“High up in the Andes, La Rinconada is a place where people go to seek whatever fortune they can muster in the gold mines nestled there. Delano describes it as a place with no running water or sewage system, populated by about 30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. It is a place, Delano says, where ‘for over 500 years, La Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty) has attracted first the Inca, then the Spanish. For decades, artisanal miners, mostly indigenous Quechua and Aymara, have followed a receding glacier up the valley hoping to find the mother lode, burrowing deep inside the mountain at over 17,700 feet.’”
Animated Netflix film features Andean glaciers and environmentalism
“14 years in the making, Pachamama, Juan Antin’s animated tale about a 10-year old Andean boy’s journey to reclaim his village’s irreplaceable treasure, premieres today on Netflix. Set during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and their South American incursions, the Cesar Award-nominated film is Antin’s homage to the indigenous cultures of the Andes, and takes its name for the concept of ‘Pachamama,’ both an earth mother goddess figure as well as a more general concept of living in harmony with the Earth, akin to the idea of ‘Mother Nature.’”
Swiss glacier provides a home for an experimental lunar habitat
After their inaugural 2019 campaign, Igluna, coordinated by the Swiss Space Center, is running their 2020 program to enable teams of students across Europe to work on technology that would help sustain human life on the moon. As in 2019, the technology will be tested in a Zermatt glacier.
“IGLUNA 2020 is an international student project to build a space habitat demonstrator for sustaining life in an extreme environment. Not only does it demonstrate technologies of the future, but also a new way of collaboration across universities, industry and the space community – while forming students in applied project work. In one year, student teams from various disciplines and different countries across Europe develop their demonstrator modules. Their common objective: to integrate the projects together in a test bed in Switzerland in July 2020. Through international collaboration and interdisciplinary team work, the students gain practical experience in project management, build life-long networks, and kick-start their careers.”
For many people, climate change feels like a distant threat—something that happens far away, or far off in the future. Scientists and climate communicators often think that if everyone saw the devastating impacts of climate change, we’d all be more likely to accept it as real, and that accepting climate science is essential to taking action against it. A new study, published this month in Regional Environmental Change, challenges the latter part of this assumption.
The study examined decision-making in three places affected by melting glaciers. For these communities in the Italian Alps, the Peruvian Andes, and the US’s North Cascades, glacier retreat is a visible fact—“and the causes of glacier retreat are almost exclusively warming,” explains lead author Ben Orlove, an anthropologist and co-director of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. (Orlove is also the managing editor of GlacierHub.)
Orlove and his colleagues wondered whether the people who live in the three locales notice these changes, whether they understand them to be the result of climate change, and whether this climate connection motivates them to take action.
They found that people in these villages are indeed aware of climate change and are even taking action to adapt to it. But the villagers don’t often talk about climate change as a motivation for adapting. Instead, they’re more likely to look closer to home for reasons to respond to the changing environment, focusing on how the responses can benefit their communities. The study suggests one potential way to reframe the conversation around climate adaptation and make it more appealing.
Exploring different frames of mind
Orlove’s team looked at the frames of thinking that mountain-dwellers use to understand the changes happening around them. Mental “frames” help us sort new information and reconcile it with our previous knowledge and beliefs. For example, says Orlove, “If a hydropower plant in the Italian Alps doesn’t get enough water to generate electricity, what kinds of associations do the villagers make when they think or talk about these changes?”
The team examined how mountain-dwellers utilized two frames when talking about glacial retreat. The first was a climate change frame that focuses on global changes and the need for global solutions. The second was a community frame emphasizing action at a local level and recognizing positive opportunities for local advancement, in addition to the negative challenges of environmental change.
By analyzing peoples’ speech patterns during in-depth interviews, focus groups, and in records of community meetings, the researchers investigated how often people in the mountain communities used these two frames when talking about the impacts of climate change.
Different regions, different challenges, similar framing
The study found that villages in all three research sites are undertaking actions that could be described as adaptations to climate change. However, the communities themselves don’t always think of their actions that way. The authors present three cast studies.
Tourism in the North Cascades
Glaciers, rivers, lakes, and snowpack draw tourists to the slopes of Mount Baker in Washington State, providing the major source of income for the towns of Concrete and Glacier. But those natural resources are at risk as the planet’s temperature climbs.
Orlove’s team argues that these communities in the North Cascades are adapting to glacial retreat by finding ways to expand other forms of tourism. One example is through festivals that celebrate historical heritage and wildlife, and help to bring the community together.
A firemen’s muster during the Cascade Days festival in Concrete, Washington. The study authors argue that festivals like this help to attract tourism independent of the area’s disappearing glaciers, and thus could be considered an adaptation to climate change. (Source: Ben Orlove)
However, Concrete and Glacier residents rarely used words associated with the climate change frame when describing the changes or the local response. Instead, they use a community frame, emphasizing the importance of bolstering tourism and supporting livelihoods and the next generation.
“These kids who get out of high school, there’s not much for them to do except go out of town and find a job in [the nearby town of] Mount Vernon or Seattle,” said one interviewee. “Some of them of course go to college, but probably the majority of them don’t. So there’s no real way to make a livelihood up here. We’re dependent on tourism.”
Hydropower in the Italian Alps
As glaciers in the Italian Alps shrink, river levels are declining, reducing the ability of hydropower plants to generate electricity. To keep up with demand, the villages of Trafoi, Stilfs, and Sulden have installed biomass generators that burn wood chips to generate electricity, and the extra heat gets piped into homes.
The researchers found that although residents sometimes describe the wood chips as a renewable resource — a term from the climate change frame — they’re more often to rely on the community frame. Many villagers mentioned liking the wood heat for its coziness, and emphasized that that the wood chips are a local resource that supports local independence. Others mentioned the next generation, noting that the wood chip industry provides local jobs and that the pipes have provided conduits to install fiber optic cables; both of these encourage younger people to stay in their communities rather than seeking a future elsewhere.
Water in the Peruvian Andes
The village of Copa in the Peruvian Andes is also watching its water supply fall. Meanwhile, its need for water has only increased, as warmer temperatures and irregular rainfall make crop irrigation more important.
To adapt to these changes, Copa has upgraded its water infrastructure to reduce water leakage. It is using concrete to line the canals that carry water from the river, and building pipe systems to bring water into homes instead of hauling buckets from the canal. As with the previous examples, these developments are most often seen through a community frame, with a focus on how the modern water system earns recognition for the village. “They speak with pride of the village square,” says Orlove, “with piped water giving it a more urban look.”
By the numbers
Using both human judgment and computer keyword analysis, Orlove and his team analyzed how often people in these communities referred to environmental changes, whether they attributed these changes to climate change, and whether they described their activities as adaptive responses to the ongoing changes.
They found that the villagers frequently talk about climate change impacts. In interviews, focus groups, and community meetings, changes in ice, water, socioeconomic changes, weather, and agriculture come up in about 13 percent of conversation turns (defined as the words that one person speaks without interruption). “In other words,” the paper notes, “they do not find climate change hard to see.”
However, people linked these alterations to climate change in only 4 percent of the conversation turns, and they describe their actions as adaptive responses in only 5 percent of conversation turns. Overall, people were five times more likely to refer to the community frame than the climate change frame (4.83 percent versus 0.93 percent).
Reframing the conversation
In each of the case studies, communities see the effects of climate change and take steps to address the impacts. Yet they do all of this without making much use of climate change terminology. While the villagers believe in climate change and do occasionally bring it up in conversation, the community is more relevant for them.
To Orlove and his colleagues, this challenges the notion that people need to ‘believe’ in climate change in order to take action against it. Furthermore, the authors write, “it could be argued that the community frame is more effective than the climate change frame because it emphasizes ‘co-benefits’ of adaptation” — such as protecting local resources from outsiders, retaining control over energy production, and increasing one’s connection to their community.
The findings emphasize that climate change communication should be more of a dialogue than a one-way conversation, and that scientists can learn a great deal from the communities they work with.
“It’s not that the only solutions are found in these locally organized communities,” says Orlove, “but people have not often looked for resources there, and when you do, you’ll see that there is social capital. People value their town, and they know each other and interact. They care about their environments and about their communities. We can recognize that as a resource that shouldn’t be overlooked at a time when climate needs far exceed available funds.”
This ability of people to engage with their neighbors and to craft solutions they care about could be helpful outside of mountain villages as well, says Orlove. “If we see self-organizing here, can we see self-organizing in other places, like in New York?”
This article originally appeared on State of the Planet, a news site for Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
The objective of a series of workshops on the Andean region is to generate learning, synergies, and develop inputs for the promotion of multipurpose projects (PMP) at the local-regional level that integrate management of water resources and risk management in a context of climate change. The workshops, titled “Exchange of experiences to promote multipurpose water projects as a measure of adaptation to climate change and risk management in mountain areas,” are organized by the Glaciers Project +.
Officials from Chile, Colombia, and Peru who work on issues related to climate change, energy, and water will meet to identify conditions for scaling up PMPs in the Andean Region and other territories. The workshops are expected to generate a roadmap for regional exchange on the PMPs.
Among the topics to be discussed during the two days of the workshops will be the problem of water in the Andean region, which will focus on the consensual construction of the multipurpose approach to adaptation to climate change, management of water resources and disaster risk in the framework of the NDCs. Discussions will also occur focusing on implementing PMP initiatives.
The workshops will be held in the cities of Bogotá and Santiago, the first of which will be held on April 9 and 10 in the Council Room of the Faculty of Rural and Environmental Studies of the Pontifical Javieriana University in Colombia. The workshop in Santiago will be held on May 2 and 3 at the facilities of the National Irrigation Commission.
Peru’s National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM) is taking steps forward in developing the country’s National Policy for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, one of its principal mandates. INAIGEM recently published an article in its institutional journal titled, “Specific Guidelines for Formulation of the Proposal for the National Policy of Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems of Peru,” which serves as the first publicly available content that could be included in the final policy. The goal of the document is to support INAIGEM and the Ministry of Environment with an initial framework for subsequent policy development. Meanwhile, it also aims to set a foundation for an inclusive policy-making process that is representative of the people and landscapes within its purview.
As a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow and then consultant for CARE Peru, I produced this document in collaboration with INAIGEM’s leadership and diverse external stakeholders. To generate its content, I interviewed a variety of experts across government agencies, NGOs, and academia, did a case study of local community perspectives via surveys in the field, and then translated their responses into its policy lines. Meanwhile, via a database I built, I analyzed existing normative environmental structures in Peru on international, national, and subnational scales to determine how a new policy for glaciers and mountain ecosystems would integrate with, complement, or fulfill said structures.
Although there are a number of normative environmental mechanisms that incorporate some aspect of glaciers or mountain ecosystems across Peruvian governance, there is no specific apparatus for such topics despite their critical importance to human well-being and economic production. Being that there are many sectors and populations that depend on glaciers and mountain ecosystems in a variety of ways, disjointed management of these landscapes has been a major problem. Thus, with the creation of INAIGEM in December 2014, the government determined the policy will be a necessary tool to ensure the sustainable management of glaciers and mountain ecosystems for populations that live within or benefit from them.
INAIGEM’s leadership recognized that developing the policy and its subsequent implementation must be a collaborative effort for it to achieve positive socio-environmental outcomes in the Andes. According to former executive president, Engr. Benjamín Morales, “A national policy must be made with national participation … I believe that being a policy, the most important part is the country. The country must intervene. The whole Ministry [of Environment] and the other ministries should be involved in this policy.”[ Engr. Morales’s sentiment was based on avoiding a lack of buy-in across institutions, which is characteristic of Peruvian bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, INAIGEM’s heads of research activities echoed Engr. Morales’s point. Former Director of Information and Knowledge Management Engr. Ricardo Villanueva emphasized, “It is not only about doing isolated activities, but to develop an integrated and coordinated strategy of action for different institutions with interests in glaciers and mountain ecosystems.” As an example of the need for greater institutional coordination and integration, Engr. David Ocaña, the former head of research on mountain ecosystems said, “I think a policy is necessary because there are many gray areas between institutions. For example, [there are] gray areas between ANA and INAIGEM or with the Ministry Agriculture. The policy is going to be a tool that may not so much eliminate these gray areas but it will be clearer for each actor what their role and function is within what is glaciers and mountain ecosystems.”[
The need for clarity and coordination across institutions is a reflection of how multifaceted a Peruvian policy for glaciers and mountain ecosystems must be. There is a regional trend in developing such normative frameworks; for example, with Argentina having its law for protecting glaciers while Chile is developing a policy for mountains. However, Peru’s aim for the policy is unique in the region in terms of mountain-centered normative frameworks. For instance, it must be every bit about forests as glaciers to reflect the dramatic and diverse montane landscapes where glaciated peaks and tropical cloud forests can neighbor each other. Furthermore, the policy must address the country’s notorious tendency for major natural disasters in the Andes as well as an uncertain future in the face of climate change. INAIGEM’s area for intervention is anywhere 1,500 meters in altitude and above, therefore there are numerous issues that the policy will need to incorporate across varying environmental, social, and economic dimensions.
Thus, this initial document aims to be as holistic and comprehensive as possible in covering such dimensions and comes in the form of a potential national policy. Its framework has policy lines that address necessary outcomes across Peru’s diverse mountain landscapes, with four specific policy axes:
and Conservation of Glaciers and Andean Water Resources
and Sustainability of Mountain Ecosystems
Capacity Against Climatic, Geological, and Glaciological Risks
Knowledge, and Socio-Environmental Andean Culture
Within each axis, there are general objectives that link to more specific policy lines. The policy lines were constructed in a coordinated and integrated fashion, with the intention of being transversal within the framework as well as with the existing normative environmental mechanisms of the country. The next steps for developing the policy will be to secure appropriate funding then carry out public consultations to engage various interested stakeholders throughout the country to assure that the end result is representative of their needs and generates applicable solutions to many complex problems. Such consultations should ensure that the policy is human-centered, with a specific focus of strengthening the rights and resilience of marginalized Andean populations. Dr. Jorge Recharte, the director of the Andes Program for the Mountain Institute highlighted that, “Peru is a cradle … of several civilizations centered on issues [within the] mountains … The concept of mountains has … a deep historical value in Peru … Peru needs to generate a mountain policy [that] … has to do with values of the country and has to do with … the identity of the nation.”
Once a final policy proposal is complete, it needs approval from the Ministry of Environment and then the Council of Ministers of the Presidency. Hopefully with their backing, the policy can help generate the necessary political will to acknowledge and address the many problems that pertain to glaciers and mountain ecosystems in Peru. Engr. Villanueva emphasized this as he warned, “If the politicians who make decisions are not aware of the importance of glaciers and mountain ecosystems … investments that are required to be made at the level of these territories will be very limited.”
“Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) pose a significant, climate change-related risk to the Mt. Everest region of Nepal. Given the existence of this imminent threat to mountain communities, understanding how people perceive the risk of GLOFs, as well as what factors influence this perception, is crucial for development of local climate change adaptation policies. A recent study, published in Natural Hazards, finds that GLOF risk perception in Nepal is linked to a variety of socioeconomic and cultural factors.”
“Amid the tropical Andes of Peru lies the Cordillera Blanca mountains, home to more tropical glaciers than anywhere else on Earth. This range provides water to some 95 million people. Rising temperatures over the last several decades, however, mean its once abundant glaciers are vanishing rapidly. That’s impacting the water supply of downstream communities, which are becoming increasingly dependent on soil moisture.
In an innovative study published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment, researchers used drones to obtain high-resolution images of the valleys left behind as Cordillera Blanca’s glaciers recede. As the drones pass over these “proglacial valleys,” they can produce highly accurate maps of the soil moisture within the fields, rivers, wetlands, and meadows below.”
Heavy Snowfall and the Threat of Avalanches in Switzerland
“In January, officials dropped a series of controlled explosives to set off avalanches on mountains near the Moiry Glacier in southern Switzerland due to an increased amount of snowfall during the month. Communities are directed to stay inside (or preferably go into a basement) while the avalanches are triggered and close all shutters. Controlled avalanches are intended to reduce the severity of an avalanche as well as collateral debris from an avalanche, making it safer for adventurers to romp around the backcountry. The use of explosives to mitigate avalanche risk is used throughout many mountain communities, especially when areas experience above average snowfall.”
Amid the tropical Andes of Peru lies the Cordillera Blanca mountains, home to more tropical glaciers than anywhere else on Earth. This range provides water to some 95 million people. Rising temperatures over the last several decades, however, mean its once abundant glaciers are vanishing rapidly. That’s impacting the water supply of downstream communities, which are becoming increasingly dependent on soil moisture.
In an innovative study published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment, researchers used drones to obtain high-resolution images of the valleys left behind as Cordillera Blanca’s glaciers recede. As the drones pass over these “proglacial valleys,” they can produce highly accurate maps of the soil moisture within the fields, rivers, wetlands, and meadows below.
Historically there has been “very little understanding” of how water circulates in areas like proglacial valleys, Jorge Recharte, director of the Andes program at the Mountain Institute, told GlacierHub.
The study’s lead author, Oliver Wigmore of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said his team’s findings help to improve understanding of proglacial hydrology. “This data … is providing unique insights into the patterns and processes that move and store water within these dynamic proglacial environments,” he said.
This study is the first to apply drone images to the temperature vegetation dryness index (TVDI) method. TVDI demonstrates the relationship between land surface temperature and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), which measures an area’s greenness, or density of vegetation, which can then be used to determine soil moisture.
Anais Zimmer, a Ph.D candidate in the department of geography and the environment at the University of Texas, Austin, said the study offered “excellent outcomes on surface and subsurface hydrological processes that could be used at a broader scale and applied to many other sub-disciplines to understand the functioning and the future of alpine ecosystem services.”
The researchers found that soil moisture varied drastically over very short distances. “The unique, high-resolution multispectral drone imagery that we collected has provided an unprecedented snapshot of the spatial variability of surface soil moisture within these systems,” said Wigmore.
Drones are essentially the third generation of technology to be used in scientific research. First were direct measurements, which cannot be accurately generalized over such a variable area. Then came remote sensing using satellites, which provides averaged data over larger areas, but would likely miss any important variability happening on a smaller scale. For this study, researchers used two types of drone-mounted cameras: one to measure greenness, an indicator of plant health, and a second to record temperature.
“[The images] provide excellent tools to establish comparisons between valleys, depending on land use changes and climatic factors,” Zimmer said.
Wigmore and his team conducted their survey in two proglacial valleys in the Cordillera Blanca that were markedly different from each other in terms of precipitation level, glacier extent, land cover, and land use. The researchers found that soil moisture variability across the Cordillera Blanca’s proglacial valleys can be attributed to three criteria: distance from local water supplies; the type and abundance of vegetation; and soil disturbance such as animal grazing.
“We have found that the proglacial valleys in Cordillera Blanca often have substantial groundwater reservoirs that regulate dry season stream flow by storing and gradually releasing wet season precipitation and glacial meltwater,” said Wigmore. He added that knowing the groundwater storage capacity of these valleys could help minimize negative impacts of meltwater decline on downstream communities.
“Research in these high landscapes is key to planning for both local impacts in the short term and whole-watershed impacts in the long term,” Recharte said.
Zimmer emphasized the need for enhanced monitoring, modeling, and case studies that might help to better predict the impact of climate change in mountain communities.
Around the world, many glaciers have already reached peak discharge, which threatens the freshwater supplies of downstream communities. The study by Wigmore and his team not only provides an unprecedented look into the hydrology of proglacial valleys, it also provides a glimmer of hope that not all is lost, at least for now. Their results document the enormous water-storage potential that lies beneath the surface of proglacial valleys, but also highlights the extreme vulnerability of these ecosystems.
Turbio Glacier is at the headwaters of Argentina’s Turbio River and flows into Lago Puelo. The glacier descends east from the Chile-Argentina border at 1,500 meters, descending into a low-slope valley at 1,300-1,000 m.
In 1986 the glacier terminated at the southeast end of a buttress at the junction with another valley (red arrow in the image above). The glacier was 4.3 kilometers long and was connected to a headwall segment that extends to 1,500 m. There is no evidence of a lake at the terminus of Turbio Glacier.
Across the divide in Chile, the glacier, seen with a pink arrow in the above image, has a length of 3 km. In 1998 the retreat from 1986 has been modest and no lake has formed at Turbio. Across the border in Chile the glacier has divided into two sections.
By 2017 Turbio Glacier has retreated exposing a new lake. The glacier is essentially devoid of retained snowpack, illustrating the lack of a significant accumulation zone that can sustain it. Across the border in Chile the glacier has nearly disappeared with the lower section revealing a new lake and little retained snowpack indicating it cannot survive.
By 2018 Turbio Glacier has retreated 1.3 km, which is over 30 percent of its total length in 32 years. The glacier is separated from the headwall glacier, which can still shed avalanches onto the lower glacier. It is possible that with additional retreat another lake will be revealed in this valley. The substantial retreat here is comparable with that of nearby Argentina glaciers such as Pico Alto Glacier and Lago Cholila . The retreat is greater than on Tic Toc Glacier to the southwest in Chile.
UNESCO recently published a report which addresses the effects of global warming on the glaciers of the Andes. The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas examines the changing climate patterns across western South America, as well the historical and projected rates of retreat of important glaciers in the region. Increased melting will impact societies reliant on glaciers for water resources. The eventual loss of glaciers presents a challenge for countries to address.
The Andes are the longest continental mountain range in the world, spanning the western edge of South America through several countries. These mountains are considered to be the water towers for the surrounding populations. They provide water to about 75 million people living within the Andes region and 20 million downstream along surrounding rivers. The Andes continue to have a significant influence on local cultures and economies. The impending loss of these glaciers may cripple dependent communities, industries, and various sectors across South America.
Key Messages and Future Projections
The atlas identifies several key messages essential for discerning the changes in the Andes. Projections indicate that temperatures in the tropical Andes could increase between 2°C and 5°C by the end of the 21st century. The recent IPCC SR1.5 report emphasized the devastating effects of just 1°C of warming, such as extended periods of drought and extreme global heat events. The Andes will likely experience increasingly hotter years with warming driving further glacier retreat.
The report notes that changes in precipitation are harder to project than temperature changes. Nonetheless it presents serious concerns for some regions across the Andes. The atlas refers to the IPCC for precipitation projections. In the southern Andes region, precipitation will greatly decrease by the end of the century, including Chile and Argentina in particular. These regions will likely experience drought events, and loss of glaciers may be devastating to the environment and its people.
Scientists have also observed rapid retreat in glaciers in the tropical Andes, as well as lower-altitude glaciers. According to the atlas, one glacier which remains in Venezuela will likely disappear by 2021. Many large tropical glaciers exist in Peru, including Quelccaya Ice Cap, which may disappear by 2050 at the current rate of warming. Glaciers are also quickly retreating in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. This retreat and volume loss of glaciers is “locked in,”and glaciers will continue to retreat no matter what. Even with a moderate level of emissions, the IPCC projects that barely a fifth of the glaciers will remain by the end of the century, with some reduced to barely 3 percent of their current size.
Impacts of Retreating Glaciers
The loss of glaciers and glacial meltwater is inevitable. As warming continues, a majority of glaciers will soon experience “peak water” (which occurs when melting exceeds new mass accumulated by snowfall), likely within the next 20 years. Many tropical Andes glaciers already reached peak water in the 1980s and have been outputting less water since. Although many countries will benefit from peak water, the aftereffects of less meltwater outflow will heavily strain the available water supply.
Bolívar Cáceres, a specialist of the tropical Andes who worked on the atlas, told GlacierHub about some of the effects of glacier retreat and possible methods for adapting to water scarcity. “One of the indirect effects of long-term melting in communities is the reduction of visitors. Since glaciers no longer exist in some places or become very difficult to climb, tourists are currently opting out and most likely will go to other places in the future,” he said. This will affect local economies that depend on tourism flow and the resources generated. As for adaptation, Cáceres believes that promoting technologies in agriculture and livestock areas to better manage water resources is essential for sustainability.
Water quality will also be affected by the loss of glaciers. Bryan Mark, an expert on Andes and Peruvian glaciers, added: “Recently glacier-free landscapes feature lots of unconsolidated materials that tend to result in more sediment laden, erosive, and ‘flashy’ discharge streams.'” Sediment pollution presents a number of problems for the water supply, including degrading the quality of drinking water for locals and their livestock. Mark also highlighted the importance of diversifying water reservoir resources, utilizing groundwater, small dams, and precipitation capture as alternate water resources.
Efficacy and Practicality of Policy Recommendations
The atlas examines the significance of glacier retreat on communities. It provides policy recommendations for countries to sustainably secure future water availability. Some examples include implementing preventative measures for natural glacier-related hazards and developing climate services for water resource management. Although these recommendations are intended to provide direction towards sustainable water supply management, there are concerns of clarity, implementation, and effectiveness of these policies.
Dirk Hoffmann, an expert on glaciers in high mountain ecosystems, commented on the effectiveness of the policy recommendations on communities. “The policy recommendations are all very interesting, but on the whole seem to be somewhat too general as to be useful to specific decision maker,” he said. Hoffmann views the recommendations as well intended and believes the atlas to be effective in raising awareness of these issues. In a practical sense, however, they are too far removed to help decision makers, he said. A clear indication as to whom these recommendations are directed towards would be beneficial.
Mark Carey, an expert of the Peruvian Andes, shared similar thoughts on the effectiveness of these recommendations. Carey stated that the lack of social science and humanities research on vulnerability and unequal impacts of shrinking glaciers is an issue. “Vulnerability is framed in ways to conceptualize homogenous ‘affected populations,’ such as those in agriculture or urban areas, rather than understanding the complicated social divisions and power imbalances embedded in the diverse social groups,” he said. Carey added that although the science is necessary, the complex human dimensions of climate change adaptation are essential.
The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas recognizes the importance of improving interactions between science and policy, bringing awareness of key issues surrounding the loss of glaciers in the Andes. This is a major step towards successful adaptation; climate scientists, social scientists, and policymakers will need to collaborate to effectively allocate resources for sustainable management of the challenges associated with glacier retreat.
This week’s video features the passion project of Quechua activist Irma Alvarez to preserve the Quechua tradition through orality and writing. Quechua refers to the original group of languages spoken by the Incan Empire in the Andes Mountains. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, use of the language was suppressed as the indigenous groups were indoctrinated to Catholicism and the Spanish language. Quechua is a linguistic family wherein distinct dialects vary from community to community.
Despite the lack of printed material written in the Quechuan language, indigenous peoples clung to their mother tongue. It is estimated around ten million people still speak it across five South American countries today. Without literacy, however, the language is vulnerable to extinction. Alvarez is on a mission to teach Quechuan speakers how to read and write in their native language by increasing access and availability of printed materials. The Quechua Alliance in the United States hosts an annual meeting as part of the effort to preserve the culture of the high Andes by expanding the availability of the Quechuan oral tradition. The video has English subtitles.
From 2-14 December 2018, 197 countries gather in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or better known as COP24. During these two weeks of negotiations, countries will attempt to finish what they started in Paris three years ago. In Paris, parties set 2018 as the deadline to come up with robust plans for their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which will include significant reductions in carbon emissions as well as an increased commitment to sustainable development.
Mountain countries are taking an active role in this year’s conference, and the impact of future warming scenarios on glacier melting, sea level rise, and mountain communities has been a prominent point of discussion throughout.
16 November 2018
Postcards created by over 125,000 children from around the world are compiled into a mosaic at the base of Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier, spelling a message across the snow. “STOP GLOBAL WARMING #1.5 DEGREES C,” it reads, serving as a gesture to countries preparing for COP24. According to Swiss glaciologists at the University of Zurich, the Aletsch glacier, though currently the largest expanse of continuous ice in Western Europe, is receding at a rate of 12 meters per year, and it could completely disappear by 2100.
The quote references the findings of the IPCC Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC, published in October 2018. In order to minimize the adverse impacts of climate change, the report urged limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of the 2 degrees Celsius agreed upon in Paris three years ago.
“We can’t afford to fail in Katowice,” says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during his opening remarks at COP24. He thinks that public will to fight climate change has faded since Paris in 2015, and now climate change is “running away from us.” Notable climate change impacts detailed in the IPCC special report, such as increasing temperatures, sea level rise, and receding glaciers, are happening faster than we expected.
Speaking up for small states in attendance, Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi said that Nepal has “been bearing the brunt of disproportionate impact of climate change despite being a low carbon-emitting country… We feel as if we have been penalised for the mistakes we never made. It is incumbent on the international community to ensure that justice is done.”
UNESCO, in partnership with the Norwegian GRID-Arendal Foundation, presents a new report, titled “Andean Glacier and Water Atlas: the impact of glacier retreat on water resources,” which details the consequences of glacier retreat on water availability and security for communities who depend on glaciers for drinking water, hydropower, agriculture, and other industries. Since the 1980s, when Andean glaciers were in a period of peak discharge, there has been less and less meltwater each year. This has huge negative impacts on communities who depend on glacial meltwater, and even more so during times of drought.
Precipitation trends suggest that snow cover will continue to decrease, along with temperatures rising 2-5 degrees Celsius in the tropical Andes and 1-7 degrees Celsius in the southern Andes. The report further estimates that even under moderate warming scenarios, low-altitude glaciers in the tropical Andes could lose 78 to 97 percent of their volume in the 21st century.
Peru, home to the largest number of tropical glaciers on the continent, has seen extremely rapid glacier retreat, with very few, brief intermittent periods of advancement.
Venezuela’s only remaining glacier will likely cease to exist by 2021.
Bolivia’s glaciers have lost more than two-thirds of their volume since the 1980s.
Colombia is also experiencing rapid glacier retreat; by 2050 the sole survivors will be the largest glaciers at the highest altitudes.
Ecuador’s glaciers have been subject to dramatic losses in the last 50 years.
Chile and Argentina are seeing accelerating melting among low-lying freshwater and tidewater glaciers in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
The Andes & its glaciers provide water to 75 million people -yet they are some of the fastest retreating in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) releases the COP24 special report: health and climate change. The report implicates anthropogenic climate change as the source of huge challenges for human health. The same industries who emit greenhouse gases, which warm the planet, are also responsible for emitting PM2.5, which harms human health. Within the public health and climate change conversation, glaciers receive a small but important cameo on black carbon. Black carbon, a by-product of inefficient combustion (from cookstoves, diesel engines, biomass, etc.) is second only to CO2 emissions in its global warming contribution.
Not only is black carbon important on a global scale, but it also has impacts on regional climate systems. Black carbon works to accelerate glacier retreat in mountainous regions as well as the Arctic. As it settles, black carbon darkens a glacier’s surface, absorbing instead of reflecting heat, and inducing glacial melting.
The Global Carbon Project reports that global CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 2.7 percent by the end of 2018. Following a brief stagnation in global CO2 emissions from 2014-2016, emissions rose by 1.6 percent. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or briefly overshoot it and come back down), global emissions need to be drastically decreasing, not increasing, and at current levels the world will certainly exceed this threshold by 2030.
7 December 2018
COP24 Side Event – Mountain regions moving towards carbon neutrality
This side event’s keynote speaker, Eric Nanchen, is the director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (FDDM). His talk covered climate change impacts and vulnerability of mountain regions, in the context of laying foundations for sustainable development. He also discussed the Mountain Research Initiative’s #VanishingGlaciers campaign, which is also being promoted at COP24. Deputy Secretary General of the Alpine Convention, Marianna Elmi, discussed steps that Alpine countries are taking toward climate neutrality, for example, coming up with a climate target system for 2050.
Newly released maps from NASA indicate that a group of four glaciers on the eastern coastline of Antarctica have been losing ice over the last decade. Since 2008, these four glaciers, which are located just to the west of the massive Totten glacier, have lost about 9 feet of their surface height. Prior to these findings, East Antarctica was thought to be much more stable than its western counterpart.
The synthesis report begins by framing the importance of mountain ecosystems, which cover 25 percent of the Earth’s landmass, house 15 percent of the world’s population, and provide essential ecosystem services to over half the world’s population. The report then goes on to call mountainous regions the “frontline of climate change.” Mountainous regions are subject to altitude amplification, whereby warming at high altitudes actually occurs at a faster rate than the global average, much like it does at the poles. Almost every mountain in the world is seeing substantial glacier retreat, which impacts ecosystems all the way downstream. In addition, the steep, sometimes unstable terrain leaves mountain communities more susceptible to floods and landslides. The synthesis report strives to capture regional differences in primary risk factors, climate change impacts, and current policy gaps in order to identify potential adaptation measures for each region.
The second report specifically targets the Hindu Kush Himalaya, and is actually part of a progressive series which has previously covered other mountainous regions around the world. The Hindu Kush Himalaya are of particular importance because it is already one of the most disaster-prone regions on Earth. Further, the report states this region could warm upwards of 4-5 degrees Celsius by 2100. The disproportionate warming effects of climate change at altitude, coupled with increased severity of precipitation events and the high probability of natural disasters in Hindu Kush Himalaya all work in tandem to make the region even more vulnerable to global warming.
This event was focused on the IPCC Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC, and working within the emissions constraints set by the report to minimize any further damage incurred by positive global warming feedbacks such as sea level rise and other impacts on mountainous and polar areas. Discussion was focused primarily on how to incorporate cryosphere considerations into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCS) for 2020 in order to minimize future risk and impact.
During closing remarks for the COP24 High-Level Segment of the Talanoa Dialogue, the Secretary General makes note of three reports published in the past few days that “added to the long list of warnings signals.” Among them is the special WHO report on human health and climate change and NASA’s research showing signs of glacier melting in East Antarctica, which are both discussed above. He used these current events to show that we cannot ignore the rapidly accumulating effects of climate change, and to encourage countries to participate in successful policy-creation during COP24’s final days.
Quelccaya is the largest tropical ice cap in the world. It is located in the Central Andes of Peru and has a summit elevation of about 5,680 meters. A recent study suggests that the ice cap might soon cease to exist. Researchers used climate data to examine the impacts of the different forcings to determine how imminent its future disappearance is, and to what extent human activity affects the timing.
About 99 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers are located in the Andes, with around 70 percent found in Peru. Glaciers in the tropical Andes are critical to the regional environment. Through runoff, they provide a much-needed water supply during the dry season. A future disappearance of Quelccaya Ice Cap (QIC) could mean significant changes to the ecosystem, impacts on tourism, and consequences to the culture and traditions of the local populations.
Scientists used daily air temperature and snow height data to build projections of retreat at the QIC. Air temperature over the Peruvian Andes has increased over the last six decades, leading to greater retreat. Rising air surface temperatures are one of the major contributors to this retreat, although variations in precipitation and snowfall contribute as well. Meanwhile, El Nino and the South American Summer Monsoon can also impact QIC conditions, but on an interannual timescale.
The researchers also examined the different Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios (RCPs) that play a huge role in the future of tropical glaciers. RCPs are used in scientific modeling to provide temporal projections on greenhouse gas concentrations. These concentrations contribute to warming and have a great effect on glaciers. The rate of warming is typically amplified with elevation in many mountain regions due to elevation dependent feedbacks, which are explained further in the study.
Results of the research show that through anthropogenic and natural forcings, QIC loses mass at its front and base. This means that by around 2050, the ice cap could completely disappear. Even with a great reduction in greenhouse gas concentrations, results indicate that an eventual disappearance can be expected closer to the end of the century. The researchers further explained that these findings are consistent with observations of other glaciers in the tropics. We can look at glaciers in Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela, as they have also experienced accelerated retreat over the last decades.
Andrew Malone, a Visiting Assistant Professor at The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), told GlacierHub more about the shrinking of QIC and its impacts. “The largest impact would be on loss of water resources for communities both locally and downstream. In the short-term accelerated melting actually increases water resources. But as ice melts, that ‘stored’ water shrinks and shrinks, and at some point the glacier reservoir becomes so small that the total run-off contribution starts to decrease with time,” he said.
Malone went on to explain that as glaciers melt, lakes form in their place. These lakes are dammed by glacial moraines, which are formed by buildup of falling dirt and rocks from melting glaciers. Moraines are not structurally sound. As ice falls off glaciers and into the new lakes, large waves can form and flood the downstream landscape. Malone said that this has happened to the lake in Qori Kalis valley, and as a result livestock were lost with the flooding. Similar events can be expected to happen at QIC as well.
While there is much research and understanding of the glacial and environmental impacts of climate change, the human impacts should also be considered. GlacierHub spoke with anthropologist Gustavo Valdivia, who is currently doing research on the Andes. His research looks at the impacts of QIC glacier melt on the nearby community of Phinaya. This community relies on herding alpaca, selling alpaca wool for their livelihood; thus, they are very dependent on runoff waters to irrigate the pastures for their flocks. At present the Phinaya community benefits from the greater runoff, Valdivia said, but this abundance is not likely to last long. The livestock might also be at risk from flooding, as seen in Qori Kalis.
Valdivia added that there is a key difference between understanding and experiencing climate. Researchers understand the science behind glacial retreat and warming, but it’s the people who experience these changes. He highlighted the importance of building genuine communication with scientific information. As glaciers continue to melt, it’s vital to build connections to the people and communities who are affected, examining ways in which we can adapt to the changes in our climate and environment. Though each community faces climate change in a specific way, they are also part of a global process of change.
Few areas of the planet have been more affected by climate change than the mountain cryosphere, where negative impacts like glacier recession far exceed any positives like short-term increases in glacial runoff. These adverse changes make highland environments ideal for examining the policy concept of Loss and Damage (L&D), which deals with the impact of climate change on resources and livelihoods that cannot be offset by adaptation. A recent study in Regional Environmental Change analyzes L&D in the mountain cryosphere by extracting examples from existing literature on the subject and developing a conceptual approach to support future research to address the subject.
L&D has become an important issue within the international climate policy realm in recent years. In the mountain cryosphere, the effects of climate change and the resultant L&D are directly evident. However, despite the visibility of these changes, research on L&D has rarely focused on these mountain environments, says the study’s lead author Christian Huggel, who spoke with GlacierHub about his paper.
The dearth of research presented a unique opportunity for Huggel and his team to analyze L&D in the mountain cryosphere, to provide information to policymakers, and to create a framework for future research.
L&D work within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) first emerged around the impacts of sea-level rise on Small Island Developing States in the early 1990s, gaining further traction at the UNFCCC’s COP19 in Warsaw, where the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts was established. Then in 2015, at the landmark COP21 in Paris, the Paris Agreement’s Article 8 was dedicated to L&D. Although this article acknowledges the importance of L&D, it also states that it “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation,” which is a serious limit to concrete action.
Despite the attention to L&D in international climate negotiations, significant controversy still surrounds the issue. Most of this controversy centers on the historical responsibility and potential liability of the developed countries for climate change impacts, with developing countries arguing for compensation, risk management, and insurance from the developed world.
Huggel told GlacierHub, “As the first systematic study of L&D in the Mountain Cryosphere, the researchers had to first frame existing literature on mountain climate change impacts within the concept of L&D.” To do this, they considered peer-reviewed literature published in English between 2013 and 2017 that dealt with issues of glaciers and climate change, and more specifically glacial shrinkage and permafrost degradation. Their search procured 41 papers for the final analysis.
They next considered the geographic distribution of these papers. Surprisingly, the majority of papers focused on the Andes and the Himalayas, while fewer focused on Europe and North America, despite better documentation of climate change effects in those regions. Overall, none of the papers explicitly mentioned L&D while highlighting glacial and climate change processes. Half of the papers focused on slow-onset processes, namely changes in river runoff and water availability, while a smaller subset focused on physical changes to landscapes due to glacial retreat and ecosystem changes.
The second biggest group of papers examined both slow-onset and sudden-onset processes. Finally, the smallest group of papers focused solely on sudden-onset processes, mainly glacial outburst floods (GLOFs), which can also be considered a combination of both slow and sudden-onset processes.
Next, the researchers grouped the socio-economic impacts found in the reviewed papers. These groups included cultural impacts, impacts to livelihoods, loss of productivity and revenue, loss of natural resources, loss of lives, loss of security and social order, and damages to property and assets. The group with the highest number of papers was damage to and loss of natural resources, followed by loss of productivity and revenue.
The timeframes for the impacts were also considered. More than half of the papers examined potential future impacts and often highlighted strategies to address them.
A majority of the papers fell within the researchers’ avoidable L&D category, meaning they could be mitigated with the right actions. A smaller subset were categorized as unavoidable L&D, impacts that could have been prevented if the correct steps were taken, while only two papers were identified as avoided L&D. Some papers suggested that glacial retreat was unavoidable because of the delayed response of glaciers to climate change, meaning they will continue to shrink in the future even if mitigation measures are undertaken. Other papers, however, highlight that when comparing low-emission to high-emission scenarios, there is a discernible difference in glacial retreat; thus, it may be partly avoidable.
From their literature review, the researchers made several observations. First, they note the current disconnect between mountain cryosphere research and L&D, which indicates that the concept of L&D has yet to be analyzed and applied for these environments. Second, their study reveals that L&D in the mountain cryosphere is a worldwide phenomenon occurring in all major mountain ranges with a higher proportion of L&D in developing rather than developed countries. Third, they highlight the seven groups of L&D outlined above as particularly relevant to the mountain cryosphere. Out of these, the non-economic ones, of which five of the seven can be considered, have attracted attention in research and policy due to the loss of values associated with glacial retreat, such as community and self-reliance.
Finally, the researchers propose an analytical and process-based framework to understanding L&D in the mountain cryosphere, considering the driving physical processes, the secondary physical processes (slow-onset and sudden events), and the associated societal impacts. These three elements will help to foster an understanding of how L&D is “connected, driven, and caused by climate and cryosphere change,” in addition to the social, political, and economic factors.
The driving physical processes in the framework are broken down into three elements: glaciers, snow, and permafrost, which are all primarily affected by the warming climate. The secondary primary processes are more numerous and include impacts such as GLOFs, losses of seasonal melt water, and ecosystem changes. Finally, the tertiary societal impacts include loss of lives, loss of natural resources and livelihoods, and loss of income, security, and social order.
This L&D framework highlights the cascading impacts in the mountain cryosphere. One illustration of this is glacial retreat leading to a reduction in water availability, followed by low agricultural yields which lead to a loss of income to farmers.
Overall, this study represents an initial advance of research and policy for L&D in the mountain cryosphere. The concepts and framework outlined in the study may well encourage future research on the subject and ultimately lead to policies to better manage L&D in the mountain cryosphere.