Roundup: Satellite Images, Plane Accident and Colonial Antipolitics

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

Satellite Images Reveal Dramatic Tropical Glacier Retreat

From Plymouth University news:

SATELLITE IMAGES REVEAL DRAMATIC TROPICAL GLACIER RETREAT(Credit: Digital Globe)
SATELLITE IMAGES REVEAL DRAMATIC TROPICAL GLACIER RETREAT (Credit: Digital Globe)

“Scientists have obtained high resolution satellite images that paint a stark picture of how tropical glaciers in the Pacific have retreated over the past decade. The images taken from the Pleaides satellites reveal that the formerly extensive Carstenz Glacier of West Papua has almost completely disappeared, while the once continuous East North Wall Firn has split into a number of much smaller fragments.

The findings have been released by scientists at Plymouth University and the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth (BRNC) and come on the heels of record-breaking temperatures around the globe.

Dr Chris Lavers, Lecturer in Radar and Telecommunications, based at BRNC, said:

‘The years 2011-2015 have been the warmest five-year period on record, with many extreme weather events influenced by climate change. So it is not surprising then that the present observed speed of glacier retreat world wide has been historically unprecedented. This is visual confirmation of the ablation of equ atorial glaciers, with the Carstenz Glacier revealed to have almost completely melted away in the last 15 years.'”

Learn more about the story here.

Failure to use carb heat while flying by glacier leads to accident

From General Aviation News:

Cessna 182(Credit: Wikimedia)
Cessna 182 (Credit: Wikimedia)

“The Cessna 182 pilot was flying down a glacier near Cooper Landing, Alaska, for an extended period of time at a low power setting without the carburetor heat on. Near the toe of the glacier, he attempted to add power to level the plane, but the engine did not respond. He said that their altitude was low and he landed on the glacier moraine. The plane nosed over, sustaining substantial damage to the wings and fuselage.

The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to correctly use carburetor heat, resulting in a loss of engine power and collision with terrain.”

To read more about the news here.

“They could take you out for coffee and call it consultation!”: The colonial antipolitics of Indigenous consultation in Jasper National Park

From Sage Journals:

Jasper National Park(Credit: Wikimedia)
Jasper National Park (Credit: Wikimedia)

“Although Canada has been applauded for its co-management arrangements in recently established national parks, it continues to struggle with its legacy of colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples, especially in its older and more iconic parks. First Nations were evicted from the earliest parks such as Banff and Jasper in a process of colonial territorialization that facilitated a “wilderness” model of park management and made space for capitalist enterprises like sport hunting and tourism. In Jasper National Park today, private tourism development proposals trigger a duty to consult with nations whose Aboriginal or Treaty rights may be impacted by development.”

Learn more about the study here.

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Indigenous Livelihoods at Bolivia’s Highest Mountain

A new study conducted at Sajama, the highest mountain in Bolivia, shows that local indigenous populations have been able to adapt to the changes in water resources that result from glacier retreat. Other environmental changes, as well as shifting economic and political circumstances, have also shaped their responses. Villarroel and her coauthors describe the area in detail in their recent paper in the journal “Mountain Research and Development.”

Wetland in Sajama National Park (source: Lorini/AguaSustentable)
Wetland in Sajama National Park (source: Lorini/AguaSustentable)

With an elevation of 6542 meters, Sajama, an extinct volcanic cone, rises more than two kilometers above the surrounding plains, known as the altiplano. Precipitation is concentrated in a short rainy season in this semi-arid region. The vegetation varies with elevation and topography, with large areas of grassland, sections with shrubs, and some wetlands, which are concentrated along the streams that are fed by glacial melt and groundwater from the mountain. Though the wetlands are relatively small in area, they have great economic and ecological importance, because the herbs, sedges and grasses that grow in them remain green throughout the year.

The indigenous Aymara of the altiplano have long practiced livelihoods that are suited to this environment, centered on the raising of alpacas, a native ruminant that was domesticated millennia ago in the Andes. They carefully maintain irrigation channels that distribute water from the streams, expanding wetland areas. Though profoundly influenced by Spanish colonial rule and by the policies of the national governments of Bolivia, the Aymara have a high degree of self-government, in which communities govern the affairs of the many hamlets that compose them, through structures of customary leaders and assemblies. These communities gained recognition in the 1950s, and received additional support in the 1990s through constitutional reforms and the creation of a national council of indigenous communities.

Villarroel and her coauthors have traced the shifting patterns of water use and alpaca herding through “rights mapping methodology,” integrating the methods of the Nobel prizewinner Elinor Ostrom for studying natural resource management with participatory mapping based on Google Earth images. They found that the Aymara communities around Sajama had for decades practiced communal grazing. Households had free access to the community’s grasslands, which provide grazing during the rainy season. They also were able to graze their animals on the wetlands associated with their hamlets.

Alpacas at Sajama (source: twiga269/Flickr)
Alpacas at Sajama (source: twiga269/Flickr)

Pasture has become a scarce resource in the last two or three decades, as the water supply in streams has decreased because of glacier retreat. The population of the communities has also grown, increasing demand for pasture. Overgrazing had become a problem. In response, the communities shifted to delimiting grassland areas to which particular households have access, and individual hamlets have fenced off the wetlands. In this way, they can better limit the number of alpacas that graze in any area. They also organize meetings between hamlets and between communities to resolve disputes over access to water from streams. In addition, many households now purchase alfalfa and barley, trucked in from moister regions of Bolivia, to use as supplementary fodder. A number of the men leave the region for several months a year, earning wages to pay for this fodder.

Irrigation canal in a wetland in the Bolivian altiplano (source: Coppock/Rangelands)
Irrigation canal in a wetland in the Bolivian altiplano (source: Coppock/Rangelands)

The Sajama National Park has also influenced the response to water scarcity. Founded in 1939 as Bolivia’s first national park, it began active conservation management only in 1995, virtually eliminating alpaca grazing in the higher grasslands, and reducing hunting as well. These restrictions have led to the growth of populations of pumas and foxes, predators of the alpacas, and have brought about a resurgence of the vicuña, which had become locally endangered.

The loss of access to this area has placed further pressure on the other grasslands and on the wetlands, but it has also brought a new income source to the communities. They conduct annual round-ups of vicuña herds, in which the animals are shorn and then let free, in a kind of “catch and release” program. The wool commands a high price on the world market, and provides a supplementary livelihood. The participation of Aymara communities in the management committees of the park seems likely to assure that this arrangement will continue. Though this and other forms of market involvement allow the Aymara communities to continue other forms of traditional livelihood and self-governance, it adds another source of vulnerability as well, as Villarroel and her coauthors point out. It exposes local populations to price fluctuations, and may provide incentives to weaken community control of resources, at a time when further glacier retreat could water scarcity more acute. The future may well bring additional challenges to these resilient communities.

GlacierHub has also covered the involvement of indigenous communities in national park management in Peru.

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