Vol 1 N° 2 [January–March 2003]



p 2 - The International Year of Mountains NEWS
p 7 - UNESCO to study Aral Sea Basin
p 8 - 18 new sites added to World Network of Biosphere Reserves p 8 - The International Year of Freshwater gets under way
p 9 - UNESCO and Suez join forces to improve access to water
p 9 - UNITWIN blows out ten candles
p 10 - Space allows us to dream
p 10 - Young researchers win MAB grants

p 11 - Patricio Bernal explains why the IOC is ‘watching’ research on ocean storage of carbon

p 14 - Practical laboratory work: to be or not to be?

p 16 - Diary
p 16 - New releases
p 16 - Governing bodies

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'Feet on the ground, head in the clouds'

Mountains are extraordinary. Who could not marvel at the sight of giraffes grazing against the backdrop of snow-capped Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or at the Atlas mountains surging out of the Moroccan desert?

We admire their beauty but how conscious are we of the essential role mountains play in regulating the Earth’s climate and energy balance, in recording Earth’s history and in supplying us with freshwater and much of the world’s remaining genetic diversity, including precious crop genes? Mountains have been called ‘the water towers of the world’; they are the source of water for more than half the world's population and the origin of all the world's major rivers.

Majestic they may be, but mountains also harbour fragile ecosystems. Their often thin soil layers erode easily, limiting plant growth and making mountains vulnerable to human disturbance. Mountains also have a long history of economic exploitation and political neglect.

Global climate change is now posing new threats, causing glaciers to melt at unprecedented rates and increasing the frequency of natural catastrophes with their heavy human and economic toll.

As we shall see in this issue, there is obvious call for concern, both in terms of the biophysical environment of mountains and the deteriorating living conditions of their 500 million human inhabitants.

It was in order to foster awareness of the importance of mountains and sustainable mountain development that the United Nations designated 2002 as International Year of Mountains.

The highlight of the Year for UNESCO has undoubtedly been the launch of a global climate change monitoring programme with several of the Organization’s major research partners and involving UNESCO’s mountain biosphere reserves. Through this important project, UNESCO will be setting up monitoring stations in ‘sample’ biosphere reserves to collect data on the effects of climate warming on some of the most diverse of Earth’s ecosystems.

W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

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