Mountain peaks and glaciers are widely recognised to be important and substantial stores of fresh water (in the form of ice and snow) and vital aspects for the functioning of the global water cycle.
It is also widely acknowledged that they are essential in global climate regulation. However, these prominent features, which source most of the worlds’ major rivers, should not be looked at as independent from the other important features of mountain ecosystems.
“Mountain ecosystems such as mountain forests, cloud forests, wetlands and grasslands play vital roles in water storage and supply, erosion prevention, reduction of peak flows, reduction of flood risks, water filtering and improvement of water quality.” Download: UNESCO, 2013, ‘Climate Change impacts on Mountain Regions of the World.pdf
The rich biodiversity within these mountain ecosystems is also a crucial part of maintaining the global water cycle, forming and sustaining mountain glaciers and feeding and regulating streams, rivers, reservoirs and water tables.
“Given their important role in water supply and regulation, the protection, sustainable management and restoration of mountain ecosystems will be essential.” Download: UNESCO, 2013, ‘Climate Change impacts on Mountain Regions of the World.pdf
Compared to the grandeur of the great snow covered peaks, mountain forests may seem unimportant. However the health of mixed mountain forests and biodiversity has many far-reaching impacts upon global water and climate.
“Mountain forests also occupy a crucial position in terms of climate change, representing fundamental ecosystems for the health of the planet. As a matter of fact, they protect the Earth and contribute to shielding the atmosphere from CO2 emissions.” Download: Mountain Forests in a Changing World, FAO,2011.pdf
Mountain biodiversity is not simply a beautiful adornment to mountain sceneries, it is a fundamental mechanism within the life sustaining cycle that carries freshwater around the Earth and sustains all of our lives.
“The volumes of water that trees use to grow and return to the atmosphere through transpiration are considerable, thus modifying the hydrological cycle.” (FAO, 2011, ‘Mountain Forests in a Changing World’ Download: Mountain Forests in a Changing World, FAO,2011.pdf
With emphasis on biodiversity, protecting, restoring and maintaining global mountain ecosystems is one of the priority action plans that is needed in order to secure the long-term sustainability of the global water cycle.
“The ecological linkages between water, wetlands and forests represent the intricate interdependence of our ecosystems and our resources. Forests play a pivotal role in the hydrological cycle by affecting rates of transpiration and evaporation, and influencing how water is routed and stored in a watershed.” Download: UNEP, CBD, 2010, ‘Water, Wetlands and Forests.pdf
Thus greater awareness is needed, so that the global community as a whole, comes to understand and appreciate the irreplaceable importance of mixed biodiversity, for mountain ecosystems with their snows and glaciers, as well as for their own long term wellbeing.
“Trees also intercept snow, which is partly lost through sublimation; and reduce winter snowmelt and delay spring
snowmelt, which can offset the interception losses.” Download: FAO, Mountain Forests in a Changing World, 2011.pdf