Australian Institute of Alpine Studies


No. 8 June 2000


AIAS Reaches 60 (with no hint of early retirement)

Monitoring of snow loads below Mt Twynam snowpatch (A.B. Costin)

AIAS meeting

Earth Hummocks and Frost Cracks in the Kosciuszko Alpine Area (Stuart Johnston)

Proposal for an Alpine Fauna Collection - key infrastructure to serve ecological research in the Australian Alpine Zone (Peter McQuillan)

Book Reviews

Planned fieldwork - Kosciuszko National Park Chris Norment


Update on CRC Sustainable Tourism, Mountain Tourism subprogram and associated projects (Catherine Pickering)

Snow research (Scottish Snowfall Changes Project)

International Symposia

International Year of Mountains FAO Mountain Programme Update: March 2000

Myth-migration or mythinformation?

Melting of earth's ice cover reaches new high (Lisa Mastny)


Recent Publications

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AIAS Reaches 60 (with no hint of early retirement)

This newsletter should reach over 60 members throughout eastern Australia and overseas. In just over two years (since February 1998) the AIAS has grown to be a major network of those interested in mountain research in Australia. However, it still has a way to go. The membership is split below by state of postal address. If you are aware of anyone in your state (or elsewhere) who might like to join, drop them a line (and a copy of the application form on the back) and get them in touch:

Gill Anderson, Nick Clemann, John Davies, Dean Heinze, Greg Hollis, John Jenkin, Ruth Lawrence, Peter McRostie, John Morgan, Peter Whetton, (10)

Tristan Armstrong, Julien Ash, John Banks, Timothy Barrows, Max Day, Markwell Drury, Jack Egerton, Max Gray, Andrew Growcock, David Happold, David Hunter, Chris Holly, Frank Ingwersen, Kirsty Mcmaster, Will Osborne, Hazel Rath, Ian Wardlaw, (17).

Emma Betts, Linda Broome, Lorraine Cairns, Alec Costin, Graeme Enders, Cate Gillies, Roger Good, Ken Green, Mary Green, Frances Johnson, Stuart Johnson, Urs Koenig, Monica McDonald, Keith McDougall, Rod Pietsch, Greg Roberts, Glenn Sanecki, Colin Totterdell, Michelle Walter, Dane Wimbush, Genevieve Wright, Wil Allen, (21).

Caroline Kelly, Andrew Kirkwood, Catherine Pickering, Pascal Scherrer, Danny Stocks, (5).

Kerry Bridle, Kevin Kiernan, Jamie Kirkpatrick, Peter McQuillan, Harvey Marchant, Jennie Whinam, (6).

New York Chis Norment, New Zealand Mary Ralston.

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Monitoring of snow loads below Mt Twynam snowpatch. A.B. Costin

Alec CostinEarlier work on Mt Twynam (the centre of past glaciation in the Kosciuszko area and the present site of longest, most persistent snowpatch) measured the forces developed by snowpatch action on three sites A, B and C during the winters 1963 to 1971. These forces were assessed through failures in sets of pre-notched steel rods drilled into and embedded in the rock surface at each site. (The rods were pre-tested and calibrated for failure on identical sets, covering a 50 to 100-fold range of strength). Most of the rod failures at the three sites occurred during the light and moderate winter periods of 1963 and 1964, representing lateral loads between 1.6 and 11.4 bars. One further failure occurred at Site B in 1968, representing a load between 15.9 and 37.9 bars (1968 was thought to be the heaviest snow year for at least the preceding 20 years). The sites have been re-visited several times since 1971, the last visit being on 15/12/99. There have been no more rod failures since 1968. The remaining rods at the three sites are still intact in readiness for the next big snow year. Examination of SMA snow depth data for the Spencer's Creek Snow course are generally consistent with the above interpretation of the Twynam results. In 1968 the amount and duration of snow cover on the snow course were greater than in all other years, although in one year, 1981, maximum snow depth was greater than in 1968. Because of the altitude, bulk and topographic situation of Mt. Twynam, its snowpatch is arguably the most representative of alpine snow conditions at Kosciuszko, including sensitivity to possible climatic change. Regular future monitoring of the snowpatch would not be difficult. To this end it is planed this year to replace the failed steel rods at Sites A, B and C. Regular photographic and satellite monitoring would also be desirable at Twynam, as well as for other snowpatches in the Kosciuszko alpine area. Many thanks to Ken Green for providing the SMA Spencer's Creek snow course data, and to Caroline Kelly for photographing the Twynam sites last year. (Editor's note: replacement bolts are now being cut at the ANU to continue this experiment.

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AIAS Meeting

The plan to have the next AIAS meeting at Latrobe University fell through when the Ecological Society of Australasia knocked back our proposal for a symposium session within ESA2000. Every cloud etc….. The current plan is to hold the meeting in conjunction with the launch of the Kosciuszko Alpine Flora which will probably be in Canberra in December. Because of publishers flexible timetables I can't be more precise as to date but expect more details as they come to hand.

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Earth Hummocks and Frost Cracks in the Kosciuszko Alpine Area. Stuart Johnston

earth hummocks and frost cracksEarth hummocks and Frost cracks, periglacial features that have only been recorded once before in Australia's alpine environments (by Costin and Wimbush 1959) have been observed again in the Kosciuszko alpine area. Large earth hummocks (the largest being measured as approximately 3m x 2m and 95cm deep with the average size being approximately 1m3) and frost cracks were observed in the valley of the upper Snowy River approximately 1km south of Snowy Bridge at 1950m in December 1998. This is an area well known to the researcher, having scientific plots in the same general area and these features were not observed in the area previously. These features evidently formed rapidly during the winter of 1998, which was intensely cold, and the ground surface was poorly insulated by light snow cover. As a result, local freezing of the groundwater in the underlying gravels and the overlying peaty soils occurred. However, not all of the water would have frozen simultaneously, with some being entrapped between the frozen areas and therefore being capable of exerting considerable hydraulic pressure (enough to displace up to 1 cubic metre of soil material). After finding these periglacial features, an extensive program to identify other areas where this activity took place within the Kosciuszko alpine area took place, with several other sites being identified. In December 1999 all sites were again surveyed to determine if these features had again occurred after another light snow year. A few new small hummocks were observed (the average size being approximately 50cm3), however, the winter of 1999 did not produce the same long periods of intense cold as the winter of 1998.

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Proposal for an Alpine Fauna Collection – key infrastructure to serve ecological research in the Australian Alpine Zone. Peter McQuillan

This proposal calls for the establishment of an Australian Alpine Fauna Collection (AAFCOLL) to serve the needs of researchers interested in the biota and ecology of our alpine environments: essentially, a working reference library of preserved fauna specimens. I believe this is timely because demand for accurately identified specimens, as well as archival capacity to store them, is increasing steadily. Several thousand species of animals inhabit the alpine zone and there is increasing interest in their ecological roles, building on the extensive legacy of alpine botanical research which underpins the renewed interest in plant-animal interactions. Capacity building is an important issue in alpine research since it determines the scope and quality of work possible in the future and the move to self-reliance in meeting identification needs should reflect the increasing skill base. Thematic collections in Australian biology are not new. The Warra Invertebrate Collection, maintained by Forestry Tasmania and curated by Dick Bashford, is a key infrastructure asset which meets the identification and archival needs of entomologists involved in projects in the Warra Long Term Ecological Research site, one of an important global network of LTER sites. Agriculture Departments in most states maintain a specialist reference collection dedicated to the needs of pest management and quarantine. Establishment needs Initially AAFCOLL should comprise three annexes, in Hobart, Jindabyne and Melbourne, with a host institution, good quality collection space, and a part-time curator responsible for administration of the collection in each state. In Tasmania, the University of Tasmania is a willing host (Peter McQuillan); in New South Wales, the National Parks and Wildlife Snowy Mountains Region (Ken Green), and in Victoria the Museum of Victoria (volunteer curator needed). Curation and other standards need to be agreed and protocols established at the appropriate time. Visiting researchers to AAFCOLL annexes might, in time, expect to access resources such as microscopes and key literature to the local alpine fauna. Acquisition of specimens The nucleus of some annexe collections already exists. In Tasmania, approximately 3,000 alpine insect specimens from the plant-insect study of Jamie Kirkpatrick and Peter McQuillan (1998-2000) are housed to museum standard in the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies. Donated specimens or specimens on perpetual loan should be solicited from state and national collections in order to rapidly build a synoptic collection of alpine fauna to meet our immediate needs. Identified specimens examined by taxonomic specialists, and bearing their determination labels, will be a key resource of the proposed collection. Other material can be assembled by exchange with institutions and collectors. It is not intended that AAFCOLL should acquire or house type specimens as these are most appropriately housed in the centralised state and national collections. Research Permits issued to biologists conducting fieldwork in the Alpine Parks should require or encourage the deposition of some reference specimens in the appropriate annexe of the AAFCOLL as well as promote the use of the AAFCOLL to potential users. AAFCOLL should also acquire the capacity to store images of alpine fauna, in various media, to serve the needs of extension and interpretation programs. A web page promoting AAFCOLL needs to be developed. Ken Green has prepared a checklist of alpine insects for Kosciuszko National Park (Green 1995) and informal checklists exist for the alpine zones of Mount Wellington Park (Tasmania) and Mount Field National Park (Tasmania). These lists can form the foundation for assembling local synoptic collections. I would welcome any comments and suggestions from potential users…. Peter McQuillan

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Book Reviews

Wild Guide. Plants and animals of the Australian Alps by Barbara Cameron-Smith wild guide
Envirobooks in association with AALC. 96pp Reviewed by K. Green

I liked the concept of this book – of looking at the Alps by habitat and then pointing the reader to what might be occurring there. It is difficult, however, to overlook the numerous errors and deficiencies in the book, which greatly diminish its value.

Although the book is called a guide, there are so few plants included, that it could hardly be used as a guide per se. It would simply be too frustrating not being able to find in the guide the majority of plants you see, especially in the lower altitude zones.

A bit more care could have been taken in choosing the habitats highlighted in the book. Whilst they work reasonably well for plants, there are some notable problems with the animals. Grouping alpine heaths and herbfields above 1850m with cold air drainage basins at much lower altitudes makes little sense for fauna. There is sadly no differentiation in the species lists as to what occurs where, e.g. you might find mountain pygmy possums in the alpine but not in low altitude cold air drainage and conversely southern corroboree frog, mountain grasshoppers and mountain heath dragons are not likely to occur in the alpine zone within the foreseeable future. The altitudinal delineation of the alpine zone on page 15 (above 2000 m) means that readers might be led to believe that there is no alpine zone in Victoria; on page 16 the limit is reduced to 1750 m in Victoria, which is a bit confusing. In trying to make the guide accessible to a wide audience, the text has ended up being irritatingly jokey throughout and talks down to its audience – whether adult or child: [pigs cute pets page 29? Woe betide…. Don't quench your thirst on orange snow. Chances are a hare's been there! page 51 rocks are "cosy-comfy to ‘lounge around' on".]

The overall casual writing style has led to the book being a bit too casual with facts. For example (page 26) what plant matter does the fox burrow down through the snow to get? The author may claim that my comments are carping and about style rather than substance but the choice of words is not a matter of style but about correctness To talk about the funnelweb's ‘sting' rather than bite (page 55) is incorrect, on p36 yellow-tailed black cockatoos de-barking a tree ‘bite out chunks.' Page 5 says that the largest animal group is the birds and on page 35 grey shrike-thrush eat mammals. These are errors not of preferred style but of fact. Additionally, Nematolepis ovatifolium is a Kosciuszko endemic. It may be "one of the commonest shrubs above treeline" on the Main Range of Kosciuszko but not in Victoria. Bidgee-widgee (boxed on page 84) is not an introduced species but a native alpine plant. Colobanthus pulvinatus is endemic to the Kosciuszko area (and is not found in Victoria). The Eyebright on page 70 is Euphrasia collina subsp. glacialis (not subsp. diversicolor). Eucalyptus radiata subsp. robertsonii has not been recorded in Victoria.

Then there are errors of interpretation:

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Planned fieldwork – Kosciuszko National Park. Chris Norment

During the coming spring and summer field season, while on academic leave from the State University of New York, I plan to work on two projects in Kosciuszko National Park: the breeding ecology of the Australian Pipit (Anthus australis) and sex allocation in alpine coprosma (Coprosma niphophila). The pipit project will focus on the species' nesting biology and foraging ecology, and will provide comparative data for a genus that has been studied extensively in other arctic and alpine areas of the world. Work on Coprosma will focus on niche differentiation between male and female plants, and on how (or if) male and female fitness components differ in contrasting microsites. Because the distribution of both species is affected by snow – pipits because they forage on remnant snowpatches, and their nest-site selection is influenced by snowcover, and C. niphophila because it is restricted to snow accumulation areas – the studies tie into current concern about how projected increases in temperature and decreases in snowfall will affect the ecology of Australian alpine ecosystems.

I have not selected my field site yet, but anticipate that I will be based in the Mt. Northcote-Mt. Clarke area - wherever I can find both pipits and Coprosma. I will be camping out for 4 days or so per week once the field season begins, and would welcome any visitors who want to drop by to drink tea and talk about alpine ecology, obscure rock music, or whatever. (Ken Green will know where I am.) If anyone is interested in volunteering some time for fieldwork, I would love the help – but I can only promise free food and bad jokes. Also, any leads on specific sites with both pipits and Coprosma nearby would be appreciated.

Chris Norment
Department of Biological Sciences
SUNY College at Brockport,
Brockport, NY 14420 USA.

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Now talking about getting in touch – the AIAS website has been completely refurbished by Jo Hooper and sent to Environment Australia so hopefully that will be updated soon. Remember the address?

Thanks to Glenn Sannecki for finding this site which allows you to plot comparative graphs of snow depth in the Snowy Mountains from SMA data. The only thing it lacks is the ability to plot average snow depth data but Glenn sent them an email so maybe it might allow this soon.

There is a new Website for Swiss alpine research presenting information about research in the Swiss Alps: news, events, new books, people (experts and users), organisations, research projects and more.

Mountain Forum: The Mountain Forum On-line Library now consists of nearly 1,500 documents available for browsing at All the on-line library documents are available by email, too. Just send your specific request to the Mountain Forum Moderator at In the last 6 months alone, over 300 documents have been added to the library.

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Update on CRC Sustainable Tourism, Mountain Tourism subprogram and associated projects. Catherine Pickering

As you may be aware, the subprogram for Mountain Tourism research continues apace. Projects that are likely to be of particular interest to members of the AIAS are:

New Projects:
Economics of Mountain Tourism A joint research project examining the economic benefits of mountain tourism to the Australian Alps national parks is currently being developed with the Australian Alps Liaison Committee. Professor Trevor Mules at the University of Canberra will be heading up the project. He has extensive experience in this area including a recent study of the economic impact of Noosa National Park.

Perceived environmental impacts of mountain tourism on the Australian Alps national parks Dr Pickering and Jan Harrington are conducting a survey of national parks staff on impacts of mountain tourism. This is an extension of a survey conducted Wang and Micko (1997) in the USA, but incorporating issues associated with Australian mountain tourism and resorts. Although a range of impacts of tourism have been documented for the Australian Alps (Buckley et al. 2000), it is the perceptions of people in management positions that can be more important. They determine to a large degree what activities are permitted, and what monitoring strategies are implemented. We will let you know what we find.

Buckley, R. C., Pickering, C.M. and Warnken, J. (2000) 'Environmental management for alpine tourism and resorts in Australia'. In Tourism and Development in Mountain Regions Ed. Goode, P, Price, M.F. and Zimmerman, F.M. CAB International.

Wang, C. and Micko, P.S. (1997). 'Environmental impacts of tourists on U.S. National Parks'. In Tourism and Travel Research, Volume 35: 31-35

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Completed Projects:
Promoting the environment: The marketing of summer tourism in the Australian Alps.
As part of the ongoing project examining the sustainability of mountain tourism, Dr C Pickering and Josh Zarb examined the marketing of summer tourism in the Australian Alps. We found that the Australian Alps is increasingly promoted as a summer tourism destination by national parks, resorts, local tourism organizations and small private operators. All these groups promoted nature and nature-based activities heavily when marketing the region, although commercial operators also promoted activities that have, or have had, negative impacts on the environment (grazing, hydroelectricity, fishing, horse riding etc). The marketing of summer tourism is therefore sending mixed messages to tourists.

Possible impacts of predicted climate change on plant communities in the Kosciuszko Alpine Zone in Australia.
Catherine Pickering and Tristan Armstrong have submitted a paper and a CRC Research Report on the possible impacts of climate change. The paper is a ‘what if' exercise based on our current and limited understanding of the environmental factors that influence the distribution of the alpine flora. We feel that the short alpine herbfield and snow bank feldmark communities are likely to be negatively affected by predicted declining snow cover, as snowbanks become fewer and smaller. Windswept feldmark, however, may become more widespread if snow cover declines, exposing new areas to freezing temperatures, high winds and resultant loss of soil cover. Climate change initially may have a beneficial or neutral effect on the tall alpine herbfield. If snow cover continues to decline below 3-4 months per year as is predicted, then the tall alpine herbfield could eventually decline. Bogs, fens, raised bog and valley bog communities are likely to vary in area as changes in precipitation, runoff, and evaporation alter the competitive ability of plant species belonging to these communities. Heath communities are likely to increase in area as increasing temperatures and declining snow cover favour shrub species over grasses and herbs. Increasing diversity and abundance of alien plant species within the alpine zone is likely to continue and may be amplified by climate change.

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Ongoing Research:
Regulation of summer tourism in mountain national parks
As part of the project on sustainable mountain tourism, Catherine Pickering, Kim Byrnes and Andrew Kirkwood have been reviewing the regulation of summer tourism in the Australian Alps and Tasmanian alpine parks. The project will compare the types of tourism that are permitted and the regulation methodology of the different parks.

Impacts of human activities on the alpine zone vegetation of Kosciuszko National Park: PhD student Pascal Scherrer, Supervisor Dr Pickering
Pascal is currently focusing on examining trends in the alpine vegetation since the cessation of grazing. As part of this he is analysing the long term transects of Alex Costin and Dan Wimbush in the alpine zone of KNP. The data from 8 years (1959, 1961, 1964, 1968, 1971, 1978, 1990 and 1999), and the two sites (Kosciuszko and Gungartan) have been entered and checked with at total of 260 plant taxa recorded. The analysis will involve some relatively sophisticated multivariate statistics to examine trends in species composition over time. Initially trends in the palatable species will be examined. A joint paper examining the relative impact of grazing, tourism and climate change on the alpine vegetation is also currently in preparation.

Ecology of the weed Achillea millefolium in alpine and subalpine habitats of Kosciuszko National Park: PhD student Frances Johnston, Supervisor Dr Pickering
Frances has just finished her first field season looking at the effect of altitude and disturbance on the phenology of Yarrow. Currently she is germinating large amounts of seed to determine seed viability in the field, seed rain at differently altitudes, and seed banks in gravel pits and other potential sources of yarrow contamination. Frances is about to submit her first paper (with Catherine Pickering) on Alien Plants in the Australian Alps. It reviews weed occurrence data for the Australian Alps. One hundred and seventy five alien plant taxa have been reported for the subalpine and alpine regions of the Australian Alps. It was possible to categorise the weeds on the basis of the types of human disturbance with which they are associated. Eighty percent were associated with roadsides or paths, 59% with resorts, 25% grazing, and 7% rehabilitation aliens. A worrying 20% were naturalised. Other papers are in the pipeline.

Snow manipulation and the vegetation of the Australian Alps
The potential impact of snow manipulation on vegetation will be examined in a series of small projects. An initial review of documented impacts overseas is currently being compiled by Dr Pickering and Caroline Kelly.

Evolution and systematics of Craspedia in Australia: PhD student Caroline Kelly, Supervisor Dr Pickering
Caroline Kelly commenced her PhD in December, but recently changed her project from focusing on the impacts of snow manipulation on vegetation to an investigation into Billy Buttons, or Craspedia sp. Currently she is contacting experts in the area, germinating seed to look at chromosome numbers, and developing molecular genetics methodology for examining the evolution of the group.

Moth herbivory and patch dynamics in the alpine region of Kosciuszko National Park: Honours student Andrew Kirkwood, Supervisor Dr Pickering
Andrew Kirkwood is investigating the effects of case and swift (or corbie) moths on the community dynamics of tall alpine herbfield. The moths are responsible for damage to large areas of snowgrass, which eventually become visible as patches of dead, flattened snowgrass mulch. The study aims to answer a number of questions: What is the effect of the herbivory on the abundance of herbs? What are the effects of the mulch layer on germinants, seedlings and soil characters? What is the extent of the damages area in a single year, and are grazed patches related to particular topographical features? The first year's field season is complete, and final observations are to be made in the coming spring/summer.

Kirsty McMaster

Survey of visitors to Mt Kosciuszko alpine region
Stuart Johnston, Andrew Growcock, Peter Arkle, Kirsty McMaster and others continue their valiant work surveying tourists in the alpine region of Kosciuszko National Park. A CRC report and a series of fact sheets, not to mention two honour's theses are under construction, but they can tell you more ...

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Snow research Scottish Snowfall Changes Project

A team from the Department of Environmental Science, University of Stirling, has been awarded a £10000 contract by the Scottish Executive to undertake research into snowfall in Scotland. This builds on work already undertaken by two of the team members. The objectives of the work are to: Predict changing patterns, and characteristics, of snowfall over Scotland over the course of the 21st century. Examine what impact such changes are already having, and may have in the future, on Scottish society and economy, land use and environment.

Prediction will be based on climatic analogues. In essence, the Scottish climatic shifts can be represented as more frequent occurrence of what have previously been regarded as exceptional winter warmth. So indications of future snow patterns can be found in Scottish climatic records. Spatial models of recorded 'days with snow lying' will be generated and GIS will be used to generate maps of changes in snow duration over Scotland.

Impacts of change will be based on information received from 'experts' and the general public. There will be two phases of information gathering (a) an assessment of the effects of the changes in snow cover which have already taken place in recent decades (eg skiing industry, water resource management, winter road and rail maintenance ... ) and (b) an assessment of the potential effects of predicted changes.

Project Team:
Dr John Harrison, Dr Sandy Winterbottom and Dr Dick Johnson. Details of any ongoing or completed research in this field very welcome at

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International Symposia

Dr Jennie Whinam, who has a three year Natural Heritage Trust contract to undertake an assessment of the conservation, reservation and management requirements of Sphagnum peatlands in south-eastern Australia, has been invited to be a keynote speaker at the International Peat Society (IPS) Symposium in Quebec. The symposium, in August, will be attended by more than 1,000 land managers, researchers and industry representatives. Jennie is the only invited speaker from the southern hemisphere in the 'Restoration of Sphagnum dominated peatlands' section of the symposium. (There are four contributors for the northern hemisphere). The paper will be collaborative with other peatland workers in Australia and New Zealand. (Kerry Bridle) Roger Good will be our only representative at the World Mountain Forum (Paris/Chambéry) and the related Workshop on International Mountain Research (Grenoble) between 4-7 June 2000.

Jamie Kirkpatrick and Ken Green will be attending the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment conference in Rigi-Kaltbad, Switzerland from 7-10 September, 2000. They will also attend the accompanying workshop on the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA). The principal objective of GLORIA is to establish a network of permanent observation sites over a global transect to provide standardised reference data for a long-term monitoring of climate change-induced effects on natural ecosystems. (See Newsletter 7 for more details).

Hopefully a full report of outcomes of these various symposia will appear in a forthcoming newsletter.

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International Year of Mountains FAO Mountain Programme Update: March 2000

Preparations continue towards 2002 when for the first time ever an International Year will be held to celebrate and focus global attention on mountain communities and environments. Raising awareness on a wide variety of mountain-related issues will be a key objective of the observance, but by no means the only one. Our hope is that all the interest, time and resources that will be devoted to the IYM will result in real progress in action on the ground. This should ultimately translate into improved livelihoods of mountain people and well conserved and appropriately managed environments. The opportunity to make a significant move from words to action presents itself with the IYM. In this sense it will be important to focus on putting in place or reinforcing the mechanisms and institutions needed to ensure long term attention and follow-up to the events of this International Year.

The long-awaited IYM Concept Paper is expected to be distributed in April in English, French and Spanish to a wide variety of interested governments, organizations, groups and individuals. As mentioned in past columns of the Mountain Forum Bulletin, this document will provide a framework for observance of the year and preparations leading to it, and serve to clarify the overall approach, strategy and substance of the programme for the IYM. Fund-raising efforts are now getting underway. FAO expects to convene a donor roundtable meeting in the coming months to shore up bilateral support for IYM preparation, in particular to allow for additional capacity to effectively implement the lead agency role. But for the IYM observance as a whole, a very broad-based approach to securing needed funds is envisaged, including taking full advantage of opportunities that exist for private sector support and sponsorship.

The official IYM logo will soon be available, giving the Year an important visual identity. The selection process (almost complete at the time of this writing) involves the members of the Interim Board of the Mountain Forum in an attempt to have representation from all regions in the final selection. We will be encouraging the widest possible use of the logo, especially in promotional efforts, and will soon be issuing guidelines and conditions to ensure it is used in the most appropriate manner.

Also in the IYM context, FAO will soon be preparing a report to be presented by the UN Secretary-General at the 55th Session of the UN General Assembly (the Millennium Assembly). This progress report on preparations for the IYM was called for in the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 1998. What's happening at country level to prepare for the IYM will be an important part of the report. This will include efforts to set up national committees to organize IYM activities and initiatives, using as examples organizing efforts already underway in countries such as Italy, Peru, Kyrgyzstan and Switzerland. A meeting was recently held at FAO headquarters with our regional forestry officers who are based in Asia, Africa and Latin America. How to best utilize FAO's regional capacity to assist in preparing for the IYM was an important topic of discussion. Their role will be instrumental in ensuring that regional concerns and priorities are fully supported in observance activities. FAO expects to reinforce its capacity to support and implement IYM activities at the regional level by posting an Associate Professional Officer in each of the regional offices.

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Myth-migration or mythinformation?

The following was included to add bulk to the newsletter and to provide a cautionary tale about how mountain myths can reach a much wider audience with greater acceptance than the most rigorous scientific sampling and publication.

The text on the old sign at the Blue Lake lookout, which has stood since I know not when, renders an account of the glacial processes that formed the largest of our mainland alpine glacial lakes. Then comes a curious addition: ‘Blue Lake contains a species of shrimp which is not found elsewhere. It is able to survive in this lake because the water temperature is constant.'

The underlining of the word ‘constant' with a knife or other sharp instrument shows that someone had a greater regard for the truth than the sanctity of signs. I couldn't help wondering, if the water temperature was so constant, how was it that I was able to walk to the middle of the lake in winter yet fail so abjectly to repeat the same walk in summer? [More on that later] The obvious mistake, however, is like the extra thimbles in the con trick thimblerig* – it serves mainly to distract from the larger error, for there is no shrimp in Blue Lake. The Blue Lake fauna is well known and shared fairly well with the other glacial lakes (except that it and the other Snowy-bound lakes have native fish whereas the westward flowing lakes do not). When I first noticed this sign, shortly after coming back to the Snowy Mountains on a more permanent basis in the summer of 1995/96, I asked about this shrimp. I was told by one local with over 25 years experience that he had always known about this shrimp. Having just published ‘Wildlife of the Australian Snow Country' with no mention of a shrimp I started to wonder if we had missed something - an embarrassing omission if we had! I decided to be on the safe side and investigate this shrimp, but no-one could tell me who had constructed the sign – who had taken folk knowledge and changed it into anodized aluminium truth. Then synchronicity came into play. That same summer, Brian Timms who had published the definitive paper on life in the lake ‘The Benthos of the Kosciusko Glacial Lakes' in 1979 paid a return visit to the area. He wrote, in a letter of March 1996, "I am not aware of such a beast being in Blue Lake, unless it refers to the isopod or amphipod there, both of which are not unique to Blue Lake."

Technical bit coming up
Included in the Crustacea are the orders Anaspidacea (10 species), Decapoda (8500), Isopoda (4000) and Amphipoda (5500). The Decapoda contains the shrimps, crayfish, lobsters and crabs, all with five pairs of legs, so anything in this group is quite removed from the Isopoda and the Amphipoda with seven pairs of legs. Additionally the isopods, flattened dorso-ventrally (that is top to bottom), include slaters and sea lice while amphipods (flattened laterally) include the common landhopper, animals that I would not like served up to me posing as shrimps in a restaurant. Then there are the Anaspidacea, the most well-known of which is the Mountain Shrimp (Anaspides tasmaniae), an inhabitant of alpine ponds and tarns in Tasmania. Adults are 30-50 mm long and live on the bottom, feeding on tadpoles and worms in addition to the detritus and algae eaten by the young. If startled, these shrimps rapidly flap their tail fan and dart away – but not as far as Blue Lake.

So how did this mythical shrimp, not only come into the collective park consciousness but progress from there to an expensive aluminium sign? As it could not have come about by observation perhaps it arrived by Chinese whispers.

"A shrimp is found only in Tasmanian lakes with one species found only in alpine lakes"
"A shrimp is found only in Tasmanian alpine lakes"
"A shrimp is found only in Australian alpine lakes"
"A shrimp is found only in lakes of the Australian Alps"
"A shrimp is found in Blue Lake"
"A shrimp is found only in Blue Lake"

As any student of island biogeography can testify, animals have a wide variety of ways to colonise new areas, as eggs on birds' feet, in among their feathers, by ballooning on silken threads (the aerial plankton), by flight, walking, hopping, or by hitching a lift in cars, trains, plains, or in ships' ballast. However, this case of long-distance migration and successful colonisation by Chinese whispers must surely be unique in the annals of biology. A case of myth-migration – or just myth information? Now, about that constant water temperature. In his letter, Brian Timms, also adds that even if the ‘shrimp' was true then the reason for its survival there "is quite bogus". Two winters ago I walked to the middle of Blue Lake with a brace and bit and managed with a lot of effort to drill through the top 1.4m. Now, had that top 1.4 m been at the same constant temperature that occurred in summer my hour-long task would have been quicker, although I might have had trouble getting to the middle of the lake in the first place. The fact is that the lake has a very solid winter mantle of ice which quite often will not disappear until mid spring (when I was still able to walk to the middle). The temperature rises through summer peaking in late February to early March and then declines to ice formation in June. In July the top water may be just a tad (0.05degreesC) above freezing. By one metre deep this has risen to 1.0įC and at the bottom at 24m deep it is a balmy 2.0degreesC. This contrasts to bottom water temperatures in March-April of 7-8.5degreesC – so much for constant temperature, even at the bottom of the lake. Incidentally the ice break-up varies widely: in 1970 and 1971 it broke up in late November, disappearing in early December and in 1972 the lake was ice-free by 6 November. Twenty-five years later in 1997 the lake was ice-free by late October and in 1997 by mid-October and in 1999 by early October. Studies of the lake's thermal changes will continue but the shrimp cannot yet come in from the cold.

[*A trick played with three thimbles or half-walnut shells with a pea– the shells are shuffled by a con-man or thimblerigger and the mug punter bets on which one the pea is under. It helps to have a good dictionary sometimes]

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Melting of earth's ice cover reaches new high
Original article from Worldwatch Lisa Mastny

The Earth's ice cover is melting in more places and at higher rates than at any time since record keeping began. Reports from around the world compiled by the Worldwatch Institute (see data table below) show that global ice melting accelerated during the 1990s-which was also the warmest decade on record.

Scientists suspect that the enhanced melting is among the first observable signs of human-induced global warming, caused by the unprecedented release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases over the past century. Glaciers and other ice features are particularly sensitive to temperature shifts.

Some of the most dramatic reports come from the polar regions, which are warming faster than the planet as a whole and have lost large amounts of ice in recent decades. The Arctic sea ice, covering an area roughly the size of the United States, shrunk by an estimated 6 percent between 1978 and 1996, losing an average of 34,300 square kilometers-an area larger than the Netherlands-each year.

The Arctic sea ice has also thinned dramatically since the 1960s and 70s. Between this period and the mid-1990s, the average thickness dropped from 3.1 meters to 1.8 meters-a decline of nearly 40 percent in less than 30 years.

The Arctic's Greenland Ice Sheet-the largest mass of land- based ice outside of Antarctica, with 8 percent of the world's ice-has thinned more than a meter per year on average since 1993 along parts of its southern and eastern edges.

The massive Antarctic ice cover, which averages 2.3 kilometers in thickness and represents some 91 percent of Earth's ice, is also melting. So far, most of the loss has occurred along the edges of the Antarctic Peninsula, on the ice shelves that form when the land-based ice sheets flow into the ocean and begin to float. Within the past decade, three ice shelves have fully disintegrated: the Wordie, the Larsen A, and the Prince Gustav. Two more, the Larsen B and the Wilkins, are in full retreat and are expected to break up soon, having lost more than one-seventh of their combined 21,000 square kilometers since late 1998-a loss the size of Rhode Island. Icebergs as big as Delaware have also broken off Antarctica in recent years, posing threats to open-water shipping.

Antarctica's vast land ice is also melting, although there is disagreement over how quickly. One study estimates that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), the smaller of the continent's two ice sheets, has retreated at an average rate of 122 meters a year for the past 7,500 years-and is in no imminent danger of collapse. But other studies suggest that the sheet may break more abruptly if melting accelerates. They point to signs of past collapse, as well as to fast-moving ice streams within the sheet that could speed ice melt, as evidence of potential instability.

Outside the poles, most ice melt has occurred in mountain and subpolar glaciers, which have responded much more rapidly to temperature changes. As a whole, the world's glaciers are now shrinking faster than they are growing, and losses in 1997-98 were "extreme," according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service. Scientists predict that up to a quarter of global mountain glacier mass could disappear by 2050, and up to one-half by 2100-leaving large patches only in Alaska, Patagonia, and the Himalayas. Within the next 35 years, the Himalayan glacial area alone is expected to shrink by one-fifth, to 100,000 square kilometers.

The disappearance of Earth's ice cover would significantly alter the global climate - though the net effects remain unknown. Ice, particularly polar ice, reflects large amounts of solar energy back into space, and helps keep the planet cool. When ice melts, however, this exposes land and water surfaces that retain heat - leading to even more melt and creating a feedback loop that accelerates the overall warming process. But excessive ice melt in the Arctic could also have a cooling effect in parts of Europe and the eastern United States, as the influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic may disrupt ocean circulation patterns that enable the warm Gulf Stream to flow north.

As mountain glaciers shrink, large regions that rely on glacial runoff for water supply could experience severe shortages. The Quelccaya Ice Cap, the traditional water source for Lima, Peru, is now retreating by some 30 meters a year-up from only 3 meters a year before 1990-posing a threat to the city's 10 million residents. And in northern India, a region already facing severe water scarcity, an estimated 500 million people depend on the tributaries of the glacier-fed Indus and Ganges rivers for irrigation and drinking water. But as the Himalayas melt, these rivers are expected to initially swell and then fall to dangerously low levels, particularly in summer. (In 1999, the Indus reached record high levels because of glacial melt.)

Rapid glacial melting can also cause serious flood damage, particularly in heavily populated regions such as the Himalayas. In Nepal, a glacial lake burst in 1985, sending a 15-meter wall of water rushing 90 kilometers down the mountains, drowning people and destroying houses. A second lake near the country's Imja Glacier has now grown to 50 hectares, and is predicted to burst within the next five years, with similar consequences.

Large-scale ice melt would also raise sea levels and flood coastal areas, currently home to about half the world's people. Over the past century, melting in ice caps and mountain glaciers has contributed on average about one- fifth of the estimated 10-25 centimeter (4-10 inch) global sea level rise-with the rest caused by thermal expansion of the ocean as the Earth warmed. But ice melt's share in sea level rise is increasing, and will accelerate if the larger ice sheets crumble. Antarctica alone is home to 70 percent of the planet's fresh water, and collapse of the WAIS, an ice mass the size of Mexico, would raise sea levels by an estimated 6 meters-while melting of both Antarctic ice sheets would raise them nearly 70 meters. (Loss of the Arctic sea ice or of the floating Antarctic ice shelves would have no effect on sea level because these already displace water.)

Wildlife is already suffering as a result of global ice melt-particularly at the poles, where marine mammals, seabirds, and other creatures depend on food found at the ice edge. In northern Canada, reports of hunger and weight loss among polar bears have been correlated with changes in the ice cover. And in Antarctica, loss of the sea ice, together with rising air temperatures and increased precipitation, is altering the habitats as well as feeding and breeding patterns of penguins and seals.

Table 1: Selected Examples Of Ice Melt Around The World

Sources available upon request. For additional examples go to

Lisa Mastny, email:

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February 24's Nature magazine had an article on biodiversity hotspots that have been identified by Conservation International, and are being proposed for priority conservation: 21 of the 25 hotspots are in upland or mountain areas. See: Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities by Norman Myers, Russell A. Mittermeier, Cristina G. Mittermeier, Gustavo A.B. da Fonseca and Jennifer Kent. (2000) Nature 403, 853 - 858

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Recent publications

Buckley, R. C., Pickering, C.M., and Warnken, J. (1999)'Environmental management for alpine tourism and resorts in Australia'. In Tourism and Development in Mountain Regions Ed. Goode, P, Price, M.F. and Zimmerman, F.M. CAB International.

Pickering, C. M. (2000). 'Sex specific differences in floral display and resource allocation in Australian alpine dioecious Aciphylla glacialis'. Australian Journal of Botany: 48: 81-91.

CRC Fact Sheets: Toilet Quandaries... A summary from the Best Practice Human Waste Management Workshop, March 2000.

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