As a Glacier Retreats a Major Water Source Dries Up
From CBC News:
“It’s [the Kaskawulsh glacier] been the main source of water into Yukon’s Kluane Lake for centuries, but now the Slims River has suddenly slimmed down — to nothing.
‘What folks have noticed this spring is that it’s essentially dried up,’ said Jeff Bond of the Yukon Geological Survey.
‘That’s the first time that’s happened, as far as we know, in the last 350 years.’
What’s happened is some basic glacier hydrology, Bond says — essentially, the Kaskawulsh Glacier has retreated to the point where its melt water is now going in a completely different direction, away from the Slims Valley.”
Rising Temperatures in National Parks Like Glacier Bay
From Climate Central:
“With such a wide variety of climates across the park system, the country’s 59 National Parks all have different challenges to manage in the changing climate. Some parks have experienced dramatic temperature changes, and these shifts can lead to water shortages (or too much water), ocean acidification, and species migration…. Glacier National Park — The number of glaciers has been cut in half since 1968, and the largest glaciers are expected to be gone within the next 15 years.”
Look at temperature trends in national parks here.
Hosted by Greenpeace: Professional Pianist Plays on Glacier
“Through his music, acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi has added his voice to those of eight million people from across the world demanding protection for the Arctic. Einaudi performed one of his own compositions on a floating platform in the middle of the Ocean, against the backdrop of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier (in Svalbard, Norway).”
“QUE GANEN LOS GLACIARES,” or “VICTORY TO THE GLACIERS” is not a slogan you’d expect to see associated with South America’s Copa America, which kicked off last Thursday in Santiago, Chile. As Chilean fútbol fervor builds, Greenpeace Chile has launched its own soccer campaign in support of its Glacier Republic.
In March 2014, Greenpeace declared the Republic an independent, sovereign state with its own declaration of independence, embassies abroad, and approximately 150,000 “official citizens.” Covering roughly 23,000 square kilometers of the Andes and including over 80% of South America’s glacial area, the new country formed through a loophole in the Chilean legal system; the Chilean constitution does not specifically recognize the glaciers as part of the nation’s sovereignty and the ownership of the glaciers is thus undefined. Furthermore, despite the critical importance of glaciers as a source for freshwater, they are not mentioned in the Chilean Water Code.
Now, with Chile’s attention focused on the Copa America, the Greenpeace movement continues. “La selección Glaciar” is the Republic’s national team affiliated with the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (ConIFA). ConIFA is a global nonprofit organization and football federation that supports all teams outside of FIFA including micro-nations and unrecognized states.
The Greenpeace Glacier team “competes” in metaphorical matches every Wednesday during meetings of Chile’s Environmental Commission of the Deputy Chamber. Since the first meeting last week, policymakers have been debating the country’s glacier laws: to protect some of Chile’s glaciers, as the existing proposal offers, or to designate all of the country’s glaciers as untouchable, as the Glacier Republic demands.
Matías Asún, director of Greenpeace Chile, stated: “On this occasion, we liken our work to a soccer game and invite all people to side with us and pressure the deputies to vote in favor of the glacier laws that Greenpeace put forth.” Greenpeace Chile encourages supporters to “become a fan” of their “team” and “demand that the deputies play clean with the glaciers.” They list government officials who “play” (i.e. vote) against the glaciers, those who play for the glaciers, and those who are still undecided.
The first “game” took place last Wednesday, as the Commission met with the intention of voting on amendments to the existing glacier law proposal. Meanwhile, Greenpeace supporters positioned themselves in Plaza Italia, a focal point for celebration, demonstration, and protest in Santiago. Conversation was heated as Deputy Fernando Meza, the president of the Commission, accused Greenpeace of ecoterrorism. Greenpeace called a “foul” to this claim, and Asún argued that the Commission had dramatically exaggerated the reality of Greenpeace activity. The meeting “ended in a draw,” the vote was postponed, and Meza requested the intervention of Chile’s General Water Department.
The second “game” took place yesterday on Wednesday, July 17. Supporters of the Glacier team gathered with drums, chants, and flags at the National Congress in Valparaíso, and Greenpeace Chile actively tweeted throughout the rally. Policymakers voted in favor of “the protection of the glaciers and their environment” but the definitions remain open-ended. “We have started the vote,” Asún told GlacierHub yesterday. “Beyond that, there is not much to comment.” The “games” will continue in two weeks time when the Commission meets for its third match.
As the law is written today, Chile’s glaciers are very vulnerable to mining activity in the region. Codelco’s Andina 244 expansion project (copper) and Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama open-pit project (gold, silver, copper) are two major mining initiatives criticized for their negative impact on Chile’s glaciers. Andina 244 is closely situated to Santiago, and the glaciers nearby supply freshwater to Chile’s most populated region.
Since establishing the Republic, Greenpeace has pushed the Chilean government to enact legislation that fully protects its glaciers via a “five-star glacier law proposal.” If such legislation is set, Greenpeace states, the Glacier Republic will “return” its glaciers to Chile.
President Michelle Bachelet has acknowledged the Greenpeace demands for the protection of Chile’s glaciers. However, government proposals to date have only referenced the protection of glaciers already in national parks. Asún says that this is simply not enough.
“While 12 nations compete to be the best in Latin America,” Greenpeace states, “the Glacier Republic plays for something equally or more important: its existence.”
Two-time Oscar-winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson is known for her leading roles in Howards End, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually and more recently Effie Gray. But her latest role might have the greatest reach: as a real-life activist for climate change
Thompson is travelling with Greenpeace across the Arctic aboard the activist ship, Esperanza, which started in Longyearbyen, Norway, and will travel north to the world’s northernmost climate station at Ny Ålesund, and later further past to the edge of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean . While on the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, she visited the Smeerenburg glacier.
Thompson has chosen to help highlight Arctic climate issues because, as she says, “the Arctic is warming up faster than anywhere else, and this isn’t just a problem for polar bears. It’s affecting weather in places as far away as India, while rising sea levels are causing havoc for people across the world. Arctic warming is a massive threat to our survival.”
It isn’t about the polar bears. Her 14-year old daughter accompanying her on the trip is part of the intergenerational message she is sending. Thompson believes it is a moral issue for people to stand u and demand more climate action from our politicians. “My daughter and her generation are about to inherit the world we’re responsible for… I’m making this trip because I want Gaia’s generation to grow up in a decent and sane world. In fact I’m making it so that her children can grow up.” The Harry Potter actress agrees with Greenpeace in the urgency of international policies to protect the Arctic from oil drilling and industrial fishing, and in the need to keep all peoples safe from climate change.
When you think of geoengineering, you may be imagining huge mirrors in space, or iron filings being dumped into the ocean. Geoengineering, though, can occur on a smaller scale. Some researchers are proposing small-scale fixes as in an effort to save some of Chile’s 3,100 glaciers.
Cedomir Marangunic, a glaciologist in Chile, saw the retreat of the country’s glaciers due to mining and global warming as an opportunity to test techniques for creating new glaciers and slowing the retreat of exiting ones.
How do you make a glacier? You can transport tens of thousands of tons of ice from a place where retreat is fast to a pre-prepared location where retreat is slower; you can set up barriers around an existing ice field, increasing snow accumulation and transforming the area into a small glacier; or you can cover an existing one with a “geotextile” sheet or rocky debris to slow ablution. A minimum of three years is required for some of these methods, according to Marangunic,
While stimulating the growth of new glaciers or slowing the retreat of established ones sounds great, project must simulate a “natural process” and avoid damage to local ecosystems, according to Marangunic, who claims this as a priority for his projects.
Others are not so convinced.
The head of Greenpeace Chile, Matias Asun, doubts that Marangunic’s techniques are “viable, sufficient, successful, and cost effective technologies.” Asun’s priority is promoting actions that protect and save existing glaciers, pointing out that despite the threat of climate change and industry, Chile’s glaciers are not protected by law. A bill in parliament proposes a registry of glaciers and a legal definition for them. The bill might increase awareness to their disappearance, but does little to protect them.
Currently, under the Chile’s water code, water rights are a private resource and can be bought, leading to the question of whether glaciers will be similarly purchasable. Environmentalists believe that that interpretation could allow mining interests to purchase rights to glaciers in order to degrade them with impunity.
Those 3,100 Chilean glaciers hold 82 percent of Latin America’s freshwater reserves – water that is crucial for industry and agriculture in the region. Government and business have an obvious and compelling imperative to save and restore the glaciers, but will leaders look to geoengineering or conservation? The window to conserve is closing, while the door to geoengineering is opening.
Chilean law does not recognize its 3,100 glaciers, leaving them with limited protection from industrial development. Most notably, the copper mining industry, which contributes 15 percent of the country’s $268.3 billion GDP, often encroaches on the glaciers, tapping water for operations, or dumping mining detritus on them. Recently, the state-owned Codelco proposed expansion of the Andina 244 mine to make it the most productive in the world, drawing criticism from officials and environmentalists who foresee an unjustifiable environmental impact on the glaciers and the region’s geography. The dust from new unpaved roads would cover the glaciers, hastening their melting.
There is some legal protection for glaciers: Before proceeding with the expansion, Codelco was required to produce an environmental impact assessment that would outline impacts from the mine expansion on the region’s environment. The official document for the 1,260-acre expansion noted that six glaciers would be affected.
Environmental groups and others disagreed, submitting 2,200 comments on the environmental impact assessment which outlined their objections. Among those objections were disagreements over the extent of the impact, with environmental groups saying 26 glaciers and the surrounding ecosystems would be degraded by the mine as well as the new associated infrastructure – 32 miles of high voltage transmission lines, a 26-mile mining waste disposal chute, and transport networks. These comments are still under review and delayed the project .Sitting just 34 miles from Santiago, the country’s capital of 6 million people, the case is likely to remain controversial, as citizens weigh the mine’s economic benefits against its certain environmental harm.
Greenpeace, however, is trying to provide permanent protection for the glaciers by attempting to exploit the very lack of legal recognition that threatens glaciers in the first place. They argue that because the glaciers are not recognized as part of Chile’s sovereignty, that under the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties (which defines the criteria under which a state can be recognized under customary international law), they can create a new country on the glaciers, to be known as the Glacier Republic. The Republic would be a sovereign state with a defined territory, permanent population and government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
Though it’s highly unlikely that the United Nations will recognize the Glacier Republic, not to mention Chile itself would take this step, as an exercise in raising awareness, the loophole maneuver may be effective in spurring legal protection for glaciers and slowing or preventing expansion of the Coldelco’s Andina 244 mine.