Roundup: Covid-19 Reports From Glacier Regions

In Nagar Khas, Pakistan, home of the Bualtar Glacier, a five month-old girl was discharged from the hospital after overcoming coronavirus. The Pamir Times reported that the community has reported the highest number, 80, of Covid-19 cases in the administrative territory of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In Kathmandhu, Nepal, police are using a “multi-purpose fork” device to enforce lockdown measures. Initially used for crowd control purposes, police have found the tool practical to maintain social distance while detaining people who violate stay home orders.

A story published in German media outlet Der Spiegel described how the the South Tyrol aprés-ski scene destination of Ischgl fueled the spread of coronavirus across Europe. “The Austrian winter-sports mecca of Ischgl is well known for its parties,” an excerpt for the story reads. “But after helping spread the virus across Europe, the town’s reputation is changing to one of incompetence and greed.”

On April 3, South Tyrol Der Vinschger editor-in-chief Sepp Laner wrote the following note on Sigmund Freud’s prescient description of current circumstances. The following quote is excerpted from German:

Sigmund Freud says in his work “The Future of an Illusion” (1927) that the most important task of cultural work lies in “defending ourselves against nature against the elements, the diseases and the excruciating riddle of death.” And further: “With these powers, nature stands against us, great, cruel, relentless, our weakness and helplessness before our eyes. One can take the position one likes to Freud’s thesis. He couldn’t have known about the coronavirus, but its three adjectives describe our circumstances: new, invisible and everywhere. It is certainly an enemy as well: great, cruel, relentless. We do not need to seek a new “word of the year now. Nor do we need an Unwort––an unword, a non-word.”

Sepp Laner
The town of Schlanders, South Tyrol, Italy (Source: Suedtirolerland.it)

In an excerpt from another post by Laner, he describes the small Alpine town of Schlanders, which is home to a population which holds strongly to its traditional celebrations. The following quote is excerpted from German:

“They are not consecrated, but you are welcome take two branches to be consecrated tomorrow,”an employee told me yesterday at the fruit and vegetable business in the pedestrian zone in Schlanders…Today is Palm Sunday. The consecration in the Church will be nothing. The door is closed. The church service can be followed on the Internet. It’s kind of weird when you look at imagines the elderly in the kitchen or sitting and sitting on the computer, notebook, laptop, or even on the phone, celebrating their pastor’s service. Live streaming, it’s called. Will Easter be the same? Shortly after noon a consecrated olive branch came to me, given by a woman who was going home by bike…people are looking for churches during the time of coronavirus, or chapels if they are open, for a short, lonely prayer. One entry in the visitor book at the church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Laas read “Please, o Virgin, make this time pass quickly. Thanks.” This entry expresses what we have all been seeing for weeks wish: an early end to this disaster, this pandemic and all with it related suffering, hardships, problems and difficulties…The current measures to contain the coronavirus remind me of the time when we as children several decades ago helped fight the potato beetle infestation. In the time before sprays were used, we looked up and down the rows for days under every leaf of potato plants, collected the beetles and crushed them…in the end we won the fight.”

Sepp Laner

A report by the Union Bank of Switzerland has concluded the transfer from air to rail will be greater still once the present Covid-19 situation ends, citing an increase in climate awareness. “The report found that consumers and governments were becoming ‘more climate aware’, with the Covid-19 outbreak revealing in industrialised countries ‘what clean air means’.” Glacier regions have noted the cleaner air and better visibility––in some areas views not seen in decades were exposed.

In Ecuador, Indigenous communities in Chimborazo came down from higher elevations to the city of Riobamba to bring gifts of potatoes, beans, and milk. Residents in need of support can be seen in the video lined up wearing face masks and holding bags to receive the bulk distribution.

In Washington State, GoSkagit reported the increasing need for food is being felt statewide. “Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday the launch of a new program, the WA Food Fund, and pleaded for financial donations from those who are able,” the article said. In the town of Concrete, the local emergency food bank has created a call list to ensure regulars and vulnerable community members are taken care of as many have decided venturing out for food carries too great a risk to health.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Roundup: COVID-19 Glacier Regions Update and a Glacier Hazard In Peru

The Covid-19 Pandemic Complicates Tourism in the Everest Region

Video of the week: Quechua Musicians Urge Coronavirus Precaution Through Traditional Song

Video of the Week: Glacier Communities Grapple with Pandemic Response

While the usual GlacierHub Video of the Week content––like videos of ice cores being dropped into Antarctic bore holes and swims across supraglacial lakes––might be a welcome reprieve from news of the pandemic impacting human societies around the world, looking away from the moment feels irresponsible, especially as the novel coronavirus rapidly spreads among glacier communities. In this week’s videos we show glimpses of glacier communities on three different continents as they grapple with the response to the pandemic; tense discussions in a hospital in Ecuador, an empty market in Pakistan, and the public health response in one US Pacific Northwest glacier county.

The first video, tweeted by the Pamir Times, features a shuttered market in Pakistani Karakoram, a region which is home to some of the world’s highest and most glaciated peaks, several of which are visible in the background. What would apparently be a busy marketplace is deserted––with two men in conversation, little traffic, and a passerby wearing a surgical mask––in a scene indicative of the economic cost of the disease to glacier communities.

Below is a recording of a confrontation in a hospital in Ecuador near Chimborazo, a 6,268 meter (20,564 foot) glaciated stratovolcano in the Cordillera Occidental range of the Andes. The dispute is over where to treat coronavirus patients––whether to bring infected patients from around Chimborazo to the hospital in Ambato (which has better facilities, but at the time had no COVID-19 patients) or to the nearer hospital in Riobamba, the capital city of the province.

The tweet reads (translated from Spanish): “Yesterday the zonal director of District 3 of the MSP [Ministry of Public Health] contradicted directives and logic by bringing infected patients from Chimborazo, when there was a local hospital that could tend to the patients…this is the beating he received.”

In Skagit County, Washington, which extends from sea level at Puget Sound eastward up into the North Cascade mountains, and includes the glacier-clad Mount Baker, there have been 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19, five hospitalizations, and one death. Skagit County’s Public Health Director, Jennifer Johnson, said success will be defined by how the community responds to the challenge. She announced the launch of a video talk show “designed to share the latest thinking, understanding, and advice on how to manage this emergency as individuals, parents, leaders, and as a caring community.” To curb misinformation, concern, and confusion, she said the series will cover topics including social distancing, testing, personal preparedness, and the emotional impacts and challenges of “keeping family safe, healthy, happy, and occupied.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

Roundup: COVID-19 Glacier Regions Update, Some US National Parks Close, Mines in the Peruvian Andes, and 2020 Research Put On Ice

Roundup: COVID-19 in Glacier Regions

Coronavirus is Expanding Into the Mountain Regions of Western China

Roundup: COVID-19 in Glacier Regions

On February 13, GlacierHub reported on the spread of COVID-19 into the glaciated regions of Western China. At the time the disease was mostly confined to China, with smaller outbreaks beginning in Europe, including in the French Alps. In the month since, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and Europe has succeeded China as the virus’ epicenter. Economies around the world are shutting down as governments urge populations to adopt social distancing as a means of slowing the novel coronavirus’ spread. GlacierHub is tracking the spread of COVID-19 in glacier regions as an increasing number of people have become infected.

The concerns for glacier regions like Western China are similar for other glaciated corners of the world; while glacier communities are generally rural and may not have as high exposure to the virus as urban areas, they are much less equipped to deal with an outbreak. “In the local communities, there aren’t a lot of clinics or things like that. Normally just local doctors, but not a lot,” Huatse Gyal, a cultural anthropologist from the University of Michigan, told GlacierHub, referring to Western China. If many sick people from the rural areas came flooding to the county seat in search of treatment, he explained, “the medical facilities would not be enough at all.”

The North Cascades, in the US Pacific Northwest, are one of the glacier regions where GlacierHub is monitoring the spread of coronavirus. On March 10, the first cases were reported for Whatcom and Skagit counties, which extend from sea level at Puget Sound eastward up into the North Cascade mountains, and share a border with the glacier-clad Mount Baker. On Sunday afternoon, Mount Baker Ski Area announced the temporarily closure and reassignment of its staff of more than 70 medics, nurses, flight nurses, and doctors to help provide care to the local hospital and health care community. As of March 15, there are seven confirmed cases between the two counties.

The epicenter of the outbreak in the United States is in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington, where people in Seattle and surrounding communities––an area ringed by glaciated peaks––have been deeply impacted (Source: Whatcom County).

Schools in both Whatcom and Skagit counties are closed today, March 16, following the order of Washington State governor Jay Inslee to close all schools in the state. Other agencies have also taken steps to address the pandemic. Puget Sound Energy, which serves all of the two counties as well as other counties in the state, has announced that will not disconnect service during the coronavirus pandemic. It will waive late fees, and will work with customers on a payment plan and a new bill due date.

Schnalstaler Glacier in South Tyrol, Italy (Source: WikiCommons)

Italy has the highest case total outside of China. South Tyrol, a trilingual border province in the Italian Alps, has seen a surge of cases. A rash of COVID-19 confirmations have paralyzed the country––nearly 25,000 cases have been confirmed there––with a higher mortality rate than that of China, where new coronavirus cases have begun to ebb.

In neighboring Switzerland, ski resorts in the Swiss Alps abruptly shut down for the season on Friday in response to the virus. Norway and Austria have already closed resorts within their borders––a blow to the already-struggling ski industry. At present, Spain and France have the fifth and sixth highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, 5,753 and 4,469 cases on March 15, according to WHO statistics. But the cases are concentrated in the largest cities. There are fewer in the Pyrenees, the high glaciated mountains that form the border between them. Cases there are increasing, though, and the future is uncertain. In Pakistani Karakoram, a remote high mountain region in Central Asia, several people have also tested positive.

The governments of China and Nepal have shut down expeditions to the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. Last week Kathmandhu joined Beijing in canceling all permits to summit Everest until at least April 30, a move that halves the April-May climbing season at a minimum, and will cost the Nepali government precious millions in lost climbing fees.

Despite its proximity to Iran, few coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the Caucasus region––at present, 30 cases in Georgia, 23 in Armenia, 15 in Azerbaijan. Georgia closed it border with Russia over the weekend and postponed its presidential primary from March 24 to May 19.

Greenland has reported its first case of COVID-19. Visit Greenland reported the case along with a travel advisory barring non-residents from entering. “The smaller the community in the country, the smaller the nursing clinics are and the more vulnerable the situation. That’s why we need to limit traffic around the country as much as possible”, said Bjørn Tegner Bay, chief of police in Greenland and head of the Epidemic Commission.

The novel coronavirus is poised to expose the remoteness and vulnerability of glacier communities, whose isolation cuts both ways. Though their dislocation from urban centers is an advantage in containing the spread of the virus, public health infrastructure in these regions is generally ill-equipped to deal with a large epidemic. For more frequent updates on COVID-19 as it impacts communities in the world’s glacier regions follow GlacierHub on Twitter.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Coronavirus is Expanding Into the Mountain Regions of Western China

Ancient Viruses Awaken as the Tibetan Plateau Melts

French Resort in the Pyrenees Sparks Debate on the Transportation of Snow to Ski Slopes by Helicopter

The Skagit Eagle Festival

The Bald Eagles of the Skagit River (source: Joshua Johnson/YouTube).

Floating down the Skagit River in Washington state in a small boat in the winter, you will likely spot many bald eagles along your trip. With wings spreading wide, the eagles soar freely in the sky, having recently returned from northern Canada and Alaska to the Skagit River to hunt migrating salmon.

Salmon at Skagit River (source: Chuck Hilliard/Flickr).
Salmon at Skagit River (source: Chuck Hilliard/Flickr).

The Skagit salmon depend on the glaciers of the Cascade Range to keep the waters of the river healthy and optimal for breeding. With an abundant salmon population, the eagle’s numbers have become so plentiful during the winter season that the region runs a month-long eagle-watching festival and a year-round interpretive center dedicated to the migrating birds.

During eagle-watching season in eastern Skagit County, which begins in January, tourists and birdwatchers arrive from all over the world to track the bald eagles. First started in 1987, the Skagit Eagle Festival is now a popular annual event. Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce in the small town of Concrete, it features many activities, including local music, floating tours, outdoor walks and educational programs, including a Salmon Run along the river.

Bald Eagle feeding on salmon (source Kenneth Kearney Flickr).
Bald Eagle feeding on salmon (source: Kenneth Kearney / Flickr).

During this year’s Skagit Eagle Festival, Native American celebrations also took place along the glacier-fed river, which remains very important to the local tribes. The Samish Indian Nation’s cultural outreach coordinator Rosie Cayou-James and native musician Peter Ali teamed up to organize a special “Native Weekend” at Marblemount Community Hall, featuring Native American history, storytelling and more. Local tribal elders and experts made educational presentations and performed native music at the event. Cayou-James, the main organizer of the weekend, told GlacierHub, “The eagle festival is a way to honor the ancestors. I cannot speak for the other tribes, but the Samish feel very connected to eagles and orcas.”

The Skagit River runs from high in the Cascades to Puget Sound, benefiting both the people and animals that live along the river. It provides a habitat for the five major species of Pacific salmon. Consequently, the river has the country’s largest wintering populations of eagles outside of Alaska. But the health of the eagle and fish populations in the Skagit River depends on the health of the glaciers of the region, which are suffering as a result of climate change.

Rosie Cayou-James (source: Rosie Cayou-James)
Rosie Cayou-James (source: Rosie Cayou-James).

“Climate change has damaged the natural flow of salmon, which is the main source of survival for resident eagles and orcas,” Cayou-James explained to GlacierHub. Samish history instructs members to protect the proper relationship to the land and its resources, including the Skagit River and surrounding glaciers, by teaching how the natural and spiritual worlds “cannot be separated,” according to the Samish Indian Nation website.

In total, there are around 375 glaciers in the Skagit River watershed, as reported by the Skagit Climate Science Consortium. The glaciers keep the flow of the Skagit River high throughout the summer. In addition, glacier water keeps nearby rivers at low temperatures throughout the year, making them optimal for salmon. The salmon rely on the cool glacier-fed water to survive. Without glaciers, stream temperatures become higher and keep climbing, becoming lethal to adult salmon.

Because glaciers are extremely sensitive to climate change, higher temperatures have increased rates of melting, reducing snow accumulation in the winter and changing the timing and duration of runoff. Worse even, the glaciers of the Cascades have not been able to fully rebuild themselves in the winter through accumulated snowfall. The glaciers of the Cascades have shrunk to half of what they were a century ago, according to the United States Geological Survey. In addition, the average winter freezing elevation in the Skagit has risen consistently since 1948, reducing the area which receives the snow that could replenish the glaciers.

An eagle scans the water near Sammish Island (source: Dex Horton Photography/ Flickr).
An eagle scans the water near Samish Island (source: Dex Horton Photography/ Flickr).

As climate change has put Pacific salmon in a difficult situation, the annual eagle festival and educational programs run by leaders like Cayou-James have become more important. Because of the glacier loss caused by increasing temperature, salmon habitat is dramatically changing. With a decrease of the salmon population, the eagles are also in danger. As more and more people get to know the eagles of the Skagit River through the Skagit Eagle Festival, there is hope that opportunities will arise for the people of the region to come together to combat climate change before it is too late.

 

 

Glacier Counties in Washington Give Strong Support to Sanders

You’ve heard of red states and blue states–but what about glacier states and non-glacier states?

Most political analysis focuses on voters’ age, gender, race, or other demographic characteristics. But looking at voter proximity to glaciers is also a fascinating metric. In fact, last weekend’s caucuses in Washington state point towards an association between glaciers and support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. In counties with glaciers in them, Sanders scored almost three percentage points higher on average than he did across the entire state.

County map of Washington, with locations of major glacier peaks Baker, Rainier and Adams indicated by their initial letters (source: Washington Office of the Secretary of State)
County map of Washington, with locations of major glacier peaks Baker, Rainier and Adams indicated by their initial letters (source: Washington Office of the Secretary of State)

Sanders performed well in Washington state overall, receiving 72.7 percent of the vote, much as he has done in the other states with glaciers (Colorado 58.9 percent, Alaska 81.6 percent). In fact, Clinton, despite her wins in a number of other states and her lead in the delegate count overall, has so far failed to defeat Sanders in a state with glaciers. The only exception is Nevada, in which she achieved a small majority, 52.6 percent. Since this state contains only one tiny glacier, Wheeler Peak Glacier, with an area just over 0.01 square kilometers, its results may not seriously challenge this possible relation between glaciers and support for Sanders.

To explore this relationship in greater detail, GlacierHub examined the results at the county level in Washington. We decided to focus on the state’s three most glaciated peaks, Mt. Rainier (88 square kilometers of glaciers), Mt. Baker (49 square kilometers) and Mt. Adams (24 square kilometers), since we hypothesized that this association would be weaker for smaller glaciers.

(source: Washington State Democrats)
(source: Washington State Democrats)

These three glaciers all straddle the borders between counties. We used this information to establish a set of six glacier counties (Whatcom and Skagit at Mt. Baker, Lewis and Pierce at Mt. Rainier, Yakima and Skamania at Mt. Adams). We use the term “non-glacier counties” for the other 33 counties in the state.

The county-level results tabulated by the Democratic Party in Washington show that Sanders outperformed his main rival, Hillary Clinton, with particular strength in these glacier counties. The proportion of caucus participants in these counties who cast their votes for him ranged from 73.3 percent in Pierce County to 90.2 percent in Skamania County. These figures are all higher than Sanders’ lead in the state as a whole, which is 72.7 percent. Taken as a set, 75.4 percent of the caucus participants in these six glacier counties voted for him. (A two-tailed chi-square test indicates that this association is significant at the p <.01 level.)

Continuing to drill down on this question, GlacierHub examined preliminary caucus returns from one glacier county, Skagit County, the only glacier county for which these results are available, and found that they support the relationship as well. The caucuses pick delegates to upcoming county conventions, as one step in a long process that leads to the final selection of the state’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Candidates were awarded the proportion of delegates from a caucus that corresponds to their percentage of support at that caucus.

As shown by data provided to GlacierHub by Bob Doll, chair of the Skagit County Democrats, the votes of 3818 residents at 17 caucuses determined the allocation of 438 delegates, with 73.5 percent going to Sanders. The proportion was higher—82.4 percent—in Concrete and Rockport, the two caucus sites closest to Mt. Baker.

These findings can invite speculation of factors that could have caused them: perhaps the residents of the areas closest to glaciers are concerned about the changes in streamflow associated with glacier retreat, or its effects on tourism, in ways that might influence them to favor one candidate over another. It might be that the immediate visibility of climate change’s effects influenced their voting patterns.

To be sure, this association might not reflect any specific glacial influence. The glacier counties have a higher proportion of white residents than the state as a whole (78.9 percent vs. 77.3 percent), a population among whom Sanders is widely recognized to do well. Moreover, these are rural counties, another region that has tended to support Sanders. Or perhaps the residents of these counties might identify with Sanders as a fellow mountain resident, since his state, Vermont, is one of the most mountainous states in the country with the smallest proportion of its territory in flat areas. (In contrast, his home borough, Brooklyn, may be judged the least mountainous of New York City’s five boroughs, since it has the lowest high point, but this fact may not loom large for Washingtonians, many of whom do not have a detailed knowledge of the city’s topography.)

We may gain some insight to this relationship later this spring, when caucuses and primaries, with hundreds of delegates at stake, will be held in several other glacier states, including Montana, Oregon, and California. In the meantime, there is at least one piece of anecdotal evidence that points to the importance of glaciers in Washington State. As the attached image shows, a Washingtonian, preparing for activity at a caucus, noticed that the state’s highest peak had emerged from the clouds which usually surround it, and paused to record the view that she saw. The words that she chose to describe this moment—playful as they may be–attribute an awareness to the mountain. Perhaps such engagements with the natural world could play a role in voting, and in other political action as well.