Mountains: top down. Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Mountainous regions offer not only essential habitat and resources, including water, to the earth's more than 6 billion inhabitants, but also insights into how the global human habitat works, how it is being changed at the moment as global climates are disrupted, and how the disruption may lead to global biotic and economic impoverishment. At least 600 million of the earth's more than 6 billion humans dwell in mountainous regions. Such regions feed water into all the major rivers of the world whose valleys support most of the rest of us. At least half of the valley dwellers receive part or all of their water from montane sources, many from the melt water of glaciers, others from the annual snow melt. Glaciers are retreating globally as the earth warms as a result of human-caused changes in the composition of the atmosphere. Many are disappearing, a change that threatens municipal water supplies virtually globally. The warming is greatest in the higher latitudes where the largest glaciers such as those of Greenland and the Antarctic Continent have become vulnerable. The melting of ice in the northern hemisphere raises serious concerns about the continued flow of the Gulf Stream and the possibility of massive climatic changes in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Mountains are also biotic islands in the sea life, rich in endemism at the ecotype level. The systematic warming of the earth changes the environment out from under these genetically specialized strains (ecotypes) which are then maladapted and vulnerable to diseases of all types. The process is systematic impoverishment in the pattern conspicuous on mountain slopes with increasing exposure to climatic extremes. It is seen now in the increased mortality and morbidity of plants as climatic changes accumulate. The seriousness of the global climatic disruption is especially clear in any consideration of mountains. It can and must be addressed constructively despite the adamancy of the current US administration.

publication date

  • November 2004

published in