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Ice MeltingChanging Perspectives: How Bottom-Up Studies Can Improve Water Security

Changing Perspectives: How Bottom-Up Studies Can Improve Water Security

Changing Perspectives: How Bottom-Up Studies Can Improve Water Security

A recent study published in Nature explores the complexities of water security in interactions between glacier meltwater and the human system. Though concerns surrounding water security should not recent, causes of water insecurity have shifted from conflict and industrialization to extreme weather events and climate change. Glacier meltwater is a primary water source for a lot of mountain communities, and increasing temperatures and glacier melting threaten water security for downstream communities world wide.

Globally, many countries lack an adequate understanding of the cryosphere — the parts of the Earth which can be covered in ice — largely resulting from insufficient glacier monitoring. For some glaciers, for instance, ice-thickness measurements only occur every 10 years or so; in consequence, seasonal changes are poorly recorded, and glacier mass fluctuations are sometimes inaccurately represented in computer models.

Furthermore, the shortage of knowledge collection implies that scientists don’t fully understand what happens in the broader drainage basins surrounding glaciers — one other factor that influences water security. These lapses in accurate and adequate data collection cause knowledge gaps on a world scale, and uncertainty is simply compounded by ever-changing atmospheric patterns just like the South Asian monsoon.

Glacier meltwater is an intricate a part of the water cycle in mountain regions and nearby downslope areas, and its complexity makes it more obscure the results of shrinking glaciers on water security. Glaciers store frozen water, and the quantity they store fluctuates based on global atmospheric conditions. Today, in consequence of climate change, the period of time that water is stored in glaciers is decreasing, which results in shifts in how water circulates and gets stored in other parts of the water cycle, which in turn affects ecological activity in the world. Understanding the best way these features of the water cycle affect water availability, combined with data regarding available glacier meltwater, will allow local communities to create plans to cope with increasing water insecurity.

Knowledge of the cryosphere becomes increasingly essential as the results of climate change proceed to take hold. For several reasons, future water and energy balance affect climate, biodiversity, biomass, permafrost, sea level rise, and more. Proper data have to be obtained to make accurate predictions. Furthermore, climate change compounds human vulnerability to water insecurity, and lower/middle income regions — specifically the tropical Andes, the Himalayas, and Central Asia — are particularly vulnerable as population growth continues. Consequently of climate change, 20 percent of the world’s river basins have experienced large increases or decreases in surface water, furthering unpredictability. As well as, data on socioeconomic aspects in vulnerable areas are also limited. For example, there may be insufficient information regarding water demand and the adaptive capability of particular communities.

Meltwater from the Briksdal Glacier in Norway. Photo: DepositPhotos

In an interview with GlacierHub, Fabian Drenkhan — lead writer on the recent study and a glaciologist on the University of Zurich — suggested 4 methods for improving data collection and minimizing the seemingly perpetual knowledge gaps in water security. First, he suggested using “crowdsource and citizen science approaches so as to add more local data but additionally to integrate local people into science-policy processes.” These methods include local people and knowledge, and create a “joint knowledge, bottom-up” approach. Drenkhan added that the “latter is especially essential in regions where there are missing links between those regions where scientists study phenomena and where local people live.”

Drenkhan also encouraged including local people throughout the whole thing of the information collection process to rebuild confidence that was previously broken and treatment a deep-rooted distrust in science and technology in communities with negative past experiences working with researchers. Previously, scientific findings have only been communicated via a top-down approach, making a rift between researchers and affected communities. Drenkhan suggested joint knowledge production that integrates local knowledge, Indigenous knowledge, and scientific knowledge. Moreover, he said that distributing knowledge (for instance, policy briefs or community posters) in a standard language and minimizing academic jargon is important to maximizing understanding in the general public sphere.

Rising global temperatures and extensive human land use result in gaps and deficiencies in understanding global water insecurities. Specializing in changing data collection processes promotes higher data collection, distribution, and understanding. Drenkhan concluded that “we want to maneuver more strongly forward with integrated approaches that take into consideration all relevant components of the water cycle and extra or alternative data collection methods that allow us to construct a greater grasp of mountain water security.” Thus, implementing bottom-up data collection methods is not going to only improve existing data collection, but additionally begin to enable local communities to raised adapt to issues surrounding water scarcity.


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