Tag Archives: Climate risk

Bolivian glaciers melt at alarming rate

glaciers
glaciers

A new study mapping the effects of dwindling glaciers on people living in Bolivia reveals rapid shrinkage and potentially dangerous glacial lakes.

LONDON, 22 October, 2016 Between 1986 and 2014 – one human generation – the glaciers of Bolivia shrank by 43%, according to new research.

This presents a problem in the long term for more than 2 million people who rely on glacial meltwater supply in the dry season, and immediate danger in the short term for thousands who might live below precarious glacial lakes.

Glaciers are in retreat as the world warms − a consequence of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in response to the increasing combustion of fossil fuels.

They are dwindling almost everywhere in the Andean chain, in Greenland, in Alaska and Canada, the Himalayas, across the entire mass of Central Asia, and everywhere in the tropics.

Tropical glaciers

But a new study in The Cryosphere, the journal of the European Geosciences Union, is one of the first to examine in detail precisely what this retreat could mean for the human communities in Bolivia, home to one-fifth of the world’s tropical glaciers.

Researchers from two British universities and a Bolivian colleague examined NASA satellite images of the region and found that the area of the Bolivia Cordillera Oriental normally covered by glaciers fell from 530 square kilometres in 1986 to about 300 sq km in 2014 − a shrinkage of more than two-fifths.

They then turned to the glacial lakes − bodies of water left behind as a glacier retreats. Some are in natural dips in the bedrock, some are accidentally dammed behind walls of glacial debris.

All such lakes are precarious: rockfalls, earthquakes and avalanches can breach them or tip water from them to create a dangerous downstream flow.

We mapped hundreds of lakes,” says Simon Cook, senior lecturer in physical geography at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

Some lakes are very small and pose little risk. Others are very large, but there’s little or no possibility that they would drain catastrophically. Others are large enough to create a big flood, and sit beneath steep slopes or steep glaciers, and could be dangerous.”

Studies such as these are a demonstration that climate change is happening, and that science can deliver practical help to communities in the path of potential disaster or economic stress.

Most glaciers will be gone or much diminished
by the end of the century – so where will the water come from in the dry season?”

Civil engineers, geographers, conservationists and hydraulic engineers are no longer simply warning about the hazards of climate change. They have begun to identify the communities most vulnerable to flooding, the hazards to local biodiversity as forests and grasslands begin to feel the heat, and the cities most at risk from routine coastal flooding as sea levels rise. and the US states that must start planning now for future power disruption as a consequence of drought.

Meltwater matters to mountain communities. It supplies the drive for hydroelectric power and it delivers clean drinking water to the cities and irrigation for crops in the dry season.

Reservoirs at risk

Through the year, the 2.3 million people in the Bolivian cities of La Paz and El Alto get 15% of their water from glacial supplies; in the dry season, this figure doubles. Glacial meltwater also keeps regional rivers and lakes topped up. So as the glaciers retreat and the body of surviving ice dwindles, some of these reservoirs, too, are at risk.

The researchers pinpointed 25 lakes as potentially dangerous. Even the smallest, were it to drain completely, would tip a peak flow of 600 cubic metres of water a second down the hillside. The largest could discharge 125,000 cubic metres − 50 times the volume of an Olympic swimming pool − every second.

A glacial lake outburst in 2009 killed farm animals, destroyed crops and washed away a road, leaving villagers isolated for months.

Dr Cook says: “We considered that a lake was dangerous if there were settlements or infrastructure down-valley from the lake, and if the slopes and glaciers around the lake were very steep, meaning that they could shed ice or snow or rock into the lake, which would cause it to overtop and generate a flood – a bit like jumping into a swimming pool, but on a much bigger scale.

Most glaciers will be gone or much diminished by the end of the century – so where will the water come from in the dry season?

Big cities like La Paz are partially dependent on meltwater from glaciers. But little is known about potential water resource stress in more remote areas. Much more work needs to be done on this issue.” Climate News Network

A new study mapping the effects of dwindling glaciers on people living in Bolivia reveals rapid shrinkage and potentially dangerous glacial lakes.

LONDON, 22 October, 2016 Between 1986 and 2014 – one human generation – the glaciers of Bolivia shrank by 43%, according to new research.

This presents a problem in the long term for more than 2 million people who rely on glacial meltwater supply in the dry season, and immediate danger in the short term for thousands who might live below precarious glacial lakes.

Glaciers are in retreat as the world warms − a consequence of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in response to the increasing combustion of fossil fuels.

They are dwindling almost everywhere in the Andean chain, in Greenland, in Alaska and Canada, the Himalayas, across the entire mass of Central Asia, and everywhere in the tropics.

Tropical glaciers

But a new study in The Cryosphere, the journal of the European Geosciences Union, is one of the first to examine in detail precisely what this retreat could mean for the human communities in Bolivia, home to one-fifth of the world’s tropical glaciers.

Researchers from two British universities and a Bolivian colleague examined NASA satellite images of the region and found that the area of the Bolivia Cordillera Oriental normally covered by glaciers fell from 530 square kilometres in 1986 to about 300 sq km in 2014 − a shrinkage of more than two-fifths.

They then turned to the glacial lakes − bodies of water left behind as a glacier retreats. Some are in natural dips in the bedrock, some are accidentally dammed behind walls of glacial debris.

All such lakes are precarious: rockfalls, earthquakes and avalanches can breach them or tip water from them to create a dangerous downstream flow.

We mapped hundreds of lakes,” says Simon Cook, senior lecturer in physical geography at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

Some lakes are very small and pose little risk. Others are very large, but there’s little or no possibility that they would drain catastrophically. Others are large enough to create a big flood, and sit beneath steep slopes or steep glaciers, and could be dangerous.”

Studies such as these are a demonstration that climate change is happening, and that science can deliver practical help to communities in the path of potential disaster or economic stress.

Most glaciers will be gone or much diminished
by the end of the century – so where will the water come from in the dry season?”

Civil engineers, geographers, conservationists and hydraulic engineers are no longer simply warning about the hazards of climate change. They have begun to identify the communities most vulnerable to flooding, the hazards to local biodiversity as forests and grasslands begin to feel the heat, and the cities most at risk from routine coastal flooding as sea levels rise. and the US states that must start planning now for future power disruption as a consequence of drought.

Meltwater matters to mountain communities. It supplies the drive for hydroelectric power and it delivers clean drinking water to the cities and irrigation for crops in the dry season.

Reservoirs at risk

Through the year, the 2.3 million people in the Bolivian cities of La Paz and El Alto get 15% of their water from glacial supplies; in the dry season, this figure doubles. Glacial meltwater also keeps regional rivers and lakes topped up. So as the glaciers retreat and the body of surviving ice dwindles, some of these reservoirs, too, are at risk.

The researchers pinpointed 25 lakes as potentially dangerous. Even the smallest, were it to drain completely, would tip a peak flow of 600 cubic metres of water a second down the hillside. The largest could discharge 125,000 cubic metres − 50 times the volume of an Olympic swimming pool − every second.

A glacial lake outburst in 2009 killed farm animals, destroyed crops and washed away a road, leaving villagers isolated for months.

Dr Cook says: “We considered that a lake was dangerous if there were settlements or infrastructure down-valley from the lake, and if the slopes and glaciers around the lake were very steep, meaning that they could shed ice or snow or rock into the lake, which would cause it to overtop and generate a flood – a bit like jumping into a swimming pool, but on a much bigger scale.

Most glaciers will be gone or much diminished by the end of the century – so where will the water come from in the dry season?

Big cities like La Paz are partially dependent on meltwater from glaciers. But little is known about potential water resource stress in more remote areas. Much more work needs to be done on this issue.” Climate News Network

Investor heavyweights call for clear action on climate

As a major UN climate summit gets under way in New York today, some of the world’s leading institutional investors demand clearer policies on climate change and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. LONDON, 23 September, 2014 − Many of the biggest hitters in the global financial community, together managing an eye-watering $24 trillion of investment funds, have issued a powerful warning to political leaders about the risks of failing to establish clear policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than 340 investment concerns − ranging from Scandinavian pensions funds to institutional investors in Asia, Australia, South Africa and the US − have put their signatures to what they describe as global investors’ most comprehensive statement yet on climate change. In particular, the investors call on government leaders to provide a “stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon policy”, and to develop plans to phase out subsidies on fossil fuels. They warn: “Gaps, weaknesses and delays in climate change and clean energy policies will increase the risks to our investments as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, and will increase the likelihood that more radical policy measures will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ambitious policies

“Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies are needed in order for us to scale up our investments.” Attempts to establish carbon pricing systems capable of making an impact on climate change have so far ended in failure, while oil and gas companies continue to battle against stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The investors’ move has been welcomed by the United Nations. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Investors are owners of large segments of the global economy, as well as custodians of citizens’ savings around the world. Having such a critical mass of them demand a transition to the low-carbon and green economy is exactly the signal governments need in order to move to ambitious action quickly. “What is needed is an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.” The investors’ statement comes amid growing concern in the finance sector about the economic consequences of a warming world. Last week, a commission composed of leading economists and senior political figures said the transition to a low-carbon economy was vital in order to ensure continued global economic growth.

Stranded assets

Other groups say investors who continue to put their money into fossil fuels are taking considerable risks. As governments and regulators face up to the enormity of climate change and place more restrictions on fossil fuels, such investments could become what are termed “stranded assets”. There are also signs of a surge in low-carbon technologies, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Last week, Lazard, the asset management firm, reported that a decline in cost and increased efficiency means large wind and solar installations in the US can now, without subsidies, be cost competitive with gas-fired power. There is also increased activity on the carbon pricing front. China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, recently announced it would establish a countrywide emissions trading system by 2016. If implemented, the China carbon trading system will be the world’s biggest. The country already runs seven regional carbon trading schemes. – Climate News Network

As a major UN climate summit gets under way in New York today, some of the world’s leading institutional investors demand clearer policies on climate change and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. LONDON, 23 September, 2014 − Many of the biggest hitters in the global financial community, together managing an eye-watering $24 trillion of investment funds, have issued a powerful warning to political leaders about the risks of failing to establish clear policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than 340 investment concerns − ranging from Scandinavian pensions funds to institutional investors in Asia, Australia, South Africa and the US − have put their signatures to what they describe as global investors’ most comprehensive statement yet on climate change. In particular, the investors call on government leaders to provide a “stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon policy”, and to develop plans to phase out subsidies on fossil fuels. They warn: “Gaps, weaknesses and delays in climate change and clean energy policies will increase the risks to our investments as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, and will increase the likelihood that more radical policy measures will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ambitious policies

“Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies are needed in order for us to scale up our investments.” Attempts to establish carbon pricing systems capable of making an impact on climate change have so far ended in failure, while oil and gas companies continue to battle against stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The investors’ move has been welcomed by the United Nations. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Investors are owners of large segments of the global economy, as well as custodians of citizens’ savings around the world. Having such a critical mass of them demand a transition to the low-carbon and green economy is exactly the signal governments need in order to move to ambitious action quickly. “What is needed is an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.” The investors’ statement comes amid growing concern in the finance sector about the economic consequences of a warming world. Last week, a commission composed of leading economists and senior political figures said the transition to a low-carbon economy was vital in order to ensure continued global economic growth.

Stranded assets

Other groups say investors who continue to put their money into fossil fuels are taking considerable risks. As governments and regulators face up to the enormity of climate change and place more restrictions on fossil fuels, such investments could become what are termed “stranded assets”. There are also signs of a surge in low-carbon technologies, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Last week, Lazard, the asset management firm, reported that a decline in cost and increased efficiency means large wind and solar installations in the US can now, without subsidies, be cost competitive with gas-fired power. There is also increased activity on the carbon pricing front. China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, recently announced it would establish a countrywide emissions trading system by 2016. If implemented, the China carbon trading system will be the world’s biggest. The country already runs seven regional carbon trading schemes. – Climate News Network