The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) is a part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University where roughly 200 PhD researchers and 90 graduate students are involved in earth-science research. “Its scientists study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean, providing a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humanity.”
Miriam Cinquegrana, administrative coordinator at LDEO, has initiated a series of photo exhibits “to provide a space for members of the Lamont community to explore their passion for photography and to share their artistic work.” The hope is for these individuals to make connections and engage their research in new ways, noted Cinquegrana. Previous landscape exhibits have included Patagonia and Easter Island, as well as The Aleutians.
The newest exhibit, Antarctica, is the third display to feature photos taken by scientists as they perform their research in the field. Pieces from this exhibit are displayed here, and highlight photos taken by the following scientists: Isabel Cordero, Nick Frearson, Jonathan Kinslake, David Porter, Margie Turrin, Martin Wearing, Carson Witte, and Robin Bell.
“Each year Lamont scientists travel the globe with their research. This exhibition provides a small glimpse into the beauty and fragility that is Antarctica. These images were taken by Lamont Scientists as they went about their daily research studying topics as diverse as ice dynamics to tectonic origins and ranging from the Antarctic Peninsula to the Ross Ice Shelf and beyond into the East Antarctic interior.”
Dire projections for Switzerland’s Great Aletsch Glacier
From the Journal of Glaciology:
“We model the future evolution of the largest glacier of the European Alps – Great Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland – during the 21st century. For that purpose we use a detailed three-dimensional model, which combines full Stokes ice dynamics and surface mass balance forced with the most recent climate projections (CH2018), as well as with climate data of the last decades. As a result, all CH2018 climate scenarios yield a major glacier retreat: Results range from a loss of 60% of today’s ice volume by 2100 for a moderate CO2 emission scenario (RCP2.6) being in line with the Paris agreement to an almost complete wastage of the ice for the most extreme emission scenario (RCP8.5). Our model results also provide evidence that half of the mass loss is already committed under the climate conditions of the last decade.”
“Renowned Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson’s large-scale works such as Ice Watch and New York City Waterfalls spark critical dialogue about climate change and our relationship to nature. His work is driven by interests in perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self, engaging the broader public sphere through architectural projects, interventions in civic space, arts education, policy-making, and issues of sustainability.”
Eliasson will speak at Columbia University on September 26, 2019, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM as part of its Year of Water program. Details about the Eliasson event can be found here.
“Studies of early human settlement in alpine environments provide insights into human physiological, genetic, and cultural adaptation potentials. Although Late and even Middle Pleistocene human presence has been recently documented on the Tibetan Plateau, little is known regarding the nature and context of early persistent human settlement in high elevations. Here, we report the earliest evidence of a prehistoric high-altitude residential site. Located in Africa’s largest alpine ecosystem, the repeated occupation of Fincha Habera rock shelter is dated to 47 to 31 thousand years ago. The available resources in cold and glaciated environments included the exploitation of an endemic rodent as a key food source, and this played a pivotal role in facilitating the occupation of this site by Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.”
As glaciers retreat, they alter water resources, create natural hazards, reduce tourism and transform cherished landscapes. Here at GlacierHub, we have a team of writers hailing from across four continents to bring you original daily reporting on glaciers and the global impacts of climate change.
With funding support from Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, our writers from Columbia University’s Master of Arts in Climate and Society program cover stories about communities living near glaciers and the challenges brought about by glacier retreat. This year’s cohort has developed exciting new projects from a bi-monthly GlacierHub News Report to a Video of the Week post and will continue to bring you the latest glacier news throughout the summer.
We hope you enjoy the website and this introduction to our GlacierHub team!
Meet our summer writers from the Master of Arts in Climate and Society program at Columbia University:
Andrew Angle has a B.S. in Physical Geography from Penn State University and is a 2018 graduate of Columbia University’s Climate and Society program. He first became fascinated with glaciers on a research trip with Penn State to study the impacts of climate change on the glaciers of the Peruvian Andes and southwest Alaska. As a writer for GlacierHub since fall 2017, Andrew has covered a number of diverse topics from U.S. National Park entrance fees to glacier-covered volcanos and glacial geoengineering. He hopes to apply the writing skills he developed during his time with GlacierHub to connect people with science and policy decisions.
Natalie Belew is a 2018 graduate of the M.A. in Climate and Society program at Columbia University and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in History and East Asian Studies at Trinity University. She joined GlacierHub in fall 2017 hoping to cultivate her writing skills in climate communication and to explore the cultural and historical contexts surrounding glaciers across the world. The topics she has tackled since then include the Lendbreen tunic, the Karakoram Anomaly, and the discovery of a medieval glacier lake in Svalbard, among many others. Beyond Columbia, Natalie hopes to combine her interests in climate science and East Asian history and pursue a doctorate in the environmental history of China. Her experience at GlacierHub has been phenomenal in helping her to understand complex scientific concepts surrounding glaciers. She looks forward to carrying forward her time at GlacierHub in her future endeavors.
Sabrina Ho Yen Yin has a B.Sc. in Geography from University College London and graduated in 2018 with her M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University. She started writing for GlacierHub in fall 2017 to hone her skills in climate communication by translating sometimes difficult-to-understand scientific pieces into fun and readable stories. She hopes to apply these skills to her work at the Singapore Ministry of Education when she imparts geographical knowledge to her future students. In the meantime, these past months have been a journey of discovery on just how interesting and diverse glacier news can be! From writing about human-related issues such as tourism in the Bhilangana Valley and extreme sports in Antarctica to ecological topics such as tracing plant species competition and crustacean diversity near glaciers to uncovering human history through glacier archaeology, she has challenged herself to write on a wide range of topics. Despite returning to the tropics after her studies, glaciers will always have a special space in her heart.
Brian Llamanzares is a former CNN Philippines news correspondent. He is the CEO and founder of Time Master Watches and a graduate of Columbia University, completing his master’s degree in Climate and Society. Brian also worked briefly at the Philippine Senate as a supervising legislative staff officer and more recently as a political consultant. In his spare time, Brian volunteers as a Youth Ambassador for Habitat for Humanity Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital. He has a passion for public service and an interest in disaster risk reduction management. While at GlacierHub, he founded the bi-monthly GlacierHub news report and wrote about a major climate lawsuit and a glacier hike for a cause, among other topics.
Jade Payne started writing for GlacierHub in spring 2018 while pursuing her M.A. in Climate and Society at Columbia University. She spent her earlier years living in Florida, so she has enjoyed writing about glacial environments that are very different from what she is accustomed to. Her work includes covering the importance of glaciers to harbor seals to the captivating glacial artwork of Diane Burko, among other topics. After graduation, she hopes to continue working in climate change communication, especially when it comes to humanitarian causes. When she’s not busy with her school work, she enjoys going on hikes and playing with her dog Milo (the shiba inu).
Yang Zhang is a graduate of the M.A. in Climate and Society program at Columbia University and will be joining GlacierHub as a writer this summer. She holds her B.A. in International Law. Between undergraduate and graduate school, she worked for the government of China in forestry diplomacy and international environment negotiation. After that, she worked as a policy dialogue coordinator for an Asia Pacific-targeted NGO on sustainable development project management in developing countries and regional forestry policy mechanism coordination. She is also a big fan of SNL.
Meet our other staff writers from the fall and spring semesters:
Amanda Evengaard holds a bachelor’s degree in Product Design from Parsons and is a graduate of the M.A. in Climate and Society program at Columbia University. Amanda is interested in climate sensitivity, how changing climate affects society and the environment, and how to make decisions for a sustainable future. Previously, Amanda worked in design, production and sustainability with the designer Donna Karan at the D.O.T training center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and at Urban Zen, New York. She kept you covered on the last glacier of Venezuela, glacier reconstruction, and a Swiss community fighting to save its glacier, among other topics.
Miriam Nielsen is a video producer (and occasional writer) who likes making things about climate change and the environment. She is a graduate of the Master of Climate and Society program at Columbia University, but she spends most of her time on Twitter or playing Ultimate Frisbee. At GlacierHub, she reported on diverse topics from glacier dropstones to Asia’s vanishing glaciers, among many others.
And meet our editors:
Ben Orlove is the managing editor of GlacierHub and an anthropologist at Columbia University. He has conducted research in the Peruvian Andes for many years, and more recently has carried out field work in Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in the Italian Alps. He also has carried out research in mountain areas in the western United States.
Ashley Chappo is the senior editor of GlacierHub. She is a graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and Columbia Journalism School. Prior to GlacierHub, Ashley worked in the newsrooms of the New York Observer, World Policy Journal, and Manhattan Magazine, more recently covering the Arctic for the World Policy Institute’s Arctic in Context initiative. Her favorite part of working for GlacierHub is getting to know the talented writers and reading their stories on the latest glacier research and climate policy. You can follow Ashley on Twitter @ashleychappo or view her digital portfolio at ashleychappo.com.
The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week, GlacierHub news is featuring an interview with Sophie Elixhauser, a new study on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a discussion of hazardous development in Nepal, and a theory about snowballs and slushies!
This week’s news report features:
East Greenland’s Iivit Communities: An Interview with Sophie Elixhauser
By: Natalie Belew
Summary: GlacierHub interviewed anthropologist Sophie Elixhauser to discuss her recently published book, “Negotiating Personal Autonomy: Communication and Personhood in East Greenland.” She shared her perspective of her time observing the Inuits in East Greenland. She explained that she began her research in East Greenland with a very broad question about how people relate to their environment.
A New Low for the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
By: Sabrina Ho
Summary: A new paper published in Nature has shown that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has decreased drastically in strength, especially in the last 150 years. Increasing freshwater input from melting glaciers and ice sheets in the Nordic and Arctic Seas have contributed to the slowdown. GlacierHub interviewed Wallace Broecker, a well-known geoscience professor in Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences who coined the term “the great ocean conveyor belt.” He claims that there are dozens of “water hosing experiments” that simulated freshwater input of higher magnitudes coming from Greenland. “Still they failed to shut down the AMOC,” he said.
Communities in Nepal Expand to Risk Areas, Despite Hazards
By: Jade Payne
Summary: A recently published study in the journal Land has found that more than a quarter of the new houses in Pokhara, the second-largest city in Nepal, are being built in highly dangerous areas susceptible to multiple natural hazards, including glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and avalanches. The study lists a number of challenges for this rapidly-growing city, located in a region with a number of geological hazards. Most of the newly settled areas are located in agricultural areas, which are attractive to prospective residents because they are flat and have owners who permit construction. However, these locations place new houses at great risk. The researchers indicate that this growth will continue until at least 2035.
Summary: Many scientists are coming up with hypotheses about a global ice age during the Cryogenian geologic period that took place between 720 to 635 million years ago. Two main hypotheses are on the table: “Snowball Earth” theory, which argues that ice covered the entire Earth, and “Slushball Earth” hypothesis, where the sea near the equator stayed open, allowing the evaporation and precipitation of water to persist. However, neither of these hypotheses are set in stone, but are rather part of an ongoing debate that requires much clarification. Developing different climate models with many parameters is necessary to better understand what happened during the Cryogenian period, giving flexibility to the ever-unknown complexity of past climate conditions. Moreover, careful study of the organisms that survived during this period could further help us understand the truth behind the Cryogenian ice age.
The effects of climate change may be overwhelming, but Shifali Gupta is showing us how to take a step in the right direction.
Shifali recently signed up for Climate Hike Glacier, a charitable hiking challenge in which she will hike up to 50 miles in four days to raise a minimum of $3,000 in donations for a cause of her choosing. The hike will take her through Glacier National Park in Montana, one of America’s favorite national parks.
The four-day challenge begins with a hike up to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. On the second day, Shifali and her team will hike from the west side of the Continental Divide to the east side to Many Glacier Valley. On the third day, her team will explore Grinnell Glacier, an iconic receding glacier within the park, a spot for Shifali and her team to witness first hand the effects of climate change.
Climate Hike Glacier aims to raise awareness about climate change impacts as an event sponsored by Climate Ride, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring environmental action through bike rides, and more recently hikes, to raise funds for important causes.
And what better way to raise awareness about climate change than to promote a hike through a national park that is quickly losing its namesake glaciers to global temperature rise? On the final day of the hike, Shifali will be given the option of hiking to a beautiful alpine lake or climbing up to a vantage point with a panoramic view of the park’s changing landscape.
The loss of glacial formations in Glacier National Park have been worrisome: The park went from about 150 glaciers in the 1800s to only 26 glaciers today. According to a U.S. Geological Survey study, some of the remaining glaciers have lost 83 percent of their mass, while the average loss across all glaciers has been 39 percent.
The Inspiration Behind the Hike
This is Shifali’s first Climate Hike. She grew up in India and came to the United States for graduate school, earning her master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University. The program helps professionals and academics understand and cope with the impacts of climate change on society and the environment.
For Shifali, applying the knowledge she gained in graduate school meant working at SolarCity, where she had the opportunity to give back to a community in Nepal.
“I was given a chance to be part of a GivePower team to install a solar battery system in a village that is so far removed that you can only get there by hiking about 5 miles from the nearest road,” Shifali told GlacierHub. “The idea was to use these clean energy sources to power their grain mill to provide a more secure source of food, as opposed to when villagers would have to travel roughly 10 miles in rain or shine.”
Shifali explained that she was inspired to participate in Climate Ride by her teammates at GivePower, a nonprofit focused on giving clean energy to otherwise neglected communities in developing countries around the world. Having participated previously, her colleagues were able to raise roughly $5,000 per-person in past Climate Ride events. Shifali said she finally decided on her birthday last November to sign up herself to raise money for GivePower.
Shifali decided to join the hike instead of the traditional ride because she was more confident in her hiking skills than her biking skills. She says that the hike also allows her to check “going to Glacier National Park” off of her bucket list.
Simultaneously, she gets to support a cause she believes in. When speaking to GlacierHub, she said it was a “no-brainer” for her to select GivePower as her partner nonprofit.
GivePower currently has projects in Haiti, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Congo. Solar installations power water pumps to improve access to water, and GivePower installs microgrids in local communities to power mills or refrigerators. They also use solar panels to power schools, medical centers, and increase connectivity through mobile network access.
Shifali is looking forward to the hike and says that it couldn’t have come at a better time.
She plans to pursue further studies and hopefully join more rides and hikes in the near future. She also hopes that more people will join the hike. As of writing this article, Shifali is $2,258 away from her goal. To support Shifali’s cause click here.
This Friday, we’re covering images that are a bit different from our usual Photo Friday images. Rather than featuring photos of glaciers themselves, today we present photos of a river valley and reservoir in Chile that receives almost all of its water from glaciers and snowmelt and is currently facing water shortages due to glacier retreat. The photos come courtesy of Francesco Fiondella, director of communications for Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI). In addition to the photos that follow, Fiondella provided a statement to GlacierHub detailing the region and his time there. His statement follows:
“The region of Coquimbo, Chile, is a typical semi-arid or dryland area. Less than four inches (100mm) of rain falls here, and almost all of it during the short winter rainy season. On top of this, rain and snowfall are highly variable year-to-year. In the past, people have had to cope with drought conditions in one year and rainfall five times above average in the next.
I visited Coquimbo’s Elqui Rvier Valley in 2013 to report on a collaborative project (now ended) among staff at the IRI, UNESCO and Chilean research institutes to help the water authority there incorporate seasonal forecasts as a way to better allocate water and prepare for droughts. When I made these photographs, a widespread, multiyear drought that started in 2009 had depleted the Puclaro to only 10 percent of its capacity.”
Some of these photographs are currently on display in a public exhibition in Venice, Italy. To see more of his photography, follow him on instagram [@fiondella].
Since the 1960s, images from spy satellites have been replacing the use of planes for reconnaissance intelligence missions. Making the transition from planes to satellites was prompted by an infamous U-2 incident during the Cold War when U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet air space. Five days later, after considerable embarrassment and controversy, President Eisenhower approved the first launch of an intelligence satellite, part of a new scientific electronic intelligence system termed ELINT. Today, declassified images from satellites have resurfaced to support scientific research on glaciers and climate change.
Scientists from Columbia University and the University of Utah created 3-D images of glaciers across the Himalayas, and Bhutan specifically, by using satellite imagery to track glacial retreat related to climate change. Joshua Maurer et al. published the results of their Bhutan study in The Cryosphere to help fill in the gaps of “a severe lack of field data” for Eastern Himalayan glaciers.
Being able to understand and quantify ice loss trends in isolated mountain areas like Bhutan requires physical measurements that are currently not available due to complex politics and rugged terrain. Luckily, the scientists found an alternative route to reach their measurement goals by comparing declassified spy satellite images from 1974 with images taken in 2006 using the ASTER, Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, a spaceborne imaging instrument aboard NASA’s earth-observing Terra satellite.
Bhutan has hundreds of glaciers and glacial lakes. Physical data collection can be a daunting process in such a region considering the vast quantity of glaciers in combination with freezing weather conditions and high winds. The lead researcher of the Bhutan study, Joshua Maurer from Columbia University, experienced firsthand the logistical challenges associated with directly measuring changes in glacial ice density when conducting research on glacial change in the remote and high-altitude regions of Bhutan. Inspired by this difficult experience, Maurer collaborated with other scientists from the University of Utah to find alternative methods for quantifying trends in glacial ice density.
Maurer and the team of researchers devised a strategy to use declassified satellite images to collect data by a process of photogrammetry, the use of photographs to survey and measure distances. More than 800,000 images from the CORONA Satellite program, taken in the 1970s and 1980s, have been sent to the U.S. Geological Survey from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and made available to the public.
Several advanced mathematical tools are necessary for making measurements from raw image files. For this particular study, the team used the declassified photos from the 1970s to track changes in glacial ice coverage over time when compared to more recent images from the Hexagon Imagery Program database taken by the Swiss-based Leica Geosystems’ airborne sensors in 2006. Once a timeline was created from the pictures, measurements were made using NASA’s space tool ASTER. This method, Maurer argues, is the solution for measuring massive amounts of hard-to-access data.
But making precise measurements integrating several sets of images from different periods of time is no simple task. Pixel blocks, minute areas of illuminations from which images are composed, were processed to correspond with regions designated on the film. The blocks of pixels were then selected to maximize coverage of glaciers and avoid regions with cloud cover. Computer-generated algorithms transform these blocks of image into measurements using automated point detectors and descriptors.
Images from the declassified satellite database may suffer from a lack of clarity, so it was also important for the researchers to address these issues. For example, debris-covered glaciers are difficult to distinguish from surrounding terrain using visible imagery only. Furthermore, loud cover and poor radiometric sensing data in remote areas can prevent complete observation. In order to address challenges like these, images were analysed by a computer and then manually edited to more accurately match glacial extent in the year that the image was taken. In order to prevent statistical errors, the research team focused on a select sample size of glaciers representative of the area being studied.
Satellite image analysis like that performed in Bhutan has become increasingly important in the study of climate change. In terms of glaciers, these analyses have proven valuable to scientists in reaching otherwise hard to access data. The main findings of the study were that glacial retreat in the last fifty years is significantly contributing to the creation of glacial lakes in the East Himalayan region and associated flood outbursts. A glacial lake outburst flood is a type of flood that occurs when the dam containing a glacial lake fails due to a buildup of water pressure. Bhutan has low lying river planes that are vulnerable to such floods, so measuring ice loss can help scientists identify which dams are at risk of bursting. This can further help policy makers take appropriate action to mitigate potential disaster.
Following the successful completion of the Bhutan study, Maurer and his team were granted additional funding from a NASA Earth and Space Science fellowship to expand the same methodology to other regions of the Himalayas. Understanding ice loss is important, and the effort to overcome logistical barriers is worthwhile.
“Ice loss will impact hydropower, agriculture, and ecosystems in the region,” Maurer told GlacierHub. Understanding the glacial ice balance in the Himalayan region and the rates of ice loss assists adaption plans for building strategic dams and reservoirs for seasonal water storage. These actions could result in more people being better off, more people receiving reliable electricity, and a reduced risk of moraine dam outbursts.
While observation of changing trends in glacier mass may not be complete, the information that is available due to declassified spy satellite imagery positively contributes to the Himalayan people’s capabilities regarding future impacts linked to ice loss, according to Maurer et al. Overall, results from spy satellite images have enhanced the understanding of potential glacier contribution to sea-level rise, impacts on water resources, and hazard potential for high mountain regions and downstream populations in Asia.
New York City is often referred to as the concrete jungle. However, a few hundred years ago this artificial forest was an actual forest, and 20,000 years ago Manhattan was covered in hundreds of feet of glacial ice. The city’s natural history has shaped our modern landscape. Understanding that urban connection to the natural world was the purpose of CALL WALK, a recently held environmental education walking tour in Manhattan, New York.
CALL WALK was created in affiliation with City as Living Laboratory (CALL), a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading environmental awareness through artwork and tours that show how modern life has been defined by the natural world. The organization recently released a new video capturing the walking tour.
CALL’s artistic director, Mary Miss, founded the the non-profit in 2009 with a mission stated on CALL’s website to, “Increase awareness and action around environmental challenges through the arts.” Miss’ work with CALL is a continuation of over four decades of projects that she has completed in cities all across the country. These include 2007’s Connect the Dots in Boulder, Colorado, where she created a citywide map of the changing waterways.
Recently, Miss and her staff of four have designed several art installations and WALKS that call public attention to the link between natural and man-made systems. CALL WALK was an extension of a current project, BROADWAY: 1000 Steps (B/CALL)
Anthropologist Ben Orlove, also founder and editor of GlacierHub, lead the CALL WALK along with and poet and artist Marshall Reese. The artist is known for his work with ice sculptures with which he uses melting ice that has been fashioned into keywords as social commentary. He and his collaborator Nora Ligorano will bring large ice sculptures of the words “The American Dream” to the Republican and Democratic conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia later this month, where they will melt and disappear.
Along the way, the two guides and their geology expert, Mike Kaplan of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, commented on remnants of the mighty glacier that covered Manhattan during the last ice age.
“He [Kaplan] pointed out some glacier erratics in Riverside Park, pieces of rock from the Palisades, the cliffs on the other side of the Hudson. He showed that they could have been transported by the ice sheets back in the last Ice Age,” Orlove said in an interview following the mid-April CALL WALK. “I was surprised because I have visited the park many times, but I had never stopped to look closely at those boulders and to wonder where they came from.”
Connecting the present to the undiscovered past in our backyards is what makes events such as CALL WALK and B/CALL intriguing and important.
“Through exploration of the Broadway corridor, viewers will become aware that nature is everywhere and in action at all times, that the city is an urban ecosystem, that innumerable numbers of small decisions over time have shaped the environment we inhabit today and that our decisions today (behavioral choices) will impact the future of all of nature,” said CALL manager Christine Sandoval.
Participants followed a bygone creek that now manifests as a puddle that forms in the subway, or as a patch of moss in Riverside Park. They were also led to touch smoothed bedrock and massive boulders transported by ancient glaciers that melted and produced massive floods, changing the course of the Hudson River. In years to come, when walking around their neighborhood, they may realize the rock that their building is made of was quarried from the Manhattan bedrock right under their feet, just like the church they saw on CALL WALK.
The walk concluded with a moment of silence at Straus Park, a small patch of green between W 106th & 107th streets. The park is dedicated to Ida and Isador Straus, who lost their lives on the Titanic after it was struck by a floating iceberg, calved from a glacier in Greenland. As the group took in the sounds of traffic and birds, they were asked to imagine the unsinkable ship crashing into the large chunk of erratic glacial ice, and to picture the immense ice sheet that molded much of New York’s urban landscape.
In early October, Peruvian artist Maxim Holland attempted to make an offering of water to a remote and legendary tropical glacier in the Peruvian Andes named Pariacaca, which is situated 13,000 feet above the sea. He lugged 150 liters of bottled water up to the foot of the glacier with the intention of boiling it until it evaporated into the thin mountain air. But the firewood, sticks and cow patties he and the other artists accompanying him were able to collect at the site only kept the fire burning long enough to consume part of his liquid sacrifice. The rest, he carried back down the mountain. The performance piece was part of a 10-day retreat into the Peruvian Andes called HAWAPI 2014 that Holland organized to bring attention to climate change and its human and environmental impacts.
On October 6, Holland and an international group of 23 other artists plus a dozen Andean herders climbed up to the site just below the glacier, which is about an hour by car and two by foot from the nearest town, Tanta. They were accompanied by a pack of some 80 llamas that wound along the scrubby golden mountain trails lugging food and an odd assortment of art supplies for the group—huge copper plates, stretches of rebar, gutters, tanks of helium, welding equipment. When they arrived, they set up a solar-powered camp between two glacial lakes, and for the next ten days, they cooked, ate, slept, and battled the elements to create art in the shadow of the glacier.
HAWAPI, the Quechua word for “outside,” is an itinerant arts collective that stages art events in remote regions of Peru, and this one was timed to coincide with the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change. The meeting will convene in Lima in early December, just as work from HAWAPI goes up at the Lima Contemporary Museum of Art, a show that runs from Dec. 3- Jan. 9. Many of the pieces were installed permanently at the site of the mountain camp, but documentation of their creation will be part of the museum’s exhibit.
In mid October, the Peruvian government announced that climate change had shrunk the country’s glaciers by 40 percent over the past four decades, and that the meltwater has given life to 1,000 new high-altitude lakes since the 1980s. Peru hosts 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are particularly vulnerable to rising global temperatures, and the country’s glaciers are the source of most of the country’s drinking water. Without them, the rivers will run dry.
“I think it’s essential that the Pariacaca glacier be incorporated into the imagination of every resident of Lima, because it’s part of their inheritance and today it seems a little bit forgotten,” wrote Alejandro Jaime, one of the artists who participated in the project, in an email (translated from Spanish). Jaime has a long history of producing art that showcases or addresses Pariacaca. “So, I find these creative projects like HAWAPI that are developed around this mountain symbol very healthy, that they broadcast the glacier’s presence and importance for those who drink its waters.”
Glaciers have long been worshipped in the Peruvian Andes as sacred overlords of climate, keepers of rain, and they are still celebrated in annual rites called champería by many Andean communities, according to Frank Salomon, a scholar of the region.
“In any province in the Andes, most people have one particular mountain they think of being as the overlord of the climate in their area,” says Salomon. “That establishes relationships between people and mountains that have to be attended to. Otherwise, people are not in the right relation with their environment.”
Pariacaca could be considered among the most treasured of Peru’s glacier gods, particularly among scholars, given that the rituals practiced here during Incan times were recorded by a priest and preserved in a storied text known as The Huarochirí Manuscript.
The HAWAPI artists attempted to engage both with local environment and its culture during their stay in the mountains. The group invited residents of Tanta to come and visit midway through their residency, and some 70 townspeople showed up to perform traditional music and dances. Many of the artists also designed projects that gestured at ancient Inca rites and practices, and to man’s influence on nature.
Peruvian artist Ishmael Randal Weeks, for instance, carved a seat out of rock in a spot with a view of Pariacaca. The sculpted seat was meant as a direct reference to the Incan “Ushnus” still found all over Cuzco, stone carved seats often placed facing holy sites, such as mountains, and configured in such a way as to intersect with sacred lines that were thought to radiate out of the city. Randal also diverted a small waterfall near the camp through a series of gutters, to emphasize nature’s tendency to take its own course regardless of human interventions.
Haresh Bhojwani of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in New York attempted to launch his Carbon Cube project—but faced some complications. He planned to represent with helium balloons the amount of coal burnt each day in the world: 300 meters by 300 meters, which is as wide and as long as the Empire State Building. But the balloons were too fragile to survive the conditions on the mountain. Ultimately, the group managed to represent a single second of coal consumption, 7 meters by 7 meters, using string, in a collaborative effort to salvage the project.
Holland and two other artists were intent on having direct contact with the glacier itself, so they made a four-hour hike out from the campsite. But the glacier was very visible from the camp. “We had a direct view of the glacier, it was a constant presence,” he said.
(Read more about artists who incorporate glaciers into their work on GlacierHub, here and here.)