A Cap on Climbers at Mont Blanc

As another scorching summer in the Northern Hemisphere comes to an end, alpine hikers are preparing for an unfamiliar tourism restraint on Mont Blanc, the Alp’s highest peak, beginning next climbing season. The mountain, which straddles France and Italy, faces a cap on climbing issued by the French government. This new policy intends to permanently limit the number of mountaineers ascending the 4,810-meter summit from the Royal Route, Mont Blanc’s busiest climbing route which begins in France.

Pointing at the 3842m height of Mont Blanc (Source: Masin/Flickr).

As reported by The Telegraph, the Royal Route is currently used by three-fourths of the adventure seekers who attempt to reach the peak each year. Starting next summer, the French government will half the number of climbers, allowing only 214 climbers per day. This decision was made after a surge of adventure seekers, some ill-prepared for the alpine challenge, resulted in sixteen deaths this past summer. The deaths were largely caused by avalanches and rockfalls during the final ascent, with such hazards likely to increase under the current global warming trajectory.

Mont Blanc, with its magnificent glacial sceneries and relatively climbable, well-marked trail, has become the center of modern alpine tourism since the first ascent of the mountain in 1786. Today it remains one of the most popular climbs in the world, with thousands of tourists traversing its trails and visiting its campgrounds each year. But among landscapes, alpine and glacier environments are increasingly fragile under changing climates. Mont Blanc is not an exception, with the effects of climate change progressively more noticeable.

Arnaud Temme climbs Mont Blanc from a harder route to avoid the “traffic jam” on the overcrowded Royal Route (Source: Arnaud Temme).

“When I repeated climbs [in the Alps] after more than a decade, these changes were very clear,” Arnaud Temme, a geographer at Kansas State University and an experienced climber, shared with GlacierHub. “It is sad when beautiful bright ice is replaced by wide expanses of rock and rubble.”

One of the most popular attractions on Mont Blanc, the glacier Mer de Glace, sits on the northern slope of the massif. Luc Moreau, a glaciologist, recently told The Guardian that the glacier “is now melting at the rate of around 40 meters a year and has lost 80m in depth over the last 20 years alone.” A visible consequence of the retreating Mer de Glace snout is that 100m of ladders have been fixed against newly exposed vertical rock walls for hikers to climb down the glacier.

The Mer De Glace has retreated at least 80 meters in depth over the years. Climbers now have to ascend steep ladders to reach the icy areas (Source: Theodore/Flickr).

As a seasoned climber, Temme talked to GlacierHub about the impact of the changes he has witnessed on the mountain. “I’ve climbed in the European Alps for decades, and there is no doubt that climbing and high hiking routes are getting more dangerous,” he said. “I’ve been in tight spots several times due to glacial retreat or permafrost degradation, and have experienced declines in the quality of routes much more often.” He added that it takes more energy and attention as a climber to cross fields of loose rock than to cross a glacier.

According to Temme’s research and his own experiences of “getting into trouble” on the mountain, the conclusion is clear that conditions are becoming riskier.

“Since the 1990s, guidebook authors and their informants have started describing conditions that are more dangerous for climbers. Increased levels of rockfall were the main culprit— directly linked to climate change and permafrost retreat. Many routes are no longer even described in guidebooks, to prevent climbers from risking their lives on them,” he said.

It is indisputable that the rapid glacial melting and frozen ground thawing are causing a shrinkage of the snowy landscapes. In alpine areas, glacial retreat is always accompanied by more rock exposure. As the stability of the glacier is reduced as it melts, the chance of rocks falling and posing deadly threats to climbers increases. Between 2007 and 2017, more than 570 rockfalls occurred on the Mont Blanc massif, with the number of people killed increasing each year.

Given these risks, the future of alpine tourism looks bleak. Temme thinks glaciers will continue their retreat to higher altitudes. “Glacial tourism in some lower locations will become impossible, and it will become more expensive in others. Alpine climbs involving glaciers will have to be adapted, rerouted and, in some cases, abandoned like others already have,” he said.

Raoul Kaenzig, a climate researcher from the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, told GlacierHub, “Mountains are spaces of freedom and should remain so as much as possible. I would focus on the prevention and the education of the tourists instead of prohibiting access by law. Restrictions measures should be kept only for extreme cases, like Mont Blanc.”

The fragile dynamics at Mont Blanc are also at work in other mountain ranges, Temme warned. For example, the Olympic Mountains in the U.S. state of Washington and the Southern Alps in New Zealand, both popular with climbers, have a great deal of glacier ice and are experiencing substantial climate change. As the planet warms, climbers to the world’s highest peaks will have to adapt to new mountain landscapes and the rising risks associated with glacier retreat.

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Earth in Danger of Tipping into ‘Hothouse’ State, Scientists Warn

Global temperatures, already more than 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial indicators, are projected to rise by at least 0.17 degree Celsius per decade. The heatwaves scorching Europe and rapid glacier melting in Greenland offer further evidence that we should not be complacent about the 2-degrees Celsius cap set by the Paris Agreement. But recently, a team of international researchers led by Will Steffen, a climate scientist from Australian National University, published a major report, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” in PNAS that warns that the climate accords may not be enough to stop Earth from tipping into an irreversible “hothouse” state. 

An alpine glacier in Albert, Canada (Source: Jim Nix/Flickr)

The paper, which attracted broad coverage from dozens of major media worldwide including CNN, BBC, Paris Le Monde, and Sina in China, sparked renewed concerns across the scientific community about thresholds of the Earth system that could lead to a runaway “Hothouse Earth” warming scenario. Among the thresholds discussed, alpine glaciers, such as those in Glacier National Park in Montana, are particularly vulnerable to global warming. What’s more, their melting is likely to trigger uncontrollable chain effects that could lead to “Hothouse Earth.”

Unlike other published papers on global average temperature rise, this paper extended its scope to the broader Earth system and components that could reinforce Earth’s decline once certain thresholds are passed.

Previously, researchers have viewed humans as an external component of this system, which consists of land, oceans, and atmosphere, and includes the planet’s natural cycles such as carbon, water, nitrogen, and phosphorus. In the PNAS article, the authors consider humans an integral component of the Earth system, with the capacity to both affect and respond to the changing climate. As we witness changes in climate, human decisions and actions are evolving as well. Knowing how anthropogenic activities have affected climate may formulate more effective solutions.

The paper presents a theory of how human activities, coupled with a natural “Tipping Cascade,” may lead to a human-driven “Hothouse Earth.” The authors argue that there is a threshold at which Earth’s natural systems can no longer support and withstand human activities. Once this limit is exceeded, abrupt changes will be evident and lead to a chain reaction of impacts. For example, a rise in temperature by 2 degree Celsius will immediately lead to Greenlandic glacier melting, followed by sea level rise. Thereafter, other effects such as changing ocean currents and coral bleaching will also become evident, as these are regulated by an intrinsic, self-reinforcing biogeophysical feedback mechanism within the Earth system.

Global map of potential tipping cascades. Individual tipping elements are color-coded according to estimated temperature thresholds. Arrows show potential interactions. (Source: Steffen et. al).

The predicted domino-like chain reaction will increase the difficulty of reversing these cascading impacts, the authors caution. The melting event of the Greenlandic glaciers is just one event that may push Earth toward a “Hothouse” pathway, moving the Earth system off its trajectory of the past 1.2 million years and toward hotter, irreparable conditions. Eventually, Earth is estimated to become 4-5 degrees Celsius hotter, with 200 foot higher sea levels, making areas of our planet inhabitable to many.

As a default mechanism of the Earth system, the biogeophysical feedback process works to activate significant interactions among different subsystems, such as glaciers, ice-sheets, ocean, forest, wind, rainfall, and others. The subsystems involved are called “tipping elements.” Some negative feedbacks can maintain a given state, while other positive feedbacks are set to drive a transition to a different state. Usually, the processes can balance each other and achieve a relatively stabilized situation. But if the climate thresholds are crossed, the authors argue certain feedbacks will be activated and become harder to predict, pushing Earth further away from its original state.

Glaciers have always been central to the Earth system, and the cascading effects of glacier melting have been consistently on the science community’s radar. The feedback processes involving glaciers and ice sheets work in at least two ways. As Will Steffen elaborated to GlacierHub, one is rather obvious. “If glaciers or sea ice retreat, they uncover darker land or sea, which absorbs more sunlight, warming the regional climate, and causing further retreat of the ice.” he said. “This a positive feedback.”

The other process is more nuanced. “Loss of significant amounts of ice from land-based glaciers and ice sheets can actually influence ocean circulation, which can then have impacts elsewhere on the planet. This is a more complex feedback process and could be positive or negative depending on the situation,” he continued.

The authors present a doomsday scenario but also provide an alternative pathway called “Stabilized Earth.” This requires radical and scalable changes in the relationship between society and the planet. For example, the paper described the need to maintain glacier volume within the Late Quaternary limits to prevent the progression toward a hothouse. At this current juncture, doing nothing is no longer an option to stop the glaciers from melting and achieve stability. Rather, humanity must commit to managing its current activities, stopping the staggering loss of ice, and perhaps even engaging in counteracting measures to neutralize previous impacts on Earth.

The authors also offered a wide range of human activities that are urgently required to hold the ultimate temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius. Steffen believes this is particularly pressing for glaciers. “At these temperatures, most continental glaciers will probably disappear, as perhaps much of the West Antarctic ice sheet, as well as some erosion of marine-grounded ice sheets in East Antarctica,” he said. “A big question is whether the tipping point for the Greenland Ice Sheet would be crossed at a 1.5-2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. It is possible that the tipping point lies in this range, but there is no consensus in the scientific community yet on this. It is a critical issue for further research.”

Two towering icebergs in the freezing waters of Scoresby Sund in Eastern Greenland (Source: Marie and Alistair Knock/Flickr)

Interestingly, the discussion on tipping points is centered on predicting a certain temperature threshold without stating when that temperature threshold might occur. Most of the analysis was also based on a qualitative assessment of the current literature instead of modeling and data analysis, which has sparked some different opinions.

Steffen told GlacierHub, “Experts on each of the individual tipping elements were asked to estimate the vulnerability of the tipping element to a range of temperature increases. The experts, of course, were aware of the relevant literature in their fields, so ultimately based their judgments on their assessments of the peer-reviewed literature.”

Richard Betts, another climate scientist who previously published a paper about the model-based analysis of temperature increases and their association consequences, was consulted by Steffen. After the paper came out in PNAS, Betts offered an overview of the findings and expressed his concerns online about the researchers’ methodology. Still, Betts believes the paper, with its dramatic term “Hothouse Earth,” should serve as a good starting point for further research with modeling and data analysis. “This will help us see better whether ‘Hothouse Earth’ is our destiny, or mere speculation,” Bretts wrote in his article

There is no doubt this “initial analysis,” as the authors put it, will continue to ignite debate and further explorations to narrow the uncertainties and provide actionable suggestions to policymakers.

“We hope the glacial community gets even more support in the future,” Steffen said. “Glaciers and ice are critical parts of the Earth system, and we urgently need to know more about how vulnerable it is to human forcing.”

We are, in short, at a fork in the road. Whether humanity progresses toward a Hothouse or a Stabilized Earth depends on our social and technological trends and decisions over the next decade. Regardless of which path we choose, we will have to bear the consequences of our choices for thousands of years.

 

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Roundup: New Scholarships, Planetary Thresholds and Threatened Glaciers

New Fulbright Scholarships for Quechua Speakers

Translated from La República: “Studying in the United States is possible if you really want it. This is stated by Laura Balbuena, executive director of the Fulbright Commission in Peru, the entity in charge of the educational and cultural exchange between the United States of America and our country… One scholarship offered by the Fulbright Commission this year is aimed at Quechua-speaking professionals. Through the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) scholarship or Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, it is intended that Peruvian graduates who have mastery of the Quechua language – as a first language or learned – are assistants to the chair of this course that are offered in certain U.S. universities.”

Learn more here.

Laura Balbuena, executive director of the Fulbright Commission in Peru, announces scholarships for Quechua speaker in Peru (Source: La República).

 

Crossing Planetary Thresholds

From PNAS: “ If the world’s societies want to avoid crossing a potential threshold that locks the Earth System into the Hothouse Earth pathway, then it is critical that they make deliberate decisions to avoid this risk and maintain the Earth System in Holocene-like conditions…Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. ”

Read more here.

Rock glaciers of the European Alps. Alpine glaciers are considered to be one of the tipping points (Source: M Barton/Flickr).

 

Columbia’s Glaciers Face Extinction

From The City Paper Bogota: “Climate change is taking a devastating toll on Colombia’s glaciers, according to the country’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies – IDEAM. In a study released last month, within the next 30 years, the six remaining glaciers that cover the peaks of Colombia’s Nevados will disappear if the ice continues to melt at current rates.”

Read the full article here.

View of Nevado del Huila in Colombia. Four of Colombia’s six glaciers are found on volcanoes (Source: Joz3.69/Flickr).
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The Curious Case of New Zealand’s Shrinking Glaciers

The Point of No Return

New Zealand’s glaciers showed signs of an unusually severe summer in 2018. Every year, scientists from New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) fly over the Southern Alps of New Zealand to record the condition of the country’s glaciers. This year, they noticed that no snow remained from the previous winter.

Tasman Glacier, New Zealand (Source: Paul Stewart)
Tasman Glacier, New Zealand (Source: Paul Stewart).

New Zealand has 3,200 glaciers, and scientists have been observing these glaciers since the late 1970s. Out of 3,200 glaciers, 50 were selected by glaciologist Trevor Chinn to serve as a sample data set representing all of New Zealand’s alps. Of these 50 glaciers, 30 were unable to retain snow from the previous winter.

The “snow line” is the elevation at which the snow from the previous winter sits above exposed ice, but in 2018 the snow kept melting. In other words, 30 of the mountains were not tall enough to reach the potential “snow line.” Unfortunately, this means that these mountains lost snow which could have potentially become the ice necessary for nourishing these glaciers.

Over one-third of all the snow and ice in the Southern Alps melted in recent decades, with warmer temperatures making it difficult for the mountains to retain snow through the summer. In fact, the total volume of ice has decreased by 34 percent since the late 1970s. The Southern Alps of New Zealand have continuously receded at an uneven pace. Some years the glaciers have receded quicker than other years. However, research indicates that the rate at which glaciers are shrinking has accelerated over the past 15 years.

What Made This Summer so Severe?

The same climate scientists from NIWA and others from Victoria University of Wellington argue that the increase in temperature is being caused by a marine heat wave. This is the first time scientists have made a connection between marine heat waves and glacial retreat. A marine heat wave is characterized by extreme sea surface temperatures (SSTs) that last for several months. However, unlike the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which also has extreme SSTs, marine heat waves are not limited to the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. In fact, marine heat waves have occurred in different locations around the world. It turns out marine heat waves have been around for quite some time, but it is only recently that they have caught the attention of the scientific community.

Marine Heat Wave Map (Source: Nature Communication)
Marine heat wave map (Source: Nature Communication).

According to a recent study, one of the earliest significant marine heat waves on record took place in 2003 around the northwestern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The warm pool reached anywhere between three to five degrees Celsius above the 1982 to 2016 reference period. Since then, there have been a total of seven other significant marine heat waves based on the metrics of the study.

What is truly troubling about the frequency of these heat waves is that three out of the eight significant heat waves happened in 2016 alone. That’s not including the other smaller marine heat waves similar to the one which directly affected the glaciers in New Zealand. There seems to be an increasing trend in marine heat waves around the world.

According to another study, the warming and the frequency could be due to anthropogenic forcing. Eric Oliver of the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University claims that, according to his findings, heat waves in the region are made 53 percent more likely due to human-induced climate change.

The Dangers of Marine Heat Waves

The most significant marine heat wave to date was nicknamed “the blob.” This marine heatwave stretched all the way from Alaska to Panama and got its name from the way its massive heat signature registered on the map. Between 2013 and 2015 this massive heat wave cost the lives of millions of sea stars, over one hundred thousand seabirds, and thousands of sea lions. In June 2015, over a dozen whales died and washed ashore. Similarly, in a single month, 79 sea otters reportedly died. At one point the heat wave even caused a toxic bloom of algae so large that it shut down California’s crab industry.

The video above explains what caused large numbers of sea otters to die during the marine heat wave (Source: National Geographic).

Off the southeast coast of Australia, another heat wave was recorded shortly after “the blob.” According to another study, between 2015 and 2016, Australia had its longest and most intense heat wave ever recorded. It lasted between 251 days, with heat reaching up to 2.9 degrees Celsius higher than normal. This marine heat wave killed off over one-fifth of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef. The same marine heat wave resulted in the worst mangrove die-off in the world. Over 7,000 hectares of mangroves died during that marine heat wave.

Coral Bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef (Source: @robertscribbler/Twitter).

Marine heat waves also have a significant economic impact. A marine heat wave between 2010 and 2013 off the western coast of Australia destroyed 90 percent of the kelp forests in the Great Southern Reef, affecting major fisheries including rock lobsters and abalone fisheries. More recently, the 2016 marine heat wave in the region caused an outbreak of an oyster disease, closing local hatcheries all over the region.

How are Marine Heat Waves Formed?

The term marine heat wave was only coined fairly recently in 2011. Scientists are starting to study the causes of marine heat waves and the extent of their impact on the environment. Some scientists argue that certain marine heat waves are affected by El Niño. For example, “The blob” has been closely associated with the weak 2014-2015 El Niño event. According to studies conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the beginning of the marine heat wave may have started toward the end of 2013 and start of 2014. In 2014, high pressure over the Pacific Ocean led to weaker winds. The winds were unable to bring cooler air from the north which contributed to a slight rise in temperatures in the region. Then, around the middle of 2014, an El Niño event occurred and further intensified the heat wave allowing the warmer temperatures to expand all along the Pacific coast.

On the other hand, Oliver’s research argues that the convergence of heat is somehow linked to the anomalous southward flow of the East Australian Current (EAC) and enhanced kinetic energy which coincided with the 2015 to 2016 marine heat wave off the coast of Australia. The EAC brings warm water down the East coast of Australia into the Tasman Sea.

According to Oliver’s study, a temperature budget, in which “horizontal advection and sea-air heat flux” were also considered, indicated that southward advection was indeed the main cause of the anomalous temperatures. The study goes on the point out that the southward advection was consistent with a stronger southward extension of the EAC. Meanwhile, NIWA forecaster Ben Noll argues that one of the factors that researchers may wish to consider would be the atmospheric pressure. Higher atmospheric pressure in the region keeps the weather conditions calm above the water and fail to produce the winds necessary to churn up cold water from deep in the ocean. This therefore allows warm pools to build up over time.

Researchers and scientists are still trying to understand the causes behind marine heat waves around the world. However, it remains clear that the chances of marine heat waves occurring will continue to increase in the near future, affecting not just marine life but even glaciers.

 

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High Altitude Himalayan Heroes Denied Summit Certificates

Two Sherpas standing atop Denali in Alaska
Two Sherpas on an international climbing expedition to Denali in Alaska (source: Wikimedia Commons).

The beauty and mystique of Mt. Everest has never ceased to capture the world’s imagination, inspiring climbers from all over the globe to test their fitness on the iconic mountain’s south face. For some, reaching the planet’s paramount point is a conquest, one made more enticing by Everest’s unrelenting media attention and its recent commercial availability to Western climbers. For others, especially local Sherpas, the mountain and its growing presence in the adventure tourism industry represents one of few opportunities for seasonal income and food on the family dinner table.

The latest chapter in the long history of climbing on Mount Everest has ended in conflict, provoked by the Nepalese government’s failure to provide Sherpas with summit certificates.  Without certificates to verify successful summits on high altitude peaks, the Sherpas’ ability to financially benefit from climbing expeditions on local mountains may be dramatically reduced.  

In isolated Himalayan mountain towns, the economic stimulus provided by large climbing expeditions can be dramatic, offering Sherpas the opportunity to work alongside international alpinists in hauling gear, fixing ropes and offering all-around support in strenuous high-altitude environments.   The average yearly income in Nepal is $691, according to the United Nations data library, meaning that porters who may earn between $2500 and $5000 in a climbing season are making a major fiscal contribution to their families. Even so, this contribution comes at a steep price, with porters facing major safety risks associated with mountaineering.

Despite being an integral part of Mt. Everest’s climbing history since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent in 1953, Sherpas who successfully summited the peak during the 2016 climbing season were denied summit certificates by the Nepalese Tourism Ministry. In an interview with Tshering Paldourche, a Sherpa from Khumjung, Nepal, he indicated that Sherpas have never been denied summit certificates before the 2015-2016 climbing season.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their historic ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

The controversy over denied summit certificates stems from the Nepalese government’s sudden refusal to recognize the Sherpas as members of international climbing expeditions, prohibiting Sherpas from qualifying for a certificate. The Nepalese Ministry of Tourism’s Mountaineering Expedition Regulation, introduced in 2002, states that “the Ministry shall provide a certificate of mountaineering expedition to the mountaineering expedition team and the member of such team for successful mountaineering expedition in the format as prescribed in schedule 13.” Sherpas lost the privilege of receiving summit certificates during the 2015-2016 climbing season under the schedule 13 rules because they were not officially classified as members of the expedition team.

Even though Sherpas are an integral part of most successful summit bids, many  failed to pay permit fees on Everest last year, which disqualified them as official members of a mountaineering expedition team. Because Sherpas are natives and are working on high-altitude peaks, they’re not required to pay permit fees, meaning that they were left vulnerable following the government’s refusal to supply certificates. Although receiving a summit document often serves as a trophy of sorts for international climbers, for Sherpas the validation means job security and the opportunity to provide a better life for their families.

According to the Himalayan ClubSherpas in search of work who had migrated from Nepal to Darjeeling, West Bengal, offered much of the assistance to Western mountaineers in the early to mid-1900’s. By utilizing summit records and employer’s references, Sherpas were able to develop official resumes to aid in securing employment with future expeditions. In 1928, the Himalayan Club developed a formal method of documenting Sherpas’ climbing records which allowed those with experience to find work with incoming foreign expeditions. Today, without certificates and thus an official record of high altitude summits, Sherpas must deal with the possibility of this longstanding system simply falling apart.  

Sherpa Tshering Paldourche commented “to work with a new company we need proof of a climbing certificate [and] if we don’t have that, then it’s difficult to join other new companies.” Given the long association between climbing and Sherpas, the idea that the Nepalese government is not supporting local porters is perplexing. The Ministry of Tourism failed to comment on questions from GlacierHub regarding the reasoning behind introducing the legislation that prevented Sherpas from receiving summit certificates. The Ministry also failed to answer whether or not a motion to appeal the legislation was underway.

In recent years, with trends pushing toward increased commercialization of the world’s highest peaks, climbing expeditions are in more need for experienced porters than ever before. In 2013, nearly 4 times as many climbers reached the top of Mount Everest as in 1995, according to Richard Salisbury at the Himalayan Database. This increase equates to more climbers on the mountain, more permit fees and more revenue generated from tourist flow than in the past.

Revisions to permit regulations in the Royalties for Foreign Climbers document enacted on January 1st, 2015 ultimately increased the individual cost for a permit, and thus increased the cost of expeditions in some cases by as much as $5000 per person. With the money from foreign teams climbing 6500 meter (and taller) peaks, a question remains regarding who gets the privilege of capitalizing upon the growth of high altitude mountain tourism. The current state of affairs does not favor the Sherpa community despite their critical role in shouldering the burden of increased high altitude traffic.  

Sherpas at Home
A Sherpa family together at home (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Despite the certificate conflict becoming a new issue, previous climbing seasons on Everest have hardly been problem free. The 2014 climbing season on Everest came to an early halt following an avalanche in the Golden Gate area that killed sixteen Sherpas who were working to establish fixed ropes and ladders at crevasse crossings. The following season, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April resulted in large avalanches on Everest killing numerous Sherpas and international climbers alike.

Around 350 to 450 Sherpas work above base camp in an average climbing season, according to the Himalayan Database,  meaning multiple seasons with such tragic losses represent a staggering mortality rate for the risk-taking porters on the high mountain. When factoring in the 2015-2016 issues with summit certificates, the last few years on the world’s highest peak have seen the hardworking Sherpa climbers marginalized and left in harm’s way in the wake of unpredictable natural disasters.  

Thinking of the future, Sherpa Tshering stated that the issue of being denied a summit certificate on Everest “will change my mind negatively climbing mountains.” Given the extremely dangerous nature of working on 6500 meter+ peaks, the denial of summit documentation for sherpas like Tshering may dramatically affect the nature of Himalayan mountain tourism in the near future, with some Sherpas refusing to assist international climbing partners until their rights are recognized.

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Roundup:The Melting World, Frozen Stories and Ice Artifacts

Alpine glaciers have already begun to disappear worldwide

As world temperatures soar, public outcry has focused on the threat to polar ice sheets and sea ice. Yet there is another impact of global warming—one much closer to home—that spells trouble for Americans: the extinction of alpine glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. The epicenter of the crisis is Glacier National Park, Montana, whose peaks once held one-hundred-and-fifty glaciers. Only twenty-five survive. The Park provides a window into the future of climate impacts for mountain ranges around the globe.

The Alps, Andes, Cascades, Rockies, and Himalayas are suffering staggering losses. Glaciers provide more than fifty percent of our freshwater needs worldwide—for drinking, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. What’s more, alpine ice feeds innumerable watersheds that harbor ecosystems crucial to fish and wildlife. Nowhere is this truer than in the mountains of Montana.

Glacier National Park, Montana by Siva Subramanian Vasanth
Glacier National Park, Montana by Siva Subramanian Vasanth Photo from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/siva_vasanth/

Read more about the story, click here.

 

FROZEN STORIES – Discoveries in the Alpine glaciers

Climate change also has its archaeological aspect. It can bring to light what has been hidden under glacial ice for a very long time. Ötzi was not the only lucky find of the last decades. Many other objects have been exposed from the ice,recounting exciting stories from a distant past. And every new discovery gives rise to the question: What was it that drove people onto the glaciers for thousands of years?

FROZEN STORIES is an exhibition of rare and in some cases only recently discovered finds from the glacier regions of the Alps, some of them appearing in public for the first time.A multimedia tour with animations, videos and original finds explains the glacier phenomenon to visitors in all its exciting topicality.

Read more about frozen story,click here.

 

Swiss rush to find ice artifacts as glaciers melt

“With Swiss glaciers expected to melt away within a half-century, a Swiss cultural institute and a graduate student in the canton (state) of Graubuenden have launched a pilot project through the end of 2015 to gather artifacts trapped long ago in the ice that are now turning up. The clock is ticking, they say, because once the ice melts away the items will no longer be preserved. Leandra Naef, who has a master’s degree in prehistoric archaeology, told Swiss news agency swissinfo.ch that the project in eastern Switzerland’s mountains “has to happen now, or else it will be too late, if it’s not already too late.

Upper snows of the Jungfraufirn near Jungfraujoch. File photo. Image by: Tallin/ Wikipedia
Upper snows of the Jungfraufirn near Jungfraujoch. Image by: Tallin/ Wikipedia Photo: http://www.timeslive.co.za/scitech/2014/06/24/swiss-rush-to-find-ice-artifacts-as-glaciers-melt

 

Read more about glaciers melt, click here.

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