Now, fifty years later, the black and white photographs taken by these scientists are of immense value in trying to understand the impacts of climate change on the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas. Mountain geographer Alton Byers has revisited many of the sites of the original photographs and taken replicates, illustrating the changes in the landscape.
The old and new photographs have now been united in a unique photo exhibition: Himalaya – Changing Landscapes, currently on show at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona. The exhibition is part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations for ICIMOD and has been organised in partnership with the BBVA Foundation.
“Only five decades have passed between the old and the new photographs and the changes are dramatic. Many small glaciers at low altitudes have disappeared entirely and many larger ones have lost around half of their volume. Some have formed huge glacial lakes at the foot of the glacier, threatening downstream communities in case of an outburst”, says Byers.
The Himalaya – Changing Landscapes photo exhibition aims to raise awareness of the impact of climate change and of the new challenges facing the mountain people. The stunning repeat panorama views of mountains and glaciers are accompanied by images of the Himalayan people and their stories, as well as photographs of the scientists conducting glacier research in the 1950s. The four-metre long photo panels making up the exhibition are located outside the Barcelona International Convention Centre, and entrance is free for conference participants and the general public alike.
Climate change is affecting people around the globe, and this is especially evident at the top of the world around Mount Everest and the high peaks of the Himalayan mountain range. The greater Himalayan region has the largest concentration of snow and ice outside the two poles. Warming temperatures cause rapid melting of the glaciers, severely affecting the people downstream. Ten river systems originating in the Himalayas bring water to a mountain population of around 200 million, while the vast water basins downstream are home to a further 1.3 billion people. In total 1.5 billion people – a fifth of the world’s population - depend on the Himalayan rivers for their water supply.
The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is the highest, most complex mountain region in the world. It extends more than 3500km over eight countries, from Afghanistan in the north-west to Myanmar in the south-east. The area ranges from the high plateau of Tibet and other mountain areas of China to the Ganges Basin in India, and has the upland watersheds of the ten major Asian river systems.
Warming in the Himalayan region has been much greater than the global average. Weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable and extreme – dry seasons become dryer and wet seasons wetter. This phenomenon is causing concern over the long-term reduction in total water supply, affecting the lives and livelihoods of the Himalayan people, especially in agriculture practices and long-term food security.
In the words of Dr. Andreas Schild, Director General of ICIMOD; “What we see here at the Himalaya photo exhibition is just the tip of the iceberg. The changes taking place are alarming, and the time to act is now. Scientific evidence shows that the effects of globalisation and climate change are being felt in even the most remote Himalayan environments. While climate change is mostly caused by the highly industrialised parts of the world, the effects are taking their toll in the sensitive mountain areas. The signs are visible, but the in-depth knowledge and data from the Himalayan region is largely missing. Global measures of scientific co-operation and regional collaboration are needed to reduce this information gap. What happens in this remote mountain region is a serious concern for the whole world”.
The Himalaya – Changing Landscapes photo exhibition was first unveiled in a customised format at the Mt. Everest Base Camp (5300m) in April 2008, making it the highest photo exhibition in the world. After Barcelona the exhibition will travel to Kathmandu for ICIMOD’s 25th Anniversary celebrations. For future exhibition dates and locations please see www.changing-landscapes.comHIMALAYA – CHANGING LANDSCAPES
Javier Fernández | alfa
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