7 Popular Mountain Destinations That Are Being Destroyed By Climate Change

We all know human-induced climate change is happening. But when most of us think of climate change, we envisage the melting ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctica, or the disappearing Maldives.

Unfortunately, our fragile mountain environments are also rapidly being transformed by climate change. Major glacier changes are leading to scarce water resources, significant wildlife impacts, drought, and forest fires.

Here are just a few mountain destinations that are being affected by climate change in 2020, and what you can do to help!

Glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro – Tanzania, Africa

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Before the 1990s, Kilimanjaro was highly glaciated. One of the seven summits and the highest mountain in Africa, it has been predicted that by 2060, Kilimanjaro will be completely glacier-free. This rapid decline in Kilimanjaro’s glaciers has led to disappearing streams and conflicts over water resources in the foothills, a stark reminder of the effect climate change can have. Agriculture is a major economic contributor to the surrounding areas and locals rely heavily on these water resources for production of crops and sustaining their livestock.  

Hikers and tourists from around the world travel to see the magnificent glaciers at the top of Kilimanjaro, making mountain tourism an economic contributor for Tanzania. Many believe that the disappearing glaciers will eventually lead to a decrease in tourism to the area.

What you can do to help? Access to clean drinking water is one of the biggest challenges faced by rural communities in Tanzania. If you are planning to climb Kilimanjaro why not do so for a water charity such as WaterAid or CharityWater.org?

Khumbu Glacier in the Himalayas – Nepal, South Asia

Mount Everest and the receding Khumbu glacier in the background

The Himalayas are one of the most ecologically delicate areas known to man. The region is made up of some of the highest peaks in the world, including the famous Mount Everest. The Himalayas are also home to the world’s highest concentration of glaciers, including the Khumbu Glacier, which sits below Everest and is the infamous passage climbers need to navigate through to summit the highest mountain in the world. 

The Khumbu Valley is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in the Himalayas, as the iconic Everest Base Camp is situated at the top of the valley.

Recent studies have shown an increase in warm ice at the Khumbu Glacier due to record temperatures. The ice is at melting point, which means any further rise in temperature will cause the glacier to melt rapidly. Khumbu Glacier has also become flatter, and with the black rocks at the glacier’s bed combined with warmer weather, the ice is starting to melt at higher rates.

Khumbu is a vital contributor to the foothill population’s water resources. Water resources will increase initially, but as the glacier melts and recedes, the volume of ice will decline. Over time, the local population’s access to glacier water resources will therefore decrease. 

What you can you do to help? If you’re planning to hike to Everest Base Camp or visit the region, make sure to take plenty pictures and share them on social media to raise awareness about the glacier and its demise. 

Atlas Mountains – Northwest Africa

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The Atlas Mountains in Morocco are home to the Berber people. These communities live high in the mountains and they thrive on agriculture which is threatened by the effect of climate change on weather patterns. A popular phrase amongst the Berber people is, “Where there is water, there is life.”

Unfortunately, rains don’t always arrive on time and this leads to a reduction in lakes and water sources in the area. Drought is now a persistent concern. The loss of water availability has had a significant impact on the crops and vegetation in the area, leaving the Berber people vulnerable. 

Responsible tourism has been a focus in the region for many years. Respecting the mountains is of high importance to the local communities and so it is expected that tourists show the same respect when visiting these pristine ranges. 

What can you do to help? If you’re planning to hike in the Atlas mountains or looking to summit the highest north African peak, Mount Toubkal, make sure you follow the Leave No Trace principles to lighten your ecological footprint.

The Rocky Mountains – Canada

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You can find further destruction of the environment due to climate change in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Wildlife and plant life in the area have been majorly affected, which has led to an increase of beetles that have begun to destroy the forests. Usually a welcomed sign and a method of forest regeneration, this outbreak of tree-eating beetles has left many changes in the Rockies ecosystem. 

The cycle of destruction and imbalance brings about changing ecosystems. Invasive grass species have been identified and are taking over previously untouched areas. A noticeable change in temperatures in the Rockies has decreased water availability. When warmer temperatures endure, water resources are delayed. Glaciers are mainly found on the eastern side of the mountain and benefit from large quantities of wind-transported snow delivered by strong westerly winds, as well as direct snowfall, and have shown significant change in thickness and size. 

Another indicator of climate change is the Pika. This small rodent lives between rocks and small crevices on the mountains. Pika are a climate indicator species and their survival depends greatly on specific climate conditions. Shifts in climate tend to lead to shifts in Pika populations. Research on these small creatures could lead to a greater understanding on climate changes in the area. 

What you can do to help? If you are planning to visit the The Rocky Mountains make sure to check out the non-profit Rocky Mountain Wild, who are doing amazing work to protect the fragile Rocky Mountain environment. You can even adopt a Pika!

The Pyrenees Mountains – South West Europe

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The ‘Pyrenees Climate Change Observatory’ (OPCC) was created to oversee climate change in the Pyrenees Mountains. Half of the Pyrenees glaciers have disappeared already and this has led to alterations in animal migration. The Pyrenees is a bioregion and is very sensitive to climate change effects.

Tourist activities here, such as skiing, will be affected by changing temperatures as well. Insufficient snowfall means less opportunity for skiing and other winter sports responsible for bringing tourists to the Pyrenees Mountains. The disappearance of lakes, glaciers and other environmental wonders have already led to a decrease in tourism. 

What you can do to help? Consider going on a research expedition with the Earth Watch Institute. You would assist in collecting important information about wildlife and plant life and help with their efforts to preserve the Pyrenees for future generations!

Swiss Alps – Switzerland, Europe

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When we think of the Alps, we think of skiing. Summer skiing in the Alps hasn’t been possible since 1992. Summers are growing warmer and drier while winters bring heavier rainfall, leading to increased flood risks. 

Rock falls and landslides are more common now and threaten the communities below the mountain. Plant life and trees are moving further up the mountains with the receding glaciers. Wildlife is also moving further up the mountain and this is creating changes in the food chain. 

Tourism will be affected as less skiing opportunities are available outside of the higher mountain regions.

What you can do to help? Respect the Mountains is working on preserving our mountains for future generations. They hold a range of events that contribute to their conservation efforts. Volunteer at one of their events or even join the movement the next time you visit the Swiss Alps!

Tropical Andes – South America

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Like the Swiss Alps, trees in the Tropical Andes are moving higher up the mountain. Tropical trees are not accustomed to changes in temperature. Sadly, there has been little research to show how wildlife in this area is responding to the changes in climate. 

Local people in the Andes rely on the glaciers and meltwater for their water supply. The ancient Inca tribes believed that the disappearing snow-covered peaks meant the end of the world. The lack of water coupled with soil erosion from the receding plant life has led to poorer quality in the available water sources. 

Tourism brings many travellers to the area, specifically to experience the ancient Machu Picchu site and the Inca Trail. The Pastoruri Glacier is another popular tourist attraction, but exploration on the glacier is no longer possible.

What you can do to help? Hiking trails and camping sites disrupt wildlife and trample vegetation. The Mountain Institute and local communities are working together to create eco-tourism trekking options. Hike to Machu Picchu on a guided route while learning about the ecosystem from the people who call the Andes their home. 

Mark has trekked extensively in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. He founded Mountain IQ in 2014 with the sole aim to be the best online information portal to some of the most popular mountain destinations around the world. When not writing for Mountain IQ, Mark is out exploring the outdoors with his wife!

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