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Glacial Flooding & Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Exchange and Field Training July 11-24, 2013 in Huaraz, Peru

Climate  Change,  People,  and  Mountains   Kenneth  R.  Young   Department  of  Geography  and  the  Environment   University  of  Texas  at  Austin   Mountains  create  both  opportunities  in  terms  of  natural  resources  and  ecosystem   services,  and  also  risks  given  geomorphic  instability  and  a  high  susceptibility  to  climate   change  consequences.  Thus,  the  processes  that  connect  people  to  mountains  need  to  be   understood  in  terms  of  their  couplings,  feedbacks,  interactions,  and  responses  to  global   change.  While  risks  posed  by  changes  in  high  mountains  can  be  dealt  with  through   education,  outreach,  and  engineering  interventions,  better  for  a  more  complete   understanding  would  be  to  evaluate  the  coupled  natural-­‐human  systems  involved  in  a  way   that  permits  comparisons  among  the  different  highland  regions  of  the  world.   The  land  covers  of  mountains  include  glaciers,  water  bodies,  natural  vegetation   types,  and  also  crops,  pastures,  orchards,  tree  plantings,  and  settlements.  Change  in  these   respective  land  covers  through  time  may  suggest,  for  example,  increasing  temperatures  if   glaciers  are  shrinking  and  glacial  lakes  expanding.  In  turn,  changes  in  land  cover  associated   with  the  livelihoods  of  rural  people  or  the  expansion  of  towns  and  cities,  serve  to  indicate  a   set  of  social  and  economic  processes  associated  with  demographic  shifts,  and  with  local   and  regional  development.     Relatively  new  research  approaches  that  explicitly  link  biophysical  and  socio-­‐ economic  processes  are  now  available.  They  can  be  valuable  for  documenting,  evaluating,   and  modelling  landscape  changes  arising  from  the  interactions  of  natural  with  cultural   realms.  These  are  coupled  natural-­‐human  systems  research  paradigms.  They,  provide  a   framework  for  interdisciplinary  research  drawing  on  human  resources  and  methodologies   from  the  geosciences,  the  biological  sciences,  engineering,  the  social  sciences,  and  the   humanities.   As  an  example,  Bury  et  al.  (2013;  New  Geographies  of  Water  and  Climate  Change  in   Peru:  Coupled  Natural  and  Social  Transformations  in  the  Santa  River  Watershed;  Annals  of   the  Association  of  American  Geographers  103:  363-­‐375)  report  on  the  findings  of  a  project   funded  by  the  U.S.  National  Science  Foundation  program  entitled  “Dynamics  of  coupled   natural-­‐human  systems”.  They  were  able  to  use  ice  coverage  and  stream  discharge  data  to   project  consequences  for  water  availability  in  Peru’s  Santa  River  Basin.  The  highest   elevations  of  this  basin  include  the  hundreds  of  glaciers  of  the  Cordillera  Blanca,  which   have  receded  some  25%  in  the  last  several  decades.  The  glaciers  are  inside  the  boundaries   of  Huascaran  National  Park,  giving  them  conservation,  recreation,  and  touristic  values.  The  

high  elevation  ecosystems  are  changing  with  the  ongoing  warming  trend,  including  for   example  high  elevation  proglacial  wetlands  that  first  expanded  and  are  now  contracting  as   peak  water  has  passed  through  the  regional  hydrograph.  Meanwhile,  glacial  risks  continue   to  increase,  while  social  and  economic  shifts  have  altered  perceptions  of  risk  by  local   people,  and  water  demands  across  the  basin.  In  fact,  despite  declining  water  supplies,   demands  for  hydropower,  for  mining  operations,  and  for  potable  water  have  all  increased   substantially.  Much  of  the  River  Santa’s  water  begins  as  snow  and  ice,  but  ends  up  being   used  for  export  agriculture,  for  producing  sugar  cane,  asparagus,  avocados  and  other  crops.     Trying  to  understand  the  current  and  possible  future  dynamics  of  this  particular   study  area  required  a  coupled  system  approach,  done  within  a  watershed  context,  and  as   evaluated  by  a  glaciologist/physical  geographer  (Brian  Marcus),  a  hydrologist  (Jeffrey   McKenzie),  a  biogeographer  (Kenneth  Young),  a  human  geographer  (Jeffrey  Bury),  and  an   environmental  historian  (Mark  Carey).  The  coupled  system  approach  provided  a  means  to   ask  complex  transdisciplinary  questions  about  a  large  mountain  gradient.  It  facilitated   group  interactions  and  goals  in  terms  of  the  kinds  of  research  questions  asked  and  the   sorts  of  data  analyzed.     In  conclusion,  environmental  and  social  changes  in  the  high  mountains  are  complex,   with  many  drivers  of  change  originating  far  away  in  global  climate  processes,  and  also  as   affected  by  national,  regional,  and  global  markets  setting  economic  costs  and  benefits.   There  are  inevitable  trade-­‐offs  among  adaptation  strategies  to  deal  with  natural  hazards   and  livelihoods,  while  also  taking  into  account  biodiversity,  carbon  dynamics,  and  the   hydrological  cycle.  Integrated  and  interdisciplinary  approaches  are  needed  for  planning   and  for  providing  recommendations  to  decision  makers.  

Kenneth Young: Climate change, people, and mountains