Roundup: Alpine Hydropower, Water Availability in Pakistan, and Measuring Black Carbon

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.”

Read more here.

A view of the glacier-fed Lake Sabbione in Italy. (Source: Flickr)

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.”

Read more here.

A view of the Indus River Valley (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Read more here.

The terminus of Gangotri Glacier, Uttarakhand, India (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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Roundup: Expanding Glaciers, Appraising the Himalaya, and Ice Worms

Study shows a glacier is expanding

From Frontiers in Earth Science: “There is strong variation in glacier mass balances in High Mountain Asia. Particularly interesting is the fact that glaciers are in equilibrium or even gaining mass in the Karakoram and Kunlun Shan ranges, which is in sharp contrast with the negative mass balances in the rest of High Mountain Asia. To understand this difference, an in-depth understanding of the meteorological drivers of the glacier mass balance is required.”

Read the study here.

The outer domain (D1, 25 km, middle panel), with its nests. Left panel shows the 1 km domain of Shimshal catchment (D3), and right panel 1 km domain of Langtang catchment (D5). The catchment outlines are indicated by black contours and glacier outlines of GLDAS dataset (Rodell et al., 2004) by blue contours. (Source: Frontiers of Earth Science)

An appraisal of Himalayan glaciers

From Proceedings of the Indian National Science Academy: “The present review takes stock of the growth of cryospheric research in India with reference to glaciers and snow in the Himalaya, which are sensitive marker of the climate change. Overview of the snout and mass balance data indicates accentuated rate of glacier recession during the 1970’s and 1980’s, particularly in the Central and NE Himalaya. Like elsewhere on the globe, the retreating trends are consistent with the hypothesis of the global warming resulting from the increasing anthropogenic emissions of Green Houses Gasses. In contrast, the Glaciers in the Karakoram region, Indus basin, fed by mid-latitude westerlies, show marginal advancement and/or near stagnation.”

Read the study here.

A view of the Himalaya (Source: orangems/Flickr)

Ice worms

From Proceedings of the Royal Society B: “Disentangling the contemporary and historical factors underlying the spatial distributions of species is a central goal of biogeography. For species with broad distributions but little capacity to actively disperse, disconnected geographical distributions highlight the potential influence of passive, long-distance dispersal (LDD) on their evolutionary histories. However, dispersal alone cannot completely account for the biogeography of any species, and other factors—e.g. habitat suitability, life history—must also be considered. North American ice worms (Mesenchytraeus solifugus) are ice-obligate annelids that inhabit coastal glaciers from Oregon to Alaska.”

Read the study here.

An iceworm (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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New Heights in the Himalayas: High-Altitude Weather Monitoring

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South Asian Perspectives on News of Rapid Himalayan Glacier Melt

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?

A view of the Himalayas taken during a trek in Nepal (Source: Treks Himalaya/Flickr)

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.

A photo of the Brahmaputra river, the longest river passing through Bangladesh, taken in Mymensingh, Bangladesh (Source: Topu Saha/Flickr)

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. 

The monsoon season (typically June to October) brings nationwide flooding to Bangladesh (Source: Martien van Asseldonk)

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.

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Kashmir’s Water: New Weapon of War for India and Pakistan?

India and Pakistan were separated at birth, established in 1947 when they gained independence from Britain. Since then, these two countries have been engaged in a violent, 70-year-long dispute over control of Kashmir, waging three wars, countless skirmishes, attacks, and subsequent retaliations. Today, India occupies 45 percent of Kashmir, Pakistan occupies 35 percent, and China occupies the remaining 20 percent.

Map of Kashmir boundaries and the Indus river basin on GlacierHub
Map of Kashmir boundaries and the Indus river basin (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Water is an important aspect of India and Pakistan’s fight over Kashmir. Kashmir, a small mountainous region tucked between India and Pakistan, is home to glacier headwaters for several of the Indus River’s tributaries. The Indus River begins in the Himalayas of Tibet, then continues through to India, Kashmir, and finally Pakistan––and provides water resources to almost 270 million people.

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) of 1960, which was brokered by the World Bank, divided up control of Indus rivers to Pakistan and India. It also established the Permanent Indus Commission to facilitate communication between the two countries and resolve any disputes. Under the treaty, Pakistan retains primary control of Kashmir’s western glacier-fed rivers––Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus––while India holds the water rights for the eastern rivers––Beas, Ravi, and Satluj.

Indian and Pakistani-controlled land areas are demarcated by the Line of Control (LOC) with one huge exception: the Siachen Glacier. The two international agreements defining the LOC did not include the Siachen Glacier area, leading both India and Pakistan to compete for control. India claimed the entire glacier in 1984, and has maintained a military presence there since.

Recent Events

Tensions between the two countries subsided for several years following a 2003 ceasefire, however, more recent conflicts between India and Pakistan have brought the long-standing dispute in Kashmir, and its roots in water, back into focus.

In 2016, 19 Indian soldiers were killed in the Uri attack, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to say, “blood and water can’t flow together at the same time.” In the following weeks, India suspended meetings of the Permanent Indus Commission, then engaged a policy shift to begin exerting full control over their allotted water under the IWT.

Fast forward to February 21, 2019, when Nitin Gadkari, India’s Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, tweeted:

Gadkari’s declaration came one week after a car bombing in Pulwama (India-controlled Kashmir) left 41 dead, making it the deadliest attack in Kashmir’s history. India charged Pakistan as responsible for the attacks and vowed to retaliate, but the Pakistani government denied any involvement. The next day, Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility.

In the wake of the Pulwama terror attacks, media frenzy around this tweet quickly ensued. Several news sources speculated that India was attempting to put pressure on Pakistan, or that it was violating the Indus Waters Treaty by halting all water flow to Pakistan. Ministry officials later clarified on Twitter that Gadkari was simply reaffirming an existing policy. In accordance with their plan, India recently began construction of a dam on the Ravi river and plans only to use the eastern rivers, of which they have primary control under the treaty, for their proposed water diversions.

Caught in the Crossfire

In the month following, tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated, with Kashmir caught in the middle of their crossfire.

Making good on their promise of retaliation, Indian warplanes crossed the LOC for the first time since 1971 to carry out an airstrike. Pakistan responded by shooting down two Indian fighter jets, capturing one of the pilots, and releasing a controversial video of the pilot in custody before announcing they would release the pilot back to India as an act of good faith.

Uncharted Waters

Now two weeks after the pilot’s release, tensions in Kashmir have diffused somewhat, and both India and Pakistan have made it clear they intend to avoid further escalation. Historically, it didn’t take much to provoke hostile exchanges into an all-out war between the two, so what is making them more hesitant this time around?

First, both countries are now nuclear powers. And while India has a “No First Use” policy, meaning it will only engage in retaliatory nuclear strikes, Pakistan has yet to adopt such a policy. Any future hostilities run the risk of nuclear escalation and subsequent devastation, making Pakistan and India weary of reaching “the point of no return.” Though certainly possible, escalations of nuclear proportion remain unlikely.

Water as an Emerging Weapon

Person holding up a Pakistani flag on the world's highest battlefield, Siachen Glacier on GlacierHub
Person holding up a Pakistani flag on the world’s highest battlefield, Siachen Glacier (Source: junaidrao/Flickr).

Additionally, throughout all of South Asia, future water availability is a monumental concern. In an article published by the New York Times, Arif Rafiq, a political analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said, “we may be getting a glimpse of the future of conflict in South Asia. The region is water-stressed. Water may be emerging as a weapon of war.”

It is no secret that political turmoil can wreak havoc on an environmental landscape, and in India, Pakistan, and Kashmir, this is further complicated by the impact of climate change. According to the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, rising temperatures will melt at least one-third of glaciers in the Himalayas by 2100, and up to two-thirds if we fail to meet ambitious climate change targets. Some glaciers are predicted to reach peak discharge as early as 2020.

Less water availability coupled with population growth will likely exacerbate tensions between India and Pakistan as they continue their fight for control over Kashmir’s water resources. The Assessment noted that future glacier and snow cover changes in the Indus river basin may not occur equitably, meaning the water quantities allocated to India and Pakistan under the IWT could change drastically. Since the IWT has no provision to deal with water in the context of climate change, the two countries could very well have to re-negotiate the treaty in coming years.

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India’s Glaciers Help Shape Climate Change Policy

A paper set to be published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources takes a critical view of the breadth of academic literature on climate change policy and politics in India. It evaluates not only the ideas and knowledge regarding climate change, but also recent shifts in domestic and international governance and policy. The authors underscore the ways that glaciers have played a role in shaping the trajectory of climate change responses in India.

Himalayan Glaciers in India as seen from the International Space Station (Source: Jason Betzner/Flickr).

India has a significant stake in the climate change arena with about 9,000 glaciers within its boundaries. In fact, it was recently named the most vulnerable country to climate change, in a report by HSBC bank earlier this year.

The Himalayan region has millions of people that reside in India and in the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. The residents depend on the glacial meltwater that sources rivers for drinking water, electricity generation, and irrigation. Snowfall from the monsoon season is able to replenish the glaciers to create the foundation for this hydrological system, but climate change disrupts this pattern and dramatically increases the vulnerability of all who depend on it.

India’s scientific community has closely studied monsoons and glacial melt. In this way, they have helped usher initial attention toward climate change action among the public and policy makers. However, this attention has not been without controversy.

The Himalayan glaciers were the subject of heated debate after the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Fourth Assessment Report claimed that they would completely disappear by 2035. This claim was later corrected after it was determined to be incorrect. While Himalayan glacier retreat may be substantial by the end of the century, models show that the glaciers will not completely disappear.

The issue of glacial melt is just one of the many factors that raised the importance of climate change policy action in India, which the paper highlights as shifting substantially over time.

Initially, India built its international negotiation strategy on a pillar of climate equity, bridging rich and poor nations. But the paper notes that the meaning of this term has broadened over time “to include not only disparities among nations, but also disparities within India and the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations.”

Although emphasis remains on the developed nation’s obligation to take responsibility for its contribution to climate change, India has stated its own national contribution to mitigation.

Its forest sequestration pledge to increase forest cover came with Indian advocacy for the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program, for example. This rewards increased sequestration of carbon, not just reduced deforestation, and was eventually adopted in Bali during the UNFCCC’s 15th Conference of the Parties.

The Institutional Structure of India’s Climate Governance (as on March 2018) that outlines the period in which engagement with climate change began. Abbreviations are offered in the journal article (Source: Annual Review of Environment and Resources).

 

Despite India’s push toward forest expansion, the paper emphasizes the remaining global concern over the country’s future role in carbon emissions, including black carbon, which is a significant factor in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers.

The literature has provided a range for future carbon emissions that is largely dependent on India’s energy future. Future demand and supply will shape how India will be able to contribute to global mitigation efforts, and the outcome of this is one of the main issues the paper discusses.

“India has made significant progress in mitigation measures but has not been able to take sufficient steps for including adaptation measures in its development policies,” Sumit Vij, a Ph.D. candidate researching public administration and policy at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, told GlacierHub.

The Bhagirathi River in the town of Gangotri, Uttarakhand, India at an elevation of 3,100 meters (Source: Atarax42/Wikimedia Commons).

This is a major problem for the vulnerable country, especially for those living in the Himalayan region, where coordinated efforts that work on the ecosystem level could be of benefit.

“The adaptation strategies are focused toward the local level. There has been no focus on transboundary or regional level adaptation measures from India,” Vij continued.

Of the adaptation policies that currently exist, they have been overly focused on the short-term, which inclines them “toward development or business-as-usual,” according to Vij.

“Conceptually, it makes sense that adaptation policies focus on long-term impacts of climate change, rather than on short-term development interventions,” he said.

Nevertheless, India has worked to strengthen its commitment to climate change, which represents a move in the right direction for the country. “However, given the overhang of immediate development challenges, climate change can only be salient to politics and governance if a robust analytical framework is developed to integrate climate considerations alongside and interwoven with pressing development challenges,” concludes the paper. This will remain the next frontier for future climate change research and responses in India.

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Roundup: Snow Sublimation, Indian Hydropower, and Predators

The Importance of Snow Sublimation on a Himalayan Glacier

From Frontiers in Earth Science: “Snow sublimation is a loss of water from the snowpack to the atmosphere. So far, snow sublimation has remained unquantified in the Himalaya, prohibiting a full understanding of the water balance and glacier mass balance. Hence, we measured surface latent heat fluxes with an eddy covariance system on Yala Glacier (5,350 m a.s.l) in the Nepalese Himalaya to quantify the role snow sublimation plays in the water and glacier mass budget. Observations reveal that cumulative sublimation is 32 mm for a 32-day period from October to November 2016, which is high compared to observations in other regions in the world.”

Read more here.

Yala Glacier (left peak) in the Langtang Valley, Rasuwa, Nepal (Source: Scott Mattoon/Flickr).

 

Hydropower Production in India under Climate Change

From Nature: “Hydropower is a valuable renewable energy resource in India, which can help in climate change mitigation and meet the increasing energy demands. However, the crucial role of climate change on hydropower production in India remains unexplored. Here using the observations and model simulations, we show that seven large hydropower projects experienced a significant (p-value < 0.05) warming and a decline in precipitation and streamflow during the observed period of 1951–2007.”

Read more here.

Bhakra Nangal Dam in August, 2008 (Source: Kawal Singh/Creative Commons).

 

Resolving the Predator First Paradox

From Molecular Ecology: “Primary succession on bare ground surrounded by intact ecosystems is, during its first stages, characterized by predator‐dominated arthropod communities. However, little is known on what prey sustains these predators at the start of succession and which factors drive the structure of these food webs. As prey availability can be extremely patchy and episodic in pioneer stages, trophic networks might be highly variable. Moreover, the importance of allochthonous versus autochthonous food sources for these pioneer predators is mostly unknown. To answer these questions the gut content of 1832 arthropod predators… were screened molecularly to track intraguild and extraguild trophic interactions among all major prey groups occurring in these systems. ”

Read more here.

A map of the stydy locations, with yellow lines marking glacial positions (Source: Sint et al.).

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Roundup: Sustainable Development, Recovering Glaciers, and Disaster Governance

Global Assesment of Sustainable Mountain Development

From Mountain Research Institute: “The MRI is collaborating with the University of Bern’s Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) to develop an approach for assessing sustainable mountain development using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework. It is expected that this approach will help contextualize and highlight the specific needs and challenges faced in mountain areas, and inform policy and decision-making at all levels…The results of this project will be published as an issue brief in the fourth quarter of 2018. A session dedicated to the presentation of this issue brief will take place at the upcoming World Mountains Forum 2018, to be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in October.

Read more about the event here.

Andes Mountains
High mountain ecosystems like the Andes in Peru are extremely vulnerable to climate change (Source: David Stanley/ Creative Commons).

 

Holocene History of the Helheim Glacier

From Quaternary Science Reviews: “Helheim Glacier ranks among the fastest flowing and most ice discharging outlets of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS)… We present the first record of direct Holocene ice-marginal changes of the Helheim Glacier following the initial deglaciation. By analyzing cores from lakes adjacent to the present ice margin, we pinpoint periods of advance and retreat… Helheim Glacier’s present extent is the largest since the last deglaciation, and its Holocene history shows that it is capable of recovering after several millennia of warming and retreat.”

Read more about the research here.

Coring platform and sediment core retrieved from the Niflheim Plateau. A) The inflatable coring platform in use on Lake 297. B) A sediment core (HG309b) retrieved from Lake 309 (Source: Bjork et al.)

 

Impact on Disaster Governance in Ladakh, India

From International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction: “The Indian border region of Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir State, has a sensitive Himalayan ecosystem and has experienced natural hazards and disasters of varying scales over the decades. Ladakh is also situated on a fault-line of multiple tensions, including ongoing border disagreements and intermittent conflict with China and Pakistan. This paper examines the implications of the intersection of these environmental and security factors for disaster governance in the region. This case study provides important insight into why disaster risk reduction has been slow or absent in conflict zones.”

Read more about the research here.

Taglang La mountain pass in Ladakh (Source: Creative Commons).

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Video of the Week: Intense Landslide in India

Last month in northern India’s remote Nubra Valley, a video captured stunning moving debris flow from a potential glacial event, like a GLOF. At a high altitude of 10,000 feet (or 3,048 meters above sea level), Nubra Valley is tucked in the northeast part of the Ladakh district, surrounded by Pakistan, Tibet, Xinjiang Province of China, and India’s Himachal Pradesh. As one of two valleys in Ladakh, Lonely Planet described Nabra as “a tuft of land of the very scalp of India” and home to the heavily glaciated peaks of the Karakoram Range, including the contested Siachen Glacier and two major rivers.

Heavy rainfall is a typical trigger for landslides, but as weather conditions were fair at the time, it seems more likely the region’s sensitive glacier systems may be the cause. Recently, the relationship between melting glaciers, particularly permafrost and landslides has been studied in Alaska, and one recent study concluded climate change is expected to cause larger and more frequent avalanches due to the melting permafrost.

For more information on how climate change may create unstable conditions around glaciers, GlacierHub recently covered this topic.

 

Read more glacier news from this week:

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The Struggle for Water in the Andes

Roundup: Religion, Economic Impacts, and Glacial Recession

 

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Climate Risk Adaptation for Flooding in the Indian Himalayas

The emergence of the term “climate risk” to describe regions and people negatively impacted by the effects of climate change is now informing adaptation planning in highland areas. A recent study from Environmental Science and Policy reviews a pilot program in the Indian Himalayas that considers climate risk for glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and other weather-related flooding to create an adaptation plan specific to the region. The research finds that a climate risk assessment framework can contribute to sustainable adaptation planning for communities.

How the integrative concept of climate risk was operationalized for the assessment of flood risk in Himachal Pradesh, Northern India (Source: Environmental Science and Policy).

The research was a collaborative effort under the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the government of India’s Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP), an initiative based on the country’s National Action Plan on Climate Change. IHCAP “aims to enhance the resilience of vulnerable communities in the Indian Himalayas through strengthening the capacities of Indian institutions in climate science, with a specific focus on glaciology and related areas, as well as institutional capacities of Himalayan states in India on adaptation planning, implementation and policy.” With this in mind, a statewide assessment was done of Himachal Pradesh, an Indian state in the Himalayas, followed by a more focused assessment of the Kullu District, one of the state’s identified hot spots for climate risk.

Located in the north-west of Himachal Pradesh, Kullu District is home to over 437,000 people and sits along the valley of the Beas River, with many floodplains running throughout. According to the study, floods are considered a major threat and the potential for GLOFs— events caused by glacier melting and lake expansion— is increasing significantly, with “enhanced risk extending far downstream from where the potentially dangerous lakes originate,” according to the research.

Integrated GLOF risk assessment for the tehsils of Himachal Pradesh (Source: Environmental Science and Policy).

“Adaptation strategies need to be underpinned by robust science,” Simon Allen, one of the study’s researchers from the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva, told GlacierHub. Otherwise, he says, the worst-case scenario is that strategies such as Early Warning Systems could be installed in the wrong locations or may not be adequate for the magnitude of the event expected. This point supported the study’s analysis of climate risk into the categories of hazard, vulnerability, and exposure during the initial scientific assessment. An integrated risk assessment was then undertaken.

Considering components of climate risk combines aspects of disaster risk management and climate adaptation planning to create a comprehensive approach for the management of flood risk. It originates from the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as an integrative approach to managing vulnerability in the face of climate change, and has been since utilized by the C40 Cities network to increase resilience in cities such as Toronto and Amsterdam. It offers a framework for approaching adaptation that emphasizes locating and managing hot-spots of climate risk.

With a solid scientific risk assessment as a foundation, the Kullu District’s adaptation planning was approached with an emphasis on local participation. “The strategies and the underlying science need to be strongly supported by the local stakeholders, and this support and trust takes time to build,” noted Allen. The element of trust is important as it increases the likelihood of a successful project and allows the sharing of vital local knowledge. To build this trust, the locals were involved from the beginning with repeated consultations during the climate risk study and maintained control over the final decisions on adaptation options.

Multiple adaptation plans were discussed during several community workshops and meetings to address both the GLOF and monsoonal flood risks. This allowed the locals to utilize their unique knowledge of the area to determine what would be most beneficial according to their community’s concerns, goals, and institutional capacity. In the study, the support of the district’s disaster management authority was crucial in the political context of the area.

The River Beas and River Parvati in Bhuntar, Kullu (Source: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons).

This resulted in the final adaptation proposal involving two components: glacial lake development monitoring and an instrumental monsoon flood early warning system (EWS) in the Parvati Valley, which proved to be a risk hot-spot. EWSs have been used successfully in nearby countries such as Nepal, where their remote data collection system alerted local authorities of rising water levels due to monsoonal rains.

“This strategy recognized that monsoon floods are the very real and frequently observed threat to lives and property in Parvati Valley,” according to the study. It was also able to acknowledge the local interest in preparing for a potential GLOF threat.

The study placed an emphasis on low-regret options when working with local authorities. These options include continued knowledge exchange between the Swiss and Indian partners or incorporating training for local decision-makers to ensure successful flood preparation and response. It aims to strengthen local capacities to deal with flood emergencies, which will bring immediate benefits, but also intends to help in the long-term by dealing with the rapidly evolving and uncertain future GLOF threat, according to Allen. “I don’t see it as a barrier, but rather an additional motivation and opportunity to deal with the very real and existing flood threat from seasonal monsoon rainfalls, while also keeping one eye on the rapidly evolving GLOF threat,” he said.

The pilot study is one of the few to thoroughly and successfully integrate climate risk into the assessment framework of the adaptation planning process. The ultimate goal is to utilize the strategies developed during the project in the Kullu District and upscale them to other areas of the Indian Himalayan region. This expansion will ideally be done with one of the study’s core concepts at the forefront: “While science should closely inform the decision-making process, only those actions that are strongly desired and supported by local stakeholders will prove sustainable in the long-term.”

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Roundup: A Soldier’s Mother, Hydropower, and Supraglacial Ice Melt

Mother with a Heart of Gold at Siachen Glacier

From Mid-Day.com: “A school teacher and mother of a soldier was so inspired by the sacrifices made by the country’s jawans, that she decided to make one of her own. Pune resident, Sumedha Chithade, 54, has sold her ancestral gold bangles to raise funds to build an oxygen plant for soldiers posted at Siachen Glacier.”

Read the news here.

Sumedha Chithade, the mother of a soldier, who sold her ancestral jewelry to help other soldiers at Siachen Glacier (Source: Midway.com).

 

Controversial Hydropower Along a Trans-Himalayan River

From Water Policy: “Teesta is one such mighty trans-Himalayan river flowing through India and Bangladesh and is recognized as a basin where there is increasing tension between these two nations. Due to upstream interventions including barrage, dam and hydropower construction, the lower riparian region of Bangladesh faces acute water stresses, which hampers the agricultural, fisheries and livelihood activities of the river-dependent communities and impedes the economic prosperity of the greater North-west region. The study provides a robust outline of the transboundary nexus between India and Bangladesh, and identifies upstream intervention-induced economic loss and ecological deterioration in the lower Teesta basin.”

Learn more about the controversy here.

Teesta a mighty trans-Himalayan river flowing through India and Bangladesh (Image: Source)
Teesta, a mighty trans-Himalayan river flowing through India and Bangladesh (Image: (Source: Akuppa John Wigham/Flickr).

 

What Makes Supraglacial Ice Melt Faster?

From PNAS: “Supraglacial ice cliffs exist on debris-covered glaciers worldwide, but despite their importance as melt hot spots, their life cycle is little understood. Early field observations had advanced a hypothesis of survival of north-facing and disappearance of south-facing cliffs, which is central for predicting the contribution of cliffs to total glacier mass losses.”

Find out more here.

High Mountain Asia, the Tibetan Plateau (Image: Source)
High Mountain Asia, the Tibetan Plateau (Source: DaiLuo/Flickr).

 

 

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Roundup: Crack, Flood, Fight

Petermann Crack Develops

From Grist: “Petermann is one of the largest and most important glaciers in the world, with a direct connection to the core of the Greenland ice sheet. That means that even though this week’s new iceberg at Petermann is just 1/500th the size of the massive one that broke off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica earlier this month, it could eventually have a much bigger effect on global sea levels. Scientists believe that if Petermann collapses completely, it could raise the seas by about a foot.”

Read more about the potential collapse of the Petermann here.

A satellite image from April 2017 shows existing and new cracks in the Petermann Glacier (Source: NASA).

 

Glacial Outburst Flood Rages in Iceland

From The Watchers: “A glacial outburst flood started in Iceland’s Múlakvísl river around midnight UTC on July 29, 2017. Electrical conductivity is now measured around 580µS/cm and has increased rapidly the last hour, Icelandic Met Office (IMO) reported 10:14 UTC on July 29. Increasing water levels of this river are an important indicator of Katla’s upcoming volcanic eruptions.”

Read about safety concerns associated with the flood here.

The Múlakvísl River appeared serene the day before the July 29 outburst flood (Source: Icelandic Met Office).

 

Conflict in the Himalayas

From The New York Times: “The road stands on territory at the point where China, India and Bhutan meet…The standoff began last month when Bhutan, a close ally of India, discovered Chinese workers trying to extend the road. Now soldiers from the two powers are squaring off, separated by only a few hundred feet. The conflict shows no sign of abating, and it reflects the swelling ambition— and nationalism— of both countries. Each is governed by a muscular leader eager to bolster his domestic standing while asserting his country’s place on the world stage as the United States recedes from a leading role.”

Learn more about the geopolitics of this standoff here.

A border post in Nathula, a mountain pass in the Himalayas that connects Sikkim and Tibet (Source: Indrajit Das/Wikimedia Commons).

 

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Elderly Wisdom and Youth Action in Ladakh

People of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent live in one of the highest locations in the world, the Ladakh region of northwestern India. Ladakh extends over 45,000 square miles and includes the Ladakh mountain range, which is part of the glaciated Karakoram Range of south-central Asia. Many in the Ladakh region are Buddhist and believe in good moral conduct such as generosity, righteousness and meditation. This goodwill extends to the glaciers, which they respect and value.

The Global Workshopa project that allows students to create original work that thinks critically about science and development, recently created a video in which young people from Ladakh interview their elders about climate change and its impacts on the glaciers. In the video, the grandparents remember a time during the mid-20th century when streams were full, glaciers were more robust, and snowfall was heavy. Now, farms in the agricultural areas are suffering because of a decrease in glacier meltwater for crop production.

“Himalayan Elders on Climate Change” (Source: The Global Workshop/YouTube).

In a paper titled “Glaciers and Society,” Karine Gagné, a postdoctoral associate of cultural anthropology at Yale University, and her colleagues, discuss some of the approaches used by locals to counter the impacts of receding glaciers.

Construction of a new 30-meter artificial glacier (Source: Rolex Awards).

Gagné spent a fair amount of time working in Ladakh observing everyday life and climatic changes. She told GlacierHub that in certain communities in the region, people depend on specific glaciers, have named them accordingly, and undertake specific actions to protect them.

In the paper, Gagné et al. discuss Chewang Norphel, a retired civil engineer in Ladakh who created artificial glaciers to harvest snowmelt and rainwater. Norphel’s project brought attention to the plight of farmers who use meltwater for agriculture. It has since been replicated by the younger generation.  

Still, receding glaciers have translated into water scarcity in some Ladakhi villages. Water is a pressing issue because villagers rely on snowfall in the spring to sow their crops. Elders have prayed to mountain deities that their glaciers will provide water in the spring. 

Irrigation from snowmelt in Ladakh (Source: Nevil Zaveri/Creative Commons).

Gagné explained that glaciers are “embedded in the local culture and religious views.” People believe, for example, that there is a guardian deity that inhabits the surrounding glaciers and that one’s actions can reflect in the condition of the natural environment. If one behaves unethically, it could lead to less meltwater than is necessary for growing crops that year.

Using the information provided by their elders, the youth interviewers from The Global Workshop are documenting the changes in their environment and their elder’s responses. Their interviews will help to fill gaps in environmental data extending to the 1950s in an effort to better understand changes in the local water systems and health of the glaciers. 

Many of the youth attend schools like the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) environmental school. Founded by education reformist and engineer Sonam WangchukSECMOL works on renewable energy and climate change preparedness with the youth from Ladakh. The campus is a student-run, solar-powered eco-village, where students live among staff and volunteers.

Students listen intently in class at the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh school (Source: SECMOL).

The Global Workshop’s video shows the importance of passing down generational knowledge, demonstrating how helpful it can be for youth involvement, community building, and environmental data collection.

If you are still curious about Ladakh, see GlacierHub’s recent piece on climate change adaptation to learn more about other efforts in the region.

 

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