This summer a 4,000-foot mountainside collapsed on the Lamplugh Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Sightseeing and charter flight pilot Paul Swanstrom was the first to discover and photograph the massive landslide after he noticed a large cloud of dust over the glacier.
This region in Alaska is very geologically active and landslides are common there. However, Colin Stark, a geophysicist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, told Alaska Dispatch News that the movement of 130 million tons of earth was “exceptionally large.”
Paddleboarders soak up splendors of Glacier Bay for 4 days
“A typical summer day in 3.3-million-acre Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve might see cruise boats, kayakers and anglers on the water, hikers on shore, flightseers in the air. And increasingly, paddleboarders paddling among ice floes.”
“[A] just-released report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences…. concluded that the National Science Foundation — which runs U.S. Antarctic programs — should make research on Antarctica’s sea level implications its top priority, with a particular emphasis on West Antarctica. That’s because much of its ice is below sea level and thus ‘vulnerable to a runaway collapse process known as marine ice sheet instability.’
‘There is an urgent need to understand this process in order to better assess how future sea level rise from ice sheets might proceed,’ the report stated.”
New Zealand’s glaciers have shrunk by a third – report
“The government report released on Wednesday says the volume of glacier ice has dropped by 36 percent since 1978 because of rising temperatures. Andrew Mackintosh of Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre said globally there was no doubt that human influences had caused glaciers to retreat. He said it has yet to be scientifically demonstrated in New Zealand, but it was very likely humans have played a part.
‘There’s no doubt that New Zealand glaciers have lost a lot of ice during that period, especially since 2008 we’ve seen a rapid loss of ice in the Southern Alps and iconic glaciers like Franz Josef and Fox have retreated dramatically.'”
A new study conducted at Sajama, the highest mountain in Bolivia, shows that local indigenous populations have been able to adapt to the changes in water resources that result from glacier retreat. Other environmental changes, as well as shifting economic and political circumstances, have also shaped their responses. Villarroel and her coauthors describe the area in detail in their recent paper in the journal “Mountain Research and Development.”
With an elevation of 6542 meters, Sajama, an extinct volcanic cone, rises more than two kilometers above the surrounding plains, known as the altiplano. Precipitation is concentrated in a short rainy season in this semi-arid region. The vegetation varies with elevation and topography, with large areas of grassland, sections with shrubs, and some wetlands, which are concentrated along the streams that are fed by glacial melt and groundwater from the mountain. Though the wetlands are relatively small in area, they have great economic and ecological importance, because the herbs, sedges and grasses that grow in them remain green throughout the year.
The indigenous Aymara of the altiplano have long practiced livelihoods that are suited to this environment, centered on the raising of alpacas, a native ruminant that was domesticated millennia ago in the Andes. They carefully maintain irrigation channels that distribute water from the streams, expanding wetland areas. Though profoundly influenced by Spanish colonial rule and by the policies of the national governments of Bolivia, the Aymara have a high degree of self-government, in which communities govern the affairs of the many hamlets that compose them, through structures of customary leaders and assemblies. These communities gained recognition in the 1950s, and received additional support in the 1990s through constitutional reforms and the creation of a national council of indigenous communities.
Villarroel and her coauthors have traced the shifting patterns of water use and alpaca herding through “rights mapping methodology,” integrating the methods of the Nobel prizewinner Elinor Ostrom for studying natural resource management with participatory mapping based on Google Earth images. They found that the Aymara communities around Sajama had for decades practiced communal grazing. Households had free access to the community’s grasslands, which provide grazing during the rainy season. They also were able to graze their animals on the wetlands associated with their hamlets.
Pasture has become a scarce resource in the last two or three decades, as the water supply in streams has decreased because of glacier retreat. The population of the communities has also grown, increasing demand for pasture. Overgrazing had become a problem. In response, the communities shifted to delimiting grassland areas to which particular households have access, and individual hamlets have fenced off the wetlands. In this way, they can better limit the number of alpacas that graze in any area. They also organize meetings between hamlets and between communities to resolve disputes over access to water from streams. In addition, many households now purchase alfalfa and barley, trucked in from moister regions of Bolivia, to use as supplementary fodder. A number of the men leave the region for several months a year, earning wages to pay for this fodder.
The Sajama National Park has also influenced the response to water scarcity. Founded in 1939 as Bolivia’s first national park, it began active conservation management only in 1995, virtually eliminating alpaca grazing in the higher grasslands, and reducing hunting as well. These restrictions have led to the growth of populations of pumas and foxes, predators of the alpacas, and have brought about a resurgence of the vicuña, which had become locally endangered.
The loss of access to this area has placed further pressure on the other grasslands and on the wetlands, but it has also brought a new income source to the communities. They conduct annual round-ups of vicuña herds, in which the animals are shorn and then let free, in a kind of “catch and release” program. The wool commands a high price on the world market, and provides a supplementary livelihood. The participation of Aymara communities in the management committees of the park seems likely to assure that this arrangement will continue. Though this and other forms of market involvement allow the Aymara communities to continue other forms of traditional livelihood and self-governance, it adds another source of vulnerability as well, as Villarroel and her coauthors point out. It exposes local populations to price fluctuations, and may provide incentives to weaken community control of resources, at a time when further glacier retreat could water scarcity more acute. The future may well bring additional challenges to these resilient communities.
GlacierHub has also covered the involvement of indigenous communities in national park management in Peru.
Amid war-torn Afghanistan, the glaciers that isolated the locals for centuries are now attracting tourists. Earlier this year, officials designated the Wakhan District in the Pamir Mountains as the country’s second national park, bringing more outsiders to the remote region.
National parks were first proposed in Afghanistan in the 1960s. However, due to decades of war and political crises, the idea of the parks never came into fruition until 2009, when Band-e Amir was recognized as the first national park. Nearby Tajikistan established a national park in the Pamir Mountains in 1992.
The Wakhan District is home to about 15,000 people, most of them ethnic Wakhi or Kyrgyz. It is a 350-kilometrerstrip of land jutting out from north-eastern Afghanistan towards China, bordered by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, and surrounded by the Pamir range on all sides. The Wakhi live in the lower highlands, while the Kyrgyz are completely isolated in the high pastures. Due to its towering glaciers, remoteness and inaccessibility by vehicular transportation, this region has had little to no impact from the Taliban insurgency. The Kyrgyz people in Wakhan practice Ismaili Islam; the women do not wear burqas and are treated as equal to men.
The new national park, one quarter larger than Yellowstone, aims to open Wakhan to tourists and regional development, while supporting the locals’ traditional subsistence lifestyle and herding of livestock such as domesticated yaks, sheep, and goats. The locals will co-manage it with the federal government and many will get jobs as rangers, managers and other park personnel.
Wakhan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and life expectancy is a grim 35 years. Poverty is widespread, so tourism has been encouraged to bring much-needed money into the local economy. The area’s tourism industry is in its infancy, but there is much to attract visitors to this part of the world, where cultural traditions and lifestyles have changed little over centuries.
Though the introduction of tourism and the end of the region’s isolation may have unanticipated consequence. In nearby Nepal, these changes led to outmigration, particularly among the young. Whether they will have this effect in Wakhan remains to be seen.