Do Village Traditions Trump Adaptation?

The village of Manang, high in the Himalayas in Nepal, is using economic diversification to stave off the effects of climate change, but will soon reach a point where more adaptation is needed, Katie Konchar and her coauthors warned in a new study in the Journal of Ethnobiology. The team used semi-structured interviews and innovative photography techniques to gain insight on current village perceptions and adaptations.

Annapurna Base Camp (Courtesy of:Matt Zimmerman/Flikr, please contact the photographer before using)
Annapurna Base Camp (Courtesy of:Matt Zimmerman/Flickr, please contact the photographer before using)

Nearly three-quarters of respondents perceived increased temperatures especially during the winter months – consistent with the regional instrumental observations. The uniquely structured interview style allowed for more detailed responses. For example, one villager stated “[b]efore in winter water was ice; now we can easily wash our face in winter.” The authors argue that the unique ecological knowledge of locals is vital to the development of placed based adaptation plans.

Villagers offered a variety of explanations for climate change: CO2 concentrations, pollution, or development, while others, usually the elders, believed it was due to actions of gods. One of the participants who mentioned CO2 was part of an outreach program by the Annapurna Conservation Area to educate the villagers on the effects of climate change.

Entrance gate in Manang (Courtesy of: Greg Willis/Flikr, please contact the photographer before using)
Entrance gate in Manang (Courtesy of: Greg Willis/Flickr, please contact the photographer before using)

The village relies heavily on glacier meltwater for its traditional agriculture economy, since it is in the rain shadow of one of the tallest mountains in the world, Annapurna, so that seasonal rainfall is insufficient for raising crops. This region has seen a change in the predictability of rain, leading to an abnormally varied growing season. Though the increased temperatures and varied rain make it difficult to maintain their traditional agriculture, the participants pointed to an increase in cash crop such as vegetables as one of the most important changes in their livelihoods. The authors state that the transition from traditional crops–chiefly grains and potatoes, adapted to cold climates–to milder climate cash crops is an important step to adapting to climate change. Tourism has also increased ,due to improved transportation in the area which allows foreigners to trek into the area, helping to diversify the economy even further.

The authors point to the diversification as an important adaptation, but they also warn of future dangers in an even warmer climate. Glacier retreat could lead to decreased water availability, less attractive scenery to attract tourists, increased glacial lake flooding and an unreliable traditional agricultural calendar. The authors argue that the traditional practices, reinforced by spiritual lamas, need to adapt alongside the economic changes already being seen.

Prayer stones in front of Gangapurna glacier (Courtesy of :Vera & Jean-Christophe/Flikr, please contact the photographer before using)
Prayer stones in front of Gangapurna glacier (Courtesy of :Vera & Jean-Christophe/Flickr, please contact the photographer before using)

The interviews in this study were validated in part by a unique technique of repeat photography-pictures taken during the week of interviews were compared to historical pictures to see climatic changes. These “… photographs illustrate the changes in woody vegetation coverage surrounding the village, the increase in the size of Gangapurna Lake [due to increased glacial melt], and the rapid retreat of the Gangapurna Glacier highlighted during interviews.”

Though the authors applaud the villager’s added economic resilience of planting more cash crops and increased focus on tourism, they say there will come a point when the agricultural society will not be able to live off of the glacier meltwater or rain seasons that they traditionally depend on, and need to start adapting at an even quicker pace. “Continued development of relevant, place-based adaptations to rapid Himalayan climate change depends on local peoples’ ability to understand the potential impacts of climate change and to adjust within complex, traditional socio-ecological systems.”

Roundup: Lava Flows, Pollen Grains and Village Projects

Hazards at Ice-Clad Volcanoes: Phenomena, Processes, and Examples From Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile

Photo courtesy of the study
Photo courtesy of the study

“The interaction of volcanic activity with snow and ice bodies can cause serious hazards and risks[….] Case studies from Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile are described. These descriptions depict the way in which the volcanic activity has interacted with ice bodies in recent volcanic crises (Popocatépetl, Mexico; Nevado del Huila, Columbia; Llaima and Villarica, Chile) and how the lahar processes have been generated. Reconstruction of historical events (Cotopaxi, Ecuador) or interpretation of events from the geological remains (Citlatépetl, Mexico) help to document past events that today could be disastrous for people and infrastructure now existing at the corresponding sites. A primary challenge for hazard prevention and risk reduction is the difficulty of making decisions based on imperfect information and a large degree of uncertainty. Successful assessments have resulted in the protection of lives in recent cases such as that at Nevado del Huila (Colombia).”

Read more about the study here.


Ancient pollen reveals droughts between Sierra Nevada glacier surges

The Sierra Nevada region.
The Sierra Nevada region. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Hidden below the surface of California’s Central Valley are pollen grains from the Pleistocene that are providing scientists with clues to the severity of droughts that struck the region between glacial periods.

The Pleistocene—the age of mammoths and mastodons—occurred between 1.8 million and 11,500 years ago. For this new study, scientists dug up Pleistocene sediment samples containing buried pollen from the Central Valley. They found that pollen samples dated from interglacial periods—years between surges in the mountain glaciers—predominantly came from desert plants. The same sediments lacked pollen from plants of wetter climates.”

To learn more about the new findings, click here.


Adapting in the Shadow of Annapurna: A Climate Tipping Point

02780771-35.3.cover“Rapid climate change in the Himalaya threatens the traditional livelihoods of remote mountain communities, challenges traditional systems of knowledge, and stresses existing socio-ecological systems. Through semi-structured interviews, participatory photography, and repeat photography focused on climate change and its impacts on traditional livelihoods, we aim to shed light on some of the socio-cultural implications of climate related change in Manang, a remote village in the Annapurna Conservation Area of Western Nepal…. Continued development of relevant, place-based adaptations to rapid Himalayan climate change depends on local peoples’ ability to understand the potential impacts of climate change and to adjust within complex, traditional socio-ecological systems.”

To learn more about the study and its findings, click here.



Photo Friday: Life on Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit

Photographer Dietmar Temps traveled to Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit in 2009, which winds its way through the range in the Himalayas in the north-central section of the country. The entire trek takes nearly three weeks to complete. See more of Temps’ pictures in his Flickr gallery.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

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