Bolívar Cáceres, a glaciologist at Ecuador’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Institute, organized an excursion to a glacier-covered volcano, Antisana, north of Quito, last month. About a dozen researchers took part. They had come to Quito for a lead authors’ meeting of IPCC’s Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere. Bert De Bièvre, the technical secretary of FONAG, the Quito Water Conservation Fund, joined the group as well.
The skies were cloudy for much of the day, as is common in Ecuador at that time of the year. But the group felt fortunate to have no rain. After driving from Quito through some agricultural areas, small towns, and forests, they came to the páramos, the high elevation wetlands that are critical for the city’s water supply. After entering a large protected area, De Bièvre explained the dynamics of the páramos, their connection to the glaciers of Antisana, and the mechanisms for diverting water to Quito.
The group then drove to a trailhead. They hiked up to the glacier. Cáceres discussed the importance of an automated weather station they had passed.
The group spent some time up on the glacier, glad to have been able to reach this ice, at an elevation close to 5000 meters.
On the way back down to the trailhead, the hikers looked back at the mountain, first seeing it partially obscured by clouds, and then finally getting a clearer view.
Researchers from several countries gathered earlier this month to advance their work on a report that will assess the state of research on glaciers and other topics. The meeting took place in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, close to a number of glaciated peaks in the Andes. This location reflects the focus of the document, the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report traces cryosphere-ocean links, particularly the contribution of meltwater from the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets to sea-level rise, and also considers other topics related to oceans and the cryosphere.
Chapter 2, High Mountain Areas, examines a variety of topics which include observed and projected changes in glaciers, permafrost and snow, as well as links to climate, hazards and water resources. It also discusses risks for societies, and the strategies to respond to these risks. The full chapter structure can be found in the outline of the report, which was approved last year.
This chapter is being led by two Coordinating Lead Authors, Regine Hock, a glaciologist and hydrologist from the University of Alaska, and Golam Rasul, an economist and rural development specialist from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal. The 13 Lead Authors come from four continents and represent 10 countries—the UK, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, China, Japan, Ecuador, the U.S. and Canada.
Activities at the Meeting
Most members of the Chapter 2 team took part in an excursion to a glacier-covered volcano, Antisana, north of Quito the day before the conference started. This trip was organized by one of the Lead Authors, Bolívar Cáceres of the Ecuadorian National Meteorology and Hydrology Institute. The group was joined by Bert De Bièvre, the technical secretary of FONAG, the Quito Water Conservation Fund, who explained the importance of high-elevation wetlands, fed by glacier meltwater, snow and rain, in supplying Quito with drinking water. In addition to accompanying the Lead Authors up to the glacier, above 4,900 meters in elevation, he took the team to several sites which illustrated the collaboration of FONAG with the National Park Service and other organizations in protecting the key ecosystems of the region.
The IPCC meeting, hosted by the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, was held on 12-16 February at the Hotel Colón in Quito. Tarsicio Granizo Tamayo, Minister of the Environment of Ecuador, and Maria Victoria Chiriboga, the Undersecretary of Climate Change, addressed the participants at the opening ceremony, as did IPCC co-chairs. On the evening of the meeting’s inauguration, the Ecuadorian government also sponsored a performance by a troupe of folk dancers, who presented the diverse cultural styles of the country’s coastal and highland regions.
The meeting drew over 100 participants from 30 countries. In addition to attending plenary meetings, the chapter teams discussed the preliminary comments which they had received on the Zero Order Drafts of their chapters. They coordinated with each other to promote the integration of the chapters, and also began the planning of communication products. The discussions continued at meals and in the evenings.
This meeting was distinguished by the relatively large proportion of women among the lead authors and by the international diversity, with representatives from more than 30 countries across six continents and the Pacific, taking part. It received wide coverage in a number of Ecuadorian newspapers as well as on television.
Comments on the Meeting
IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett described the meeting, saying, “IPCC authors are assessing scientific literature about changes in the ocean and the frozen parts of our planet, their effects on ecosystems and humankind and options for adapting to them. This report will help policymakers better understand the changes we are seeing and the risks to lives and livelihoods that may occur with future climate change.”
“The ocean and the cryosphere play essential roles in the climate system and the ecosystem services that humankind depends on,” said Hans-Otto Poertner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Scientists are also trying to understand how the frozen and liquid water bodies of our planet interact, and how sea level will change and affect coastlines and cities.”
Poertner noted that Ecuador and other Andean countries are facing the impacts of glacier retreat, which threaten water supplies for cities such as Quito. He added, “Furthermore, the region hosts unique ecosystems with high biodiversity which are now challenged by human-induced climate change on top of other human influences.”
An Outreach Event and Upcoming Activities
Some of the authors and IPCC personnel participated in an outreach event on 16 February, held at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, and jointly sponsored by the university and the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment. They presented the outline of the report to local audiences, discussed major findings of earlier IPCC reports about changes in climate and in mountain and coastal environments, and reviewed issues specific to Andean countries and Latin America. This event was attended by a number of representatives of civil society organizations and the press.
The participants left the meeting ready to begin the process of preparing the First Order Draft of the report. This draft will be circulated for expert review in May 2018, and will be reviewed and revised at a third meeting in July 2018 in Lanzhou, China, located in the province of Gansu, which contains glaciers in the Qilian Shan range. The report will be completed in September 2019. The recent meeting provided a highly motivating start to this long process, immersing the authors for several days in the vulnerable context of a developing country, impacted by glacier retreat as well as sea level rise, and showing them the concern of the Ecuadorian people who welcomed and hosted them warmly.