Heidelberg University

Himalayan Glaciers:
Endangered and Dangerous Cryoscapes of Knowledge

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Duration: 2013 - 2015
Funding: Excellence Initiative "Waterscapes in Transcultural Perspective"
Project number: MC9

Himalayan glaciers and changes in their size and mass balance have recently been at the center of the global climate change debate. These dynamic and fragile ice bodies have not only become prominent topics of scientific research but have also received international media attention as both indicators and icons of climate change. One claim in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers by 2035 captured popular imagination, and became an object of public and scientific scrutiny. Despite their crucial importance to freshwater storage and supply, detailed monitoring of contemporary changes only exist for a limited number of these glaciers. Hence, the uncertainties of spatial and temporal extrapolations of local studies on a Himalayan scale remain a research challenge.

Beyond their status as physical landscape features composed of ice, snow and debris, Himalayan glaciers have increasingly become products and producers of environmental knowledge as well as contested and controversial objects of knowledge, susceptible to cultural framing as both dangerous and endangered landscapes. Against this background, the new term cryoscape is proposed as a conceptual framework. This neologism is derived from the cryosphere as an object of scientific study, glaciers as a living landscape (as opposed to wilderness), and finally from the emergence of Himalayan glaciers as globally imagined mediascape. In the context of threatened Himalayan glaciers, it has become more important than ever to focus on the ways in which human perceptions about global environmental change, as well as possible strategies to deal with it, are shaped.

The South Face of Nanga Parbat (8126 m) is characterised by a steep rock wall with glaciers and avalanche tracks over a vertical distance of more than 4500 m
(Photo: M. Nüsser, view from 5570 m, ascent to Rupal Peak, 29 August 2010).

The South Face of Kangchenjunga (8,586 m) with clean ice glaciers in the accumulation zone
(Photo: M. Nüsser, view from 4940 m, near Gocha La, 6 April 2011).
Further Information
Excellence Cluster
'Waterscapes in Transcultural Perspective'