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Banff weekend focuses on alpine concerns

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Scientists meet to discuss state of the world’s mountains

Shrinking glaciers and increasing pollutants in snowpacks will be high on the agenda at the second annual Mountain Community conference in Banff.

Scientists and researchers from around the world will converge at the resort town this weekend to focus on climate change and air quality issues as they relate to alpine terrain everywhere.

They will come from as far away as Australia, Switzerland and Japan to meet their North American counterparts at the Banff Centre, from Sept. 6 to 10.

"It very quickly becomes obvious to (the scientists) that the issues and the problems and even the potential shared solutions are so similar in mountain areas around the world," said Leslie Taylor, associate director, Mountain Culture at the Banff Centre.

"We all really have a lot to learn from each other."

A select group of scientists and researchers will be presenting papers and their findings to the roughly 100 participants.

Among the topics being discussed are the dramatic effects of climate change and how it is impacting plant and animal habitats and the increase of contaminants in mountain areas and how they are effecting the world’s drinking water.

"I think that mountain areas around the world are much more important to their flatland neighbourhoods than a lot of people realize," said Taylor.

"They are a hugely important source of drinking water. They are a refuge of biodiversity. They are a place for people’s inspiration and recreation."

This concern about mountain regions prompted the United Nations to declare 2002 the International Year of Mountains. The object is to promote the conservation and sustainable development of mountain areas around the world.

At the moment there are some dramatic trends in mountain regions which could have far-reaching impacts.

In the Rockies, glacier cover has decreased by 25 per cent during the last century.

This trend is echoed throughout the world.

In the Alps and the Caucasus Mountains glaciers have shrunk to half their size. Meanwhile, in Africa only eight per cent of Mount Kenya’s largest glacier remains.

But Taylor, one of the main organizers of the conference, said the melting glaciers do not concern her as much as the levels of contamination in alpine regions.

"The deposition of pesticides and other chemicals from other parts of the world in high mountain lakes and glaciers which are at the very top of our water supply for most of our continent, that’s something recent and, I think, worrisome."

On the positive side she said the conference allows the researchers to meet and pool their knowledge.

"They meet another scientist from another part of the world who is doing research that relates to theirs and they have someone new that they can ask questions of and have them bounce ideas off," said Taylor.

"What often comes out of those networks is collaboration of new kinds of research, which I think is a really exciting result."

The Ecological and Earth Sciences in Mountains Areas (EESMA) conference is the second in the Mountain Community series in Banff.

While the series is only scheduled to last for five years Taylor is hoping it will continue past that timeline.

"...Because mountain areas are so important and because they have been less studied than some other parts of the world, it’s really important to gather the science and to inspire people to create new research projects that will bring us more information about this important area."

The 2003 conference, which will take place in June, will tackle sustainability in mountain communities, highlighting issues like diminishing resources and sustainable tourism.

Taylor said this topic will be of particular interest in Western Canada and she is hoping to attract mayors and councillors in the west who can take the information back to their mountain communities and do some work on the ground level.

For the time being however, the focus remains on climate change and air pollution issues and their ramifications up high.

The conference is open to the public at a cost of $100 for a day or $200 for three days.

"Certainly I think that interested and informed members of the public would find it fascinating," said Taylor.

"It is, however, a scientific conference and the research that is being presented is not going to be presented in a popularized format. It is going to be presented as the scientists talk about it."

For those who are interested but cannot attend there will be a record of the papers and all the discussions.

"We can get the information out to people quickly and in an affordable format," said Taylor.

For more information log on to www.banffcentre.ca/mountainculture/mtconferences/eesma/

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