Video of the Week: AWS Installation on Yala Glacier

In this week’s Video of the Week, an automatic weather station (AWS) is installed on Yala Glacier in Nepal, one of the world’s most studied glaciers. In the video shared by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on October 16, a young researcher, Anushilan Acharya, is identified with the hashtag #girlsonice.

The installation is part of a push by ICIMOD to increase data collection on glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Of the 54,252 identified glaciers in the HKH, only seven are monitored by ICIMOD researchers. The information is essential to understanding how climate change might affect the region’s water resources.

The weather stations provide data points for glacier monitoring. Last year, GlacierHub reported on a study which found approximately 21 percent of Yala’s annual snowfall was returned to the atmosphere via sublimation, a rate higher than most glaciers on Earth’s tallest mountain ranges.

Fieldwork on Yala is notoriously difficult. The glacier is a four-day hike from the start of the Langtang Valley, which is a day’s drive from Kathmandu. In the sublimation study, an eddy covariance system was installed to measure the rate of snow loss to the atmosphere. The instruments required so much energy to power that the team had to lug a car battery up the glacier to ensure it would have sufficient energy to run during the research.

Read More on GlacierHub:

New Heights in the Himalayas: High-Altitude Weather Monitoring

Mapping and Monitoring Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Where the Yala Glacier’s Ice is Going

Roundup: Glacier Melt Reveals New Islands, ICIMOD Job Search, and New Monuments

Melting glaciers reveal new islands

From CNN:

“The Russian Navy has discovered five new islands in the Arctic after they were revealed by melting glaciers.

The Navy first spotted the islands in 2016 using satellite imagery, but only confirmed and mapped them in August and September during an expedition to the site, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

The new islands are located near the Vylki Glacier off the coast of the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago, which lies in the Arctic Ocean northwest of the Russian mainland. They range in area from 900 to 54,500 square meters (about 9,690 to 586,630 square feet) — as big as 10 football fields.

‘Basically, this (discovery) is associated with the melting of ice,’ said expedition leader Aleksandr Moiseyev on Tuesday, according to state-run news agency TASS. ‘Previously these were glaciers, but the melting of ice led to the islands emerging.'”

Read the story here.

ICIMOD seeks director general

From the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development:

“Given the critical challenges present in the region, the need for regional cooperation among countries across the HKH has never been more pressing and the Director General of ICIMOD has the opportunity to convene and animate regional governments to create the necessary regional mechanisms and to support national responses to climate change and other pressing environmental and livelihood issues.”

View the job description here.

ICIMOD headquarters in Khumaltar, Lalitpur, Nepal (Source: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD)

Glacier areas make the World Monuments Fund 2020 Watch List

From the World Monuments Fund:

“From iconic monuments to sites of social justice, the 2020 World Monuments Watch includes 25 sites that marry great historical significance with contemporary social impact.”

View the full list here.

Kathmandu Event Highlights Deepening Interest in Hindu Kush Himalaya Region

On 17 July, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) hosted an event at its headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal for a group of about 70 officials, authors, and staff from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This event took place during a weeklong meeting which the IPCC had convened as part of preparations for its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The meeting—the Second Lead Author Meeting (LAM) of Working Group II, where hundreds of researchers gathered to advance on drafting chapters for AR6—was the first that the IPCC has held in Nepal since its founding in 1988. The ICIMOD event provided an opportunity for the organization to inform the IPCC about its activities, including several upcoming initiatives. 

The event highlighted the overlapping interests and efforts of the two organizations. ICIMOD conducts research, applications, outreach, and cross-national cooperation in sustainable mountain development in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). It emphasizes resilience and equitable livelihoods. The IPCC, sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Program and the World Meteorological Organization, conducts assessments of recent research on climate change science, impacts, and responses. Its reports are reviewed by a wide range of international experts and by over 190 national governments; these reviews, and the line-by-line approval process of its summaries for policy-makers, conducted by these national governments, give the reports legitimacy as the global consensus on knowledge about climate change.

IPCC lead authors and staff arrriving at ICIMOD headquarters
IPCC lead authors and staff arrriving at ICIMOD headquarters (source: Ben Orlove)

A number of people noted the connection between ICIMOD and IPCC. In an interview with GlacierHub, Philippus Wester, a chief scientist of water resources management at ICIMOD noted, “The invitation by IPCC to the Government of Nepal and ICIMOD to host the 2nd LAM of Working Group II in Kathmandu is a clear recognition of the importance of this region to the world and draws attention to the accelerated impacts of climate change in the HKH. This recognition is important and will hopefully bring increased attention to mountains and mountain people and real action on significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come.”

He commented on the magnitude of these ties for the region, telling GlacierHub, “The increased political attention for climate change and the need for urgent climate action, including in the region, is an important output of the event. The attention given to the IPCC meeting by the Prime Minister of Nepal, who graced the opening ceremony as chief guest, is an important milestone, and signals a stronger engagement of Nepal with the climate agenda. 

ICIMOD Director General David Molden addressing IPCC authors and staff
ICIMOD Director General David Molden addressing IPCC authors and staff (source: Ben Orlove)

The speakers at the ICIMOD event

At the event, David Molden, the director general of ICIMOD, welcomed the visitors who had traveled from the conference site in downtown Kathmandu to the organization’s campus, which lies in the Kathmandu Valley south of the city amid experimental fields of the Nepali Ministry of Agricultural and Livestock Development. He led the group from the administrative building to a new meeting hall. In his remarks, he emphasized the cultural and biological diversity of the region—over 1,000 languages are spoken and the area includes four global biodiversity hotspots. He also underscored the challenges that the region faces, including environmental pressures, such as climate change and loss of habitat, and economic and political pressures which result from poverty, inequality, and fragile governance. Molden noted that ICIMOD has a strong capacity to convene meetings, since it is centrally located, facilitating the participation of representatives of its eight member countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan). It has selected a set of four core competencies to promote sustainable development: livelihood systems, ecosystem services, water and air resources, and geospatial technologies to address problems. It has undertaken projects in transboundary landscape management, including international river basin organizations, the Everest region, and the Kailash Sacred Landscape in Nepal, India, and China, which surrounds one of the most important peaks in the region. 

Wester spoke next. He highlighted a recent report, “The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: Mountains, Climate Change, Sustainability, and People,” prepared by a regional organization, the Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Program. Wester mentioned that recent IPCC assessment reports provided only limited coverage of the region. Taking inspiration from the Arctic Climate Impact and Assessment, conducted by the eight member countries of the Arctic Council, ICIMOD undertook a similar effort in its own region, addressing climate change and a set of other issues in sustainable development. It documented that poverty is more acute in the mountain regions than in adjacent lowland regions in the member countries and that conflict and ethnicity-based discrimination are major drivers of poverty, with particularly high vulnerability among women. The report documents high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly as the more-nutritional, locally produced traditional foods are being replaced by lower-quality, purchased foods from outside the mountain regions. It also discusses high levels of energy poverty in a region characterized by high amounts of hydropower potential. Migration plays a complex role, providing income in the form of remittances but also impacting the availability of labor in mountain regions. Wester reviewed issues of glacier loss and of air pollution and black carbon, which impact health, crop yields, and glacier retreat. 

IPCC lead authors Carolina Adler (left) and Christian Huggel (right) at ICIMOD neadquarters
IPCC lead authors Carolina Adler (left) and Christian Huggel (right) at ICIMOD neadquarters (Source: Ben Orlove)

Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of ICIMOD, spoke of three different scenarios through which the Hindu Kush Himalaya can confront issues of natural disasters, climate change and, poor governance: a “downhill” scenario of deterioration, a “muddling through” scenario of stagnation, and an “advance towards prosperity” or sustainable development. He noted six urgent actions to promote this final scenario: cooperation at all levels, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, enhancing ecosystem resilience, recognizing and prioritizing the unique heritage of mountain peoples, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals in the region, and sharing information and knowledge. He noted the importance of large-scale investment in the region. 

Eklabya Sharma, the Deputy Director General of ICIMOD, speaking on priorities for the Hindu Kush-Himalaya
Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of ICIMOD, speaking on priorities for the Hindu Kush Himalaya (Source: Ben Orlove)

Sharma mentioned an upcoming event, hosted by ICIMOD: the Sagarmatha Dialogue, to be held in March 2020. This event, which bears the name of Mount Everest in Nepali, will bring together senior officials from the eight ICIMOD-member countries and from a number of other mountain countries around the world to develop a research and implementation program to promote sustainable development, not only in the Hindu Kush Himalaya but in other mountain regions as well. 

These three opening talks were followed by five shorter presentations on specific activities of ICIMOD in adaptation and resilience, transboundary landscapes, cryosphere and climate change, gender and development, and mitigating air pollution. Anna Sinisalo, a coordinator for ICIMOD’s Cryosphere Initiative, summarized the organization’s efforts to monitor 10 benchmark glaciers and to track snow cover as well. She discussed another upcoming event at ICIMOD, an International Forum on the Cryosphere and Society , to be held August 28-30. This will be an opportunity to develop what she termed “the voice of the Hindu Kush Himalaya,” linking research on environmental and social systems to produce policy-relevant findings. 

ICIMOD researcher Bidya Banmali Pradhan, presenting a project on brick kilns which reduces emissions and improves air quality
ICIMOD researcher Bidya Banmali Pradhan, presenting a project on brick kilns which reduce emissions and improve air quality (source: Ben Orlove)

In other presentations, Suman Bisht discussed the structural obstacles, such as the lack of education and the burden of obtaining firewood and water, which women face in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, particularly in rural areas, and presented several enterprise projects which provide women with new income sources. Bidya Banmali Pradhan, an environment officer at ICIMOD, discussed a promising example of a local organization which is responding to climate change: the Federation of Asian Brick Kiln Associations, which developed a program to organize owners of many small brick kilns to shift to less-polluting technologies. This organization took advantage of the availability of reconstruction funds after the 2015 Nepal earthquake to rebuild many old kilns in a more sustainable, climate-smart manner.

In the question and answer period which followed, the audience of IPCC officials, authors, and staff raised many issues, ranging from health, water, and natural disasters to policy, finance, and diplomacy. Thelma Krug, a vice-chair of the IPCC, directly addressed ICIMOD. She stated that she “would like to stress our gratitude for all you have been doing,” mentioning specifically that she “appreciated people [being so] passionate.” She asked as well when the next Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment would be produced; Molden told her that these reports are on a five-year cycle. 

Eklabya Sharma speaking on development pathways for the Hindu Kush-Himalaya
Eklabya Sharma, the Deputy Director General of ICIMOD, speaking on development pathways for the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (Source: Ben Orlove)

After these questions, the group moved to a dining pavilion a short distance uphill from the meeting hall for a reception, which gave ICIMOD and IPCC personnel an opportunity to speak more informally in small groups. They continued to talk for about an hour, enjoying snacks and drinks, observing the late afternoon light over the mountains across the Kathmandu Valley, and exchanging thoughts about climate change and sustainable development. 

Himalayan views of the event

In an interview after the event, Molden told GlacierHub, “Having the IPCC meeting [in Nepal] sends a good signal that the region is being taken into consideration. It has been a benefit for IPCC authors to experience a region that is clearly on the frontline of climate change. Many authors expressed to me that after the visit to Nepal, they had more of an appreciation of the mountain issues.” 

He noted the strong presence of ICIMOD researchers in the team of authors writing the report, and stated, “ICIMOD, through its authors, and recently released HKH Assessment does have a good opportunity to engage in the IPCC process and bring issues of the region in the [Sixth Assessment] report. I expect that authors from the region will provide important input on climate change scenarios, the potential impact of climate change, and important adaptation strategies.” 

It seems likely that these ties will continue to deepen. As Wester told GlacierHub, “With the inclusion of a cross-chapter paper focusing on mountains in the Working Group II contribution to AR6, we expect to see much more attention for the HKH and other mountain ranges throughout the AR6 chapters. I also expect to see many more expert reviewers from the HKH region contributing to the AR6 review process, as well as governments from the region.”

It seems likely that the IPCC will no longer treat the Hindu Kush Himalaya as an area lacking in research, but rather include it among the regions of the world most vulnerable to climate change impacts—and as a region that is addressing climate change through significant adaptation and mitigation programs. As a result, the region will participate more fully in global deliberations about climate change.

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What Moody’s Recent Acquisition Means for Assessing the Costs of the Climate Crisis

Dispatches from the Cryosphere: Intimate Encounters with the Intricate and Disappearing Ice of Everest Base Camp

Avalanches ripped across the landscape. Colorful prayer flags draped between rocks and blocks of ice stood out in bright contrast as they whipped in the wind. Icicles over five meters long dripped into white and blue streams that rushed along smooth, rippled, cavernous walls of ice. Meanwhile, streams of aspiring climbers—I among them—fought gravity and thin air to summit some of the world’s highest mountains.

I recently returned to the US after almost three months—March to June 2019—visiting a tiny portion of the “Third Pole” in the Himalayas of Nepal as part of a scientific research expedition in the Hinku, Gokyo, and Khumbu Valleys in Sagamartha and Makalu Barun National Parks. Part of the expedition focused on collecting high-altitude snow samples on the summits and glaciated flanks of Mera, Lobuche, and 8,516-meter (27,940-foot) Lhotse—the fourth highest mountain on the planet. Other research components of the expedition included botanical surveys in the lower valleys and interviewing locals about subjects as diverse as park management, changes in glaciers, and shifting politics in the region—utilizing Nepali students as translators.

Prayer flags draped across the icefall sometimes mark hazardous or important points on the climbing route. (Source: Chris Dunn)
 

My role on the expedition was primarily as social scientist with a research focus on perceptions of glacier recession, particularly comparing those of scientists with the lived experience and traditional beliefs of park residents. One question I had was how scientific literacy intersects with traditional beliefs and the future implications this may have for conservation and park management—an extension of prior long-term studies. I also investigated how expeditions and journey narratives can be used as tools in communicating climate change, as well as science and environmental issues more broadly.

My research trip happened to coincide with two separate National Geographic expeditions in the area—one attempting an ascent of Lhotse South Face and the other, Everest. In Kathmandu, I interviewed various individuals, including staff of the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), who study, among many other things, Himalayan glaciers. At ICIMOD I spoke with a Nepali scientist who grew up in the Khumbu. Later in Kathmandu, I met a Sherpa owner of a trekking and climbing company, who also grew up in the Khumbu. Their dual perspectives as native residents of these areas and as scientists or business owners were extremely valuable. They provided specific details about the perceived risks of glacial lake outburst floods, long-term impacts of glacial loss on hydropower and drinking water, and how traditional conceptions of Sagamartha (Everest) and other mountains, lakes, and valleys as inhabited by gods, goddesses, and spirits might interact with scientific presentations of climate change and climate adaptation efforts.

An ice “mushroom” perched atop the Khumbu Glacier. (Source: Chris Dunn)
The Khumbu Icefall framed by a ring of ice. (Source: Chris Dunn)

In addition to my formal social science research aspirations, I participated in physical science data collection. Due to a variety of mishaps and illnesses, I was the sole member of the expedition to summit Mera and Lobuche, where I collected crucial snow samples, which, when processed, will reveal the quantity and origin of black carbon deposited on the glaciers. Black carbon accelerates the glacial mass loss already occurring due to climate change by reducing the albedo of glacier surfaces, thus absorbing more solar energy. My sample site on the summit of Mera tied the prior record for the highest elevation black carbon sampling site, which has been published in a formal paper (on the summit of Mera as it happens). This was soon broken however by samples collected on the summit push up Lhotse (though not yet published).

An ice “stalagmite” has formed at the base of an icicle over five meters long. (Source: Chris Dunn)
The author, Chris Dunn, collecting snow samples high on Mera Peak. (Source: Ramkaji Tiwari)

The expedition’s initial plans were to send two climbers to the summit of Everest and three to the summit of Lhotse. Once again, however, due to a variety of misfortunes, no Everest aspirants spent a night above Camp 2, leaving no one in position to attempt Everest. Only the expedition leader and I successfully summited Lhotse, as our third had to rescued by helicopter from Camp 2 due to bloody froth in his lungs—a clear symptom of high-altitude pulmonary edema. Our summit day began under a full moon and in the distance we watched a continuous line of headlamps crawling up Everest’s south summit.

Due to the slow process of acclimatization and some weather delays, I was able to spend an exceptionally long time at Everest Base Camp (EBC). Though it was a bit taxing, it gave me the unique opportunity to explore sections of the Khumbu Glacier around EBC that are rarely seen by otherwise occupied climbers and Nepali staff. I documented, through photography, short videos, and writing, the quickly disappearing ice formations in this area. In other words, I spent time with the glacier, getting to know and appreciate it at multiple levels—developing a deep aesthetic appreciation.

A rare cluster of nieves penitentes that the author spotted on the Khumbu Glacier. (Source: Chris Dunn)

I see my work here in part as a fledgling spinoff of photographer James Balog’s wonderful documentation of ice—the subject of the equally wonderful film Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski. I hope that my unique contributions include exploring little crevices that are missed by a wider view, creative writing, and an academic investigation into the scientific and indigenous cultural aspects of ice.

As I explored, I was struck by several recurring formations: countless and ever-transforming icicles, “mushrooms,” or small columns of ice capped by rocks; “snails,” which eerily resembled rock-shell-toting ice-creatures; intricately-textured and cracked spires, caves, and waves of ice; and the rare cluster of nieves penitentes—triangular blades of ice formed through sublimation. Each of these dwarfed by the great hanging and mountain glaciers surrounding EBC on all sides.

Avalanches—occasionally of awe-inspiring size and power—were numerous. One night at Camp 2, as I lay buried in my thick down sleeping bag, a nearby avalanche exploded downward at such volume that I was certain it would envelop me in the darkness. I resigned myself to my fate, which never came. Another avalanche roared outside my tent at Base Camp. I was later told by a National Geographic GIS specialist that it partially enveloped our camp in a cloud of snow. At least one client of our company was struck by the tail end of an avalanche, while a member of our expedition came within 10 meters of a different avalanche. It seems likely that the quantity and size of avalanches I witnessed was affected by climate change, part of a larger world-wide trend, well-documented in other regions.

A tiny portion of Everest Base Camp and the Khumbu Glacier illuminated under a full moon. (Source: Chris Dunn)

I spent nearly a month and a half camping right on top of a glacier. If not on a relatively thin layer of rock, as at EBC, then directly on the ice. The glacier would often creak, pop, and groan, especially at night as it expanded and contracted with changing temperatures. At Camp 2, I sometimes felt deep vibrations ripple into my body. On one occasion, I heard a pop right near my tent, followed by one after another moving off into the distance. By the end, my tent at EBC hung precariously from its high platform of ice and rock—undercut by melting and ready to fall.

I cherish the time I spent getting to know these glaciers at multiple levels—as an object of scientific inquiry and source of data, a nexus of traditional lifeways and beliefs, an aesthetic and sensual phenomenon, and an ever-changing, perilous obstacle for summiting one of the highest mountains on Earth. I hope that I will have future opportunities to come to know other glaciers in all these ways.

See more photos and a forthcoming essay about this expedition here.

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New Heights in the Himalayas: High-Altitude Weather Monitoring

New Heights in the Himalayas: High-Altitude Weather Monitoring

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. 


Automatic weather station atop 1 of the 7 ICIMOD sites (Source: ICIMOD Kathmandu, Flickr)

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. 


ICIMOD and Kathmandu researchers on Yala glacier (Source: ICIMOD Kathmandu, Flickr)

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. 

Additional Readings on GlacierHub

Roundup: Contaminated Arctic Spiders, Sand Abundance in Greenland, and Cryoconite on the Tibetan Plateau

Photo Friday: The Summertime Lure of the World’s Iconic Glaciers

East and South Asia Are the Largest Sources of Black Carbon Blanketing the Tibetan Plateau

Video of the Week: The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment

This week’s video digests the sobering findings of the Hindu Kush Himalaya assessment. The montage was published by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), one of the institutions responsible for compiling the report. As GlacierHub reported last week, the assessment is likely the most comprehensive climate assessment of the area: It includes input from over 300 experts, researchers, and policymakers.

The video describes the effects of climate change on the Third Pole, as the Himalaya is often called, including the rapid melting of glaciers. It conveys second-order effects on downstream human populations and ecology, which depend heavily on glacial runoff to support the region’s rivers. The major watersheds of southern Asia are fed by the melt from the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, which supports water, food, and energy needs for nearly two billion people.

GlacierHub also reported on the threat to hydropower development in the region posed by climate change.

The video appears during a week in which climate change received significant coverage in the United States, owing to the rollout of the Green New Deal proposal and a skeptical tweet about climate change from President Trump.

The video underscores the need for immediate action to stave off the worst effects of climate change in the sensitive region. In it, Asuncion Lera St. Clair, senior principal scientist at the Climate Action Program, suggests the comprehensive assessment “might be the beginning of a process of uniting the countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas around what the science says needs to happen.”

Barsuwat Glacier Causes Flooding and Artificial Lake in Pakistan

The previously dry Barsuwat riverbed in Ishkoman, Pakistan, was inundated with flood waters from the melting Barsuwat glacier last month. The water triggered landslides that blocked the flow of the Immit River and formed an artificial lake. On July 18, a glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF) event originating from the artificial lake produced significant flooding in nearby villages in the Ishkoman Valley of the Ghizer district, Gilgit-Baltistan. Two people were killed during the initial rush of floodwaters, and around 1,000 people were evacuated to safer areas ahead of the GLOF by Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).

During the GLOF, the melting glacier released debris, including mud and stones, which damaged over 40 houses and cut off roadway access to upwards of 10 local villages. Part of the Karakoram Highway became submerged, while some smaller roads were washed away along with over a dozen vehicles and hundreds of cattle in the upstream areas.

Ishkoman Valley during the flooding event on July 18 (Source: Pamir Times/Twitter).

The Barsuwat glacier has been melting more rapidly than normal due to a May heat wave in the region that killed 65 people in Karachi, Pakistan. According to Dawn, an online Pakistani newspaper, the deputy commissioner of Ghizer, Shuja Alam, said that the glacier started melting on July 17, the night before the flooding event, at about 7 p.m. The floodwaters have since waned as the ice and debris have melted and washed away.

The evacuation of the villagers prior to the GLOF event was made possible by a community-based flood early warning system in Gilgit Baltistan developed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an organization that monitors glacier melt and the dams that can lead to lake formation and flooding.

Earlier in April, ICIMOD’s Director General David Molden had pledged “ongoing support to Pakistan’s government and community institutions” and highlighted the organization’s partnership in disaster risk management in Gilgit Baltistan as key to enabling locals to respond to the consequences of climate change, including an increase in glacial lakes and flooding events.

ICIMOD is currently collaborating with the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Management Authority and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat on disaster risk management in the area. These kinds of collaborations are becoming increasingly necessary as disasters like the one in July become more common. “Today, the fast melting glaciers pose the greatest disaster risk to Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. I see massive deforestation that the region has experienced over the decades as a major factor behind this situation,” Ghulam Rasul, director general of Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), told Dawn.

However, Ken Hewitt, professor emeritus of the department of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, who spent his career studying glaciers in Northern Pakistan, warns of a greater threat to the region. “Bigger risks come from ice dams, of which there have been seven or more in the upper Ishkoman (Karambar tributary) since late 19th century,” he told GlacierHub.

He added that there is potential for one of these ice dams and resulting GLOFs from a recent advance of Chillinji Glacier. “Its terminus has advanced across the Karambar River, but not sealed a dam to date—though it has in the past,” Hewitt said.

News outlets in Pakistan have likened the July 2018 artificial lake formation in Ishkoman to the formation of Attabad Lake in Hunza River Valley, Pakistan, in January 2010. Attabad Lake was created after a natural rock landslide buried the village of Attabad and dammed the Hunza River. The lake grew to 21 kilometers across and over 109 meters deep.

The Ishkoman Valley lake is different, however, in that it does not have the same blockage characteristics that could withstand warming temperatures and height of the rising waters to form a permanent lake.

As the region looks to the future, Hewitt is keeping his eye on the Hasanabad Glacier in Hunza, about 50 kilometers downstream from Attabad, which is currently undergoing a massive surge. “It had the longest, fastest surge on record a century ago and is a unique glacier in other ways,” he said. He remains doubtful it will reach the Hunza River, but he cautions that it could form a dam on its large tributary, risking another GLOF in the region.

Communities in Nepal Expand to Risk Areas, Despite Hazards

Nepal is in the top 10 percent of countries in the world in terms of the frequency and severity of disasters. A recently published study in the journal Land has found that more than a quarter of the new houses in Pokhara, the second-largest city in Nepal, are being built in highly dangerous areas susceptible to multiple natural hazards, including glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and avalanches.

Location map of the study area (Source: Land).

The study lists a number of challenges for this rapidly-growing city, located in a region with a number of geological hazards. Most of the newly settled areas are located in agricultural areas. These are attractive to prospective residents, because they are flat and have owners who permit construction. However, these locations place new houses at great risk. The researchers indicate that this growth will continue until at least 2035.

Time-series Landsat images helped the researchers to explore the changes in land use and urbanization of the Pokhara from 1988 to 2016. The images were verified using extensive field visits to ensure accuracy. They served as a basis for projections into 2025 and 2035.

GLOFs are a major threat in Nepal, where 15 percent of the country is covered by the Himalayan mountains. This holds true for the Kaski District, where Pokhara is located. With rapid melting due to rising temperatures, glacier lakes are forming and increasing the level of risk seen in the surrounding areas.

The Annapurna and Machapuchare mountains in Pokhara, Nepal (Source: Marina & Enrique/Flickr).

Two of the most prominent issues in dealing with hazards such as this in Pokhara are uncertainty and perception. According to a report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), “The probability of a lake outburst cannot be predicted with any reasonable level of certainty.” In addition, the views of the people at greatest risk are often more strongly influenced by, often inaccurate, media accounts than by scientific assessments.

Tony Oliver-Smith, a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Florida, told GlacierHub about his work in hazard perception and resettling. “Some people may be generally aware of the risks, but the need for housing is so great that it may override such concerns,” he said. This kind of drive is typical for areas like this one that are undergoing rapid urbanization, often in unplanned environments. “Many people prefer to take their chances with hazards rather than government schemes to relocate them in more secure zones,” continued Oliver-Smith.

The city of Pokhara, Nepal (Source: Matt Zimmerman/Flickr).

Further, cities like Pokhara often lack relevant legislation and regulatory capacity, appropriate agencies, and personnel both in qualifications and number, to enforce land use restrictions regarding housing location and safety, according to Oliver-Smith. A practical application of the study’s findings, he said, would be to develop appropriate legislation and funding to improve land use regulatory capacity, increase awareness of risk in vulnerable and exposed communities, and develop appropriate legislation and capacities in resettlement practice.

Natural hazards are on the rise globally, and with more people moving to more susceptible areas, the losses in human life and property are likely to increase. “As you put more and more people in harm’s way, you make a disaster out of something that before was just a natural event,” Klaus Jacob, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told Live Science. To make matters more difficult, the study emphasizes that “developing countries with low-income and lower-middle economies experience greater loss and damage due to hazards.”

The researchers hope that their results “will assist future researchers and planners in developing sustainable expansion policies that may ensure disaster-resilient sustainable urban development of the study area.”

The study ultimately illuminates the common risk of hazards that people all over the world face. Luxury apartments being built along coastlines in flood-prone cities threatened by sea level rise continue to be built, similar to the continued urbanization in Pokhara. It’s a common situation, and finding solutions requires place-based, locally-specific information and research.

 

Photo Friday: The First Annual ‘Mountain Prize’ Award

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) will confer its first-ever Mountain Prize award in 2018! Open to both individuals and organizations, the prize seeks to recognize those who have “demonstrated outstanding efforts enabling sustainable and resilient mountain development in the HKH (Hindu Kush Himalaya) region to benefit the environment as well as the communities – particularly the poor, the youth, and the women.”

Individuals or organizations that enter the competition stand a chance to win $5,000.

The nomination process ends this month on 30 April, and the winner will be announced on 5 June 2018, which just so happens to be World Environment Day.

For more information on how to qualify, check out the link to the new annual ICIMOD competition here.

This Photo Friday, take a peek at photos from some of ICIMOD’s past award competitions.

ICIMOD’s Single Photo Contest Winners

 

Hard Life by Susheel Shrestha
First Place was awarded to “Hard Life” by Susheel Shrestha, which portrays local female porters carrying wooden planks to build a new hotel at Kyanjing Gompa in Rasuwa district (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Women and their livelihood to combat climate change
Second Place was awarded to “Women and their livelihood to combat climate change” by Upakar Bhandari, which showcases Hukam village, a mountain village of Rukum where women grow mountain crops to feed their families (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Another Tree Sacrificed by Didar Ali
Third Place was awarded to “Another Tree Sacrificed” by Didar Ali, which depicts the hardships of the Wakhi/Pamirians living in Gojal valley, Pakistan. Having no alternatives, they rely on wood for cooking and heating (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Resilient Hindu Kush Photo Story Contest

 

From Peaks to Plains - Troubled Waters along the Gandaki River
The winner of this prize was “From Peaks to Plains – Troubled Waters along the Gandaki River” by Alice Chautard, which follows the Kali Gandaki river as it originates from Himalayan glaciers in the desert-dry region of Upper Mustang, at the border with Tibet (Source: ICIMOD).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ICIMOD Steps Up to Save Lives in Pakistan

Imagine waking up at 4 a.m. to the wails of a siren. For Sherqilla, a small village in Pakistan, that siren was the difference between life and death. The siren is part of an early warning system that woke up all the villagers in time for them to get to higher ground and avoid the floods that ensued in 2017. Just one year earlier a similar flood swept away six households, livestock, 250 acres of cropland, and roughly 600 acres of fruit and trees.

The early warning system in Sherqilla was developed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development or ICIMOD. ICIMOD was recently recognized by the Gilgit-Baltistan government in Pakistan for helping to increase the resiliency of vulnerable mountain village communities through their Indus Basin Initiative.

Trekkers in the Hindu Kush Over North Barum glacier, from Terichmir base camp 3800 m, Chitral, Pakistan (Source: Facebook).

Gilgit-Baltistan is home to the Hindu Kush, Himalayas, and Karakoram mountain ranges. The population of the region is roughly 1.9 million people, around 80,000 of whom are vulnerable to “inland tsunamis.”

Normally one would think of a tsunami and imagine waves crashing down on an unsuspecting coastal community. In the case of Pakistan, the tsunamis come from within. These inland tsunamis are known as glacial lake outburst floods or GLOFs. GLOFs occur when the water of a glacial lake breaks through its natural dam and floods the nearby areas. Based on a 30-year average from 1981 to 2010, climate change has warmed the mountainous regions of Pakistan by an estimated 1.2 degrees Celsius, leading to an increase in GLOFs and natural disasters. The impacts on the local community is both swift and unforgiving.

The Chitral Valley is another prime example of a remote mountain village impacted by climate change. Three major floods have occurred in less than six years, claiming the lives of 50 people and leaving hundreds of thousands stranded, according to the Washington Post.

Mohiuddin who lost his home and 4-year-old daughter in a flash flood in Reshun Gol village, Chitral, Pakistan (Source: ICIMOD).

 

The Indus Basin Initiative

In light of the constant threat of GLOFs, ICIMOD made the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority more pro-active in the face of such natural disasters. Aside from improving the local irrigation systems and agricultural conditions of the communities, ICIMOD established hazard management systems in Gulmit, Passu, Hussaini, and Gulkin. These systems are known as community-based glacier monitoring and early warning systems or CBFEWS.

According to ICIMOD, CBFEWS consists of tools and plans used to detect and respond to flood emergencies. The monitoring priorities of the system depend on the community. In Gulmit, for example, locals monitor the debris flow. However, as previously mentioned, in Sherqilla, the system monitors flash floods. In Passu, the locals look out for GLOFs. This is all part of the ICIMOD’s Indus Basin Initiative.

Shandur Lake (Source: The News International).

Back in September, following floods in August, ICIMOD implemented a five-day training program to improve the ability of participants to install and use the community-based flood risk management system. The training consisted of learning both the technical and conceptual knowledge behind the early warning device designed by ICIMOD. The 17 participants in the training came from local governments, NGOs and other partners. They hailed from Nepal, India, and Pakistan. According to the ICIMOD, in order to be effective, the CBFEWS should involve a number of elements: “risk knowledge and scoping, community-based monitoring and early warning, dissemination, and communication and response capability and resilience.”

Dasuopu Glacier, Mt. Xixiabangma, Central Himalayas (Source: ICIMOD

Moving forward

In the hopes of further increasing resilience in the region, ICIMOD recently aided in facilitating an international conference. ICIMOD, the Government of Nepal, and the European Union worked together to make the conference “Resilient Hindu Kush: Developing Solutions Toward a Sustainable Future for Asia” a reality.

At the event, the director general of ICIMOD, David Molden, gave words of thanks and encouragement. In his speech, he recognized the importance of future collaboration saying, “Building resilience also calls us to improve participation of all groups, particularly communities, women and youth in creating a vision and action plan for a more prosperous future.”

See ICIMOD Director General David Molden’s Full Speech here.

Of course, GLOFs are not the only natural disasters that plague the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Avalanches, monsoon rains, and other natural disasters make the socio-economic conditions even tougher on the people of the remote mountain villages. ICIMOD further recognizes that Gilgit-Baltistan isn’t the only country under threat from impending GLOFs. As such, it has begun discussions on the possibility of replicating the early warning system in other areas. ICIMOD hopes that these expansion efforts will help to ensure the safety of villagers living throughout the region.

Roundup: Ancient Tunic, Climate Resiliency and Sustainable Glacier Tourism

Reconstructing the Tunic from Lendbreen in Norway

From the Archaelogical Textiles Review: “A woven wool tunic with damaged sleeves and repairs to the body dating from AD 230 to AD 390 was discovered on the Lendbreen glacier in Oppland County, Norway, in 2011. The Norwegian Mountain Centre in Lom (Norsk Fjellsenter) and the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo each commissioned a reconstruction of the tunic for exhibition and research into prehistoric textile production. The original was woven in 2/2 diamond twill with differently colored yarns producing a deliberate and even mottled effect.”

Learn more about glacier archaeology and its techniques here.

Ancient Tunic in Lendbreen glacier
Ancient Tunic in Lendbreen glacier (Source: Marianne Vedeler).

Collaboration Strengthens Climate Resiliency

From the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): “As climate change impacts are increasing the likelihood of natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, having a thorough disaster risk management plan is become more important for communities throughout the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). The government of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan has recognized the efforts of the Indus Basin Initiative of the ICIMOD and consortium partners to establish more resilient mountain villages through partnership with the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GB-DMA). Their plan involves several projects in glacier-rich northern Pakistan, including rehabilitation of a glacier-fed irrigation system, and a community based glacier monitoring/GLOF early warning system.”

Find out more about the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Risk Management Plan here.

Glaciers from the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya, HKH
Glaciers from the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya, HKH (Source: INSPIRE/Blogger).

 

Stakeholder Participation in Developing Sustainability Indicators

From the Journal of Rural and Community Development: “Glacier tourism is of importance worldwide. Many European northern periphery (NP) communities are likely to experience increased and complex environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism in the near future. Therefore, approaches that see tourism as included in complex socio-ecological systems are critical for identifying and assessing sustainability indicators in the NP specifically are crucial. This study from Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland argues for the value of incorporating the perceptions of local communities as it develops and assesses systemic sustainability indicators for glacial tourism.”

Further explore the concept of sustainable glacier tourism in Iceland here.

Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park (Source: Daniel Kordan/Instagram).

China and Nepal Collaborate on Glacier Research

SKLCS research sites in China, Nepal and Pakistan (source: SKLCS).

As China has expanded its capacity in glacier research in recent years, it has also developed its collaborations with other nations, particularly Nepal, in this area.

Chinese glaciological activities date back to the 1950s, and underwent an expansion with the establishment of the Lanzhou Institute of Glaciology and Geocryology, located in the central province of Gansu, in the 1980s. An Ice Core Laboratory was created in 1991, which expanded into the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI), a component of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science (SKLCS) was established in 2007 by CAREERI and the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, which is also a unit within the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Prof. Shichang Kang, director of SKLCS (source: CAS).

The SKLCS also supports China’s research in Antarctica. As professor Ren Jiawen of SKLCS explained to GlacierHub, this polar work began with the establishment of stations on the Antarctic Peninsula in the 1980s, and in the 1990s at Prydz Bay and on the Antarctic Plateau. In addition, China’s Arctic Yellow River Station in Svalbard was opened in 2004. These high latitude efforts show the logic of using the term “Third Pole” to describe the glacier and permafrost regions of high mountain Asia.

This growth of cryosphere research reflects the general expansion of the geosciences in China, and also the recognition of the environmental and economic importance of the cryosphere for China. Glacier meltwater is a major source of water in a number of small watersheds in the western portion of the country, and in one of China’s largest rivers as well. Glaciers supplied over 10 percent of the flow of the Yangtze River in the last decades of the 20th century. Though this contribution increased early in the present century, due to accelerated melt, the river is likely to reach “peak water” around 2030, and then decline, creating serious difficulties in the country, which has hoped to rely on transfers from the Yangtze watershed to alleviate water scarcity in the country’s north. Studies of the glaciers allow for more precise projections of the nation’s water resources.

The SKLCS addresses other pressing cryosphere issues in China. The thawing of permafrost threatens important infrastructure projects, such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway which links Lhasa with central China. And China is scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and has turned to the SKLCS to help plan this event within the constraints of declining snow cover, forming a committee to “support and guarantee the snow and ice conditions during the Games.”

Though climate change is a major cause of glacier retreat in China, the deposition of black carbon—soot and other particles—on glaciers also plays a role. The burning of biomass and the use of diesel fuel in South Asia, especially India, provide a major source of this black carbon, which has been a focus of Chinese collaboration with Nepal in cryospheric research since its inception.

Map from recent paper by Kang, Sharma and others, showing transport of pollutants across the Himalayas (source: ES&T).

As professor Shichang Kang, the director of SKLCS, told GlacierHub in a recent interview, “Since 2006, I started a collaboration with professor Subodh Sharma and Dr. Chhatra Sharma at Kathmandu University focusing on water, soil, and precipitation chemistry as well as toxic risk assessment in Nepal-Himalaya. This collaboration is still going on as we are training PhD students and young scientists.” He mentioned that this research examines a number of specific “pollutants in water, soil and air, including black carbon, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [organic molecules which derive from biomass burning and other sources] and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic, lead etc.)”

Kang mentioned that the SKLCS “also started another collaboration in 2013, with ICIMOD [the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, based in Kathmandu], working with Dr. Arnico Panday for air pollution observation in Nepal.” He stated that this research will continue to explore water quality and air quality, and look more extensively at “health risks associated with pollutants, the impacts of black carbon on cryospheric processes, and on the transport of atmospheric pollutants across the Himalayas into the Tibetan Plateau.” Black carbon in the Third Pole is a topic of concern for the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Chhatra Sharma, a Nepali limnologist, also described this collaboration. He told GlacierHub, “I completed my Ph.D. at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in 2008 and joined the faculty of Kathmandu University. A year later, I joined professor Kang’s group as a Young International Scientist Fellow in 2009. Kang is currently hosting two researchers within the President’s International Fellowship Initiative at present. And SKLCS and Kathmandu University  have signed a memorandum of understanding for collaboration.” He added that he and Kang have co-authored 17 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Map showing GLOFs in Nepal, including those which originated in China (source: ICIMOD).

Among these papers is a study, published last year in Environmental Science & Technology, about the transport of heavy metal pollutants from South Asia into the Tibetan Plateau. The authors of this paper analyzed samples from ice cores and lake sediments in the Nepal Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau. As this study shows, research on this subject requires the collection of field data on both the northern and southern sides of the Himalaya.

These collaborations have allowed China to support its bilateral aid activities in Nepal. It partnered with ICIMOD to study glacier lake outburst floods, including ones which originate in Tibet and spread into Nepal. It put this information to use after the 7.8 earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015. It held an emergency meeting to assess the risk of landslides, debris flows and GLOFs, and sent information to agencies in Nepal.

Meeting at CAREERI to discuss April 2015 earthquake in Nepal (source: CAS)

These ties involve other countries as well. In addition to Nepali researchers, cryosphere scientists from Pakistan and Mongolia took part in the International Workshop on Cryospheric Change and Sustainable Development, held in August, at SKLCS in Lanzhou.

In 2015, China established the Belt Road Initiative, also known as the One Belt, One Road Initiative. Drawing on the history of the Silk Road, it seeks to promote infrastructure investments and trade with countries which neighbor China and beyond. In this context, scientific research, investment, trade and foreign policy can be integrated. In this way, Chinese cryosphere scientists and their collaborators in Nepal and elsewhere are responding to the pressures of climate change on glaciers.

Nepal signed a memorandum of understanding with China in May of this year, promoting its participation in the Belt and Road Initiative and facilitating Chinese investment to address Nepal’s infrastructure deficits. Historically, Nepal has shared close ties with India, a country with which it shares Hinduism as the majority religion. Nepali and Hindi are related languages, and Nepal’s transportation network has developed with roads across the lowland jungles that separate it from India, rather than across the high passes of the Himalayas.

But the potential of Chinese investment opens the possibility of a reconfiguratrion of transportation networks and of economic and political ties in the region. In this context, scientific research, investment, trade and foreign policy can be integrated. These efforts lead cryosphere scientists in China and Nepal to address the pressures of climate change on glaciers in their countries, and to explore ways to coordinate their activities.