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Observing Glaciers in 'Real Time'

Written by Markus Gross. Source: ETH ZurichHot summers cause glaciers to melt. That not only changes the makeup of the landscape and hence the maps of Switzerland, it also affects every area of society. A new, dynamic glacier inventory makes the impact of climate change and the changing landscape visible.[caption id="attachment_3695" align="alignright" width="300"] Glacier observation under the spell of several Valais four-thousand-metre peaks. (Image copyright: GLAMOS / ETHZ)The last time Swiss glaciers managed to grow at all was in 2001. Since then, the country’s 1,500 glaciers – as well as others elsewhere – have been suffering a slow but inexorable death. Until now, though, we have understood only partially how quickly they are really disappearing, and what effect that has on the landscape, people and animals. That is about to change, thanks to the Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland (GLAMOS) project. GLAMOS is working on behalf of various Swiss federal offices to...
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Why we explored an undisturbed rainforest hidden on top of an African mountain

Written by Simon Willcock, Lecturer in Environmental Geography at Bangor University and Phil Platts, Research Fellow, University of York. Atop Mount Lico in northern Mozambique is a site that few have had the pleasure of seeing – a hidden rainforest, protected by a steep circle of rock. Though the mountain was known to locals, the forest itself remained a secret until six years ago, when Julian Bayliss spotted it on satellite imagery. It wasn’t until last year, however, that he revealed his discovery, at the Oxford Nature Festival. We recently visited the 700 metre-high mountaintop rainforest in an expedition organised by Bayliss, in collaboration with Mozambique’s Natural History Museum and National Herbarium. As far as anyone knew (including the locals), we would be the first people to set foot there (spoiler: we weren’t). Since the rainforest’s discovery, Lico has received worldwide attention. That it captured the public’s imagination speaks volumes about how...
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Honey Hunting: An Age-Old Tradition Meets Modern Threats

[caption id="attachment_3654" align="alignright" width="300"] Apis Laboriosa, the Himalayan giant honey bee, is the largest honeybee in the world. Photo: Niraj Karki.Wild honey from Apis Laboriosa, the Himalayan giant honey bee, has been gathered by Gurung people from cliffs in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal for centuries. Apis Laboriosa is the largest honeybee in the world, and is referred to as ‘Bheer-Mauri’ in Nepali, which directly translates into ‘cliff bee.’ It is crucial for pollinating wild flora and crops in the mountains. The Gurung people across many parts of Nepal, especially the Kaski and Lamjung Districts, value their tradition of honey hunting as part of their lifestyle, and collect honey twice a year during the spring and autumn. The honey they gather is prized due to both its medicinal properties and monetary worth.Every year, during the start of the spring or autumn season, the local Shaman (priest or the elder of the tribe) of...
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Running off the road

[caption id="attachment_3639" align="alignright" width="400"] Mountain roads – and the cars and people on them – facilitate non-native species movement up to high elevations. Here: Davos, Switzerland It is a familiar pattern by now, confirmed over and over in virtually all mountain regions we study: roads are facilitating the introduction of non-native plant species into mountains. Humans introduce – on purpose or by accident – new species in the valleys, and from there they start spreading uphill. On their way towards high elevations, mountain roads serve as a great highway. But with increasing elevation, fewer and fewer non-natives will be found, as they progressively drop out the higher you get. The few that make it all the way to the top by road could possibly spread from there into the natural mountain vegetation, but even fewer species manage that. All of that we knew, indeed, but a crucial question remains: who wins this...
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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...
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Mountain water finally arrives at a unique floodplain

[caption id="attachment_3581" align="alignright" width="300"] The very flat Nylsvley floodplain with the Waterberg Mountains in the distance (Photo SJ Taylor, May 2018)Water finally arrives in the Nylsvley Ramsar floodplainAround the middle of April this year, Natasha Mőller, the Officer in Charge of the tiny Nylsvley Nature Reserve and Ramsar Site, sent out photos to show the Friends of Nylsvley that water had finally arrived in the wetland, even if very late in the season. From rainfall in the Waterberg massif about 30 km away, it takes about 10 days to begin filling up the Nylsvley floodplain.This year, perhaps because of the four-year El Nino drought that ended during 2017, the summer rainfall in the Waterberg Mountain catchment was late, and this meant that the wetland was dry throughout the 2017-2018 summer.  Most of the birds had already given up on their chance of breeding and had moved away. Others (we saw a...
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HICAP: Adaptation to climate change in the Himalayas

[caption id="attachment_3558" align="alignright" width="300"] HICAP – a transboundary, inter-disciplinary and multi-scale programmeAn infographic journey of the long road from science to policy impact - by Björn Alfthan (GRID-Arendal[1]), Nand Kishor Agrawal (ICIMOD[2]), Bob Van Oort[3] & Nina Bergan Holmelin (CICERO).The Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) was born out of a need to address critical knowledge gaps on the impacts of climate change in the Himalayas and to better understand under what conditions mountain communities can best adapt to change. Its main aims, elaborated in 2011, were to: Reduce uncertainty through downscaling and customizing global climate change scenarios, and developing water availability and demand scenarios for parts of major river basins Develop knowledge and enhance capacities to assess, monitor, and communicate the impacts of and responses to climate change on natural and socio-economic environments at the local, national and regional levels Make concrete and actionable proposals for strategies and policies considering vulnerabilities,...
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(Hi)story of Traditional Agricultural Landscapes in Slovakia

[caption id="attachment_3517" align="alignright" width="300"] Traditional vineyard agricultural landscapes Traditional agricultural landscapes (TAL) in Slovakia are unique remnants of small-scale agriculture, with cultural, biological, and aesthetic significance. Typical small-scale mosaics often copy specific forms of anthropogenic relief (terraces, balks, stone walls) and form a beautiful landscape pattern. The presence of unique folk architectonic features such as vineyard houses, cellars, and religious features often increases the beauty and cultural-historical value of these landscapes. After complicated political and economic changes during the 20th century, they survive on only 0.9% of the area of Slovakia, mostly in mountains, and are extensively abandoned. The changing political landscapeThe plains, basin valleys, and hilly parts of the landscape have all been cultivated in Slovakia over the centuries. The unique, small-scale division of land parcels stemmed from the adaptation of Hungarian Tripartitum law in 1514, which secured equal land division between each of a farmer's descendants. The farmers used to...
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Reflections on the Japanese and European Alps

[caption id="attachment_3487" align="alignright" width="300"] Mt. Hakusan (2,702 m), 45 km south-south-east of KanazawaI recently visited Japan as a guest of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, hosted by Kenichi Ueno (University of Tsukuba) who has posted some JALPS blogs. He has asked me to post some reflections on my visit. On first sight, the Japanese and European Alps have quite a few aspects in common. Both are relative hotspots of biodiversity, with many protected areas and biosphere reserves. In places, both tourism – including large ski areas – and hydroelectricity are well-developed. There is a long history of alpinism, often associated with scientific research. There are steep slopes, and significant infrastructure to minimise natural hazards. Forests occupy the greatest proportion of the landscape – and are expanding because of decreasing harvests and the abandonment of agricultural land. Challenges include, first, accessibility to remote valleys – but tunnels and high...
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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...
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