University experts comment on how climate change is transforming alpine environments
Mountains are bellwethers of climate shifts according to new reporting led by UBC researchers, who suggest these terrains are experiencing a variety of rapid and worrying changes.
Mountains comprise a quarter of the world’s land surface and are home to a quarter of the world’s human population. Across Canada, mountain landscapes cover 1.5 million square-kilometres.
“These giants respond rapidly and intensely to climatic and environmental variation,” says UBC Okanagan sustainability researcher Lael Parrott, report editor and contributor. “Both social and natural scientists are recognizing that mountains are sentinels of change.”
The State of the Mountains Report describes the abrupt effect of retreating glaciers on the flow of mountain rivers and watersheds. The report states entire mountain ranges are showing evidence of change.
“These observations can be considered a window to the future, providing a glimpse of some of the consequences associated with the rapid loss of mountain glaciers to come,” says Parrott.
Other updates in the report include changes in tourism, avalanche prediction, birds and mammals and treelines.
In spite of the serious consequences of some of the changes documented in the report, Parrott and other editors of the report remain optimistic. They suggest that the aim is to increase awareness and inform Canadians about the changes in mountain places. This, in turn, may lead to support for policies on headwaters protection to mitigate risks of flooding, conservation of alpine species and their habitats, as well as management of tourism.
“In times of change, mountains need stewards more than ever,” adds Parrott.
About the State of the Mountains Report
The 2018 State of the Mountains Report, published by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), is a collection of expert summaries written to raise awareness about the ways a changing climate is transforming the alpine environment. Editors include University of Alberta mountain historian Zac Robinson, mountain ecology researcher David Hik and Lael Parrott from UBC’s Okanagan campus.
The report is a follow up to a similar 2011 article, which was a summary of research being carried out across the country. The 2018 State of the Mountains Report was produced for the ACC, in partnership with The Royal Canadian Geographic Society. The “On the Map” pages in the May-June 2018 issue of Canadian Geographic complement the material in this report.
Both Lael Parrott and Zac Robinson serve on the Board of Directors of the Alpine Club of Canada. David Hik is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.