Essay Example on The awareness that mountain environments are an integral Component









The awareness that mountain environments are an integral component of the earth's ecosystems in terms of the valuable resources and services that they provide has significantly risen over the past two decades In June 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development UNCED Rio de Janeiro addressed a wide range of issues pertaining to sustainable development as a means of reducing human induced environmental stress and Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 is exclusively devoted to mountain regions Beniston 2003 Sustainable mountain development is the subject of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 which also highlights the crucial role played by mountain environments in supplying water resources to a large portion of the world's population Occupying close to 25 of Earth s continental surfaces mountains and their adjacent valleys are home to around 26 of the global population 25 30 who directly depend on mountain resources namely water Funnell Parrish 2001 Mountain regions have been recognized as being among the most sensitive ecosystems to climate change and are being affected at a considerably faster rate than any other terrestrial habitats With climate change water will most likely become less available and because mountains provide over 50 of the world's freshwater for domestic agricultural industrial and tourism purposes its reduction will become the main concern for populations living in or near mountain environments which will require a more integrated and comprehensive approach to water use and management Fragile mountain environments are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of a rapidly changing climate and thus provide unique locations to detect and study the signals of climatic change and its possible impacts on the hydrological cycle Around 40 of the global population lives in the watersheds of rivers originating in Earth's different mountain ranges and they depend on numerous and diverse mountain resources with water supply being considered the most critical Beniston 2003 

This importance of mountains as a source of freshwater justifies their reputation as being considered the water towers of the world Under increasingly warmer climatic conditions the hydrological cycle will be enhanced and mountain regions will undergo significant temperature and precipitation changes which will most likely lead to serious consequences for not only the population occupying the watersheds but also for the population in the surrounding lowland regions as well For most mountain ranges snow and ice are fundamental components of the hydrological cycle thus both the seasonal character and amount of runoff are closely linked to cryospheric processes Beniston 2003 Furthermore because of the sensitivity of mountain glaciers to temperature and precipitation their behavior provides clear evidence of atmospheric warming and changes in precipitation Changes in climate result in shifts in seasonal snowpack and as warming progresses regions where snowfall is normally present will experience precipitation more in the form of rain For example high temperatures contributed to heavy snow melt with excessive rainfall in Sorenberg Switzerland which in turn triggered destructive avalanches in February and later landslides debris flows and floods occurred in May of 1999 Zimmermann 2004 According to Beniston 2003 for every C increase in temperature the snowline is estimated to rise by about 150 m thus the risk of exposure to natural hazards will increase for people living in mountain regions Significant shifts in climatic conditions will also have an impact on the demand supply and quality of water resources which will affect social and economic systems throughout both nearby and lowland mountain communities For example the mountain water resources of the Alps feed rivers that supply more densely populated areas along with natural ecosystems that support agricultural irrigation and hydroelectric power stations which is why the Alps are considered the water tower of Europe Beniston 2003 According to key findings of the EU funded ACQWA project by as early as 2050 regions such as the Alps the Andes in Chile and the Tian Shan range in Central Asia could experience significantly less snow which would also melt sooner in the spring resulting in glacier recession Beniston 2003 

The melting glaciers along with the decreases in snow volume and duration will affect the discharges of springs and rivers as the glaciers melt rapidly they will increase runoff but as ice mass shrinks the runoff will diminish Beniston 2003 Thus shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns as well as changes in the behavior of snow and ice will significantly change the quantity seasonality and quality of water in many mountain regions This will affect both the upland and lowland mountain areas and any deficits in water supply will increase the competition for water use within the scope of domestic agricultural energy tourism and industrial applications It becomes evident that mountains are essential sources of freshwater and that due to their high sensitivity to projected warming and precipitation change their vital role in providing global water resources will be significantly altered by climate change Mountain water resources are indispensable for irrigation municipal and industrial water supply as well as hydropower production and the combination of extreme shifts in seasonality and changes in total runoff will most likely have negative consequences for future water availability Vivroli 2011

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