Category: Tourism

Air pollution turns the Taj Mahal yellow

Air pollution turns the Taj Mahal yellow

By Caroline Fouvet

A unique UNESCO World Heritage site, the Taj Mahal is one of the most admired monuments and draws millions of tourists to India. In 2016, 6.2 million visitors enjoyed the architectural beauty of this mausoleum that was built in the 17th century as a tribute from the Mughal emperor Shah Jehan to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The ivory marble gives the Taj Mahal its iconic look, but there are growing concerns that it may not remain as bright white in the future. Its façade is turning into a brown-yellow colour altering the monument’s most distinguishing feature and climate change might speed up this process.

Researchers are pointing to air pollution to explain this progressive change of colour. Airborne particulate matter, made of black carbon, light-absorbing brown carbon and dust, have a brown tint that discolours the Taj Mahal’s marble. Automobile fuels, brick making and burning residues that emanate from open stoves and farming seem to be responsible for the spread of these particles.

This is not a new problem as concerns regarding the mausoleum’s discolouration were already raised in the 1970s because of the pollutants emitted by a nearby oil refinery. After conducting one of the world’s most comprehensive studies of pollutants’ impact on a historical monument, the Government decided to undertake a project in 1998 to clean the air in the area surrounding the Taj Mahal. Despite these efforts, the pollutant levels kept increasing after a temporary drop in the early 2000s.

Air pollution has a reciprocal relationship with climate change since it fuels the phenomenon by increasing the amount of GHG gases and is compounded by warmer temperatures. It is a major societal issue given the health hazard it represents and it could be, in the Indian context, detrimental to tourism by affecting renowned monuments such as the Taj Mahal. But climate change can also worsen air pollution, which depends highly on weather patterns; with climate change, higher temperatures can worsen smog, increase instances of stagnant air, and worsen air quality.

In India, tourism represents almost 10% of the GDP (2016), which shows that preserving highly visited sites plays in favour of this sector and of the overall economic development. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj Mahal is located, the World Bank currently runs a tourism-focused project with an overarching development objective for communities living around tourist hubs. This reflects the connection of both aspects and shows that addressing air pollution issues would have environmental and economic benefits at the same time.

Using eco-toursim to adapt to climate change in the Philippines

Using eco-toursim to adapt to climate change in the Philippines

By Gracie Pearsall

Located at the juncture of the typhoon belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines experiences more than its fair share of natural disasters. These disasters are especially harsh on the residents of Albay, a province in the Bicol region. These residents live in the shadow of Mt. Mayon, the Philippines’ most active volcano, which erupts every seven to ten years. Moreover, this low-lying region regularly experiences flooding from storm surges, and the capital city, Legazpi, sits on a bay notorious for frequent cyclones. Recently, the residents have become keenly aware of the risks that climate change presents. Yet, in the face of such perils, Albay has turned to tourism as a seemingly unlikely path to resiliency and disaster-risk reduction.

Tourism in Albay relies on the region’s unique ecology and beautiful natural features. Tourists often hike through tropical forests and hills to see the perfectly conical Mt. Mayon.  Tourists also flock to swim with whale sharks in one of world’s largest pods of whale sharks, in this region. Thus, the region views sustainable practices and “green development” as investments in these attractions.

Resilience to climate change will protect the Albay environment from degradation, and ensure that tourism will remain a profitable sector. The tourism-based economic boom has alleviated poverty, encouraged further resilient development, and allowed the government to create a world-renowned disaster-risk reduction strategy.

Albay, is already at risk for sea-level rise that could flood homes and infrastructure. Climate change would bring more frequent, and more severe storms that could cause further flooding. The increased precipitation would also make the destructive lahars (strong mudflows of ash and debris) more common. Climate-induced ocean acidification, and coral bleaching events, also would threaten the food security of coastal residents. Moreover, warmer temperatures would also reduce the entire region’s agricultural productivity. These risks would compound the ever-present threats of typhoons and volcanic eruptions.

The effects of climate change will disrupt the lives of every Albayan, and discourage tourism. In 2006, Typhoon Durian hit Albay, causing Mt. Mayon to unleash devastating mudslides that resulted in massive destruction and deaths. However, the region quickly recovered by using tourism to drive reconstruction. The government built 320 km of roads that connected tourist destinations across Albay. The region needed the development of this infrastructure not only to meet the growing tourism demand, but also to provide jobs so locals could bounce back from the typhoon.

The increased revenue from tourism has helped many people escape from poverty. For example, fishermen who were once making 100 Philippine pesos (PHP) per day, now make 200PHP per hour in the tourism industry. Furthermore, investment in tourism is a more long-term recovery method, than relying solely on foreign and federal aid.

Revenue from tourism also allowed the Albay government to implement mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management measures. Former governor Joey Salceda developed an award winning “zero-casualty” strategy for disaster risk management. The strategy includes risk mapping, improving infrastructure, early warning systems, engineering responses, and evacuation plans that even incorporate the same roads built for “eco-tours.”

This disaster risk-reduction strategy is not only a government matter, but also a community-based one. Every household is involved in the process. Parents teach their children the village’s disaster plan, which includes a designated disaster meeting place.  Schools teach children survival skills through games, thus making the entire community aware of the risks, and how to respond to them.

Similarly, the Albay government is focused on bottom-up solutions to climate threats. The government and environmental advocates often host workshops, training Albay residents on how to adapt to the changing climate. For example, as overfishing and warmer oceans decrease the productivity of the nearby reefs, many Albayans could become food insecure. To minimize this risk, activists taught coastal communities how to farm organically, so that the farmers could sustain themselves if the waters became unfishable. The ability to farm also makes communities more self-sufficient if a natural disaster were to isolate those communities. Furthermore, with the influx of tourists looking to sample local cuisine, increased food production through farming would help Albay cope with the higher demand for food.

To mitigate its contributions to climate change, Albay has invested in renewable energy and become a hot-spot for solar and geothermal alternatives. The province contributes nearly 300 megawatts of geo-thermal energy to the national grid, and has plans to contribute 350 megawatts more. The provincial government has recently planned a large solar power plant in the capital, Legazpi.

The government also took steps to protect and expand the forest – a critical area of carbon sequestration. In the past seven years, forest cover has expanded by 88% in Albay. Furthermore, the government increased coastal mangrove cover from 700 hectares to 2,400 hectares, thereby creating a crucial buffer between land and sea.

The tourism industry has driven some of these conservation efforts because the natural beauty is what draws tourists to Albay. The government’s tourist office controls the flow of tourists to prevent degradations, by creating themed tourism “lanes.” The green “eco-tourism” and blue “eco-nautical” lanes bring tourists through the most beautiful natural sites, while bypassing ecologically sensitive areas. Local guides also promote hiking and public transport to minimize tourists’ emissions during their stay.

Albay has turned its climate risks into opportunities. The region has shown that sustainable tourism not only preserves the attractiveness of the region, but also helps the area become more resilient.  The region also markets itself as a climate-destination and hopes to act as a model for other Filipino provinces by creating an inter-region network dedicated to resiliency and disaster risk reduction.

Cover photo by Sir Mervs/Wikimedia (CC by 2.0): Mount Mayon seen from Camalig, Albay, Philippines.
Agritourism booms as Iceland melts

Agritourism booms as Iceland melts

By Gracie Pearsall

Iceland’s natural beauty, breathtaking landscapes, and unique culture attract around one million tourists every year. After Iceland’s financial crisis in 2008, Iceland’s devalued currency and cheap flights made the country a “value destination,” which, combined with a post-volcanic eruption marketing effort in 2010, caused Iceland’s tourism industry to surge. Climate change has also recently caused a new sector to grow: Agriculture. As the planet warms, Iceland becomes more hospitable to agriculture, which has created a huge market for agritourism centered around Iceland’s livestock.

Heritage Breeds

Iceland is an island nation in the Arctic Sea, and the livestock gene pool is similarly island-like in isolation. For example, in order to preserve their cultural and agricultural heritage, Iceland focuses on native breeds. The country even banned the import of dairy cows and instead concentrated on improving the productivity of Icelandic cows. Such Icelandic “heritage breeds” are a source of national pride for its people. These, and other endemic breeds, such as the horned Icelandic sheep and pony-like Icelandic horses, attract many tourists who regard the breeds as pure and prestigious.

The livestock rely on forage, rangeland, and hay – all of which are more productive because of climate change. For example, for each degree °C of warming, hay production increases by 16%. A warmer climate means that Iceland can now grow crops that were once unimaginable for an Arctic climate. Conditions to produce cereal grains, potatoes and carrots have greatly improved. The rising temperatures allow ranchers to graze their cows on barley, a far more productive forage than hay. The agricultural sector can now expand to meet the growing demand for crops and agritourism. Agritourism takes advantage of the exclusive nature of Icelandic breeds, and presents Iceland with obvious short-term economic benefits.

Agrarian Appeal

The allure of Iceland’s idyllic agricultural life makes the island very appealing to agritourists searching for a peek into an authentic local agrarian lifestyle. These tourists often stay on farms or in agrarian villages, and take part in agricultural activities. These activities can range from helping with crop care, to renting horses, and eating at a village’s farm-to-table restaurant. Icelandic livestock are the most popular farm “attraction.” Many tourists rush to watch the Icelandic sheep herded in from the rangeland. These tourists also rent Icelandic horses, and feed the cows that are the source of the dairy products that tourists consume.

Farms are scrambling to build accommodations for the growing number of agritourists because tourism has become a reliable year-round source of income for farmers. Farms such as the Efstidalur dairy farm, are transitioning to farm-hotels, to tap into the agritourist market. This family farm’s first tourist venture was in 1992 when it started a horse rental service. Since then, the farm has grown to include a bed and breakfast, farm-hotel, and farm-to-table restaurant, that attract thousands of guests each year.

With 2.2 million tourists projected to visit Iceland in 2017, the agricultural sector must expand to meet demand. But despite the climate change-based agritourism boom, Iceland still faces serious climate threats. Warming is causing alarmingly accelerated land uplift and glacial melt. Furthermore, a 2015 study found that Iceland’s oceans are rapidly rising at 3.56 cm per year. Melting glaciers will have a devastating effect on Iceland, and could cause significant losses in the core tourism industry, as glacier-related attractions recede with the ice. Although climate change is not currently impeding the thriving tourism industry, the threat looms large. Just as easily as it has helped tourism, climate change could also decimate the industry.

Cover photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash.
Climate change could send prices rising for air travellers

Climate change could send prices rising for air travellers

By Gaspard Peña Verrier

Climate change may make it harder for planes to take off, and could ultimately result in higher ticket prices, and less baggage allowance for passengers, according to a recent study by researchers from Columbia University. The problems for aircraft come as air temperatures rise, and many parts of the world experience an increase in both the frequency and intensity of heatwaves.

The research suggests that, due to the density of air declining as air temperature rises, higher temperatures will make it more difficult for aircraft to take off. To compensate for this, aircraft may need to generate more speed on the runway, weigh less, or both. Some airports are likely to face more difficulties than others in compensating for this issue –  for example, those with shorter runways, in warm climates, or at high elevation where air is naturally less dense.

Currently, the primary method of coping with extreme temperatures in the commercial airline industry is to impose weight restrictions. However, the industry may want to find a more permanent solution. Possible adaptation measures include: increasing engine power (although this risks increasing greenhouse gas emissions, which would constitute mal-adaptation), and lengthening runways, which is not always possible due to space constraints.

The study’s conclusion is that climate change is most likely to result in tightening weight restrictions, which implies fewer passengers per flight for between ten and fifty days annually in most places by 2080. The likely upshot of such restrictions would be higher prices for passengers.

Gaspard Peña Verrier is studying for a double-degree at Masters in electrical engineering from CentraleSupélec and industrial economics from Paris Dauphine, France. He then plans to devote his time and skills to facilitating the transition to clean energy, either working on network design or financial regulation. Gaspard was last year president of his university’s student-led consulting firm and he has held several intern positions in analytics in the banking industry.


Cover photo by Pexels (Pixabay license).
Climate change will shift summer tourism north

Climate change will shift summer tourism north

By Gracie Pearsall

Tourism in Europe is a major source of economic wealth and jobs. In 2016, travel and tourism contributed 630 billion euros to the European economy. In this lucrative industry climate and weather have a significant influence. When tourists plan a holiday, they usually check weather forecasts and schedule trips when the weather conditions are optimal. A recent report suggests, climate change will alter the attractiveness of certain European tourist destinations, the duration of holidays, and the timing of holidays. Experts project that as Europe becomes warmer and drier. But while southern Europe and the Mediterranean will experience a decrease in tourism, northern Europe and the Baltics will experience a tourism boom.

Southern Europe and the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is currently the tourism hotspot of Europe, and the tourism industry contributes 10% of employment and GDP in these countries. This region is already experiencing the effects of climate change. For example, temperatures are rising at a rate higher than the European average, and precipitation is decreasing. As a result, drought and wildfires are occurring more frequently. In the end of June, a wildfire spread through Portugal and Spain, killing 62 people and forcing the evacuation of thousands. A similar incident occurred in Italy in mid-July when a wildfire near Sicily hospitalized several people and forced resorts to close. News of deadly events during the height of tourism season will deter tourists from the Mediterranean. Additionally, rising mean temperatures will make southern Europe and the Mediterranean uncomfortably hot for tourists in the summer.

Long-term projections estimate that by 2080 southern European and Mediterranean countries will lose up to 0.45% of their annual GDP to climate-based shifts in tourism. For countries like Spain, where tourism makes up a huge portion of their economy, this could mean 5.6 billion euros in lost tourism revenue each year.

Northern Europe and the Baltics

Like the Mediterranean, the Baltics and northern Europe will also experience rising mean temperatures. However, hotter conditions in these regions will likely be favorable for summer tourism. The Baltics are witnessing rising water temperatures and less summer precipitation, both of which will entice summer tourists. Extreme weather events, particularly forest fires, will become more common in this region, regardless, projections show an uptake in tourism in northern Europe and the Baltics.

Hotter summers and decreased summer precipitation will make these previously unappealing colder destinations, very attractive to tourists looking for a warm, sunny holiday. Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia and Slovakia will likely see their tourism industries boom. The GDP of the southern European and Baltic countries could increase by 0.32% as a result of climate change. Unfortunately, such an increase would not outweigh the projected 0.45% loss in the Mediterranean countries, which means as a whole the EU will still lose tourism revenue.

Industry Adaptation

To combat climate-related tourism losses, the European tourism industry must become more resilient. For the demand-side of tourism, adaptation will be fairly easy because tourist make short term decisions and are not usually tied down to a certain destination (excluding tourists with holiday homes). To reduce the impact of climate change on their holidays, tourists can change their type of holiday. For example, tourists might choose to forgo a beach trip in favor of a mountain trip. Tourists can also shift their beach holidays north to escape the stifling Mediterranean heat. They can also adjust the time of their summer holiday from the height of the season, when the heat is most intense, to the “shoulder seasons” (May and September) when the climate is better.

Adaptations on the supply-side of tourism will be more intensive. One strategy is to promote the “shoulder seasons” rather than the typical main seasons. For example, destinations could offer discounts to tourists who book their summer holidays for May or August. Another strategy would be to invest in measures that reduce the perception of heat. These measures could include shading, air conditioning, or more water features, so that even if the temperature is not optimal, tourist will have a pleasant time and demand will not be negatively impacted.

Cover photo by Federico Giampieri on Unsplash
Glastonbury 2070? How the festival might have to cope with 4 degrees of global warming

Glastonbury 2070? How the festival might have to cope with 4 degrees of global warming

By Richard BettsUniversity of Exeter

Glastonbury, Britain’s largest and most famous music festival, is a great symbol of the many faces of the global climate change debate. It’s full of people enjoying life and relying on technology, easily available energy and consumer goods, yet it’s also deeply rooted in environmental and social justice concerns. And, of course, it’s also hugely exposed to extreme weather.

If the party is to keep going, can all these be reconciled? And what will it look like in the future – will it need to adapt to survive?

The climate is of course already changing. When Glastonbury’s founder Michael Eavis was born in 1935, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was not far above 300 parts per million (ppm). It’s now above 400ppm and rising, due to the emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities. Around the time of Eavis’s first festival in 1970, early efforts at climate modelling were predicting that the world would warm by 0.6°C by the year 2000. The actual observed warming was around 0.5°C, and again this is still rising.

The wider effects of this are beginning to emerge. Spring is occurring earlier, and there is generally more green vegetation worldwide due to rising CO₂ itself and also the warmer weather it brings. Average sea level is rising. There are more extremely hot days, fewer cold nights, more rain coming in heavy downpours, and more severe forest fires. The overall trend is clear: a changing climate, and the potential for increasing risks in future.

The forecast for Glastonbury 2070?

This year is the 47th anniversary of Glastonbury. By the time of the 100th anniversary in 2070, the high emissions scenario studied by IPCC implies a global warming of between 2.5℃ and 4℃ relative to pre-industrial levels, exceeding the 2℃ limit that most of the world’s countries have agreed to try to stay “well below” in the Paris Agreement. Even current pledges on emissions still imply warming above 2℃.

Glasto climate spiral. How much global warming between the first Glastonbury Festival and the 100th anniversary? (Animation: Ed Hawkins. Data is average of all climate model projections from CMIP5 RCP8.5)

A warmer world inevitably means further rises in sea level, due to melting land ice and the expansion of water as it warms. Global average sea level could rise by between about 30cm and 50cm, possibly more if large ice sheets collapse. In a 2.5℃-4℃ warmer world, much larger rises in sea level would be locked-in for centuries to come – a cause of deep concern for small island states and low-lying coastal regions.

Exactly what this means for south-west England, and Glastonbury, is hard to pin down. Climate models tend to project milder, wetter winters, and hotter, drier summers (although some models suggest summers will be slightly wetter). But even if summers do become drier overall, when it does rain we can expect more intense downpours, as already happens in hotter climates elsewhere in the world. Therefore we can expect increased flooding risk in both winter and summer.

Glastonbury is of course famous for its mud and occasional floods. Nearby are the Somerset Levels, a coastal plain also famous for widespread flooding both from rain and, occasionally, from the sea. The plain is around six metres above sea level, so would not be permanently underwater anytime soon, but rising sea levels will leave the area more exposed to temporary coastal flooding.

Deep green or tech solutions?

The two sides of Glastonbury perfectly illustrate the challenge facing society in reducing our impact on the environment. One the one hand, the festival has strong environmental traditions – the site at Worthy Farm has a fair amount of solar panels, and sustainable transport and recycling are strongly encouraged. On the other, there is no escaping the fact that the many stages have huge power demands, many festivalgoers will be keeping a concerned eye on their smartphone battery life, and private car and air travel are still prominent. At least one company offers customers the chance to beat the traffic jams by arriving via helicopter. (I mention this not in a judgemental way – I’d love to fly in myself if I could afford it – but just to point out that this is a reality of a huge party popular with people from all walks of life.)

All this easily-available energy is part of modern life that we take for granted, but it is also influencing the environment. For decades, we’ve been burning fossil fuels to power our worldwide increase in welfare and living standards, deforesting land to make way for food production, and producing cement to build our houses and the infrastructure that supports our enjoyable way of life. These advances have had huge benefits for global society. How can we keep the benefits and share them more widely while reducing the collateral damage to the climate before it becomes too severe? Frankly, how can we keep the party going without trashing the place?

Glastonbury is a pioneer of green thinking, but is the received wisdom of relying on renewables enough? It is increasingly argued that we need to consider a full toolbox of solutions, including some options that go against Glasto’s hippy traditions.

At the other end of the Somerset Levels is Hinkley Point, site of an existing nuclear power facility with expansion in the pipeline. Can a major power-hungry festival survive and thrive in a UK energy system without the nuclear option? What risks can we accept, both from climate change itself and the potential solutions that may be required? Can we minimise these risks in clever ways?

These are the conundrums we need to debate, and the challenges we need to address, illustrated by 200,000 people enjoying themselves for a few days in Somerset.

Prof Richard Betts is discussing the science of climate change at the 2017 Glastonbury Festival, in the Green Fields Area Speaker’s Forum on Friday at 11:00 and 17:00, and on Sunday at 17:00

Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts, University of ExeterThe ConversationFind Richard on Twitter: @richardabetts

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by jasonwood/Wikimedia (CC by 2.0)


Climate change threatens historic harbour’s tourist industry

Climate change threatens historic harbour’s tourist industry

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The coastal city of Salem in Massachusetts is probably best known for the Salem Witch Trials in the 17th century, famously turned into the play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller. Today, Salem has more to offer than witch-fuelled tourism, though. Yearly, more than one million people visit Salem and spend about US$100 million in the city. Several years ago, local tourism officials and business owners hoped to attract more tourists by emphasising the city’s maritime history. However, Salem, and especially its harbour area, is facing significant climate risks, mainly stemming from increases in sea level rise and storm surge. These also threaten the town’s economically important tourism industry. But, Salem is committed to build climate resilience and adapt to a changing climate.

A long history

Salem Harbour, which spans a total area of 18.1 square miles, used to be one of the most important international ports in the colonies: Salem’s merchants helped in the American Revolutionary War through privateering, and by supplying gunpowder and saltpetre. The port was also famous due to international trade in the late 18th century, popular trading items included ceramics, spices, and textiles. To this day, the city’s motto recalls its past: “to the farthest ports of the rich East.” Nowadays, the harbour is a crucial part of Salem’s tourism and leisure activities. Around 8000 commercial and private vessels use the waters, including mid-size cruise ships.

Rising seas and flood risk

With the coastal town only having an elevation of eight meters and experiencing subsidence, it will come as no surprise that sea level rise and storm surge are amongst the most prominent risks Salem is facing and will face in the future. Houses, roads, docks, and even a natural gas plant that is currently being built at the harbour are confronted with significant flooding risk as a look at Climate Central’s Surging Sea map shows.

In 2014, Salem decided, together with several mitigation actions, to develop a climate adaptation plan following a vulnerability assessment. The vulnerability assessment, carried out by CDM Smith, found that Salem could experience a 157% increase in extreme heat days, a 30% increase in the likelihood of a 100-year storm, sea level rise of up to 9 feet by 2100, and storm surge of over 13 feet by 2100.

Additionally, the assessment found that already existing seawalls and tide gates were ineffective due to their age and general poor condition. Critical municipal and historic building infrastructure had been deemed potentially at risk due to seawalls that were already overtopping at some locations and causing flooding, a problem that would only get worse with increasing sea levels. On the other hand, ill-conditioned tide gates cannot prevent flood water from flowing into the harbour, which could lead to pollution incidents. These examples also highlight the importance of re-evaluating adaptation measures and adapting them to incrementally changing thresholds.

The harbour builds resilience

The climate adaptation plan contains strategic adaptation priorities which were identified following an extensive stakeholder consultation with city administrators as well as community advisors. The priorities centred mostly around critical infrastructure at risk from flooding and include such measures as repairing seawalls, upgrading and installing tidal gates, adapting the drainage system, elevating or relocating transportation infrastructure, and more.

As Jim Hight pointed out in an article last week, every port is different. Salem Harbour might not be a large container port or international trade hub (anymore), but its recreational and cultural value is a main feature of Salem’s tourism. The climate resilience of the harbour is therefore vital for the local economy, and, of course, for the people pf Salem.


Read “Ready for tomorrow: The City of Salem climate change vulnerability assessment & adaptation plan

Cover photo by National Park Service (Public Domain)
Low snow cover threatens Swiss ski resorts

Low snow cover threatens Swiss ski resorts

By Alex Kirby

The effects of continued global warming on Alpine snow cover could have a devastating impact on Switzerland’s winter sports industry. Switzerland, one of Europe’s principal winter sports destinations, expects the impact of climate change will leave many of its mountains short of snow cover by the end of the century.

The prospect illustrates the urgent need for climate scientists to be able to develop more detailed forecasting methods that are tailored as much to regional trends as to global ones.

Switzerland couldn’t get enough snow for a time recently, although falls last month mean that parts of the Alps are now covered with fresh powder and are thronged with tourists. But the Swiss side of the Alps had the driest December since record-keeping began over 150 years ago.

study in the European Geosciences Union journal The Cryosphere suggests that the snow drought will intensify, with bare slopes soon becoming much more common.

The study, by Swiss scientists based at the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) and the CRYOS Laboratory at the École Polytechnique Fédérale, shows that the Alps could lose 70% of their snow cover by 2100. But if global warming is kept below 2°C, only 30% would be lost.

 Shorter ski season

The research also shows that the Alpine winter season, when natural snow is deep enough for winter sports, will shorten.

The ski season could start two weeks to a month later than now. And without a cut in greenhouse gas emissions, enough snow cover for winter sports will by 2100 be assured only at heights above 2,500 metres.

“The Alpine snow cover will recede anyway, but our future emissions will control by how much,” says the lead author, Christoph Marty, an SLF research scientist.

The researchers know that global warming will raise Alpine temperatures significantly, but they are unsure about how it will affect snowfall.

Most of their climate models project slightly increasing winter precipitation towards the end of the century. But the simultaneous temperature increase may mean it falls not as snow, but as rain.

The projections show that the Alpine snow layer will become less deep for all elevations, time periods and emission scenarios.

The researchers write: “The most affected elevation zone for climate change is located below 1,200 metres, where the simulations show almost no continuous snow cover towards the end of the century.”

The worrying significance of these findings for the winter sports industry is that about a quarter of the ski resorts in the Alps are located below this altitude.

Resorts at higher altitudes could also see drastic reductions in snow depth. If global warming is not kept below 2°C, snow depth could decrease by about 40% by the end of the century, the report says – even for elevations above 3,000 metres.

Shallower snow and a shorter season will affect winter tourism, on which many Alpine villages depend heavily.

But the expected changes will also alter how much water flows into Alpine rivers, affecting downstream irrigation, power supplies and shipping.

Nearly 1,000 miles to the north, there is concern in Norway about the effect that rising temperatures will have on one distinctive area.

Researchers who simulated the history of the Hardangerjøkulen ice cap in southern Norway over the last 4,000 years to see how it had responded to climate change have concluded it is now “exceptionally sensitive” to warming, and its days may be numbered.

 Glaciers melted

Their study, also reported in The Cryosphere, included the mid-Holocene periodabout 6,000 years ago, when summer temperatures at high northern latitudes were 2-3°C warmer than today. Most, if not all, of Norway’s glaciers melted away during this period.

The researchers were from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research at the University of Bergen, and from the Netherlands and the US

Henning Åkesson, a PhD candidate at the Bjerknes Centre, says: “Present day Hardangerjøkulen is in a very vulnerable state, and our study of its history over the last several thousand years shows that the ice cap may change drastically in response to relatively minor changes in climate conditions.”

Every year, winter snow covers a glacier before melting in the summer. At a certain point on the glacier, the competition between snow accumulation and snowmelt is balanced. Glaciologists call this the equilibrium line altitude (ELA), and it is roughly equivalent to the snow line.

What is special with Hardangerjøkulen and similar ice caps, Åkesson says, is their flat topography. At first, the climb is steep, but higher up things get much easier. Much of Hardangerjøkulen’s area is close to the present ELA, so a small change between winter snow and summer melt will affect a very large part of the ice cap.

Åkesson says: “The topography and present climate is such that we soon expect yearly net melt over the entire ice cap. This has already happened a few times in recent years. In the near future we expect this to occur much more often and, with this, the demise of Hardangerjøkulen will accelerate.

“Today, the ice is more than 300 metres thick at places, which may sound like a lot. But the implication of our study is that if climate warming continues, this ice cap may disappear before the end of the century.”

This article was originally published on Climate news Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article by clicking here.

Cover photo by Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay (Public Domain)
Visitor pressure: How climate change could stall Brazil’s tourism growth

Visitor pressure: How climate change could stall Brazil’s tourism growth

By Mathieu Gasowski

In the past two years, Brazil has played host to two of the world’s biggest sporting events: the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games this year. They have put Brazil in the spotlight and really drew in the crowds. An estimated 3.2 billion viewers tuned in to watch the World Cup, and visitor numbers over June and July – when the tournament was held – were 3 times higher than for the same period a year earlier. Brazil’s tourism industry has been growing steadily over the last eight years, but as climate change and its impacts put increasing pressure on the country’s tourism assets the question is: for how long can such growth be maintained?

Although not the world’s favourite holiday destination (Brazil ranked 43rd on the ‘tourism arrivals medals table’ in 2014), in 2015 tourism’s contribution to the Brazilian economy was US$ 7.4billion – 10% of GDP (according to the World Travel and Tourism Council). The country’s 6.4 million visitors in that year came for many reasons; the white sandy beaches, the carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and the ecological diversity all played their part. But most of the major tourist areas are now under threat from climate change.

The great cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are two of the country’s biggest draws: both will face considerable challenges from climate change. Rio is a coastal city, boasting long beautiful beaches among its main assets. But a rise in sea levels may mean that some of these will be lost. By the end of the century, the sea level is expected rise by up to 70 cm on average. Even half of that rise will cause significant problems of erosion and flooding along Brazil’s extensive coastline. In some areas the effects of such changes are already visible: man-made erosion barriers have replaced beaches on some stretches of the coast.

Image: Beachside flood and erosion protection at Boa Viagem Beach, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. Photo by A. Júnior (CC by 2.0)

Fragile infrastructure

Rising sea levels are also a threat to coastal property, including tourist infrastructure like beachside hotels and restaurants. Coastal storms, heavy rains and associated flooding may damage buildings or access roads cutting off access to tourists.

Brazil’s cities – like most in rapidly developing countries – have fragile infrastructure systems that are very vulnerable to climate impacts. Rio’s sewerage system, for example, is prone to flooding causing unpleasant sanitary conditions for tourists. Severe damage to such systems could also increase the risk of diseases spreading through its densely packed population. A case like this would greatly discourage tourism as the quality of water and health could decrease significantly.

For the Brazilian people, climate change is not an abstract concept. Its impacts are already being felt. Following extremely heavy rainfall in 2011, landslides and floods killed approximately 900 people in the Rio de Janeiro state. In contrast, during the 2014 drought in South-Eastern Brazil, near Sao Paulo: water shortages left the most financially powerful area in Brazil with diminished water supplies for over six months.

In the case of the drought, the part played by climate change remains debatable –  there is a clear link to Amazon rainforest deforestation as the trees affect the amount of moisture in the air that determines the rains in southern Brazil. However, increased global temperatures may amplify such droughts in the future. Water scarcity could cause significant problems for the tourism sector, which demands high levels of water for use in hotels.

Vector-borne diseases

Another threat to the tourism industry comes in the form of the spread of diseases and viruses. Climate change can facilitate the spread of such diseases by increasing the amount of disease-carrying insects (or vectors), increasing the number of standing pools of water, or reducing the quality of drinking water amongst other things.

Image: Mosquitos carry the Zika virus that is prevalent in Brazil. Photo by James Gathany, CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL). Public Domain.

The current outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil gives a clear indication of the impact that such health concerns can have. Zika has become a major worry for visitors to Brazil where it has affected preparations for the Rio Olympics. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 41 per cent of people say they are less likely to travel to affected regions due to the Zika outbreak. For Brazil’s tourism industry this could have serious consequences. The World Bank estimates that affected countries could take a combined US$64 billion hit in their tourism industries if the trend continues.

In the short term, the vibrancy and diversity of Brazil should keep the tourists flocking to its beaches. But Brazil’s tourism industry is facing a host of climate-related pressures that could hit visitor numbers if no action is taken to adapt. Acknowledging these risks and planning for them, will give the country’s tourism industry the best chance for continued prosperity and growth.

Cover image: Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Credit: Mike Vondran