Climatic Change

, Volume 126, Issue 1–2, pp 77–91 | Cite as

Adaptation to climate change in glaciated mountain regions

  • Graham McDowellEmail author
  • Eleanor Stephenson
  • James Ford


Understanding of the human dimensions of climate change (HDCC) in glaciated mountain regions is limited by a deficit in systematically collated information on where, to what stressors, by whom, at what scale, and with what effect adaptation is occurring. This paper presents a systematic literature review of the recent English language peer-reviewed scholarship on adaptation in glaciated mountain regions. 4050 potentially relevant articles were examined, with 36 included for full review. Results indicate that scholarly investigation into adaptation in glaciated mountains is presently limited to only 40 % of countries with alpine glaciation. Seventy-four discrete adaptation initiatives were identified, with most occurring in Peru (28 %), Nepal (22 %) and India (17 %). Many documented adaptations were initiated in response to intersecting stressors related to cryospheric change and socio-economic development; were autonomous and initiated in reaction to experienced climatic stimuli; and were carried out at the individual, family, or community scale. The study contributes to an emerging literature tracking on-the-ground adaptation processes and outcomes, and identifies a need to raise the profile of human adaptation in glaciated mountain regions within the HDCC scholarship. A research agenda for addressing key knowledge gaps and questions is developed, providing a framework for future investigation.


Adaptive Capacity Climate Change Adaptation Adaptation Plan Human Adaptation Glaciate Mountain 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Gratitude is expressed to two anonymous reviewers who provided insightful and constructive feedback on the article. The authors are also appreciative of Dr. Lea Berrang-Ford’s advice on study design and Adam Bonnycastle’s assistance with map production. This study was supported by funding from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Supplementary material

10584_2014_1215_MOESM1_ESM.docx (169 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 169 kb)


  1. Adger N, Arnell NW, Tompkins EL (2005) Successful adaptation to climate change across scales. Global Environmental Change 15:77–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adger WN (2003) Social capital, collective action, and adaptation to climate change. Economic Geography 79:387–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agrawal A (2010) Local institutions and adaptation to climate change. Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Equity and Vulnerability in a Warming World Washington DC, World Bank:173-198Google Scholar
  4. Barnett J, O’Neill S (2010) Maladaptation. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 20:211–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beniston M (2003) Climatic change in mountain regions: a review of possible impacts. Climatic Change 59:5–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beniston M, Stoffel M, Hill M (2011) Impacts of climatic change on water and natural hazards in the alps: Can current water governance cope with future challenges? examples from the european “ACQWA” project. Environ Sci Policy 14:734–743CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berrang-Ford L, Dingle K, Ford JD, Lee C (2012) Vulnerability of indigenous health to climate change: a case study of Uganda’s batwa pygmies. Social Science & Medicine 75:1067–1077CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berrang-Ford L, Ford JD, Paterson J (2011) Are we adapting to climate change? Global Environmental Change 21:25–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berrang-Ford L, Pearce T, Ford J (2014) Systematic review approaches for climate change adaptation research. Regional Environmental ChangeGoogle Scholar
  10. Biesbroek GR, Klostermann JEM, Termeer CJAM, Kabat P (2013) On the nature of barriers to climate change adaptation. Regional Environmental Change Published on-line ahead of printGoogle Scholar
  11. Biesbroek GR, Swart RJ, Carter TR, Cowan C et al (2010) Europe adapts to climate change - comparing national adaptation strategies. Global Environmental Change 20:440–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Biggar J (2013) Countries with permanent glaciers. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from
  13. Bizikova, L, Parry, J, Dekens, J, Echeverria D (2014). Review of key initiatives and approaches to adaptation planning at the national level in semi-arid areas. Regional Environmental ChangeGoogle Scholar
  14. Blaikie P, Brookfield H (1987) Land degradation and society, Methuen & Co. LtdGoogle Scholar
  15. Bury J, Mark BG, Carey M, Young KR et al (2013) New geographies of water and climate change in Peru: coupled natural and social transformations in the Santa river watershed. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 103:363–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chaudhary P, Rai S, Wangdi S, Mao A, Rehman N, Chettri S, Bawa KS (2011) Consistency of local perceptions of climate change in the kangchenjunga Himalaya landscape. Curr Sci 101:504–513Google Scholar
  17. Condom T, Escobar M, Purkey D, Pouget JC et al (2012) Simulating the implications of glaciers’ retreat for water management: a case study in the Rio Santa basin, Peru. Water International 37:442–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball S et al (2009) Managing the health effects of climate change. Lancet 373:1693–1733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Deng M, Qin D, Zhang H (2012) Public perceptions of climate and cryosphere change in typical arid inland river areas of China: Facts, impacts and selections of adaptation measures. Quaternary International 282:48–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dovers S (2009) Normalizing adaptation. Global Environmental Change 19:4–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dupuis J, Biesbroek R (2013) Comparing apples and oranges: the dependent variable problem in comparing and evaluating climate change adaptation policies. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 23:1476–1487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Eakin H, Luers A (2006) Assessing the vulnerability of social-environmental systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 31:365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fazey I, Kesby M, Evely A, Latham I et al (2010) A three-tiered approach to participatory vulnerability assessment in the solomon islands. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 20:713–728CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fazey I, Pettorelli N, Kenter J, Wagatora D, Schuett D (2011) Maladaptive trajectories of change in makira, Solomon islands. Global Enviromental Change 21:1275–1289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ford JD (2009) Vulnerability of Inuit food systems to food insecurity as a consequence of climate change: a case study from igloolik, Nunavut. Regional Environmental Change 9:83–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ford JD, Berrang Ford L, King M, Furgal C (2010) Vulnerability of aboriginal health systems in canada to climate change. Global Environmental Change 20:668–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ford JD, Berrang-Ford L, Lesnikowski A, Barrera M, Heymann SJ (2013a) How to track adaptation to climate change: a typology of approaches for national-level application. Ecology and Society 18Google Scholar
  28. Ford JD, Berrang-Ford L, Patterson J (2011) A systematic review of observed climate change adaptation in developed nations. Climatic Change LettersGoogle Scholar
  29. Ford JD, Bolton K, Shirley J, Pearce T, Tremblay M, Westlake M (2012) Mapping human dimensions of climate change research in the Canadian arctic. Ambio 41:808–822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ford JD, McDowell G, Shirley J, Pitre M et al (2013b) The dynamic multiscale nature of climate change vulnerability: an Inuit harvesting example. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 103:1193–1211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ford JD, Smit B, Wandel J (2006) Vulnerability to climate change in the arctic: a case study from arctic bay, Canada. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 16:145–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ford, JD, Berrang-Ford, L, Bunce, A, McKay, C, Irwin, M, Pearce T (2014) The current status of climate change adaptation in Africa and Asia. Regional Environmental ChangeGoogle Scholar
  33. Forsyth T (2013) Community-based adaptation: a review of past and future challenges. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews-Climate Change 4:439–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Furunes T, Mykletun RJ (2012) Frozen adventure at risk? a 7-year follow-up study of Norwegian glacier tourism. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism 12:324–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Fussel H, Klein R (2006) Climate change vulnerability assessments: an evolution of conceptual thinking. Climatic Change 75:301–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Giacomelli P, Rossetti A, Brambilla M (2008) Adapting water allocation management to drought scenarios. Natural Hazards and Earth System Science 8:293–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Heidrich O, Dawson RJ, Reckien D, Walsh CL (2013) Assessment of the climate preparedness of 30 urban areas in the UK. Climatic Change 120:771–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Huddleston B, Ataman E, de Salvo P, Zanetti Mand others (2003) Towards a GIS-based analysis of mountain environments and populations, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsGoogle Scholar
  39. IPCC (2007) Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  40. IPCC (2013) Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  41. Lemos MC, Boyd E, Tompkins EL, Osbahr H, Liverman D (2007) Developing adaptation and adapting development. Ecology and Society 12:26Google Scholar
  42. Lesnikowski A, Ford J, Berrang-Ford L, Barrera M, Berry P, Henderson J, Heymann SJ (2013) National-level factors affecting likelihood to adapt to the health effects of climate change. Global Environmental Change 23:1153–1163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lesnikowski A, Ford J, Berrang-Ford L, Paterson J, Barrera M, Heymann S (2011) Adapting to health impacts of climate change: a study of UNFCCC annex I parties. Environmental Research Letters 6:044009CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lesnikowski A, Ford JD, Berrang-Ford L, Barrera M, Heymann J (2014) How are we adapting to climate change? A systematic approach to measuring reported adaptation at the national level. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global ChangeGoogle Scholar
  45. Marino E, Ribot J (2012) Special issue introduction: adding insult to injury: climate change and the inequities of climate intervention. Global Environmental Change 22:323–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Marston RA (2008) Land, life, and environmental change in mountains. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 98:507–520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McDowell G, Ford JD, Lehner B, Berrang-Ford L, Sherpa A (2013) Climate-related hydrological change and human vulnerability in remote mountain regions: a case study from khumbu, Nepal. Regional Environmental Change 13:299–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. McDowell JZ, Hess JJ (2012) Accessing adaptation: multiple stressors on livelihoods in the Bolivian highlands under a changing climate. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 22:342–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McMichael T, Montgomery H, Costello A (2012) Health risks, present and future, from global climate change. Bmj-British Medical Journal 344Google Scholar
  50. Meenawat H, Sovacool BK (2011) Improving adaptive capacity and resilience in Bhutan. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 16:515–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG (2009) Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the prisma statement. Annals of internal medicine 151:264–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Moors EJ, Groot A, Biemans H, Van Scheltinga CT et al (2011) Adaptation to changing water resources in the Ganges basin, northern India. Environmental Science and Policy 14:758–769CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. O’Brien KL, Leichenko RM (2000) Double exposure: assessing the impacts of climate change within the context of economic globalization. Global Environmental Change 10:221–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Orlove BS, Guillet DW (1985) Theoretical and methodological considerations on the study of mountain peoples: Reflections on the idea of subsistence type and the role of history in human ecology. Mountain Research and Development:3-18Google Scholar
  55. Pearce T, Ford JD, Duerden F, Smit B, Andrachuk M, Berrang-Ford L, Smith T (2011) Advancing adaptation planning for climate change in the Inuvialuit settlement region (isr): a review and critique. Regional Environmental Change 11:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pearce TD, Ford JD, Laidler GJ, Smit B et al (2009) Community collaboration and climate change research in the Canadian arctic. Polar Research 28:10–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Peet R, Robbins P, Watts M (2011) Global political ecology. Taylor & Francis US, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  58. Petheram L, Zander KK, Campbell BM, High C, Stacey N (2010) ‘Strange changes’: Indigenous perspectives of climate change and adaptation in NE Arnhem land (Australia). Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 20:681–692CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Plummer R, de Loe R, Armitage D (2012) A systematic review of water vulnerability assessment tools. Water Resources Management 26:4327–4346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Poutiainen C, Berrang-Ford L, Ford J, Heymann J (2013) Civil society organizations and adaptation to the health effects of climate change in Canada. Public health 127:403–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reed MS, Podesta G, Fazey I, Geeson N et al (2013) Combining analytical frameworks to assess livelihood vulnerability to climate change and analyse adaptation options. Ecological Economics 94:66–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ritter F, Fiebig M, Muhar A (2012) Impacts of global warming on mountaineering: a classification of phenomena affecting the alpine trail network. Mountain Research and Development 32:4–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rixen C, Teich M, Lardelli C, Gallati D, Pohl M, Putz M, Bebi P (2011) Winter tourism and climate change in the alps: an assessment of resource consumption, snow reliability, and future snowmaking potential. Mountain Research and Development 31:229–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Scott JC (1998) Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed, Yale University PressGoogle Scholar
  65. Sherman M, Berrang Ford L, Ford J, Lardeau M, Hofmeijer I, Zavaleta C (2012) Balancing indigenous principles and institutional research guidelines for informed consent: a case study from the Peruvian amazon. American Journal of Bioethics: Primary Research 3:53–68Google Scholar
  66. Sherman M, Ford J (2014) Market engagement and food insecurity after a climatic hazard. Global Food Security 2:144–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Smit B, Burton I, Klein RJ, Wandel J (2000) An anatomy of adaptation to climate change and variability. Climatic Change 45:223–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Smit B, Pilifosova O (2003) Adaptation to climate change in the context of sustainable development and equity. Sustainable Development 8:9Google Scholar
  69. Smit B, Wandel J (2006) Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability. Global Environmental Change 16:282–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Snilstveit B, Oliver S, Vojtkova M (2012) Narrative approaches to systematic review and synthesis of evidence for international development policy and practice. Journal of Development Effectiveness 4:409–429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Steiger R, Mayer M (2008) Snowmaking and climate change future options for snow production in tyrolean ski resorts. Mountain Research and Development 28:292–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Stevens S (1993) Claiming the high ground: sherpas, subsistence, and environmental change in the highest Himalaya. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, DelhiGoogle Scholar
  73. Stucker D, Kazbekov J, Yakubov M, Wegerich K (2012) Climate change in a small transboundary tributary of the syr darya calls for effective cooperation and adaptation. Mountain Research and Development 32:275–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Thompson HE, Berrang-Ford L, Ford JD (2010) Climate change and food security in sub-Saharan africa: a systematic literature review. Sustainability 2:2719–2733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Thornton TF, Manasfi N (2010) Adaptation genuine and spurious: demystifying adaptation processes in relation to climate change. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 1:132–155Google Scholar
  76. Viviroli D, Archer DR, Buytaert W, Fowler HJ et al (2011) Climate change and mountain water resources: overview and recommendations for research, management and policy. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 15:471–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wang S, He Y, Song X (2010) Impacts of climate warming on alpine glacier tourism and adaptive measures: a case study of baishui glacier no. 1 in yulong snow mountain, southwestern china. Journal of Earth Science 21:166–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. White H, Waddington H (2012) Why do we care about evidence synthesis? an introduction to the special issue on systematic reviews. Journal of Development Effectiveness 4:351–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Xu J, Grumbine RE, Shrestha A, Eriksson M, Yang X, Wang Y, Wilkes A (2009) The melting Himalayas: cascading effects of climate change on water, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Conservation Biology 23:520–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Yao T, Thompson LG, Mosbrugger V, Zhang F et al (2012) Third pole environment (TPE). Environmental Development 3:52–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Zurick D, Karan PP, Pacheco J (1999) Himalaya: life on the edge of the world. Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham McDowell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eleanor Stephenson
    • 1
  • James Ford
    • 1
  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations