Pre-industrial Anthropocene Detected in Peru

Humans may have begun to pollute the atmosphere earlier than we thought. So says recent research conducted at the Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru, where scientists drilled into the ice to pull out cores, which they could read like ancient texts.

QuelccayaThose cores show widespread traces of copper and lead starting in about A.D. 1540, which corresponds to the end of the Inca empire and a period of mining and metallurgy when the areas that are now Peru and Bolivia became part of the Spanish Empire. The findings, published by Paolo Gabrielli and colleagues in February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest for the first time that the Anthropocene, the geological epoch defined by massive and widespread human impacts on the planet, began about 240 years before the industrial age arrived on the scene with its steam engines and its coal plants.

Scientists have long used glacier ice cores to learn about the Earth’s climates and air pollution and reconstruct pollution histories. In Greenland, for example, they have traced metals found in ice cores back to ancient Greek and Roman mining operations. The pattern of climate changes and air quality are recorded in the ice itself as glaciers grow, accumulating layer after layer of ice, year after year. For example, winter layers are often thicker and lighter in color, while summer layers are often thinner and darker because of less snowfall and more dust in summer. Scientists can read these layers much in the same way they read tree rings to calculate historical environmental conditions, including snowfall and atmospheric composition.

Layers in Quelccaya ice cap (Source: Emporia State)
Layers in Quelccaya ice cap (Source: Emporia State)

Once the scientists have removed the ice cores from a glacier, they can analyze the trace elements in the ice itself. They also study the air bubbles trapped in those cores at the time of their formation to learn about the chemical components of the atmosphere. According to Paolo Gabrielli, an Earth scientist at Ohio State University, anything in the air at the time the glacier layer was formed, such as soot particles, dust and a wide variety of chemicals, will be trapped in the ice layers as well. Gabrielli says there are no glaciers on Earth in which traces of anthropogenic air pollution cannot be detected.

Gabrielli and his team found that lead levels in the Quelccaya ice core doubled between 1450 and 1900, while the amount of chemical element antimony (Sb) in the ice was 3.5 times greater than  before. They also compared data from a peat bog in Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and from sedimentary lake records from regions including Potosí and other mines throughout Bolivia and Peru to determine the path the pollution took, and found that most of the pollution was carried to the Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru by the wind.

In the 16th century, the Spanish colonial authorities forced the indigenous populations in South America to extract ore and refine silver from the mountaintop mines of Potosi. They introduced mercury amalgamation, a new technology, to expand silver production, which lead to dramatic increases in the amounts of trace metals released into the atmosphere.

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Silver Mining in South America Source: La Salle University

“This evidence supports the idea that human impact on the environment was widespread even before the industrial revolution,” Gabrielli said in a statement on Ohio State University’s website.

While the industrial economies in 20th century produced more pollution than any other time in human history, colonial mining should be considered the beginning of the Anthropocene, according to these new findings.

For more information about Quelccaya, look here.

Photo Friday: Yerupaja

The mountain Yerupaja in the Cordillera Huayhuash locates at the west central Peru. It is part of the Peruvian Andes and ranks as the second highest mountain in Peru. As one of the hardest mountains along the Andes to climb, it draws mountaineers from all over the world, who come to conquer this high peak.

For more photos featuring glaciers from Peru, look here.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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GlacierHub’s Top Ten Posts in 2014

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  1. Will An Icelandic Volcano Erupt Under A Glacier In 2015?
  2. Craters Have Appeared On Two Glaciers In Iceland
  3. Glacier Archaeology Comes Of Age
  4. Artists Stage Glacier Worship In Peru For Climate Change
  5. The Risk Of An Exploding Glacier is Heating Up In Iceland
  6. Bhutan’s Glaciers and Yak Herds Are Shrinking
  7. If A Glacier Melts On A Mountain, Does Anyone Hear It?
  8. As Glacier Melt, Bodies Resurface
  9. Flooded With Memories In Nepal
  10. A Walk To A Place Where The “Mountains Are Weeping

Late December brings an opportunity for those of us at GlacierHub to look back over 2014. We launched the site on 7 July, and have published 140 posts since then.

Three of the ten top stories of the year have featured Barðarbunga, the volcano in Iceland that erupted in late August and has continued to issue lava ever since. There were several moments when it appeared that lava might emerge under Vatnajökull, the country’s largest glacier, which would lead to vast clouds of steam and ash, and create a risk of outburst floods as well. Though such an event has not taken place, it remains within the realm of possibility. Barðarbunga was the topic of the story in seventh place for the number of pageviews, the mid-August announcement that an eruption was likely. The second-place story, in September, reported on craters that appeared on glaciers, the result of subsidence as magma flowed out from under them to other places on the surface. And the story with the largest number of pageviews was published the day before Christmas. It discussed the announcement by a Danish bank that a major eruption of Barðarbunga is one of the serious, underrated threats to the world economy in 2015, since the release of ash could threaten crop yields and food supplies in many regions.

Lava at Bardarbunga and volcanic gasses (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/ Morgnebladid)
Lava at Bardarbunga and volcanic gasses (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/ Morgnebladid)

Also in the top 10 are two stories on science and two on art. The science posts are closely related topically. Both of them examine the study of things that have emerged from retreating glaciers. One discusses human remains—some thousands of years old, others only decades old—that had been preserved in ice and have recently appeared. Another, the third highest-ranked story in 2014, gives an overview of the field of glacier archaeology and the new journal that discusses research in this area.

Arrows with shell points recovered from the Løpesfonna snow patch. (a) T25172; (b) T25684. Photo by Åge Hojem:NTNU-Museum of Natural History and Archaeol- ogy. Layout Martin Callanan. Callanan et al, 2014, Journal of Glacier Archaeology, Vol. 1. Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Arrows with shell points recovered from the Løpesfonna snow patch. (a) T25172; (b) T25684. Photo by Åge Hojem:NTNU-Museum of Natural History and Archaeol- ogy. Layout Martin Callanan. Callanan et al, 2014, Journal of Glacier Archaeology, Vol. 1. Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The art posts, by contrast, are related spatially, since they are both set in the Peruvian Andes. One story from August reports on a trip made by a musician and an anthropologist to record the sounds made by ice and water at different points on a glacier. Another story, from October, details the installations and performance pieces produced by a group of two dozen artists and a dozen indigenous herders who camped for ten days near a glacier.

Tomás Tello recording sounds of dripping water at Quelccaya glacier. Photo: Gustavo Valdivia)
Tomás Tello recording sounds of dripping water at Quelccaya glacier. (Photo: Gustavo Valdivia)

The remaining three stories also form a group. They consist of personal narratives by anthropologists of travels from lower areas up towards glaciers. They all discuss the experiences of the individual writer and of the people whom they meet along the way. Each of them links glaciers with memories, telling of how people saw glaciers in earlier times and how glaciers serve as records of change. Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, who grew up in Kathmandu, traveled to the remote high villages where her parents were born. As she spoke with local residents, she came to understand their reticence in speaking of these disasters. Gísli Pálsson trekked up to a glacier in a distant part of his native Iceland with his wife and two friends; though they anticipated nothing more than a day-long outing, their walk brought surprises—meeting foreign tourists as well as locals, facing difficulties on the trail, recalling earlier periods of Icelandic history, encountering unexpected sights and sounds. And I wrote one about a hike in Bhutan last October, where I met a yak-herder who told me of the changes he has seen in decades of visiting glaciers, and whose observations prepared me when I came upon yak-herder camps on high ridges.

Trail in Pharak. (Pasang Sherpa)
Trail in Pharak. (Pasang Sherpa)

These four sets of stories might seem very disparate, since they cover a natural hazard, science, art and personal experiences and memories. But they show how glaciers can command human attention and emotion, whether anxiety about a possible disaster, the curiosity of scientists, the esthetic concerns of artists, or the personal experiences and memories of people who inhabit mountain regions. One lesson, perhaps, is that glaciers serve so well to convey the importance of climate change because they address not only the material side of life but the imaginative side as well.

This appeal of glaciers ranges not only over topics but over places as well. GlacierHub received visits from 175 countries. People came to the site from every country in the world, with only a handful of exceptions—a contiguous set of African countries centered in the Sahel with the two outliers of Botswana and Somalia; Afghanistan and Turkmenistan; and North Korea. The United States and Britain were, unsurprisingly, the two countries with the largest number of visitors, but the top 25 included some smaller countries with glaciers, both within western and central Europe (Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Iceland) and elsewhere (Bhutan, Nepal, Peru, Chile, Georgia).

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We look forward to an active year in 2015. Science, art and personal experience are likely to continue as themes. Unexpected events may also capture our attention. And issues of politics and policy—well-represented in our posts though not in the top 10—may grow in importance as well. We welcome our readers to send us suggestions for topics, and to contribute posts of their own as well.

As Peru’s Glacier Vanish, Villagers Appeal To The Gods

Peruvian villagers trek up Peru's Mount Hualca Hualca to make an offering to a mountain lord. (Photo: Astrid Stensrud)
Peruvian villagers trek up Peru’s Mount Hualca Hualca to make an offering to a mountain lord. (Photo: Astrid Stensrud)

In October 2011, while I was conducting ethnographic research on water and climate change in southern Peru’s Colca Valley, I was invited to join the villagers of Pinchollo on a hike up to the point at the foot of a glacier where meltwater starts flowing down towards the village. There, we offered a gift to the mountain lord Hualca Hualca, whom they regard as a living and powerful being. The gift contained dried alpaca fetuses, llama fat, maize, coca leaves, sweets, fruit, flowers, wine and chicha, a kind of maize beer. As the leader of the village irrigation group presented these gifts, he asked Hualca Hualca to not forget the people, to give them more water and to protect the village. At that moment, a large chunk of ice fell down. The villagers understood this to mean that Hualca Hualca was pleased with the gift and was saying to them, ‘Look, here is the water!’

Rising 6,025 meters above sea level in the southern Peruvian Andes, Mount Hualca Hualca provides several villages in the Colca Valley with glacial meltwater for irrigation and human consumption. In the village of Pinchollo, about sixty percent of the fields are irrigated with water from Hualca Hualca. During the last couple of decades, however, villagers have been increasingly noticing glacial shrinkage and decreasing water levels in the springs, which are fed by rainwater and meltwater.

(Photo: Astrid Stensrud)
(Photo: Astrid Stensrud)

Several mountain springs have dried up completely during the last few years. Local people are starting to blame global warming, as they frame water scarcity in new narratives that are promoted by national and international NGOs and governmental agencies. Moreover, though water is scarcer, the flow of the meltwater is stronger when it does occur, destroying the canals and eroding the soil. Hence, the water flows downvalley rather than being used for irrigation. The villagers are concerned that the water will be wasted as it flows down into the Pacific Ocean. One of the elderly peasant farmers in Pinchollo expressed his concern about Hualca Hualca in this way:

“In August and September there is a strong flow that starts in the glacier, it is the meltwater. The white snow can no longer be seen after September. There is less ice than before. […] If the glacier disappears, there is no life anymore; there is no village anymore. The mountain supports us. Who will contain the thaw? Earlier the snow of Hualca Hualca reached the foot of the mountain. Now there is little snow.”

Living with the highly unpredictable weather in the semi-arid Andean mountain environment, the peasant farmers are dependent on water and the administration of it, including modern institutions of water management as well as various other-than-human beings like the mountain lord to whom we made an offering.

(Photo: Astrid Stensrud)
(Photo: Astrid Stensrud)

Today, global warming produces effects on temperature, precipitation, seasonality, glacier retreat and water supply. The dwindling resources lead to new uncertainties about the future. Peru contains seventy percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are the most visible indicators of climate change due to their sensitivity to increased temperatures and the visibility of their shrinkage. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there has been a 22 percent reduction of the total glacier area in Peru during the last 35 years, and a reduction of up to 80 percent of glacier surface from very small glaciers the last 30 years.

For the peasant farmers in Colca Valley, climate change is not something that may happen in the future but is an immediate, lived reality that they struggle to apprehend, negotiate, and respond to. The valley is a poverty-stricken area where a peasant family might lose everything in case of a failed harvest: without savings and insurance they would be dependent on government relief, help from the community, expensive credit loans, or alternative income-strategies to make ends meet.

(Photo: Astrid Stensrud)
(Photo: Astrid Stensrud)

This challenge is the main concern in the article “Climate Change, Water Practices, and Relational Worlds in the Andes”, published online in Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. The article argues that ethnography can contribute to disrupt the boundaries that might separate ecological and political dynamics by focusing on how nature and water are practiced in different, but overlapping ways in Colca Valley.

Researchers, activists, and politicians all over the world agree that situations like this one necessitates urgent ecological and political action. What is not necessarily agreed upon, however, are which entities this action should relate to, and which outcomes it could lead to? Ultimately, this divergence is about what kind of world – or worlds – we live in.

For additional information on glacier retreat in the Peruvian Andes, please read this story on solid waste management and this story on tourism.

This guest post was written by Astrid B. Stensrud, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo’s Department of Social Anthropology. If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at glacierhub@gmail.com or @glacierhub on Twitter. 

Roundup: Glacier Ed, New Glacier Group, Measuring Xinjiang Ice

Educating the Public about Glaciers at a Park in Peru

“Peru, the host country for this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has one of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in the Americas. But scientists said it is among countries which will be most impacted by climate hazards. To educate the public, one park has created a climate change route for tourists. CCTV America’s Dan Collyns reported this story from Lima, Peru.”

Read more at CCTV America.

 

New Glacier Climate Group Gathers in Montana

“Glacier Climate Action is a loose confederation of concerned citizens in the communities near Glacier National Park. We plan to make our voices heard, celebrate local solutions, and let elected officials know that we expect them to act now to avert a climate crisis that threatens to devastate the future of our grandchildren and theirs.”

Read more at Conserve Montana.

 

Changes in Glacier Mass and Water Resources in Xinjiang, China

“It is important to understand and quantify glacier changes and their impact on water resources in Hami Prefecture, an extremely arid region in the eastern Xinjiang of northwestern China. Yushugou Glacier No. 6 and Miaoergou Ice Cap in Hami Prefecture were selected in this study. Results showed that the thickness of Yushugou Glacier No. 6 decreased by 20 m with a rate of 0.51 m/y from 1972 to 2011 and the terminus retreated by 254 m, or 6.5 m/y for the same period.”

Read more of the article written by Wang et al., 2014.

Photo Friday: Around Ausangate

About 100 kilometers southeast of Cuzco sits the majestic Ausangate mountain, which is surrounded by herds of alpaca and communities of llama herders. The mountain was considered a deity by the Incans and today backpackers enjoy the Ausengate circuit, a hike that circles the mountain in five or six days. Here is a selection of photos from along the route, courtesy of Flickr users Rick McCharles, Tim Farley, Josh, Indrik myneur, and Aaron Korr.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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Artists Stage Glacier Worship to Fight Climate Change

Artist Ishmael Randal working on his site specific installation near the HAWAPI base camp © Maxim Holland
Artist Ishmael Randal working on his site specific installation near the HAWAPI base camp © Maxim Holland

In early October, Peruvian artist Maxim Holland attempted to make an offering of water to a remote and legendary tropical glacier in the Peruvian Andes named Pariacaca, which is situated 13,000 feet above the sea. He lugged 150 liters of bottled water up to the foot of the glacier with the intention of boiling it until it evaporated into the thin mountain air. But the firewood, sticks and cow patties he and the other artists accompanying him were able to collect at the site only kept the fire burning long enough to consume part of his liquid sacrifice. The rest, he carried back down the mountain. The performance piece was part of a 10-day retreat into the Peruvian Andes called HAWAPI 2014 that Holland organized to bring attention to climate change and its human and environmental impacts.

On October 6, Holland and an international group of 23 other artists plus a dozen Andean herders climbed up to the site just below the glacier, which is about an hour by car and two by foot from the nearest town, Tanta. They were accompanied by a pack of some 80 llamas that wound along the scrubby golden mountain trails lugging food and an odd assortment of art supplies for the group—huge copper plates, stretches of rebar, gutters, tanks of helium, welding equipment. When they arrived, they set up a solar-powered camp between two glacial lakes, and for the next ten days, they cooked, ate, slept, and battled the elements to create art in the shadow of the glacier.

HAWAPI, the Quechua word for “outside,” is an itinerant arts collective that stages art events in remote regions of Peru, and this one was timed to coincide with the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change. The meeting will convene in Lima in early December, just as work from HAWAPI goes up at the Lima Contemporary Museum of Art, a show that runs from Dec. 3- Jan. 9. Many of the pieces were installed permanently at the site of the mountain camp, but documentation of their creation will be part of the museum’s exhibit.

The HAWAPI base camp with the Piticocha lake in background. © Maxim Holland.
The HAWAPI base camp with the Piticocha lake in background. © Maxim Holland.

In mid October, the Peruvian government announced that climate change had shrunk the country’s glaciers by 40 percent over the past four decades, and that the meltwater has given life to 1,000 new high-altitude lakes since the 1980s. Peru hosts 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are particularly vulnerable to rising global temperatures, and the country’s glaciers are the source of most of the country’s drinking water. Without them, the rivers will run dry.

“I think it’s essential that the Pariacaca glacier be incorporated into the imagination of every resident of Lima, because it’s part of their inheritance and today it seems a little bit forgotten,” wrote Alejandro Jaime, one of the artists who participated in the project, in an email (translated from Spanish). Jaime has  a long history of producing art that showcases or addresses Pariacaca. “So, I find these creative projects like HAWAPI that are developed around this mountain symbol very healthy, that they broadcast the glacier’s presence and importance for those who drink its waters.”

 Alejandro Jaime working with the ice and snow on the glacier. © Maxim Holland.
Alejandro Jaime working with the ice and snow on the glacier. © Maxim Holland.

Glaciers have long been worshipped in the Peruvian Andes as sacred overlords of climate, keepers of rain, and they are still celebrated in annual rites called champería by many Andean communities, according to Frank Salomon, a scholar of the region.

“In any province in the Andes, most people have one particular mountain they think of being as the overlord of the climate in their area,” says Salomon. “That establishes relationships between people and mountains that have to be attended to. Otherwise, people are not in the right relation with their environment.”

Pariacaca could be considered among the most treasured of Peru’s glacier gods, particularly among scholars, given that the rituals practiced here during Incan times were recorded by a priest and preserved in a storied text known as The Huarochirí Manuscript.

The HAWAPI artists attempted to engage both with local environment and its culture during their stay in the mountains. The group invited residents of Tanta to come and visit midway through their residency, and some 70 townspeople showed up to perform traditional music and dances. Many of the artists also designed projects that gestured at ancient Inca rites and practices, and to man’s influence on nature.

Peruvian artist Ishmael Randal Weeks, for instance, carved a seat out of rock in a spot with a view of Pariacaca. The sculpted seat was meant as a direct reference to the Incan “Ushnus” still found all over Cuzco, stone carved seats often placed facing holy sites, such as mountains, and configured in such a way as to intersect with sacred lines that were thought to radiate out of the city. Randal also diverted a small waterfall near the camp through a series of gutters, to emphasize nature’s tendency to take its own course regardless of human interventions.

Pariacaca peak. © Maxim Holland.
Pariacaca peak. © Maxim Holland.

Haresh Bhojwani of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in New York attempted to launch his Carbon Cube project—but faced some complications. He planned to represent with helium balloons the amount of coal burnt each day in the world: 300 meters by 300 meters, which is as wide and as long as the Empire State Building. But the balloons were too fragile to survive the conditions on the mountain. Ultimately, the group managed to represent a single second of coal consumption, 7 meters by 7 meters, using string, in a collaborative effort to salvage the project.

A couple of New York-based drone artists, Nina and Georgi Tushev, also participated in the project virtually via a tiny drone sent in with the group. Other participants included Colectivo ¿Emergentes?, a group of young artists who create public art happenings in Lima; Amsterdam-based Peruvian artist Teresa Borasino; sound artists and climate change activists Frank Cebreros and Nahu Rodriguez; and sculptor and installation artist Raura Oblitas.

Holland and two other artists were intent on having direct contact with the glacier itself, so they made a four-hour hike out from the campsite. But the glacier was very visible from the camp. “We had a direct view of the glacier, it was a constant presence,” he said.

(Read more about artists who incorporate glaciers into their work on GlacierHub, here and here.)

Llamas being loaded with supplies in preparation for the hike up to the base camp. ©Maxim Holland.
Llamas being loaded with supplies in preparation for the hike up to the base camp. ©Maxim Holland.

Roundup: Glacier Names, Pakistani Disasters and More

Iceland names 130 new glaciers

“The new names mainly refer to places in the vicinity. For example, Kerlingarbaksjökull lies to the west of the mountain Kerling in Eyjafjörður, Sýlingarjökull in Svarfaðardalur is named after the mountain Auðnasýling and Dyrajökull lies in the Dyrfjöll mountains in Borgarfjörður eystri, as stated on ruv.is. Oddur is working with local and U.S. colleagues on making a map for an international glacier atlas.”

Read the full story in the Iceland Review.

 

Pakistan is suffering from disasters caused by climate change

“If we look at the current disaster history of Pakistan, the country has encountered multiple disasters which are only caused by the climate change phenomena, which includes coastal flooding, drought, and flash floods. Among these the melting of glacier causing glacial outbursts observed an unprecedented events in northern part of the country.”

Read more about disaster risk reduction in The Dardistant Times.

 

Controversy on tropical glaciers

“Yet the idea that the ice cap has retreated over time because of a change in temperature, rather than other possible factors like reduced snowfall, has always been more of a surmise than a proven case. In fact, how to interpret the disappearance of glaciers throughout the tropics has been a scientific controversy. ”

Read more about scientific battles on tropical glaciers in The New York Times.

UN looks to locals for climate solutions

When attacking a problem as complex and diverse as climate change, sometimes the best way is from the ground up. Bringing indigenous communities, including those near glacier in high mountain regions, into the discussion is the new tactic discussed at a September 24 meeting at the United Nations Development Programme in New York during Climate Week. With many heads of state present at the UN headquarters two blocks away, security was tight.

Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)
Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)

The event, “Building Indigenous Knowledge into Climate Change Assessments: A Roundtable Discussion,” was sponsored by UNESCO. It drew together nearly two dozen representatives from international agencies, NGOs, indigenous communities and universities. Its goal was to increase the presence of indigenous knowledge in climate assessments, and to use this knowledge to promote effective adaptation efforts. The meeting built on two key statements in the Summary for Policy-makers of Working Group II of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: that “including indigenous peoples’ holistic views of community and environment are a major resource for adapting to climate change” and that these views “have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts.”

The animated discussions lasted well over three hours. The meeting was chaired by Douglas Nakashima, the chief of the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems Programme of UNESCO and Minnie Degawan, a member of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous community of the Philippines and a Senior Advisor of the World Wildlife Fund Forest and Climate Initiative. Nakashima opened with a thoughtful review of the involvement of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge in the IPCC and the UNFCCC over the last 10 years, and of the efforts of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, a network of indigenous peoples who engage with the UNFCCC, to expand this role.

A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)

Discussions focused on indigenous knowledge about climate change, the ways that indigenous peoples bring their knowledge into adaptation, and an exploration of the opportunities and barriers to fuller incorporation of this knowledge into global climate assessments. The issue of indigenous youth came up again and again, with the concern for assuring continuity of strong indigenous communities on their lands. They included detailed case studies of different communities and of international organizations. Of the nine speakers, five were representatives of indigenous communities, principally from Southeast Asia and North America. Indigenous people formed a majority of the discussants and commentators as well.

A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)

I spoke on communities around glaciers, including indigenous Quechua-speakers in Peru and Sherpas in Nepal. I reflected on the ways that some groupings of peoples and regions—glacier regions, the Arctic, low-lying islands—are relatively new to the United Nations, reflecting the growing awareness of climate impacts. I drew on several posts in GlacierHub, including the introduction of greenhouses to a region in Nepal, a discussion of waste management in a national park in Peru, and conflicts over the governance of mountaineering in Nepal. These stories dovetailed with other accounts at the meeting, which also examined the way that the integration of local knowledge into projects was linked to local control over land as well, and addressed the power inequalities within and between countries.

Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)
Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)

People spoke with intensity and listened to each other closely, providing many comments and drawing out comparisons across disparate cases. The discussion became fast-paced after Youba Sokona, the Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III on Mitigation, offered an overview of the process of writing assessment reports with a focus on the potential for greater incorporation of indigenous knowledge. The group came up with several recommendations—still under discussion—for concrete future steps, leading up to the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris in December 2015.

Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)
Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)

 

Traces of tourism at the Peru glacier are more than footprints

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It’s not a landfill, but Peru’s Huascarán National Park. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

Pastoruri Glacier in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has gone through many different cycles. In the 1980s and well into the 1990s, in was a prime spot for tourism. Easily accessible in spite of its altitude above 5,000 meters, groups of skiers, backpackers, and high school spring breakers flocked to the icefields. In 2001, the glacier at Pastoruri gained nationwide attention when the peasant community, claiming ownership of the surrounding territories, seized control over the national park entrance. And this year, as it has been explained elsewhere on GlacierHub, whatever’s left of the dwindling glacier became central to the Huascarán National Park’s Route of Climate Change initiative. Anyone traveling here can see the newest cycle, one not dominated by people but of their trash.

We leave early from the community headquarters. Our vehicle is the community truck, which on other occasions may be used as transportation for people, animals, heavy gear, tools, and construction materials. But on this day its wooden truck body is destined to carry the leftovers from tourists: plastic bottles, napkins, candy-bar wrappings, banana peels, and all sorts of unimaginable stuff that was only of temporary use to the visitors.

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Collection of garbage near the Pastoruri glacier and roads occurs about once a week. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

The presence of garbage, the plastic bags used by people to slide down the glacier, and the general wear and tear of the ice by the visitors combined with the global warming trends to produce heavy retreat of the Pastoruri glacier. It is no longer permitted to step onto the glacier as it once was. Even though tourism has been mostly reduced since its heydays some thirty years ago, tourists still bring items of plastic and other non-recyclable materials to the altitudes. Part of the compromise that followed the legal settlement between the Catac peasant community and the Huascarán National Park is the maintenance of the touristic services at Pastoruri. Central to this is the collection of garbage at the site and along the road. Ideally, this happens once every week.

After a short stop at the community petrol station we follow the paved road for a few miles before reaching the junction, where the dirt road will gradually ascend towards Pastoruri. The old truck struggles a bit, but moves steady as we climb. We pick up another man who will help us on the way. He makes his living here in the altitudes herding animals, making cheese, and combining these activities with salaried labor in the main town.

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Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has been a popular tourist spot since the 1980s. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

After a two hour drive we reach the desolate parking lot at Pastoruri. We have come before the tourists will arrive. Outside the main tourism days round Easter and on Peru’s July 28 national holiday, only two or three minibuses with tourists will come here each day. After a brief talk with the locals staying here who make a living by providing services and food for the visitors, we begin our task. One by one, the old oil barrels now serving as garbage bins are emptied onto the truck. Some of the barrels seem to have been here for as long as tourists have come, leaking questionable juices from the rusty bottoms.

We then descend, making stops by tourist sites along the way: the ancient cave paintings, Pumapashimin lake, Pumapampa mountain, and the park entrance at Carpa. On our way we pick up a few people, filling up the last spots in our vehicle. One last passenger jumps into the truck body, but this is preferable to the long walk to the town.

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Peasant communities and the government of Peru have been in a legal dispute over who owns the area. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

Back in Catac we have ascend once more, as the winding dirt road leads us past the old headquarters of the large estate whose owners, before the agrarian reforms, used to claim ownership over land and people. The truck drives past cultivated fields of cereals and potatoes before we reach our final destination. And thus, with a view to some of the most iconic peaks in the Andes ends the journey of touristic trash, tying the vanishing glaciers to flows of goods and people.

This guest post was written by Danish anthropologist Mattias Borg Rasmussen.  If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at glacierhub@gmail.com or @glacierhub on Twitter. 

Photo Friday: Highland communities in Ancash, Peru

Anthropologist Kate Dunbar wrote her dissertation on highland communities in Peru’s Ancash region. The glaciers in this area are important sources of drinking and irrigation water for these villages as well as myriad downstream users.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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If a glacier melts on a mountain, does anyone hear it?

In June 2014 the two of us—an anthropologist and an experimental musician, both from Peru– visited Quelccaya, a large glacier high in the Andes. We wanted to record the sounds of its ice as it melted. This trip formed part of our ongoing collaborative project. We are interested establishing new approaches to questions of climate change. The field recordings that we have included in this post present a sonic narration of our encounter with this glacier. They were made with a variety of low- and hi-fi digital and analog recording devices.

Our recordings begin by presenting the soundscape of the back of an open-top cargo truck moving through the Andean landscape. These sounds were recorded during our trip, many hours long, on dusty dirt roads to the community of Phinaya about 80 miles from the city of Cusco.

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Once in Phinaya, we continued to the southwest section of the glacier, where a large, unnamed lake has recently formed. In 2004, this lake burst its banks, creating a flood that affected several families of indigenous herders, along with their animals. We recorded the sounds of a small and the largest tributary streams that flows into this lake. They both offer overlapping sonic forms as they wind their way through gaps between rocks and frozen soil, reverberating with the glacier and rock walls.

We continued on to a small upper stream, where drops of water fell from an icicle and splashed onto a rock. And then we paused to make a sonic image recording right next to one of the biggest faces of the glacier, seeking to capture the way that it absorbs the sounds of a small stream running next to it.


Up on the glacier, we explored a number of ice caves. We experimented with an omnidirectional microphone inside an ice cave five meters wide. We were struck with the dull sound of the water dripping from the top of the cave onto the floor and running both inside and outside the ice cave. We placed a low-fi Dictaphone inside a small ice cave, only 50 cm wide, which created a distortion effect. We used an omnidirectional microphone to a stream running inside the glacier.

As we continued, we found more sounds to record and more ways to experiment with our equipment. We placed an analogue hydrophone under the surface of a small stream, and captured the sounds of tiny rocks that this moving water displaced. And we were able as well to capture the interaction between massive ice blocks with minute ice crystals that fell from the surface of the glacier.

We plan to return to this astonishing soundscape that emerges as climate change drives glacier retreat. Next time, however, we want to bring more equipment and involve people from Phinaya interested in making their own recordings of the glacier. We also look forward to developing ties with other people who are exploring such soundscapes around the world, in the hope that the voice of the glaciers will stimulate an alternative sensorial approach to climate change; namely, one which is not dominated by visuality.

This guest post was written by Gustavo Valdivia and Tomás Tello. If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at glacierhub@gmail.com or @glacierhub on Twitter.