Roundup: Swedish Mountain, Glacier Retreat and Glacier Forelands

Hot Weather Melts Sweden’s Highest Peak

From Bloomberg: “This summer’s exceptionally hot weather has seen the south peak of Kebnekaise lose the crown as Sweden’s highest point… The south peak measured 2,097 meters (6,879 feet) above sea level on July 31, down from 2,101 meters on July 2, according to data from the Tarfala research station. The north peak is 2,096.8 meters high, and the research station estimates that it overtook the south peak as Sweden’s highest point on Aug. 1 as the melting has continued.”

Find out more about glacier melting on Sweden’s highest mountain here.

Kebnekaise Mountains on GlacierHub
Kebnekaise Mountains (Source: Swedish Tourist Association).

Melting of Maliy Aktru Glacier Reveals Primary Ecological Succession

In Wiley’s Journal for Ecology and Evolution: “Plants, microorganisms (bacteria and fungi), and soil elements along a chronosequence in the first 600m of the Maliy Aktru glacier’s forefront (Altai Mountains, Russia) were surveyed… Plant succession shows clear signs of changes along the incremental distance from the glacier front. The development of biological communities and the variation in geochemical parameters represent an irrefutable proof that climate change is altering soils that have been long covered by ice.”

Read more about glacier retreat in the Altai Mountains here.

Maliy Aktru glacier’s forefront on glacierhub
Maliy Aktru Glacier’s Forefront (Source: Alexi Rudoy/World Glacier Monitoring Service).

 

Anthropogenic Influence on Primary Succession in Alps

From the 6th Symposium for Research in Protected Areas: “Glacier forelands are ideal ecosystems to study community assembly processes… This study focuses on possible anthropogenic influences on these primary successions. Floristic data of three glacier forelands show that anthropogenic influences in form of (i) grazing sheep and (ii) hiking trails are creating patterns, visible in the floristic community composition and in change of species numbers. (iii) Additionally, it was found that the special protected area ‘Inneres Untersulzbachtal,’ where grazing has been absent for decades didn’t show any of these patterns, underlining the importance of process-protection in glacier forelands, as one of the last truly wild ecosystems in central Europe.”

Discover the anthropogenic influences on primary successions in glacier forelands here.

Alps Glacier Foreland (Source: Brigitta Erschbamer/ Resrach Gate).

New Report Highlights Vulnerability of World Heritage Glacier Sites

A new report entitled “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” highlights the vulnerability of key glacial World Heritage Sites to climate change. The report was coauthored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Since 1972, UNESCO has been protecting more than 1,000 World Heritage sites in 163 different countries, with the goal of maintaining them for  the benefit of future generations, and for all humankind. Most of these sites are iconic tourist destinations, ranging from natural wonders such as Yellowstone National Park, scenic wild landscapes such as the Galapagos Islands, to cultural icons, such as Stonehenge. Many are glaciers and glacial mountain ranges. 

But climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, higher temperatures, habitat shifts, and more frequent and extreme weather events, threaten to quickly and permanently degrade and destroy both the natural beauty and cultural value of these sites. Moreover, climate change exacerbates the effects of other processes which endanger these sites, such as urbanization, pollution, natural resource extraction and, increasingly, poorly managed tourism. 

The report argues that damaging what it calls the “outstanding universal value” of World Heritage sites harms not only the site itself, but also the local communities and economies that depend on these sites for tourism.  

UNESCO and its World Heritage program were both created in a spirit of internationalism. UNESCO was formed following World War II, and in 1972, it created the World Heritage Centre to “encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.” Now, climate change threatens these universally loved sites, as well as their surrounding local communities.

The report details 12 full case studies and 18 briefer “sketches” of the climate change vulnerability of 31 World Heritage properties in 29 countries. Four include glacier landmarks.

Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) Base Camp and Rongbuk monastery. (source: Kartläsarn/Flickr)
Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) base camp and Rongbuk monastery. (source: Kartläsarn/Flickr)

Sagarmatha National Park encompasses the highest point on earth: the peak of Mount Everest. The National Park is listed as a World Heritage site for the abundant natural beauty of its mountains, glaciers, and valleys, and for the cultural significance of local Sherpa culture. One third of the people on Earth depend on glacial melt water from the Himalayas, including water from Sagarmatha. However, glacial retreat caused by rising temperatures are threatening the reliability of Sagarmatha’s water source. Glacier loss in the region also threatens to cause catastrophic landslides, glacial lake outbreak floods (GLOFs), and erosion.

Golden Mountains of Altai, Russian Federation

Pazyryk carpet, found in the grave of a Scythian prince, in Altai Mountains in Siberia. Woven in the 5th century BC (source: Ninara/Flickr)
Pazyryk carpet, found in the grave of a Scythian prince, in Altai Mountains in Siberia. Woven in the 5th century BC (source: Ninara/Flickr)

The Altai Mountains are listed as a World Heritage site for their biodiversity and for the region’s cultural and archaeological traditions. The mountains hold the frozen tombs of the ancient Scythian people, who were documented by ancient historian Herodotus (484-425 BC). Climate change and rising temperatures threaten both threatens the tombs’ preservation, which are remarkably protected by permafrost, and the Altai mountain glaciers.

Huascarán National Park, Peru

Laguna Llanganuco in Huascarán National Park (source: UNESCO)
Laguna Llanganuco in Huascarán National Park (source: UNESCO)

Huascarán National Park rests in Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world’s tropics, and the Park encases Huascarán: the highest peak in Peru. The Park contains incredibly diverse flora and fauna and 660 glaciers, making it a popular tourist destination. The famous Pastoruri Glacier is one of the park’s main attraction, but it may disappear altogether within the next few decades. Since the 1930s, the Park’s glaciers have shrunk by 30 per cent. This poses concerns about water availability for many local communities, as well as for hydropower.

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, Denmark

Boat in Ilulissat Icefjord (Greenland), Denmark. (source: UNESCO)
Boat in Ilulissat Icefjord (Greenland), Denmark. (source: UNESCO)

The Icefjord serves as a major summer tourist destination, where visitors travel to the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, which hangs off of the Disko Bay. In the summer, visitors can hear and see the ice cracking and caving into the bay. Increased temperatures have increased the amount of seasonal ice caving. The glacier is listed as a World Heritage site for its contribution to improving the scientific understanding of glaciology, for its global importance as a geological feature, and for its wild and scenic landscape.

The report stresses the importance of fulfilling the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December of 2015.  The report’s foreword states that achieving the Agreement’s goal of keeping global average temperature rise to well below 2°C is “vital for the future of World Heritage.” It contains as well a number of other specific recommendations which link many stakeholders–local communities, indigenous peoples, policy-makers, tourism agencies, intergovernmental organization and the World Heritage Convention–to monitor, manage and protect these areas. 

In addition to detailing the climate vulnerability of World Heritage sites, the report also details a “clear and achievable” mitigation response. The paper recommends preserving and managing forest and coastal habitats, using World Heritage sites as “learning laboratories” to study resiliency and mitigation management strategies, and increasing visitors’ understanding of and appreciation for World Heritage sites, as well as how climate change affects them.

The report also suggests that in a changing climate, tourism can play a positive role in securing the future of many World Heritage sites by providing an economic incentive to invest in mitigation and adaptation strategies. In this light, glaciers may serve as an important rallying point for climate change mitigation.  Their natural beauty and cultural value can inspire people at the local, national, and international level to take action.

 

Photo Friday: Kazakhs of the Altai Mountains

The Altai Mountains in Central Asia, located where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet, is home to a diverse and intriguing population. Altai is Turkic-Mongolian for golden and this land of vast beauty has several glaciers, including Tsambagarav Glacier pictured below. One particularly interesting population in this region is the Mongolian Kazakh, who tame golden eagles to hunt from the heights of these formidable mountains. Enjoy these photos of Mongolian Kazakhs spending time with family, playing sports and eagle hunting.

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New book measures changes in China’s glaciers

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The Number One Glacier in the mountains outside Urumqi, China, the largest glacier in Xinjiang province. The hydrological resources from glaciers like this one drive development in China’s remote northwest province. (Remko Tanis/Flickr)

In far northwestern China, in the province of Xinjiang, the Altai, Pamir, Kunlun, and Karakorum mountain ranges rise massively out of the earth, creating peaks that rival their famous neighbor to the south, the Himalayas. The mountains are home to some 18,000 glaciers, which have sustained the famous steppe nomadic hordes of antiquity with their annual summer melts into the rivers of the arid region.

These hydrological resources are driving the development of this remote province. A chapter from the recent book, Water Resource Research in Northwest China seeks to quantify the changes occurring to glaciers in Xinjiang.

The chapter’s authors, Zhongqin Li, Puyu Wang, and Meiping Sun, conclude that the region’s glaciers are particularly sensitive to climate change and the warming that has occurred over the past three decades. In “Glacier Change and Its Impact on Water Resources”, the researchers write that 11.7 percent of the total area of glaciers has been lost over that time. And with temperatures projected to increase over the next century by 1.2 degrees Celsius to 3.8, glacier loss is expected to accelerate rapidly.

The loss of glaciers in the region is limited in its impact on the region’s water resources (due to an increase in precipitation). Though the area now receives somewhat more rainfall than it did before, it still suffers because of the loss of glaciers. Glacier meltwater had been an important supplement to rainfall during the dry season, and also during years of below-normal rains, but it can no longer perform this role. Hydropower development is also limited because of the decline in meltwater. Paradoxically, the risk of floods has grown, because occasional pulses of meltwater course down streambeds. Other negative impacts include a higher risk of flooding.

Ultimately, the book does little to identify how changes in the region’s water resources will impact economic and social development in Xinjiang. This is particularly important, because this region—poised to experience economic and industrial development—will face increased demand for water resources at the same time that the supply of these resources will be threatened by glacier retreat.

You can find the chapter here.