date: Thu, 25 Jun 1998 18:02:06 +0100
from: Keith Alverson <keith.alversonatXYZxyzes.unibe.ch>
subject: PAGES input to Global Change in Mountain Regions
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Dear PAGES mountain scientists,
Apologies for the format of the last message attachment. Here the
attachemts are included in word 6.0 format as well as in ascii text
embedded in this message.
At the recent PAGES SSC meeting (June 19-21, Pallanza) the PAGES steering
committee endorsed participation in an intercore project on global change
in mountain regions. The other interested projects include GCTE, BAHC,
LUCC, and IHDP.
Enclosed are two word 98 documents. The executive summary of the
implementation plan for this project and the pages contributions to the
implementation plan as they currently stand.
We are now at a stage where a wider involvement from PAGES scientists who
are doing research in mountian regions is being suought in order to develop
a more detailed implementation. I would greatly appreciate any comments on
these documents, any new input either as text or figures which would
highlight PAGES ongoing efforts in mountain regions, as well as offers from
scientists who would like to take the lead in this initiative. Feel free
to distribute these documents widely should you know of interested
scientists who did not receive this mailing.
Replies can be sent to me by either by email (email@example.com) or
c/o the PAGES IPO in Bern.
Potential PAGES contributions to the IGBP/IHDP
"Global Change in Mountain Regions" initiative
Keith Alverson, Heinz Veit and Bruno Messerli
The "Global Change Research in Mountain Regions" program is currently
developing an implementation plan as an IGBP inter-core project cooperation
with input from BAHC, GCTE, LUCC and PAGES as well as the IHDP. A draft
version of the executive summary of this implementation plan is included
below. To date PAGES role in this project has been:
1. The written contribution from Bruno Messerli (PAGES IPO) contained in an
appendix to IGBP report 43;
2. The input of Keith Alverson (PAGES IPO) and Heinz Veit (University of
Bern) at the workshop in Pontresina Switzerland at which a draft version of
the Mountain Initiative implementation plan was begun, and a draft version
of this "PAGES contributions" document was written.
Mountain areas are valuable locations to carry out paleoclimatic research
for exactly the same reasons that they are being considered as prime
regions to investigate global change.
� High sensitivity to climate change.
� Steep relief leading to intense geomorphic and hydrological processes.
� A wide variety of ecosystems within a small geographical area providing a
model, with sharper gradients and smaller overall scales, which can provide
insight into latitudinal and temporal ecosystem changes.
1. Make a fundamental contribution to the improvement of our understanding
of physical and biological processes within ecosystems and to global change
studies in mountain regions.
2. Define the envelope of natural variability within which the climate and
ecosystem monitoring program can be assessed, thereby facilitating the
extrapolation of observed time series of hydrological and ecological
characteristics into the past, and the future.
3. Construct examples and scenarios of climate change impacts at the
landscape level from the paleorecord, both with and without human impacts,
which provide an excellent mechanism for validation of climate and
Past landscape development provides an understanding of modern and future
conditions. Many modern plant communities, permafrost, glaciers and soils
are strongly influenced by the environmental conditions from years,
decades, centuries, even millennia in the past. This dependence on past
conditions will continue to influence any potential future reorganizations
due to global climate change. A hierarchy of timescales exist in both
climatic forcing and ecosystem dynamics including extreme events, changes
in seasonality, interannual modes of oscillation such as ENSO and the NAO,
decadal, century and millennial scale variability. Behavior on all of these
timescales require different methods and archives for their study. In
order to address questions on this wide range of temporal and spatial
scales, it is of utmost importance that a synergy is established between
paleoclimate mountain research and modern ecosystem and land use based
monitoring, modeling and synthesis studies. For example, complementary
locations for global change monitoring stations with intensive paleoclimate
study sites should be sought where possible.
PRINCIPAL RESEARCH THEMES
1. Long-term observation systems to detect and analyze signals of global
change, as the mountain-specific component of the Global Observing Systems
Monitoring of modern climate and ecosystem parameters provides an
invaluable calibration of proxy records of past climatic and environmental
change. Paleoclimatic records contained in ice cores, tree rings, lake
sediments, terrestrial and aquatic biological assemblages all depend
critically on transfer functions based on comparisons of the modern
responses to instrumentally measured climatic parameters. The dependence of
proxy records on specific climatic parameters can also change in time.
Such changes provide both a challenge in interpreting paleorecords as well
as valuable insights into changing ecosystem dynamics. Such nuances
necessitate long term monitoring. Thus, both short and long term monitoring
are fundamental to PAGES research. It is important to plan monitoring
activities which, in addition to providing their own inherent value, can
facilitate a smooth blending of the proxy based information with recent
instrumental data, thereby maximizing the accuracy and length of the
available aggregate climate record. Whenever possible monitoring programs
should seek to complement and benefit from PAGES monitoring programs which
already exist, for example on the Tibetan plateau as part of the HIPP
program, and on high altitude tropical glaciers worldwide in support of ice
In establishing a global monitoring program attention should be paid to
ways in which the program can both serve the wider interdisciplinary
climate research community as well as the ways in which it can benefit from
extant monitoring programs such as those within the PAGES research
umbrella. Selections of sites, for example, could take account of the
locations of intense paleoclimatic research. In addition, isotope
monitoring is an example of a key area of potentially fruitful interaction
between studies of modern climate and ecosystem dynamics and paleoclimatic
Key to developing methodologies for coordinated use of altitude related
indicators of anthropogenic global change, and its impacts, is knowledge of
the continuing natural background variability with which and anthropogenic
changes will interact. Natural background loads in precipitation and
atmospheric deposition are recorded, with annual resolution in ice cores
from mountain glaciers. Varved sediments in proglacial lakes provide
records of natural variability in climate and lake ecosystem dynamics with
a similarly high resolution. In the past century, anthropogenic effects,
mainly due to local pollution, are also reflected in these records.
2. Integrated modelling framework for analysis and vulnerability assessment
Models need to be rigorously validated. Such validation can make use of
data obtained from altitudinal gradient and catchment studies. Another
method of validation, and improvement, of these models is to compare them
with reconstructions of climatic and land use change driven hydrological
and ecological changes of the past. As with any model data comparison, a
crucial requirement for meaningful comparison is explicit estimates of
uncertainties in the model fields as well as the reconstructions.
For example, detailed reconstructions of past environmental response to
climatic forcing in mountainous regions provide an excellent test for the
applicability of plant functional types to a wide range of background
climatic situations. In return, plant functional type definitions can
provide an excellent method for streamlining the biospheric interactions
components of paleoclimate models. These models are often run for much
longer periods of time than modern climate simulations and, as such,
require that computational efficiency be maximized at the expense of
species level detail.
3. Environmental-change-related process studies in mountain environments,
in particular along altitudinal gradients and in associated headwater
There are well established PAGES programs in reconstructing, for example,
treeline, permafrost occurrence, species occurrence and Equilibrium Line
Altitude. Similarly, high alpine lacustrine sediments, because of the
relative lack of anthropogenic influences, comprise a core PAGES proxy
record. In identifying environmental change processes along altitudinal
gradients, attention should be paid to the added value provided by an
accurate reconstruction of the long term past behavior of the system.
Assessing the lag times associated with ecotone response to environmental
change is an area of active research within PAGES.
4. Development of scaling and regionalization methods for mountain regions.
The connections between catchment scale dynamics and global climatic
change is far from trivial. It is a connection that has been particularly
intensely studied within the paleoclimate community because of the point
source nature of paleoclimate proxy data. In addition, the paleoclimate
record allows comparisons across a staggering temporal and spatial array of
sites. For example paleoclimatic tree line reconstructions for the past
100,000 years from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego are being produced as part of
the PAGES PEP I program. It is exactly such spatial and temporal syntheses
which can begin to provide the full spectrum of information required to
asses of scaling and regionalization methods in mountain regions.
5. Development of strategies to ensure sustainable development in mountain
regions, and to avoid or mitigate damaging effects of disastrous events.
Many mountains of the world have a long history of human influence. In the
alps there is at least a 50,000 year history of human habitation with
strong human impacts beginning to be seen in paleoclimate records around
5,000 years ago. In the Andes human habitation has been marked by dramatic
oscillations, often in concert with climatic and ecosystem changes, and has
a record reaching back some 10,000 years. There is a strong relationship
between the natural environment in Holocene times and human activities. The
interaction and feedbacks between human activities, land use, climatic and
environmental change, and disastrous events is recorded in paleorecord.
Reconstructing and understanding these interactions in the past can provide
an important tool for understanding how to create strategies for human
security in the face of climatic variability and environmental change in
"Global Change Research in Mountain Regions"
Proposal for an IGBP/IHDP Implementation Plan
Mountain regions occupy about one-fifth of the Earth's surface. They are
home to approxi-mate-ly one-tenth of the global population and provide
goods and services to about half of hu-manity. Accordingly, they received
particular attention in "Agenda 21", endorsed at UNCED. Chapter 13 of this
document focuses on mountain regions, and states:
"Mountain environments are essential to the survival of the glob-al
ecosystem. Many of them are experiencing degradation in terms of
accelerated soil ero-sion, landslides, and rapid loss of habi-tat and
genetic diversity. Hence, proper management of moun-tain resources and
socio-economic development of the people deserves immediate action."
Moreover, mountain regions often provide unique opportunities (sometimes
the best on Earth) to detect and analyse global change processes and
1) Due to the often strong altitudinal gradients in mountain regions,
meteorological, hy-dro-logical (including cryospheric), and ecological
conditions (in particular ve-ge-tation, soil, and related conditions)
change strong-ly over relatively short distances. Consequently,
bio-di-ver-sity tends to be high, and characteristic sequences of
eco-systems and cryospheric systems are found along mountain slopes. The
bound-aries be-tween these systems (e.g., ecotones, snowline, and glacier
boundaries) experience shifts due to environmental change and thus can be
used as indicators; some can even be observed at the global scale by remote
2) Many mountain ranges, particularly their higher parts, are not
affected by direct human activities. These areas include many na-tional
parks and other protected, "near-natural" environments. They may serve as
locations where the environmental impacts of climate change alone,
including changes in atmospheric chemistry, can be studied directly.
3) Mountain regions are distributed all over the globe, from the
Equator almost to the poles and from oceanic to highly continental
climates. This global distribution allows us to per-form comparative
regional studies and to analyse the regional differentiation of
environ-mental change processes as characterized above.
Accordingly, mountain regions are of particular significance for global
A Joint IGBP/IHDP Initiative
Recognising the significance of mountain regions for global change
re-search, the IGBP core projects BAHC and GCTE, together with
START/SASCOM, organised a workshop in Kath-man-du, Nepal (March/April
1996), which resulted in IGBP Report #43: "Predicting Global Change Impacts
on Mountain Hydrology and Ecology".
This report was complemented by documents from two follow-up meetings: a
LUCC Work-shop on "Dynamics of Land Use/Land Cover Change in the
Hindukush-Hi-malayas" in Kath-man-du, Nepal (April 1997), and the "European
Conference on Environ-men-tal and Societal Change in Mountain Regions" in
Oxford, UK (December 1997).
The reports from these meetings served as the basis for developing a draft
implementation plan on "Global Change Research in Mountain Regions" at a
joint IGBP/IHDP (BAHC, GCTE, LUCC, PAGES) workshop in Pontresina,
Switzerland (16-18 April 1998). Fifteen experts at-tend-ed the workshop,
sponsored mainly by the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences (SANW).
In the implementation plan, the need for interdisciplinary environmental
change research in mountain regions involving both natural and social
scien-tists is emphasized. Thus, in addition to the IGBP and IHDP core
projects mentioned above, IDGC and GECHS (IHDP) as well as START and its
regional programmes should join the group of collaborators.
The IGBP/IHDP Initiative on Global Change Research in Mountain Regions is
based on an "integrated approach" for observing (detect-ing, monitoring),
modelling and investigating global change phenomena and processes in
moun-tain regions, including their impacts on ecosystems and socio-economic
systems. Both en-vironmental aspects - in particular land use/ land cover
changes and climate change - and socio-economic aspects - in particular
social, economic, and political driving forces and changes - as well as
their complex interactions and interdependencies will be taken into account
in their mountain-specific forms.
The ultimate objectives of the approach are:
o to develop a strategy for detecting signals of global environmental
change on mountain en-vi-ron-ments;
o to define the consequences of global environmental change for
mountain regions as well as low-land systems dependent on mountain
o to develop sustainable land, water, and resource management
strategies for mountain re-gions at local to regional scales.
It is understood that, at least in the coming decades, socio-economic
changes are likely to be at least as important as en-vi-ron-men-tal changes
in mountain regions. The environmental changes may significantly threat-en
sustainable development in these regions, and both environmental and
socio-eco-nomic changes may reduce the ability of these regions to pro-vide
critical goods and services to society in the mountains as well as
downstream and else-where; for instance, in terms of wa-ter and energy
supply, biodiversity, attraction to tourists, and measures to avoid or
mitigate damaging effects of disastrous events (floods, debris flows).
The implementation plan for global change research in mountain regions is
structured around the following five overarching themes:
1) Long-term observation systems to detect and analyse signals of
global change, as the moun-tain-specific component of the Global Observing
Systems (in particular GTOS/ GCOS/GHOST/FRIENDS)
2) Integrated modelling framework for analysis, vulnerability
assessment and predictive studies, including the development of scaling and
regionalisation methods for mountain regions
3) Environmental-change-related mountain specific process studies, in
particular along altitudinal gradients and in associated headwater basins
4) Development of strategies to ensure sustainable development in
mountain regions, and to avoid or mitigate damaging effects of disastrous
Below, more details are given on these topics and their implemen-ta-tion.
Activity 1: Long-term observation systems to detect signals of global change
Due to their continuous exposure to extreme environmental conditions,
mountain ecosystems have developed well-adapted but often sensitive forms
of life which respond in characteristic ways to continuous and/or abrupt
environmental changes. Accordingly, the record of events that have
influ-enced the dynamics of mountain systems is archived in glacier
deposits, lake sediments, wetlands, tree rings, vegetation patterns and
structure, and also in glacial ice. Actually, the cryosphere, due to its
sensitivity to environ-mental changes, represents a valuable, widely
observed indicator of global change. Moreover, mountain ecosystems are not
only useful to follow past and present environmental changes, but can also
serve as reference sites for comparison with changes in lowland eco-systems
which are under more complex pressures.
Activity 1 will therefore consider indicators that define signals of change
in atmospheric inputs and the associated responses of mountain systems. It
will be accomplished through the coordi-na-tion of ongoing research
(supported by various national funding agencies and, e.g., the Euro-pean
Commission) and, where required, the initiation of new projects in mountain
regions around the world. Wherever possible, long-term observation of these
indicators will build on ex-isting struc-tures and networks (e.g., high
mountain field stations, biosphere reserves, gauged water-sheds), equating
to level 3 of the Global Hierarchical Observation system GHOST. Prox-imity
to sites within the network of the World Glacier Monitoring Service will
also be envisaged.
Sets of indicators are proposed both for the study of direct cause-effect
relationships in individ-ual systems, and also to follow changes that
derive from the complex interactions of different drivers of global change.
The indicators fall into the following three groups:
o snow and ice (cryosphere): seasonal snow, snow chemistry,
permafrost, and glaciers;
o water balance components (precipitation, runoff,
evapotranspiration) and lake dynamics;
o vegetation, fauna, and soils: short-, medium-, and long-term
changes, typically based on a permanent plot approach.
These indicators have been chosen based on the current understanding of the
processes deter-min-ing the dynamics of mountain systems. However, our
understanding of these processes is in-complete, and more detailed studies
are desirable to refine the definition of suitable indicator variables.
Ecological and hydrological experiments can be very valuable in this
respect (see Activity 3 below).
Tasks under this activity will concern studies of the cryosphere, plant
communities and soils, Alpine aquatic ecosystems and water balance
components as well as interrelations between the different characteristics.
Activity 2: Integrated modelling framework for analysis and predictive studies
Modelling is an important tool for synthesizing and analysing field data,
for making sensitivity analyses, including vulnerability assessments, and
ultimately for studying in a predictive mode the effects of global change
on mountain regions. Cor-re-sponding to the integrated approach outlined
above, it is necessary to develop and provide for wider application a
frame-work allowing the analysis and predictive studies of hydrological and
ecologi-cal characteristics and their linkages in mountain regions under
changing climatic and land co-ver/use conditions.
As a specific step towards this end, models of terrestrial ecosystems and
coupled hydrological systems dynamics will be tested and applied along
altitudinal gradients and in associated headwater basins in different
mountain regions, based on either existing or new transects. These
transects should meet the following requirements:
o extending across several vegetation zones;
o including both continuous changes and thresholds of ecosystem
o designed similarly across different mountain regions;
o including a large number of sampling sites.
These activities are focused towards the development and application of
predictive regional mod-els of mountain landscapes that incorporate the
dynamics of ecosystem structure, bio-geo-chemistry, hydrology, and land
cover/use. This will involve the resolution of a number of chal-lenges,
including linking models of ecosystem structure with biogeochemistry and
hydro-logy; handling the interactions between different plant life forms;
and explicit modelling of the changes of land cover/use and their
interactions with regional-scale ecosystem dynamics.
Ecosystem models will be selected or developed for the appropriate scales
and major questions of interest. They will utilise data from study sites
with the most complete and long-term data sets. As
quantitatively-structured expressions of existing knowledge, models must be
evaluated rigorously, and evolve to answer new questions or address the
changing needs of resource managers. They must effectively consider scaling
issues in both temporal and spatial do-mains, recognising that:
o extrapolation across scales is rarely linear in ecosystems;
o establishing background levels of variability requires a
consideration of several scales;
o the dynamics of emergent properties are scale-sensitive.
Consequently, research programmes need to have a standardised design that
can be adapted to spe-cific ecosystems while retaining enough common
elements to permit cross-site comparisons at dif-ferent scales of interest.
Within such core data sets, several types of scaling will be con-sid-ered:
o spatial: plots to mountain ranges, with an emphasis on nested
o temporal: hourly fluxes to century-long trends, depending on the
hydrological or ecological process under consideration;
o ecological: individuals to trophic levels.
Two tasks were identified to be specifically addressed: "Integrated
regional modelling" and "scaling and regionalisation"
Activity 3: Mountain specific process studies along altitudinal gradients
and in associated headwater basins
Ecological and hydrological experiments, par-ticu-larly manipulative ones,
along altitudinal gra-di-ents and in high-elevation catchments will
pro-vide valuable data on the potential responses of moun-tain ecosystems
to human-induced global change, as well as increasing understanding of the
biotic feedbacks that accompany environ-mental change and influence
ecosystem function and hydrological processes. Thus, this re-search will
provide information for developing and testing process-based models of
mountain ecosystems; it will help to refine the se-lec-tion of indi-ca-tors
men-tioned above, and to de-fine additional sensitive indicators of global
Recognising that the agents of global change vary regionally, these studies
should stress the most important environmental forcing factors for
different regions, and be used to determine the sen-si-tivity of ecological
and hydrological systems to these factors. The spatial scale will vary from
studies along extended altitudinal gradients and whole catchment analyses
to the plot level, de-pending on the factor of concern, the goal of the
study, and the available resources.
Basic research themes to be addressed in these studies will include:
o evaluation of the links between biological diversity and ecosystem
function, especially along altitudinal gradients;
o tracer studies of stream- and baseflow, to identify and trace
sources and flowpaths of water;
o topographically-based modelling of runoff, soil moisture, and
This work will be linked to research focusing on two forcing factors of
o climate change: meteorological monitoring and synthesis; climate
manipulations of eco-sys-tems; altitudinal gradients as a proxy for climate
change; stream chemistry as an indi-ca-tor of global change;
o increases in nitrogen deposition: basic monitoring; fertilisation
experiments; 15N pulse-chase experiments; d18O tracer experiments; snowmelt
recharge of NO3- water.
Tasks under this activity will focus on experiments, including manipulative
ones, and on related small scale modelling studies of hydrological and
ecological processes, and their interaction, being subject to environmental
change, as well as on land cover/use development ensuring sustainable
development and avoiding or mitigating disastrous effects of natural
Activity 4: Strategies to ensure sustainable development
An ultimate overall objective of this initiative is to develop sustainable
land, water, and resource management strategies for mountain regions.
Activities pursuant to this objective will take place in mountain regions
where global-scale driving forces are having the greatest impacts, in order
to develop regional-scale strategies for mitigation and adaptation.
A primary task will be to identify potentially unsustainable trajectories
in land and/or water resources that are partially driven by global change
and portend threats to the ability of specific regions to support current
and future livelihoods. Three priorities are suggested for assessment:
o changes in forest area and/or composition and structure, with
implications for agricul-ture, rates of erosion and magnitude of floods,
o intensification and/or extensification of agriculture (including
grazing), with implications for food security, rates of erosion and
magnitude of floods, and biodiversity;
o change in water regimes due to factors such as changing
agricultural practices, increas-ing temporary or permanent population,
and/or increasing energy generation, with implications for downstream water
supply, energy availability, flooding, and sediment transfer.
Work on these linked themes must involve local people in defining and
implementing research, recognising the complementarity between local
knowledge and scientific investigation:
o evaluating optimal combinations of traditional and innovative
resource management systems, in order to ensure the stability and
resilience of both natural and human-managed ecosystems and the
conservation of biodiversity;
o assessing appropriate institutional arrangements, based on
understanding of traditional arrangements, the processes which contribute
to changing them, and the alliances and interactions between mountain
communities and interest groups at different levels;
o evaluating economic instruments to achieve a new balance between
production and the provision of societal benefits in relation to driving
forces of global change, including climate change (especially changing
frequencies of extreme events), migration, and the evolution of
Draft Implementation Plan
Based on the above a draft implementation plan is under preparation which
will be distributed to the international science community for
consideration, comments and suggestions.
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Keith Alverson, Science Officer e-mail: alversonatXYZxyzes.unibe.ch
PAGES International Project Office Phone: +41 31 312 3133
B�renplatz 2, CH-3011 Fax: +41 31 312 3168
Bern, Switzerland Internet: http://www.pages.unibe.ch/