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Working with the community on cryosphere monitoring

Sharad Joshi & Chimi Seldon

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Team at the SnowAMP lower station (L-R): Chhiring Dorche Lopchan, Chewang Tamang, Sharad Joshi, and Tika Gurung. Photo: Expedition team

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges of cryosphere monitoring in the Hindu Kush Himalaya, forcing the cancellation of several annual research expeditions and creating gaps in the time series data collected over many years.

According to Miriam Jackson, Programme Coordinator, Cryosphere Initiative, the pandemic has impacted cryosphere field studies in several countries: “Many sites were hard to reach due to restrictions on public transport or the increased risk of colleagues sharing a car. Remote communities were reluctant to have visits from outsiders, even when the purpose was science, not tourism. Some fieldwork was performed later in the season, increasing the risk due to bad weather. Scientists all over the world had to sit back and watch months of planning go to waste.”

Langtang locks down

Having conducted cryosphere research in Langtang Valley since 2011, disruptions in 2020 would impact the consistency of data and therefore were a matter of concern. After Langtang went into lockdown for the entire month of November, two youth from the area – Chewang Tamang and Chhiring Dorche Lopchan, both 24-year-olds – stepped in to fill the gap.

In December 2020, we trained Chewang and Chhiring to not only conduct glacier mass balance measurements and install bamboo stakes on Yala Glacier, but also to download and collect data from automatic weather stations (AWS), check for damage to meteorological stations and carry out routine maintenance on stations installed at various sites in the valley. As Langtang Valley has mobile network coverage, they can even share the data via email.

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Tika Gurung (left) trains Chewang Tamang (centre) and Chhiring Dorche Lopchan (right) on how to download data from the automatic weather station (AWS) at Kyangjing. Photo: Sharad Joshi, ICIMOD

 

Training youth in cryosphere monitoring

In December 2020, Chewang and Chhiring accompanied our researchers, Sharad Joshi and Tika Gurung, during the research expedition to Yala Glacier. But this was not a first for them. They have been part of three earlier ICIMOD field expeditions and observed plenty to understand how and why we are conducting these activities. “After being in the field several times with ICIMOD researchers, I understand now why researchers work on glaciers and why it is important to conserve glaciers,” said Chhiring.

Chhiring and Chewang both dropped out from their undergraduate studies and returned to their villages, often working as guides during the trekking seasons. While Chewang has previously worked with Langtang National Park, Chhiring was recently hired by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, Nepal as an observer for the Kyangjing weather station. Chewang is grateful to research expeditions and their contributions to the local economy. He says, “The mountain ranges in Langtang are used as pilot sites to study the impact of climate change in the high mountains. Visiting researchers and scientists contribute to our community as they use lodging facilities in the community while also educating us about the changes in our mountains.”

Citizen science and scientist-community partnerships

The role of communities is often ignored in physical science research, especially at high altitudes and in remote environments, even though cooperation with local communities improves the chances of finding satisfactory solutions to the challenges the face.

Arun Bhakta Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager for the River Basins and Cryosphere Programme notes that the situation has underlined the importance of citizen science and community participation in research and monitoring. “I see great potential for citizen science in ICIMOD’s research. It could be more cost-effective for generating large amounts of data and promotes greater ownership of the results of the research. We could also avoid data gaps or data loss in special circumstances, such as natural disasters, when scientists cannot visit field sites.”

In 2019, we organised an international workshop that explored the links between cryosphere and society where some of these issues were discussed. Involving communities in monitoring helps reflect the voice of communities in the research findings, enables them to contour the research agenda, and complements ICIMOD’s overall efforts on bridging the gap between scientists and communities. This includes the flow of information back to communities.

As a part of this effort, we are helping develop a community information centre in Langtang village. We are also working with Langtang National Park to establish an information centre, which will include information about climate, cryosphere and water in the valley based on our observations. The information centre will to be beneficial to both the local communities and visitors.

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Chewang Tamang (left) and Chhiring Dorche Lopchan (right) at the new stake they installed on Yala Glacier in December 2020. Photo: Sharad Joshi, ICIMOD

 

 

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