Conservation & Environment

RiverLink’s RAD Watershed Plan addresses Asheville’s most impaired waterway

Posted by on Jan 23, 2020 @ 6:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

RiverLink’s RAD Watershed Plan addresses Asheville’s most impaired waterway

Out of view of the paddleboards and kayaks that meander with the lazy flow of the French Broad River, an orange tube skims oil from a creek’s surface. The tube is a last line of defense preventing oil from flowing directly into the river. The creek is Town Branch, a waterway long believed to be the most polluted stream in Western North Carolina.

“Many people still call it Nasty Branch,” says Renee Fortner, watershed resources manager for the Asheville-based nonprofit RiverLink. For her, Town Branch is not just a matter of a single ailing creek. Instead, it’s part of a system in dire need of repair.

Fortner notes that stream cleanups are a regular remediation activity for RiverLink. “To try and clean the stream, we work with volunteers to remove the trash, build riparian habitat and perform invasive species removal,” she says. But while these efforts are good for treating the symptoms of stream impairment, she admits, they leave the root causes of pollution untouched.

The RAD Watershed Restoration Plan is RiverLink’s response to this problem. Funded by a $78,000 grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Fund and a $28,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund, the yearlong assessment of the watershed’s health will include water quality monitoring, identification of pollution sources and suggestions for infrastructure changes. The goal is to provide long-term, meaningful protection for Asheville’s ailing waterways.

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White Sands is the newest national park. These places might be next.

Posted by on Jan 22, 2020 @ 7:05 am in Conservation | 0 comments

White Sands is the newest national park. These places might be next.

It’s easy to think of national parks as untouchable—grand, immovable fixtures in our natural environment. But in reality, they come and go: some lose their designation, while others are added.

New Mexico’s White Sands National Park hit the big leagues in December 2019, becoming the country’s 62nd national park. It protects the largest gypsum dune on Earth, a remnant of bygone lakes and seas, a 275-square-mile basin that glitters white and stays cool to the touch. Visitors come to cruise the eight-mile Dunes Drive, hike one of the five established trails, or see the soft, translucent sand glow blue-white under a full moon.

But White Sands’s current 600,000 annual guests could prove merely the calm before the storm. The former national monument’s shiny new moniker might now draw the kind of crowds that swamped elder sibling Indiana Dunes National Park after its January 2019 designation.

So what does this mean for travelers? Get there before the bucket-listers descend—or beat the crowds entirely by visiting parks-to-be. More than a dozen preserves and pristine areas have begun campaigns for national park status, and while the process is far from simple, it likely won’t be long before White Sands is no longer the newest kid in town.

These beautiful spots could one day be national parks…

 

New Mexico’s Valles Caldera preserve acquires site with volcanic features

Posted by on Jan 18, 2020 @ 6:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

New Mexico’s Valles Caldera preserve acquires site with volcanic features

  A 40-acre site that includes volcanic features like steaming mudpots, sulfuric-acid hot springs and fumaroles — openings which emit steam and gases — has been acquired by the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico.

Valles Caldera officials said the acquisition of Sulfur Springs “was critical to preserving the breadth of geothermal features” in the preserve. The property also supports a range of “extremophile” algae and bacteria living in high-temperature acidic pool and stream environments.

“As the only place in the State of New Mexico with geothermal features like mud-pots and fumaroles, this site has the potential to become a primary location to educate the public about Valles Caldera’s geologic origins and status as a dormant, but not extinct, volcano,” said preserve superintendent Jorge Silva-Bañuelos in a news release.

Sulfur Springs is on the western edge of the preserve, northwest of the visitors center off N.M. 4. It’s in a remote location on Sulfur Canyon, but maps show U.S. Forest Service or hunting route roads that run to or near the site.

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Study finds 26,000 lives were saved by shift from coal to natural gas

Posted by on Jan 11, 2020 @ 6:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Study finds 26,000 lives were saved by shift from coal to natural gas

The human toll from coal-fired pollution in America has been laid bare by a study that has found more than 26,000 lives were saved in the U.S. in just a decade due to the shift from coal to gas for electricity generation.

The shutdown of scores of coal power facilities across the U.S. has reduced the toxic brew of pollutants suffered by nearby communities, cutting deaths from associated health problems such as heart disease and respiratory issues, the research found.

An estimated 26,610 lives were saved in the U.S. by the shift away from coal between 2005 and 2016, according to the University of California study published in Nature Sustainability.

The coal sector has struggled in recent years, with 334 generating units taken offline during the period analyzed in the study. A cheap glut of natural gas has displaced coal, with 612 gas-fired units coming online during this time.

As a result, more than 300m tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide has been saved, while levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, emitted by coal plants and linked to irritations of the nose and throat, dropped by 60% and 80%, respectively.

“When you turn coal units off you see deaths go down.”

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Trump admin writes itself a permission slip to ignore climate change and wreck the environment

Posted by on Jan 10, 2020 @ 6:23 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Trump admin writes itself a permission slip to ignore climate change and wreck the environment

The Trump White House’s Council on Environmental Quality is proposing changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that would not only make it easier to keep the public in the dark about government projects, but give federal agencies a permission slip to ignore how their own actions might contribute to climate change.

In short, NEPA makes the government consider how a project will affect the environment and gives the people who will have to live with the consequences a fair chance to weigh in on it. For example, NEPA prevents a federal agency from launching a drilling project or building a new road through delicate wildlife habitat on a whim; the agency would first needs to explain and justify its plan, including offering it up for public scrutiny and analyzing potential impacts.

The new Trump overhaul would put limits on public comment and environmental analysis, constricting the definitions and timelines for review of projects and allowing many projects to escape review altogether. It’s of a piece with numerous other policies pushed by the administration that would make it easier to pollute or degrade natural resources without oversight.

The new Trump overhaul would put limits on public comment and environmental analysis, constricting the definitions and timelines for review of projects and allowing many projects to escape review altogether. Significantly, the new proposals would also let agencies remove climate change from consideration when performing those analyses.

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Mountain Bog Protected in Burke County, NC

Posted by on Jan 9, 2020 @ 7:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Mountain Bog Protected in Burke County, NC

  A 17-acre bog in Burke County is now protected for conservation following purchase by the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.

The Jonas Ridge property borders the Pisgah Loop Scenic Highway and was purchased from landowner Hazel Shell with funding from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

Southern Appalachian mountain bogs are rare and contain vulnerable ecosystems. Located at the highest elevations in Burke County, Jonas Ridge Bog is home to a variety of uncommon plant, animal and insect species, including cranberries, a species typically associated with New England. It drains to headwaters of Upper Creek, a high-quality trout stream as designated by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

Foothills Conservancy intends to donate the property to Burke County under a N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund conservation easement. Future plans include an interpretive trail that will allow hikers to learn about bog systems.

Cite…

 

Things to know about Duke Energy’s proposed coal ash landfill at Asheville’s Lake Julian

Posted by on Jan 3, 2020 @ 7:16 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Things to know about Duke Energy’s proposed coal ash landfill at Asheville’s Lake Julian

As the Southern Environmental Law Center announced its historic settlement Jan. 2, 2020 with Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to clean up coal ash at six North Carolina sites, Duke’s Asheville Steam Plant at Lake Julian is in the midst of a permitting request to build an industrial landfill on the plant site.

The settlement, arranged on behalf of Appalachian Voices, MountainTrue, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Sierra Club and other environmental nonprofits, becomes the largest coal ash cleanup in America to date, according to DJ Gerken, program director with the SELC, based in Asheville.

The settlement applies to six Duke Energy coal ash sites still burning coal, except for Asheville.

The Asheville Steam Electric Plant on Lake Julian was not included in the settlement because cleanup had already been ordered by the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. This legislation came in the wake of a massive spill that year at a coal ash pit at a Duke Energy facility on the Dan River in eastern North Carolina, which leaked 39,000 tons of toxic waste into the river, coating the river bottom with the sludge for 70 miles downstream.

Learn more here…

 

Land added to Haywood County’s Blue Ridge Parkway section

Posted by on Jan 2, 2020 @ 6:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Land added to Haywood County’s Blue Ridge Parkway section

The Blue Ridge Parkway is now 53.3 acres bigger thanks to the Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s recent donation of the Pinnacle Ridge tract in Haywood County.

Pinnacle Ridge is located at milepost 440 near the Waynesville and Village of Saunooke overlooks. Prior to its inclusion in Parkway lands, the property shared more than 4,000 feet of boundary with the National Park Service unit, including adjacency to the 110-acre Richland Creek Headwaters property that CTNC transferred to the Parkway in 2011.

“Conserving the Pinnacle Ridge tract is an investment in the scenic value, environmental benefits and economic vitality of the surrounding region,” said Rusty Painter, land protection director for CTNC. “Adding this property to the Blue Ridge Parkway is another great example of CTNC’s long-standing partnership with the National Park Service. Public-private partnerships like ours continue to strengthen the conservation community as we work toward a shared vision of conserving North Carolina’s natural and cultural heritage.”

Conservation Trust for North Carolina has now conserved 69 properties on the Blue Ridge Parkway, totaling 34,591 acres. Conserving Carolina and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy also conserve land in Haywood County.

Cite…

 

There’s been an apocalypse going on right under our noses – but we can still save their world

Posted by on Jan 1, 2020 @ 6:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

There’s been an apocalypse going on right under our noses – but we can still save their world

Have you noticed there are fewer creepy-crawlies around these days? Significantly fewer. In fact, over the past 50 years, an insect apocalypse may have killed off half of the planet’s bugs. It poses a serious threat. More than 40% of insect species could permanently disappear.

Climate change, loss of natural habitats and overexposure to pesticides are among the factors contributing to the decline of insects, including once-common species of flies, butterflies, beetles, bees and numerous others. More than two-thirds of all caddisfly populations have disappeared in the past decade.

Insects are a vital food source for birds and larger animals and are essential for pollinating crops and wildflowers.

If the current rate of decline continues, it could have profound consequences for the planet and everything that lives on it – including humans.

In urban areas, it is often more challenging for insects to thrive. But there are some practical things we can all do to help.

Here is what we can do…

 

The Outdoor Books that Shaped the Last Decade

Posted by on Dec 27, 2019 @ 9:15 am in Book Reviews, Conservation | 0 comments

The Outdoor Books that Shaped the Last Decade

Digital media continued its march across the cultural landscape in the past decade, but its proliferation didn’t diminish the importance of books—even if these days we’re thumbing through real pages less often than we’re swiping pixels on our screens.

Books challenge our perceptions and paradigms, provoke curiosity, and inspire action. And for many of us, engaging with big ideas felt more important during this decade than ever before.

These stories made us marvel at the seemingly impossible limits of the human body and feel enthralled with the wonders of nature.

They mobilized us to stand up against environmental injustice, taught us about climate change, and inspired us to take our ideas out into the world.

In that spirit, here are ten books from the past ten years that sparked debate, changed discourse, and spawned movements in the outdoor world. Each book is also matched with recommended reading from the same genre or subject area.

 

Special Report: Threatened And Endangered Parks

Posted by on Dec 26, 2019 @ 6:50 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Special Report: Threatened And Endangered Parks

Special Report by National Parks Traveler

National park units in the lower 48 states are being confronted, and in some cases overrun, by issues ranging from climate change and invasive species to energy exploration and overcrowding. Natural and cultural resources are being harshly impacted, and in the case of invasive species in South Florida, some native species are being wiped out.

These impacts are not the usual park stresses at the road-paving or conservation-fencing level that can be addressed by maintenance or policy tweaks. What the National Park System faces is the prospect of transformative, even irreversible, change due to human-caused impacts, whether direct — such as overcrowding — or, as in the case of climate change, the result of policy and political failures.

Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida just might be the National Park System’s poster child for what constitutes an endangered park. While so-called thumper trucks, 33-ton mechanical beasts that shake the earth in search of oil reserves, tear up the preserve’s landscape, invading Burmese pythons slither through this sub-tropical landscape, feasting on its native animals, including the occasional alligator. All the while, sea level rise is slowly, quietly, and largely unnoticeably, poisoning the park’s namesake trees with salty groundwater.

Cape Lookout National Seashore on North Carolina’s Outer Banks wouldn’t be out of place on that poster. Hurricane Dorian in September sliced up the seashore’s barrier islands like a hot knife going through butter. Meanwhile, the possibility of a commercial spaceport arising just four or five miles west of Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia poses the threat of a dozen rocket launches a year that figure to impact the sublime national seashore in ways ranging from inconvenient to disastrous.

In this first annual Endangered And Threatened Parks project, National Parks Traveler takes a look at those landscapes that are struggling to retain the qualities that led to their inclusion in the National Park System in the first place.

 

Australian Prime Minister Dismisses Calls To Curb Coal Use As Wildfires Intensify

Posted by on Dec 24, 2019 @ 6:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Australian Prime Minister Dismisses Calls To Curb Coal Use As Wildfires Intensify

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubled down on his government’s climate policy amid a record-breaking heat wave and a devastating weekend of wildfires.

Hundreds of fires burned across four states, with the worst conditions in New South Wales, where approximately 100 homes have been destroyed in less than a week. More than 800 total homes have been lost since the fire season commenced in October.

The disaster has prompted criticism of Morrison’s leadership and inaction on climate change; many also took issue with his decision to vacation in Hawaii during such a difficult time. Following the death of two firefighters, Morrison yielded to complaints and returned to Sydney over the weekend.

Australia has faced international disapproval for its reliance on carryover credits to meet its commitment under the Paris climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030. The country has also been questioned for increasing coal mining.

Morrison rejected calls for cuts to the country’s lucrative coal industry.

Cite…

 

White Sands becomes New Mexico’s newest national park

Posted by on Dec 23, 2019 @ 6:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

White Sands becomes New Mexico’s newest national park

December 21, 2020 was White Sands’ first full day as a national park after President Donald Trump signed a bill designating the status into law.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which included North Korea sanctions and procurement for spacecraft and weapons, also made 275 square miles of gypsum dune fields into New Mexico’s second national park.

Carlsbad Caverns is the state’s other national park. New Mexico has two historical national parks — Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Pecos National Historical Park. The state also has 12 national monuments, including Bandelier near White Rock and El Malpais near Grants.

According to the National Park Service’s website, national parks are protected because of their scenic, inspirational, educational and recreational value. Monuments have objects of historical, cultural or scientific interest.

White Sands National Monument was established Jan. 18, 1933, by a proclamation from President Herbert Hoover on his last day in office.

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Microplastics contaminate snow, rain, researcher finds

Posted by on Dec 21, 2019 @ 6:54 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Microplastics contaminate snow, rain, researcher finds

Fibers of polyester and other pieces of microplastic have been found in dozens of snow samples taken over the past year from Big Sky Resort, Teton Pass and other Rocky Mountain sites.

Bekah Anderson, a Montana State University senior majoring in chemical engineering, used microscopes and other specialized laboratory tools in MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering to analyze the samples, which also reveal plant pollen and dust.

“All the pieces I’ve found so far have been small fibers that seem to be from fabrics like fleece,” Anderson said, noting that many kinds of outdoor clothing are made of finely spun plastic fibers. “We think that’s because they’re fine enough to get whisked up into the atmosphere.”

Previously, scientists have documented the presence of microplastic in streams and other water bodies, but the MSU study is among the first to examine the man-made particles directly in precipitation.

Research into the effects of airborne microplastics on humans is still relatively new, but scientists are concerned that the fibers can also contain pollutants, dyes, additives and pigments that can harm human health when inhaled.

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Smokies Park Reminds Visitors about Cades Cove Winter Closure

Posted by on Dec 20, 2019 @ 6:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind visitors that Laurel Creek Road, the seven-mile access road leading from the Townsend Wye to Cades Cove, will be closed to all motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 5 through Saturday, February 29 to repair the Bote Mountain Tunnel.

The full closure, beginning just past Tremont Road, is necessary to allow equipment set-up for the repair of the internal drainage system in the walls and ceiling of the 121-foot long tunnel. Crews will enclose and heat the tunnel, allowing the temperature-sensitive repairs to be conducted during the winter months when visitation is lower. Intermittent single-lane closures will be necessary between March 1 and June 15 to complete the tunnel repairs and to re-pave the tunnel area.

The Cades Cove Campground, normally open during the winter months, will be closed December 30, 2019 through March 5, 2020. To accommodate winter campers, Elkmont Campground will remain open year round along with Smokemont Campground in NC.

The Bote Mountain Tunnel, constructed in 1948, has not had any significant rehabilitation work since that time. Crews will replace nine drainage chases requiring track-mounted saws to cut through the concrete liner along the arc of the 18-foot high tunnel opening. Cracks throughout the tunnel would also be sealed and repaired. Without repairs, leaks will lead to compromised concrete walls and the development of ice hazards during the winter months.

 

Goldman Sachs to spend $750 billion on climate transition projects and curb fossil fuel lending

Posted by on Dec 18, 2019 @ 6:58 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Goldman Sachs to spend $750 billion on climate transition projects and curb fossil fuel lending

Goldman Sachs, a major American multinational investment bank and financial services company, is overhauling its environmental policies, which includes pledging to spend $750 billion on sustainable finance projects over the next decade, as well as implementing stricter lending policies for fossil fuel companies.

The $750 billion will focus on financing, investing and advisory activity related to nine key themes within climate transition and inclusive growth finance, which includes things like sustainable transport, accessible and affordable education and food production.

CEO David Solomon said, “Companies no longer have the luxury of treating climate-related initiatives as a “peripheral issue,” and that financial institutions must support those driving change.”

Goldman said that going forward, it will not finance any project that “directly supports new upstream Arctic oil exploration or development,” or any new coal-fired power generation project unless it also includes carbon capture or other emission cutting technologies.

The bank said that it will work with mining companies to help them diversify and cut emissions, and that a company’s progress on these fronts will be a “key consideration” when evaluating future financing.

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The UN Climate Negotiations Are Officially a Disaster and the US Helped Screw It Up

Posted by on Dec 16, 2019 @ 6:46 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

The UN Climate Negotiations Are Officially a Disaster and the US Helped Screw It Up

Each year, the United Nations holds a conference on climate change to try to nudge the biggest polluters toward containing warming under well below 2 degrees Celsius. Now, that goal seems more fantastical than ever; the world is on track for the absolute worst-case, business-as-usual scenario of more than twice that warming by the end of the century.

The stakes are high enough that even in a normal year the conference is a grueling marathon of all-night negotiating sessions. But this year’s conference in Madrid, known as COP25, entered into overtime on day 12 as an indisputable mess, as the world moves further away from the goals outlined in Paris in 2015. At the center of this mess, of course, is the United States.

The US, along with Australia, Brazil, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, has helped create a gridlock in this year’s negotiations. The vacuum left by the US has led countries interested in maintaining the status quo—including Australia, a major coal exporter, and Brazil, led by a right-wing government promoting deforestation of the Amazon—to block stronger rules for a global carbon-emissions trading system that are supposed to go in effect next year.

Fundamentally, COP25 brings to a head a widening chasm between the richer, historic polluters that prefer to maintain the status quo and the poorer nations that suffer the most consequences despite contributing the least to the crisis.

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Federal Judge Refuses To Dismiss Lawsuit Over Deadly Fire At Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Posted by on Dec 14, 2019 @ 6:26 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Federal Judge Refuses To Dismiss Lawsuit Over Deadly Fire At Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the National Park Service stemming from the deadly Chimney Tops 2 fire at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, holding that the park’s Fire Management Plan required that area residents be notified of the wildfire.

When the Chimney Tops 2 fire was reported atop one of the many ridges of the national park late in the day on November 23, 2016, it covered only about 1.5 acres and park crews, due to darkness and steep cliffs in the area, planned to attack it the next morning, Thanksgiving. At the time, no one knew how it started, but there had been a park-wide ban on campfires and grills due to atypically dry conditions caused by a long-running drought.

Hurricane-force winds on November 28 into November 29 blew the fire up into a conflagration that swept through nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee, trapping many in their homes and destroying or damaging approximately 2,500 structures.

Officials later said the wildfires originated from multiple locations, including an arson fire set at Chimney Tops inside the park, and from downed power line ignitions throughout the county. Fueled by extreme winds and dry weather, the fire storm was blamed for 14 deaths and 190 injuries. In all, losses attributed to the fire have been estimated at $500 million.

Michael B. Reed, Brittany H. Hyre Anculle, and Brittany Adkins separately brought lawsuits against the Park Service, alleging that the agency was “negligent in failing to monitor the wildfire overnight, failing to comply with command structure requirements, failing to adhere to mandatory fire management policies and requirements, and failing to warn Park neighbors.”

Cite…

 

The Arctic may emit billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback

Posted by on Dec 12, 2019 @ 7:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Arctic may emit billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback

The Arctic is undergoing a profound, rapid and unmitigated shift into a new climate state, one that is greener, features far less ice and emits greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, according to a major new federal assessment of the region.

The consequences of these climate shifts will be felt far outside the Arctic in the form of altered weather patterns, increased greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels from the melting Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers.

Especially noteworthy is the report’s conclusion that the Arctic already may have become a net emitter of planet-warming carbon emissions due to thawing permafrost, which would only accelerate global warming. Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.

There has been concern throughout the scientific community that the approximately 1,460 billion to 1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon stored in frozen Arctic soils, almost twice the amount of greenhouse gases as what is contained in the atmosphere, could be released as the permafrost melts.

Warming temperatures allow microbes within the soil to convert permafrost carbon into the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane — which can be released into the air and accelerate warming.

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The world’s supply of fresh water is in trouble as mountain ice vanishes

Posted by on Dec 11, 2019 @ 7:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The world’s supply of fresh water is in trouble as mountain ice vanishes

High in the Himalaya, near the base of the Gangotri glacier, water burbles along a narrow river. Pebbles, carried in the small river’s flow, pling as they carom downstream.

This water will flow thousands of miles, eventually feeding people, farms, and the natural world on the vast, dry Indus plain. Many of the more than 200 million people in the downstream basin rely on water that comes from this stream and others like it.

But climate change is hitting those high mountain regions more brutally than the world on average. That change is putting the “water towers” like this one, and the billions of people that depend on them, in ever more precarious positions.

The high mountains cradle more ice and snow in their peaks than exists anywhere else on the planet besides the poles. Over 200,000 glaciers, piles of snow, high-elevation lakes and wetlands: All in all, the high mountains contain about half of all the fresh water humans use.

The high-mountain “water towers” of the planet act like giant storage tanks with valves on them. The system more or less works like this: Snow falls, filling the tank, and then it melts out slowly over days, weeks, months, or years—a natural valve that smooths out the boom-bust pattern in outflow that would otherwise occur.

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