Martino de Castrozza was, as the “woods in the village had given way to construction.” Giannini also drew connections between concern over management of the Dolomites and the situation in Cinque Terre, a section of the Ligurian Riviera close to her family’s home. Cinque Terre is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site. She said in the last two decades Cinque Terre has become a popular tourist attraction in Italy. According to Giannini a “thin veneer of environmentalism” defined by the establishment of a national park or a UNESCO World Heritage site is to blame for tourists overrunning Italy’s natural resources. She said, “local government structures have given preference to the business of tourism over conservation efforts.”

San Martino di Castrozza (Wiki Commons/Threecharlie)

Whether as the result of the actions of the UNESCO Dolomite Foundation, or that of the Italian government, concern over management and preservation of the Dolomites is mounting. Like many other glacierized regions, the Dolomites are under threat of climate change. Organizations like Mountain Wilderness do not want to see these threats exacerbated by land-use changes or the wear of tourist activities. However, the issue is not so black and white, as the local economy depends heavily on tourism. Recent attempts to restrict vehicle use in the Dolomites were met with opposition from hotel and restaurant owners in the Dolomites and criticism from local officials. Preservation of the Dolomites has become a balancing act– conserve the natural environment without damaging the local economy.

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Video of the Week: Nepali Celebrities Take Part in Coronavirus Song

From “I Will Survive” singer Gloria Gaynor, to police in Mexico and transit workers in Bangkok, music is the latest tool for spreading awareness of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As the pandemic spreads around the world, the trend of singing hygiene warnings has also reached glacierized parts of the world. A YouTube video published in late March of this year has Nepali A-list celebrities singing in Nepali about the Coronavirus.

The video includes Nepali actors, comedians and singers, including Madan Krishna Shrestha, Haribansha Acharya, Srita Lamichhane, and Dipashree Niraula. In the video, the entertainers demonstrate hand-washing, monitoring fevers, and social distancing practices such as avoiding shaking hands. Included in the music video are info-graphics to help communicate vital information. Videos such as this one are created in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus which has seen 1.9 million cases in at least 185 countries and territories. Celebrity-filled videos provide a bit of light-hearted news in a time of global crisis.

North face of Mount Everest (Source: Wiki Commons/Lucag)

Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s highest mountains and countless glaciers, has 16 Coronavirus cases as of April 14. Although there have not been any confirmed deaths in the country, Nepal has not been left unscathed. Nepal’s tourism industry has been hit hard by restricted travel and stay-at-home orders. In March, the government withdrew all trekking and climbing permits, a major blow to the country’s tourism-driven economy led by Mount Everest. Lockdowns occurred so swiftly they even left tourists stranded on mountain trails. While some rescue efforts did take place, as of late March there were still nearly two hundred tourists stuck in Nepal. GlacierHub has been covering the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and its effects on glacierized parts of the world. For more information regarding the impact of Coronavirus in Nepal, check out “The Covid-19 Pandemic Complicates Tourism in the Everest Region.

Coronavirus Song Transcription (courtesy of Kathryn March):

Corona virus

Corona virus.

You can become infected and die from the corona virus.

In order to survive the corona virus,

[In the music video this is where they show the public service infographic, which says:

Ways to survive the corona virus

If you get a fever, if you are coughing, if it is hard to breathe, go to the nearest health post]

you honestly have to wash,

 [Just as] we have to tell you honestly.

Corona virus.

If it becomes difficult to breathe, if you also get a fever,

it becomes difficult as soon as you get a cough.

When this happens, go to your health post.

It’s hard to survive this corona virus.

You mustn’t go into crowds, even if you have to.

You have to be [strong?].

You have to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Corona virus.

As soon as you get sick, you have to stay apart.

When you cough or sneeze, you have to cover your nose and face.

Remember, you must not spit all over the place.

Don’t embrace in a hug; instead let’s greet with a namaskar

Also, instead of shaking hands, greet from afar.

It’s hard to show proper darshan respect.

You have to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Corona virus.

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Peruvian Study Opens Doors for Glacial Research

A study published in March of this year by researchers from the University of Quebec presents a new avenue for glacier retreat research. While most water-related glacier studies are concerned with water availability, the research presented in this article is distinctive in that it draws a link between glacier retreat and water quality. This work has important implications for populations in the study area and others living in glacierized regions around the world.

Dissolved pyrite causes red deposit on rocks along a river in the Rio Santa watershed (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

This Peruvian study was conducted in the Rio Santa watershed in Peru, a freshwater source for 1.6 million people in a country currently suffering from water scarcity issues. For communities living within the Rio Santa watershed, its water resources are essential for drinking water, hydroelectricity, irrigation and recreation. However, freshwater in parts of the Rio Santa watershed have been found to be contaminated with trace metals. Water samples collected during this study showed concentrations of arsenic and manganese in the Rio Santa River are greater than the US Environmental Protection Agency drinking water guidelines, signaling potential hazards for water users. In certain doses, arsenic can be toxic and long-term exposure can lead to skin lesions, cancer, and infant mortality.

Researchers measured the debit of the Rio Santa using an ADCP (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

GlacierHub caught up with Michel Baraer, professor at the University of Quebec and co-author of this study. Baraer said their results yielded 2 major surprises. First, the main sources of trace metal contamination in the Rio Santa watershed are from both active and abandoned mines. Precipitation runoff washes traces of metals such as aluminum, arsenic, and zinc from the mines into nearby waterways. Second, the researchers did not see major differences in concentrations of metals with changes in discharge. In other words, there did not seem to be a connection between the amount of water flowing and metal contamination. This finding was unexpected because of the drastic difference between dry and wet seasons in the Rio Santa watershed. Over 80 percent of the yearly precipitation falls between October and April, leaving the summer months severely dry. River flow is determined by precipitation, snow and ice melt, groundwater, etc., elements that vary seasonally.  These results led Baraer and his colleague to conclude that the processes controlling metal concentrations in the Rio Santa watershed were more complex than simple dilution.

Researchers hiking to study the Quilcayanca glacier and its impacts on the hydrology of the valley (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Baraer says their research found that glacier retreat has an indirect effect on water contamination in the Rio Santa watershed, as it affects different parts of the watershed over time. The researchers found that metal contamination decreased steadily downstream, meaning contaminants have mostly remained upstream and closer to their source. As a result, communities downstream have had a consistent freshwater supply. However, retreating glaciers change the flow pattern of rivers and tributaries, altering the quantity of water flowing downstream. As glaciers first begin to retreat, they increasingly release more water until they reach “peak water,” or the maximum output. The Rio Santa has passed this period of peak water, meaning stream flow is declining.  However, the decline in stream flow will mostly occur during the dry season. The wet season is expected to experience an increase in stream flow, as warmer temperatures cause more precipitation to occur as rain, rather than snow. This increase in discharge during the wet season has the potential to transport contaminants further downstream and closer to more populated areas that have historically had cleaner water. Baraer believes this to be the main takeaway from the article– that glacier retreat does have this indirect effect, and it is a useful case study for researchers in the area and other glaciated regions.

The Pastaruri glacier in the Rio Santa watershed has lost 20% of its size in 30 years (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Baraer stressed the importance of educating the public about water contamination issues. Although he believes there are engineering projects that could address the contamination, they would be expensive and require substantial funding. Instead, Baraer said, “awareness should be the first priority.” Educating the public about trace metal contamination and the effects it may have on children and pregnant women is critical.

Along the Rio Santa in the city of Huaraz during the dry season (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Research connecting glacier retreat to water quality is scarce and the impacts of glacier retreat on water quality remain largely unknown. Baraer says this article is just a starting point. Studies like this one are extremely important for communities dependent on these water sources. While discussing water scarcity issues in Peru, Baraer mused, “what if not only we get less water, but what if this water is not as good?” In addition to linking glacier retreat to water quality, the study begins to question who will be most affected, where and at what time. As for continuing this line of research, he has an article under review regarding organic water contamination. Baraer is also a member of the Transdisciplinary Andean Research Network, which conducts research at the intersections of climate change, glacier retreat, hydrological resources, water use, and societal adaptation.

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Photo Friday: Chilean Volcanoes at Yellow Alert

Two glacier-covered volcanoes in Chile are at yellow alert, the second phase on a four-color scale. At yellow alert, Nevados de Chillán and Villarrica volcanoes are under advisory, meaning they are exhibiting signs of instability. While they are currently on the lower end of the warning spectrum, the two are still among the highest-risk volcanoes in the country, with long histories of activity and eruptions. Shown in the images below, smoke can be seen drifting from the mouth of the snow-capped Villarrica volcano, a clear indicator of volcanic activity.

According to Chile’s National Geology and Mining Service, the two volcanoes became active approximately 650,000 years ago. However, their surfaces are marked by formations from postglacial (the period after the most recent glaciation) eruptions that have occurred over the last 10,000 years. Interactions between lava and ice have drastically altered the topographic features of the Nevados de Chillán and Villarrica volcanoes. Evidence shows glaciers and ice sheets slowed or halted the flow of lava from these volcanoes. The lava melted holes into glacial ice and rapidly cooled after encountering ice sheets. In the 20th century, more recent activity has resulted in 100 fatalities related to mudflows, or lahars, on the slopes of the Villarrica Volcano.

The Nevados de Chillán and Villarrica volcanoes pose imminent threats to the populations living in their shadows. At the base of both volcanoes are cities where tourism from summer vacation facilities and winter sports complexes has been successful. The communities living under the threat of active volcanoes constantly risk destruction from lahars, falling ash, and lava flows. Images of Nevados de Chillán from April 1, 2020 show the volcano puffing out smoke, a stark contrast to the serene images of the volcano on April 2. The difference in appearance of Nevados de Chillán in just this two-day period shows the variability of the volcanic activity.

GlacierHub has previously reported on Nevados de Chillán, posting about a change in alert level in October 2019. That article highlighted that the volcano had been upgraded to orange alert, which indicates a significant risk of eruption. This month’s yellow alert is an obvious de-escalation since GlacierHub’s last report on Nevados de Chillán. Continue to check GlacierHub for updates on this and other glacier-covered volcanoes.

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Photo Friday: Travel and Trade Fair Promotes Mountain Communities

The mountain communities of Humla District in Nepal and Pulan County, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, have long histories and rich cultures. As neighboring communities, their pasts are intertwined, with their Hindu and Buddhist ties dating back centuries. In 2018, the groups came together for a cross-border travel and trade fair, the Kailash Confluence. The two-day event celebrated the communities’ history of trading goods, ideas, and beliefs. It also sought to preserve their shared culture and create opportunities for improving the livelihoods of the local people through the development of sustainable tourism and trade. Now, in 2020, the Namkha Rural Municipality has published a bilingual photo book (English and Nepali) with support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. The book does not only depict the ceremonies and activities offered by the Kailash Confluence, but also provides insight into daily life in the Humla district of Nepal.

Kermi Village, Humla District (Source: ICIMOD)
Visitors hike to Mount Kailash (Source: ICIMOD)

The images show stone pathways and houses, majestic mountain views, and colorful attire. Home to nearly 51,000 people, Humla is a well-known district along the ancient salt trade route that spans from the Tibetan Plateau through parts of Nepal and India. The photo book includes images of harrowing mountain passes through which trucks climb unpaved roads. Although the roads can be dangerous and difficult for vehicles, they are necessary for conducting trade. The district is also a pilgrimage site and a source of international tourism, drawing thousands of Hindu and Buddhist devotees each year.

Culture is particularly displayed in the photo book, which includes images of the event’s speeches, dances, concerts, local cuisine and exhibitions of local products. Images from the start of the Kailash Confluence reveal the honors bestowed on guests, who were received by a line of locals and event organizers. A series of photographs show dances dedicated to deities, religious figures, and dances calling for good omens and prosperity. The performers wear ornate masks, layers of colorful, patterned clothing and use props. One image shows two dancers surrounded by clouds of white powder.

The Chhyam is a dance performed to bring prosperity and good omens (Source: ICIMOD)
The Gonpo is a dance that honors Mahakala, the
emanation of Avalokitesvara and the bodhisattva of compassion (Source: ICIMOD)

As evidenced in the photo book, Humla has remained mostly untouched by urbanization. The district continues to be defined by ancient Buddhist practices that are fueled by their connection to spiritual sites. One image from the book shows how visitors hike through Humla to Mount Kailash in TAR, China. Melting glaciers in Humla threaten the district’s communities and cultural sites. Severe flooding from glacial lakes has led to dangerous intervention projects. Despite efforts by the government of Nepal, threats of rapidly melting glaciers continue to loom over the Humla District and its people.  

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Whistler Water’s Glacial Appeal

Bottled water companies often use images of nature to entice consumers with the allure of pure, remote sources. Whistler Water, a Canadian bottled water company, boasts that its water comes from a glacier-fed aquifer at the base of the coastal mountain range in British Columbia. The company draws heavily on nature and mountain themes in its advertising and images. Its social media pages brim with photos of hikers atop snowy peaks, lush forests and bubbling streams. Like many companies, however, the environmental content and sustainability promoted by the company belies its plastic products and unsustainable wellspring.

Whistler Water has incorporated sustainability into their company by using 100 percent recyclable bottles and Forest Stewardship Council certified boxes, which indicates the boxes are sourced from responsibly managed forests. However, the company’s steps towards more sustainable resource use do not directly address climate change, which is taking its toll on Whistler Water’s vital resources. According to a study published in 2015, glaciers in Western Canada––including those of the coastal mountain range––are shrinking rapidly. The study projects glaciers in western Canada will lose 70 percent of their volume by the year 2100. Place Glacier, which feeds Whistler Water’s underground aquifer, is among those quickly decreasing in mass.  

GlacierHub caught up with Richard Wilk, professor emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. The branding of bottled water is an area of interest for Wilk, who has published the results of his research on the cultural influences on marketing of bottled water and consumer opposition of the product. He noted that bottled water companies use both nature and technology to provide a sense of cleanliness and safety. Whistler Water for example, uses nature and technology to promote the purity of their products– advertising ancient, untouched glaciers as well as BPA-free, recyclable bottles that make sure their water remains “exactly as nature intended.” Wilk said this was “a great example of how [companies] use nature as a form of authentication and then turn around and use technology as a form of authentication,” stating “nature undoes the danger of technology and technology undoes the danger of nature.”

The Canadian Coastal Mountain Range near Whistler, British Columbia (Source: Wiki Commons/

The emphasis on both nature and technology provides a false sense of security to consumers who would be afraid to drink water directly from the source or even straight from the tap. Wilk explained distrust of public water can be traced as far back as mid-19th century London, to the discovery of cholera spreading via a public water pump. Modern issues such as the contamination of drinking water inFlint, Michigan have only fueled suspicion.

Plastic water bottles have come to dominate the beverage industry. In 2016, bottled water became the most consumed beverage in the US. The global bottled water industry is predicted to be worth $334 billion in 2023, which would be a 55 percent increase from the $185 billion it was worth in 2015. Despite the industry’s success, bottled water remains a controversial product. Wilk told GlacierHub that bottled water usually comes from a public source but is used for private profit, a process with which many take issue. Whistler Water is a prime example of using a public freshwater resource for private gain. As of 2014, British Columbia (where Whistler Water is produced) did not regulate groundwater use, nor did it charge companies for groundwater withdrawals.

Environmental concerns also plague the industry. Whistler Water has tried to create a natural, pure image for themselves, but plastic bottles depict one of waste. In an age where single-use plastics have become cultural ignominies, reusable water bottles have been promoted as a sustainable alternative. Wilk told GlacierHub, “water bottles can be status symbols because you have the money to buy the bottle and you’re conscious of environmental problems.” This month, Whistler Water posted an advertisement to their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages showing a woman refilling her reusable water bottle with a four-liter plastic jug of Whistler Water–the latter undercutting the sustainability that the former could support. While Whistler Water does use 100 percent recyclable bottles, Wilk says this is not a cure-all. His reasoning is that “we know most bottles are not recycled—to say this absolves [Whistler Water] of any responsibility is disingenuous.” 

Plastic bottles choke a stream in Madagascar (Source: Wiki Commons

Whistler Water is not the first bottled water company to use glaciers as a marketing device. The water company Svalbardi sells 80 Euro bottles of polar iceberg water, which derive ultimately from glaciers in Greenland, and Alaska Glacier Products sells bottles of water sourced from Alaska’s Eklutna Glacier. As part of his research, Wilk invited 25 marketing professionals and professors to engage in an activity in which they proposed ways to market water. Among them was selling meltwater from named glaciers and jacking up the price as the glaciers shrunk. As controversial as this marketing technique might seem, companies, including Whistler Water, employ similar tactics. The company says its water comes from “ancient glaciers located high in the alpine peaks of the coastal mountain range just north of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada,” appealing to the consumer with its rare resources.

Glaciers provide drinking water to communities around the globe. But they continue to be threatened by environmental dangers. Waste products of human society, such as carbon dioxide, which warms the atmosphere, and plastic particles that have become ubiquitous are causing glaciers to shrink and have littered their surfaces with plastic. Some community-based organizations in mountain regions have sought to address plastic pollution, including Nepal, which has banned single-use plastics in the region around Mount Everest. As with addressing single-use plastics, combating the threats glaciers face from climate change will also require drastic policy and societal changes. 

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Glacier Retreat Poses Threat to Beer Production

From the southeast to the Pacific Northwest, America has been swept up in the craft beer craze. According to the Washington Beer Commission, Washington State alone is home to 420 breweries. A recent report produced by the University of Washington described the impacts of climate change on Washington State’s cryosphere––or frozen landscapes. The study highlighted the glacier retreat experienced by the state’s Cascade Mountain Range, whose glaciers feed the Yakima River. The river flows into the Yakima Valley, irrigating vast agricultural lands, including 77 percent of hops grown in the US.

The Yakima Valley is described by many as a beautiful oasis in Washington. Sunnier than the rest of the state, it receives an average 300 days of sunshine each year. Agriculture is the predominant land use in the valley, yielding hops, mint, vegetables, grapes used for wine production and more. But the valley’s climate is that of a semi-arid desert, making water sources for its flourishing agricultural sector all the more precious.

Aerial photograph of Yakima Valley, Washington (Source: Wiki Commons/Flickr upload bot)

The Yakima River originates at Keechelus, a glacial lake, and flows down to the Columbia River, contributing to other rivers and tributaries along the way. However, the glaciers that contribute to this important freshwater source are disappearing. The report that came from the University of Washington reviewed the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere to summarize its implications for Washington State. Researchers found that between 1900 and 2009, 56 percent of glacier area in the Cascade Range disappeared. In a 60-year period, spring snowpack in the state has been reduced by 30 percent.

Glacier in the Cascade Range circa 1900 (Source: Wiki Commons/BMacZeroBot)
Queest-Alb Glacier in the Cascade Range, 1998 (Source: Wiki Commons/Ron Clausen)

The implications of glacier retreat and loss of mountain snowpack include impacts to recreation, reduction of water resources, irrigated agriculture and hydropower production. These changes, including warmer winters and decreased snowfall, are also shifting the arrival of peak streamflow. Altering the timing of peak streamflow increases the likelihood of flooding during winter, while decreasing streamflow during the spring and summer months. Reduced water during these seasons would hinder farmers’ ability to grow hops in the Yakima Valley. This is particularly true as demand for irrigation is greater during warmer months and when plants are at the peak of their growing season. 

The hops grown in the Yakima Valley are not only used to produce American-made craft beers, but over half of those grown are exported to other countries. As of 2016, the value of hop crops in Washington totaled $380 million.

The issue of climate change affecting hops production in Washington State does not simply threaten the ability for consumers to have an ice-cold beer in their hand during a hot summer––it threatens livelihoods and the economy. Since Washington contributes significantly to the global supply of hops, the economic effects of reduced hops production would be felt globally. Both hops farmers and beer producers would experience a significant loss from reduced irrigation––and they wouldn’t be the only ones. Wineries in the area would suffer, as would livestock producers and other farmers. Glacier retreat in the Cascades especially threatens the agriculture-dominated economy of the Yakima River Valley. 

Redhook Brewery, an Oregon run company with operations in Seattle, Washington (Source: Wiki Commons/DJC1970)

GlacierHub addressed the potential for climate change to interfere in beer production in an article published in 2018. The story highlighted a climate declaration signed by American beer companies including Sierra Nevada, New Belgium Brewing and many more. With this declaration, “these breweries are showing their leadership and commitment to brewing with the climate in mind.” Among the concerns recognized by these climate conscious breweries is their diminishing water resources. In order to become more sustainable, “they are finding economic opportunity through investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste recapture, and sustainable sourcing.”

For the love of beer, connoisseurs of the craft would be wise to grab an oar––not just for mixing malted hops and barley––but in the upstream paddle for action on the climate crisis.

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Video of the Week: Animation Shows Frequency of Antarctic Calving Events

A new animation of Pine Island Glacier calving events in Antarctica demonstrates the immense power of nature. Adrian Luckman, a satellite imaging glaciologist, produced the GIF that shows not one, but three Antarctic calving events occurring between June 2017 and February 2020. The latest event represented in the animation occurred on February 9 of this year. GlacierHub reported on the lead up to this event in October 2019, after the European Space Agency released a video showing huge cracks in the glacier. The rapid retreat Pine Island Glacier has experienced in recent years has drawn significant attention, which includes a 2018 article published on GlacierHub that highlighted the ice loss experienced by the glacier.

Following the first two calving events illustrated in Luckman’s GIF, the icebergs that broke off from the glacier can be seen moving out into the ocean over many months. Given the recent occurence of the February event, such movements cannot yet be shown. As a result, the GIF provides just a glimpse of the third calving event.

The last recorded calving event from the Pine Island Glacier left icebergs floating in Pine Island Bay off the west coast of Antarctica. According to the Earth Observatory at NASA, the largest iceberg that broke off during the February 2020 event is nearly twice the size of Washington, DC. The monstrous iceberg born this year was named B-49 by the U.S. National Ice Center, which is now tracking the iceberg’s movement. The U.S. National Ice Center is an agency operated by the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and NOAA, which provides environmental intelligence to the federal government.

Image taken by the Sentinel-1 satellite of the B-49 Iceberg (Source: NASA/Earth Observatory)

Pine Island Glacier calving events have increased in frequency in recent years. NASA reports that these events used to take place on four to six year intervals, however, calving of the glacier has become a yearly occurrence. The increase in these events is indicative of the warming water in Pine Island Bay. The relatively warm water is melting the glacier from below, causing the ice shelf to thin and calving to occur. The glacier is also among those experiencing the fastest retreat in Antarctica.

The calving events depicted in the GIF produced by Luckman are just three from a series that according to the U.S. National Ice Center began in 2000. As the Pine Island Glacier continues to thin, there are likely to be more occurrences. Luckman shares many videos, animations and observations with his Twitter followers. Follow him @adrain_luckman to stay up to date.

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Black History Month: Honoring an Arctic Explorer

Nearly 40 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Arctic explorer Matthew Henson became the first African American, and one of the first two humans, to reach the North Pole when he arrived in 1909. Despite the odds stacked against him, Henson’s legacy lives on today through his memoir and Earth features, like Henson Glacier, that have been named in his honor. 

Matthew Henson (Source: Wiki Commons/Robbot)

Henson was born to sharecroppers in Maryland one year after the end of the Civil War. He was forced to grow up quickly after losing his parents at a young age. At just 13 years old he set sail around the world, eventually landing in Washington, DC, where he met a United States naval officer named Robert Peary. Over the next 20 years, Henson would accompany Peary on multiple Arctic missions.

Throughout their years of polar expeditions, Henson assisted Peary in the complete mapping of the Greenland icecap. Henson was honored later in life with a number of awards and commemorations including a special commendation from President Dwight Eisenhower and the Hubbard Medal from the National Geographic Society, which was awarded posthumously.

Less than a decade after reaching the pole, Henson was honored by fellow explorer Knud Rasmussen, who named a glacier after him. Rasmussen was a Danish explorer, born in Greenland, whose journeys across the North American Arctic succeeded Peary and Henson’s expeditions. Rasmussen is thought to be the first person to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled. He is also remembered for documenting Inuit leaders and legends throughout his journeys. Rasmussen named the Henson Glacier during his second expedition from 1916 to 1918.

Map included in Rasmussen’s account of his second expedition (Source: JSTOR)

Henson was already a well-recognized explorer at the time of Rasmussen’s expeditions. In 1912, Henson published an account of his adventures “The Negro Explorer at the North Pole.” In the book, Henson describes how Peary chose only himself and four Inuit to accompany him on the last stretch to the North Pole. Henson wrote, “in extremity, when both the danger and the difficulty were greatest, the Commander wanted by his side the man upon whose skill and loyalty he could put the most absolute dependence.”

Despite the strong bond between Henson and Peary, it was reported that uncertainty over who should be credited for reaching the North Pole first caused a rift between the men. Born into the aftermath of the Civil War and living in an era defined by Jim Crow, recognition of Henson’s achievement was stifled by a racially divided society. Peary was ultimately recognized as having discovered the North Pole and Henson has gone down in history as merely his assistant.

Initially, Henson received very little recognition for his part in Peary’s explorations. Rasmussen named the Henson glacier in 1917, and for a time remained the only real recognition of Henson’s polar contributions. Henson was eventually made an honorary member of the Explorers Club of New York in 1937, which was then followed by recognition from President Eisenhower in 1954, and the Hubbard Medal in 2000.

Henson’s grave marker in Arlington National Cemetery lists him as a co-discoverer of the North Pole (Source: Wiki Commons/FlickreviewR)

Some uncertainty remains surrounding Rasmussen’s motivation for naming the Greenland glacier after Henson in 1917. According to Agata Lubowicka, assistant professor at the Institute of Scandinavian and Finnish Studies at the University of Gdansk, in Rasmussen’s popular account of his expedition, “Grønland langs Polhavet” or “Greenland by the Polar Sea,” there is no mention of the naming of the Henson Glacier.

GlacierHub contacted several researchers familiar with Henson, Peary and Rasmussen who provided their hypotheses:

Henson (center) with Inuit guides (Source: Wiki Commons/DragonflySixtyseven)

Anders Anker Bjørk, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen, explained that it was common practice for explorers to name geographical features over the course of their expedition. “The new place names were often given to celebrate expedition beneficiaries, expedition members, royals, and other explorers and scientists,” said Bjørk, who felt confident in saying that the Henson Glacier was named as a tribute to the explorer. However, Bjørk does not necessarily credit Rasmussen for naming the glacier. He mused that it could have been a member of the expedition that came up with the name or it could have been a local Inuit. Bjørk, who stayed with Henson’s grandson this past summer in Qaanaaq, Greenland, said Henson is known to have been popular among the local Inuit. He also noted the Henson Glacier is not the only one to bear the name, as there are other locations near the glacier, including the Henson Fjord and Henson Valley.

A photograph taken of Henson after his trip to and from the North Pole via dog sled (Source: Wiki Commons/Robbot)

Mark Nuttall, who is an anthropologist at the University of Alberta, also shared his views with GlacierHub. Nuttall explained that Rasmussen did not tend to include his reasoning for naming a place, but instead would simply state in his accounts that he or his colleagues had named a new feature. Nuttall said, “I like to think that he named the glacier after Matthew Henson because, on his way to Peary Land, he came across a letter from Peary near Repulse Harbour.” According to Nuttall the letter is “self-celebratory.” He said the letter contained excerpts including, “[I] Have with me my man Matthew Henson, one Eskimo, 16 dogs and 2 sledges, all in fair condition,” “my furthest north,” and the “arctic work undertaken by me.” Nuttall speculated that Rasmussen may have chosen to honor Henson, as he believed Peary failed to do so. 

American society’s failures to recognize the contributions of African-Americans, like Henson, are the impetus of Black History Month, whose origins date back to 1925. Henson created a legacy not just for himself or African American explorers, but all who push the frontiers of discovery. Matthew Henson broke down barriers to make history, unheralded.

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Congressional Hearing Focuses on Earth’s Changing Cryosphere

On January 15, a panel of earth science and environmental communicators addressed the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology in Washington. Among the experts advising how the United States should be addressing the climate crisis were Heidi Steltzer, a professor at Fort Lewis College in Colorado and a lead author of the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, and Pamela McElwee, a professor at Rutgers University and a lead author of the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

The hearing presented a major opportunity for the scientific community to communicate their research and their concerns to Congress. In the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, climate hearings occur with regularity, however, the attention given to the cryosphere and mountain regions during this set of presentations was particularly noteworthy.

Heidi Steltzer (center) and Pamela McElwee (first from left) testifying in front of the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology (Source: Heidi Steltzer)

The IPCC report, which Steltzer co-authored, highlights the consequences of climate change for the ocean and cryosphere––Earth’s frozen areas. Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of high mountain and coastal communities. Despite the growing threats posed by the climate crisis, the IPCC projects these populations, which number in the hundreds of millions, to continue to grow over the next few decades.

According to the IPCC report Steltzer was involved with, ice sheets and glaciers globally have shrunk within recent decades. The world’s oceans have continued to warm since the 1970s and increased absorption of CO2 has caused ocean acidification. Within the last few decades, warming, melting glaciers, and ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have caused an increase in global mean sea level rise.

Adaptation activities in high mountain regions (Source: IPCC\SROCC)

Steltzer and her fellow panelists presented the findings of the IPCC Climate Change and Land Report as well as related research and climate change concerns. The experts testifying included Steltzer and McElwee, Richard Murray, Deputy Director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, and Taryn Fransen, senior fellow at the Global Climate Program, World Resources Institute.

During her testimony, Steltzer communicated the observed changes to Earth’s cryosphere and commented on climate tipping points. In an interview with GlacierHub, Steltzer explained that the global community largely acknowledges the threat of climate change and there are experts working to address these concerns. However, she cautioned, “we have to recognize that it will take time for the political will to get there and the corporate will to get there too.”

Steltzer emphasized resilience during her testimony, describing how the US can increase its resilience to cope with, adapt to, and reduce the effects of climate change. In an increasingly polarized political landscape, she aimed to make her testimony relatable by advocating for climate resilience. “There was more common ground than I realized,” she told GlacierHub.

Steltzer also drew attention to the “good neighbors” principle––the idea that nations should practice sustainability and enact climate change policies not only for their own benefit, but for neighboring countries and the entire global community. “We should model the behaviors we want to see in the world,” she said.

McElwee, who presented on the IPCC Climate Change and Land Report, also addressed climate change policies in today’s political climate, offering a different perspective than Steltzer’s. Leveling blame at Republicans in Congress for undermining the urgency of climate legislation, she said “One political party wants to do nothing, or at the most, spend money on specific “solutions” like nuclear or carbon capture and storage, funding that would benefit large industries that may support them politically.” McElwee urged the public to read the written statements submitted to Congress, in addition to viewing the recorded testimony, which, she says, will reveal which of the witnesses held to facts and backed their statements with peer-reviewed evidence.

A meeting of the High Mountains chapter of the Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in Lanzhou, China (Source: Ben Orlove)

McElwee hoped her testimony would highlight the need for mitigation and adaptation based climate change solutions. McElwee presented the findings of the IPCC report to show that climate change has already impacted land in significant ways. A key takeaway she wanted representatives to absorb from her testimony was that “land-based solutions can be cost-effective, but they are not a panacea for failing to reduce fuel emissions.”

Steltzer also left the congressional hearing with a feeling of hope, though of a different sort than McElwee’s. She explained to GlacierHub that many of the representatives spoke about sponsoring some sort of climate policy. Steltzer said that she felt honored to contribute directly to these discussions and to represent not only her scientific field, but also her local community. Many of Steltzer’s friends and neighbors in her rural Colorado neighborhood watched the hearing and thanked her for her contribution. She found that it was meaningful to connect the climate change conversation to her community.

Heidi Steltzer front row, left) at a lead author’s meeting for the Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in Kazan, Russia (Source: Ben Orlove)

Steltzer and McElwee concurred on the great value of having scientists speak directly to the public. McElwee emphasized the importance of communicating climate science to government representatives. Explaining why researchers should continue to testify in front of Congress, she said, “I think scientists asked to play this role need to step up and do it, even if it’s not clear how it might advance a science agenda or move the needle on climate change.”

To improve science communication, Steltzer would like to create more speaking opportunities for people who live near glaciers, in high mountain regions, and people whose water source comes from glaciers can speak to their experiences. “I want to see us create a space for people who are living in glacier-dominated regions to speak to their concerns of culture and the changing impacts to their water supply.”

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