Pakistan has more glaciers than almost anywhere on Earth. But they are at risk.

With its neat stone walls and paths, bountiful tomato and wheat fields and miniature sheep that graze right up to doorsteps, this picturesque village has an air of timelessness. But the 110 families who live here only have to glance out their doors to see that their irrigated idyll may not last forever.

For generations, the glacier clinging to Miragram Mountain, a peak that towers above the village, has served as a reservoir for locals and powered myriad streams throughout Pakistan’s scenic Chitral Valley. Now, though, the villagers say that their glacier — and their way of life — is in retreat.

“We worry it may even vanish and there will be no drinking water,” said Abdul Nasir, 60, pointing up at the 19,000-foot mountaintop streaked with thin, patchy snow. “Every year, it’s melting.”

With 7,253 known glaciers, including 543 in the Chitral Valley, there is more glacial ice in Pakistan than anywhere on Earth outside the polar regions, according to various studies. Those glaciers feed rivers that account for about 75 percent of the stored-water supply in the country of at least 180 million.

But as in many other parts of the world, researchers say, Pakistan’s glaciers are receding, especially those at lower elevations, including here in the Hindu Kush mountain range in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Among the causes cited by scientists: diminished snowfall, higher temperatures, heavier summer rainstorms and rampant deforestation.

To many, the 1,000-square-mile Chitral Valley has become a case study of what could await the rest of the world if climate change accelerates, turning life-supporting mountains into new markers of human misery.

“It’s already happening here, and my thinking is, in the coming years it will just go from bad to worse,” said Bashir Ahmed Wani, a Pakistani forestry specialist with the Asian Development Bank.

Over the past six years, the Chitral Valley has also experienced three major floods that many Pakistani scientists attribute to climate change. The floodwaters killed more than 50 people and stranded hundreds of thousands while undercutting a once-vibrant tourist industry still struggling to rebound after Sept. 11, 2001.

While climate change is a factor in the region’s calamities, the valley has also come to symbolize the way a poorly educated populace can make the situation worse, creating a cycle of hardship. Its glaciers offer a stark example.

The valley’s population has soared — from 106,000 in 1950 to 600,000 today — and most residents get just two to four hours of electricity a day. Without reliable refrigeration, residents turn to vendors hawking chunks of the valley’s shrinking snowpack.

Every day, they say, scores of these entrepreneurs drive five to seven hours to the mountain peaks, where they hack into the glaciers — or scoop up the pre-glacial snow — and load the haul into their jeeps and trucks. Back in the valley, they shovel the snow and ice into shopping bags and sell it for 50 cents a bag.

“There are no fans, no refrigerators working, so I will store this for cooler water and then use it for drinking,” said Ubaid Ureh, 46, as he held two dripping bags.

Hameed Ahmed Mir, a local biodiversity expert who has worked for the United Nations, said that one cubic yard of ice weighs almost a ton — enough to supply four to seven families with drinking water for several days — and one vehicle can carry three to four tons of snow or ice. “Then multiply that by 200 vehicles per day.”

Khalil Ahmed, a former project manager for the U.N.-supported Glacial Lake Outburst Floods Project, said Pakistani law does not make it clear whether the government or the public owns the country’s vast glacial reservoirs.

“We are trying to initiate a dialogue with the local people, but these are poor people,” he said, noting that glaciers in the neighboring territory of Gilgit-Baltistan are also being sold off.

Ghulam Rasul, head of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, said the country’s weather patterns have shifted dramatically over the past two decades.

When 30-year temperature averages from 1961 to 1990 are compared with those from 1981 to 2010, temperatures in the northern third of Pakistan, where the glaciers are located, increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius, Rasul said.

Summer snow lines on Pakistan’s mountains have also crept up an average of 3,395 feet since 1981, he added. And the number of glacial lakes — which form when melting ice gets locked up in or around a glacier — has jumped from 2,420 a decade ago to 3,044 today, according to a recent study.

[Life in a Pakistani village so remote, kings once banished prisoners to it]

Equally alarming, Rasul said, the annual South Asia monsoon is growing more dynamic as temperatures spike over land and clash with cooler ocean waters. Now, instead of the late summer monsoon affecting mainly southern and eastern Pakistan, it has also been pumping deluges over the mountains.

“I believe this is an impact of global warming,” Rasul said. “If this continues, the glaciers will be melting at a fast rate, producing glacial lakes — and the lakes will burst,” triggering disasters.

The weather changes have not seriously threatened the ice packs in Pakistan’s northernmost regions, where five of the world’s 14 highest peaks — all topping 26,000 feet — are located.

Nizam Uddim, about 52, points to the site of the house that he lost, along with his 4-year-old daughter, during flash floods in the Chitral Valley village of Reshun last year. (Insiya Syed /For The Washington Post)

Some researchers think that the glaciers in the Karakorum and Himalayan mountains in Gilgit-Baltistan may even expand as weather patterns shift and more precipitation falls over the highest peaks as snow. Many of Pakistan’s glaciers are also covered in silt and debris, which helps insulate them.

But farther south in the Chitral Valley, where most mountains are no higher than 22,000 feet, there is little doubt that the glaciers are under stress, researchers say.

In the village of Reshun last July, a 20-foot wall of water crashed over 126 houses and killed a 4-year-old girl “on a very hot day,” said Azmat, 19, who uses only one name.

“We resided here for at least the last 200 years, and we never faced any kind of flood like this,” said the girl’s father, Nizam Uddim, who estimates that he is 52.

Siraj ul-Mulk, the 71-year-old owner of the Hindu Kush Heights Hotel in Chitral, has been trekking in a different part of northern Chitral since he was a young man.

“It used to take me a whole day to cross the glacier,” he said. “Now, it will take me two hours.”

But just as in the broader global debate over climate change, some Pakistani researchers remain skeptical that warmer weather is causing Chitral’s glaciers to melt.

Arshad Abbasi, a water and energy expert, said Pakistanis alone are responsible for their plight.

He noted that tree roots stabilize the ground that the glaciers bind to — and that Pakistan has retained just 2 to 5 percent of its tree cover. Even worse, he said, goat herders, tourists and even the country’s army are allowed to trek over them.

“People say global warming, but in fact, it’s human activity” that most threatens the glaciers, said Abbasi, who has studied the effect of Pakistani and Indian military encampments on the shrinking Siachen Glacier in the Himalayan range near the disputed Kashmir region.

Local activists agree that lax environmental standards are magnifying the danger. Inayatullah Faizi, an expert on local culture, noted that much of Chitral’s garbage and sewage is dumped directly into streams and the Chitral River — another reason residents buy snow from the glacier.

Aisha Khan, head of the Islamabad-based Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization, said a huge conservation campaign is needed to combat public ignorance. She noted that many mountain-area families still try to make glaciers grow by “fertilizing them,” cutting ice from a dark, debris-clogged glacier (male) and setting it next to a clear one (female).

Still, there are signs that younger Pakistanis, even in remote places, are realizing what is at stake.

Beekeepers collect honey last month from hives they have set up by a roadside in the Chitral Valley. (Insiya Syed /For The Washington Post)

In Sonoghur, a small village north of Miragram that was devastated by a glacial lake flood in 2007, a middle-aged man began telling a reporter that India and Israel are responsible for glaciers melting because they don’t want overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan “to grow and prosper.”

But Amir Shahzaib, 17, spoke up.

“We don’t believe that, and our new generation wants to take care of the earth,” he said, adding that he and his friends were trying to get older residents to stop throwing plastic bottles in waterways.

They can’t do it all, he added.

“We are just partly responsible for climate change,” Shahzaib said of his village. “Mostly, the city people are responsible.”

Aamir Iqbal in Peshawar contributed to this report.

Source: Washington Post

Nepal bans Pune police couple for 10 years over ‘fake’ Everest claims

Dinesh and Tarkeshwari Rathod, both serving constables with Pune police, announced they scaled Everest on May 23, becoming the first Indian couple to do so.

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THE Nepal government has imposed a 10-year ban on a police couple from Pune who had allegedly bluffed about scaling Mount Everest on May 23. Nepal officials have told Pune police a letter has been sent to inform them of the decision to bar the couple from entering Nepal for that period, Pune police commissioner Rashmi Shukla told The Indian Express Sunday.

“This means the probe ordered by Nepal government has confirmed the two had lied about scaling Everest… This is indeed shocking. The couple have tarnished the image not only of police force but of the whole country,” Shukla said.

Dinesh and Tarkeshwari Rathod, both 30 and serving constables with Pune police, held a press meet in Kathmandu on June 5 and announced they scaled Everest on May 23, becoming the first Indian couple to do so. The two are posted at Shivajinagar headquarters of Pune city police.

Shukhla said she will initiate “strong” action against the couple. Asked if they can be arrested, she said the action will be as per laid-down norms.

She said the couple have been absconding since the Pune police initiated a departmental inquiry against them. “The two have disappeared without a trace even as we were conducting the inquiry,” she said.

Senior officials added the couple might not be arrested, but could face demotion or have their annual increments stopped. Officials said by remaining out of bounds for the probe, the couple have “already confirmed they had done something wrong”.

Days after the couple’s press briefing, a group of mountaineers had approached Pune police alleging they had faked their expedition. Surendra Shelke, one of the complainants and secretary of a city-based mountaineering association, had alleged the couple had morphed pictures and there were discrepancies in their description of the summit. The Pune police probe followed.

A mountaineer from Kolkata had told this paper that he and another climber had scaled Everest on May 21 and their pictures were misused by the duo. “I had scaled Mt Everest along with another climber and two sherpas on May 21,” Satyrup Siddhantha, a software engineer working in Bangalore, had said. He said he had given his pictures to some people, including sherpas at the base camp.

“They had copied the pictures into their pen drives. They might have shared the pictures with other climbers,” he said. Siddhantha had uploaded his pictures onFacebook on June 2.

Mount Everest Climbers May One Day Climb Ice-Free

The Himalayan Mountains and Tibetan Plateau, dubbed the “Third Pole” for having the largest ice mass on Earth after the polar regions, are rapidly losing their glaciers. Eighteen percent of China’s glaciers have vanished in the past 50 years according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Air pollution and rising air temperatures are combining to increase glacial melt, threatening water supplies for one billion people.

Mount Everest is Earth’s highest mountain.

Glacial surfaces are vulnerable to the effects of black carbon. What, exactly, is black carbon? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it as “the most strongly light-absorbing component of particulate matter (PM), and is formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels,biofuels and biomass.” Airborne black carbon absorbs sunlight, creating local atmospheric warming. Deposited on glaciers, it darkens the surface, allowing the sun to warm the snow and ice just as wearing dark clothing on a summer day can make you feel the heat.

Source: Nature Communications

It’s not just China’s famous pollution or fossil fuel burning that’s to blame. It’s also yak dung.

Traditional Tibetan use of biomass such as animal dung for cooking and heating, along with open burning of garbage and crop waste, was found to be a greater contributor to the creation of black carbon in certain areas of the Himalaya-Hindu-Kush and Tibetan Plateau than burning of fossil fuels. A new study published this week in Nature Communications concludes that “the results of this extensive observation-based source-diagnostic study provide strong isotope-based evidence that biomass-sourced BC [black carbon] plays a quantitatively more important role in TP [Tibetan Plateau] glacier melting than fossil fuel-sourced BC, especially in the inland TP, and presumably arises mainly from domestic sources.” The research was conducted by the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The mineral-rich lands of Tibet are a source of diamonds, gold, uranium and copper, bringing extractive industries to the region. China is the world’s fourth largest lithium producer, most of itcoming from the Chang Tang plain in Western Tibet.The Tibet Express stated, “Glacier-water mining has major environmental costs in terms of biodiversity loss, impairment of some ecosystem services due to insufficient runoff water, and potential depletion or degradation of glacial springs.”

Degrading glaciers threatens a critical Asian water source.

China, India and other countries surrounding the Tibetan Plateau have looked to it to supply growing water needs as populations increase and fresh-water sources suffer from industrial and human-waste pollution. China is also tapping the glaciers of the Himalaya’s to support its bottled-water market, the world largest. At least 30 companies have been granted licenses to tap Tibetan glaciers.

Fossil fuels are by no means blameless in the degradation of the Himalayan glaciers. In the Himalayas, the Chinese study found fossil fuels accounted for 46 percent of black carbon versus 54 percent for biomass burning. Fossil fuel sources ranged as high as 70 percent in the Langtang and Mustang Valleys, largely from sources in Kathmandu and Northern India. The study also saw seasonal variations. Biomass-sourced black carbon decreased during monsoon season, presumably because these particles are more efficiently flushed out by precipitation.

Most of the 5,500 glaciers in the Himalaya-Hindu-Kush region—home of Mount Everest—may vanish by the end of this century. The long history of climbing through the Khumbu Icefall and up the Lhotse Face may become a rock scramble instead.

Source: Eco Watch

Albuquerque boy chasing mountain climbing record

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He’s a little boy with a big dream.

The 9-year-old Albuquerque boy is on a mission to break a world record for being the youngest child to climb the 50 highest peaks in all 50 states. Turner Liotta is already well on his way to breaking the record, one mountain peak at a time.

“I get to hang out with my family and look at nature and I think it’s just fun to climb and I enjoy it,” he said.

The current world record was set by a 12-year-old with his dad six years ago, so Turner has a couple more years to reach his goal.

Turner — with the help of his dad, David — has already conquered nine of them. He will be at 13 by the end of this week, 20 by the end of the summer.

They’re not just climbing to beat a world record. They’re also doing it to raise money for cancer research.

“We are raising money to climb,” David said. “Climbing is logistically heavy and also very expensive to do so we do have a goal set so anything after that goal will go directly to leukemia and lymphoma society.”

It’s something near and dear to David’s heart.

“Eighteen months ago roughly, I was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer, and I had always been an alpine climber before but never the larger summits,” he said. “But this just gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my family.”

David beat cancer, so now he can focus on what really matters: spending time with his son and his family

Mountain climbing more dangerous due to climate change

Climbing in Bergen.
Credit: Image courtesy of Wageningen University and Research Centre
Climate change increases the danger of falling rocks in the Alps and other mountain regions, adding to existing risks for mountain climbers. This is the conclusion of a study by Arnaud Temme of Wageningen University using climbing guides written by mountaineers in the past.

Global warming causes thawing of permafrost and retreat of glaciers and snowfields. More rocks get exposed to the air, reducing their stability and increasing the chance of rolling or falling. After permafrost degrades, freezing and thawing in cracks and crevices start to alternate. Every time water freezes, it expands and lets the cracks grow slowly until the rock breaks. Higher temperatures lead to more instable rocks, increasing the risk of falling.

Old climbing guides

In his research Arnaud Temme of Wageningen University gathered information on safety of climbing routes from so called climbing guides. These guides are written by very experienced mountaineers that describe the climbing routes in a certain area, in this case the Bernese Alps in Switzerland.

In addition to climbing routes, information about risks of falling rocks is mentioned in the guides. For all routes, the type and orientation of the rock and an indication of all risks along the route are noted.

Until know there was little information available on the risks of falling rocks: the available data was on large, rare rock avalanches or for small slopes. However, in the climbing guides, multiple generations of climbers noted the climbing dangers for whole mountain ranges.

The oldest guide out of the dozens of guides used in the research was written 146 years ago. This allowed Temme to record the changes for a longer period and link these with climate change.

Forecast

Climate change does not enhance the risks in the mountains in an equal way, other factors play a role as well. Orientation of the slope is important to calculate the risks. East and west sides of a mountain appear to be more risky due to larger temperature swings. Risk also may be higher in places surrounded by rocks and on faces of granite and amphibolite.

This knowledge allows for forecasts: the properties of a specific area can give an indication of the risks involved. In the future, the collection of area properties can be processed into a map with high risk areas, even in mountain ranges where no research has been conducted. This way, historical knowledge contributes to forecasting of future risks in the mountains.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Wageningen University and Research Centre. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Arnaud J.A.M. Temme. Using Climber’s Guidebooks to Assess Rock Fall Patterns Over Large Spatial and Decadal Temporal Scales: An Example from the Swiss Alps. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography, 2015; 97 (4): 793 DOI: 10.1111/geoa.12116

Mountain environments more vulnerable to climate change than previously reported

New research by University of Montana forest landscape ecology Professor Solomon Dobrowski shows that organisms will face more hardships as they relocate when climate change makes their current homes uninhabitable.

Dobrowski and co-author Sean Parks—a scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Aldo Leopold Research Institute and a UM alumnus—propose a new method to model how fast and where organisms will need to move to keep pace with .

Mountains support roughly a quarter of the globe’s , contain about a third of its protected areas and house nearly half of the world’s . One reason for this biodiversity is that complex topography within mountains creates diverse climates within close proximity to one another.

One way scientists measure how vulnerable a site is to climate change is to estimate how far organisms at that site need to move to maintain a consistent temperature as the Earth warms. The diversity of climates in mountain landscapes means that when temperatures rise, organisms might have to only move a short distance to get to a cooler home.

However, Dobrowksi and Parks show that measuring the0 distance from one area of suitable climate to the next doesn’t account for the resistance organisms will encounter as they traverse areas with very different climates, like a warm valley between two mountain peaks.

“It’s not enough to just measure how far an organism will have to move in order to keep up with climate change,” Dobrowski said. “We also need to look at how much organisms will be exposed to dissimilar climates along the way. Once we do that, we find that even short movements in mountainous areas expose to large climate differences. This may prevent plants and animals from being able to maintain a suitable climate as the earth warms.”

Dobrowski and Parks suggest that areas within mountains are more climatically isolated and thus more vulnerable to climate change than previously reported.

More information: Solomon Z. Dobrowski et al, Climate change velocity underestimates climate change exposure in mountainous regions, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12349

Source: Physics.org

Climbing Mount Everest: what you need to know

There may be too many people, too much rubbish, climbers fighting with sherpa guides, but Mount Everest remains a wonder of nature

In recent years, mountaineers have complained about the over-commercialisation of the Everest ascent, likening the climbing path to a “traffic jam”.

And although more than 4,000 people have scaled the summit since Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first conquered the mountain in 1953, hundreds have also perished.

Here are the things you need know about climbing the world’s tallest mountain:

• Scaling Everest is much easier than it used to be. In 1990 just 18 per cent of summit attempts were successful, but in 2012 that figure was 56 per cent.

It’s also getting safer. Better equipment and modern weather forecasting are credited with improving fatality rates.

• Around 250 people have died in pursuit of Everest’s peak. The “death zone” begins at 8,000 metres high, where oxygen levels significantly fall and conditions become increasingly harsh.

• Avalanches are particularly deadly. It was an avalanche that killed 12 sherpa guides in the latest incident, just as it was another that killed four people in October 2013, and another that claimed nine lives in 2012.

Tashi Sherpa lies on a hospital bed after he was rescued and airlifted from the avalanche site at Mount Everest (REUTERS)

• There are too many people trying to climb Everest. Until 1985, Nepal allowed only one expedition on each route to the summit at a time. But no such strictures exist today, and 658 climbers made the summit in 2013.

• Nepal has announced it will introduce new restrictions for aspiring conquerors of Everest, and is even toying with the idea of placing ladders on Hillary’s step.

• Such action is being taken to reduce the number of queues like this one. Ralf Dujmovits, the mountaineer who took the photograph, said: “My deep hope was that the number of climbers on Everest would be reduced. But I fear that I’ve made Everest more popular with this picture.”

• The overcrowding has been dangerous, with a South Korean man suffering snow blindness, delirium and hypothermia as he waited four hours for more than 300 climbers to pass.

• The sweet spot for Everest climbing occurs for roughly fortnight in the spring, with 70 per cent of 2013’s climbs taking place between May 13 and 22.

• Littering is a big problem on Everest. So much so that new rules state that groups must return to base camp with eight kilogrammes of rubbish for each team member or they will forfeit their deposit of over £2000.

• Climbing Everest is getting cheaper. Where it used to cost £15,000 to scale the summit during peak season, it now costs £6,500.

• And if you fancy yourself a pro, pay a reduced rate of £1,500 for an off-season pass.

• In 2013, there was a hundred person brawl at 23,000 feet during which three European mountaineers were told by a group of around 100 sherpas: “Now we kill you.” It is reported that the sherpas were disrespected by their wealthy clients.

• Some people have even conquered Everest despite a physical handicap. Blind climber Erik Weihenmayer reached the peak in 2001, and armless man Sudarshan Gautam did it in 2013.

• Use this interactive image of Everest and the surrounding area to see the trail, the camps, the people and the wonderful sights.

Source: Telegraph

BREAKING NEWS – Female British climber killed on Cursed Mountain: Mountaineer among three people swept to their death by avalanche in French Alps

 

  • The group had been climbing Mont Maudit when there was an avalanche

  • A British woman and Slovak national were found dead in a gully last night

  • This morning rescuers then found the body of a German woman as well 

  • Avalanche made of ‘large blocks of ice’ is believed to have hit the group 

A British woman is among three mountaineers who have been found dead following an avalanche on France’s Cursed Mountain, rescue workers said today.

The friends set off to climb Mont Maudit, in the Mont-Blanc range of the Alps, on Tuesday, but got into difficulties as they made their ascent towards the 14,649 feet peak.

It is believed slabs of ice the size of small cars landed on top of them with officials saying the climbers ‘didn’t stand a chance.’

The friends had been climbing Mont Maudit, pictured, dubbed the Curse Mountain when there was an avalanche (file picture) 

The friends had been climbing Mont Maudit, pictured, dubbed the Curse Mountain when there was an avalanche (file picture)

The bodies of the so far unidentified British woman aged 33 and a 32-year-old Slovak national were found in a gully on Wednesday night.

As dawn broke today, rescuers also found the body of a female German mountain guide, aged 50, who had been climbing with them.

Stephane Bozon, of the Chamonix gendarmerie, said: ‘The three victims died instantly due to head injuries caused by a mixture of snow and ice.

‘Some slabs of ice were four meters by three meters.’

Describing further macabre details of the tragedy, Mr Bozon said: ‘We had to break the slabs up with a chainsaw. The bodies were discovered between 50 centimeters and one meter deep’.

All had set off from the Cosmiques refuge, which can be reached by cable car, at around 1.45am on Tuesday morning, intending to climb three peaks, including Mont Maudit, which means Cursed Mountain.

The German guide was permanently based in nearby Chamonix, and when she failed to make contact with friends there, one raised the alarm on Wednesday.

Eight gendarmes and a helicopter were mobilised immediately, and the first body was found at 8.08pm on Wednesday, the second at 8.50pm.

Mr Bozon added: ‘Given time and the darkness, we had to stop the search at 10.30pm, and start the search again at 6am on Thursday.

‘The body of the guide was found at 6.30am today, before being taken off the mountain by helicopter.’

According to Mr Bozon there was ‘no high risk of an avalanche’ on Tuesday, but the risk of falling slabs was ‘well known and permanent’.

The latest tragedy also follows a former Royal Marine dying in a climbing accident in another part of the Mont Blanc range, pictured, last month

The latest tragedy also follows a former Royal Marine dying in a climbing accident in another part of the Mont Blanc range, pictured, last month

The British woman is thought to come from a Polish background, the rescuer added. He said she would not be formally identified until next of kin had been informed.

In 2012 nine climbers, including three from the UK, were killed by an avalanche as they attempted a dawn ascent of the same Mont Maudit – or Cursed Mountain in English.

The latest tragedy also follows a former Royal Marine dying in a climbing accident in another part of the Mont Blanc range last month.

Duncan Potts, 28, of Coldridge in Devon, was descending the Dent du Geant (Giant’s Tooth) sector when a rock fell on top of him.

Mont Blanc is Europe’s deadliest mountain range, with around 100 people dying in the area every year.

Some 200 people attempt to reach the peak of the 16,000ft mountain every day during the summer months.

Source: Daily Mail

 

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