Melting glacier in China draws tourists, climate worries

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This Sept. 21, 2018 aerial photo shows a couple posing for photographs at the Valley of the Blue Moon glacial lake fed by the Baishui Glacier No.1 atop the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. Scientists say the glacier is one of the fastest melting glaciers in the world due to climate change and its relative proximity to the Equator. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
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This Sept. 22, 2018 photo shows tourists visiting the Baishui Glacier No.1 atop of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. Scientists say the glacier is one of the fastest melting glaciers in the world due to climate change and its relative proximity to the Equator. It has lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 250 meters since 1982. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
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This Sept. 22, 2018 photo shows tourists sharing an oxygen tank 4,680 meters above sea level atop atop of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China overlooking a glacier scientists say is one of the fastest melting glaciers in the world due to climate change and its relative proximity to the Equator. (AP)
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This Sept. 21, 2018 photo shows a Chinese Academy of Sciences research team atop the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. (AP)
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This Sept. 22, 2018 photo shows glaciologist Wang Shijin photographing an ice crevasse in the Baishui Glacier No. 1 on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. Scientists say the glacier is one of the fastest melting glaciers in the world due to climate change and its relative proximity to the Equator. It has lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 250 meters since 1982. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
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This Sept. 22, 2018 photo shows glaciologist Wang Shijin repairing a broken remote meteorological station on the Baishui Glacier No. 1 on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. Scientists say the glacier is one of the fastest melting glaciers in the world due to climate change and its relative proximity to the Equator. It has lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 250 meters since 1982. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Melting glacier in China draws tourists, climate worries

  • The team operates remote sensors that collect data on temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity
  • Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui’s frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole

YULONGXUESHAN, China: The loud crack rang out from the fog above the Baishui No. 1 Glacier as a stone shard careened down the ice, flying past Chen Yanjun as he operated a GPS device.
More projectiles were tumbling down the hulk of ice that scientists say is one of the world’s fastest melting glaciers.
“We should go,” said the 30-year-old geologist. “The first rule is safety.”
Chen hiked away and onto a barren landscape once buried beneath the glacier. Now there is exposed rock littered with oxygen tanks discarded by tourists visiting the 15,000-foot (4,570-meter) -high blanket of ice in southern China.
Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui’s frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole __ a region in Central Asia with the world’s third largest store of ice after Antarctica and Greenland that’s roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined.
Third Pole glaciers are vital to billions of people from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Asia’s 10 largest rivers __ including the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, and Ganges __ are fed by seasonal melting.
“You’re talking about one of the world’s largest freshwater sources,” said Ashley Johnson, energy program manager at the National Bureau of Asian Research, an American think tank. “Depending on how it melts, a lot of the freshwater will be leaving the region for the ocean, which will have severe impacts on water and food security.”
Earth is today 1 degree Centigrade (1.8 Fahrenheit) hotter than pre-industrial levels because of climate change __ enough to melt 28 to 44 percent of glaciers worldwide, according to a new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Temperatures are expected to keep rising.
Baishui is about as close to the Equator as Tampa, Florida. And the impacts of climate change already are dramatic.
The glacier has lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 250 meters (820 feet) since 1982, according to a 2018 report in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Scientists found in 2015 that 82 percent of glaciers surveyed in China had retreated. They warned that the effects of glacier melting on water resources are gradually becoming “increasingly serious” for China.
“China has always had a freshwater supply problem with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its freshwater,” said Jonna Nyman, an energy security lecturer at the University of Sheffield. “That’s heightened by the impact of climate change.”
For years, scientists have observed global warming change Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the Chinese province of Yunnan.
One research team has tracked Baishui’s retreat of about 30 yards (27 meters) per year over the past decade. Flowers, such as snow lotus, have rooted in exposed earth, says Wang Shijin, a glaciologist and director of the Yulong Snow Mountain Glacial and Environmental Observation Research Station, part of a network run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Nestled into a suburb of Lijiang, population 1.2 million, the station is home to Wang and his team: geologist and drone operator Chen, postgraduate glaciology student Zhou Lanyue and electrical engineer Zhang Xing, a private contractor.
After breakfast, the team heads off by van for the day’s mission. A cable car carries them up to a majestic view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
The team shuffles past a line of tourists __ many in red ponchos, most sucking oxygen canisters, a few vomiting from altitude sickness __ before descending to replace a broken meteorological station.
The team operates remote sensors that collect data on temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity. Other sensors measure water flow in streams fed by melted ice. Cold, downpours, rock slides, gales and glacier movement break the equipment.
“It is not easy to encounter good weather here,” Wang said.
This weather will ensure Yunnan has plenty of freshwater while other glacier loss poses serious risk of drought across the Third Pole, he said.
The next day, the team wore crampons while repairing more sensors scattered across the glacier’s crags.
“Where we’re at right now was back in 2008 all covered with ice,” Wang said. “From here to there at the side, the glacier shrank about 20 to 30 meters. The shrinking is very remarkable.”
The team forded streams and jumped crevasses in search of long iron bars they previously embedded in the ice. GPS tells them how much the bars, and thus the glacier, have moved. They also measure how much height the glacier has lost during the summer.
Back on the viewing platform, Che launched a buzzing camera drone over the white expanse. The photographs help tell a story of staggering loss. A quarter of its ice has vanished since 1957 along with four of its 19 glaciers, researchers have found.
Changes to the Baishui provide the opportunity to educate visitors about global warming, Wang said.
Last year, 2.6 million tourists visited the mountain, according to Yulong Snow Mountain park officials.
On blustery day recently, hundreds of tourists climbed wooden stairs through grey fog to snap selfies in front of the glacier.
Hou Yugang said he wasn’t too bothered over climate change and Baishui’s melting. “I don’t think about it now because it still has a long way to go,” he said.
To protect the glacier, authorities have limited the number of visitors to 10,000 a day and have banned hiking on the ice. They plan to manufacture snow and to dam streams to increase humidity that slows melting.
Security guard Yang Shaofeng has witnessed a warming world melting this mountain, which his local Naxi minority community considers sacred.
Yang remembers being able to see the glacier’s lowest edge from his home village. No longer.
“Only when we climb up can we see it,” he said sadly, as tourists lined up to have their names engraved on medallions bearing the glacier’s image.
The etching is already outdated.


Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

Biarritz is one of the best surfing locations in Europe. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2019
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Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

  • The French seaside town mixes old-world glamour with a very modern surfing scene
  • This patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own

DUBLIN: It’s hard to put a finger on what makes Biarritz so special. Maybe it’s the faded charm, maybe it’s the sprinkling of stardust that the numerous guests (the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra) brought to the city, or maybe it’s the low-slung surfer’s vibe, but this patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own. It’s something of a hidden gem, with surfers, Parisian hipsters, retired French tourists and a smattering of in-the-know Europeans descending here every year.

Its most recent heyday was during the 1950s, when luminaries including Sinatra and Coco Chanel visited. From the 1960s onwards, Biarritz’s star fell, with Hollywood and the European elite favoring France’s Riviera as a holiday destination. Yet recent years have seen the town emerge back into the spotlight — although these days you are more likely to see surfers rather than film stars, as the town has embraced its position on France’s rugged southern Atlantic coast.

There are countless surf schools, and Biarritz is the birthplace of the sport in Europe. The (reportedly) first surfer here, appropriately enough, had Hollywood connections. Peter Viertel, a screenwriter, was in town as the movie he had co-written, “The Sun Also Rises,” was being filmed there in 1957. The long, wide sandy beaches provide the perfect place to learn, with the crashing Atlantic surf offering ample big waves to ride.

The town is small enough to explore in an afternoon, with countless cafés and restaurants dotting the narrow streets. There’s plenty of shopping too, with local boutiques such as Jox & An (which sells rope-soled espadrilles) next to the likes of Gucci and Duchatel, which features labels including Nina Ricci and Belenciaga. Indeed much of the town’s charm is seeing moneyed old French couples in their designer clothes rubbing shoulders with dreadlocked surfers in board shorts.

It might officially be in France, but Biarritz is Basque country, something very much apparent at Caroe, which mixes Basque and Nordic cuisine. This minimally designed pintxos bar specializes in local seafood and serves up everything from monkfish foie gras, smoked eel and trout gravlax. If you prefer a venue overlooking the water, head to Alaia, an ultra-stylish beachfront joint on Socoa Beach, 30-minutes south of Biarritz. You can enjoy lamb, mashed-potato pancakes, and hake and cabbage in front of the bobbing fishing boats. If you prefer to eat on the go, or grab something for a picnic on the beach, head to Les Halles market, which is filled with stalls dishing out sumptuous fare: from local goat’s cheeses and anchovies in olive oil and vinegar to limoncello jelly and hazelnut bread.

The most salubrious lodging in town is the Hotel du Palais, the brainchild of Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III, who chose a patch of hillside overlooking the Bay of Biscay for the Imperial residence. The hotel became the center for France’s elite, who holidayed at the sumptuous building and held balls, picnics and fireworks displays, while welcoming world leaders and royalty from around the world. These days the hotel retains all its old-world glamour, and its breakfasts are worth the room price alone.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Biarritz, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a place to while away the hours in a café, or to take long walks on one of the numerous beaches. It’s a place to relax in, not to do too much. If you do want to exert yourself, then there are a number of surfing schools where you can learn to ride the waves. Most offer similar courses (and prices), with La Vague Basque being the best reviewed. All ages and nationalities come here to learn to surf, so don’t be shy about getting that wetsuit on.

After a reviving dinner, head to the promenade and grab yourself an ice cream. One of the great French pastimes is people-watching, and the cafés along the promenade offer the perfect place to watch the world go by. Part French, part Basque, and with a wonderful mix of elegance, cool and Fifties chic, Biarritz might just be the best beach town in France.