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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Mapping and Monitoring Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Finu Shrestha, Research Associate GIS helping a training participant during the hands on exercise (Source: Chimi Seldon/ICIMOD).

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), through its Cryosphere Initiative, recently organized a five-day training on using remote sensing (RS) and geographic information system (GIS) to map and monitor glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH).

Nineteen participants consisting of students and professionals from ICIMOD’s partners in Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan attended the training organized at the ICIMOD headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, in March 2017.

The training aims to build the capacities of national partners on the use of RS and GIS for glacier mapping and monitoring, and it was the 11th of its kind. In addition to Nepal, ICIMOD has organized this training in Pakistan, Myanmar, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

Training participants with ICIMOD experts (Source: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD).

Such trainings help build and enhance the capacities of professionals working in water resources research and management in relation to using RS and GIS for mapping and monitoring glaciers and glacial lakes. Events such as these also open up avenues for research collaborations with and between relevant implementing partners in the region.

As a follow-up to the training programme, six professionals from Tribhuvan University in Nepal will be getting on-the-job training at ICIMOD for the duration of two months. The professional mentoring they will receive while at ICIMOD will help them further develop their RS and GIS skills, and contribute to glacier data generation in the HKH.

Yala peak in Langtang Valley, Nepal. Langtang valley is home to several of ICIMOD’s cryosphere research sites in Nepal (Source: Sudan Maharjan/ICIMOD).

By the end of the two months, the six professionals will be able to conduct mapping exercises, which provide information on the status of glaciers and decadal changes. Continual mapping and monitoring of glaciers will provide answers to how climate change is affecting the glaciers of the HKH and also enable experts to identify potential glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) risks. Further, such mapping and monitoring will also provide evidence for policy makers in the region to understand their fresh water reserves and to enhance their water-related hazard and risk reduction planning.

Through its various capacity building activities, the goal of the Cryosphere Initiative is that the HKH will, in the long run, have an increased number of experts who can independently carry out long-term glacier monitoring.

Mats Eriksson, Regional Programme Manager (Cryosphere and Atmosphere) addresses the training participants during the inaugural session of the training (Source: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD).

ICIMOD works in the HKH with eight regional member countries- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The Cryosphere initiative of ICIMOD is supported by the Government of Norway.

Additional Information:

The HKH has the largest glacier area besides the two polar regions and are the source of ten large Asian river systems, providing water to 1.3 billion people, about a fifth of World’s population.



Presence and Absence: Mourning a Himalayan King

A shortened version of this article was published in the Nepali Times on December 23, 2016.


King Jigme Palbar Bista, Mustang's king until 2008 (Source: Macduff Everton/Courtesy of Nepali Times).
King Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista (Source: Macduff Everton/Courtesy of Nepali Times).

One Thursday last month, not much before noon, I was walking through a forest steeped in snow, in rural Vermont. Sun came and went between the clouds. It was quiet, spare. Crystalline light reflected off the frozen surface of a nearby pond. The world felt peaceful, filled with grace and presence, even as it was marked by absence: the bareness of birch trees, the pale winter light.

I did not know it at the time, but as I was walking, at what was the first hour of Friday December 16, in Kathmandu, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, the King of Lo, or Upper Mustang, was leaving the shell of his body, his consciousness released. He was 86 years old, and had ruled his kingdom for more than half a century with equanimity. I had the good fortune to have known him, in some small way, for the last twenty years. We shared an affinity for horses and a love of the landscape he called home. It is fair to say that meeting him altered the course of my life.

View of the walled city of Lo Manthang, Nepal (Source: Tom Kelly/Courtesy of Nepali Times).
View of the walled city of Lo Manthang, Nepal (Source: Thomas Kelly/Courtesy of Nepali Times).

Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista was known by many names. In Nepali, people referred to him as the Mustang Raja, one of four “petty kings” – including local rulers in Bajhang, Salyan, and Jajarkot – who retained regional power even as their territories were incorporated into the emerging nation-state of Nepal in the mid-18th century. These “petty kings” were recognized by Nepali law from 1961 until 2008, when Nepal transitioned from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic.

Khen Rimpoche from Tsarang, Mustang conducts religious ceremony at cremation of former King of Mustang, Jiigme Palbar Bista. 1930/ 2016. Jigme Palbar Bista, former king of Mustang, passed away on Friday. he was 86. Bista, a popular figure in his home district, died at Chabahil based Om Hospital where he was admitted on December 13 with acute exacerbation of pneumonia.
A funeral ceremony at the cremation of the former King of Mustang (Source: Thomas Kelly/Courtesy of photographer).

In Tibetan, Bista was called Lo Gyalpo, or the King of Lo, evoking a sense of respect and deference akin to the titles given to kings of neighboring Bhutan and Sikkim. The fact that Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista had been officially stripped of his raja title by the Nepali state did little to affect his importance in the lives of Loba, people from upper Mustang. To them, he was far from “petty” in his influence.

Stupa and mani wall in Mustang (Source: Shravasti Dhammika).
A stupa and mani wall in Mustang (Source: Shravasti Dhammika).

To Loba, he was often called Kundun. This Tibetan word means “presence.” It is the same term of address that is often used by Tibetans to refer to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This gives one a sense of just how important this person was to the people of Mustang. He helped to define and defend a people, a place, a way of life, and a sense of belonging to the high pastures and valleys, the canyons and plains, the monasteries and villages of this Himalayan enclave.

Bista was 25th in a lineage of rulers that dates back to the late 14th century, and the founding of the kingdom by a western Tibetan leader named Amepal. In 1964, when he was in his mid-thirties, Bista assumed the title of Lo Gyalpo after the death of his father. He was his father’s youngest son.

Queen Sidol Palbar Bista in Lo Manthang (Source: Tom Kelly/Courtesy of Nepali Times).
Queen Sidol Palbar Bista in Kathmandu (Source: Thomas Kelly/Courtesy of Nepali Times).

Bista married Sidol Palwar, a refined, elegant woman who traveled from Shigatse, Tibet, to Lo as a bride in 1950, before the political upheavals of 1959. They had no living biological children, but the couple adopted their nephew, Jigme Singe Palbar Bista, as son and heir.

Over the past half-century, Bista ushered his community through massive political-economic and sociocultural transitions: the stationing in Mustang of Chushi Gangdruk, the Tibetan Resistance Army, from 1961 until 1974; opening Lo to foreign tourists in 1992, after Nepal’s first jan andolan, or People’s Movement, in 1990; the decade-long People’s War (1996-2006) and its attendant impacts on all aspects of life in rural Nepal, even in a district that saw minimal direct conflict; the end of the Nepali monarchy in 2008; the recent completion of a motorable road that now links Mustang with the Chinese border to the north and Pokhara to the south; and the earthquakes of Spring 2015.

People from Mustang converge at Teku cremation ground to pay last homage to their beloved king (Source: Tom Kelly/Courtesy of Nepali Times).
People of Mustang at Teku cremation ground (Source: Thomas Kelly/Courtesy of Nepali Times).

Bista also lived to see the impacts of climate change on Mustang’s environment, a complex social ecology that balances irrigated agriculture, pastoralism, and trade.  As an example of this, two of Lo’s villages have been relocated in recent years as a result of water shortages as some of Mustang’s glaciers shrink and headwaters run dry. This, in addition to the recent discovery of uranium deposits in upper Mustang, bring to light some of the environmental and geopolitical crucibles facing this region. On top of all of these shifts, Bista bore witness to profound internal transitions within Mustang’s communities, brought on through education- and economically-driven outmigration. Today, the population of Loba in cities in urban Nepal and India as well as those making homes in Queens, New York, rival Lo rivals those who live in Lo.

Cremation ceremony of former King of Mustang. Teku, Nepal. Jigme Palbar Bista, former king of Mustang, passed away on Friday. he was 86. Bista, a popular figure in his home district, died at Chabahil based Om Hospital where he was admitted on December 13 with acute exacerbation of pneumonia. "We are immensely sad to announce the sudden demise of Jigme Palbar Bista (King of Mustang from 1965-2008) at 12:50am in our hospital," the hopsital said in its notice. Hospital's MD Babu Kaji Karki told that the body of the former King would be kept at a Bouddha monastery for well wishers to pay homage and cremate the body as per the advice per the advise of Jyotish Lamas. Bista, who was born in 1930 in Lo Manthang, had ascended to the throne after his father king Angun Tnezing Trandul's demise in 1964.
Cremation pyre of former King of Mustang in Teku, Nepal (Source: Thomas Kelly/Courtesy of Nepali Times).

When I picture the Lo Gyalpo, I see his stately dignity. He had expressive lips which formed words of advice or considered action for his people and, especially in recent years, shaped the syllables of Buddhist prayer with humility and devotion. He was a beautiful, intense presence. During our meetings, be they formal audiences at Khar, the palace and his residence in the walled city of Lo Monthang, or over quiet cups of tea with his family in recent years in Kathmandu, I remained in awe of him. He could be serious, even stern, but then his expression would open up into a broad, friendly smile, his gold-plated tooth glinting brightly.

One of my most cherished memories of the king was traveling with him and his entourage up to the summer pastures north of Lo Monthang for days of sheep shearing, yak wrangling, picnicking, and ritually bathing his horses in a glacial stream.  It was here that I saw him as a man at work, a man filled with purpose. I will hold on to that memory, and the one of him and his male companions walking kora early each morning, circumambulating the wall that runs around Lo Monthang, which means “plain of aspiration.” There was also deep purpose in such moments: of conversation, of communion.

Jigme Palbar Bista, former king of Mustang, passed away on Friday. he was 86. Bista, a popular figure in his home district, died at Chabahil based Om Hospital where he was admitted on December 13 with acute exacerbation of pneumonia. "We are immensely sad to announce the sudden demise of Jigme Palbar Bista (King of Mustang from 1965-2008) at 12:50am in our hospital," the hopsital said in its notice. Hospital's MD Babu Kaji Karki told that the body of the former King would be kept at a Bouddha monastery for well wishers to pay homage and cremate the body as per the advice per the advise of Jyotish Lamas. Bista, who was born in 1930 in Lo Manthang, had ascended to the throne after his father king Angun Tnezing Trandul's demise in 1964.
The family at the funeral ceremony (Source: Thomas Kelly/Courtesy of photographer).

The king’s heir, Jigme Singe Palbar Bista, along with others who belong to this generation of Mustang nobility, are invested in the future of upper Mustang. The family remains very important to the social life of Lo, even without continued recognition by the Nepali state of the local monarchy. And yet the death of the king marks the end of an era.

One of the Nepali news reports that came out in the wake of his death reported that his last words to his family members were, “Never migrate from the village and the district.”

Mustang raja pensive (Source: Sienna Craig).
King Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista observing Tempa Chirim (“Tiji”) festivities at his home in Lo Monthang, 1998 (Source: Sienna Craig).

While I have no way of confirming the veracity of this statement, I believe in its essence. Bista loved his home fiercely, with his whole being. I am also certain that, despite the challenges and changes facing Mustang, those who bear his lineage will do all they can to honor his wishes as they work to protect and thoughtfully transform their culture.

Om Mani Padme Hum.


Technology in Adventure: Lessons from an Everest Attempt

Sarah Jane Pell, a researcher at the Exertion Games Lab at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia and a self-described artist-adventurer, initially planned to climb Mount Everest in April 2015 to document her experiences with high-definition 360-degree video and record artistic expressions on the summit. She hoped to provide human-computer interaction designers with initial research on how to embrace adventure. As part of the Exertion Games Lab, which focuses on exploring the role of games in order to design better interactive experiences, Pell is particularly interested in human movement and performing arts.

She was initially hired at RMIT as a visiting researcher to explore digital systems supporting performance for underwater play. She chose Mount Everest as an extreme location for her field work, but she never expected to have her journey interrupted by a powerful earthquake that struck Nepal a few weeks into her trek. Pell then reoriented her research based on her experiences during her expedition to focus on technology’s role in adventure.

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region just before noon local time, killing eighteen climbers on Everest and more than 8,000 across Nepal, while displacing another 2.8 million people, according to a Washington Post article written by Annie Gowen.

Everest Base Camp
A view of Everest Base Camp (source: ilker ender/Creative Commons).

A few weeks before the earthquake, Pell had arrived in Lukla Airport and begun her ten-day trek to Everest Base camp. Due to an unforeseen incident with her climber’s permit days before the earthquake, Pell had left Everest, traveling to Kathmandu to resolve the issue before returning to Everest Base Camp (EBC). She was on the fourth floor of her hotel in the capital when the earthquake struck. She survived, and in the days after the disaster, documented what she experienced through personal video. She returned home to Australia a few weeks later, where she evaluated her own personal journey with adventure technology.

Pell describes how technology helped and hindered her during her trek in her recent article.

Throughout her journey on Everest, Pell had field-tested various adventure technology, including both high-tech equipment, such as wearable biofeedback systems, and low-tech equipment, such as “non-smart” phones. She sought to understand how that technology interacted with the extreme environment of Mount Everest. For example, she used technology like her Jawbone fitness tracker to help her prepare physically for the climb, and to monitor her progress and preparedness.

Pell was even able to record with her phone the moments after the quake, as she and others were waiting for inevitable aftershocks. One of the more surprising experiences she had was discovering how smart technology failed her due to limited connectivity and power. Instead, she had to depend on lower-tech solutions. For example, she was only able to get reception from a 2G phone and observed local people stringing up plastic bags of water above their stoves in order to detect aftershocks, which would produce ripples in the water. Despite the fact that earthquake-related apps exist, Pell was not able to use them due to the lack of Internet and power.

khumbutse view of everest
A view of Mount Everest from Khumbutse Mountain (source: Peellden/Creative Commons).

Pell’s trek on Mount Everest, and the events that occurred post-earthquake, presented her with both straightforward and unexpected ways to interact with and depend on technology. Based on her first-hand experience, she and Mueller explored two dimensions of the relationship between technology design and adventure within their paper. Pell and Mueller defined one type that supports the instrumental and experiential components of adventure, or in other words, how technology can be used to measure and document adventure. The second type supports the expected and unexpected components of adventure.

The first dimension helps to achieve goals and to monitor and improve performance, such as Pell’s Jawbone, which helped her track her physical training in preparation for her trek, and also to create a deeper engagement with the environment, as she did with her camera. The second dimension explores the idea that technology typically plays expected roles, like using a camera to document experiences, but that it can also can play unexpected roles in adventure. For example, as Pell was evacuating the hotel in which she was staying during the earthquake, she used her laptop to shield herself from falling debris. The use of her computer was hardly one she anticipated.

Pell and Mueller further introduce four roles that technology can play during an adventure: coach, rescuer, documentarian, and mentor. The roles of coach and documentarian both fall into the expected technology categories, where the coach role provides structured guidance and the documentarian role helps support the experiential aspects of adventure. Pell’s apps served as her coach in her training, and her camera served the role of documentarian on Everest.

On the unexpected side of technology, they describe the roles of rescuer and mentor. In the most dire of circumstances, technology serving the role of rescuer can provide emergency services to help the adventurer survive. Meanwhile, technology that plays the role of a mentor supports the adventurer by helping her to reflect on her experience and what she learned from it.

Pell hopes to apply her personal account on Everest and subsequent research to other situations, including future game design for her research lab Exertion Games Lab. She and Mueller see the important connection and influence that human-computer interaction can have in supporting active lifestyles. Pell recently applied her research on technology and adventure as the Simulation Astronaut for the European Commission Project MOONWALK.

When asked about plans to attempt to summit Everest again, Pell commented in her interview that she is preparing to undertake an experiment in another extreme environment at an even higher altitude: a NASA Noctilucent Cloud Imaging and Tomography Experiment in Suborbital Space, as the first Artist-Astronaut candidate. She hopes to continue to design new ways to use media and communications technologies for communicating the experience of the performance in another extreme environment.

Glacier Meeting in Kathmandu

A technical session in progress at the IGS Symposium.  Photo credit: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD
A technical session in progress at the IGS Symposium.
Photo credit: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD

Kathmandu, a Nepalese valley with a rich cultural and religious history, was the venue for the International Symposium on Glaciology in High-Mountain Asia early this month. From March 1 to 6, 240 scientists from 26 countries gathered there to further interdisciplinary understanding of the science of glaciers, snowpack, and permafrost in the high-mountain Asia region—the Himalayan, Hindu-Kush, Karakoram, Tien Shan, Pamir, and Tibetan Plateau mountain chains. The conference was organized by the International Glaciological Society (IGS) and hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Livelihoods in high mountain Asia. Photo credit:  Jitendra Raj Bajracharya, ICIMOD.
Livelihoods in high mountain Asia. Photo credit: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya, ICIMOD.

IGS, founded in 1936, aims to stimulate interest in and encourage research into the scientific and technical problems of snow and ice in all countries; ICIMOD is a regional intergovernmental organization aimed at spreading knowledge about the impacts of climate change on the Hindu Kush Himalayas of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan—both their fragile ecosystems and the communities that live there.

Participants of the symposium exchanged the latest research findings on glaciers and glacier contribution to river flow in high-mountain Asia. This researched looked at past, present and future glacier change, glacier dynamics modeling and observations, glacier and snow melt and glacier hazards, among other subjects. While the coming together of so many scientists and specialists in the field helped to fill knowledge gaps across the region, additional questions were raised during the symposium. In particular, participants believe a more complete and accurate picture of glacier change must still be achieved. Field observations, improved models, inter-comparisons of models, and regional data sharing are considered among the most critical directions and needs for future research.

Young Scientist Panel at the IGS Symposium, moderated by David Molden, Director General of ICIMOD. Photo credit: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD
Young Scientist Panel at the IGS Symposium, moderated by David Molden, Director General of ICIMOD. Photo credit: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD

The high-mountain regions in Asia have been more acutely impacted by climate change than many other regions of the world in recent years, given the high concentrations of glacier ice found here. Glacial melt has overwhelmed not just regional ecosystems, but traditional livelihoods. These glaciers feed rivers that support the agriculture and livelihoods of over one billion people and are crucial for hydroelectric power generation. In addition, accelerated melting can aggravate natural hazards such as flooding and avalanches.

Creating an interdisciplinary understanding of glaciers was one of the primary focuses of the symposium. Glaciology brings together the atmospheric and hydrologic sciences, required to understand the connections between atmospheric processes and cryospheric change, as well as downstream impacts in the region. The cryosphere is defined as the part of Earth’s surface that consists of solid water, including snow cover, glaciers, ice sheets and ice caps, among other formations, and which plays a critical role in global climate and its changes. The interdisciplinary approach to glaciers in the region has provided the opportunity to capture regional and local changes in glaciers, snow and water availability.

The view of Eastern Himalaya--cryosphere. Photo credit: Asha Kaji Thaku, ICIMOD.   
The view of Eastern Himalaya–cryosphere. Photo credit: Asha Kaji Thaku, ICIMOD.

Scientists also discussed advances in measurements, modeling, and interpretation of glaciological changes in high mountain Asia, in order to better understand the impacts of these changes. While there is evidence of glacier retreat in the eastern Himalayas and glacier melt rates are projected to rise, river flows will not decline significantly in the coming decades due to projected increases in precipitation. It is one of the major findings presented at the conference. Meanwhile, scientists noticed that the Karakoram glaciers have been identified as an anomaly in the region, given that they are not experiencing retreat, something that has not yet been fully explained by scientific research. The IGS president Doug MacAyeal pointed out at the symposium that the role of debris cover and black carbon in glacier melt is still unclear, and the insufficient observations of high-altitude precipitation remains unsolved.

The results of the meeting will be published in Annals of Glaciology and through the IGS website in August.

Roundup: Nepal Symposium, Microrefugia, Climate Change


Symposium on Glaciology in High-Mountain Asia (1 – 6 March, 2015)

“The high mountains of Asia are estimated to contain one of the greatest concentrations of glacier ice outside the polar regions, and are the headwaters of rivers which support agriculture and livelihoods of over one billion people. Changes in snow, ice, and permafrost due to climatic changes will impact water resources, ecosystems and hydroelectric power generation, and will aggravate natural hazards. To understand these impacts, the symposium will provide a forum to discuss advances in measurements, modeling, and interpretation of glaciological and cryospheric changes in high mountain Asia.”

Read more about this International Symposium in Kathmandu, Nepal.



Potential Warm-Stage Microrefugia for Alpine Plants

“In Alpine regions, geomorphologic niches that constantly maintain cold-air pooling and temperature inversions are the main candidates for microrefugia. Within such microrefugia, microhabitat diversity modulates the responses of plants to disturbances caused by geomorphologic processes and supports their aptitude for surviving under extreme conditions on unstable surfaces in isolated patches. Currently, European marginal mountain chains may be considered as examples of macrorefugia where relict boreo-alpine species persist within peculiar geomorphological niches that act as microrefugia.”

Read more about this article.



Mountains and Climate Change

“Large mountain ranges often act as climatic barriers, with humid climates on their windward side and semi-deserts on their lee side. Due to their altitudinal extent, many mountain regions intersect important environmental boundaries such as timber lines, snow lines or the occurrence of glaciers or permafrost. Climatically induced changes in these boundaries could possibly trigger feedback processes affecting the local climate. For instance, a rising snow line and thawing permafrost could increase the risk of natural hazards as well as accelerate warming trends due to lower reflectance. Changes in these boundaries can have sharp consequences for ecosystems and can influence natural hazards, economic potential and land use.”

Read more about this article.