From The Local Norway: “An Austrian man has been killed in Norway after a huge block of ice calved off the Nigardsbreen glacier, causing a shower of water and ice which threw him into the fast-flowing meltwater. The man […] had ignored the warning signs and crossed over a safety cordon to get closer to the glacier.”
From Alpine Botany: “Three specimens from the 1952 Everest expedition are reviewed and analyzed, bringing the number of species sharing the title of ‘highest known vascular plant’ from two to five… This taxonomic investigation contributes to our knowledge of the biogeography of Himalayan flora and opens the way for future field-based investigations of mechanisms limiting plant growth on the roof of the world.”
Check out more about this important discovery here.
Shrinking Glaciers and Growing Lakes in Peruvian Andes
From Global and Planetary Change: “In the tropical Andes, current rates of glacier loss are investigated to some point but associated future extent of both vanishing glacier and forming lake areas and volumes are poorly explored… Our current baseline and future projections suggest that a decrease in glacier shrinkage is also followed by a slowdown in lake formation and particularly volume growth which might have already developed or occur in the near-future.”
See for yourself what this assessment determined here.
A version of this post originally appeared in the University Post, University of Copenhagen, on May 17, 2018.
It is four o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday. The 25-year-old Peruvian man, whom we will call Jhonatan, closes the door to his small cabin, in which his parents also are beginning their daily chores. The cabin is located at 3,700 meters altitude in the Andes Mountains. Jhonatan begins his journey up the mountainside in front of him with a pickaxe on his back.
After a four hour hike in the chilly mountain air, he arrives at his final destination– the place where the canal splits in two. Jhonatan begins shoveling mud and stones from one of the two water passages into the other. Soon, the water changes its course, and Jhonatan’s work is done.
During the next eight hours, the water will find its way to Jhonatan’s fields. Then a new villager will have reached the canal to take his turn on shoveling mud and stones to the benefit of other fields in the local community. The water users in the community will keep taking turns every eight hours until it once again is Jhonatan’s turn to climb the mountain.
”They are poor but well-organized,” the young assistant professor Mattias Borg Rasmussen says. He continues, ”The amount of work they every day put into getting water to their fields and out of their taps is amazing.”
The Abandonment by the State
Rasmussen has followed two Peruvian village societies in the Andes Mountains in order to understand how they value water and claim authority over it. The love for Peru is clearly visible in his office, with Latin American maps and colorful tapestry on the wall. The enthusiasm began during a visit in 2001 and developed during his year as an exchange student in Peru in 2003 to 2004. It made him come back to do his M.A., Ph.D. and postdoc. Over the years, great changes have happened.
“In the 2000s, Peru experienced an enormous economic development. You could see how Lima changed as a city in the 10 years. More and more shopping malls and great restaurants appeared,” Rasmussen says.
Not everybody in Peru enjoys the benefits of the economic growth. In the small societies in the mountains, Rasmussen witnessed a growing inequality. Still more than half of the children were chronically undernourished, and the villagers were on their own when it comes to the increasing difficulties to access and distribute water. Difficulties were exacerbated by the acceleration of melting glaciers in the Andes Mountains due to climate change. At first, the glaciers will create larger amounts of water streaming down the mountainside, but after a certain amount has melted, smaller amounts of water will be flowing downhill. The small mountain villages Rasmussen worked in have less water compared to before.
”They do not experience an equal and fair access to water… There is a lot more attention to meet other parts of the Peruvian society’s needs,” Rasmussen says. “There are great state-sponsored irrigation systems at the coast, which they know exist and they know how much money is spent on them. So they ask: why do we not get a share of this?”
The Peruvians in the villages said they were “abandoned by the state.” This abandonment combined with a “troublesome geography” makes Peru “one of the most vulnerable countries in the context of climate-change,” according to Rasmussen.
Adding Anthropology into a Scientific Calculation
As an anthropologist, Rasmussen belongs to a minority at the faculty of science at the University of Copenhagen. At the Department of Food and Resource Economics, he is part of an interdisciplinary group working on development issues in the global South. Here different worlds of academia intertwine and support each other. When talking about the effects of melting glaciers in Peru, Rasmussen cannot make complex calculations of glaciers, but still his knowledge is valuable in order to understand how people manage the water available. The management has great influence on the actual consequences of the melting ice. This sort of contribution is shown in an article he made with glaciologists.
”I think and hope that when we keep trying to explain and understand other peoples’ reality, we may be able to include them when we undertake new measures,” Rasmussen elaborates.
In the mountain villages, the small communities manage their water through systems of committees and commissions. Jhonatan participates in one of the area’s local committees in which he and other users of the canals collaborate to improve existing canals by, for example, cementing the ground of the canals to improve the water flow. The committees also organize the construction of new canals and collaborate on maintenance of existing ones.
“Every once in a while the users of the canal would meet up with bucket, shovel and donkey– ready to clean up the canal,” Rasmussen says. On top of the committees, Jhonatan is also part of the local commission in which 20 committees collaborate to get the largest amounts of water possible to the area. The immense collaboration emerges from cultural ideas.
”They have a very strong cultural understanding that water is a common good… They see water as life,” he says.
This is one of the reasons why the villagers feared the state would put prices on the water, as seen in Chile, for example. Knowledge on local ideas and thoughts is crucial in order not to let one perception of life (for example, a western idea of water as a resource with a price) rank above another.
“You start to erase other peoples’ lifeworld. You establish a hierarchy where our valuation of something is more important and valid than theirs,” Rasmussen says.
The Whole Family on a Field Trip
During his research in the Peruvian mountains, Rasmussen faced some challenges. “It is a hard place to work. It is not the easiest people to get on close terms with, it takes a lot of patience and attention,” he explains.
His toughest challenge, though, emerged far from the Andes Mountains. Rasmussen recalls the sacrifices on the home front during his three-month fieldwork in his postdoc when his oldest son was one year old. “There is no doubt that is my biggest challenge,” he says, referring to balancing life at home with long-term fieldwork.
But, it seems that he may have found a way to kill two birds with one stone. In 2017, Rasmussen took the family with him on his field trip to Argentina. The family had grown a member, and the eldest turned four during their stay. Apart from not being separated from the family, the family trip had another surprising bonus.
”I had my big boy with me in the field most of the days, where I was out talking with people. Because I had him with me, it was easier to talk with people because they could see what sort of character I was,” Rasmussen says. He continues, “If you come as a stranger to an unfamiliar place, people want to measure you to know what sort of person has arrived. To have my boy with me meant I already was shaped in a sort of familiar picture.”
In the future, Rasmussen might repeat the family-fieldwork success in Patagonia in Argentina, where his next project takes place. The subject is natural resources, and this time he and colleague Marieve Pouliot will focus on the resource conflicts with the local citizens on one side and national parks trying to control the resources on the other.
”It is a very good place to understand what kind of mechanisms– it can be legal, institutional or cultural– open up a region to extraction of natural resources,” Rasmussen explains. He says about his future hopes for his research on frontier dynamics, something which he has already written about with Christian Lund, “I want to do something larger on how Patagonia is made into a place favorable for extracting natural resources.”
Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Himalayan Rivers
From Environment Science and Policy: “In order to quantify the effect of climate changes on hydropower and fisheries, we developed an integrated assessment framework that links biophysical models (positive degree-day model, hydrologic model, run-of-river power system model, and fishery suitability index) and economic models. This framework was used to demonstrate the framework’s utility for gaining insights into the impacts of changed river flow on hydropower and fisheries of the Trishuli River in the High Mountain Asia (HMA) Region.”
From World Development: “Based on fieldwork in agro-pastoral communities in highland Cusco, Peru, this study examines climate perceptions in terms of how local community members understand and explain changing climatic conditions… For example, Jurt et al. note that some residents attributed the retreat of nearby glaciers to the abandonment of traditional offerings to the mountains (or apus, which have a similar ontological status as pachamama in traditional Andean belief). Bolin suggests that in her study areas, also in the Cusco region, ‘some indigenous people have wondered what they have done wrong to deserve the wrath of the gods.’”
Recession and Future Lake Formation on Drang Drung Glacier
From Environmental Earth Sciences: “Our analysis indicated that Drang Drung glacier shrunk by 13.84 percent from 1971 to 2017. Meteorological projections of temperature and precipitation were used to understand climatic changes over Drang Drung region. The snout of the glacier has retreated by 925 m since 1971 at the rate of 21.11 ma−1. However, the snout retreat radically accelerated since 2014 at 60 ma−1. Analysis of available satellite data suggested that the proglacial lake formed around 2014. The lake has expanded to 16.62 ha in 2017. ”
Glacier Art: “Project Trumpmore” to Carve President’s Face on Melting Iceberg
From the official website of Project Trumpmore: “Global warming is a huge, abstract concept… We think that in its intangibility, global warming lacks a concrete symbol. One that would prove it exists, or not. That’s what we are setting out to do: a scientific art project… We hope that the more conversation takes place around our monument and global warming, the better possibilities politicians have to make concrete fact-based decisions.”
Read more about the project and ways to contribute here.
Bhutanese Yak Herders’ Perceptions of Glacier Retreat
From BioOne: “A questionnaire survey was conducted to understand how a mountain ecosystem in northern Bhutan is perceived by local yak herders to be changing under climate warming… The questionnaire sought information on herders’ awareness and perceptions of weather patterns, climate changes, and their impact on vegetation, herding practices, and livelihoods… The study concluded that yak herders’ perceptions provide critical signs of warming and their vulnerability to changing climatic conditions in the alpine environment.”
Find out more about their perspectives on how a warming climate would impact their lives here.
The Mountain Institute, Peru, Wins Major Environmental Award
From the 2018 St Andrews Prize formal announcement: The Mountain Institute, Peru, “which integrates 2,000 years of indigenous knowledge of water management in the Andes with contemporary science and technology to create hybrid solutions that improve water security, support livelihoods, strengthen communities and increase ecosystem-wide resilience in mountain communities has won the St Andrews Prize for the Environment 2018.”
Check out more about this prestigious environmental award and the Mountain Institute, Peru, here.
Bill Gentile, an independent filmmaker and American University professor, has recently released a short documentary film, “Fire and Ice on the Mountain.” The film was produced on assignment for American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and investigates the connections between religion and climate change in Peru.
For the research, Gentile teamed up with Karsten Paerregaard, a Danish anthropologist who has studied Peru for the past 30 years. Together, they explore how the ongoing retreat of Huaytapallana Glacier, located near the city of Huancayo in the central highlands of Peru, affects the local people’s worldview, based on Andean cultural traditions, with particular emphasis on their spiritual relationship with nature and Pachamama (Earth Mother).
GlacierHub interviewed Bill Gentile and Karsten Paerregaard about the film to find out more about how climate change is forcing locals to adapt their traditions.
GlacierHub: Was the local community in Huancayo accessible and willing to share their thoughts on the changes they observed in the glaciers? Were they willing to discuss their religious beliefs?
Karsten Paerregaard: We were well received in Huancayo… Huancayo’s Catholic Church showed great interest in the video and took its time to introduce us to its work. The same happened when we visited the regional government in Huancayo and Pedro Marticorena, the laya mayor [head shaman] on his premises. People are generally keen to discuss the city’s environmental problems. Many are also pleased to relate these to religious issues even though they do not always agree on how religion and climate change are linked.
GH: How is the glacier important in the communities’ traditional practices and religious beliefs? What does it represent?
KP: Glaciers are critical to not only the city of Huancayo but also the neighboring rural communities. This is because they provide them with fresh water, as well as they symbolize the Apus (the mountain deities) whom the local believe control the water flow.
Glacier melt is a physical sign of a rapidly changing nature that causes widespread concern in the city, which is experiencing contamination in many respects: traffic, mining, garbage, etc. However, exactly how glacier retreat, water scarcity and pollution are related is a very contested question in Huancayo. Only a few attribute it to global climate change, and many believe that it is human activities that are causing the city’s environmental problems.
GH: How has the connection with the glaciers developed?
KP: Glaciers have always been there, and as such, they are seen as symbols of the Apu’s powers. Nevertheless, recently people have become concerned about the avalanches they occasionally cause— the last big ones took place in the early 1990s— and currently they are worried that they will disappear altogether. From being a symbol of respect and fear, they have now become an issue of concern and compassion.
GH: How do Andean worldviews express themselves in the daily life of people in the region?
KP: Generally, people are rather syncretic in their religious belief, sometimes tapping into the Andean worldview and sometimes into Catholicism, but more recently the former has gained momentum. This is partly related to glacier melt and the concern for its consequences for Huancayo and partly to the growing feeling of insecurity and uncertainty about the future.
Many visit the mountains to ask Apus for favors in their personal lives, but at the same time, people are becoming aware of the impact of their own actions on the environment and, in particular, the glaciers. This creates confusion about the mutual relationship between humans and nature, which prompts people to review fundamental aspects of their religious beliefs.
GH: Why do you think the regional government is limiting the pollution in the Huaytapallana glacier? Do you think this is influenced by religious groups?
KP: Huaytapallana has been declared a protected area by the national government and it is the regional authorities’ responsibility to implement the regulations associated with its status. The different regional governments have tried to do this with varying degree of success.
Bill and I were impressed by their commitment, particularly by the young woman (Vanessa) who is currently responsible for protecting the environment of Huaytapallana. Regardless of the resistance she encounters from people visiting the glacier, including those who participate in the annual celebration of the Andean New Year at the foot of the glacier.
GH: How do you think the religious practices and festivities will be affected when the glacier retreat is even more advanced than it is?
KP: Glacier retreat attracts more people every year, which suggests that climate change is an issue of serious concern in Huancayo. Nonetheless, the growing number of participants is also a reason for concern.
Bill and I noticed that Pedro Marticorena, as well as some of his followers, are becoming more aware of the impact their activities are having on the glacier. Eventually, they have to modify these and adapt their religious practices and beliefs to the changing environment.
GH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Bill Gentile: The biggest challenge facing the project was finding characters who can help transmit important information from the field to the audience. I was lucky to be working with Karsten, who had the patience to put up with a person (me) pointing a camera at him and asking questions all day. He is a gold mine of information and is articulate enough to convey that information in a compelling way… In addition, and as Karsten points out, the many Peruvians whom we met on our journey were welcoming and generous with their time.
GH: How has the film been received?
BG: American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS), which funded my trip, was delighted with the way the film explains the issue of religion and climate change in Peru.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting published a piece on “Fire and Ice on the Mountain” on its website because it addresses the “under-reported, systemic issues” that the Pulitzer Center is most concerned about. I have been using the film in my classes as a teaching tool. Students and colleagues find it inspiring.
GH: What plans do you have for the film?
BG: I will be entering some film festivals and will continue to use it as a teaching tool.
GH: What is your greatest satisfaction in having made this film?
BG: As with any of the films I have made, my deepest satisfaction is taking part in the global conversation that we call “journalism.” I am lucky and privileged to be able to travel, to seek truth, to create, to meet fascinating people, to explore their lives and to communicate their reality to people in other parts of the world.As you know, we live in a time when truth is under attack. I take great pride and even greater satisfaction in defending it.
Annie Smith Peck, born in 1850, was a mountaineer, an educator and a suffragist who broke many glass ceilings during her lifetime. She was a pioneering figure who paved the way for women in fields exclusively dominated by men and supported equal rights for women in education. Her vocal effort for women’s empowerment and equality was accompanied by many mountaineering expeditions. In 1908, she became the first woman to conquer Mt. Huascarán, the highest peak in Peru. In honor of her achievement, the northern peak of the mountain is today named “Cumbre Aña Peck.”
In her latest biography, “A Woman’s Place Is at the Top,” author Hannah Kimberley explores the life of Annie Smith Peck. Kimberley’s portrayal of Peck’s life shows that her expeditions were not mere adventures or explorations, but rather a series of determined efforts to overcome the barriers of gender inequality. In this interview with GlacierHub, Kimberley shares her writing process, as well as the research she did for the book.
GlacierHub: How did you come across Annie Smith Peck, and what about her fascinated you to write a biography?
Hannah Kimberley: I first saw Annie Peck on a poster from an antique shop. It showed Annie in her signature climbing costume and read, “A Woman’s Place Is at the Top: Annie Smith Peck, Mountain Climber, Scholar, Suffragist, Authority on North-South American Relations.” And I thought, who was this woman, and why have I never heard of her before? I started digging and ended up on a long and exciting journey to find out more.
GH: What did it mean at the time for Annie to become the first women to conquer Mount Huascarán in Peru?
HK: At the turn of the century, many climbers were still searching for “virgin peaks,” or unclimbed mountains. At the same time, they sought to break records in altitude. The fact that Annie reached the top of Huascarán, which was 1,500 feet higher than Mount Denali, and she was a woman, was viewed as a remarkable feat at the time. She also happened to be 58 years old when she reached the summit. Even today, we have odd thoughts about what’s appropriate for what women (much less 58-year-old women) can and should do. The answer, as we know, is that they can do anything.
GH: How did you find all the original letters written by and to Annie? Which one were you particularly fascinated by?
HK: Most of Annie’s letters, diaries, ephemera, etc. are housed at Brooklyn College Library’s Archives and Special Collections. There was also a second archive, The Valentino Collection, that I used for the book. This second archive is now also housed at Brooklyn College, as the Valentino family has since donated their materials to the college. It’s too long of a story to tell here about how I found all the materials; it’s like a Nancy Drew story, in fact.
The letters that fascinated me the most were ones in which ordinary folks were writing about seemingly ordinary events like the Mexican Revolution or Hitler’s rise in Germany as the events were happening in real time. It gave me so much more perspective than what I had read about in books. Many of the letters made history come alive for me, and that was really special.
GH: It was really interesting to see how you incorporated all the original writings (e.g. letters) and interviews to your own writing, as well as some interviews. Was this process difficult? Why did you think it was necessary to add some of them?
HK: Annie really wanted her story to be told. She hired an author in 1934 to write her biography; however, he never could garner any interest in the project. Unfortunately, he died without writing it. Once it was my turn to try to get her story out into the world, I knew that I wanted to incorporate Annie’s voice as much as possible. At the same time, I don’t think there’s any escaping looking at history through a contemporary lens, and so I tried to celebrate Annie’s achievements while pointing out that she was a product of her era and a flawed, complicated human being, as are we all.
GH: Once you were done with your research on Annie, did the writing come naturally or was it harder than expected? What about the writing process made it difficult?
HK: I did a lot of upfront research on Annie, so once I started writing, things just flowed. Her archive is huge. After reading 240 linear feet of diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, articles, and manuscripts that Annie generated over a lifetime, I got to know her pretty well— maybe more than some people in my own life.
GH: What was the biggest surprise while doing your research on Annie Smith Peck?
HK: There were lots of surprises along the way, but I really enjoyed how she connected to people in history with whom I was already familiar. For instance, she once rocked up to the White House and remarked to the attendant that she thought President Roosevelt would like to see her. The attendant said he had no doubt that the president would like to see Annie, and she visited with Roosevelt the following weekend. There is also correspondence in the archive between Annie and all sorts of statesmen including the consuls general of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay, and the president of Peru.
GH: What was the most satisfying to you about this project, including your research on Annie, as well as the writing process itself?
HK: The most satisfying part was getting the book out into the world. Annie always wanted it, and I got to deliver her wish. There is a great rejection letter to Annie’s first biographer from Russell Doubleday, who said that he was not interested in publishing a biography on Annie. The letter was dated August 1, 1935, and my book came out on the exact same date— 82 years later. You can call it coincidence, but I believe it was meant to be.
GH: How have people been responding to your book?
HK: The book has gotten some nice press and good reviews. My most popular interview so far has been with Meghna Chakrabarti on NPR’s Here and Now. I especially like it when I get to give talks about Annie and sign books for people. I have signed a lot of books for climbers, teachers, teenagers, grandparents— all who have gotten the same message from it, which is to never let gender, age (or anything else for that matter) get in the way of what you want to accomplish. The saleswoman at my local bookstore said that a father and daughter were in her shop, and he pointed to my book, read the words, “A Woman’s Place Is at the Top,” and said to his child, “Remember this title, always.” Those are the moments that inspire me.
GH: If there is one thing, among many others, you want the readers to think about while reading the book, what would it be?
HK: Annie was constantly told no. She was told she could not remain single. She was told she could not go to college. She was told she could not participate in politics. She was told she could not break records. And she was told that she most certainly could not climb mountains. For each no, she said, “Yes I can,” and then she did it.
There will always be rejections. Don’t let them stop you; find a way to do what you want in spite of them. It will make you happier, I promise.
We are proud to present our first ever GlacierHub News Report. The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. We know our readers are busy, so we created the GlacierHub News Report to catch you up on the latest glacier news.
This week’s news report features:
Peruvian Farmer Explains Lawsuit Against Energy Firm
By: Brian Poe Llamanzares
Peruvian Farmer Saul Lliuya prepares for the next step in his legal battle against German energy firm RWE. He knows the odds are stacked against him, but with the help of Germanwatch and research from Instituto Nacional de Investigacion en Glaciares y Ecosistemas de Montaña, he hopes to win this case.
Artist Diane Burko Shows Us Our World, and It’s Vanishing
By: Jade Payne
We interviewed Diane Burko about her newest exhibition, Vast, and Vanishing, on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery, as well as her upcoming project that takes her in a new direction exploring coral reefs.
Inequality, Climate Change, and Vulnerability in Peru
By: Angela Quevedo
In March, we published an article regarding the vulnerability of small-scale farmers in Ancash, Peru. A recent study, suggests that climate change is just one of several factors placing pressure on farmers; rather, a collection of socio-political and economic factors are the main cause of vulnerability.
Glacial Geoengineering: The Key to Slowing Sea Level Rise?
By: Andrew Angle
Could building underwater walls in front of glaciers slow down melting and possibly avert devastating sea level rise? A postdoctoral researcher at Princeton thinks it might, proposing that a wall’s construction on a glacier grounding line could limit warm water from melting the ice from below. The idea is still in its very early stages and has many engineering and feasibility questions that still need to be addressed.
This week, learn how religion and climate change intersect in Peru through “Fire and Ice on the Mountain,” a short documentary film by independent filmmaker and American University professor Bill Gentile.
The Huaytapallana mountain glaciers are the main water source for the Huancayo people during the melting season and spiritually significant during the Andean New Year. With the glacier melting in recent decades, the local government has doubled its conservation efforts. In the documentary, Gentile and Swedish anthropologist Karsten Paerregaard team up to find out how the melting of the glaciers impacts the Peruvian communities and their spiritual connection.
From The Washington Post: “A U.S. Geological Survey study documenting how climate change has “dramatically reduced” glaciers in Montana came under fire from high-level Interior Department officials last May, according to a batch of newly released records under the Freedom of Information Act, as they questioned federal scientists’ description of the decline. Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular areas at Interior, alerted colleagues in a May 10 email to the language the USGS had used to publicize a study documenting the shrinking of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966. Domenech wrote to three other Interior officials, ‘This is a perfect example of them going beyond their wheelhouse.'”
From Journal of Glaciology: “Accurate quantification of rates of glacier mass loss is critical for managing water resources and for assessing hazards at ice-clad volcanoes, especially in arid regions like southern Peru. In these regions, glacier and snow melt are crucial dry season water resources. In order to verify previously reported rates of ice area decline at Nevado Coropuna in Peru, which are anomalously rapid for tropical glaciers, we measured changes in ice cap area using 259 Landsat images acquired from 1980 to 2014. If glacier recession continues at its present rate, our results suggest that Coropuna Ice Cap will likely continue to contribute to water supply for agricultural and domestic uses until ∼2120, which is nearly 100 years longer than previously predicted.”
From Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science: “Kelp forests are complex underwater habitats that support diverse assemblages of animals ranging from sessile filter feeding invertebrates to fishes and marine mammals. In this study, the diversity of invertebrate fauna associated with kelp holdfasts was surveyed in a high Arctic glacial fjord (76 N, Hornsund, Svalbard).”
Read more about kelp in a high Arctic glacial fjord here.
The availability of water under ever-increasing climate stress has never been more important. Nowhere is this more apparent than in glacial mountain regions where runoff from glaciers provides water in times of drought or low river flows. As glaciers retreat due to climate change, the water supplied to these basins will diminish. To better understand these hydrological changes, a recent study published in Nature Climate Change examined the world’s largest glacierized drainage basins under future climate change scenarios.
Expansive in scale, the study differentiates itself from previous research that assessed the hydro-glacier issue at more localized scales like specific mountain ranges, for example. This study analyzes 56 glacierized drainage basins on four continents excluding Antarctica and Greenland. The basins examined were selected based on their size: they needed to be bigger than 5,000 km2, in addition to having at least 30 km2 of ice cover and greater than 0.01 percent of total glacier cover during the chosen base period of 1981 to 2010.
The motivation behind the study’s global scale, the first ever completed, according to Regine Hock, one of the study’s authors, is that “at a local scale you can only cover a fraction of the glaciers/catchments that may be relevant.” She told GlacierHub that while there are advantages to local studies because they can be more detailed and accurate, the advantage of a global study is that spatial patterns across regions can be identified and analyzed.
In order to calculate changes in glacial mass and accompanying runoff, defined as water that leaves a glacierized area, the authors utilized the Global Glacier Evolution Model to simulate relevant glacial processes including mass accumulation and loss, changes in glacial extent, and glacier elevation. The glacier model was driven by three of the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP). These are future greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration scenarios based on different socio-economic pathways. The RCP’s chosen by the authors were the 2.6 scenario, which they note is the most similar to the 2015 Paris agreement, the 4.5 scenario where GHG concentrations stabilize by 2100, and the 8.5 or “business-as-usual” scenario where GHG concentrations continue to increase past 2100.
How do these three scenarios impact glacial volume in the study’s glacierized basins? After running the glacier model, total volume was projected to decrease in all three with a decrease of 43±14 percent for the 2.6, 58±13 percent for the 4.5, and 74±11 percent for the 8.5, respectively.
A decrease in glacial volume will in the short term mean an increase in water for a basin as runoff increases, that is until the point of “peak water,” where the amount of glacial runoff begins to decrease as glacier volume declines. Distressingly, peak water has already been reached in 45 percent of the basins examined in the study including most of the Andes, Alps, and Rocky Mountains.
Three factors— total glacial area, ice cover as a fraction of the basin, and the basin’s latitude— influence the timing of peak water occurrence in a basin. Basins with many large glaciers at higher latitudes like in coastal Alaska were projected to reach peak water near the end of the century whereas basins closer to the equator with small glaciers like the Peruvian Andes have already experienced or will soon experience peak water. Furthermore, the Himalayas are projected to experience peak water around mid-century as their high elevation tempers the effect of their relatively low latitude.
The study also examined changes to glacial runoff on a monthly timescale for the years 2050 and 2100, focusing specifically on the melt season from June to October in the Northern Hemisphere and December to April in the Southern Hemisphere. The monthly results showed spatial consistency, which surprised the authors, according to Hock, with runoff increasing in almost all basins at the beginning of the melt season (June/December) and decreasing toward the end (August and September/February and March). Another unexpected finding was the significant reduction in overall runoff, up to a 10 percent decrease by 2100 in at least one month, in basins with very low glacial cover, a phenomenon that was observed in a third of the basins, Hock added.
It is important to remember that these changes in basin runoff mean more than just changing numbers and statistics: there are people and communities that rely on water provided by glaciers. The authors note that 26 percent of the Earth’s land surface is covered by glacierized drainage basins, impacting a third of the world’s population.
The ramifications of glacier retreat will not be felt equally across the basins observed in this study. When asked what regions are most at risk, Hock identified both the Andes and Central Asia as places of concern. In the Andes, runoff is decreasing in almost all basins. This is of particular concern due to the limited water resources of the South American west coast. In Central Asia, glaciers contribute to basin runoff in all months, leading to potential problems if runoff is significantly reduced.
These regions, along with other glacier reliant places, face an uncertain and atypical water future, one that will likely see an increase in glacial runoff, followed by a sharp decline.To prepare for these forthcoming challenges, further study is needed, particularly with a focus on the human dimensions of glacial retreat.
Franz Josef Islands Separate due to Glacier Retreat
From A Glacier’s Perspective: “Hall and Littrow Island are two islands in the southern part of Franz Josef Land, Russia that have until 2016 been connected by glacier. Sharov et al (2014) generated a map with the MAIRES Project illustrating the glacier connection was failing… The connection between Sonklar Glacier and the neighboring glacier, at the pink arrow, has failed. The lack of sea ice in the region is exposing the marine margins of the ice caps in Franz Josef Land to enhanced melting. This has and will lead to more coastal changes and island separations.”
Scientists Create Glacier Research Forum in Pakistan
From The Express Tribune: “Scientists have resolved to set up a forum which would consolidate all research studies from different institutions on glaciers in the mountainous ranges in Pakistan… “It will be a national platform for glacier research… We want to integrate their [different institutions’] studies to avoid duplications and to consolidate research work of all Pakistani institutions,” PMD Director-General, Dr. Ghulam Rasul explained to The Express Tribune.”
Acid Rock Drainage in Nevado Pastoruri Glacier Area in Peru
From Environmental Science and Pollution Research: “The generation of acid rock drainage (ARD) was observed in an area of Nevado Pastoruri as a result of the oxidative dissolution of pyrite-rich lutites and sandstones. These ARDs are generated as abundant pyrite becomes exposed to atmospheric conditions as a result of glacier retreat. The proglacial zone contains lagoons, springs, streams and wetlands, scant vegetation, and intense fluvioglacial erosion. This work reports a comprehensive identification and the results of sampling of the lagoons and springs belonging to the microbasin, which is the headwaters of the Pachacoto River, as well as mapping results based on the hydrochemical data obtained in our study.”
This op-ed originally appeared on WashingtonPost.com and was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.
When the poisoned river ran red with heavy metals, people from nearby communities didn’t believe at first that climate change was to blame. In this small village nestled in the Cordillera Blanca, a majestic mountain range that contains several of the highest peaks in South America, the glaciers melted and metal-rich rocks were exposed to the air for the first time in thousands of years.
The glacial meltwater washing over the exposed rocks carried metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and iron into area waterways, turning rivers like the Rio Negro a rust red. This contaminated both soil and water and posed a significant health risk. Over time, people, wildlife and livestock who drank the water became sick, and crop productivity plummeted.
As headlines of global climate change become more alarming, it’s easy to forget that climate change is also an intensely local problem. Startling statistics announcing that the snowcaps of the Andes or Alps will disappear before the end of this century conceal the fact that hundreds of smaller glaciers in these mountain ranges have already melted away, leaving a trail of devastation and threatening thousands of families’ way of life.
In Peru, the government conducted a national inventory in 2013 and found that between 1970 and 2003, the 19 Peruvian mountain ranges with glaciers lost around 40 percent of their total ice surface. Some very large glacier ranges have already lost a third of their perennial ice, and some smaller glaciers no longer exist at all.
Silently, climate change has started to leave a trail of disasters in these mountains, and that has consequences for major lowland cities that rely, knowingly or not, on mountain ecosystems for food and water, agriculture and livelihoods. In a place like Peru, climate change adaptation begins in the mountains. And alpine communities are scrambling to find ways of adjusting to a new reality.
In the remote mountain villages around the Rio Negro, that adaptation effort took a curious and innovative form. To restore the poisoned river water and contaminated landscape around it, villagers collaborated with scientists from the Mountain Institute and with academic specialists. With training, they built a water purification system that collects the acidic river water in small ponds. Then, using local traditional knowledge, they planted native plant species that could absorb metals from the water.
Involving the communities on the front lines of climate change in this way is vital to finding concrete solutions to local problems; the open dialogue and collegial relationship with the scientists empowered the local community, sparking a palpable sense of pride in both local traditions and scientific solutions to complex climate problems.
And it wasn’t the only time traditional knowledge helped restore a landscape degraded by climate change.
In the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Reserve of central Peru, Guadalupe Beraun, a wise and respected grandmother from the small village of Canchayllo, was showing me around the parched pastures where her sheep and cattle used to graze. The mountain peaks towered darkly above us. A small glacier called Wacra used to glisten there, a blinding white against the dark mountain and blue sky beyond. But year after year, it receded, finally disappearing completely around 1990.
Once the glacier was lost, the wetlands started drying up, and sheep and cattle had to be moved down the mountain to pastures that still had a few ponds. Wild vicuna, a relative of llamas, also had to migrate elsewhere. I asked Guadalupe what these drastic, local changes have meant to her. She paused and said, “It’s changed my whole way of life. When I walk here now, I long to see vicuna in the grasslands, like before. I used to sing to them to show my happiness and gratitude to this place.”
Where Guadalupe lives, people have relied on glacial meltwater to supply their alpine wetlands and grasslands, known as the puna, for as long as anyone can remember. The puna ecosystem extends from around 13,000 feet to 16,000 feet, a belt of pastures above the tree line and below the glaciers. Traditional ways of making a living at this high altitude rely on a healthy ecosystem. Villagers raise sheep, cattle and alpaca and also sheer wild vicuna for their valuable wool. Local farmers grow native potatoes and lesser-known tubers such as oca, olluco and mashua as well as corn, quinoa, broad beans, squash, fodder crops and much more. Their food and water security has always depended on glacial meltwater.
As glaciers receded, dozens of villagers like Guadalupe left their highland pastures years ago and began to over-exploit grasslands at lower elevations. But those pastures, too, were only going to last a few years. Locals were well aware that the puna would continue to degrade, livestock would suffer, and the ecosystem itself would eventually collapse. A more permanent solution — a sustainable adaptation to climate change — had to be found.
Together with scientists from the Mountain Institute and the National Agrarian University in Lima, villagers from Canchayllo and nearby Miraflores planned a “back-to-the-future” solution. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, they chose to honor their ancestors’ impressive engineering by restoring ancient, local infrastructure that was used to regulate water in the puna.
The water management systems developed in ancient Peru involved a set of technologies designed to slow or retain water in high alpine territories. The purpose was to keep water available for use as long as possible in the dry season. These ancient systems included dams and reservoirs of different sizes, irrigation canals and large silt traps that kept soil from being eroded in years of intense rain. They also encouraged wetlands to develop. The excess soil in these silt traps could be “harvested” and used in terraces in warm valleys below the puna.
Pre-Inca civilizations in the Andes maintained highland pastures with water technologies that slowed the movement of water through grasses and soils and provided a buffer against flooding and drought. Local wildlife flourished. A steady supply of water supported lush pastures and livestock, who in turn provided manure, used as fertilizer for corn, tubers, hard grains and the hundreds of potato varieties that are native to mountain valleys in the Andes.
Over the centuries, most of this infrastructure was abandoned. Today, older villagers only remember some of the locations and uses. The social and demographic collapse of indigenous cultures after the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532 helps explain why these ancient socio-technological systems decayed. In more recent times, glacier retreat, changes in precipitation, loss of local labor and shifts away from traditional herding and farming practices have all contributed to the abandonment of this infrastructure and the degradation of the puna ecosystem.
But that’s starting to change. Villagers and scientists worked together to restore some of the ancient canals, and the wetlands began coming back to life. Cattle and sheep graze once again in revitalized highland pastures. The approach once again produced a strong sense of pride that traditional knowledge was being used to enable the community to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
The disappearing glaciers of the tropical Andes are our preview of what climate change has in store for mountain communities as well as the millions of people in lowland areas whose livelihoods depend on high-elevation ecosystems. We must prepare in our own regions by following the lead of these mountain people and learning from them as agents of change. We should pay close attention; mountains near the equator are our canary in the coal mine. They are the Earth’s thermometer — an early indicator of a planetary fever.
I am hopeful and inspired by the mountain communities that live at the foot of receding glaciers. Their creativity, tenacity and resilience come from their deep trust in nature and their kinship with the mountains that surround them. They can teach all of us how to start adapting to a future without glaciers.