How the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us to tackle the climate crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our everyday life in an unprecedented way and has made us very conscious about the vulnerability of our modern society. It has demonstrated an increasingly critical need for systemic transformation, based on the principles of sustainability and resilience [1, 2]. As a “stress test” [3] this pandemic outbreak and ongoing crisis has already taught us several important lessons that should be considered for dealing with climate change, a fundamental challenge and risk to humanity for the 21st century and beyond.

Read more...

Fragile Mountain Systems? On the Evolution of Scientific Insights

In this blog post written for the Network for European Mountain Research (NEMOR), Harald Bugmann, Professor of Forest Ecology at ETH Zurich and our very first Chair here at the MRI, reflects on the fragility of mountain forests and their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Read more...

Tackling “the Ultimate Challenge” in Greater Depth

I am delighted to join the MRI as a Scientific Project Officer and, as part of the GEO-GNOME project, look forward to working in an interdisciplinary and collaborative fashion to improve the availability and accessibility of data pertaining to the earth’s mountainous regions. Below, by way of self-introduction, I take the opportunity to say a few words regarding my recent doctoral research.  

Read more...

Ambassador of Interdisciplinary Mountain Research | Interview with Connie Millar

Connie Millar in the East Humboldt Range, Nevada

During the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, California, Dr. Constance Millar, USDA Forest Service Pacific, Southwest Research Station, Albany, California, was honoured with an AGU Ambassador Award. The award was given for her outstanding contributions and inspiring interdisciplinary research and leadership on how mountain flora and fauna adapt to climate change, and for building a diverse scientific community to guide management of these natural resources. 

Read more...

COVID-19 in Glacier Regions Update: Latin America Responds, Italy Uses Drones to Enforce Quarantine, and the US Copes

A village below the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca

 

For the past two weeks GlacierHub has made space in the usual Monday news roundup for coverage of the coronavirus pandemic as it impacts glacier regions. In continuing that reporting, the following is an aggregation of coronavirus news stories from global glacier regions, written by guest author Peter Deneen.

Read more...

Acodado Glacier, Chile Retreat Yields Tripling in Lake Area 1987 - 2020

Loriaux and Casassa (2013) examined the expansion of lakes of the Northern Patagonia Ice Cap (NPI). From 1945 to 2011 lake area expanded 65%, 66 km2. Rio Acodado has two large glacier termini at its headwater, HPN2 and HPN3. that are fed by the same accumulation zone and comprise the Acodado Glacier. The glacier separates from Steffen Glacier at 900 m. The lakes at the terminus of each were first observed in 1976 and had an area of 2.4 and 5.0 km2 in 2011 (Loriaux and Casassa, 2013).  Willis et al (2012) noted a 3.5 m thinning per year from 2001-2011 in the ablation zone of the Acodado Glacier, they also note annual velocity is less than 300 m/year in the ablation zone. Davies and Glasser (2012) noted that the Acodado Glacier termini, HPN2 and HPN3, had retreated at a steadily increasing rate from 1870 to 2011. Here we examine the substantial changes in Acodado Glacier from 1987...
Read more...

A Reservoir of Difficulties for Hydropower

Grande Dixence Dam

Hydropower will have to undergo big changes if it’s to meet the demands of the Energy Strategy 2050. But this old source of renewable energy is faced with problems today. We look at the recommendations made by the National Research Programme.

Read more...

Here’s How Some of Earth’s Most Breathtaking Landscapes Are Created by Glaciers

Photo by Shutterstock/Guitar photographer 

Glaciers have carved some of Earth’s most beautiful landscapes by steepening and deepening valleys through erosion. Think of the Scottish Highlands, Yosemite National Park in the US, or the Norwegian Fjords. But big questions remain about how glacial erosion works.

A problem for scientists seeking to understand how glaciers affect the landscape is that the processes of glacial erosion are very complex and not fully understood. For the most part that’s because these processes occur under tens, hundreds or even thousands of metres of ice – we simply can’t observe them.

Read more...

Risks and Options from New Lakes in the Andes of Peru: Implications for Future Water Management

In the Andes of Peru and adjacent arid lowlands, human subsistence often depends on year-round streamflow from glaciers and lakes, particularly in the dry season. However, global change impacts increasingly affect local hydrology and associated livelihoods which is clearly demonstrated by the impacts of glacier shrinkage. Rapidly growing lakes (Fig. 1) in deglaciating mountain regions potentially imply severe risks but also options for human livelihoods.

Read more...

The Bushfire Crisis: Implications for Australia’s Unique Alpine Flora and Fauna

Photo by James Camac

The bushfire crisis in Australia has dominated news headlines these past few weeks, affecting cities, towns and rural areas including the unique Australian alpine environment. This has prompted many to question what implications these fires have for these alpine ecosystems, but also the complex interactions with human dimensions and management options in a changing climate in mountain social-ecological systems.

Read more...

Microplastics have even been blown into a remote corner of the Pyrenees

Microplastics have been discovered in a remote area of the French Pyrenees mountains. The particles travelled through the atmosphere and were blown into the once pristine region by the wind, according to a new study published in Nature Geoscience. This is just the latest example of the 'hidden risks' posed by plastics that humans cannot see with the naked eye. For now, governments and activists are focused on avoiding plastic litter in the environment, driven mainly by concern for wildlife and worries over unsightly drinks bottles or abandoned fishing nets on beaches. Plastic bag usage has been cut in many parts of the world, and various projects are exploring how to gather up the floating plastic waste in oceans. But little has yet been done to deal with polluting plastic particles that are usually invisible. There is however growing concern about these micro and nanoplastics, classified as particles smaller than 5mm....
Read more...

GEO-GNOME Workshop 2019

In a blog post originally written for the P3 project, Marilen Haver – a PhD Student and early career scientist at P³ – describes her experience of attending the recent MRI-hosted GEO-GNOME workshop on 'Essential Climate Variables for Observations in Mountains'.

Read more...

Defending the Environment Now More Lethal Than Soldiering in Some War Zones – And Indigenous Peoples Are Suffering Most

Despite centuries of persecution, indigenous groups still manage or have tenure rights over at least a quarter of the world’s land surface. Often inhabiting these lands as far back as memory extends, they share a deep and unique connection to their environment.

Read more...

University of Lausanne launches centre to promote interdisciplinary research on mountains

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research (ICMR) was launched by the University of Lausanne (UNIL) as a four-year pilot project to contribute to the sustainable development of mountain regions. It does so by enhancing the synergies between 70 researchers from five UNIL faculties and nine research and dissemination institutions mostly from the Alpine region. Among these associated entities is the Mountain Research Initiative, supporting international outreach and connection. Inaugurated on 2 November 2018, the ICMR aims at deepening our knowledge about the challenges faced by mountain regions by using a wide range of methods from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Research will concentrate on a set of themes identified through discussions with UNIL experts on mountains during the centre’s design phase: time and sustainability, change and transitions, natural hazards and risks, mountain society, natural resources, ecosystem services, innovation, food labels, and tourism and health. But the integration of diverse...
Read more...

20th Swiss Global Change Day

The annual Swiss Global Change Day, organized by ProClim, brings together Swiss and international scientists and practitioners to present and discuss highlights of climate and global change research from different fields. This year’s programme was full of familiar faces from the MRI, with MRI Chair Rolf Weingartner chairing the first session and MRI Co-PI Adrienne Grêt-Regamey giving a keynote speech.   The Swiss Global Change Day is known for its excellent set of keynote speakers, and this year’s 20th anniversary programme was no exception. The first on the stage was Dirk Messner from the United Nations University. Messner’s talk, ‘On the (im)possibility of the transformation to sustainability,’ was a remarkably positive and encouraging start to the day, highlighting the long way we’ve come from Rio 1992 to COP24 and the amount of knowledge and technical solutions available today. Messner pointed that this is the moment for joint action to face the challenges...
Read more...

Thriving in a changing climate for mountains: Research prospects inspired by outcomes of the Sustainable Summits Conference 2018

As we near the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, and the mountains are blanketed with snow and temperatures drop, the extreme summer conditions experienced in the Alps earlier in the year seem like a very distant memory. Last summer, Switzerland registered its third warmest summer immediately after the fourth warmest spring season since instrumental records began in the year 1864, according to a report by Meteoswiss. The impacts observed and felt in the region were considerable, including rapidly changing conditions in the mountains triggering hazardous conditions and risks to mountain visitors and dwellers. So, rather than letting it slip into a distant memory, this is precisely the time to maintain the momentum and continue to reflect on those events and resulting losses, and steer attention to prospects for research and knowledge that address the new living conditions across all seasons in a rapidly changing climate in mountains – focusing on...
Read more...

Vulnerable Peaks and People

More than half of the world’s population depends on mountains to provide drinking water. This water comes from glaciers in the Himalayas, Andes and other mountain ranges which a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified as among parts of the world most vulnerable to climate change. Each year, the United Nations marks the 11th of December as International Mountain Day, honouring the rich and diverse ecosystems and people that inhabit these magnificent landscapes, and highlighting the challenges they face. This year GRID-Arendal, UN Environment and a number of partners, observed the day with the launch of two special reports at the climate change negotiations underway in Katowice, Poland – the Outlook on Climate Change Adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya and the Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series Synthesis Report.  Nepalese woman washes at a communal water tap. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha. These reports wrap up a seven-volume series of assessments that looked at...
Read more...

Mountain Glaciers: Vanishing Sources of Water & Life

[gallery size="large" link="file" columns="5" ids="3796,3802,3797,3798,3799,3800,3801,3803,3804,3805"][caption id="attachment_3815" align="alignright" width="305"] Click to download the flyer.Mountain glaciers are among the most visible and emblematic indicators of climate change. Worldwide, glaciers are losing mass at unprecedented rates – a process that has accelerated in recent decades, with record losses in the 21st century. As an effect of widespread glacier shrinkage, the high mountains of the world are currently experiencing a historically unparalleled, large-scale environmental transformation, with profound and far-reaching impacts for landscapes, ecosystems, and people.Glaciers provide important ecosystem services. In the tropical Andes, for instance, glacier meltwater offers critical support to sensitive ecosystems such as high-mountain wetlands. Ongoing glacier retreat therefore gives rise to ecosystem changes, and the eventual disappearance of glaciers in future will ultimately disrupt these ecosystems and their service functions. Glacier retreat also impacts water provision for people and economies downstream. Central Asia, several regions in South Asia, and the tropical Andes...
Read more...

New Study Highlights Loss & Damage in Mountain Cryosphere

Written by Andrew Angle. This article was first published on GlacierHub.Few areas of the planet have been more affected by climate change than the mountain cryosphere, where negative impacts like glacier recession far exceed any positives like short-term increases in glacial runoff. These adverse changes make highland environments ideal for examining the policy concept of Loss and Damage (L&D), which deals with the impact of climate change on resources and livelihoods that cannot be offset by adaptation. A recent study in Regional Environmental Change analyzes L&D in the mountain cryosphere by extracting examples from existing literature on the subject and developing a conceptual approach to support future research to address the subject.L&D has become an important issue within the international climate policy realm in recent years. In the mountain cryosphere, the effects of climate change and the resultant L&D are directly evident. However, despite the visibility of these changes, research on L&D has rarely...
Read more...

Plant species are on the move ...

... and it is us humans who are moving them.Human actions are having a significant impact on the distribution of plant species, and even more so than the warming climate. This is the surprising outcome of the PhD thesis of University of Antwerp-based Jonas Lembrechts, who is studying plant species distributions in cold-climate mountain regions.Yes, the warming climate is shifting the distribution of plant species poleward and to higher elevations, but our actions are causing even more rapid and structural changes to where species can be found. In his PhD, Lembrechts showed how humans are helping non-native species to invade mountain regions: “Humans are taking non-native plant species with them all over the world, introducing them to other mountain regions. Once there, these species can profit from human structures like mountain roads to move rapidly to higher elevations,” Lembrechts explains.[caption id="attachment_3604" align="alignright" width="300"] Mountain roads – here in the Chilean Andes...
Read more...

SMArt: Artists' Views of the Mountain

[caption id="attachment_3476" align="alignright" width="300"] The wolf’s figure crystallizes a feeling of fear, sometimes visceral and irrational.SMArt – or Sustainable Mountain Art – is a Swiss-based program that aims to raise awareness of the challenges mountains face through art, and more specifically photography. The program hopes to awaken consciences by touching the heart and emotions rather than the intellect.‘The wolf at the door’ is a fresco by Colombian photographer Juan Arias, realised in autumn 2017 in the Sierre in the Swiss canton of Valais. He was invited by the SMArt program to look at the reality of this mountain region.Preparing for his stay from his home in Cali, Juan Arias discovered that a wolf had been illegally killed in Valais. Interested in human relationships and the underlying representations that influence these relationships, he instinctively understood the scope of this story and decided to tackle this delicate theme: the return of the wolf...
Read more...

Changing the Mountain Picture

[caption id="attachment_3179" align="alignright" width="300"] 'Baron Alexander von Humboldt,' by Julius Schrader. Humboldt chose the Ecuadorian mountains Chimborazo & Cotopaxi for the portrait's background. How do mountain roads and non-native species affect mountain biodiversity? Next year, we will celebrate 250 years since the birth of the German geographer, naturalist, and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Few people had such a strong influence on modern science – and on ecology in particular. One of Humboldt's strongest interests was investigating how species richness and community composition change along elevational gradients. He was obsessed with the idea of climbing all the mountains he came across during his travels, and many of us probably have his famous drawings in mind, in which he noted down all species names and vegetation zones he found from the bottom to the top of each one. However, although the idea of investigating how the number of species varies with elevation is...
Read more...

Lagging Behind

Species have been reported to be moving poleward and upward in mountains as a result of climate change. Evidence of this movement is piling up rapidly, and with every passing year the increasing speed at which it is occurring is also becoming apparent. However, new studies reveal that this species movement is often not as straightforward as it first appears.[caption id="attachment_3155" align="alignright" width="300"] Plants and other sessile organism often show a delayed response to climate change. (Northern Scandes, Norway)One might think that as the climate warms, so species will follow. The problem is, a species’ reaction to a change in their environment is not always that fast. They often need some time to adjust and to move towards where the climate is now suitable. This delayed reaction is especially true for sessile species, like plants, that depend almost entirely on seed transportation to travel around.Toward greater understandingThese so-called lags in species...
Read more...

PECSii Conference - Towards a More Resilient World

[caption id="attachment_2900" align="alignright" width="300"] View of the Sierra Juarez above Oaxaca CityIn early November, I had the privilege of attending the second conference of the Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECSii) in Oaxaca City, Mexico. For many reasons, the conference ranked among the best I have ever attended. The setting itself encompasses many of the challenges facing mountains and other social-ecological systems:  impacts from climate change, economic transformations, environmental problems and socio-political conundrums, here rooted in the legacies of Zapotec, MIxe, Mixtec and Imperial Spanish civilizations, as well as more recent human societies. PECSii participants came from around the world to present research and explore ideas that highlighted social-ecological predicaments and possibilities for constructive transformation. An Exciting Program [caption id="attachment_2901" align="alignleft" width="300"] City Street Scene - Oaxaca Sculpture in front of the Santo Domingo CathedralThe organizers used creative approaches for each of the components of the program.  We knew we...
Read more...

MRI Synthesis Workshop on Treeline Spatial Patterns

Most mountain inhabitants and visitors will have clear mental images of the alpine treeline, the conspicuous transition from forest to treeless alpine vegetation. These images are likely to be as varied across the globe as the actual variation in form and landscape positions that can be observed between sites and mountain ranges. These spatial patterns can provide insights in what makes each treeline unique and in what makes some of them similar enough to allow generalised predictions about their dynamics. In a recent workshop, held near the Pyrenees between 31 August and 5 September 2017, nine treeline researchers gathered to discuss how this global variation in spatial patterns at treelines from the subarctic to the tropics can be captured, quantified and used to predict dynamics at different treeline sites. Photo by Dave CairnsPictured here, the workshop participants visit a treeline site in the Pyrenees (here with a view on Ordesa y...
Read more...

Mountain forests don’t need humans – but we need them

Forests in the mountain regions of our planet are fragile ecosystems, suffering from the impact of climate change. However, to survive in the long-term, these ecosystems do not need human intervention. It is rather the humans in the mountain regions who depend on healthy forests and the protection they provide. Should we, for example, plant genetically-modified tree species that are particularly resistant to drought, to ensure that mountain forests thrive in the future? This is no joke, but one of the many ideas on how mountain forests should be managed in future, hotly debated at the latest ETH Sustainability Summer School (see box). Thirty-two students from 17 countries and 14 disciplines took an in-depth look at suggestions such as these, which may seem absurd at first glance. Wooden tripods protect saplings from snow in the Tamina valley (Image: ETH Sustainability / ETH Zurich)All that mountain forests provide  Mountain forests are more...
Read more...

Species on the move

[caption id="attachment_2601" align="alignright" width="300"] Recent climate change is affecting a fragile balance, and the ball just started rollingThe world’s climate is changing rapidly. There, I said it! A statement backed by scientific evidence that keeps piling up, day by day. Yet, what is perhaps even more important: the impact of this changing climate on our world are now undeniably starting to surface as well. From the damaging effect of extreme weather events, over the slow-yet-steady rise of sea levels to the changes in the distribution of countless species; climate change is happening under our very eyes.Concerning the latter, an impressive recent review in Science (Pecl et al., 2017) has bundled all these observed biodiversity redistributions, highlighting why we should care about them. And that last fact might be even more interesting, because at first sight, it might be not more than a scientific triviality if organisms are heading north or up in the mountains.[caption id="attachment_2603"...
Read more...

P3: People, Pollution, and Pathogens— Mountain Ecosystems in a Human-Altered World

Trouble in Paradise [caption id="attachment_2382" align="alignleft" width="300"] Figure 1. Lake Acherito (Ibon Acherito) on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. The lake harbors several amphibian species, including the endemic Calotriton asper. It is located at 1900 m elevation, and is the first site in the Pyrenees for which Bd was reported.We just had arrived in the French Pyrenees. The beauty of the Pyrenees was stunning, somehow reminiscent of the mighty Canadian Rockies in its wildness and remoteness. We marveled at the sharp peaks, clear waters and wonderfully green vegetation, and pondered the multitude of research threads we could explore in such a setting. As we discussed our priorities, a colleague mentioned Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This unpronounceable jumble of letters represents one of the most devastating amphibian diseases, and perhaps the single biggest threat to frogs, toads and salamanders. Bd, our colleague told us, had taken hold in the beautiful mountain watersheds of...
Read more...

NILE-NEXUS: Opportunities for a Sustainable Food-Energy-Water Future in the Blue Nile Mountains of Ethiopia

[caption id="attachment_2361" align="alignleft" width="219"] Figure 1. Waterfall in the Blue Nile Mountains. Photo: Jose Molina.I first met Belay Simane at a United Nations negotiation in Germany. We were both on government delegations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and during one of the many, many procedural delays we struck up conversation. It turned out neither of us were full-time negotiators. In fact, we were both researchers, and we were both looking at the same place but from very different scales. Belay is an agronomist, and he’d spent years working with farming communities of the Blue Nile Mountains of Ethiopia to advance household and village level climate resilience. I am a climate scientist and hydrologist, and I’d been working with NASA to study transboundary flows across the Nile basin with satellites and regional models. Over several cups of overpriced conference hall coffee, we began a discussion that has occupied...
Read more...

Ecological and Socioeconomic Impacts of Climate-Induced Tree Diebacks in Highland Forests

Background [caption id="attachment_2340" align="alignleft" width="300"] Figure 1. Entomologists sampling stands of Norway spruce dieback in the Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany. Photo: Heiner M.-Elsner.Mountain forests play a major role in the preservation of biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services such as climate regulation. However, some of these forests show extensive tree mortality (“forest diebacks”) caused by a combination of factors, such as severe and recurrent summer drought, pollution, and insect and pathogen outbreaks. Some of the most spectacular cases of forest diebacks are caused by bark beetle outbreaks, which have killed millions of hectares of conifer forests worldwide (Fig. 1).Forest diebacks are expected to become more widespread, frequent and severe. Indeed, warm and dry climate conditions increase the number of bark beetle generations per year and decrease tree vigor. Diebacks are accompanied by changes in tree species composition, which can happen either by natural regeneration or by artificial replacement with better-adapted...
Read more...

A field guide that unravels the hidden secrets of the páramo

[caption id="attachment_2315" align="alignleft" width="300"] Monitoring of meteorological variables in the Quinuas River Ecohydrological Observatory. (Photo credit: Galo Carrillo-Rojas)Can you imagine transporting to a magic realm full of beauty, nature and good vibe and being able to unravel its hidden secrets? Well, in the field guide attached to this post you will be taken to a short journey through two Ecohydrological Observatories in the páramo, where a bunch of enthusiastic and motivated young researchers have overcome the struggles of the environmental conditions in these sites located at the top of the Andean mountain range to discover its most hidden secrets. These pioneer investigators have provided answers to some simple but highly relevant questions in our days, such as: How much does it rain in the páramo? How does elevation influence climate in the Andean Highlands? How much do soils and vegetation evapotranspire? What is the origin, age and fate of water in...
Read more...

Naubise farmer finds relief in climate smart practices

[caption id="attachment_2301" align="alignleft" width="300"] Sita Neupane showcases her freshly harvested cucumbers grown without the use of chemical pesticides. (Ramdeo Sah/CEAPRED)Farmer Sita Neupane is the talk of the town this summer. Ms Neupane earned a whopping NPR 70,000, selling cucumbers from her vegetable patch that roughly spans 375 square metres. And, she did it all without using any chemical pesticides on her vegetable farm in Naubise, Mahadevstan-7 of Kavre Palanchowk District, Nepal. Ms Neupane attributes her success solely to Jholmal – a homemade bio-fertiliser and bio-pesticide.Naubise, like many other villages in Kavre, is known for a high incidence of pesticide use. As with many mountain farmers across the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, farmers here own small land parcels, rely heavily on chemical pesticides, and have limited knowledge about integrated pest management (IPM). A dry spell hit Kavre, last year. No rain fell in September, and the largely agricultural district suffered from high...
Read more...

'Mountains 2016' dedicated to Mountains’ vulnerability to climate change

It has been more than two months since Mountains 2016 took place in Bragança, Portugal. The outcomes and impacts of the conference were many and all of them significant. Mountains 2016 included the X European Mountain Convention (X EMC), dedicated to “Mountains’ vulnerability to climate change”, and the 1st International Conference on Research for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (1st ICRSDMR), dedicated to “Ecosystem services and sustainable development”.  X European Mountain Convention The X EMC (3 to 5 October 2016) brought to Bragança around 260 mountain actors (researchers, farmers, environmentalists, elected representatives from local and regional authorities, representatives of chambers of commerce and development agencies) to debate climate change adaptation in mountain areas. The X EMC presented a state-of-the-art of climate change in mountain areas in Europe from scientific, institutional and financial perspectives and, most importantly, promoted a broad debate on how people and particular mountain sectors can deal with climate...
Read more...

Newsletter subscription

Login