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Cablegate: Chile Hosts International Ice and Climate Conference;

Published: Fri 5 Feb 2010 07:47 PM
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TAGS: ECON ENRG SENV PGOV KGHG CI
SUBJECT: CHILE HOSTS INTERNATIONAL ICE AND CLIMATE CONFERENCE;
SHRINKING GLACIERS REQUIRE A NATIONAL MONITORING STRATEGY
REF: 08 SANTIAGO 1096
1. Summary: Chile hosted hundreds of experts from over 22
countries at a three-day international glaciology and climate
conference, 1-3 February 2010. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet
inaugurated the event with a speech commemorating the country's
achievements in glaciology studies, the scientific underpinnings of
climate change, and expressing support for an
internationally-binding agreement on climate change. The
conference featured new research results and stimulated discussion
of on-going cryospheric and climatic changes in the Southern
Hemisphere. A prominent Chilean glaciologist presented a
conceptual roadmap for a tiered approach to prioritize monitoring
of Chile's glaciers as the country continues to develop its
national glacier policy. U.S. universities and research
institutions were well-represented at the event and the Embassy
sponsored an expert speaker from NASA. The conference received
broad media coverage. End Summary.
Background: Chile's Climate Change Strategy and National Glacier
Policy
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2. For the past several years, Chile has focused more of its
policy efforts on climate change. The country's latest five year
National Climate Change Strategy for 2008-2013 (reftel) identifies
-- under the section "Adapting to the Effects of Climate Change" --
hydro resources, food production, urban and coastal infrastructure,
and energy supply as most susceptible to climate change and, among
other near-term goals, recommended constructing a glacier
inventory, installing a monitoring network, and generating a
glacier management strategy. Chile's National Water Authority
(Direccion General de Aguas or "DGA") has the authority to
implement this plan. In addition, in April 2009, Chile's National
Environmental Commission (CONAMA) approved the National Glacier
Policy, an agreement between the government, the National Mining
Society, and the Mining Council, which represents 17 of the
nation's largest mining companies. The policy requires
environmental impact studies when projects are undertaken on or
near glaciers.
Ice and Climate Change: A View from the South
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3. Chile's Center of Scientific Studies (Centro de Estudios
Cientificos - CECS), in conjunction with Fundacion Imagen de Chile,
hosted the "Ice and Climate Change: A View from the South" (VICC
2010) glaciology conference in Valdivia, Chile, 1-3 February 2010
(www.cecs.cl/vicc). Co-sponsors included the Climate and
Cryosphere (CliC) Project of the World Climate Research
Program-Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (WCRP-SCAR); the
International Association of Cryospheric Sciences (IACS); the
International Glaciology Society (IGS); the Center for Advanced
Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA); the Center of Innovation in
Engineering (CIN); the National Commission for Scientific
Investigation and Technology (CONICYT); Chile's Millennium Science
Initiative (ICM); and the Embassy.
4. The conference, which attracted hundreds of experts, academics,
consultants, and students from over 22 countries, featured new
research results and stimulated discussion of on-going cryospheric
(defined as the frozen part of the Earth's surface, including the
polar ice caps, continental ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice, and
permafrost) and climatic changes in the Southern Hemisphere. The
broad-ranging topics included:
-- Changes to glaciers, ice sheets and shelves, permafrost, sea
ice, snow cover and freshwater ice, from both climatic changes and
human activities;
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-- Climate of the Southern Hemisphere: variability vs. trends;
-- Remote sensing and geophysical techniques for cryospheric
studies;
-- Modeling of cryospheric processes and data assimilation; and,
-- Societal and economic impacts, risk management, adaptation,
mitigation, and public policies.
Glaciers are Strategically Important for Chile and the World
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5. Opening her inaugural remarks by joking that she wanted to give
everyone a "warm" welcome, President Michelle Bachelet pointed out
that, over the past decade Chile had become a major player in the
field of glaciology, which she described as "strategically
important for [the country's] future. Touting VICC 2010 as the
first major post-Copenhagen glaciology conference, she praised the
"untiring work of scientists that underpins policy-makers'
decisions." Bachelet's remarks were carried live on national
radio.
6. President Bachelet expressed concern that around 90 percent of
Chile's 3,000-plus glaciers -- over 80 percent of the ice in South
America -- are showing signs of shrinkage. She cited the 4th
report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
which estimated western Antarctic glaciers and ice sheets will
contribute around 80 cm to sea level rise over the next century.
Bachelet noted this was the rationale for supporting multinational,
flexible approaches to tackling global warming. Adding a plug for
technology transfers and financing, she expressed Chile's support
for an internationally-binding agreement on climate change as soon
as possible.
7. Touting Chile's new environmental institutions, including its
new ministry of environment, the Council of Ministers for
sustainable development, and the pending creation of an
environmental court, President Bachelet emphasized the importance
of glaciers, strategic fresh water reserves, and hydrology. She
outlined the efforts of DGA, which has been tasked with creating a
national glacier inventory. Finally, displaying her well-known
personal touch, she mentioned glaciologist Jens Wendt, who died in
a plane crash in April 2009, becoming the first CECS researcher to
fall in the line of duty.
U.S. Experts on Ice: Satellites, Radar and Remote Sensing
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8. There were a number of U.S. experts representing an array of
American universities and research institutions at the conference.
Many of them focused on the Antarctic ice sheets, e.g., Steven
Arcone from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering
Laboratory (CRREL) presented on radar profiles; Konrad Steffen from
the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
(CIRES) at University of Colorado-Boulder discussed the Climatology
of the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula; and
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University of Washington researcher Bernard Hallet used the surface
characteristics of glaciers and fjord sediments to model glacial
erosion rates.
9. In addition, Post's public affairs section sponsored Dr. Jay
Zwally from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.
Zwally explained that, based on his analysis of the mass balance of
the Antarctic ice sheet using ICESat laser altimetry from
2003-2008, he concluded the overall rate of mass loss from
Antarctic grounded ice had not changed significantly since the
1990s. [Note: This conclusion contrasts with the findings of many
other researchers studying other sections of the Antarctic. End
note.] Zwally commented positively in Chile's leading daily (El
Mercurio) on President Obama's decision to increase funding for
NASA earth science.
10. Several U.S. experts concentrated more on the glaciers in
South America, e.g. Mathias Viulle from the State University of New
York-Albany talked about climate change and glaciers in South
America's arid zone, and Bryan Mark from Ohio State University
evaluated hydrological changes from climate change and tropical
Andean glacier recession. Some U.S. researchers highlighted
projects by displaying a poster, e.g. Joan Ramage from Lehigh
University showed her group's analysis of variations in Equilibrium
Line Altitudes (ELAs) on remote Peruvian glaciers. Ramage also
explained the work of Michael Willis from Cornell University, who
was not present, but displayed a poster on his work entitled
"Remote Sensing of Velocities and Elevation Change at Outlet
Glaciers of the Northern Patagonian Icefield, Chile."
Chile Developing a National Plan for Glacier Monitoring and Climate
Impacts
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11. Andres Rivera, a prominent glacier researcher at CECS, gave a
presentation titled "A Nationwide Strategic Plan for Improving
Current Knowledge of Chilean Glaciers and Modeling Glacier Impacts
on Climate Change." According to Rivera, DGA commissioned CECS to
prepare this as a policy paper/roadmap for the GOC to improve the
country's understanding of its glacier resources, including "a
diagnosis of recent changes, an evaluation of the current
capability for scientific and technological glacier research in
Chile and a [proposal] for a systematic monitoring/observation
system for future data collection, enabling modeling and
forecasting of glacier response to future climatic scenarios."
12. In addition to outlining Chile's attempts to legally define a
glacier, Rivera proposed a 5-tiered approach to prioritize the
depth/detail to which the country's over 3,700 glaciers should be
inventoried, monitored, and studied. He noted that CECS has
started a pilot project on University Glacier and later told
ESTHoff that CECS has three stations (about $20,000 in
instrumentation at each) on this glacier, two on the ice and one in
the runoff area. He also said Chile recently acquired a $90,000
forward looking infrared camera, but expressed concerns about the
best platform to exploit this new equipment and noted that both
training/logistical support are needed. Rivera emphasized to
ESTHoff that training for students and technology transfer are
areas where Chile could use greater assistance.
Comment: The Glaciers are Shrinking and Chile Needs More
Glaciologists!
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13. One general conclusion from the conference was that the rate
of glacier recession appears to have increased in recent years and
preserving the ice record contained in this disappearing resource
is important to understand long-term climate variations. Chile is
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putting a huge amount of effort into developing its national
glacier strategy, but it is evident that there are major gaps in
human resources, funding, and technology. The U.S.-Chile
Environmental Cooperation Work Plan for 2009-2011 (septel) has
identified the development of a pilot glacier-monitoring project in
Chile as a priority. Post notes that USG agencies could both
provide a real benefit and possibly derive benefits from increased
collaboration on cryospheric monitoring and analysis.
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