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APPENDIX 1.5 World Heritage Sites, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and UNEP’s Global Programme of Action

APPENDIX 1.5 World Heritage Sites, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and UNEP’s Global Programme of Action

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2 Mountains

Olav Slaymaker and Christine Embleton-Hamann

2.1 Introduction

There is greater geodiversity in mountains than in most

other landscapes (Barsch and Caine, 1984). Mountain geosystems are not exceptionally fragile but they show a greater

range of vulnerability to disturbance than many landscapes.

Forested slopes give place to alpine tundra over short vertical

distances; resistant bedrock slopes alternate with intensively

cultivated soils and erodible unconsolidated sediments over

short horizontal distances. Mountain systems account for

roughly 20% of the terrestrial surface area of the globe.

Mountains are high and steep so that when natural

hazards occur, whether seismic, volcanic, mass movements

or floods, the disturbance is transmitted readily through the

geosystem. When inappropriate land use changes are made,

vegetation and soils are rapidly removed. Because of the

steep terrain, low temperatures and the relatively thin soils,

the recovery of mountain geosystems from disturbance is

often slow and sometimes fails completely. Mountains

provide the direct life support base for 10–20% of humankind (statistics differ on this point; see Appendix 2.1) and

indirectly affect the lives of more than 50%. Because of

significant elevation differences, mountains such as the

Himalayas, the Andes, the Rocky Mountains and the Alps

show, within short horizontal and vertical distances, climatic

regimes similar to those of widely separate latitudinal belts.

Because of the compressed life zones with elevation and

small-scale biodiversity caused by different topoclimates,

mountain systems are of prime conservation value. Körner

and Ohsawa (2005) estimate that 32% of protected areas are in

mountains (9345 protected areas covering about 1.7 Mkm2).

Human well-being also depends on mountain geodiversity and biodiversity. Mountain systems are especially

important for the provision of clean water and the safety

of settlements and transport routes depends directly on

ability to cope with natural hazards. Slope stability and

erosion control are also closely interdependent with a healthy

and continuous vegetation cover. Key mountain resources

and services include water for hydroelectricity and irrigation,

flood control, agriculture, mineral resources, timber, tourism

and medicinal plants. Geographically fragmented mountains

also support a high ethnocultural diversity (Körner and

Ohsawa, 2005). For many societies, mountains have spiritual

significance, and scenic landscapes and clean air make

mountains target regions for recreation and tourism.

During the past three decades, the world’s population has

doubled, the mountain regions’ population has more than

tripled and stresses on the physical and biological systems

of the Earth have intensified many fold. The implications of

the emergence of the human factor and the ramifications

in terms of environmental degradation and enhancement in

mountains have still to be fully explored. Ninety percent of

the global mountain population (between 600 million and

1.2 billion people) lives in developing countries and countries in transition. Some 90–180 million mountain people,

and almost everyone living above 2500 m above sea level,

live in poverty and are considered to be especially vulnerable to environmental change (Huddleston, 2003). Some

claim that most, if not all, of the major mountain problems

and their solutions are triggered and shaped by developments outside the mountains (Price, 1999). Deforestation,

accelerated erosion, overpopulation and depopulation are

processes that are heavily influenced by ‘indirect’ drivers,

such as outside socioeconomic forces. But our chief concern

here is to determine the triggers of global environmental

change in mountain regions. We make no claims in this

volume to do more than to document the direct drivers as

we understand them and to urge that the implications of

these changes, both positive and negative, be incorporated

into informed policy recommendations affecting twentyfirst-century mountain landscapes.

Geomorphology and Global Environmental Change, eds. Olav Slaymaker, Thomas Spencer and Christine Embleton-Hamann. Published by

Cambridge University Press. © Cambridge University Press 2009.


Olav Slaymaker and Christine Embleton-Hamann

The major direct drivers of environmental change in

mountains are relief, hydroclimate and land use. Not only

are they important in themselves but they are commonly so

closely interrelated that it becomes difficult to rank their

relative importance and, indeed, their status, whether dependent or independent. Precisely which of these drivers is most

important in any specific mountain setting and how they

should be ranked individually and in combination is a matter

for research. One of the greatest challenges facing mountain scientists is to separate environmental change caused

by human activities from change that would have occurred

without human interference (i.e. relief and hydroclimate)

(Marston, 2008). Linking cause and effect is especially

difficult in mountain regions where physical processes

alone can operate at exceptionally high rates. Some of the

major issues in mountain landscapes are the measurement

and modelling of geomorphic change; the role of mountain

land use and land cover change; and the assessment of

mountain landform/landscape vulnerability and sustainability.

Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the three

drivers of change is the temporal scale at which they operate and make their impacts on landforms and landscapes.

This is especially important to note in the context of making

projections for the twenty-first century and in assessing the

possibilities of or necessity for remedial action. Mountain

relief evolves over millions of years but may generate

natural hazards within minutes that may take decades to

mitigate; mountain climate has evolved over the Quaternary

Period, may participate in almost instantaneous extreme

weather and flood events and may also take years to mitigate.

Population and land use have evolved over the Holocene

Epoch; their collective impact was first seen between 5 and

8 ka BP, but this impact has dramatically increased during

the past century to the point that in 1990 it was noted for the

first time that human activities had now impacted more than

50% of the terrestrial globe (Turner et al., 1990). Change,

however, is not always negative: there is commonly a

balance sheet of both positive and negative effects: deltas

may be devastated by floods but will benefit in the following years from the addition of fertile soil; arid landscapes

may incur costs and benefits from extra moisture; cold

landscapes both lose and gain from warming; and landscapes undergoing change of land use may be either

enhanced or ruined, depending on the way in which that

land use change is implemented. The combination of

extreme geophysical events with exceptional population

growth and land use modifications underlines the urgency

of better understanding of these interactions and working

out the implications for adaptation to and mitigation of the

effects of these drivers of change on landforms and


2.1.1 Definition

There are two necessary conditions to define ‘mountains’:

high gradient and high absolute elevation above sea level.

Relief roughness, or local elevation range, is a useful

surrogate for gradient (Plate 7). We therefore adopted a

definition of mountains as land systems with both high

gradient (a local elevation range (LER) greater than 300 m

5 km− 1) and elevation (greater than 500 m above sea level).

This definition excludes large plateaus, such as Tibet. Using

similar criteria (Appendix 2.1), Meybeck et al. (2001)

generated nine global relief types, only two of which are

mountain regions: (a) low to mid-elevation mountains and

(b) high and very high mountains. In this chapter, we have

expanded these mountain regions to four, all four of which

have a LER which exceeds 300 m 5 km− 1. These four

mountain regions are identified as:





Class 1: Low mountains having a zonal elevation range

from 500 to 1000 m above sea level. They occupy an

estimated 6.3 Mkm ² and have between 175 and 350

million inhabitants; population estimates vary by a factor

of 2 (Appendix 2.1);

Class 2: Mid-elevation mountains having a zonal elevation range from 1000 to 2500 m above sea level

(c. 11 Mkm ² and 290–580 million inhabitants);

Class 3: High mountains having a zonal elevation range

from 2500 to 4500 m above sea level (c. 3.9 Mkm ² and

60–120 million inhabitants); and

Class 4: Very high mountains more than 4500 m above

sea level (c. 1.8 Mkm ² and 4–8 million inhabitants).

(N.B. the upper estimate of population, from Meybeck

et al. (2001), is 1420 million, which includes approximately

360 million in ‘mountains’ between 300 and 500 m above

sea level.)

High and very high mountains (Classes 3 and 4; greater

than 2500 m above sea level) are closely associated with the

most recent alpine orogenesis in Europe, Asia, Australasia

and the Americas, rifting and active volcanism and isostatically rebounded glaciated regions. Included are the North

and South American cordilleras, the European Alps–Zagros,

the Caucasus–Elburz, the Pamir-Alai–Tien-Shan and the

Karakoram–Himalaya, East Africa, Hawaii, the western

Pacific Rim and the north and northeast Siberian ranges.

2.1.2 Holocene climate change in mountains

It is important to recognise that mountain landscapes have a

history. They have a tectonic history and a denudational

history, and the relative effectiveness of these processes

determines the absolute scale and the rate of change of



FIGURE 2.1. Holocene climate changes in the mountains. Summary of glacier expansion phases in different areas of the world during the

Holocene (possible times of widespread advances are indicated by black bars on the horizontal axis) (modified from Bradley, 1999).

mountains (Schumm, 1963). Mountain landscapes also have

a climatic history, and past climates leave traces of their past

impacts on the contemporary landscape. This effect is most

obvious in the case of alternations of glacial and interglacial

climates during the Quaternary Period (see Chapter 1).

Glacier advances and historical records

Alpine glacier extent has varied over the past millennium

within a range defined by the extremes of the Little Ice Age

and today’s reduced glacier stage. We appear to be evolving

towards or even beyond the warmest phases of Holocene

variability. Such a conclusion is reinforced by the discovery

of the Oetztal ice man, who had been buried by snow/ice

over 5000 years ago and melted out in 1991, and the

discovery of well-preserved wooden bows, dated around

4 ka BP (Haeberli, 1994). Artefacts melting from glacier

and ice patches have been documented from a number of

mountain areas in North America (Dixon et al., 2005).

There is little support for the notion that Holocene glacier

fluctuations were exactly synchronous throughout the

world, though attempts have been made to define episodes

in which glacier advance has occurred in many regions

(Fig. 2.1). Such episodes are called neoglacials. Reasons

for the complexity of the mountain glacier record include

regional climatic fluctuations (which are neither hemispheric

nor global), poor dating control and discontinuous or

incomplete data sets (Bradley, 1999). Information on cooling

in mountain and upland areas during the Little Ice Age (AD

1550–1850) compared with the Medieval Warm Period are

available from European countries, China and Japan

(Grove, 1988). Barry (1992, 1994) and Diaz and Bradley

(1997) give the best summary of data sources for highelevation sites in Europe and globally respectively. Auer

(2007) provides the richest source of historical instrumental

climatological surface data for the European alpine region.

Lake sediments

Because the information from moraines and trim lines is

often partial, attention has moved towards the interpretation

of glacier-fed lakes, the changes in organic matter and the

increase in sediment input to lakes (e.g. Batterbee, 2002).

Von Grafenstein (1999) used oxygen isotope ratios of precipitation inferred from deep lake ostracods from the

Ammersee (in the foothills of the Alps, southern Germany)

to provide a climate record with decadal resolution. The

correlation with central Greenland ice cores between 15 ka

and 5 ka BP is impressive.


Pollen records from lake sediments and peat bogs have a

typical resolution of 50–200 years over time intervals of

1 ka–10 ka respectively (Bradley, 1999, pp. 357–96). The

method involves the examination of the relative frequency

of pollen grains from various plant species in long cores

taken from marshes and peat bogs. Dendrochronology,

which involves converting tree ring width indices to

proxy climate data, depends on the availability of instrumental records long enough to allow correlation between

temperature (or precipitation, where moisture availability is

the critical environmental control) and ring widths. Annual

or even seasonal resolution over hundreds to a few thousand years is possible (Bradley, 1999, pp. 397–438).

Evidence of past changes in tree line position is generally

interpreted in terms of variations in summer temperature

and/or summer moisture. Tree stumps or wood fragments

from above the modern tree line suggest warmer conditions

in the past and this has been documented widely in western

North America, the Urals and Scandinavia. The broad

conclusion is that tree lines were higher from 8 to 6 ka BP

and that tree lines declined after 5 ka BP (Bradley, 1999,

pp. 337–56).

Ice cores

Ice cores provide evidence of changing climates over the

Holocene Epoch through measurement of 18O ratios which

vary systematically with depth within the glacier. At least

eight high-altitude sites have provided ice cores to bedrock:

Quelccaya and Huascarán in Peru, Sajama in Bolivia, Colle


Olav Slaymaker and Christine Embleton-Hamann

Gnifetti and Mont Blanc in Switzerland, Dunde and Guliya

ice caps in western China and Mt Kilimanjaro in East Africa

(Cullen, 2006). At Quelccaya, Huascarán and Dunde there

is evidence of dramatic climatic change in recent decades;

melting is occurring at such an accelerated rate that there is

a danger of permanent loss of ice. Where records extend

back to the last glacial period (Sajama, Huascarán and

Dunde) ice is thin, making a detailed interpretation difficult

(Thompson, 1998).



2.1.3 Ecological zonation

Ecological zonation in polar, temperate and tropical

mountains compared

Halpin (1994) has investigated the differing sensitivity of

mountain ecosystems to changing climatic conditions at

tropical, temperate and polar sites. A 3900 m hypothetical

mountain with 100 m elevation intervals was digitised into

a raster GIS and used to represent a typical mountain at each

site. A single +3.5 °C temperature and +10% precipitation

change was imposed for all sites. The conceptual model

implied linear shift of all vegetation belts upslope and the

progressive loss of the coolest climatic zones at the peaks of

the mountains. The resulting ecological zonation of the

sites can be seen in Fig. 2.2. According to the simulation,

at the wet tropical Costa Rican site (a), the five ecological

zones would be reduced to four under a 3.5 °C temperature

and 10% precipitation increase: the subalpine paramo would

probably disappear. At the dry temperate Californian site

(b), eight ecological zones would be reduced to six, but low

and mid-elevation ecological zones would have expanded

ranges; and at the boreal/arctic mountain site (c), in Alaska,

the only ecosystem loss would occur near the base of the

mountain. It should be borne in mind that assumptions of

symmetrical change for mountain systems under global

environmental change can be misleading. Predictions of

vegetation shifts are complicated by uncertainties in speciesspecific responses to changing atmospheric CO2, in addition to projected regional temperature, precipitation and

soil moisture changes. There are photoperiod constraints

in cold climates and the duration and depth of snow cover

have major ecophysiological impacts.

Geoecological zonation

In order to express the landscape implications of ecological

zoning, the upper timber line or tree line; the modern snow

line and the lower limit of solifluction have been identified

as being especially sensitive to environmental change.

Messerli (1973) noted that, in the case of African mountain

systems at least, thermal criteria for geoecological zonation

were less important than availability of moisture. He also

FIGURE 2.2. Current ecological zonation for a tropical, temperate

and polar site and hypothetical zonation after climate change

(modified from Halpin, 1994).



FIGURE 2.3. Horizontal zonation

of geomorphological and climatic

elements from Mediterranean to

tropical high mountains of Africa

(modified from Messerli, 1973).

emphasised the importance of latitudinal zonation over

continental scales of mountain systems (Fig. 2.3). The

idea of geoecological zonation of mountains is fruitful as

it provides a framework within which the extreme heterogeneity of mountain landscapes, both past and present, can

be considered. The changing magnitude and frequency of

operation of geomorphic processes over Quaternary time is

indexed by the LGM snow line and the lower limit of

periglacial activity.

bounded at the sides by a channel way or preferred pathway

for sediment, snow, ice or water movement. Aspect, slope

erosion, mass movement and river action give rise to a

lateral zonation which cuts across the vertical zonation

described above (Slaymaker, 1993). The net effect is one

of a lateral zonation which emphasises varying sensitivity

to disturbance (Fig. 2.4b).

Geomorphic process zones and sediment cascades

In an explicit attempt to incorporate geomorphic activity

into the mountain zonation concept a general model of

geomorphic process variation with elevation has been

developed (Fig. 2.4a). In temperate mountain systems

high-elevation slopes are characterised by solifluction,

nivation, talus development and glaciation; mid-elevation

slopes, below the tree line, have landslide, avalanche and

debris flow features; and low-elevation slopes are commonly sediment storage zones. Local-scale lateral zonation

of mountains is caused by gravity-driven processes of slope

erosion, mass movement and river action as well as by other

influences, such as aspect. These processes intersect the

vertical zonation pattern and subdivide the landscape into

a series of slope facets bounded on the top and bottom by

timber line, snow line, permafrost or periglacial activity and

A working definition of mountains is offered and mountain

landscapes are shown to have high geodiversity, a geodiversity which is threatened by the rapid rate of growth

of mountain populations. The three drivers of environmental change in mountains are relief, as a proxy for tectonics

(Tucker and Slingerland, 1994), hydroclimate and runoff

(Vandenberghe, 2002) and human activity (Coulthard and

Macklin, 2001). The first two of these drivers can be interpreted through proxy records contained in glacier ice cores,

soils and lake sediments. The net effect of the operation of

these drivers over long time periods is a variety of ecological and geomorphic zones, which divide mountain landscapes into clearly delimited facets. The third driver, human

activity, results in land use and land cover patterns that

often cut across the geoecological zones and generate

accelerated landscape disturbance.

2.1.4 Summary


Olav Slaymaker and Christine Embleton-Hamann

FIGURE 2.4. (a) Vertical and (b) lateral zonation of major Holocene landforms and processes in Coast Mountains, British Columbia (from

Slaymaker, 1993).

2.2 Direct driver I: relief

Over geological timescales, relief is controlled by tectonic

plate movements and climate, via rates of denudation

(Schumm, 1963). Over contemporary timescales, however,

relief controls climate. At the larger mountain system and

global scales, elevation and gradient are the most important

relief elements in so far as they influence temperature and

precipitation. Elevation controls the incidence and intensity

of freeze–thaw events as well as orographic precipitation,

and many associated climatic effects. Gradient defines the

gravitational driving force (g sin α) and influences radiation

and precipitation receipt, wind regimes and snow. Erosion

rates reported for the Nanga Parbat massif are among the

highest measured (22 ± 11 m ka− 1) and reported rates of

uplift for the Himalayas vary from 0.5 to 20 m ka− 1

(Owen, 2004). Ahnert (1970) developed an equation relating denudation and local relief:

D ¼ 0:1535h


where D is denudation in mm ka− 1 and h is local relief in

m km− 1.

Summerfield and Hulton (1994) analysed 33 basins with

areas greater than 500 000 km ² from every continent except

Antarctica. Total denudation (suspended plus dissolved

load) varied from 4 mm ka− 1 (Kolyma in the Russian Far

East) to 688 mm ka− 1 (Brahmaputra). They found that more

than 60% of the variance in total denudation was accounted

for by basin relief ratio and runoff.

A contentious issue is the relation between drainage

basin area and specific sediment yield established for basins

in British Columbia (Slaymaker, 1987) and for Canada as a

whole (Church et al., 1999). They demonstrated that in

most of Canada basins of intermediate size and relief have

the highest specific sediment yields (Caine, 2004). They

contended that the presence in the contemporary landscape

of sediment storage areas, formed in the early Holocene, is

the most important control of specific sediment yield. They

insisted that it is critical to examine not only relative relief

and elevation, but also the sediment cascade. In so doing it

becomes apparent that there are numerous complications

that modify the direct relation between relief, absolute

elevation and denudation rate, the most important of

which seems to be the presence of a whole variety of sediment sinks. Sediment sinks include lakes, alluvial fans,

proglacial zones and floodplains, inter alia, and are storage

zones in which sediments may be stored for shorter or

longer periods.

2.2.1 The sediment cascade in mountains

Elevation, downslope gradient, across-slope gradient,

aspect, vertical convexity and horizontal convexity are the

six fundamental components of relief (Evans, 1972).

Vertical and horizontal convexity, which are the rates of

change of gradient downslope and across-slope, and aspect,

which is the preferred orientation of the slope, are important

influences on environmental change at local scale. Concave

slopes tend to accumulate water and sediment whereas

convex slopes tend to shed water and sediment. Aspect

controls the amount of solar radiant energy received at the

surface and, especially in mountain systems, leads to highly

contrasted slope climates on, for example, north- and southfacing slopes (known in the French literature as ubac

(shady) and adret (sunny) slopes). The potential energy of

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APPENDIX 1.5 World Heritage Sites, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and UNEP’s Global Programme of Action

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