Video of the Week: The Emerging Dangers of Glacier Tourism

The landscapes that climate change is impacting the most are emitting an intense gravitational pull on some tourists and outdoors enthusiasts.

Glaciers, whether in the high-mountains or polar regions, are melting. Tropical rainforests are disappearing. Coral reefs are deteriorating. And, wherever those habitats are under threat, some tourists are seeking them out before they become unrecognizable or completely relegated to memory.

And that’s making so-called last-chance tourism a sometimes dangerous endeavor.

Consider Alaska.

On August 1, officials in the city of Valdez reported that they discovered the bodies of three European boaters who appeared to have been killed by debris from melting glaciers.

“[T]he victims were identified by the city as two Germans and an Austrian and were found dead on Tuesday morning in Valdez Glacier Lake, about 120 miles (193 km) east of Anchorage,” according to Reuters.

The area “was littered with floating icebergs, glacial slush, and challenging terrain for recovery,” the news agency reported.

“Those conditions, plus the location of the remains near the toe of Valdez Glacier, suggested that falling glacial ice killed the boaters,” Sheri Pierce, a spokeswoman for the city government, said in a statement.

Now This offers another example in an August 20 video. In it, a glacier face is seen collapsing, drenching nearby kayakers, who are shooting the video. The footage then becomes shaky as the wake from the collapse of the glacier generates waves, forcing the kayakers to make a hasty retreat.

“Oh my God. We’re lucky to be alive,” says one of the kayakers.

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Roundup: Deaths in Alaska, Europe’s Heatwave, and Reflections on Afghanistan

Glacier instability is creating dangerous conditions for Alaska tourists

From Anchorage Daily News: “The toe of Valdez Glacier, where the bodies of three boaters were found this week, had become particularly dangerous, said a guide who had altered his own tour route due to the glacier’s increasing instability.”

Read more here.

An aerial view of Alaska’s Valdez Glacier, where the bodies of three boaters were recently found. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Europe’s heatwave brought unusually high melt rates

From E&E News: “The sweltering heat wave that roasted much of Europe last month has since moved north, where it’s wreaking havoc on the Greenland ice sheet. But while all eyes are currently trained on the Arctic ice, scientists are finding that Europe’s coldest places have also suffered.

According to initial findings from the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS), Swiss glaciers experienced unusually high melt rates during the last heat wave, which occurred in late July, and an earlier heat wave that struck the continent in late June.”

Read more here.

The Aletsch Glacier is Switzerland’s largest glacier. (Source: Flickr/Sam Rayner)

Reflecting on Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor

From Collateral Values: “On March 30th, 2014, Afghanistan declared the Wakhan Corridor as its second national park. At over 10,000 km2, the park is larger than Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It is high country, ranging from 2500 meters at its west end, to a mountain pass to China at 5000 meters in the east, and peaks of 7000 meters along its southern border. Despite its elevation, the Wakhan National Park is home to iconic wildlife species such as Marco Polo sheep and the snow leopards. It is also home to some 17,000 people. The Wakhan has had a long journey from geopolitical buffer zone to national park, a journey that is not yet complete. It became defined as a specific region during The Great Game of the nineteenth century between the two great empires of the age: Tsarist Russia, and the British Raj in India. The great powers wanted a buffer zone between them, an effort to keep their competition from accidentally spilling over into war. Neither the British, the Russians, nor the Afghan Emir could have known that in the twenty-first century, this buffer zone would come to be valued for its natural capital. While there were ceremonies to declare the park in 2014, it is not yet clear how the park will be managed. The park faces many challenges, but has great potential to preserve rare mountain habitats for the people who live there, and the world beyond its borders.”

Read more here.

The Wakhan Corridor under light snow, with a Wakhi man collecting firewood. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Tom Hartley)

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