Roundup: Covid-19 Reports From Glacier Regions

In Nagar Khas, Pakistan, home of the Bualtar Glacier, a five month-old girl was discharged from the hospital after overcoming coronavirus. The Pamir Times reported that the community has reported the highest number, 80, of Covid-19 cases in the administrative territory of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In Kathmandhu, Nepal, police are using a “multi-purpose fork” device to enforce lockdown measures. Initially used for crowd control purposes, police have found the tool practical to maintain social distance while detaining people who violate stay home orders.

A story published in German media outlet Der Spiegel described how the the South Tyrol aprés-ski scene destination of Ischgl fueled the spread of coronavirus across Europe. “The Austrian winter-sports mecca of Ischgl is well known for its parties,” an excerpt for the story reads. “But after helping spread the virus across Europe, the town’s reputation is changing to one of incompetence and greed.”

On April 3, South Tyrol Der Vinschger editor-in-chief Sepp Laner wrote the following note on Sigmund Freud’s prescient description of current circumstances. The following quote is excerpted from German:

Sigmund Freud says in his work “The Future of an Illusion” (1927) that the most important task of cultural work lies in “defending ourselves against nature against the elements, the diseases and the excruciating riddle of death.” And further: “With these powers, nature stands against us, great, cruel, relentless, our weakness and helplessness before our eyes. One can take the position one likes to Freud’s thesis. He couldn’t have known about the coronavirus, but its three adjectives describe our circumstances: new, invisible and everywhere. It is certainly an enemy as well: great, cruel, relentless. We do not need to seek a new “word of the year now. Nor do we need an Unwort––an unword, a non-word.”

Sepp Laner
The town of Schlanders, South Tyrol, Italy (Source: Suedtirolerland.it)

In an excerpt from another post by Laner, he describes the small Alpine town of Schlanders, which is home to a population which holds strongly to its traditional celebrations. The following quote is excerpted from German:

“They are not consecrated, but you are welcome take two branches to be consecrated tomorrow,”an employee told me yesterday at the fruit and vegetable business in the pedestrian zone in Schlanders…Today is Palm Sunday. The consecration in the Church will be nothing. The door is closed. The church service can be followed on the Internet. It’s kind of weird when you look at imagines the elderly in the kitchen or sitting and sitting on the computer, notebook, laptop, or even on the phone, celebrating their pastor’s service. Live streaming, it’s called. Will Easter be the same? Shortly after noon a consecrated olive branch came to me, given by a woman who was going home by bike…people are looking for churches during the time of coronavirus, or chapels if they are open, for a short, lonely prayer. One entry in the visitor book at the church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Laas read “Please, o Virgin, make this time pass quickly. Thanks.” This entry expresses what we have all been seeing for weeks wish: an early end to this disaster, this pandemic and all with it related suffering, hardships, problems and difficulties…The current measures to contain the coronavirus remind me of the time when we as children several decades ago helped fight the potato beetle infestation. In the time before sprays were used, we looked up and down the rows for days under every leaf of potato plants, collected the beetles and crushed them…in the end we won the fight.”

Sepp Laner

A report by the Union Bank of Switzerland has concluded the transfer from air to rail will be greater still once the present Covid-19 situation ends, citing an increase in climate awareness. “The report found that consumers and governments were becoming ‘more climate aware’, with the Covid-19 outbreak revealing in industrialised countries ‘what clean air means’.” Glacier regions have noted the cleaner air and better visibility––in some areas views not seen in decades were exposed.

In Ecuador, Indigenous communities in Chimborazo came down from higher elevations to the city of Riobamba to bring gifts of potatoes, beans, and milk. Residents in need of support can be seen in the video lined up wearing face masks and holding bags to receive the bulk distribution.

In Washington State, GoSkagit reported the increasing need for food is being felt statewide. “Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday the launch of a new program, the WA Food Fund, and pleaded for financial donations from those who are able,” the article said. In the town of Concrete, the local emergency food bank has created a call list to ensure regulars and vulnerable community members are taken care of as many have decided venturing out for food carries too great a risk to health.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Roundup: COVID-19 Glacier Regions Update and a Glacier Hazard In Peru

The Covid-19 Pandemic Complicates Tourism in the Everest Region

Video of the week: Quechua Musicians Urge Coronavirus Precaution Through Traditional Song

Video of the Week: Glacier Communities Grapple with Pandemic Response

While the usual GlacierHub Video of the Week content––like videos of ice cores being dropped into Antarctic bore holes and swims across supraglacial lakes––might be a welcome reprieve from news of the pandemic impacting human societies around the world, looking away from the moment feels irresponsible, especially as the novel coronavirus rapidly spreads among glacier communities. In this week’s videos we show glimpses of glacier communities on three different continents as they grapple with the response to the pandemic; tense discussions in a hospital in Ecuador, an empty market in Pakistan, and the public health response in one US Pacific Northwest glacier county.

The first video, tweeted by the Pamir Times, features a shuttered market in Pakistani Karakoram, a region which is home to some of the world’s highest and most glaciated peaks, several of which are visible in the background. What would apparently be a busy marketplace is deserted––with two men in conversation, little traffic, and a passerby wearing a surgical mask––in a scene indicative of the economic cost of the disease to glacier communities.

Below is a recording of a confrontation in a hospital in Ecuador near Chimborazo, a 6,268 meter (20,564 foot) glaciated stratovolcano in the Cordillera Occidental range of the Andes. The dispute is over where to treat coronavirus patients––whether to bring infected patients from around Chimborazo to the hospital in Ambato (which has better facilities, but at the time had no COVID-19 patients) or to the nearer hospital in Riobamba, the capital city of the province.

The tweet reads (translated from Spanish): “Yesterday the zonal director of District 3 of the MSP [Ministry of Public Health] contradicted directives and logic by bringing infected patients from Chimborazo, when there was a local hospital that could tend to the patients…this is the beating he received.”

In Skagit County, Washington, which extends from sea level at Puget Sound eastward up into the North Cascade mountains, and includes the glacier-clad Mount Baker, there have been 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19, five hospitalizations, and one death. Skagit County’s Public Health Director, Jennifer Johnson, said success will be defined by how the community responds to the challenge. She announced the launch of a video talk show “designed to share the latest thinking, understanding, and advice on how to manage this emergency as individuals, parents, leaders, and as a caring community.” To curb misinformation, concern, and confusion, she said the series will cover topics including social distancing, testing, personal preparedness, and the emotional impacts and challenges of “keeping family safe, healthy, happy, and occupied.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

Roundup: COVID-19 Glacier Regions Update, Some US National Parks Close, Mines in the Peruvian Andes, and 2020 Research Put On Ice

Roundup: COVID-19 in Glacier Regions

Coronavirus is Expanding Into the Mountain Regions of Western China

Photo Friday: Glaciers as Symbols in Ecuador

Ecuador’s Independence Day, or “Día del Primer Grito de Independencia de Quito,” as it is known in Spanish, is celebrated on August 10. Today marks 209 years since the city of Quito declared independence from Spanish colonizers. It was the first Latin American country to declare independence from European rule, and even though short-lived, remains a major milestone in Latin American independence.

In honor of Ecuador’s National Day, we dedicate this week’s Photo Friday to looking at how glaciers have been used as national symbols in Ecuador. From the coat of arms to stamps, Ecuadorians have long recognized how important glaciers are to the country and its people. Glaciers can be found on Antisana, Cayambe, Chimborazo, and Cotopaxi in the Ecuadorian Andes. Ecuador is the only place on Earth where glaciers are found on the Equator. Unfortunately, the glaciers are rapidly receding due to climate change and may disappear completely before the end of the century. For now, they can still be seen residing on some of the tallest volcanoes on Earth and in the country’s national symbols.

 

Ecuador is the only Latin American country with a glacier peak on its coat of arms (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

 

The Ecuadorian Air Forces shield (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

 

The national flag of Ecuador (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

 

An Ecuadorean stamp from 1907 from the series of stamps celebrating the railroad from Quito to Guayaquil (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

 

The issuance of a series of stamps in Ecuador that commemorates glacier research (Source: Correos del Ecuador/Flickr).

 

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Photo Friday: Vicuñas in the Glaciers of the Andes

This Photo Friday, take a glimpse of the beautiful vicuñas and their habitats. Vicuñas are part of the camelids family and a wild relative of alpacas and llamas. Found only in South America, they usually roam the high alpine and chilly glacier regions of the Andes Mountains. The fur of vicuñas can be made into extremely fine wool and transformed into luxurious merchandise highly sought after globally. Yet, vicuñas can only be shaved once every three years. In fact, only Inca royalty were permitted to wear vicuña fur 500 years ago.

Vicuñas were so heavily hunted for their fur that they were declared an endangered species in 1974. Although there are an estimated 350,000 vicuñas left in South America, conservation programs such as Grupo Especialista en Camelidos Sudamericanos (GECS) are still present to protect the animals from poaching and loss of habitats due to glacier melt. Vicuñas are the national animal of Peru.

A close-up shot of a vicuña (Source: Rosario Nanetti/ Pinterest).

 

Vicunas at Chungara Lake in Chile, with the glacier-covered Volcan Sajama in the background (Source: Luca Galuzzi/Flickr).

 

A vicuna spotted near Chimborazo Volcano and glaciers in Ecuador (Source: David Torres Costales/Flickr).

 

Vicuñas seen in Torres del Paine National Park, located by the Patagonia glacier (Source: Escape/Pinterest).

Decoding the Science of a Tropical Glacier through Data and People

Volcán Chimborazo and fields near Calshi community in Ecuador (Source: Jeff La Frenierre).

The volcano, Chimborazo, in Ecuador, is home to a glacier that like many tropical glaciers is quickly receding. When Jeff La Frenierre, a geographer at Gustavus Adolphus College, headed to the Andes, his main objective was to understand how glaciers on this particular mountain had been responding to climate change. However, in the midst of his research, he realized he couldn’t reconcile precipitation data from weather stations with changes in the area of the glacier. To resolve this data-conflict, he turned to a technique too often ignored in the sciences: he talked to people.

La Frenierre published his findings which drew from these conversations last February, illustrating the importance of synthesizing empirical data with information from other sources, like the observations of local residents, to better understand the local effects of climate change.  

A family home near Chimborazo (Source: Bryan G. Mark)

Chimborazo, just south of the equator, is a place where you wouldn’t expect to find glaciers, but with a nearly four-mile-high peak (6,263 meters) the temperatures remain below freezing, so snow doesn’t melt, turns to ice and can eventually form glaciers. The glaciers found on Chimborazo are extremely important to the communities that live near the mountain. For example, glacier ice-melt is used to irrigate crops and to supply households for their domestic needs. Because of this reliance on glacial water, the people living around Chimborazo took notice when their water supply changed.

Across the board, locals in the area said that they noticed a change in rainfall and surface water in the last several decades. Though meteorological records indicated there was some warming between 1986 and 2011, the precipitation records did not suggest that rainfall amounts had changed, according to La Frenierre’s findings. But this didn’t match with the observable decrease in total ice on the mountain. The increase in temperature shown in the instrumental records could only account for about half of the glacier’s ice loss, while the survey results from local residents overwhelmingly supported the ice records.

“It would’ve been very easy, and the typical thing that many scientists would do, to look at an instrumental record and say:  ‘There’s my data, there’s my conclusion from that data,’” La Frenierre told GlacierHub by phone. “If I’d left that alone then I would have had one perception of what was happening here, but clearly, looking at the instrumental data alone wasn’t good enough.”

Of course, it was important to make collecting survey data from local residents rigorous. La Frenierre accomplished this in several ways, aiming to get as broad a perception of environmental change as possible. He only collected information from people who had lived in the area for at least 10 years, for example. He also randomized the sample population by going to randomly generated coordinates within the sample area and speaking with the nearest person or household, using open-ended questions. He also conducted focus groups with members of one of the major irrigation systems.

“That’s why for me, it’s really convincing,” La Frenierre said. “There’s so much ubiquity in certain responses, so the fact that there’s less precipitation, that other sources are drying up, that the vast majority, 90 percent of people, are saying the same thing, and they’re saying it without having been given the leading questions.”

Changes in glacier size and ascension were established through remote sensing techniques, compositing satellite imagery and aerial photographs from different years. This process was complicated by the volcano’s location, because there is no cold or warm season this close to the equator, making it a challenge to determine how much of the glacier is actually glacial ice versus snow. Generally, when mapping glacial extent over time (particularly in temperate regions), researchers look at the end of the warm season. After summer melt there is minimal fresh snow and it is easy to see the entirety of the landscape.

La Frenierre described the weather on Chimborazo as “the worst weather you can imagine, and if it isn’t that bad, consider yourself lucky” (Source: Bryan G. Mark).

At Chimborazo, because it is so close to the equator, there wasn’t a single image that had both the least amount of snow and was free of cloud cover. Because of this, La Frenierre ended up making mosaics combining several images that were at times months apart. This means the data cannot clearly say what the glacier extent was on any given day, but it still gives a reasonable sense of what the glacier extent was like in a certain year. This data, the changes in the glacial extent and collected opinions of locals, all pointed toward a decrease in overall precipitation. Or, as La Frenierre speculates, a change in the timing of precipitation: “In the tropics, a huge control on melting ice is the surface albedo [how much sunlight is reflected off] of the glacier. A lower frequency of snowfall, even if the same amount of snowfall falls, could actually accelerate the glacier melting.” In other words, a given amount of snow would increase the reflectivity, the albedo, of the glacier if spread over a longer period of time. 

Waters at the base of Volcán Chimborazo (Source: Jeff La Frenierre).

La Frenierre’s paper is not the first to be published that combines both physical instrumental or observed data with public observations. The authors cite others who have also successfully used a mixed-methods approach. But, according to La Frenierre, there should be more like it. “The reality is, especially when looking at things like environmental change, your instruments can only tell you so much. And if you can find that people are experiencing something that your instruments can’t rectify, then I think we have an obligation to try to understand where that disconnect is and look for information that answers it without assuming that our instruments are right and our people are wrong.”

The people living around Chimborazo are already directly experiencing the impacts of climate change. Although there are local actions that may have contributed, most of what is happening to the glacial ice on Chimborazo is due to global actions. “The glacial retreat that we’re seeing here is a function of the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that the developing world put into the atmosphere,” said La Frenierre, “We’re looking at a problem for people who are on the front lines of experiencing impacts, yet they were not the ones to benefit at all from the development that we got from putting these greenhouse gases [into the atmosphere].”

Photo Friday: Volcanoes in Ecuador

Ecuador has a series of beautiful cone-shaped volcanoes along the Andes. This week, GlacierHub features three volcanoes from Ecuador: Cayambe, Chimborazo, and Tungurahua. Cayambe, locating in the Cordillera Central, is a Holocene compound volcano. Chimborazo, locating in the Cordillera Occidental, is the highest mountain in Ecuador. These two volcanoes are currently inactive. On the other hand, Tungurahua is an active volcano, located in the Cordillera Oriental.

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 glacierhub@gmail.com.

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