Roundup: Melting Glaciers Move Borders, Peruvian Study Opens Door for Glacial Research, and Glacier Meltwater Acoustics

As The Climate Shifts A Border Moves

Not all natural boundaries are as stable as they might appear. Italy, Austria, and Switzerland’s shared borders depend on the limits of the glaciers and they have been melting at increased rates due to climate change. This has caused the border to shift noticeably in recent years. The border lies primarily at high altitudes, among tall mountain peaks where it crosses white snowfields and icy blue glaciers.

Read the story by Elza Bouhassira on Glacierhub here.

Rifugio Guide Del Cervino. Source: Franco56/ Wikimedia Commons

Peruvian Study Opens Doors for Glacial Research

A study published in March of this year by researchers from the University of Quebec presents a new avenue for glacier retreat research. While most water-related glacier studies are concerned with water availability, the research presented in this article is distinctive in that it draws a link between glacier retreat and water quality. This work has important implications for populations in the study area and others living in glacierized regions around the world.

Read the story by Zoë Klobus on GlacierHub here.

Dissolved pyrite causes red deposit on rocks along a river in the Rio Santa watershed (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Acoustics of Meltwater Drainage in Greenland Glacial Soundscapes

Remember the age-old adage, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?” For centuries philosophers have tested our minds with such questions, and certainly the answer depends on how the individual chooses to define the word sound. Scientists would say that if by sound, we mean the physical phenomenon of wave disturbance caused by the crash, we would undoubtedly concur. Indeed, in recognizing the uniqueness of audio frequencies, the scientific practice of studying environmental soundscapes has proven effective at providing information across a varied range of phenomena. But glaciers represent a relatively new soundscape frontier. 

“Glaciologists just opened their eyes to studying glaciers about 150 years ago. We started to look at glaciers from different angles, perspectives, satellites — but we forgot to open our ears,” said Dr. Evgeny Podolskiy, an assistant professor at the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. “I’ve been studying glacier geophysics for quite some time and I found that there is this kind of natural zoo, or a universe, of sounds which we kind of totally ignored until recently.”

Read the full story by Audrey Ramming on GlacierHub here

Dr. Evgeny Podolskiy daily work at the calving front of Bowdoin Glacier. Source: Evgeny Podolskiy

Video of the Week: Coronavirus Protests in Pakistani Karakoram

In recent weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has sparked mass protests around the US However, the US is not the only country dealing with unrest as a result of the public health crisis. India and Lebanon have seen demonstrations based on concerns over lockdown restrictions or lack of government aid. Recently, the Astore District in northern Pakistan, a region home to a vast number of glaciers, has experienced student led protests. The Pamir Times, a local news station recently published an article l with an accompanying video of the protests.

The student-led protests took place in Gilgit-Baltistan, located  in the Karakorams of northern Pakistan. As in other coronavirus demonstrations around the world, the protestors were concerned with the government response to  the pandemic. The students accused the Astore administration of mismanaging the coronavirus situation. They detailed how sick patients were continuing to live with quarantined people. Additionally, they said the facilities available for coronavirus patients were inadequate. Concern over treatment of sick patients and the safety of those in quarantine is growing in this area, as Astore has become a hotspot.

The video documenting the protests shows students marching through a marketplace, animatedly chanting. Some protestors are seen stopping to be interviewed on camera. The mountains provide a strikingly picturesque backdrop to the unrest. The Karakorams in Pakistan hold some of the world’s largest and longest mid-latitude glaciers. About 37 percent of the region is glacierized. These glaciers supply meltwater to locals for irrigation and domestic consumption, playing a particularly important role in the summer, after the snowmelt in spring has abated.

Rakaposhi, a mountain in the Karakoram Mountain Range (Source: Wiki Commons/Razaashrafsbs)

Unfortunately, mountain environments are particularly vulnerable to climate change and the Karakoram has not been immune. Glaciers in Pakistan are retreating, which poses multiple challenges for communities in the Astore District. Changing glacial landscapes reduce freshwater availability, affect tourism and hydroelectricity production, and in some cases even lead to cross-border conflict.

The recent coronavirus protests indicate the multiple challenges  in Gilgit-Baltistan. Though the pandemic has created new short-term threats, climate change remains as an ongoing obstacle to sustainable development in this region. GlacierHub will continue to cover the ongoing pandemic and its effects on those living in glacierized regions.

Read More on GlacierHub:

No Change in Black Carbon Levels on Peruvian Glaciers, Despite Pandemic Quarantine

Roundup: Norwegian Glacier Change, Climbing Federation Refocuses Priorities, and Antarctic Meltwater Influence on Phytoplankton

A Personal Reflection on a Himalayan COVID Experience in Queens

Photo Friday: Ecuadorian Photographer Highlights Country’s Glaciers

Photographer David Villacrés’ Twitter feed is teeming with various types of landscape photographs— from city streets to starry night skies and enormous volcanoes. For the Ecuador-based Villacrés, his home country is his muse. “All you need is Ecuador” is a frequent hashtag on his posts. Primarily a nature photographer, he often photographs the Ecuadorian Andes, which is home to the country’s glaciers.

Given Ecuador’s proximity to the equator, it might surprise some that the country’s highest peaks are home to ice caps and small outlet glaciers. Ecuadorian glaciers can be found on the Cordillera Occidental and the Cordillera Oriental, two mountain chains in the Andes that reach as high as nearly 20,000 ft. Glaciers situated among these mountain chains occur on both non-volcanic and volcanic peaks. The glacierized volcanic peaks include the Cotopaxi Volcano, which erupted as recently as August 2015; an eruption that lasted nearly six months. Cotopaxi is listed as one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. However, it is edged out by Chimborazo for the title of Ecuador’s highest volcano. Like Cotopaxi, the Chimborazo Volcano is also glacier-clad, but much less active in recent millennia. This month, Villacrés posted an image of three volcanoes from different Ecuadorian provinces, including the Chimborazo Volcano.

Glaciers play a fairly significant role in Ecuadorian life and culture. Meltwater from glaciers in the Ecuadorian Andes feed rivers that sustain communities living nearby. The mountains, volcanoes and glaciers are also a draw for tourists. However, these natural resources are rapidly shrinking. Due to volcanism and climate change, glaciers in Ecuador are disappearing, leaving less freshwater for humans and agriculture.

Cotopaxi volcano. Read more about glacier-covered volcanoes on GlacierHub and be sure to check out David Villacrés’ Twitter for more images of Ecuador’s natural beauty.

Read More on GlacierHub:

As The Climate Shifts A Border Moves

Video of the Week: Measuring Mass Balance on an Austrian Glacier

Not All Glaciers Retreat with Climate Change

As The Climate Shifts A Border Moves

Rifugio Guide del Cervino, a small mountain restaurant, opened in 1984 at a location high in the Italian Alps—now it might be in Switzerland. The restaurant has become the subject of a dispute between the two states due to a legal agreement which allows Italy’s northern border to move with the natural, morphological boundaries of glaciers’ frontiers, which largely follow the watersheds on either side of the ridges. The moving border has shifted over the last fifteen years since its creation as glaciers retreat and the restaurant may now be in Swiss territory. If decided to be in Switzerland, the restaurant would be subject to Swiss law, taxes, and potentially even customs; Swiss inspectors would need to approve every box of pasta and package of coffee brought up to the restaurant by cable car from Italy.

Rifugio Guide Del Cervino. 
Source: Franco56/ Wikimedia Commons

Borders can follow artificial paths, like those on maps forming perfectly straight lines, independent of the physical and cultural landscapes they may be mincing. Others are fixed by natural boundaries like the Niagara River separating the US and Canada. 

However, not all natural boundaries are as stable as they might appear. Italy, Austria, and Switzerland’s shared borders depend on the limits of the glaciers and they have been melting at increased rates due to climate change. This has caused the border to shift noticeably in recent years. The border lies primarily at high altitudes, among tall mountain peaks where it crosses white snowfields and icy blue glaciers. 

Mount Similaun glacier, where the border between Italy and Austria drifts with the ice. 
Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani/ Italian Limes

The moving border is an unprecedented legal concept. It was established through an agreement between Italy and Austria in 2006 and another between Italy and Switzerland in 2009. France did not sign such an agreement because of post World War II territorial gains on the Italian side of the watershed it did not want to risk losing.

The moving border’s flexibility is a highly unusual case in a world where many borders serve to mark defined lines of inclusion and exclusion. “Borders today move following the policies of exclusion from/inclusion in pursued by States. For instance, when it comes to migration, EU South external borders happen to be already in Africa, where migrants are prevented from embarking towards Europe,” international lawyer and Roma Tre University human rights professor Alice Riccardi told GlacierHub.

Since 2008, the Istituto Geografico Militare (IGM), which has defined and maintained Italy’s state borders since 1865, has conducted high-altitude survey expeditions every two years to search for shifts in the border and subsequently to update official maps. The collaborative team that conducts the survey is composed of an equal number of experts from IGM and representatives from cartographic institutes of neighboring states.

The concept of the moving border captured the attention of Marco Ferrari, an architect, and Dr. Elisa Pasqual, a visual designer. In 2014, they launched a research project and interactive installation called Italian Limes focused on the moving border. The word limes comes from Latin and was used by the Romans to describe a nebulous, unfixed fringe zone on the edge of their territorial control. The Romans viewed limes as ebbing and flowing as the Roman army advanced and retreated similar to how today the border moves as the ice drifts. 

The project, featured in the 2014 Venice Biennale, explores the limits of natural borders when they are tested by long-term ecological processes and reveals how climate change has begun to wear on Western ideas of territory and borders. 

“The project makes the speed of climate change visible because we are used to thinking of borders, glaciers, and mountains as things that stay fixed,” Ferrari told GlacierHub. “Climate change changes our conception of territory in a way that is not just material, it’s not just a disruption of infrastructure, but also of the geographical imagery of the planet itself. So the very idea of the border is put into crisis by climate change in this sense, it almost contradicts the possibility of being able to trace a border.”

One of the high-precision GPS measurement tools used by the project at Grafferner Glacier. 
Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani/ Italian Limes

The Italian Limes project takes measurements at the 1.5-kilometer long Grafferner Glacier near Mount Similaun in the Ötztal Alps at the border of Italy and Austria. GPS measurement units were installed at the site to track changes to the glacier and watershed which broadcast their data to a machine, which prints a real-time representation of the moving border.

“By looking at the history of the border we came across this specific moment in time of the mobile border that was initially presented to us as an anecdote, as a funny curiosity, a weird glitch in the normal diplomatic management of the relationship between countries. Because of how it was presented to us, we almost didn’t focus on it, but on second thought we saw that this was the nexus that could allow us to talk about all the things we wanted to talk about; it could allow us to reveal the contradiction in this idea of a natural border–how even the mountains, even the watershed, even glaciers aren’t something that is forever, the fact that they are chosen to be borders is a clear political act and when these things move the contradiction gets exposed,” Ferrari explained to GlacierHub.   

The installation showing a live representation of the border at ZKM, Karlsruhe.
Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani/ Italian Limes

The project grew to the point that Ferrari and Pasqual teamed up with architect and editor Andrea Bagnato to create A Moving Border: Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change, a 2019 book which builds on Italian Limes to map out the effects of climate change on geopolitical understandings of the border. 

“I saw the project at the Venice Biennale 2014, it was a fantastic installation, and that’s when I proposed to Marco and Elisa to turn it into a book because I thought that after the work they had done physically going up on the glacier and producing these devices to visualize the movements of the glacier, there were a lot of issues to explore in more detail, historical and political issues. The book was a way to do that,” Bagnato told GlacierHub. 

“The book provides a kind of historical perspective of the border and also of climate change,” Bagnato said. He continued, saying “Although we don’t address them directly in the book, I think it opens up to a lot of different geopolitical scenarios. Of course there are many situations in the world where borders pass on glaciers like in Chile/Argentina, India/Pakistan, and so on, where the geopolitics are far more heated than in Italy or Austria.”

The Alps in the Trentino province of Italy. 
Photo: Nawarona/ Flickr

Ultimately, the effects of climate change will introduce stresses that borders cannot keep under control. The new, quick changes to the moving border are only one such instance. The US state of Louisiana is rapidly losing ground to the waters on its coast. India and Bangladesh were involved in a dispute over who controlled an uninhabited sandbar that vanished beneath the rising seas. The province of Kashmir has long been a point of contention between Pakistan and India––if its glaciers melt and regional freshwater supply is put under great stress, conflict for control of the province could escalate significantly. 

In an interview with Vice, Ferrari said “Even the biggest and most stable things, like glaciers, mountains—these huge objects, they can change in a few years. We live on a planet that changes, and we try to make rules, to give meaning, but this meaning is completely artificial because nature, basically, doesn’t give a shit.”

Dolomites, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Center of Mounting Controversy

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was established after World War II in an effort to create an “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.” Today, UNESCO plays many roles—maintaining peace and equity, encouraging sustainable development, advancing cooperation, sciences and communication, and preserving culture. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, the Dolomites in Italy are now becoming a source of controversy.

The Gardena Pass in the Dolomites (Source: Wiki Commons/Moroder)

The Dolomites is a mountain range spanning more than 140,000 hectares in Northern Italy. Comprised of 18 peaks, the Dolomites boast breathtaking scenery with sheer mountain cliffs, glaciers, and clear mountain lakes. The mountains are a sought-after tourist destination, particularly for thrill-seekers who can ski and mountain climb during winter, and paraglide and hang glide in the summer. Free climbing has also been a tradition in the Dolomites for over a decade.

The mountain range’s rich history is not only defined by its outdoor activities. Communities in the Dolomites speak three languages, German, Italian, and Ladin, an early Romance language. The mountain range also served as a front during World War I from 1915 to 1917, where Italian and Austrian forces clashed. Between battles and natural forces such as avalanches, landslides and frostbite, 150,000 soldiers died in the Alps during WW1. Today, retreating glaciers are beginning to expose buried relics of the Austrian stronghold.

World War I memorial on Mount Piana, location of the “Open Air Museum of the First World War” (Wiki Commons/AnaisGoepner)

The UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, was formed in 2010 by several Italian provinces and regions. The Foundation is responsible for coordinating the effective management of the mountain range and acts as an intermediary between local authorities and the Italian Ministry for the Environment. According to Jacopo Pasotti, an Italian Journalist who specializes in scientific and environmental reporting, climate change and land use changes currently pose significant threats to the Dolomites. Speaking to GlacierHub, Pasotti explained that the mountains are highly developed in many places, with heavy traffic during peak tourism. Fewer snow days and less snowfall would have affected tourism, if it were not for the government subsidies that have allowed ski resorts to increase artificial snow production. Pasotti stressed the importance of creating protected areas tourists can’t access to protect the natural landscape and wildlife. But he does not hold out hope for the region’s glaciers, “under all scenarios this very sensitive area is going to lose the majority of its glaciers in the next few decades.”

Mountain Wilderness is a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 in Biella, Italy by mountaineers to pursue the preservation of the country’s natural environment and culture of mountain regions. The group encourages sustainable tourism. It has recently taken issue with the management of the Dolomites and is particularly concerned over threats from tourism. Last month, the organization published an electronic letter on their website declaring it was removing itself from the Board of Supporters of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, stating its displeasure with the management of the Dolomites. Signed by Mountain Wilderness President Franco Tessadri, the letter states, “We were assured (in 2017, then postponed to 2018, then again to 2019) that UNESCO would make a further visit to check the management of the Dolomites heritage. This never happened.”

The Marmolada Glacier, 2015 (Source: Wiki Commons/DarTar)

The Mountain Wilderness letter accuses the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation of focusing its attention on tourism marketing rather than sustainable management– a complaint no doubt exacerbated by increased tourism in recent years. The non-profit took particular offense at the Foundation’s failure to condemn the use of vehicles on mountain trails. Mountain Wilderness also criticized the Foundation for failing to effectively communicate with its supporters. They reference a joint letter sent by national and local environmental associations to the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation. According to Mountain Wilderness, this letter was ignored. In their letter withdrawing from the Foundation’s Board of supporters, Mountain Wilderness stated, “That silence was extremely offensive to all the signatory associations, not only to Mountain Wilderness Italy, as if the Foundation had freed itself of the burden of environmentalists with a shrug of its shoulders.”

When reached for comment, the UNESCO Dolomite’s Foundation stated, “we are pleased to inform you that the Board of Directors of the Foundation has acknowledged Mountain Wilderness Italia’s willingness to leave the Board of Supporters, despite the great attention paid in recent years to dialogue and confrontation. As you surely know, the situation in Italy for the coronavirus is still serious and the lockdown still in place. Once the situation will allow it, a confrontation at political level will be proposed to Mountain Wilderness Italia.”

The Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites (Source: Wiki Commons/Moroder)

Alessandra Giannini, a climate scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society fondly remembers a family trip to the Dolomites in the mid-1970s. She and her family stayed in San Martino di Castrozza, where they hiked nearby trails and picked blueberries, which her sister ate straight from the bush. Giannini told GlacierHub she remembers finding the lighter colors of the mountains’ barren peaks particularly striking. Years later, she now knows the lighter colors on the barren peaks are due to their oceanic origin.

When asked about preservation efforts and management, Giannini stated that at the time when her family visited the Dolomites, there was “no such thing as any restrictions, except that it was forbidden to collect rare flowers.” Giannini described how her mother noted how much the Dolomites had changed since she visited in the 1950s. Her mother was surprised how different even the small town of San Martino de Castrozza was, as the “woods in the village had given way to construction.” Giannini also drew connections between concern over management of the Dolomites and the situation in Cinque Terre, a section of the Ligurian Riviera close to her family’s home. Cinque Terre is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site. She said in the last two decades Cinque Terre has become a popular tourist attraction in Italy. According to Giannini a “thin veneer of environmentalism” defined by the establishment of a national park or a UNESCO World Heritage site is to blame for tourists overrunning Italy’s natural resources. She said, “local government structures have given preference to the business of tourism over conservation efforts.”

San Martino di Castrozza (Wiki Commons/Threecharlie)

Whether as the result of the actions of the UNESCO Dolomite Foundation, or that of the Italian government, concern over management and preservation of the Dolomites is mounting. Like many other glacierized regions, the Dolomites are under threat of climate change. Organizations like Mountain Wilderness do not want to see these threats exacerbated by land-use changes or the wear of tourist activities. However, the issue is not so black and white, as the local economy depends heavily on tourism. Recent attempts to restrict vehicle use in the Dolomites were met with opposition from hotel and restaurant owners in the Dolomites and criticism from local officials. Preservation of the Dolomites has become a balancing act– conserve the natural environment without damaging the local economy.

Read More on GlacierHub:

UNESCO-Recognized Glaciers Could Shrink 60 Percent by End of Century

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Video of the Week: Nepali Celebrities Take Part in Coronavirus Song

From “I Will Survive” singer Gloria Gaynor, to police in Mexico and transit workers in Bangkok, music is the latest tool for spreading awareness of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As the pandemic spreads around the world, the trend of singing hygiene warnings has also reached glacierized parts of the world. A YouTube video published in late March of this year has Nepali A-list celebrities singing in Nepali warning about the Coronavirus.

The video includes Nepali actors, comedians and singers, including Madan Krishna Shrestha, Haribansha Acharya, Srita Lamichhane, and Dipashree Niraula. In the video, the entertainers demonstrate hand-washing, monitoring fevers, and social distancing practices such as avoiding shaking hands. Included in the music video are info-graphics to help communicate vital information. Videos such as this one are created in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus which has seen 1.9 million cases in at least 185 countries and territories. Celebrity-filled videos provide a bit of light-hearted news in a time of global crisis.

North face of Mount Everest (Source: Wiki Commons/Lucag)

Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s highest mountains and countless glaciers, has 16 Coronavirus cases as of April 14. Although there have not been any confirmed deaths in the country, Nepal has not been left unscathed. Nepal’s tourism industry has been hit hard by restricted travel and stay-at-home orders. In March, the government withdrew all trekking and climbing permits, a major blow to the country’s tourism-driven economy led by Mount Everest. Lockdowns occurred so swiftly they even left tourists stranded on mountain trails. While some rescue efforts did take place, as of late March there were still nearly two hundred tourists stuck in Nepal. GlacierHub has been covering the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and its effects on glacierized parts of the world. For more information regarding the impact of Coronavirus in Nepal, check out “The Covid-19 Pandemic Complicates Tourism in the Everest Region.

Coronavirus Song Transcription (courtesy of Kathryn March):

Corona virus

Corona virus.

You can become infected and die from the corona virus.

In order to survive the corona virus,

[In the music video this is where they show the public service infographic, which says:

Ways to survive the corona virus

If you get a fever, if you are coughing, if it is hard to breathe, go to the nearest health post]

you honestly have to wash,

 [Just as] we have to tell you honestly.

Corona virus.

If it becomes difficult to breathe, if you also get a fever,

it becomes difficult as soon as you get a cough.

When this happens, go to your health post.

It’s hard to survive this corona virus.

You mustn’t go into crowds, even if you have to.

You have to be [strong?].

You have to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Corona virus.

As soon as you get sick, you have to stay apart.

When you cough or sneeze, you have to cover your nose and face.

Remember, you must not spit all over the place.

Don’t embrace in a hug; instead let’s greet with a namaskar

Also, instead of shaking hands, greet from afar.

It’s hard to show proper darshan respect.

You have to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Corona virus.

Read More on GlacierHub:

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Photo Friday: Coronavirus Shutdown Brings Clean Air, Clear Mountain Views

Peruvian Study Opens Doors for Glacial Research

A study published in March of this year by researchers from the University of Quebec presents a new avenue for glacier retreat research. While most water-related glacier studies are concerned with water availability, the research presented in this article is distinctive in that it draws a link between glacier retreat and water quality. This work has important implications for populations in the study area and others living in glacierized regions around the world.

Dissolved pyrite causes red deposit on rocks along a river in the Rio Santa watershed (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

This Peruvian study was conducted in the Rio Santa watershed in Peru, a freshwater source for 1.6 million people in a country currently suffering from water scarcity issues. For communities living within the Rio Santa watershed, its water resources are essential for drinking water, hydroelectricity, irrigation and recreation. However, freshwater in parts of the Rio Santa watershed have been found to be contaminated with trace metals. Water samples collected during this study showed concentrations of arsenic and manganese in the Rio Santa River are greater than the US Environmental Protection Agency drinking water guidelines, signaling potential hazards for water users. In certain doses, arsenic can be toxic and long-term exposure can lead to skin lesions, cancer, and infant mortality.

Researchers measured the debit of the Rio Santa using an ADCP (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

GlacierHub caught up with Michel Baraer, professor at the University of Quebec and co-author of this study. Baraer said their results yielded 2 major surprises. First, the main sources of trace metal contamination in the Rio Santa watershed are from both active and abandoned mines. Precipitation runoff washes traces of metals such as aluminum, arsenic, and zinc from the mines into nearby waterways. Second, the researchers did not see major differences in concentrations of metals with changes in discharge. In other words, there did not seem to be a connection between the amount of water flowing and metal contamination. This finding was unexpected because of the drastic difference between dry and wet seasons in the Rio Santa watershed. Over 80 percent of the yearly precipitation falls between October and April, leaving the summer months severely dry. River flow is determined by precipitation, snow and ice melt, groundwater, etc., elements that vary seasonally.  These results led Baraer and his colleague to conclude that the processes controlling metal concentrations in the Rio Santa watershed were more complex than simple dilution.

Researchers hiking to study the Quilcayanca glacier and its impacts on the hydrology of the valley (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Baraer says their research found that glacier retreat has an indirect effect on water contamination in the Rio Santa watershed, as it affects different parts of the watershed over time. The researchers found that metal contamination decreased steadily downstream, meaning contaminants have mostly remained upstream and closer to their source. As a result, communities downstream have had a consistent freshwater supply. However, retreating glaciers change the flow pattern of rivers and tributaries, altering the quantity of water flowing downstream. As glaciers first begin to retreat, they increasingly release more water until they reach “peak water,” or the maximum output. The Rio Santa has passed this period of peak water, meaning stream flow is declining.  However, the decline in stream flow will mostly occur during the dry season. The wet season is expected to experience an increase in stream flow, as warmer temperatures cause more precipitation to occur as rain, rather than snow. This increase in discharge during the wet season has the potential to transport contaminants further downstream and closer to more populated areas that have historically had cleaner water. Baraer believes this to be the main takeaway from the article– that glacier retreat does have this indirect effect, and it is a useful case study for researchers in the area and other glaciated regions.

The Pastaruri glacier in the Rio Santa watershed has lost 20% of its size in 30 years (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Baraer stressed the importance of educating the public about water contamination issues. Although he believes there are engineering projects that could address the contamination, they would be expensive and require substantial funding. Instead, Baraer said, “awareness should be the first priority.” Educating the public about trace metal contamination and the effects it may have on children and pregnant women is critical.

Along the Rio Santa in the city of Huaraz during the dry season (Source: Alexandre Guittard)

Research connecting glacier retreat to water quality is scarce and the impacts of glacier retreat on water quality remain largely unknown. Baraer says this article is just a starting point. Studies like this one are extremely important for communities dependent on these water sources. While discussing water scarcity issues in Peru, Baraer mused, “what if not only we get less water, but what if this water is not as good?” In addition to linking glacier retreat to water quality, the study begins to question who will be most affected, where and at what time. As for continuing this line of research, he has an article under review regarding organic water contamination. Baraer is also a member of the Transdisciplinary Andean Research Network, which conducts research at the intersections of climate change, glacier retreat, hydrological resources, water use, and societal adaptation.

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Photo Friday: Chilean Volcanoes at Yellow Alert

Two glacier-covered volcanoes in Chile are at yellow alert, the second phase on a four-color scale. At yellow alert, Nevados de Chillán and Villarrica volcanoes are under advisory, meaning they are exhibiting signs of instability. While they are currently on the lower end of the warning spectrum, the two are still among the highest-risk volcanoes in the country, with long histories of activity and eruptions. Shown in the images below, smoke can be seen drifting from the mouth of the snow-capped Villarrica volcano, a clear indicator of volcanic activity.

According to Chile’s National Geology and Mining Service, the two volcanoes became active approximately 650,000 years ago. However, their surfaces are marked by formations from postglacial (the period after the most recent glaciation) eruptions that have occurred over the last 10,000 years. Interactions between lava and ice have drastically altered the topographic features of the Nevados de Chillán and Villarrica volcanoes. Evidence shows glaciers and ice sheets slowed or halted the flow of lava from these volcanoes. The lava melted holes into glacial ice and rapidly cooled after encountering ice sheets. In the 20th century, more recent activity has resulted in 100 fatalities related to mudflows, or lahars, on the slopes of the Villarrica Volcano.

The Nevados de Chillán and Villarrica volcanoes pose imminent threats to the populations living in their shadows. At the base of both volcanoes are cities where tourism from summer vacation facilities and winter sports complexes has been successful. The communities living under the threat of active volcanoes constantly risk destruction from lahars, falling ash, and lava flows. Images of Nevados de Chillán from April 1, 2020 show the volcano puffing out smoke, a stark contrast to the serene images of the volcano on April 2. The difference in appearance of Nevados de Chillán in just this two-day period shows the variability of the volcanic activity.

GlacierHub has previously reported on Nevados de Chillán, posting about a change in alert level in October 2019. That article highlighted that the volcano had been upgraded to orange alert, which indicates a significant risk of eruption. This month’s yellow alert is an obvious de-escalation since GlacierHub’s last report on Nevados de Chillán. Continue to check GlacierHub for updates on this and other glacier-covered volcanoes.


Read More on GlacierHub:

The Covid-19 Pandemic Complicates Tourism in the Everest Region

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

Are US Glacier Counties Complying With Social Distancing?

Photo Friday: Travel and Trade Fair Promotes Mountain Communities

The mountain communities of Humla District in Nepal and Pulan County, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, have long histories and rich cultures. As neighboring communities, their pasts are intertwined, with their Hindu and Buddhist ties dating back centuries. In 2018, the groups came together for a cross-border travel and trade fair, the Kailash Confluence. The two-day event celebrated the communities’ history of trading goods, ideas, and beliefs. It also sought to preserve their shared culture and create opportunities for improving the livelihoods of the local people through the development of sustainable tourism and trade. Now, in 2020, the Namkha Rural Municipality has published a bilingual photo book (English and Nepali) with support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. The book does not only depict the ceremonies and activities offered by the Kailash Confluence, but also provides insight into daily life in the Humla district of Nepal.

Kermi Village, Humla District (Source: ICIMOD)
Visitors hike to Mount Kailash (Source: ICIMOD)

The images show stone pathways and houses, majestic mountain views, and colorful attire. Home to nearly 51,000 people, Humla is a well-known district along the ancient salt trade route that spans from the Tibetan Plateau through parts of Nepal and India. The photo book includes images of harrowing mountain passes through which trucks climb unpaved roads. Although the roads can be dangerous and difficult for vehicles, they are necessary for conducting trade. The district is also a pilgrimage site and a source of international tourism, drawing thousands of Hindu and Buddhist devotees each year.

Culture is particularly displayed in the photo book, which includes images of the event’s speeches, dances, concerts, local cuisine and exhibitions of local products. Images from the start of the Kailash Confluence reveal the honors bestowed on guests, who were received by a line of locals and event organizers. A series of photographs show dances dedicated to deities, religious figures, and dances calling for good omens and prosperity. The performers wear ornate masks, layers of colorful, patterned clothing and use props. One image shows two dancers surrounded by clouds of white powder.

The Chhyam is a dance performed to bring prosperity and good omens (Source: ICIMOD)
The Gonpo is a dance that honors Mahakala, the
emanation of Avalokitesvara and the bodhisattva of compassion (Source: ICIMOD)

As evidenced in the photo book, Humla has remained mostly untouched by urbanization. The district continues to be defined by ancient Buddhist practices that are fueled by their connection to spiritual sites. One image from the book shows how visitors hike through Humla to Mount Kailash in TAR, China. Melting glaciers in Humla threaten the district’s communities and cultural sites. Severe flooding from glacial lakes has led to dangerous intervention projects. Despite efforts by the government of Nepal, threats of rapidly melting glaciers continue to loom over the Humla District and its people.  

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Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Over 300 glaciers in North Cascades National Park were at risk of mining contamination, but they will now receive increased federal protection aimed at better preserving them.

The largest public lands bill in decades was passed in February by the US Congress with bipartisan support. In the House, the vote was 363-62 and in the Senate 92-8. President Trump signed the bill in mid-March. The Natural Resources Management Act sets forth provisions that aim to protect land, rivers, and ecosystems across US public lands. The bipartisan effort extends protections to over 300,000 acres of land in areas around North Cascades and Yellowstone National Parks. The measure also adds 1.3 million acres of wilderness to the western United States, protecting those areas from resource extraction, such as oil and gas drilling. Utah will be granted 661,200 acres of wilderness land, California 375,500 acres, and New Mexico 272,900. A full list of the expansions of national parks, wilderness areas, and trail extensions can be foundhere.

Doubtful Lake as seen from Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascade National Park (Source: Brew Books/Flickr).

Advocates for the legislation, including national park visitors, conservationists, and environmentalists, hope that it will reduce or prevent harmful impacts of climate change and water contamination on sensitive environments, such as the glaciers in North Cascades. Mining creates soot that falls onto glacier surfaces, reducing their albedo, which in turn causes greater amounts of melting.

According to the National Parks Service, North Cascades is among the snowiest places on Earth and is the most heavily glaciated area in the United States, outside of Alaska. Glaciers in the park are shrinking due to the impacts of climate change—20 percent of North Cascade National Park’s Boulder Glacier has been lost to glacial retreat. North Cascade Glacier Climate Project (NCGCP) has tracked changes on the glacier since 1988. According to NCGCP, Boulder Glacier has retreated about 20 meters per year from 1984-2009, a total of about 515 meters.

The Natural Resources Management Act will provide a larger buffer zone between mining sites and the park.

After the bill was passed in February by the US Senate, Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservancy Association stated: “We are one step closer to adding over 2 million acres of parks, wilderness, and conservation lands into protected status.”

Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican representing Utah, opposed the bill, fearing land in his home state would miss out on development opportunities.

The bill protects Yellowstone National Park from mining around the area. (Source: Frip/Flickr)

Lisa Dale, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has extensive experience with wilderness designation. Dale, who worked for the Wilderness Society, which was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 National Wilderness Act, explained to GlacierHub the process for expanding wilderness protections on public lands.

The land must not have any roads and must be a minimum of 5,000 acres. And the areas under consideration should, according to Dale, “provide an opportunity for solitude … and not have any presence of modern life.” The presence of modern life includes noise and light pollution from nearby cities and towns.

Land under considered for protection must be deemed a valuable and unique ecosystem—North Cascade National Park, for example, which hosts awe-inspiring terrain and hundreds of glaciers.

The process for granting wilderness status is not typically fast or easy. First, it is important to note that land turned into wilderness is not taken from the private sector. Rather, wilderness comes from land that the federal government already possesses. What makes it wilderness, however, is added protection and restrictions of the land. After the land is constituted as wilderness, the area is designated for recreation—fishing, hunting, backpacking, and finding solitude. Mechanized vehicles are prohibited.

Dale said the process often starts with a small, grass-roots organization that has a substantial amount of data on federal areas. These areas are usually designated Wilderness Study Areas. In order to be considered a Wilderness Study Area, it must have been identified by the Land Management Agency, Forest Service, Park Service, or Bureau of Land Management as having “wilderness quality.” This wilderness quality will be maintained by organizations such as the Wilderness Society as they wait for wilderness approval.

Colorado’s Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness – White River(Source: Colorado Sands/Flickr).

There is much to celebrate with the passing of this bill, and with it comes the protection and conservation of sensitive ecosystems like the glaciers of Northern Cascade National Park.

“To have all of these things happening at once happening in one bill is pretty exciting and worth celebrating because of the bi-partisan nature of the support that came around to support these actions,” Dale said.

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Photo Friday: Losing Ice and Ecosystems

A recent New York Times interactive article documents the changes of glaciers around Washington State and Alaska. The melting of these glaciers has a heavy impact on more than just sea level rise. It impacts salmon spawning, river and stream patterns, and nearby landscapes. Changes to glaciers also impact the nutrient balance and temperature of glacier-fed watersheds. These disruptions can shift a whole ecosystem.

Climate reporter Henry Fountain and photographer Max Whittaker ventured to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to evaluate the impacts of melting glaciers on local ecosystems.

Glacial ecosystems have adapted to fit this cold water environment. As the temperature of the water rises, it becomes more difficult for smaller species to remain in their habitat and could potentially cause them to die out.

The impact on glacial melt on salmon, however, is more complex. Salmon are major income source in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Though temperature is also important to salmon migration and reproduction, there could be some temporary benefits for salmon in terms of glacial melt. The melt brings rocks and boulders that were not in the river bed before, providing excellent spawning sites. Because of this, some areas could actually see an increase in salmon populations.

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Video of the Week: The World Bank’s Human Capital Index

This Video of the Week provides an introduction to the World Bank’s newly released Human Capital Index (HCI); it explains what the Human Capital Index is, how it works, and why it is important. 

The HCI measures investment in human capital in countries around the world. It highlights the necessity of basic human rights for children of the next generation of workers, such as: social and economic equality, good health, proper nutrition, and access to education. Proper investment in human capital is essential to facilitate economic development and prosperity on the national level. At the individual level, investment in human capital works to help people reach their true potential, provide for their future families, and improve overall quality of life.

This index also calls attention to existing disparities between glacier countries. The United States, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Iceland, and New Zealand have HCIs ranking in the top (fourth) quartile of countries; Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Kyrgyzstan rank in the third HCI quartile; Tajikistan and Nepal rank in the second HCI quartile. Bolivia and Bhutan both lacked data to calculate HCI values.

Watch the video below, and explore the World Bank’s Human Capital Project webpage for more information.

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