Glacier Researchers Gather at IPCC Meeting in Fiji

IPCC lead authors at a plenary session (source: Ben Orlove).

Researchers from several countries gathered earlier this month to begin drafting a report that will assess the state of research on glaciers. The meeting took place in Fiji, thousands of miles from the nearest glacier. This location reflects the other 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, is charged with topics which include observed and projected changes in glaciers, permafrost and snow, as well as links to climate, hazards and water resources. It also includes risks for societies and response strategies. The full chapter outline can be found in the outline of the report, which was approved earlier this year.

Lead authors enjoying the refreshments at a mid-afternoon break (source: Ben Orlove).

The event, hosted by the Government of Fiji and the University of the South Pacific, was held at a resort conference center in Nadi, Fiji, from 2 to 6 October. As IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett stated, “This is the first time the IPCC has undertaken a focused report on the processes that drive change and the resulting impacts to oceans and the frozen parts of our planet. There is a huge volume of scientific information for us to assess, which can help policy makers to better understand the changes we are seeing and the risks to lives and livelihoods that may occur with future change.”

The meeting drew over 100 participants from 30 countries, who divided their time between plenary sessions which focused on general issues, meetings of the authors of specific chapters to refine each chapter, and gatherings of representatives of different chapters to coordinate activities and address specific cross-cutting issues.

Ravind Kumar, director of the Fiji Meteorological Service, addressing an outrach event at the University of the South Pacific (source: Ben Orlove).

Chapter 2 is being led by two Coordinating Lead Authors, Regine Hock, a glaciological 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.

Though the work was steady, the pace was relieved by opening and closing ceremonies, which featured traditional Fijian songs and dances, and regular breaks for coffee and tea. Additional cultural depth was provided by an evening in which a troupe of indigenous performers presented dances from neighboring islands as well as Fiji.

Kava ceremony offered by the Fiji Meteorological Service at the meeting (source: Ben Orlove).

The Fiji Meteorological Service also hosted a kava ceremony, in which participants at the workshop joined the local scientists, sitting together on a mat. The beverage was prepared traditionally, by placing powdered kava root in a cloth and slowly mixing it  with cold water in a large wooden bowl. It was also consumed in the traditional manner, passed slowly in coconut shells from host to visitor.

Some of the authors and IPCC personnel participated in outreach events in Lautoka and Suva, located within a few hours of Nadi, and hosted respectively by the University of Fiji and the University of the South Pacific. They presented the outline of the report to local audiences, discussed major findings of earlier IPCC reports about changes in climate and ocean environments, and reviewed issues specific to Pacific islands.

Garlands being placed on speakers at an outreach event at the University of South Pacific (source: Ben Orlove).

As Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of Working Group II of the IPCC, said, “These events will help policymakers from the region and other stakeholders gain an understanding of climate change and how to respond to it.” He added, “Besides presenting our findings, I hope that these events will contribute to enhancing the involvement of developing countries in our work.”

The participants left the meeting ready to begin the process of drafting the report. Their next draft will be reviewed and revised at a second meeting in February 2018 in Quito, Ecuador—much closer to glaciers. After that, the draft will be circulated for expert review in May 2018. The final report will be drafted 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 tropical island and showing them the concern of the Fijian people who welcomed and hosted them warmly.