A case study of the impact of climate change on alpine hydropower
From the journal Water: “Greenhouse gas reduction policies will have to rely as much as possible upon renewable, clean energy sources. Hydropower is a very good candidate, since it is the only renewable energy source whose production can be adapted to demand, and still has a large exploitation margin, especially in developing countries. However, in Europe the contribution of hydropower from the cold water in the mountain areas is at stake under rapid cryospheric down wasting under global warming. Italian Alps are no exception, with a large share of hydropower depending upon cryospheric water. We study here climate change impact on the iconic Sabbione (Hosandorn) glacier, in the Piemonte region of Italy, and the homonymous reservoir, which collects water from ice melt.”
Water availability in Pakistan under Paris Agreement targets
From the journal Advances in Water Resources: “Highly seasonal water supplies from the Himalayan watersheds of Jhelum, Kabul and upper Indus basin (UIB) are critical for managing the world’s largest contiguous irrigation system of the Indus basin and its dependent agrarian economy of Pakistan. Here, we assess changes in the contrasting hydrological regimes of these Himalayan watersheds, and subsequent water availability under the Paris Agreement 2015 targets that aim of limiting the mean global warming to 1.5 °C (Plus1.5), and further, well below 2.0 °C (Plus2.0) relative to pre-industrial level.”
Measuring ambient black carbon near India’s Gangotri Glacier
From the journal Atmospheric Environment: “The warming effect of equivalent Black Carbon (EBC) aerosols due to their light absorbing nature is a serious environmental concern, particularly, in the eco-sensitive and glaciated Himalayan region. Moreover, baseline data on BC is rarely available from most of the glaciated Himalayan region. For the first time, measurements on ambient EBC mass concentration were made at a high altitude site Chirbasa (3600 m, amsl), near Gangotri Glacier in the Indian Himalaya, during the year 2016. The change in the EBC concentration over the year was recorded from 0.01 μg m−3 to 4.62 μg m−3 with a diurnal variability of 0.10 μg m−3 to 1.8 μg m−3. The monthly mean concentration of EBC was found to be minimum (0.089 ± 0.052 μg m−3) in August and maximum (0.840 ± 0.743 μg m−3) in the month of May. The observed seasonal mean concentrations of EBC are less than 0.566 μg m−3 whereas the annual mean is 0.395 ± 0.408 μgm−3 indicating a pristine glacial and absence of locality EBC sources. Further, investigation on the occasional high values extricated that the seasonal cycle of EBC was significantly influenced by the emissions resulting from agriculture burning (in western part of the country), forest fires (along the Himalayan slopes) in summer, and to some extent the contribution from long range transport of pollutants in winter, depending the prevailing meteorological condition.
Through recent installation of automatic weather stations, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) aims to increase data collection on high mountain glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region. Data collection on these glaciers is essential to understanding how climate change might affect the region’s water resources, which are crucial for fresh water supplies and agricultural production.
The HKH region spans 3.5 million square kilometers across eight countries, and its extensive river basins provide water to nearly two billion people. Of the 54, 252 identified glaciers in the HKH, only seven are monitored by ICIMOD researchers. ICIMOD, which is based in Kathmandu, is an intergovernmental knowledge sharing organization that focuses on ecosystem conservation in the HKH region.
Monitored sites, all located in Nepal, include the West Changri Nup, Langtang valley, Ponkar, and the Rikha Samba glacier.
Installation and management of automatic weather stations at high altitudes requires carefully led expeditions and immense energy to carry research equipment up mountain. “Cryosphere monitoring is a highly resource-intensive activity, especially in the HKH, as research involved at least a week-long trek to the glacier sites across rugged terrain,” ICIMOD researchers said in a report called Reaching New Heights.
Created by ICIMOD designers Willemien van der Wielen and Chimi Seldon, Reaching New Heights is an online story map that highlights the extensive fieldwork on Rikha Samba glacier. Rikha Samba is located in the Mustang District of Nepal and feeds the Kali Gandaki River, which contributes to the larger Gandaki River basin.
More About the Research
On Rikha Samba, the automatic weather station was installed at an elevation of 5,800 meters above sea level and is currently the highest-altitude installed station. The research team on Rikha Samba includes scientists from both ICIMOD and Kathmandu University. Annually, it takes the researchers and sherpas a total of 7 days to reach the destination due to steep slopes, atmospheric oxygen changes, and harsh weather conditions.
Once installed, automatic weather stations collect data hourly without human intervention. Meteorological measurements include temperature, precipitation (rainfall and snowfall), wind speed, humidity, and cloud patterns. Over time, the data will likely reveal glacial snow and ice changes due to climate forcings.
“Automatic weather stations provide essential data which allows us to model snow and glacier melt (and thus river flows), predict shifts in trees upslope, monitor microclimates in mountains which may be critical for individual species survival (refugia), and even can allow us to predict processes such as rock falls before they happen,” University of Portsmouth climate scientist Nick Pepin told GlacierHub.
In addition to weather stations, researchers use density kits, and bamboo stakes to measure glacial changes over time. By digging into the snow using a hand-operated coring mechanism, researchers measure the amount of water in the snow and black carbon deposits. Additionally, steam-driven drills and ice corers allow a network of bamboo stakes to be installed into the glacier. The network of stakes, located across Rikha Samba, record glacial mass changes over time.
Early data analysis thus far shows that Rikha Samba glacier has lost substantial glacial mass between 2010 and 2018, specifically at lower altitudes where atmospheric temperatures are warmer.
The “Third Pole” glaciers of the Himalayas feed into the major rivers of South Asia, providing vital freshwater. This resources is essential to the development of national and local communities and economies.
With global warming, the Himalayas, along with several other glaciated regions across the planet, are expected to experience a drastic reduction in ice mass and rapidly retreat. A new study tracing Himalayan glacier melt from 1975 to 2016 found that the melt rate has actually doubled since the turn of the century, suggesting a heightened risk of flooding for vulnerable regions.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, was conducted by Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Ph.D candidate Joshua Maurer. Maurer and fellow researchers from Columbia University and the University of Utah examined satellite images to detect changes from the periods of 1975-2000 and 2000-2016.
This new study received international recognition and gained media attention across several South Asian countries, including Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a riverine country where three of the major rivers in the region—the Ganges, Meghna, and Brahmaputra—converge and fan out to the Bay of Bengal. These rivers which feed off of Himalayan meltwater provide much-needed freshwater for irrigation, drinking, and other needs.
How might this news impacts the country’s water system?
Bangladeshi perceptions of the study
An AFP article published in The Daily Star, one of the leading English-language Bangladeshi news outlets, asserts that the rapid retreat outlined in the new study threatens the water supply of hundreds of millions of people living downstream across South Asia. It mentions additional contributions to melt aside from temperature, which the study emphasizes as the leading cause of the region’s glacier melt. “Other factors the researchers blamed were changes in rainfall, with reductions tending to reduce ice cover, and the burning of fossil fuels which lead to soot that lands on snowy glacier surfaces, absorbing sunlight and hastening melting,” AFP reported.
UNB and bdnews24 also covered the study. Joseph Shea, a glacial geographer from the University of Northern British Columbia, told bdnews24 that the melting will lead to changes of timing and magnitude of stream flow in a heavily populated region.
UNB highlighted the study team’s ability to fill critical data gaps by utilizing US spy satellite images to calculate Himalayan ice mass in previous decades. NASA climate scientist John Willis commented that the study’s models provided confirmation of what scientists suspected, which was that warming was the main culprit to extensive melt.
Glacier contribution to Bangladesh hydrology
GlacierHub interviewed Saleemul Huq, renowned Bangladeshi climate scientist, IPCC author, and director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). Huq provided some general views on the recent news and spoke about the relevance to Bangladesh’s water systems.
“Bangladesh’s Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin is highly complex,” Huq said. “Glacier melt makes an important contribution to rivers in dry areas where there is very little rainfall. However, as soon as the monsoon starts, glacier ice melt becomes incomparable to the contribution by heavy monsoon rains.”
He added that the loss of the glacier overall will impact Bangladesh in the future, yet the immediate increased glacier outflow into the rivers does not heavily effect the hydrology, particularly for the downstream regions.
Huq said Bangladesh is currently working on some techniques to improve water availability and security for dry seasons, which are expected to become longer with climate change. Some methods include creating barrages, river dredging, and rainwater harvesting.
Other regions of South Asia
Pakistan media sources, including the Daily Times PK and The Express Tribune, among others, also covered the news. One story published by The Nation PK mentions that, in the long term, millions of people who depend on glacier water during drought years will experience difficulties. In addition, scientists say that the rapid melting of the Himalayas can also result in flooding. This flooding will be exacerbated by heavy monsoon rains.
Business World India connects the news about the Himalayas with drying taps in Chennai. The greatest impact is said to be in the Indus River system, which is comprised of the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers and is shared by India and Pakistan. The Indus river itself receives about 40 percent of its flow from glacier melt.
Already India is suffering from water management issues, and the taps and reservoirs of Chennai are all dried up. In addition to the current weak monsoon and excessive groundwater extraction, future loss of the Himalayas will make the country even more water-stressed.
Check out this video by The Quint, a popular news website in India, which emphasizes the impacts of Himalayan glacier melt in Asia.
The Himalayas have a powerful impact on the lives of the people who live near them: They have cultural and religious sway, they play a role in determining regional weather patterns, and they feed major rivers like the Indus, the Ganges, and the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra that millions rely on for freshwater.
A new study published in the journal Science Advances by Ph.D candidate Joshua Maurer of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory concludes that glaciers in the Himalaya melted twice as quickly from 2000 to 2016 than they did from 1975 to 2000. “This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting over this time interval, and why,” said Maurer.
Walter Immerzeel, a professor in the University of Utrecht’s department of geosciences, told GlacierHub that “the novelty lies in the fact that they go back until 1975.” He said that scientists already knew “quite well” what the mass balance rates were for the last twenty years or so, but that looking further back and over a wider area provided interesting new information.
Maurer and his co-authors examined ice loss along a 2,000-kilometer-long transect of the Himalayas, from western India eastwards to Bhutan. The study area includes 650 of the largest glaciers in the Himalaya and confirms the results of previous studies conducted by researchers who looked at the rate of mass loss in the Himalaya.
The new study makes a major contribution by indicating that regional warming is responsible for the increase in melting. The researchers were able to determine this because mass loss rates were similar across subregions despite variations in other factors like air pollution and precipitation that can also accelerate melting.
Immerzeel agreed with the findings. “It is mostly temperature change driving the mass balances,” he said. “It can be locally enforced by black carbon or modulated by precipitation changes, but the main driving force is a rise in temperature.”
The analysis was conducted using images from declassified KH-9 Hexagon spy satellites which were used by US intelligence agencies during the Cold War. The satellites orbited Earth between 1973 and 1980, taking 29,000 images that were kept as government secrets until relatively recently when they were declassified, creating a cornucopia of data for researchers to comb through.
Maurer and his co-authors used the images to build models showing the size of the glaciers when the images were created. The historical models were then compared to more recent satellite images to determine the changes that occurred over time. Only glaciers for which data were available during both time periods were included in the study.
The new study received widespread media attention. National Geographic, CNN, the New Yorker, and The Guardian, among other major publications, highlighted the study’s conclusion that mass loss in Himalayan glaciers has doubled in the last forty years.
Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist at the University of St Andrews, told GlacierHub the findings should be approached with caution. “The statement about the doubling of the mass loss after 2000 compared to the period 1975-2000 should be formulated with much more care.”
“[Scientists],” he continued, “need to be very careful presenting results about Himalayan glaciers and should communicate them correctly specifically after the IPCC AR4 error, and the wrong statement about the rapid disappearance of Himalayan glaciers.”
Bloch is referring to an error that occurred in 2007, when the IPCC included in its Fourth Assessment Report an inaccurate statement predicting that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035.
“It is a promising data set, but due to its nature there are large data gaps which need to be filled which makes the data uncertain,” Bolch said.
He added that there is “clear evidence” that mass loss has accelerated in the Himalaya.
A recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, a regional intergovernmental organization in Nepal working on sustainable development in mountains, predicts that the Himalayas could lose 64 percent of their ice by the year 2100.
Maurer’s study examines only past melting from 1975 to 2016. ICIMOD’s study provides additional dimension to Maurer’s results.
The large amount of melting that may occur in the coming decades would result in greater quantities of meltwater entering rivers. The Indus River, which millions rely on for drinking water and agriculture, receives about 40 percent of its flow from glacial melt. An increase in meltwater could augment the risk of flooding of the Indus and other rivers in the region.
Similarly, there may be a greater number of glacial outburst floods. Outburst floods occur when the moraine, or rock wall, which acts as a dam collapses. A collapse can take place for various reasons including if a great deal of water accumulates in a lake from a phenomenon like an increase in glacial melting. Depending on the size of the lake and downstream populations, among other factors, these floods have the potential to cause substantial damage. The largest of these floods have killed thousands of people, swept away homes, and even registered on seismometers in Nepal.
Once glaciers have lost substantial amounts of mass and no longer have large quantities of water to release, the reverse will begin to cause problems: Rivers dependent on Himalayan glacial melt will diminish and drought may become more common downstream. This will negatively affect farming and development in the Himalayan region.
In both the short and long term, according Maurer and his colleagues, glacier melt in the Himalayas will have significant impacts on the livelihoods of those dependent on its towering peaks.
A recent study published in the journal Earth’s Future presents the first ever inventory of glaciers in UNESCO World heritage sites. The study authors identified 19,000 glaciers across 46 sites, studied their current state, and projected their changes in mass by 2100. The researchers found that “except for the mostly balanced conditions modeled for Heard and McDonald Islands (Antarctic Islands), substantial ice loss will occur in all natural World Heritage sites.” The study compares glaciers to umbrella species because “their conservation will automatically allow and imply the conservation of other features threatened by global warming” and to keystone species “because of their disproportionately large impacts on nature and societies on Earth.”
The study highlights that “the safeguarding of these iconic and important natural features could mobilize global‐scale conservation and mitigation benefits. As for all glaciers and ice sheets on Earth, their preservation reinforces the compelling priority for strong and rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and thereby a deep modification of human impacts on the climate.”
Artificial Glaciers in the Himalayas
The New Yorker looks at the proliferation of artificial glaciers in the Himalayas: “The first ice stupa was created in 2013, in Ladakh, in Kashmir. Villages in Ladakh, a high mountain-desert region bordered by the Himalayas, largely depend on glacial runoﬀ for water. As the glaciers recede, owing to climate change, the ﬂow of water has become more erratic. Sometimes there’s too much, producing flashflooding; often, there’s too little. The ice stupa, a kind of artficial glacier, is the brainchild of a Ladakhi engineer named Sonam Wangchuk.”
Graphic Novel Looks at Alexander von Humboldt’s Expeditions
Author Andrea Wulf and artist Lillian Melcher worked together to create The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt.
From the New York Botanical Garden: “Focusing on Humboldt’s five-year expedition in South America, Wulf and Melcher incorporate pages of his own diaries, sketches, drawings, and maps to create an intimate portrait of the radical ecologist who predicted human-induced climate change and fashioned poetic narrative out of scientific observation.
Driven by his conviction that the world was a single, interconnected organism, Humboldt was the first to note similarities among climate zones across the world. His work turned scientific observation into poetic narrative that influenced great minds from Goethe to Darwin and Thoreau.”
There are few well-studied high-elevation animals. Harsh climate conditions can make it extremely difficult to conduct field research and observe species in their natural, alpine habitats. It’s now more important than ever to examine the changes in habitat and activity in these animals, especially since these high-altitude regions are being severely impacted by climate change. Without such knowledge, it is difficult to design conservation strategies to protect them.
In a recent study published in the journal Avian Research, Gai Luo and several colleagues from Sichuan University and the Administration of the Gongga Mountain National Nature Reserve investigated the distribution of the population of soft-colored, yet brightly-billed, Tibetan snowcocks. Their objective is to provide both a baseline to measure the influence of warming on this species and also provide valuable information on ecology and conservation.
The Tibetan snowcock is a bird the size of a small chicken and part of the pheasant family. They can be found all across the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau in high elevations. These birds have red-colored bills and feet and brown and white stripes along their bodies, which provides camouflage. The bird’s coloring can make it difficult to spot among the high-altitude rocky mountain slopes.
According to the researchers, based on limited descriptions available of this species, Tibetan snowcocks can be found inhabiting zones exceeding 4,000 meters in the summer and descending to 3,000 meters during the harsh winters. Breeding season for these migratory birds begins in mid-May and ends in July. During this season, snowcocks build shallow nests on the ground lined with dead leaves and grass, and the monogamous mates remain together throughout the season. Quantification of snowcock populations is difficult due to the extreme environments, but some previous research suggests that the Tibetan snowcock population declined in the 1990s.
Environmental changes in the previous decades prompted researchers to think about how glaciers changes and rising temperatures might affect the snowcocks. The proximity of snowcocks to glaciers raises questions of the role of glaciers and meltwater on this species. There is currently very little information on the life history and general ecology of the Tibetan Snowcock, and this information is essential for potential conservation efforts.
The study was conducted on the western slope of Mt. Gongga, a glacier located in the eastern part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in the Sichuan province of China. Mt. Gongga is the highest point in the Hengduan Mountains, standing at 7,556 meters and surrounded by many mountains with elevations over 6,000 meters. This region is considered to be a global biological diversity hotspot. Is is one of the major homes of Tibetan snowcocks, along with several other rare pheasant species.
The researchers used infrared-triggered camera traps to observe the species during the post-breeding period from late June to early November. In total, over 100 traps were deployed at altitudes covering a range of more than a kilometer in elevation. The traps were carefully hidden among rocks and rubble so as not to disturb the animals. They operated 24 hours a day, and if any activity was detected, the cameras would take three consecutive photos, followed by a 9-second video. The team also collected information on location in order to study whether being near a road or village influenced habitat use.
Researchers were able to utilize 92 camera traps for their study. Several of the traps suffered from equipment failures or were disturbed by curious animals. Like other pheasants, snowcocks are social birds. Nearly two-thirds of all observations showed birds with at least one other individual nearby. The largest group contained 13 individuals. The snowcocks were most active in the morning and before nightfall. The team was unsure as to why this might be, though they infer the birds avoid activity during midday to prevent energy loss and evade the intense sunlight.
They also found that Tibetan snowcocks prefer environments with high elevation, gentle slope, and low EVI (enhanced vegetation index). A low EVI means low-vegetation production and poor food quality, which is common in high-elevation regions. Researchers believe that there must be a trade off between predator risk, foraging efficiency, and food availability for these snowcocks in which they favor low-predator risk over good quality and quantity.
Interestingly, researchers also found that the species prefer habitats near human activity. Results showed positive correlation with occupancy and road and settlement density. Do the birds actually prefer being near humans, or do they like the way that humans have altered the environment? Do birds and humans both like the same place—relatively gentle slopes with open vegetation? One study from 2010 showed that Tibetan snowcocks liked to forage in potato fields in Nepal, suggesting that the human impact provided a species advantage. The study team suggest further research to expand on this.
Virat Jolli, an expert on avian ecology and biodiversity in the Himalayas, commented on the importance of this study in building a better understanding of high-altitude species. Jolli said the researchers are providing useful insights on a bird that is rarely studied and can be used in future studies of the species.
“It’s an important study throwing light on bird species which are poorly studied and little is known about it in published literature,” he said. “Pheasants are the most threatened and rare group of birds which are relatively difficult to monitor.”
Jolli added that the study can also be replicated in parts of the Trans-Himalayas, where similar bird species reside. Knowledge of the basic ecology of high altitude species is vital to perceive the influence of global climate change on species composition and distribution.
In an exhibition titled “Belonging, Transformation, and Ethnographic Predicaments in Nepal’s Himalaya,” a team of artists shared stories of their Himalayan experience through a collection of photographs. The exhibition was held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver from February 1 to April 30. A closing reception, followed by a discussion of changing ethnographic practices, was hosted by the university April 23.
The exhibition highlighted many changes, which the artists—Yungdrung Tsewang, Tsering Gurung, Yeshi Gurung, Kory Thibeault, and Emily Amburgey—noticed while in Lower Mustang.
“The signs of transformation are hard to miss,” the artists wrote in their collective statement. The bulldozers and road construction teams, the newly constructed hotels and guesthouses, advertisements of hot showers and free Internet, the fallow agricultural lands, and the empty houses—these are the easily visible signs of transformations.
Less obvious, the artists pointed out, are “the class divisions that allow certain people to migrate while others stay behind, the decreasing numbers of practicing Buddhist monks, and the lack of spoken Tibetan among the younger generations.”
Embedded in the photographic depiction of transformations in this exhibition were questions of belonging and ethnographic predicaments. It is here that Emily Amburgey, whose photographs were not included in the exhibition, quietly shines. Amburgey said that she did not want the exhibit to just focus on the finished research products, “but to problematize the often complex and ongoing relationships between ethnographers and those they work with that make projects like these possible.”
Amburgey is a doctoral student of anthropology at UBC and her research focuses on labor migration and environmental change in Nepal’s Himalaya. The exhibition was a culmination of her different collaborative projects with friends from Nepal and the United States. Over the course of four months, Amburgey and Yungdrung Tsewang had come to the realization that the impacts of labor migration and climate change were radically transforming the human and nonhuman landscape in Mustang.
Tsewang was Amburgey’s research associate while she conducted fieldwork for her master’s program. During that time, together they organized a PhotoVoice project with the intention to work closely with the fellow artists Yeshi Gurung and Tshering Gurung, two women who are actively engaged in their community. PhotoVoice is a digital storytelling platform that seeks to inspire positive social change, enhancing the visibility of social issues through partnerships with community organizations using photographs as the medium.
Kory Thibeault, the fourth artist, is a friend from California, who came to help Amburgey shoot a documentary about her research. His photographs were taken during his stay in the region. The shared space of this exhibition highlighted the situated and overlapping perspectives of the different artists, expanding the notion of “belonging.”
When one belongs, the drastic consequences of ongoing processes become visible. Unpredictable weather patterns, extreme events, new diseases, and relocation of settlements, which might seem natural in harsh mountain environments for a passing visitor, become more than that to those who care to see. These are the new climate realities in the mountains.
“I believe that when Ladakhi elders talk about the fate of the glaciers of Ladakh, they are also reflecting on their own fate as their presence and influence decrease amid the dazzle of a new era,” Karine Gagne wrote in Caring for Glaciers.
The same could be said about Humla or Mustang or Khumbu, where the glaciers recede deep inside the valleys. The receding glaciers are entangled with the economic, socio-political, cultural, and generational changes. It is the dazzle of a new era that have now left those who remain in the villages looking toward the road.
The exhibition was curated by Rosaleen McAfee. It was co-sponsored by the Himalaya Program (funded by the Institute of Asian Research) and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia.
Following the closing reception on April 23, Emily Amburgey invited Mark Turin, an associate professor of anthropology at UBC, and I to join her for a conversation on the changing practices of ethnography and the position of an ethnographer in the Himalayan context. The conversation continues.
A photo essay version of this exhibition was published online at Himalaya: The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies. It can be viewed here.
Rapper Lil Dicky released, just ahead of Earth Day, a celebrity-packed, animated music video for his NSFW single “Earth.”
The video opens with a view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline before cutting to news footage of recent wildfires in the western United States. A newscaster highlights the connection between rising temperatures and climate change. Next, a live-action scene depicts a group of kids kicking over a garbage-filled trash can and taunting Lil Dicky. As the rapper departs, he instructs the kids to pick up the garbage. “There’s an environmental crises right now, and you’re just going to litter on the street?” he says, adding, “Grow up.”
Among the garbage is a book, which one of kids picks up. Upon opening, it blooms into an animated trek around the world depicting a variety of animals threatened by ecological destruction and climate change.
Glaciers play a prominent role in the music video. Lil Dicky and pair of penguins slide down the face of an exit glacier. In one of the video’s closing scenes, Lil Dicky stands atop what appears to be Mount Everest, surrounded by the snow and ice-capped Himalayas.
Justin Bieber provides the voice for an animated baboon. Ariana Grande is a Zebra—Miley Cyrus, an elephant. Snoop Dog … a marijuana plant. Other celebrity performers include Halsey, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Brendon Urie, Wiz Khalifa, Adam Levine, Shawn Mendes, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The song’s chorus includes the simple lines: “We are the Earth. It is our planet. We are the Earth. It is our home.” While Lil Dicky’s video foregoes science or existential angst, it overflows with popular culture appeal. The video’s attracted 38 million views on YouTube and has been widely discussed in popular media, from Lil Dicky’s appearance on “Ellen” to coverage from NPR and the Jerusalem Post.
Proceeds from the song will go to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which supports projects that “build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.”
“Nearly 300 mountaineers have died on the peak since the first ascent attempt and two-thirds of bodies are thought still to be buried in the snow and ice.
Bodies are being removed on the Chinese side of the mountain, to the north, as the spring climbing season starts.
More than 4,800 climbers have scaled the highest peak on Earth.
‘Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed,’ said Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of [the] Nepal Mountaineering Association.
‘We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out.'”
Greenland’s Jakobshavn is advancing, slowing, and thickening
From Nature Geoscience: “Jakobshavn Isbrae has been the single largest source of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet over the last 20 years. During that time, it has been retreating, accelerating, and thinning. Here we use airborne altimetry and satellite imagery to show that since 2016 Jakobshavn has been re-advancing, slowing, and thickening. We link these changes to concurrent cooling of ocean waters in Disko Bay that spill over into Ilulissat Icefjord. Ocean temperatures in the bay’s upper 250 [meters] have cooled to levels not seen since the mid 1980s. Observations and modeling trace the origins of this cooling to anomalous wintertime heat loss in the boundary current that circulates around the southern half of Greenland. Longer time series of ocean temperature, subglacial discharge, and glacier variability strongly suggest that ocean-induced melting at the front has continued to influence glacier dynamics after the disintegration of its floating tongue in 2003. We conclude that projections of Jakobshavn’s future contribution to sea-level rise that are based on glacier geometry are insufficient, and that accounting for external forcing is indispensable.”
From Nature: “Objectively estimating trends in GLOF frequency is challenging as many lakes form in terrain with limited access, making fieldwork impractical. In the HKKHN, outburst floods from glacier lakes initiated mainly between 4,500 and 5,200 m above sea level and some attenuated rapidly, possibly escaping notice in human settlements several thousand vertical metres below. Reliable reports on 40 GLOFs since 1935 are selective. We mapped these GLOFs, originally compiled by regional initiatives, highlighting 32 cases in the Central and Eastern Himalayas in contrast to the very few cases in the northwestern Hindu Kush–Karakoram (HKK) and Nyainqentanglha Mountains. We speculate that these 40 reports preferentially covered large or destructive cases, which makes the assessment of their frequency problematic. In trying to account for this reporting bias, our objective is to estimate GLOF frequency and its changes from a systematic inventory covering the entire HKKHN.”
New Project Examines Changes in Peru’s River Systems
From Phys.org: “Remote communities in the Peruvian Andes, as well as communities downstream, depend on the water from melting glaciers and mountain ecosystems to provide them with food and power, and to support industry.
But climate change is increasingly putting that in jeopardy, posing a serious threat to future water resources and having potentially severe implications for the vulnerable populations living in river basins-fed by the glaciers.
Now a major research project is looking to establish the precise effects future changes in the glacial system might pose, and how agencies and the communities themselves can work together to mitigate the potential effects of changing water quantity and quality as the glacier retreat.”
Climate Change Likely to Impact Glacier-Fed Rivers in New Zealand
From International Journal of Climatology: “Future climate change is likely to alter the amount, seasonality and distribution of water available for economic use downstream of alpine areas, so there is a need to forecast glacier net mass loss when assessing future hydrological change. This issue is of considerable relevance to New Zealand, which relies heavily on hydro power for electricity generation. An important river system is the Waitaki, which contains eight hydro generating stations and has a significant input from seasonal snow and glacier melt. Thus, changes in glacier ice volume and atmospheric circulation have long term implications for energy production. The impacts of climate change on water resources are also critical for the Clutha River. This is New Zealand’s largest river with extensive hydro-electricity and irrigation assets. Third, there are close links between glaciers and the large tourism industry in New Zealand, which along with agriculture, is the major driver of the national economy. All these factors mean that there is growing economic concern as to what may happen in the future.”
The Tamang community are an indigenous group in Nepal that have depended on cattle rearing for the last three centuries. Located in the northernmost part of central Nepal, herding is a livelihood that has long held a significant role in the culture of this rural, indigenous Himalayan community. Shepherding among the Tamang, however, has dwindled over the last few decades as younger generations are becoming less likely to take up the tradition passed down from older generations.
Manchhiring Tamang’s documentary “A Day in the Life of a Himalayan Shepherd” beautifully captures the vast Himalayan landscape and sheepherding practices of the Tamang valley. The film recently debuted at the 12th annual Colony Short Film Festival in Marietta, Ohio, where it was runner up in the Best Documentary category.
The short film follows 45-year-old Khariman Tamang, a shepherd following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Despite the harsh climate and physical challenges of caring for his sheep, he takes great pride in the rich cultural tradition within the Tamang community.
Khariman lives in Sertung, a stunning yet isolated region located in the upper Dhading district in central Nepal. He provides for his wife, two sons, and daughter through sheep herding.
Shepherds in the region must leave their families for six months of the year to move their herds to colder climates. Tamang herders roam the valley with their flocks in constant search of ideal weather conditions that produces abundant grasses for feeding. Shepherds sometimes visit their families between seasons and during special holidays and festivals.
Sheep provide the people of Tamang with food, dairy products for medicinal and cosmetic products, and wool for clothing and other necessities. Wool plays an essential role in Tamang culture. It is often used for making traditional clothing, beds, blankets, carpets, and rugs. Family members and neighbors borrow and exchange woolen products, bolstering livelihoods and enriching connections among the Tamang community.
GlacierHub met with Manchhiring Tamang, who was born and raised in the Tamang village depicted in the film. He has worked as a research journalist with a focus on the indigenous groups of Nepal and tourism. His father and grandfather were also sheep herders in the valley.
Manchhiring, who now lives with his family in New York City, aims to show people the beauty of the culture and traditions of the Tamang community in Nepal. This film gives viewers a glimpse into the lifestyle of this age-old tradition which has seen a major shift in recent years. He spoke to us about how the sheep herding practice has changed over time with new generations.
“This profession amongst this modest community is on the verge of extinction, and the older generations are forced to think whether this will be the last generation involved in this job sector,” said Manchhiring.
Kathryn March, an anthropologist at Cornell University familiar with the Tamang people of Nepal, told GlacierHub that as climate patterns shift and seasonal precipitation becomes more erratic, traditional knowledge becomes increasingly unreliable. The timing of funerals, weddings, and other cultural rituals is thrown into uncertainty by climate change.
March added that working-age men in particular are increasingly moving out to Gulf countries and Southeast Asia. “The previous household economic strategies of trying to have multiple sources of income, from agriculture and herding and trade or seasonal employment, have been radically transformed into widespread dependence on remittances from outside wage labor, ” she said.
Manchhiring hopes to preserve the traditional practices of the Tamang people through “A Day in the Life of a Himalayan Shepherd.” He said: “I want people to know the hardness and struggle of country people like my uncle who are struggling to keep up their ages old tradition, struggle of dilemma as to whether to abandon their tradition or to keep it.”
It is well known that warming will deeply affect glaciers and ice at the poles. Many of the effects are observable today and will continue to impact wildlife, people, and their environments. Scientists are now beginning to better understand climate change in cold regions, such at the Andes and the Alps, outside the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica.
In a recent news article by Nature, researchers look at the climatological and glacial changes in the ‘third pole’, which encompasses the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and the Tibetan Plateau. They also consider the need for enhanced monitoring of the glaciers and water supply, to help scientist better understand the extent of glacier retreat now and in the future.
Third Pole Water in Sustaining Asian Societies
The third pole is one of the major freshwater resources in Asia. Meltwater from glaciers feed into some of the major rivers in Asia, including the Ganges, Yangtze, and Brahmaputra rivers. According to the article, these river basins provide critical freshwater resources to about one-fifth of the world’s population.
Water is inextricably linked to the rise of Asian societies, bestowing them with rich agricultural output and ensuring stability and longevity in a sometimes brutal climate region. “The struggle for water in modern history is a global story… But nowhere has the search for water shaped or sustained as much human life as in India and China” says Sunil Amrith in a feature by Quartz India.
A dependable, predictable supply of meltwater is the pillar upon which these societies rest. Climate change could topple that foundation. As groundwater and aquifers dry up in India, water resources from glaciers will become even more necessary. Analysts from NITI, a policy think tank in India, said to New Security Beat “Critical ground water resources that account for 40 percent of India’s water supply are being depleted at unsustainable rates”. Hydropower is a growing clean and renewable energy resource for many sectors across China, and irrigation plays a substantial role in crop production for rural communities. The loss of glaciers and rivers could mean dire economic impacts on these regions.
Projected Changes in Climate and Peak Water
Climate patterns over the third pole are now shifting. As temperatures rise and glaciers continue to melt, more glacial lakes will form and river will begin to dry out. The authors cited recent research which indicated that a projected weakening of the annual Indian monsoon will bring significantly less precipitation and snow over the Himalayas. As a result, the current mass-balance of glaciers in the region will be offset by more runoff than snow accumulation.
The change in mass-balance results in glacier retreat, occurring faster today than historic rates of decline. Eventually, many glaciers will reach their peak water output, with some as early as 2020. Peak water is the level at which glacier melt water output is at its maximum, and it’s considered to be the “tipping point” of water supply. Societies may benefit from the peak water with temporary outflow of more meltwater in rivers, yet the long-term effects will be detrimental.
Although peak water is short-lived, it will be particularly advantageous to some areas projected to experience less precipitation. However, once glaciers reach this level, they will continue to output less and less water. Other regions such as the Andes will also experience peak water, with many glaciers having already have met this max water output level. The loss of glaciers and rivers could be disastrous to dependent societies.
Room for Improvement: Monitoring Retreat and Risks
The authors also wrote about the hazards and risks associated with glacier retreat. Communities living in mountainous regions face with the risk of collapsing debris from glaciers. According to the piece, in October 2018, glacier debris and the resulting landslide dammed the Yarlung Tsangpo River. This led to flooding downstream, affecting regions as far as Bangladesh. According to an article by AGU100, a prompt evacuation prevented any lives from being lost.
Glacial avalanches pose a considerable threat to millions along Asia’s vast network of rivers and streams. According to researchers from the article, only 0.1 percent of glaciers and lakes in the region have monitoring stations, and few high-altitude areas have weather stations. There are plans to install over 20 new stations in the third pole area, which is a big improvement from the current 10 stations in the area. Proper training is necessary to properly operate weather monitoring technology and adequate collection of data.
The study also prioritized the importance of sharing this data with global and regional climate models, and making the needs of the local people central in climate change discussions. It is imperative that the changes in the third pole to be globally recognized, to better serve local communities and societies in safeguarding water security and cultivating sustainability.