Amazon: the challenges of pollution and deforestation

Hi everybody!

In our fifth article about water (time goes by so fast…) we will discuss the issues concerning water in Amazonia. This huge tropical forest, which nickname is « the lung of the planet » receives every day big quantities of freshwater, but there are some great threats on its survival.

Geographic introduction

South America’s geography is very specific. There is a strong duality between the Amazonian part, which covers 37% of the territory, and the Andean region which counts many high peaks (we could experience that in our attempt to climb the Chimborazo, in Ecuador, which is 6268 meters high). For survival reasons, people from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia moved to the highest zones. Indeed, in the Amazon rainforest, climate is warm and wet all year long, which makes it one of the places on earth where biodiversity is the richest… but also a tough place for humans to live ! Parasites, bacteria, insects, viruses and many little things make the environment very hostile, and the struggle for survival exhausting. As we went to San Roque de Cumbaza, inside the Amazon rainforest, we quickly understood why the conquistadors chose to settle their capitals Bogota, Quito and La Paz at high levels (respectively 2640m, 2850m and 3660m high). In two days, we came across many venomous tarantulas and we came back from this place with an extensive collection of mosquito bites. Only Lima, the Peruvian Capital, is close to the sea.

 

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In San Roque de Cumbaza, we could experience what a tropical rain is

 

 

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Antoine standing a bridge over the Cumbaza river, in the Amazon rainforest

 

 

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Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, high in the Andean mountains where climate is good

 

Amazonia regulates climate rather than being a « green lung ».

In Medellin, Colombia, we met Laura, Felipe and Julian, three founding members of the association Ingeo Bosque. They study freshwater distribution in the Colombian Amazon rainforest. Felipe is straight forward: « If you take a look at Colombia, on an anthropocentric point of view, the Amazon region is not very interesting ». Indeed, 1.3 M people are living there for more than 30 M in the Andean part of the country. But Felipe warns us « This zone is still a crucial issue on an ecological perspective and for climate regulation on a global level! ». We tend to forget that forests have a huge impact on climate and rains! The expression « green lung of the planet » is a bit overplayed. Forests produce oxygen but they consume a lot of it too! However, trees sweat out water in the atmosphere, producing clouds. Amazonia creates 50 to 80% of its own rains while « sweating ». Moreover, forest act like a rain pump from the seaside regions to the interior of the continent, which regulates winds and climate. To sum it up, neglecting the Amazon rainforest means less precipitations in South America, and a higher sensitivity to climate variations.

 

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Inequalities of population and precipitations in Colombia per region

 

 

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Meeting with Julian, Felipe and Laura from the association Ingeo Bosque

 

The impact of climate change

Let’s talk about climate changes. More and more, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are suffering from the consequences of a climate phenomenon called « El Niño ». It is a natural phenomenon which consists in a warming of the Pacific Ocean currents off Peruvian and Ecuadorian coasts. It happens every seven years, but its consequences can be harsh for those countries. El Niño considerably changes the rain season which can lead to floods, landslides and strong rains, but also to powerful droughts! Felipe told us that in 2014, Colombia was struck by a violent cycle of El Niño, and that water resources drop from 50 to 65% of their usual level in the Orinoco region! It was a disaster both for people and for wildlife.

The important thing to understand is that even if this phenomenon is a natural one, it has been getting harsher and harsher in the last years. Everything is connected: deforestation, climate change and natural disasters….

 

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Drought in the Orinoco region after an episode of El Niño in 2014

 

The challenge of deforestation

The Amazon rainforest matter is a central one when dealing with deforestation. You might have already heard those scary figures: every 4 seconds, a soccer field is wiped out there. The rainforest has already lost a fifth of its original size. Laura and Julian confirmed us that this issue is a big one in Colombia. Generally, forest is replaced by pasture. Which leads us back to the issue we treated in Montana…

On the long run, deforestation could have dramatic consequences. Forest plays a crucial part in climate stability. It could cause a strong decrease of rains in the region and a stronger sensitivity to natural phenomena. Moreover, it damages soil fertility. Forest soils absorb and filter ten times more water than pastures! It refills groundwater and prevents floods. Last but not least, a rich biodiversity relies on those forests.

When meeting the Ingeo Bosque team, we were surprised to learn that there is no formal study in Colombia which shows that deforestation is linked to the decrease of water resources. If everybody feels like this is a real cause, the Colombian government does not react as there is no tangible evidence. And it does not really look for them either. Ingeo Bosque’s goal is to provide the government with clear data which will show the environmental impact of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

 

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One fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already disappeared

 

 

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Forests are essential to refill groundwater supplies and to prevent floods

 

 

The challenge of pollution

Lastly, firms have an important part in dealing with water resources of the Amazon rainforest. Since 1993 in Colombia, laws have been enforced to make them contribute to the protection of the resource, as of 1% of their investment. However, some of the activities in the region are a true threat for the whole biosphere. Two months ago, Brasil endured one of the most severe disaster of its history after two dams belonging to the firm Samarco broke down. The tanks which were collecting extraction waste flooded the Rio Doce with toxic mud and thousands of people had to be relocated. In some other places (mainly in Bolivia), use of mercury for silver treatment and many other kinds of pollution brings us in front of a major matter of tomorrow: we must act to preserve the Amazon, first river in the world, which gathers on its own 18% of the world’s freshwater reserves.

 

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In Brazil, the flood of toxic muds in the Rio Doce is qualified as the worst-ever environmental disaster

 

In our next article, we will talk about the difficult question of coping with public resource. What should be the role of private companies? How to put a price on a vital resource? Until then, we present you the interview of the great team of Ingeo Bosque !
See you soon !

Greg

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico: Water and health issues in developping countries

Hello everybody !

For the beginning of the year and after our three first articles on freshwater issues in North America, it is time for us to publish our 4th article about water distribution issues in Mexico ! In this country, this ressource is a major issue for developpment.

We got our very first glances on the matter way before we even reached Mexico: Remember, back in Arizona, Chloé Fandel talked to us about the Colorado River draining that was performed in order to provide with water the big cities of the American Southwest. She was explaining that when it reaches the Mexican border, the Colorado river is reduced to 10% of its initial flow in Lake Powell… Yet, North Mexico’s droughts are as severe as the ones in Arizona. But the political and economical weight of the American neighboor makes Mexico unable to negociate efficiently this matter. A local saying states « Poor Mexico, born so far from God and so close from the USA ! »

Moreover, Dennis, the ranchman we worked for, told us a pretty interesting American saying about Mexico’s water. He called it « Revenge of Montezuma », from the name of the Aztec emperor that faced the spanish conquests during the 16th century. Why so ? Because many years after his defeat, gringos coming to Mexico sometimes drink tap water… and undergo his terrible medical vengeance ! The main warning for foreigners in Mexico is not about narco violence but about water consumption ! Which leads us to a fundamental problem for big Mexican cities.

Hygiene and water distribution

Mexico city is 2000 meters high. It was built by the Spanish conquerors five hundred years ago on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, a Maya city built on a lake ! As a result Mexico has great amount of underground water reserves which partially feed its people. But those reserves are running low and today, a big part of the city’s resources are brought from outside through hundred-miles-long ditches ! During its journey, the water evaporates, gets dirty and contaminated, and leaks out. By the way, because of the pumping of underground reserves, the city sinks in the ground 40cm a year… If you visit Mexico’s downtown, you will notice some leaning buildings. We have to precise that only the people that live in central areas benefit from home distribution. Some people that live in the suburbs may have access to the ressource only a couple of times a week.

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Mexico’s cathedral leans to the right

With Greg, we immediately notice that nobody drinks tap, even mexican people. People choose « garafones », big cans of drinkable water that are delivered to housings, small businesses and restaurants that can’t afford a filter in their installations. Because tap water is not healthy: viruses and bacterias multiply in those and they cause many medical risks for people that consume it, especially young children.

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A truck delivering garafones

Major issue: poor regions of the country do not always have access to those healthy water. For cost reasons, but also for logistic ones, many farmers from the Chiapas or the Guerrero (Mexican states) cannot provide themseves with « garafones » delivering, and risk their health while consuming local – and non healthy – waters.

How to provide them with healthy water?

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Zinacatan, a village of the poorest state of Mexico: The Chiapas

Meeting with MakeSense.

As soon as we arrived in Mexico city, we were warmly welcomed by MakeSense Mexico, an entrepreuneurship network that links entrepreneurs and people eager to help them (directly or indirectly) in their projects. MakeSense Mexico focuses on water related issues in Mexico City. Every year, they pick out six projects and support them in order to help them grow. In this context, we meet a few of the entrepreneurs competing for this mentoring program.

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Meeting with Makesense in their office !

We’ve met Fernando who develops the project « Somos Agua » which aims at providing clean water to poor families thanks to a long-duration filter. He tells us about a terrifying reality: deseases linked to dirty water consumption are the second cause of child mortality in Mexico. Amongst poor families, the consequences are so harsh that some census projects don’t even count children who are less than 5 years old… Because their chance of survival is much weaker than if they were living in cities. Gastritis, infections but also cholera are real threats for those people. Access to clear water is a major issue for them.

Fernando and his team have conceived a easy-to-use filter that makes those families able to filter water from rivers and wells. The filter works for several years without having to be replaced. For a five person family, it can work for three years. Today, he is mentored by MakeSense which helps him to find finances to scale his project up (Somos Agua already distributed 6000 filters!)

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Fernando pitches his project

Another important meeting for us was with « Gotas de Esperanza », a start-up that conceived a machine to create drinkable water from only humidity in the air ! The last prototypes could produce 5 000 liters of water a day, even in dry areas !

We met many other projects and entrepreneurs during the events we participated to. Many times, filters and way to clean water were brought up. But people also talked about the ways to gather the water Mexican people get during the wet season in order to use it during the rest of the year. Everytime, the entrepreneurs were motivated and convinced by the strength of their project, and it was heartwhelming to witness them defend their own ! Let’s wish them good luck 🙂 !

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MakeSense’s pitching contest night

We concluded our collaboration with MakeSense with the interview of Fernanda who is in charge of the mentoring program named « Agua Urbana ». She speaks about the importance of having access to clean water for poor people that can face severe consequences when consuming dirty water. She talks us about the drought issues in Mexico, which hydrology is complicated. Indeed, every year, underground reserves of Mexico city get lower, it is then important to acknowledge new ways to gather water reserves. Rains are rare in Mexico but in the rainy season they can be strong and abundant for a short period of time, sometimes causing seious flood damages. Fernanda works with a project that aims at building wells to gather this unused water in order to consume it later in the year. What a surprise when we hear this project that reminds us of Chloé’s one, with gabions in Arizona ! We let you enjoy Fernanda’s interview.

Cheers from Colombia !

See you soon,

Antoine

3 – People and droughts

Hi everyone!

In our last article, published in Montana, we were speaking about the use of freshwater for agriculture and cattle farming in areas with low population. Since then, we have continued our trip driving through Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, California and Arizona, and getting every day closer to much dryer regions. Today, drought will be the topic of our article. How is freshwater distributed when it has to provide for a lot of people (California has 92 habitants per square kilometer when Montana had 2,6) and when overall rainfall decreases every year…?

How do you provide LA, a 17 million people city ?
How do you provide LA, a 17 million people city ?

Just after we pass the Idaho border, we enter the “Great Basin” of the US. This is the name given to a region that covers the South West of the US from West of Utah to South California and down to the Sonora desert through the Mexican border. The area is marked by its very arid climate, and by the fact that overall precipitations are very low. Especially the state of Nevada suffers from this hydrology: it is the driest state of the US with only 104mm of rainfall per year. However Nevada consumes a lot of water to maintain its economy, especially for entertainment and tourism which greatest symbol is the city of Las Vegas! Nevada consumes also a lot of water for the extraction of gold in its mines (Nevada is the fourth producer of gold worldwide).  All of this makes the hydrological situation of the region worse and worse every year and there is a point when resources of freshwater might come to an end…

 

A two hours drive from Las Vegas and it is Death Valley desert
A two hours drive from Las Vegas and it is Death Valley desert
The famous fountain show from the Bellagio, in the middle of a dry desert !
The famous fountain show from the Bellagio, in the middle of a dry desert !

In order to provide water for the area, the most common technique is to build huge water dams and to create artificial lakes. With Grégoire, we had the opportunity to pass by two of the most famous ones: Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the last of which retains the water from the Colorado river before it is divided between the different states of the region. When driving by the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, we noticed a lot of those artificial lakes on the sides of the hills and when we reached the city of Sacramento we drove just by the Folsom Lake that provides water for the entire town. Anyway, for all those lakes the water levels are reaching critical points! We can feel the drought is striking the region just from our car with a lot of big road signs on the side of the road to raise awareness about the importance of water in the region. On the other hand we also notice that all the lawns we are passing by are very green, a lot of people have a swimming pool in the back of their garden and a lot of golf courses punctuate the road… Add to that the importance of water for maintaining the local agriculture (farming in the Sierra Nevada, orchards of Salinas, vineyards of the Napa Valley) and you can understand the very tense situation between the different states of the region…

 

Lake Mead is one of the biggest american freshwater reserve, but around 20 to 30% of the water evaporates
Lake Mead is one of the biggest american freshwater reserve, but around 20 to 30% of the water evaporates
Glen Canyon Dam holds back waters from Lake Powell
Glen Canyon Dam holds back waters from Lake Powell

To get a better insight of the situation, we meet Chloe Fandel, who is currently preparing a PhD in hydrology at the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson. For a couple of years, Chloe has been working on the issue of retaining water and facilitating its infiltration into the ground. Her research project tends to find alternative solutions to the huge dams and artificial lakes I mentioned earlier. Indeed Chloe explains to us that those dams are not a sustainable way to deal with water. The main problem is about evaporation. During summer, up to 30% of the resource can be lost because of evaporation! But it also affects the quality of water, making it too much salty than what it is supposed to be. It is especially true for the water that supplies the cities of Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona. This water comes from the Lake Mead through a canal called Central Arizona Project (CAP) and that runs for 300 miles (500kms) through the desert! When it reaches the cities, the water is often not pure enough for a healthy consumption. Moreover, the Lake Mead’s level is decreasing every year because the legal amount of water the states can take from the lake does not include variable considerations as overall rainfall of the year. As a result, the amount taken is superior than the amount of water that comes to the Lake and today the water level is getting close to the level of the pipes…

The CAP ditch runs through 300 miles in order to provide water to Tucson & Phoenix
The CAP ditch runs through 300 miles in order to provide water to Tucson & Phoenix
A waterpump of the CAP, very demanding in energy
A waterpump of the CAP, very demanding in energy

Chloe tells us that the local jurisdiction is very complicated and prevents from decisive action at a federal level. As a result, the situation remains unchanged and some hydrologists are predicting the extinction of the Lake Mead resources by 2025. However Chloe also tells us about some local initiatives and about people being aware of the situation. Now, people are getting used to grow cactuses in their backyards, sometimes better than green lawns. The city of Tucson restricts the use of used waters for watering the golf courses too ! Chloe takes us on a drive to see the canal that runs in the middle of the desert and she also takes us to a giant copper mine that surrounds the city of Tucson. This mine consumes a lot of water and she reminds us that small initiatives are for everyone and contributes to dealing with the problem. For instance you may have not thought that renewing your smartphone less often would contribute to lower the water consumption (indeed a lot of water is needed to extract all the elements in your phone), or reducing your consumption of meat, of cotton shirts, etc. Choices are simple and their importance should not be underestimated.

A board that encourages people to beware of local water issues
A board that encourages people to beware of local water issues

The subject of her research is directly pointed toward a smarter use of the resource. Chloe says that once every year, Arizona finds itself in the middle of heavy rains that usually create dangerous and devastating flows as the soil is too dry to retain the water. This period usually comes with the apparition of “ephemeral rivers” that are dry most of the time but full of water for a few days every year. For Chloe the objective is to determine whether it would be useful or not to build a lot of small dams called gabions on the side of those rivers in order to slow them down and allow water to infiltrate the soil. We wish her good luck and we will pay a lot of interest in the conclusions of her study!

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A « gabion », the kind of structure Chloé is currently working on

We also had the opportunity to see a similar intiative during our stay in California. In San Diego we met Chiara Dorigo who works for a start-up called Greyble that plans to reduce the consumption of water in the region by reusing the water from any house to water the garden. The device she has created can be associated to any house and will automatically collect used water and turning it into appropriate water for the plants. It is also entirely connected to your smartphone so you can control your water consumption in your household. In the long term Chiara claims that this device can save up to 20-30% of water per house.

The Greyble prototype, that reuses spoiled waters for domestic irrigation
The Greyble prototype, that reuses spoiled waters for domestic irrigation

As a conclusion, we noticed in person that the drought was affecting deeply the people in the South West of the US. Luckily, the US is a developped country and has financial resources for dealing with the resource. Dams, ditches, artificial lakes… those may not always be the best options but they are still good ways for providing water to the people. What happens in regions where the State cannot support such initiatives?

Next month we will be in Mexico and we will talk about the management of freshwater in a developing country. The subject is crucial and very related to the US issues as the Colorado river, just after passing by Phoenix and Tucson continues down to the Mexican border with a greatly reduced flow…

The Colorado river, when leaving Lake Powell
The Colorado river, when leaving Lake Powell

You’ll find here a video summing up our month there, and an interview with Chloé Fandel, who generously accepted to show us around, and answer our question 🙂 Thanks a lot !!

See you soon !

Greg & Antoine

2 – Montana: water, agriculture and livestock farming

Hi everyone!

A few weeks ago we released our first article about glacier melting in Alaska and Canada. Now we’ve just spent a month in a bison ranch farm in Montana and it’s time for us to tell you about the use of freshwater in agriculture and livestock farming.

Our bison ranch in Melville, MT
Our bison ranch in Melville, MT

First thing you need to know and remember is that agriculture is THE most important use of freshwater! Indeed, 70% of freshwater global consumption is dedicated to agriculture! Irrigation requires far more water than what we use for our own consumption. But the important thing to realize is that irrigation is not only used to produce cereals, it is also used to produce meat… How is that? Well, livestock farmers need to feed their animals. A lot. And in order to feed their animals, they need to grow or to buy hay, seeds, or anything the cattle eats. As a matter of fact, 75% of total fields in the world are dedicated to livestock farming!! Freshwater is mainly used to grow grass or cereals for cattle feeding.

But let’s go back to our journey. We arrived on the 20th of September in our ranch in Montana and the first thing we noticed was how big the property was. Chris & Taunia, the owners of the ranch, only have about 200 buffaloes but they have fields for as far as the eyes can see. We can directly acknowledge that livestock farming does require a lot of space!

The size of the ranch is outstanding
The size of the ranch is outstanding
Full Moon, the albino bison of the ranch, is having breakfast
Full Moon, the albino bison of the ranch, is having breakfast

Taunia is really enthusiastic when we tell her about the subject of our study and she confirms that managing the use of freshwater on the ranch is her first daily issue! The whole property depends on a ditch that reroutes water from the Sweet Grass Creek (a nearby river). From March to June, this ditch provides water for irrigating Taunia’s fields and growing grass. This grass will then become hay and be used in winter for feeding buffaloes.

Antoine is standing nearby the valve that opens the ditch during summer
Antoine is standing nearby the valve that opens the ditch during summer
The ditch runs on several miles, through some of Taunia's neighbour's properties
The ditch runs on several miles, through some of Taunia’s neighbour’s properties

The problem is that this ditch has to cross Taunia’s neighbours lands for a few miles before reaching the ranch and conflicts appear at this very point. To understand these conflicts, what Taunia calls “water wars”, we have to give you a little more context.

In Montana and in every other US state there are some water courts dedicated for dealing with water issues. Every year the state gives a maximum limit to each rancher of how much water they can use for irrigating their lands based on their seniority and on the size of their property. Given this complex combination of factors, each owner is given a length of time and a maximum amount of water they can use for irrigating. Conflicts appear when some people try to steal the water passing through their lands but that is dedicated to their neighbours. Taunia claims that her neighbours are doing so and it’s very difficult for her to prevent it as the ditch is sneaking through different lands for 5 miles. Water courts are supposed to solve these conflicts but it takes a long time (Taunia has been holding a case in court for seven years now) and in period of drought the consequences are fast and implacable.

Three years ago Taunia has been through a very dry season and in order to survive she had to get rid of a half of her herd and buy 300,000$ of hay! We easily understand that freshwater supplies and profitability are directly connected and that’s why it is the biggest issue of local ranch owners.

One of the ranch's three sprinklers
One of the ranche’s three sprinklers
The Sweetgrass Creek and its precious resource
The Sweetgrass Creek and its precious resource

Even though Montana can rely on water flooding from the Missouri river and from the Rockies, the state is not saved from periods of drought and only the low density of population (40 times less than California for example) prevents from really serious damages. But economically and culturally, livestock farming has always been a key resource of Montana, a cowboy land. If freshwater reserves were to keep on decreasing, it could deeply impact the whole region.

What will happen to cowboys if they can't feed their cows ?
What will happen to cowboys if they can’t feed their cows ?

Next month we will continue our study in a much more critical area: California! For a couple of years, this region of the US is facing really difficult times concerning the use of freshwater. Droughts are hard and the area is much more populated which contributes to kindle the conflicts… For example what should California choose when granting limited amounts of freshwater: agriculture or tourism?

See you next month to tackle this issue. In between you can take a look at our video of our month in Montana, featuring the interview of Taunia Kittler, owner of the Sweet Grass Buffalo ranch in Melville, Montana 😉

Thanks a lot !!

Gregoire & Antoine

1 – Alaska, Canada : Abundant freshwater and glacier melting

Hi everybody,

 

This is the very first article of our series on freshwater. In this episode we are going to discuss a crucial issue: global warming and glacier melting in Alaska and Canada, areas where there is plenty of freshwater!

 

These areas are located above the fiftieth parallel and they receive lot of water from the rain (from 300mm/year to 3000). But mostly these areas are covered in snow and ice which guarantees free storage of the resource ! There are many glaciers and lakes all over those places (Canada counts over 30,000 lakes of at least 3km², plus all the hundred of thousands of smaller ones) that makes freshwater omnipresent there.

 

Freshwater insufficiency is not really an issue for Canadian and Alaskan people, but Grégoire and I have noticed some other big concerns about freshwater over there. It is sometimes difficult to get access to the sources of water. Lot of places are very isolated and far from the water supply services. In Fairbanks most of the people have to go to a public water tank in the city to fill up their own reserve of water. In some other remote places, like in Kamloops, British Columbia, the people we met could use a pump to get free, drinkable water.

 

An icerange in Kluane National Park
An icerange in Kluane National Park

 

In Vancouver, we met Adrien Gilbert, glaciologist at Simon Fraser University (SFU) to learn a little more about the way Canada deals with these huge amounts of freshwater. Adrien told us that the little droughts that Canada has been facing recently are not threats for agriculture or for people, given the stocks of freshwater available. However, they represent a real risk for the vast Canadian forests across the country. In summer, the foam that covers the ground gets dry quickly and if it does not rain frequently enough, wildfires can appear and light up entire areas of forest, endangering the species that live there. As a result, the little droughts in the country, as the one Vancouver is facing for a few months, are leaving permanent marks on the landscapes. It is difficult to predict the spread of those wildfires and difficult to fight them. The areas to protect can be as huge as France’s territory, so most of the time the only option is to let the fires spread as they also have natural virtues for the regeneration of some species of trees. The problem is that global warming is making those fires more frequent and more unpredictable which in the end can disrupt the natural equilibrium.

 

Interview with Adrien Gilbert, Glaciologist at SFU
Interview with Adrien Gilbert, Glaciologist at SFU

About global warming, Adrien is categorical. We cannot deny that humans have a direct influence on the last variations of temperature. Even though our planet has been through long cycles of glaciations, then warming up to the beginning of another glaciations era; the recent rise of temperature is too important to be considered natural! In one century, temperature has risen of 2°C… that is huge compared to the natural cycles of variations! 

Adrien is studying Barnes ice cap, a 15,000 year ice cap in the North of Canada that used to recover half of the North American continent. This ice cap is melting really fast and will probably disappear in a couple of hundred years. However Adrien does not give way to a prevailing pessimism. In the short term, real losses for Canada and Alaska are the changes of the landscapes and disruption of the ecosystems. In the long term, it is much more difficult to predict anything because of the number of factors at stake here. Changes on streams, on wind, on precipitations… Everything is connected and so everything is possible, even the beginning of a new glaciations era. The only thing Adrien is sure about is that all North American glaciers are quickly going to melt, given the pace of the last decades.

 

Adrien in is laboratory at SFU
Adrien in is laboratory at SFU

During our trip, Grégoire and I have noticed the consequences of global warming on Canadian ice fields. Margaret, an Alaskan resident we met in Anchorage, told us that glaciers of Katmai have been considerably moving back since she was born. Ourselves, we observed when going to the Salmon Glacier in British Columbia, the decrease of this ice field. We had to drive for an hour in a valley the glacier used to occupy, before we could see the toe of it. Every year, thousands of salmons swim upstream the torrent to reach the place they were born and where they are going to lay their eggs before dying. The journey of those fish is incredible. Every salmon female lay about 2,500 eggs, but after a long adventure downstream, into the sea and then upstream again, only 2 salmons will remain to lay another 2,500 eggs.

Every year, local grizzlies and black bears depend on those salmons to survive if they want to amass enough fat to survive the winter. They take a spot along the river and they fish with their powerful claws the salmons swimming upstream. We didn’t have the chance to see any bear fishing with Grégoire, but we did see a lot of dead salmon in the river, proof of bear presence! For swimming upstream and finding the place they were born, salmons call on a lot of factors, but one of the most important one is the saltiness and the temperature of the torrent. With glacier melting, the chemical composition of torrents is changing and who know which impact this could have on the entire Canadian ecosystems!!

 

Salmon glacier take steps back every single year
Salmon glacier take steps back every single year
Salmons swimming up the torrent
Salmons swimming upstream

The most ironical part of our study came when we visited Glacier National Park in the US, Montana. Given the name of the park, we were expecting to see a lot of glaciers and ice fields, but in fact almost all of them have disappeared, and the remaining ones are shrinking. The visitor centre gives us clear information: by 2020, all the glaciers of the park will be gone.

An information board in Glacier NP
An information board in Glacier NP

 

One of the only left icefields in Glacier NP...
One of the only icefields left in Glacier NP…

Consequences of climate change and glacier melting are still rather unpredictable. We are not experts scientists to give you a clear prophecy of what is going to happen in the years to come, and even scientists cannot really tell. However it was important for us to give your our feeling on the subject. Disruption of the biosphere, changes of the landscapes, and melting of antiques ice caps gave us food for thought, and we hope you will now consider the issue on a different perspective!

Thanks for following us and see you soon!

 

Antoine

From Vancouver to the Rockies

The end of our first chapter

We finally arrived in Montana today after three weeks driving through Canada ! The end of the first part of our adventure was symbollicaly passed while crossing the American boarder near Glacier National Park… We have discovered so many things it is hard to believe only three weeks have passed ! But let’s go back to where we left you, in Vancouver.

We had called for some help on social networks in order to meet local people there and many answered ! Thanks to our friends Cordelia, Claire and Audrey, we have met wonderful people and discovered many aspects of Vancouver !

Capture

First, we took a glance at the student life of Simon Fraser University thanks to Sandy, Amélie, Clemence and Deborah, then we enjoyed the sunset on Vancouver harbour with Veronika and last, Max & Sam made us discover Vancouver by night ! Nice bars, beautiful views of Vancouver from the park of the city and also… a quick detour on Hastings St, « No go zone » of the canadian city, full of junkies !

Sunset on Vancouver's quays
Sunset on Vancouver’s harbour

GTA V(ancouver)

Well we have to be honnest, everything did not go as planned. We will also remember Vancouver because of an incident that happenened in one of its many parking lots. Someone broke into our car and tried to get to Gregoire’s backpack while we where staying in our hostel. But as the burglar did not seem quite interested into Greg’s dirty laundry, we managed to find almost everything that was missing in the stairs of the parking lot. Few things were finally lost so no real harm in this adventure. We got the rear window repaired and went back to the wild after this little come back to urban life.

voiture
Watch out where you park your car in Vancouver !

A dog story.

On the road from Vancouver to Jasper, a great thing happened. I learnt thanks to social networks that a friend of mine, JB, was working within a sled dog quesnel in Kamloops, a city we were planning to stop into for the night. JB talked about us to Megan, the owner of the quesnel and she really generously accepted to host us for a night… Thanks to her kindness, we could also witness what a sled dog quesnel looks like at six in the morning ! Her hundred dogs wake up and they are only waiting for one thing : Running ! You need a lot of energy in order to take care of all those enthusiastic alaskan huskies. It was an incredible experience to hear them bark for sport.

A hundred dogs waiting for the run
A hundred dogs waiting for the run
In summertime, dogs pull the quad in order to work out
In summertime, dogs pull the quad in order to work out
Two Alaska huskies
Two Alaska huskies

Jasper & Banff, camping & hike.

We leave the quesnel at noon for Jasper & Banff National Parks in Alberta. We stay there 4 days in order to take the time to see the great landscapes of the parks. Fall is there, and snow starts to cover the hills. We decided to work out a bit while doing some hikes in the park, and Greg’s shoes get the occasion to climb their third great mountain range ! (Alpes, Himalaya and Rockies).

As soon as we get higher, the snow appears
As soon as we get higher, the snow appears
Little picnic pause while hiking through Banff
Little picnic pause while hiking through Banff

A grizzly bear greets us when leaving the park and so we leave a piece of our mind there while driving to the USA. As usual, the Border Patrol’s welcome is unpleasant. « Your situation doesn’t look good guys » the officer says, he apparently blames us for buying a car in Alaska instead of renting one. After 45 minutes of talking, we manage to put our feet in the USA, relieved.

Wapitis wander everywhere in Jasper
Wapitis wander everywhere in Jasper
A grizzly bear greets us
A grizzly bear greets us

Canada, on the road !

We left you in Fairbanks, in Northern Alaska, and we are today 2,500 miles away from there, in Vancouver, Canada. This is the same distance that separates Paris from Teheran… And we only passed through two big towns during our drive, Whitehorse and Prince George ! 

Family picture in the car, with our swan
Family picture in the car, with our swan

You got it, those two first weeks were wild. We crossed beautiful landscapes, drove for hours into pure nature. Fall has already come in here, and colours are everywhere on the trees, with white moutains behind, and blue lakes all around.

Kluane lake, within the Yukon territory
Kluane lake, within the Yukon territory
Nature gets even wilder when the weather gets cloudy
Nature gets even wilder when the weather gets cloudy

Wild animals were more frequent than people on the road. Squirrels, foxes and bears are peacefully walking along the road, and don’t seem to even notice our presence when we stop to take a picture of them.

A wild fox passes by
A wild fox passes by
A black bear with her cub
A black bear with her cub

When the evening comes, we settle in little campgrounds that are scattered along the road. Many of them are really beautiful, especially on the Stewart Cassiar Higwhay that links Watson Lake to Kitwanga. One only has to park his car there, set the tent up and spend a night in a most wonderful place. Antoine quickly becomes an expert with the Milepost, the « Bible of north country travel ». My past experience with the scouts helps me to be fast with preparing campfires and cooking on them. Antoine’s experience with Man vs Wild bindge watching also helps, making us experimented northern campers.

A campground in British Columbia
A campground in British Columbia
bear-glacier
Magnificent bear glacier

Generally, we drive five hours a day before finding a campsite. During the rest of the day, we read, we write, we discuss, we collect firewood, we cook and mostly we take some time to daydream while either watching landscapes or staring into campfires.

Sometimes, waking up is tough !
Sometimes, waking up is tough !
Greg is writing down our journey
Greg is writing down our journey
Let's cook some sausages
Let’s cook some sausages !

While driving south, we decided to stop in Vancouver in order to meet Adrien Gilbert, glaciologist at Simon Fraser University. He will tell us about glacier melting and about his work on Barnes icefield, which will help us understand the issues of global warming on American iceranges. We’ll tell you more about this next week 😉

Alaska, welcome into the wild !

Hi everybody !

After one week spent wandering in the North, here is our first blog article ! We will try to feed it until Argentina 🙂

Gregoire & I have reached Anchorage the 25th of August. Anchorage is the first Alaskan city, which is the widest State of the USA. We have been hosted there by one of the kindest man we ever met, Matt Duncan, who is a couchsurfing member, and who hosted our friends, the Travelling Farmers, a few months ago.

Matt often welcomes foreigners, and makes them a little more familiar with the local culture « It’s my hobby » he said. He generously offered us a full room where we could gear up for our most feared challenge : Getting a car. Matt is sceptical. He warns us that Alaskan cars are often spoiled and expensive.

Chilling on the couch with Matt
 Chilling on the couch with Matt

A bit worried by his warning, we start our research by diving into Craigslist. We arrange three appointments. The first guy does not show up, the second one, whose name is Sergei, brings us a very tired car. He understands that we need a solid and trustworthy one, as our trip is going to be pursued on more than 4000 miles. He advises us to keep on searching.

Hopefully, our third appointment is the good one. Kevin, a mormon bishop, brings us his Kia Sedona Minivan. Even if its outside aspect is not perfect, the motor runs great and the car is clean. He introduces us to every single detail of the vehicule. We immediatly decide to buy the car.

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Kevin is impressed by our project, and offers us a good price, plus some dryed salmon, two alaskan headbands and two Books of Mormon, his sacred book. We are extremely touched by his kindness that seems to be spread amongst the Alaskan people.

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Our days are intense in Anchorage. We have to insure the car, to register it, we have to gear up for a three-week camping trip in Canada… But we manage to respect our planning and to leave the 28th for Denali national Park. We take a long walk there, where we can see this beautiful wilderness area, and try to take a glance to Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.

Dall sheeps running on the mountain
Dall sheeps running on the mountain
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Antoine tries to call for bears

We then leave for Fairbanks, the most northerner spot of our journey. There, we met Audrey, one of the few french women who leaves in Fairbanks, Mike, his husband, who is a pilot in the American Air Force, and their little girl Claire. Thanks to their extremely generous hospitality we manage to avoid the first steps of the Alaskan fall, and to write those few lines without shivering.

Audrey, Claire, Mike and us in Fairbanks
Audrey, Claire, Mike and us in Fairbanks

What about water ?

Of course, you are eager to hear us talk about the central theme of our project. This first week has mostly been about getting prepared for the trip, but we still noticed a few things we would like to share with you.

In a few days, Barack Obama is coming to Alaska in order to « meet the people that already experience global warming ». The amount of glaciers that are spreading in Alaska is getting smaller, and there, it is easy to observe the violent effect of global warming on glacier melting.

Margaret, a friend of Matt, grew up in Alaska. She explained us that glaciers from Katmai Peninsula, backed out for miles since she first went there as a kid. The Alaskan wilderness and people are threatened by this radical change of their landscape.

Those informations that fell on our way, bootstrapped us for what is to come.

Thanks a lot for following us. And as you read us until the very end, here is a little marmot picture. We know, it is really cute. You are welcome 🙂

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See you soon !

Aquamerica, our program !

One week before leaving for Anchorage, we are getting ready for our great journey ! In a few days, we will be « On the road », driving « Into the wild ». During our first 4 months, we will cross North America, fom Anchorage to Mexico. Here are the first steps of our journey.

1.Discovering the wild North.

When ? From 25/08/2015 to the 20/09/2015.

Where ? Alaska, Yukon, British Colombia and Alberta.

denali

We will start our journey in Anchorage, Alaska, where our first challenge will be to find a car to ride ! Once this challenge is completed, we will cross the great landscapes of the North. Denali, Jasper, Banff and Glacier are waiting for us.

During this part of the journey, we will meet a glaciologist in Vancouver who will introduce us to the issues linked to glacier melting and global warming.

2.One month in a Bison Ranch.

When ? From the 20/09/2015 to the 16/10/2015.

Where ? Melville, Montana.

bison

For a month, we will stop the road trip and work in a bison farm in which we will try to get closer from our childhood dream of becoming a cow boy. We will discover the great fields of Montana and focus there on the use of water in agriculture. Did you know that in order to produce 1 Kg of beef meat, you need 15 000 liters of water ?

3. Discovering the West Coast

When ? From the 16/10/2015 to the 15/11/2015

Where ? Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona.

sf

We will pursue our trip while heading south, towards warmer States. Some famous cities are gonna be in our way, like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Phoenix. Great landscapes too, as we are going to cross Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Death Valley.

But more importantly, we will discuss about the enormous issue that the Californian drought is causing for the United States. Every year, there is less rain in California. Huge populations are waiting for it to pour down and, between Californian farms, Nevada golfs and the millions of people living there, the stress surrounding the resource is getting thicker.

4. Reaching Mexico !

When ? From the 16/11/2015 to the 20/12/2015.

Where ? Mexico city, Mexico.

mexico

Buenos Dias America Latina !

For a month, we will stay in Mexico DF in order to understand the issues dry countries encounter  when trying to obtain fresh water. We will be in direct relation with mexican entrepreneurs that are trying to resolve this great issue for Mexico. And it will make Antoine practice his spanish :).

If you happen to be on our way, warn us ! We would be glad to meet you 🙂 !

Itinerary

See you soon !

The origins of our project

Hi everybody !

One month before leaving for Anchorage, we wanted to share with you the reasons that motivated us to study fresh water issues abroad, during a 7-months journey across America.

First of all, we were interested by the uniqueness of this resource. Fresh water is everywhere and it is a daily matter for human beings. We need a couple liters of it a day to survive. It composes 65% of our bodies. 70% of the use we make of it is toward agriculture, in order to produce the food we eat. Its presence structures cities, countries, mountain ranges, ecosystems…. Nobody ignores its importance. Subsequently, fresh water aquired an unpaired symbolic power, from rain dances of Cherokee natives to the rituals of the three monotheisms.

rain-dance

In a nutshell, you understand that such a theme is hard to deal with while walking straight.

That is the reason why we decided to make our study more precisely restricted. As business students, it seemed interesting to ask the following question : How should we cope and trade such a resource ?

Can we make benefits out of it ? Should it be free ?

One would be likely to answer a bit too quickly to this question. « No, water should not be a matter of profit. Yes, it should be free ». The problem is that in many countries, like in France for example, it is almost not possible to find drinkable water in the nature. As in many countries in the world, pollution and pesticides  have slowly spoiled waters that used to be drinkable as they sprang.

Now, we have to treat it. We have to hire people to make it drinkable. We need technologies, investments to provide fresh water to people. We need to spend money to get water. If we need to spend money then it means we need incomes. And if we need incomes… We might need a price. And we are back on the ethical matter of a price for a fundamental resource.

dol

Should we finance fresh water with taxes ? Should we deal with private companies ? Do we need local policies, global policies ? We understand quickly that it is difficult to answer too fast to such a quantity of issues. General rules have to be excluded when studying water issues.

That is why Gregoire and I have decided to discover this fascinating resource under this economic perspective. Thanks to many encounters, we will try together to get a better idea of those issues, and we will share our conclusions with you 🙂 !

See you soon ! 

Sources: 

  1. L’avenir de l’eau, Erik Orsenna
  2. Centre d’information sur l’eau
  3. http://www.currentresults.com