During out last reporting trek we visited a unique wildnerness area in central Austria, in the far eastern reaches of the Alps, to learn how resources managers and citizens perceive wilderness in the heart of a densely populated country. The area is the watershed of the Ybbsteinbach, which flows into the Ybbs, and then into the Danube, which is really a mountain river at heart. Learning how resources managers are trying to recreate a true undisturbed wilderness area here was inspiring, and we have a story coming up, but for now enjoy these autumn riverside scenes and visit our online gallery for more landscape photography. And learn more about our reporting in the Alps here.
Fish die-offs spread, winter retreats and ocean currents are changing
By Bob Berwyn
My recent reporting for InsideClimate News includes coverage of the massive Yellowstone fish kill, something that anglers and fisheries managers in Colorado also should probably be prepared for as rivers warm to a level that is conducive to the spread of parasites. Read the details here: Fish Deaths in Montana’s Yellowstone River Tied to Warming Waters.
I also explored how Austria is preparing for climate change. The mountainous country has seen its average temperature increase at nearly twice the global average in the past century, with huge implications for water supplies, agriculture, urban heatwaves and tourism. But rather than argue about the causes, Austrians are actively trying to figure out how to make their society and ecosystems more resilient to the changes ahead. Read here: Austria Braces for Winter’s Retreat.
There’s other research showing a significant shift in most key ocean currents that run along the edges of continents. Those currents are key drivers of weather systems and the changes documented by scientists suggest that the currents are strengthening and transporting more heat, which is affecting weather in densely populated areas. China and Japan, in particular, can expect more devastating storms and typhoons in the future: In Warming Oceans, Stronger Currents Releasing Heat in Bigger Storms.
It seems pretty clear that we have to try and prevent runaway climate change and the way to do that is to stop spewing heat-trapping pollution into the sky. We need to bite the bullet and figure out how to decarbonize our energy systems and economy in the most rational way, which means making plans and decisions now, not in 20 years. Every additional dollar used to subsidize fossil fuels, or to build fossil fuel infrastructure, is another nail in our own coffin. Offshore wind power is still grossly under-utilized in the U.S. but that is starting to change.
Aspen pano with partial rainbow, Frisco, Colorado.
Clear autumn light, tinged by a low-angle sun through changing foliage, is one of the best times of the year to take landscape photos. In the past 12 months, I’ve enjoyed some spectacular fall scenery in the vineyards of southern Austria, the hill country of the Provence and mountain canyons in the Alps, and the magic stays the same — autumn is golden!
What’s left of the glaciers around the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak.
Mondsee, one of the Salzkammergut lakes, from the highway.
Grosses Wiesbachhorn (3,564 M) from the Grossglocknerstrasse.
Austrian high country.
Our reporting for the global warming in the Alps project took us to the high country around Austria’s highest peak, the Grossglockner, late last week, where we saw firsthand how the once mighty glaciers have dwindled to remnant shards of ice in the past few decades, with uncertain consequences for ecosystems below. The mountain valleys are still lush green in the Austrian high country, but there are great concerns that the meltdown could affect aquatic life in the streams below the glaciers, not to mention hydropower production, one of Austria’s main sources of renewable energy.
A few days in the Salzkammergut, in search of cheese produced on juicy alpine pastures, yielded this set of shots, showing that cloudy days are good days for mountain photography — as long as you can keep your camera dry. Visit our online gallery for more landscape and nature photography, where you can buy prints, postcards and more, all while supporting independent environmental journalism. More info on climate change in the Austrian mountains at our Global Warming in the Alps blog.
LOWER AUSTRIA — Austria’s high alpine pastures, called Alms, are an important part of the country’s cultural tradition. For centuries, herders have driven cattle and sheep up and down the sides of the mountains following seasonal cycles of plant growth and snow melt.
The livestock grazing is managed mindfully to promote vegetation growth and biodiversity. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but the rhythm of alpine grazing actually fosters biodiversity. Orchids, medicinal herbs and wildflowers thrive in the clearings and create lush green open patches in the landscape that are aesthetically pleasing.
In recent decades, the simple shelter huts near the pastures have also been developed as a recreational and economic resource, providing meals and lodging for tourists and serving as base camps for trekkers and cyclists.
At the Hochbärneck Alm, 900 meters elevation, there are also two ski lifts, but this past winter, they only operated for two days. Just 20 years ago, the ski season ran from late November through March. In recent years, it has barely snowed and temperatures were have been above the 20th century average nearly every day.
But climate change is taking a toll on Austria. The country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, more than twice the global average of .85 degrees Celsius, according to a 2014 climate assessment. That warming spells big changes for mountain environments, including the bucolic pastures around the Alm. For now, the cowbells still chime, but the future is uncertain.
A sustained heatwave last summer hit Austrian agriculture especially hard, and the odds of more extreme weather are good, according to many recent climate studies. The heatwave also took a big bite out of Austria’s glaciers, where decades of rapid melting is one of the clearest signs of global warming.
Austria’s government has formally recognized the cultural, economic and ecological values of traditional mountain agriculture as part of its climate policies, and an ambitious national adaptation plan seeks to address the challenges by helping communities boost ecosystem health. Keeping forests, meadows and streams healthy is one of the best ways to protect against climate change impacts.
With support from the Earth Journalism Network and Internews, we’ll be exploring this topic for the next several weeks, following herders as they move their livestock up into the Alpine zone, on through to the end of the summer, when the cows-bedecked with flowers and bells, are driven back to the valley towns for the winter in a colorful procession.
We’ll explore some of the best practices for sustaining ecosystems and mountain communities and ask whether the farmers are getting the support that’s needed, as spelled out by the adaptation plan. And we’ll here from them what changes they’ve already experienced.
Follow our Twitter feed for frequent updates and Instagram for photos from the reporting project — and don’t be afraid to ask questions or add comments about global warming in the Austrian Alps. We’ll include those questions in our interviews with environmental experts, resource managers and government officials as we report on climate change in the Austrian Alps.
Nothing says summer like big thunderboomers building up, unless maybe it’s a tall glass of raspberry mint lemonade or a field of brilliant red poppies. For the Sunday set we compiled a few images from the past week with a focus on bright summer colors. The solstice is right around the corner so get out and enjoy those long days!