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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Increased Focus on Mountains in the IPCC’s AR6 Report

On January 20th through the 25th, over 250 climate experts gathered in Durban, South Africa for Working Group II’s First Lead Author Meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). Working Group II, which evaluates climate change-associated vulnerabilities, impacts, and adaptation, will feature a “Cross-Chapter Paper” on mountains. These papers are new features for both Working Group II and the AR6 Synthesis Report.

The paper on mountains will include authors from several chapters within Working Group II. The authors come from several different mountainous countries such as Switzerland, Nepal, India, Austria, Russia, Ecuador, and the UK.

“It’s really good to see mountains receiving serious attention in the 6th assessment cycle of the IPCC, with the 1st Lead Author Meeting in Durban laying a good foundation,” Philippus Wester told Mountain Research Initiative, a collaborative research network that focuses on mountain regions and sustainable development.

The IPCC’s most recent climate report, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), brought startling news about the imminent threats of climate change.

Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate,” state the authors of the special report.

A 1.5°C temperature increase will likely lead to an increased frequency in extreme temperatures and an increase in frequency, intensity, and amount of heavy rain in many regions. Temperature increases will likely lead to an increase in drought intensity as well. Additionally, glaciers and ice sheets will likely melt faster, and glacial extent is likely to decrease in most mountainous areas.

The IPCC, established in 1988, was founded by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization in order to summarize and report research on climate change, risk assessments, and policy recommendations. The IPCC is well known for its collaborative assessments on the science of climate change.

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which was published in 2014, cited human influence and greenhouse gas emissions as the main drivers of climate change. Climate conversations for the IPCC’s next Synthesis Report, AR6 have already begun. AR6 will feature written contributions from each of the three Working Groups as well as a complete, Synthesis Report.

Comments from Working Group II & Cross-Chapter Paper Authors

Co-lead authors of the cross-chapter paper are Carolina Adler, from the Mountain Research Initiative, and Philippus Wester, from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). ICIMOD is known for its mountain research advocacy and focus in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Adler, who’s also lead author of Chapter 17, “Decision-making options for managing risk,” said that AR6 will have “greater emphasis and focus on the solutions space to the observed and projected impacts of climate change, particularly on adaptation” and increased “focus on mountains as a specific geographic context in which to assess climate change.”

Working Group II authors, Ben Orlove and Erin Coughlan (Source: Ben Orlove)

GlacierHub asked report authors Christian Huggel and Veruska Muccione, both from the University of Zurich, about their thoughts on the Working Group II report and AR6’s overall progress thus far.

Huggel, lead author of Chapter 12, “Central and South America,” and an author of the chapter on mountains, said: “Because [AR6] is more solution oriented, I think we will need to go deeper also in non-peer-reviewed literature. For example, in adaptation, there is now a rich experience in many regions of the world, but this is only documented in the peer-reviewed literature in a limited way.”

He adds: “ I also think that we will address more than in other reports problems of more complex nature such as cascading risks, i.e. not just risks from e.g. a hurricane, but how such hazards combine with human systems, and how it could bring human systems to failure.”

Some of the Working Group II authors brainstorming during the Working Group II’s First Lead Author Meeting (Source: Ben Orlove)

Muccione, lead author of Chapter 13 “Europe” and an author of the mountains chapter, reveals that AR6 will feature IPCC research yet to be published.

She said: “The three IPCC special assessments, e.g. the SR15 already published, and the other two assessments (SROCC and SRCCL) scheduled to be published later this year make up an important body of research for the AR6.” The SROCC, or the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, and the SRCCL, or the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, will both be finalized in September 2019.

Working Group II’s report, as well as the AR6 Synthesis Report, are still in the beginning stages, but significant progress is clearly underway. Working Group II’s Second Lead Author Meeting will take place in July in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Looking ahead, the IPCC’s three Working Group reports will begin to be published in 2021. The AR6 Synthesis Report will follow in 2022.

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Glaciers Feature Prominently at COP24 in Poland

From 2-14 December 2018, 197 countries gather in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or better known as COP24. During these two weeks of negotiations, countries will attempt to finish what they started in Paris three years ago. In Paris, parties set 2018 as the deadline to come up with robust plans for their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which will include significant reductions in carbon emissions as well as an increased commitment to sustainable development.

Mountain countries are taking an active role in this year’s conference, and the impact of future warming scenarios on glacier melting, sea level rise, and mountain communities has been a prominent point of discussion throughout.

16 November 2018

Postcards created by over 125,000 children from around the world are compiled into a mosaic at the base of Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier, spelling a message across the snow. “STOP GLOBAL WARMING #1.5 DEGREES C,” it reads, serving as a gesture to countries preparing for COP24. According to Swiss glaciologists at the University of Zurich, the Aletsch glacier, though currently the largest expanse of continuous ice in Western Europe, is receding at a rate of 12 meters per year, and it could completely disappear by 2100.

The quote references the findings of the IPCC Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC, published in October 2018. In order to minimize the adverse impacts of climate change, the report urged limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of the 2 degrees Celsius agreed upon in Paris three years ago.

3 December 2018

“We can’t afford to fail in Katowice,” says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during his opening remarks at COP24. He thinks that public will to fight climate change has faded since Paris in 2015, and now climate change is “running away from us.” Notable climate change impacts detailed in the IPCC special report, such as increasing temperatures, sea level rise, and receding glaciers, are happening faster than we expected.

Speaking up for small states in attendance, Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi said that Nepal has “been bearing the brunt of disproportionate impact of climate change despite being a low carbon-emitting country… We feel as if we have been penalised for the mistakes we never made. It is incumbent on the international community to ensure that justice is done.”

4 December 2018

UNESCO, in partnership with the Norwegian GRID-Arendal Foundation, presents a new report, titled “Andean Glacier and Water Atlas: the impact of glacier retreat on water resources,” which details the consequences of glacier retreat on water availability and security for communities who depend on glaciers for drinking water, hydropower, agriculture, and other industries. Since the 1980s, when Andean glaciers were in a period of peak discharge, there has been less and less meltwater each year. This has huge negative impacts on communities who depend on glacial meltwater, and even more so during times of drought.

Precipitation trends suggest that snow cover will continue to decrease, along with temperatures rising 2-5 degrees Celsius in the tropical Andes and 1-7 degrees Celsius in the southern Andes. The report further estimates that even under moderate warming scenarios, low-altitude glaciers in the tropical Andes could lose 78 to 97 percent of their volume in the 21st century.

  • Peru, home to the largest number of tropical glaciers on the continent, has seen extremely rapid glacier retreat, with very few, brief intermittent periods of advancement.
  • Venezuela’s only remaining glacier will likely cease to exist by 2021.
  • Bolivia’s glaciers have lost more than two-thirds of their volume since the 1980s.
  • Colombia is also experiencing rapid glacier retreat; by 2050 the sole survivors will be the largest glaciers at the highest altitudes.
  • Ecuador’s glaciers have been subject to dramatic losses in the last 50 years.
  • Chile and Argentina are seeing accelerating melting among low-lying freshwater and tidewater glaciers in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

5 December 2018

The World Health Organization (WHO) releases the COP24 special report: health and climate change. The report implicates anthropogenic climate change as the source of huge challenges for human health. The same industries who emit greenhouse gases, which warm the planet, are also responsible for emitting PM2.5, which harms human health. Within the public health and climate change conversation, glaciers receive a small but important cameo on black carbon. Black carbon, a by-product of inefficient combustion (from cookstoves, diesel engines, biomass, etc.) is second only to CO2 emissions in its global warming contribution. 

Not only is black carbon important on a global scale, but it also has impacts on regional climate systems. Black carbon works to accelerate glacier retreat in mountainous regions as well as the Arctic. As it settles, black carbon darkens a glacier’s surface, absorbing instead of reflecting heat, and inducing glacial melting.

Read more about black carbon on GlacierHub.

The Global Carbon Project reports that global CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 2.7 percent by the end of 2018. Following a brief stagnation in global CO2 emissions from 2014-2016, emissions rose by 1.6 percent. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or briefly overshoot it and come back down), global emissions need to be drastically decreasing, not increasing, and at current levels the world will certainly exceed this threshold by 2030.  

7 December 2018

COP24 Side Event – Mountain regions moving towards carbon neutrality

This side event’s keynote speaker, Eric Nanchen, is the director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (FDDM). His talk covered climate change impacts and vulnerability of mountain regions, in the context of laying foundations for sustainable development. He also discussed the Mountain Research Initiative’s #VanishingGlaciers campaign, which is also being promoted at COP24. Deputy Secretary General of the Alpine Convention, Marianna Elmi, discussed steps that Alpine countries are taking toward climate neutrality, for example, coming up with a climate target system for 2050. 

10 December 2018

Newly released maps from NASA indicate that a group of four glaciers on the eastern coastline of Antarctica have been losing ice over the last decade. Since 2008, these four glaciers, which are located just to the west of the massive Totten glacier, have lost about 9 feet of their surface height. Prior to these findings, East Antarctica was thought to be much more stable than its western counterpart.

11 December 2018

COP24 Side Event – International Mountain Day – Mountain adaptation: Vulnerable peaks and people

On International Mountain Day, UN Environment releases two reports: Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series – Synthesis Report, and its more regionally focused counterpart, Outlook on climate change adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. The same day, in an UNEP press release, Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director at UN Environment says, “Mountain ranges are extremely complex ecosystems home to some of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. It is critical that we focus on helping these communities adapt to changing climate in mountain regions.”

The synthesis report begins by framing the importance of mountain ecosystems, which cover 25 percent of the Earth’s landmass, house 15 percent of the world’s population, and provide essential ecosystem services to over half the world’s population. The report then goes on to call mountainous regions the “frontline of climate change.” Mountainous regions are subject to altitude amplification, whereby warming at high altitudes actually occurs at a faster rate than the global average, much like it does at the poles. Almost every mountain in the world is seeing substantial glacier retreat, which impacts ecosystems all the way downstream. In addition, the steep, sometimes unstable terrain leaves mountain communities more susceptible to floods and landslides. The synthesis report strives to capture regional differences in primary risk factors, climate change impacts, and current policy gaps in order to identify potential adaptation measures for each region.

The second report specifically targets the Hindu Kush Himalaya, and is actually part of a progressive series which has previously covered other mountainous regions around the world. The Hindu Kush Himalaya are of particular importance because it is already one of the most disaster-prone regions on Earth. Further, the report states this region could warm upwards of 4-5 degrees Celsius by 2100. The disproportionate warming effects of climate change at altitude, coupled with increased severity of precipitation events and the high probability of natural disasters in Hindu Kush Himalaya all work in tandem to make the region even more vulnerable to global warming.

12 December 2018

Side Event – IPCC Special Report on 1.5 Degrees, NDCs and Cryosphere: Pathways for Both High Urgency and Ambition

This event was focused on the IPCC Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC, and working within the emissions constraints set by the report to minimize any further damage incurred by positive global warming feedbacks such as sea level rise and other impacts on mountainous and polar areas. Discussion was focused primarily on how to incorporate cryosphere considerations into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCS) for 2020 in order to minimize future risk and impact. 

During closing remarks for the COP24 High-Level Segment of the Talanoa Dialogue, the Secretary General makes note of three reports published in the past few days that “added to the long list of warnings signals.” Among them is the special WHO report on human health and climate change and NASA’s research showing signs of glacier melting in East Antarctica, which are both discussed above. He used these current events to show that we cannot ignore the rapidly accumulating effects of climate change, and to encourage countries to participate in successful policy-creation during COP24’s final days.  


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Video of the Week: Comments from IPCC Chair on SR1.5

This week’s Video of the Week follows the recent release of the IPCC’s special report, SR1.5, on warming impacts of 1.5 degrees Celsius. This short but meaningful video features comments from head of IPCC Hoesung Lee, regarding the observable effects of climate change on societies and ecosystems. SR1.5 urges immediate global response to drastically reduce emissions that contribute to global warming, highlighting the importance of reaching global “net zero” emissions by 2050. The report also suggests strategies for mitigating pathways and transitioning into more sustainable human and environmental systems through adjustments in sectors such as energy, agriculture and infrastructure, to name a few.

Visit the IPCC website for the full report, which includes the Summary for Policymakers and the official press release from Incheon, Republic of Korea. Also, be sure to check out last week’s post on SR1.5 by GlacierHub editor Ben Orlove.

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New IPCC Report Offers New Data, Stern Warnings, Hope

On 8 October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced the final approval of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5˚C (SR1.5). This report presents the results of a thorough assessment of the differences between two levels of global warming, the 2˚C limit which was established as a firm commitment target by the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the 1.5˚C limit, which the same agreement indicated as a more ambitious level to be approached or achieved. This report gives glaciers extensive coverage, referring to them 19 times.

Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, offered a succinct overview of the report in an interview with GlacierHub:

The fact that this SR1.5 was produced in only 1.5 years is an incredible success, made possible by dozens of colleagues who have not only set up new socio-economical, emission, climate change, and climate change impact scenarios from scratch, but have also been able to reduce uncertainties in a way that made the distinction between 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0C possible. By doing so they have been able to show both that the 0.5C steps make serious differences and that there is still a time window–though a small one–that is open for keeping the earth at 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

Urgent Messages in the IPCC Report

The report underscores the urgency of the Paris Agreement and its ambitious target. As Patricia Pinho, an environmental policy scientist at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil who was an author on the report, told GlacierHub in an interview, “The report shows that every degree of warming matters for livelihoods in most communities. Actions need to be taken now if suffering, disruption, and conflict are to be avoided.” She described the collaboration among the authors from a variety of natural and social science field as an innovative aspect of the report, saying “different groups of scientists worked together as an interdisciplinary community to deliver society a message grounded in scientific evidence.”

Statement from IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte
Statement from IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte (source: IPCC).

The report presents many benefits of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5˚C rather than allowing it to rise to 2˚C. There would be fewer heat waves, lower levels of sea level rise, less extreme loss of sea ice, of coral reefs and of endangered species, fewer droughts and lower levels of crop loss. It indicates that this target can still be achieved, though it will require a rapid reduction in the reliance on oil, gas and coal, and a firm deployment of renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar power and hydropower. Moreover, the window for this transformation is a narrow one, since global emissions would have to be reduced by half as soon as 2030, and brought down close to zero by 2050.

The New Report Discusses Glaciers Extensively

SR1.5 mentions glaciers once in each of two early key sections, presenting distinct, important features which they possess. In the Summary for Policy-Makers, the most widely read section in all IPCC reports, the report lists a set of “reasons for concern.” The reason which is listed first, because it is the most vulnerable to warming, are the “Unique and threatened systems.” These systems consist of ecosystems and societies which have narrow spatial ranges which face firm climate constraints, and which have endemic species or other distinctive features which cannot be replicated. To provide specific examples of such systems, the report lists “coral reefs, the Arctic and its indigenous people, mountain glaciers, and biodiversity hotspots.”

In Chapter 1, Framing and Context, the report underscores a second crucial role of glaciers. They serve as an example of the interconnectedness of climate change impacts, a characteristic that creates interacting, compounding negative effects. In section 1.3.2. of this chapter, Drivers of Impacts, the report states “Impacts may also be triggered by combinations of factors, including ‘impact cascades’ through secondary consequences of changed systems. Changes in agricultural water availability caused by upstream changes in glacier volume are a typical example.”

Chapter 3, Impacts of 1.5˚C Global Warming on Natural and Human Systems, offers a somber note on the future of glaciers, reflecting the slowness with which glaciers respond to climate drivers. It states, “28–44% of present-day glacier volume is unsustainable in the present-day climate, so that it would eventually (over the course of a few centuries) melt, even if there were no further climate change.”

Pasterze Glacier in Austria, showing significant retreat
Pasterze Glacier in Austria, showing significant retreat (source: Bernd Thaller).

Chapter 3 contains more than half of all the references to glaciers in the report. It discusses the contribution of glacier retreat to sea level rise. It notes that the contributions of glaciers to sea level rise in the present century cannot be distinguished statistically. Current research indicates that they would be between 54-97 mm (in relation to present sea levels) for 1.5˚C, and 63-112 mm for 2˚C, using a 90% confidence interval). To explain this finding, the report states “This arises because melt during the remainder of the century is dominated by the response to warming from preindustrial to present-day levels (in turn a reflection of the slow response times of glaciers).” This chapter also notes that glacier melt will contribute to the decrease in salinity in seawater, particularly at high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere (section 3.3.10, Ocean Chemistry).

Chapter 3 is the only one which mentions glaciers in its section on Frequently Asked Questions. In response to the first FAQ, “What are the impacts of 1.5°C and 2°C of warming?” it states “The impacts of climate change are being felt in every inhabited continent and in the oceans. But they are not spread uniformly across the globe, and different parts of the world experience impacts differently. … The impacts of any additional warming would also include stronger melting of ice sheets and glaciers.”

This chapter also describes the effects of glacier retreat on social and economic sectors. Since glaciers are a “critical resource” for tourism, they might affect this sector, though the report notes “limited analyses of projected risks associated with 1.5° versus 2°C are available.” It indicates that glacier melt will affect water security in alpine regions (section

Chapter 4, Strengthening and Implementing the Global Response, describes how glaciers can be incorporated into actions to address climate change. Section 4.3.8, Solar Radiation Modification, mentions a small-scale form of geoengineering: “covering glaciers … with reflective sheeting.” The Supplementary Material for this chapter includes a table titled “Overarching adaptation options.” This table mentions glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) as a risk that will increase with 1.5°C warming. It also notes disaster risk management as an adaptation option which could be implemented.

The New Report Contributes to Upcoming Climate Negotiations

The ability of glaciers to stir the human imagination may well support the contributions of the report as a key scientific input to the Katowice Climate Change Conference this December. This conference, also known as COP24 under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) is designated as the context for the completion and adoption of the “rulebook” of guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Delegates at that conference have the opportunity to provide momentum which could carry the world from the deep engagement seen in Paris to significant achievements before the crucial Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement in 2023. That Global Stocktake will provide a full assessment of the progress towards the achievement of the purpose and goals of the agreement.

The powerful stories of glaciers, in conjunction with the other elements of SR1.5, may provide some of the motivation that is required for the world to undertake the challenging steps to reach these goals. As Pinho noted, “Even in a 1.5°C warming world, adaptation will be challenging for some regions and people around the world, especially in Small Island States in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but it still gives a better chance when compared to a 2°C world. But we also show with high confidence that climate-resilient trajectories at 1.5°C are possible and feasible, requiring transformative visions from a range of people to lead to a sustainable future for all.”

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GlacierHub News Report 08:23:18

GlacierHub News Report 08:23:18

The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week’s newscast is special because managing editor Ben Orlove is joining our newscast. We will be presenting stories ranging from the IPCC to glaciers in Russia to a tradition of citizen climate science and even controversial lands in India.


This week’s news report features:


Glacier Researchers Gather at IPCC Meeting in China

By: Ben Orlove


The authors of a major IPCC report on oceans and the cryosphere gathered in Lanzhou, China, in July 2018. They discussed the reviews which the first draft of the report had received. They also planned the next steps to advance the report.

Read more here.


Debris-Covered Glaciers Advance in Remote Kamchatka

By: Andrew Angle

Summary: On the remote Kamchatka Penisula in Eastern Russia, most glaciers are retreating due to climate change. However, in one area, some glaciers have advanced due to volcanic debris on top of the ice that has limited melting.

Read more here.


Amid High-Tech Alternatives, a Reckoning for Iceland’s Glacier Keepers

By: Gloria Dickie

Summary: It may be one of the longest-running examples of citizen climate science in the world. With Iceland’s glaciers at their melting point, these men and women— farmers, schoolchildren, a plastic surgeon, even a Supreme Court judge— serve not only as the glaciers’ guardians, but also their messengers.

Read more here.

War Against Natural Disasters: A Fight the Indian Military Can’t Win

By: Sabrina Ho

Summary: Ladakh is frequently exposed to floods and landslides when snow and glaciers melt. A recent paper warns of the current nature of a military-led disaster governance, including heavy military presence, in disaster risk reduction.

Read more here.


Video Credits:

Presenters: Ben Orlove and Brian Poe Llamanzares

Video Editor: Brian Poe Llamanzares

Writer: Brian Poe Llamanzares

News Intro: YouTube

Music: iMovie

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Glacier Researchers Gather at IPCC Meeting in China

Lead Author Meeting of IPCC Report Held in China

Qilian Mountains Tibetan Plateau on GlacierHub
Qilian Mountains, with the Tibetan Plateau in the distance (source: Susie Crate/Facebook).

Researchers from several countries gathered in July to advance their work on a report that will assess the state of research on glaciers and related topics. The IPCC meeting took place in Lanzhou, China, the capital of the province of Gansu in the central part of the country, close to a number of glaciated peaks in the Qilian Mountains. This location reflects the focus of the document, the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report traces cryosphere-ocean links, particularly the contribution of meltwater from the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets to sea-level rise, and also considers other topics related to oceans and the cryosphere. This event was the third Lead Author Meeting (LAM3) for SROCC.

The report’s Chapter 2, High Mountain Areas, examines a variety of topics which include observed and projected changes in glaciers, permafrost and snow, as well as links to climate, hazards and water resources. It also discusses risks for societies and the strategies to respond to these risks. The full chapter structure can be found in the outline of the report, which was approved last year.

This chapter is being led by two Coordinating Lead Authors, Regine Hock, a glaciologist and hydrologist from the University of Alaska, and Golam Rasul, an economist and rural development specialist from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal. The 13 Lead Authors come from four continents and represent 10 countries—the U.K., France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, China, Japan, Ecuador, the U.S. and Canada.

Activities at the Meeting

The IPCC meeting, hosted by the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was held on 23-27 July at the Lanzhou Hotel in Lanzhou. Shichang Kang, the director of the laboratory, coordinated the event and served as host.

IPCC Speakers in China Ko Barrett Yun Gao Weihua He Shichang Kang Panmao Zhai on GlacierHub
Speakers at the opening session of the meeting. Left to right, Ko Barrett, Yun Gao, Weihua He, Shichang Kang, Panmao Zhai. (source: IPCC/Twitter).

The meeting was opened by Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I and Secretary General of the Chinese Meteorological Society. The first speech was given by Yun Gao, the Dputy Director of the Science and Technology and Climate Change Division of the China Meteorological Administration, who emphasized the country’s commitment to the IPCC and to international cooperation more broadly.

The next address was given by Weihua He, the vice-inspector of the Gansu Science and Technology Department. She emphasized the importance of developing a low-carbon economy in the province which could contribute to poverty reduction while improving economic and environmental quality. She said that she could envision “a new happy and beautiful Gansu,” and closed her speech with wishes for the meeting’s “great success.” In the evening of the meeting’s inauguration, the provincial government also sponsored a performance by a troupe of folk dancers, who presented the diverse cultural styles of the ethnic groups in central and western China, and showcased as well developments in Chinese media.

The meeting drew over 100 participants from 30 countries. In addition to attending plenary meetings, the chapter teams discussed the comments which they had received from experts on the First Order Drafts of their chapters. They coordinated with each other to promote the integration of the chapters, and also began the planning of communication products. They advanced as well on five cross-chapter boxes which address topics that span the report’s topics. The discussions continued at meals and in the evenings.

This meeting was distinguished by the relatively large proportion of women among the lead authors and by the international diversity, with representatives from more than 30 countries across six continents and the Pacific. It received wide coverage in a number of Chinese media outlets  

Yaks in the Qilian Mountains on GlacierHub
Yaks in the Qilian Mountains (source: Susie Crate/Facebook).

After the conference, a number of participants set off on a four-day tour of the province. Their travels included a visit to the Qilian Mountains, a glaciated range which forms the border between Gansu and the neighboring province of Qinghai. Although severe flooding had damaged roads, preventing the group from reaching Laohuguo Glacier, they did explore regions up to 3780 meters, where they saw large herds of yaks.

After the tour, a conference was held on 31 July and 1 August on Cryospheric Changes and the Regional and Global Impacts. A number of authors from Chapter 2, including Shichang Kang, Regine Hock, Miriam Jackson and Stephan Gruber, gave talks at this conference.

Comments on the Meeting

IPCC authors on GlacierHub
IPCC authors at dinner in a hotpot restaurant (source: Ben Orlove)

Hans-Otto Poertner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, described the meeting. “We are grateful for the comprehensive feedback we received in the first Expert Review of this report,” he said. “By ensuring that the latest scientific knowledge is included in our assessments, the reviews help us to provide the best available basis for global climate policy. The outcomes of our Lead Author Meeting in Lanzhou will take us a huge step closer to this goal.”

“We are looking forward to the meeting in Lanzhou as we continue developing and refining the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. We believe this report will help policymakers better understand the changes we are seeing and the risks to lives and livelihoods that may occur with future climate change,” said IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett. “The gracious hospitality of our hosts is much appreciated,” she added.

Outreach Events and Upcoming Activities

In conjunction with the meeting, outreach events were held at Lanzhou University on 24 July and at the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science on 26 July. IPCC Bureau leaders, Shichang Kang, and several lead authors spoke. They presented the outline of the report to local audiences, discussed major findings of earlier IPCC reports about changes in climate and in mountain and coastal environments, and reviewed issues specific to China and other Asian countries. At both events, speakers emphasized the importance of international cooperation and the great advances of Chinese researchers. One participant described the comments of Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II at the first event as “deeply inspiring.” The participant continued, “She really renewed my optimism.”

The participants left the meeting ready to begin the process of preparing the Second Order Draft of the report. This draft will be circulated for review by experts and governments in November 2018, and will be reviewed and revised at a fourth meeting in March 2019 in Kazan, Russia. The following draft will be reviewed by governments, and the report will be completed in September 2019. The recent meeting provided highly motivating support to this long process, immersing the authors for several days in a vulnerable context of a country, impacted by glacier retreat as well as sea level rise, which is a central player in international climate affairs.

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IPCC Report is Now Open for Comment

An Opportunity to Offer Comments on an IPCC Report Currently in Development

Readers of GlacierHub, and other individuals and organizations as well, have the opportunity to provide comments on the current draft of a major international report on climate change. This report contains a chapter on glaciers, permafrost and snow in high mountain areas.

The report is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC). The First Order Draft of this report, which has been produced by a team of over 100 experts from more than 30 countries, is now open for comment, in what is called the Expert Review process. This review opened on 4 May, and will continue through 29 June 2018.

This report presents the latest scientific knowledge about the physical science basis and impacts of climate change on ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems, and the human communities that depend on them. It evaluates the vulnerabilities of these communities, as well as their capacities for adaptation. The report presents options for achieving climate-resilient development pathways in the face of the challenges which climate change imposes.

How to Register to Provide Comments on the Report

Expert Reviewers can register at this site. Registration will remain open through 22 June 2018. Interested individuals are encouraged to sign up earlier, in order to have sufficient time to read the material closely and formulate their responses. There is no fee for registration.

Lead authors of High Mountain Areas chapter at a meeting in Nadi, Fiji in October 2017 (source: Ben Orlove).

This Expert Review of the First Order Draft is a key element of the IPCC assessment process. Experts from around the world will offer comments and suggestions to the author teams. The report’s authors will address every comment received, and draw on them when they prepare the next draft. The review process aims to include the broadest possible scientific perspective. The next meeting of the authors will take place in Lanzhou, China, in late July, and will serve as an occasion for a thorough discussion and consideration of the comments.

The IPCC solicits comments from three categories of experts: scientific, technical, and socioeconomic. The third category includes stakeholders whose knowledge and experience aligns with the topics of the report. Individuals and organizations in any of these categories may register and submit their reviews.

“The review process is essential for the quality of IPCC assessment reports. We expect a broad range of feedback from the natural and social science research communities and also encourage stakeholders with relevant expertise to participate,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts added: “The author teams assess the current state of knowledge to inform policymakers at all levels and in all regions. Experts from all parts of the world are invited to review the draft based on their respective knowledge.”

All IPCC reports go through multiple stages of formal review. This first review will be followed by a second review when governments will also be invited to provide feedback. Expert Reviewers can register with a self-declaration of expertise. All Expert Reviewers will be acknowledged in the final report, due to be finalized in September 2019. Further information on the IPCC review process can be found on the IPCC website.

Mountains and Glaciers are a Major Focus of the Report

Lead authors of High Mountain Areas chapter on an excursion to Antisana Glacier before meeting in Quito, Ecuador, in February 2018 (source: Ben Orlove)

Readers of GlacierHub are likely to be particularly interested in Chapter 2 of the Special Report. Titled “High Mountain Areas,” it covers a variety of topics:

  • Observed and projected changes in mountain cryosphere (glaciers, permafrost, and snow), common drivers of change, and feedbacks (e.g., CH4 emissions, albedo) to regional and global climate
  • Effects of a changing mountain cryosphere on natural hazards and management options for protecting lives, livelihoods, infrastructure, and ecosystems
  • Impacts from changes in the mountain environment, including low latitudes (e.g., Himalayas, Andes, Africa) on habitability, community livelihoods and culture
  • Risks for societies that depend on mountain cryosphere for water resources (e.g., human consumption, ecosystems and agriculture), including cascading risks, and potential response strategies (e.g., national and international water resource management and technologies)
  • Impacts of variability and trends in water supply on hydropower production and implications for energy policy and water governance
  • Influence of mountain cryosphere run-off on river and coastal systems and sea level

Please consider this opportunity. And please pass word on to your associates and colleagues. The IPCC seeks a broad set of comments, from many nations, many fields and many perspectives.

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Future Sea-Level Rise and the Paris Agreement

The signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 signaled the world’s renewed focus on limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, with a goal to lessen the adverse impacts of climate change. However, one of these impacts, sea-level rise, is already occurring and will continue long after emissions and temperatures stabilize. In other words, policies and decisions made now will set sea-level rise on a course to higher or lower levels. To better assess these effects, a recent paper published in Nature Communications examined the implications of the Paris Agreement’s goals on global sea levels up until the year 2300.

Photo of the Cop 21 logo
Logo for the UNFCC’s COP 21 where the Paris Agreement was signed (Roberto Della Seta/Twitter).

If we are to achieve the 2 degree Celsius goal of the Paris agreement, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak and subsequently decline in the near future. This decline would coincide with the removal of emissions already in the atmosphere, through natural sinks, carbon capture and storage technologies, or both; ultimately leading to global net-zero GHG emissions sometime between 2050 and 2100. Most previous studies examining sea-level rise under different climate change scenarios only looked forward to 2100, and though a few extended farther into the future, none had yet to consider the implications of meeting the aims of the Paris Agreement.

The goal of this study was to fill this gap and assess the legacy of the Paris Agreement on sea level rise beyond the 21st century, author Alexander Nauels told GlacierHub. Another important motivation for the study was to investigate the effect of delayed climate mitigation action on future sea-level rise, he added.

Sea-level rise due to climate change is driven by several elements, including the thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm, the retreat of mountain glaciers, and the mass loss of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. These elements react on different timescales to increasing temperatures ranging from hundreds (shallow water thermal expansion and glaciers) to thousands (major ice sheets) of years. Thus, emissions today will lock in future sea-level rise well into the future.

Photo of the Drang-Drung Glacier
Drang-Drung Glacier in Northern India. Mountain glaciers like it are one of the elements responsible for sea-level rise analyzed in this study (Source:sandeepachetan/Creative Commons).

To explore the relationship between the provisions of the Paris Agreement and sea-level rise, the study utilized a carbon cycle and climate model composite, together with a sea-level model. These models were driven by fossil fuel and industry emission scenarios that meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rise to 2° C. These scenarios resemble the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 2.6 scenario where emissions peak by 2020 and then decline thereafter. The emissions in these scenarios were limited to fossil fuels and industry because as Nauels states they are, “…by far the most important emission share when it comes to global decarbonistion.”

The scenarios chosen met either the net-zero GHG emissions goal of the Paris Agreement, seeing a gradual temperature decline over time due to GHG removal by carbon sinks, or a net-zero CO2 goal that would only limit temperature rise to 2° C. Why the two different scenario groups? Joeri Rogelj, another author of the study, told GlacierHub that they wanted to be able to distinguish between scenarios that only stabilize warming, partially meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets (net-zero CO2) and ones that fully comply with the Paris Agreement’s targets (net-zero GHG). This distinction enabled the authors to analyze the effect that delayed or insufficient mitigation action would have on sea-level rise.

Aerial Photo of Antartica
Aerial view of Antartica. The Antartic ice sheet is one of the elements responsible for sea-level rise analyzed in this study (Source: Pylyp Koszorús/Twitter).

There was a stark difference between the more stringent requirements of the Paris Agreement, slowly decreasing temperature through carbon sinks and action that would only stop temperature rise at 2° C. Under net-zero GHG scenarios, median sea-level rise was 73-123 cm, while under net-zero CO2 scenarios the median rise was a much higher level at 116-164 cm. Sea-level rise also continues through 2300 in all scenarios, emphasizing the need for immediate mitigation action, although, the rate begins to slow soon after emissions peak at 0.06-0.7 cm and 0.33-0.49 cm per year for the net-zero GHG and net-zero CO2 scenarios, respectively. Ominously, under net-zero CO2 scenarios, results showed that the possibility of sea-level rise of up to 5 m by 2300 was within the 90% confidence interval.

Figure of the sea-level rise response for partially meeting the Paris Agreement
Sea level rise response from the four contributors analyzed when the Paris Agreement’s goals are partially met (net-zero CO2) (Source: Mengel et al. 2018).

What happens if humanity only stabilizes temperatures instead of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement?  When the authors compared the net-zero GHG and net-zero CO2 scenario groups, they found that median sea-level rise was 40 cm higher for the net-zero CO2 scenario. Another relevant factor for 2300 sea-level rise is the timing of the emissions peak. If the peak in global emissions is delayed by five years, an additional 20 cm of rise was found to occur in 2300 and when based on the 95th percentile the rise is an additional 1 m.

There is a good chance that global temperatures will increase by more than 1.5° C at least temporarily, with a 2017 study putting the chances of staying below a higher threshold of 2° C at 5%. The authors assessed this possible ‘temperature overshoot’ and found for every 10-year period where temperature rise is greater than 1.5° C a 4 cm increase in median sea-levels is expected. Overall, if global temperatures top 1.5° C no scenario showed median sea-level rise less than 1.2 m by 2300.

Figure of the sea-level rise response to fully meeting the Paris Agreement
Sea level rise response from the four contributors analyzed when the Paris Agreement’s goals are met in full (net-zero GHG) (Source: Mengel et al. 2018).

Lastly, the authors examined the connections between sea-level rise and the Paris Agreement’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), the emission reduction goals of individual countries. If implemented in full, the NDCs would lead to a median sea-level rise between 1.45 and 1.64 meters under the net-zero CO2 scenarios and a median sea-level between 1.05 and 1.23 meters under the net-zero GHG scenarios. 95th percentile estimates for the NDCs were even more dramatic, with net-zero CO2 and net-zero GHG sea-level rises between 4.1 to 4.8 m and 2.3 to 3 m respectively.

Further research is needed to develop more precise estimates of sea-level rise into the future, according to Rogelj. He proposes several concrete steps inculding better continuous observations and improved model development for Antarctic ice sheet instabilities and Greenland ice discharge, both of which contributed the most to this study’s uncertainty ranges.

The findings of this study point to continued sea-level rise up until 2300, even if global GHG emissions reach net-zero levels. However, the authors note that high-end scenarios “can be halved through early and stringent emission reductions,” highlighting the urgent need for fast action on climate change from individuals all the way up to the world’s biggest countries.

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A third of Asia’s glaciers could be gone by 2100

Peaks of the Tien Shan, one of many regions in Asia’s high mountains with predictions of massive glacier loss by the end of the century (Source: NASA).

Asia will likely lose at least one-third of its glaciers by the end of this century, according to a recent study published in Nature. The ambitious target of keeping global average temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels set by the Paris Climate Accords won’t even be enough to curtail this fate, with rising temperatures having an outsized effect on glaciers in the high mountains of Asia.

“Our work shows that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees actually means a temperature increase of 2.1 degrees on average for the glacierized area in Asia,” Philip Kraaijenbrink, the lead author on the paper told GlacierHub. “We show that even if the world meets this extreme ambitious target, thirty-six percent of the ice volume will be lost by 2100.”

The goal of 1.5 degrees is generally regarded as extremely ambitious, and Kraaijenbrink and his team found that under more realistic scenarios, ice loss will be between 49 and 64 percent. Meltwater from those glaciers supply water to 800 million people. A loss of even one-third of the glaciers in the region has the potential for serious consequences for water management, food security, and energy production. Kraaijenbrink’s study stops short of investigating the actual impact this loss may have on people, and it is difficult to predict exactly what the future will hold for communities downstream of these glaciers.

Anna Sinisalo, a glaciologist with ICIMOD, who was not associated with the study, told GlacierHub, “There is also a need to reconstruct historical variability of climate to better understand the ongoing change, as without knowing the past we cannot make reliable predictions about the future.” However, this research is still a necessary step to understand how increasing temperatures will affect the region.

In addition to showing that a warming world will lead to losses of glaciers, the researchers also found large differences in how glaciers in the region would respond to climate change. Much of this is due to the characteristics of the individual glaciers, like the amount of debris cover, or differences in local precipitation and temperature projections. Places like Hindu Kush and Pamir, for example, will experience a mean increase in temperature over 2 degrees, while other locations like the Central Himalayas will be closer to the global mean increase.

This map shows the differences in glacier loss under various climate projections and the regional differences in temperature increases under a 1.5 degree Celsius scenario (Source: Kraaijenbrink et al.).

The team achieved their results by running their model across several climate scenarios and produced a map that showed the differences in glacier loss in different areas under different climate projections. In particular, their model looked at the effects of different Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). These pathways range from scenarios that project under 2 degrees Celsius warming (RCP2.6) up to more than 5 or 6 degrees warming (RCP 8.5). The numbers after RCP represent the amount of radiative forcing, which is the difference between the amount of heat from the sun that enters the earth’s atmosphere and the amount of radiation emitted back out into space from the earth. RCP 8.5 is often described as a “baseline” or “business-as-usual” scenario where little or nothing is done to combat climate change.

Of course, there is a fair amount of uncertainty in this research. It is unclear how much the climate will change in the coming decades. For the most part, it depends on how the world tackles carbon emissions, which is why the researchers “included the entire scope of climate projections for this very reason.” Kraaijenbrink and his team also collaborated with other glacier modelers in the Glacier Model Intercomparison Project. According to Kraaijenbrink, “The aim of this is to reduce uncertainties in glacier projections in order to provide better predictions to be used for impact studies and by policymakers.”

The researchers paid special focus to debris-covered glaciers because up until now these glaciers in Asia were not well represented in the models. As part of the study, Kraaijenbrink found that about 11 percent of Asia’s high mountain glaciers are covered with debris, with the largest relative coverage in Hindu Kush.

Debris-covered glaciers are particularly difficult to model because researchers have to take into account how the rocks and other materials covering the glacier will affect retreat. In many cases, the debris insulate or protect the glacier from some amounts of radiation and warming. According to Kraaijenbrink, incorporating the debris-covered glaciers in their model allowed them to get a better estimate of future mass loss and understand how different glaciers in different areas would behave.

While the researchers looked at the effects of all RCPs in the region, Kraaijenbrink says the team chose to spotlight the study on 1.5 degrees because “the IPCC specifically requested studies that consider the effects of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.” The IPCC is currently preparing a report on the effects of 1.5 degrees of warming, and likely this research will be included to assess the seriousness such a temperature increase.

The study pays close attention to the effects of climate mitigation on glacier shrinkage. Christian Huggel, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich, who was also not affiliated with this study, told GlacierHub that the research “shows concretely what different mitigation policies imply for the glaciers in the high mountains of Asia. And that [there’s] actually a huge difference whether we will be successful in reducing emissions (like 1.5°C warming of RCP2.6), or not (RCP8.5).”

The urgent need for mitigation becomes more evident as the body of research showing the massive effect of anthropogenic climate change, from the tropical Andes to the high mountains of Asia, grows. This urgency, in turn, may hopefully stimulate more effective action to combat climate change.

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IPCC Announces Details of a Report Chapter on High Mountains

On 17 August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced the list of experts it has invited to work on a major document, the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC).

Hans Poertner, co-chair of IPCC WG II and an ecophysiologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute (source: youtube).

Hans Poertner, the co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, underscored the importance of this report. In a statement issued by the IPCC, he noted that the report “is unique in IPCC history.” He added, “[It] reflects the increasing awareness of how important and at the same time how fragile the ocean is as a life-sustaining unit of our planet. The ocean offers many services to ecosystems and humankind, from climate regulation to food supply.” He explained the decision to link oceans and the cryosphere in the report by stating, “At the same time, ocean-cryosphere-atmosphere interactions will shape sea-level rise as a major challenge to human civilization.” Working Group II is the unit within IPCC which assesses climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

Debra Roberts, Working Group II co-chair added, “As an IPCC Special Report focused on two Earth systems which together cover the majority of the planet’s surface and which affect the majority of the global population, a diverse and skilled author team is critical in ensuring a report of the highest policy relevance.”

The role of mountains and glaciers in this report was underscored by IPCC vice-chair Ko Barrett, who said, “The IPCC looks forward to working with experts from around the world on this important topic that impacts billions of people, from the high mountains and polar regions to the coasts.” Barrett chaired the scientific steering committee for the scoping meeting, held in Monaco in December 2016, that drafted the outline of the Special Report.

Regine Hock (right), a Coordinating Lead Author on SROCC, and a glaciologist at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska, during a research trip to the Jarvis Glacier in the Alaska Range in 2014 (source: University of Alaska).

From a total of 569 individuals who were nominated from 57 countries, the IPCC selected 101 experts from 41 countries, each of whom was assigned to one of the report’s six chapters. Each of the chapters has about a dozen Lead Authors, who have the responsibility for preparing the contents of the chapters. Each chapter also has two or three Coordinating Lead Authors, who are charged with providing oversight to assure comprehensive coverage and balance of topics and perspectives, and two or three Review Editors, who are tasked with making sure that the Authors give proper consideration to the substantive comments which arrive during the review stages. Of these experts for SROCC, 69 percent are men and 31 percent women. The distribution by the type of nation is roughly similar, with 64 percent coming from developed countries and 36 percent from developing countries and countries with economies in transition. 74 percent of the selected are new to the IPCC process.

The names, affiliations and other details of the experts assigned to Chapter 2, High Mountain Areas, are appended below. A number of these experts work at institutions in mountain countries, or are citizens of mountain countries. Full details are available at the IPCC website.


  Last Name First Name Role Gender Country Citizenship Current Affiliation
1 HOCK Regine CLA F USA Germany University of Alaska Fairbanks
2 RASUL Golam CLA M Nepal Bangladesh International Center for Integrated Mountain Development
3 ADLER Carolina LA F Switzerland Australia Mountain Research Initiative
4 CÁCERES Bolívar LA M Ecuador Ecuador INAMHI, Ecuador
5 GRUBER Stephan LA M Canada Germany Carleton University
6 HIRABAYASHI Yukiko LA F Japan Japan University of Tokyo
7 JACKSON Miriam LA F Norway UK Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate
8 KANG Shichang LA M China China State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences
9 KUTUZOV Stanislav LA M Russia Russia. Russian Academy of Sciences
10 MILNER Alexander LA M UK UK University of Birmingham
11 MOLAU Ulf LA M Sweden Sweden University of Gothenburg
12 MORIN Samuel LA M France France Météo-France
13 ORLOVE Ben LA M USA USA Columbia University
14 ADITI Mukherji RE F Nepal India International Centre of Integrated Mountain Development
15 KASER Georg RE M Austria Italy University of Innsbruck, Austria


This mountain chapter is expected to be about 30 pages in length. It will be comprised of six sections, which integrate natural and social systems. The first is physical processes, the observed and projected changes in mountain cryosphere (glaciers, permafrost, and snow), and the common drivers of change, and feedbacks (e.g., CH4 emissions, albedo) to regional and global climate. The next two focus on impacts: the effects of a changing mountain cryosphere on natural hazards and management options for protecting lives, livelihoods, infrastructure, and ecosystems; and impacts from changes in the mountain environment, including low latitudes (e.g., Himalayas, Andes, Africa) on habitability, community livelihoods and culture. A fourth section examines risks and responses, with emphasis on risks for societies that depend on mountain cryosphere for water resources (e.g., human consumption, ecosystems and agriculture), including cascading risks, and potential response strategies (e.g., national and international water resource management and technologies). Links to energy systems, and thus to climate mitigation as well as to economic issues, appear in the fifth section, which addresses impacts of variability and trends in water supply on hydropower production and implications for energy policy and water governance. The final section connects high mountains to other regions, examining the influence of mountain cryosphere run-off on river and coastal systems and sea level.

Golam Rasul (right), a Coordinating Lead Author on SROCC, and a development economist at ICIMOD, at a conference International Conference on Green Economy and Sustainable Mountain Development in 2011 (source: IISD).

Other chapters and sections in the SROCC address the framing and context of the report; polar regions; sea level rise and implications for low-lying islands, coasts and communities; changing ocean, marine ecosystems, and dependent communities; and extremes, abrupt changes and managing risks, as well as a summary for policy-makers, a technical summary, and ancillary materials (case studies, frequently asked questions, text boxes). The IPCC has provided a detailed schedule of activities for this Special Report. A series of four multi-day lead author meetings will allow for preparation of the first, second and final drafts; these meetings will alternate with three review periods, each about two months long, in which comments will be provided by experts and governments. The first Lead Authors meeting will take place in 2–6 October 2017, in Fiji, with later meetings over the following year and a half. The IPCC approval of the Summary for Policymakers and acceptance of the Special Report is scheduled for late September 2019.

Kang Shichang, a Lead Author on SROCC, and director of State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences (source: CAS.CN).

This Special Report is one of three that the IPCC is preparing as part of the assessment cycle that will also lead up to the Sixth Assessment Report. The first of these reports, scheduled to be finalized in September 2019, is on Global Warming of 1.5°C. It considers the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. The other, also scheduled for September 2019, is Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. In addition, a methodology reported will be completed by May 2019. It is titled “2019 Refinement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.” The lists of authors and review editors for these reports are also available from the IPCC.

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Life on the Rocks: Climate Change and Antarctic Biodiversity

By now, it’s a familiar story: climate change is melting glaciers in Antarctica, revealing an increasing proportion of ice-free terrain. The consequences of this melt are manifold, and one may be surprising: as more ground is bared, Antarctic biodiversity is expected to increase.

Currently, most of the terrestrial biodiversity— microbes, invertebrates, and plants like grasses and mosses— occurs in the less than one percent of continental Antarctica that is free of ice. A recent Nature article predicted that by the end of the 21st century, ice-free areas could grow by over 17,000 square kilometers, a 25 percent increase.

Members of the shrinking Torgersen Island Adélie colony (Source: Rachel Kaplan).

This change will produce both winners and losers in Antarctica’s ecosystems, according to Jasmine Lee, lead author on the above paper, and the game will be problematic. “Some of the winners are likely to be invasive species, and increasing invasive species could negatively impact the native species,” Lee told GlacierHub. “More isn’t necessarily better if new species are alien species.”

The Antarctic Peninsula, an 800-mile projection of Antarctica that extends towards South America,  is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth, and 80 percent of its area is covered by ice. The many outlet glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet primarily shrink through surface melting, which reduces volume, while tidal action spurs calving. Lee and her coauthors constructed two models based on two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate forcing scenarios. Under the strongest IPCC scenario, ice-free areas in the peninsula are expected to increase threefold, and Lee expects biodiversity changes in this region to be obvious by the year 2100. She predicts that some native species will expand their ranges south in response to the creation of new habitat and milder conditions, and invasive species will thrive for the same reasons.

This pattern is already apparent in the distribution of a number of penguin species. As climate warms, sea ice-obligate species like Adélie and Emperor penguin are shifting and contracting their ranges southward, seeking sea ice. Likewise, ice-intolerant gentoo and chinstrap penguins, typical of the Subantarctic latitudes, are moving south as the ocean becomes increasingly free of ice. As temperatures continue to rise, this biogeographic chess will play out increasingly across Antarctica.

Glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula converge into one calving front (Source: NASA ICE/ Flickr).

“The greater the degree of climate change, the greater the biodiversity impacts,” predicted Lee. She added that counting an Adélie colony in a “real-life ice-free area” was a highlight of her fieldwork.

Interestingly, Lee and her coauthors found that higher biodiversity in the short-term may yield greater homogeneity in the long-term, as invasive species become established and potentially out-compete native species. It’s hard to know how to feel about these ecosystem-wide transitions, said Lee. “The fact that we are driving these changes through anthropogenic climate change should remind us that our actions impact the entire earth, even in what we consider the remotest and most pristine regions. I think we should feel accountable and know that because humans have the power to change the earth, we should do our best to look after it,” she said.

Curious Adélie penguins assess Lee on Siple Island (Source: Jasmine Lee/Twitter).

On June 1, President Donald Trump made a speech announcing the United States’ exit from the Paris climate agreement, obfuscating international cooperation on climate change mitigation. Lee feels this decision sends the wrong message to the rest of the world, but she hopes that the United States will find a way to continue meeting the environmental standards set forth. “America should be a leader in renewable energy technology and policy. However, I am also hopeful that the American businesses and states can reach the Paris accord milestones for America in spite of Trump. And this will show that every city, state or business can have a positive impact regardless of governance,” she said.

No matter the ebb and flow of the political tide, the Antarctic Peninsula is changing. As Antarctic glaciers melt and biodiversity changes, mitigation will require the cooperative efforts of the world.

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