Alpine Research

 Sherpa script on stones below Mount Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam, Nepal

Sherpa script on stones below Mount Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam, Nepal

Lead Researcher, Adaptation to hydrological change in high mountain socio-ecological systems

My doctoral research aims to 1) characterize and compare how select communities in the Nepal Himalaya and Peruvian Andes are experiencing and responding to climate-related changes in glacier hydrology and 2) to identify guiding principles for adaptation plans that foster improvements in human well-being while safeguarding the integrity of fragile mountain environments. The project integrates insights from the human dimensions of climate change literature, socio-ecological systems research, and the perspectives of residents in globally significant high mountain regions. It contributes to the advancement of integrative mountain-focused climate change adaptation research, while also providing actionable recommendations for successfully navigating the challenges and opportunities of climate change in mountain areas. Supervision is provided by Drs. Michele Koppes, Leila Harris, Kai Chan, and Martin Price (UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Mountain Development).

Related publications:

McDowell, G., Huggel, C., Frey, H., Wang, F., Cramer, R., Ricciardi, V. (In Review) Adaptation action and research in glaciated mountain systems: Are they enough to meet the challenge of climate change? Global Environmental Change.

McDowell, G. & Koppes, M. (2017) Robust adaptation research in high mountains: Integrating the scientific, social, and ecological dimensions of glacio-hydrological change. Water 9: 739. (Special Issue - Global Warming Impacts on Mountain Glaciers and Communities).

Lead Researcher, Adaptation in mountain systems (AIMS)

This study developed a typology of the challenge of climate change in glaciated mountain systems and used formal systematic review methods to critically evaluate existing adaptation actions and research in light of this framework. In addition to providing a typology of climate-related challenges in mountain systems, the project updated, refined, and significantly expanded the research protocol used in my earlier systematic review work (below). The study discusses the consequences of observed shortcomings and identifies recommendations for more fully meeting the unique challenges of climate change in glaciated mountain systems. This review was conducted to support the IPCC SROCC High Mountain Areas chapter.

Related publications:

McDowell, G., Huggel, C., Frey, H., Wang, F., Cramer, R., Ricciardi, V. (In Review) Adaptation action and research in glaciated mountain systems: Are they enough to meet the challenge of climate change? Global Environmental Change.

Lead Researcher, Systematic review of climate change adaptation in glaciated mountains

This study systematically assessed what is known about human adaptation to climate change in glaciated mountain regions. It utilized formal systematic review methods to examine the peer-reviewed English language literature and provided a clear assessment of the current state of knowledge (e.g. adaptation where, by whom, to what stressors, by what means, and with what effect). The study contributes to an emerging literature tracking on-the-ground adaptation processes and outcomes, and has helped to inform research/policy agendas for addressing key knowledge gaps. For example, study results were profiled at a mountain themed meeting for the development of post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Related publications:

McDowell, G., Stephenson, E., Ford. J. (2014) Adaptation to climate change in glaciated mountain regions. Climatic Change 126: 77-91.

McDowell, G., Stephenson, E., Ford. J. (2016) Adaptation, Adaptation Science, and the Status of Adaptation in Mountain Regions. In Climate Change Adaptation Strategies: An Upstream-Downstream Lens, eds. Salzmann, N., Huggel, C., Nussbaumer, S., & Ziervogel, G. Springer.

Lead Researcher, The role of organizational cooperation in addressing landscape scale stressors         

This study examined how North American environmental management strategies are evolving in light of challenges posed by landscape-scale stressors (e.g. climate change and habitat fragmentation). It focused on a case study of the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GNLCC) and investigated how and to what extent the GNLCC, its partners, and other stakeholders are working together to overcome environmental, political, and jurisdictional challenges. I applied a novel social network analysis methodology and drew on political and biophysical sciences to make explicit the challenges and opportunities of organizational cooperation in addressing landscape-scale stressors in the Rocky Mountain region.

Related publications:

McDowell, G. (2012). The role of bridging organizations in facilitating socio-ecological transformation: A case study of the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, MSc Thesis. University of Oxford, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford, UK.

Lead Researcher, The human dimensions of climate change in the Nepal Himalaya   

This study was concerned with understanding the relationship between climate-related hydrological changes (e.g. glacial recession) and human well-being in the mountainous Khumbu region of Eastern Nepal. I conducted two months of high altitude community-based fieldwork, identified consequential vulnerabilities and their causes, and investigated vulnerability reducing options compatible with Khumbu’s unique socio-cultural conditions and limited economic capabilities.

Related publications:

McDowell, G., Ford, J., 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: 299-310.

McDowell, G. (2011). The human dimensions of climate change in the Khumbu Region of Nepal: Implications of hydrological modification. BA Honours Thesis. McGill University, Department of Geography, Montréal, QC.