The needle in the haystack: finding climate-driven changes among the multiple interlinked changes affecting mountain agroecosystem in Spain

This summer, taking advantage of a small window of improvement in the COVID-19 crisis, LICCI collaborators Laura Levy and Joana Blanch, as well as LICCI core team member Petra Benyei, have been conducting their fieldwork in three mountain agroecosystems in Spain: Alpujarra Alta, Vall de Cardós and Cabrales, in the Sierra Nevada, Pyrenees and Picos de Europa mountain ranges.

These areas, although ecologically and climatically distinct, hold certain similarities in terms of their isolation and average altitude (with some villages above 2000 m.a.s.l). Moreover, some of these areas are still home to abundant crop diversity. The study sites also have suffered similar processes of progressive rural depopulation, agricultural industrialization and integration in the EU regulatory and budgetary frameworks that, in less than 60 years, have severely transformed the local environment.

While keeping social distancing and using masks, the researchers were able to talk with about 60 elderly informants that have been active in the local agroecosystems (as professional farmers or as home gardeners) for more than three decades and that has a profound knowledge about the changes in the systems and in the crop and livestock diversity in the area.

Preliminary results point out to the fact that most cropping systems have been abandoned in these areas since farmers have retired and/or agriculture has been substituted by cattle grazing, tourism and construction activities. Informants also pointed out the increasing diversity of plants grown for food in the local home gardens in parallel to the loss of traditional landraces.

However, the drastic changes in lifestyles and the prioritization of less labor intensive farming activities to fit an increasing depopulation and farmer ageing are highlighted as the main drivers behind these changes.

Homegarden in Cabrales

Thus, it is now the task of these researchers to pull the thread and find the needle in the haystack: those changes in crop diversity and farming systems that are also driven by the reported climate change impacts such as the decrease in snowfall, the increasing precipitation variability, the increasing temperatures and seasonal droughts or the disappearance of seasons.

Village in Alpujarra Alta
Homegarden in Vall de Cardòs

Members of the LICCI team for a day: a role play

LICCI team members prepared a role play that took place last Saturday (11th July) with a group of 15 high school students. The objective was to understand the local impacts of climate change. Working in three groups and on different case studies, students dived into the work of the LICCI team.

Students had different roles (e.g. meteorologist, anthropologist, historian, climate activist, disseminator, citizen engaged in citizen science, etc.) in order to look at local climate change impacts from an inter-disciplinary perspective.

This initiative was organized within the framework of “Bojos per la Ciència”, a program financed by “Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera” that aims at encouraging scientific vocations by organizing theoretical-practical sessions given by a wide-range of research groups in Catalonia.

LICCI on air in Spain

María Garteizgogeascoa and David Garcia (LICCI core team) spoke on Aragón Radio about their project conducted in Sierra Nevada (Spain), which presented a novel way of using the local knowledge embodied in proverbs to explore climate change impacts at local scales.

You can listen to the interview (in Spanish) here:

We are hiring!

Apply now to be the Project officer (half time) of our new project ICCION – “Indigenous Climate Change Impacts Observation Network”. ICCION aims at bringing IPLC’s knowledge and perspectives to climate change policy fora. The position is based at the ICTA-UAB and the person hired will work in close collaboration with the LICCI team.

You will be: (1) coordinating, organizing, and facilitating Dialogue workshops with representatives of IPLC’s, (2) collecting the feedback generated in these workshops to be inputted in the Citizen Science platform, (3) preparing materials for research outreach and (4) facilitating the creation of a network of Indigenous Peoples interested in local knowledge and climate change impacts.

Your profile:

> great teamwork facilitator

> good interpersonal skills

> proficient digital literacy (including knowledge of social networks, i.e., twitter, fb)

> master time management

> fluent in English

For the full call text and all details, click: ICCION call

Deadline for applications: July 15, 2020

*Please note that to apply you should: (i) send a cover letter and an updated CV to and (ii) enter the information at UAB portal (, opening the electronic form “2020PILEUA84 – Institut de Ciència i Tecnologies Ambientals – LG1Q”).

Letter to decarbonize research through funding rules

LICCI core-team members & colleagues have written a letter suggesting new rules that coordinate the decarbonization of research activities. The letter will be submitted to an academic journal, but to make the petition stronger, we would like the petition to be supported by scientists from several disciplines and academic fields. We are thus, requesting you to read this short letter and, if in agreement, sign it by providing the information requested. The letter can be signed until the coming Sunday 31st May. Thanks for your support!

Sign the letter here: Decarbonize research through funding rules

First virtual LICCI training workshop: despite the distance, a big success

Last week took place the first online LICCI training workshop. It gave us the opportunity to connect with researchers and practitioners based in different parts of the world and working with climate change and local communities, to discuss other possibilities for data collection.

With the difficult circumstances in the Covid-19 pandemic, the LICCI team is adjusting towards more flexible ways to collaborate, engage and reach out. This workshop was initially designed to be the first of a series of regional face-to-face training workshops to be conducted in Europe, Latin America, Oceania and Asia. The virtual edition showed that it is possible to build bridges, create synergies, and establish new collaborations to expand the LICCI network despite physical distance. The strategy also reduces our carbon footprint.

We would like to thank all participants who so generously shared their time, motivation and enthusiasm with us. It is a pleasure to have you on board! For those interested in applying the LICCI protocols, all the sessions were recorded and the videos will be soon available in our website.

Participants in the LICCI online training workshop

Exploring climate change through proverbs in Sierra Nevada (Spain)

A new study, published in the journal Regional Environmental Change, presents a novel way of using the local knowledge embodied in proverbs to explore climate change impacts at local scales.

The study took place in Sierra Nevada (Southern Spain), a perfect location to study climate change through the view of local people for two main reasons. First, because high mountainous regions are one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world to climate change. And, second because Sierra Nevada has been historically a region in which local knowledge has been of great importance for water management and agricultural production.

For instance, traditionally weather forecasting methods were critical to better cope with weather variability. “I was particularly impressed by the numerous indicators (clouds, wind patterns, animal behaviour) that, still nowadays, people in the area use for weather forecasting” says María Garteizgogeascoa who led the study. Although these indicators are still used by local people, their perceived reliability is changing: “I no longer pay attention to water signals because they are no longer credible” or “In the past, cattle used to announce the rain; but now they only know when it rains after they get wet, as rain now is unpredictable” told us participants in this study.

Farmer working his land looking at the mountains bare of snow. Picture by David García del Amo.

The study used information contained in local proverbs to explore the impacts of climate change on climatic aspects of the environment like precipitation, on physical aspects, like snow cover; and finally, on biological aspects, such as flowering periods. 

For example, the proverb por Todos los Santos la nieve en los altos, por San Andrés la nieve en los pies indicates the arrival and abundance of the snow cover. So, according to the proverb, at the beginning of November (Todos los Santos is celebrated on November 1st) snow can be found on the peaks of the mountains and by the end of the month (November 30th) it normally reaches lower altitudes. When we asked participants about their current perception of the accuracy of this proverb, many stated that the proverb barely reflects the current situation, as snow arrives now later and it is less abundant. And indeed, the scientific data and literature for the region show a delay in snow periods.

Another proverb, septiembre o lleva los puentes o seca las fuentes, describes rain variability during the month of September. In this way, September could be a time of the year in which either rains a lot (the bridges are carried) or barely rains (the fountains dry up). When we asked participants about their perception of the current accuracy of this proverb, many told us that the proverb is no longer accurate, as there is hardly any rain in the month of September now. And certainly, the scientific data and literature for the region shows that precipitation has decrease at that time of the year. The same could be said for 19 of the 30 proverbs used in the study.

Moreover, some of the proverbs examined provided information about climate change impacts not yet described by scientists. For example, cuando vienen los vilanos es conclusion del verano encodes knowledge on the flowering period (end of August, beginning of September) of plants from the genus Carduus. This proverb was considered not accurate nowadays by most of participants due to variations in flowering periods. However, we could not find local literature reporting those variations.

The study reveals that although the selected provers were still generally well recognized, many informants considered them not accurate nowadays. Specially, older informants and people working in the primary sector though that the proverbs they use to guide their decisions in the past are not reliable anymore. As illustrated above, the study documents how this lack of accuracy perception goes in line with trends documented by local, regional and scientific literature and impacts of climate change documented through a Global Change Observatory stablished in the area in 2007. And how for others, the perceived accuracy provides novel information for scientifically undocumented climate change impacts in the area.

“Very few studies, and none in Spain, have ventured to study climate change at local scales through songs, stories or proverbs. However, this works shows that, despite some limitations, these traditional ways of encrypted local knowledge, could be a useful source to do so and a window opportunity to engage with local communities. During my work in the field, proverbs proof to be a useful tool for engage participants in discussions about climate change issues” says María Garteizgogeascoa. She adds “I hope that this study, together with the increasing literature around climate change and local knowledge, contributes to bring visibility on the benefits and need of having a climate change science that integrates different knowledge systems in part to develop a more democratic and targeted policy making”.


Garteizgogeascoa M., García del Amo D., Reyes García V. (2020). Using proverbs to study local perceptions of climate change: a case study in Sierra Nevada (Spain). Regional Environmental Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10113-020-01646-1

The return of the Sun in Qaanaaq, Greenland

The 11th of February 2020, I arrived in Qaanaaq, the northernmost town in Greenland with 632 inhabitants. It was a few days before the sun returned on the sky after three months of Polar nights. For a few weeks the light was slowly coming back and some days you could sense the sun casting glimpses of sun rays and orange sun set colours as it moved behind the mountains in the horizon.

Picture 1: Qaanaaq town a few days before the sun became visible in the horizon

Picture 2: Qaanaaq a few days before the Sun appeared on the sky

Picture 3: Return of the Sun celebration decoration

Each year 17th of February they celebrate the return of the sun in Qaanaaq. The children from the School walk up the hill, here they play around, sledging down from the places with good slopes. Most had cut sun decorations from cardboard that they were wearing in their woolly hats, around the arm or carrying one as a banner. One of the teachers makes a speech and afterwards everyone sings. 

Picture 4: Return of the Sun celebration with the school children

Picture 5: Return of the Sun celebration (unfortunately it was cloudy that day, so we couldn’t see the sun)

In the evening there was a gathering in the local sports hall. There was coffee, tea, cakes and buns for the approximately 250 people joining. The buns were homemade and baked by volunteers in town. There were lots of games and different competitions including balloon dance for children, throwing rings on a target board, and playing dice in competing on who about who would be the one to untie the last knot on a 3-meter-long rope with a lot of knots.  

The local choir sang a couple of songs, and there was a price to best cake of the evening. 

Picture 6: Evening games in the sports hall

Picture 7: Children playing, balloon dance

The first day where the sun becomes visible above the mountains in the horizon. 

Picture 8: First day the sun appeared on the sky coming above the mountains in the horizon

People describe Qaanaaq as a town of hunters and trappers although the number of full-time hunters/trappers decreased since the 1980s with the young generation pursuing education and wage labour and mainly go leisure hunting in their free time. The municipality estimates the number of licensed full-time hunters to approximately 50 people (70-80 when including surrounding smaller villages). Most of the employment is in public and private sector (e.g. municipal office, local school  with 1st to 10thgrade, small hospital/health reception, old people’s home, fishing factory, grocery shop, electricity and water supply centre Nukissiorfiit, polar oil, town’s dump and sanitarian care, Tele Greenland contact point, youth club, craftsman, local hotel). A group of people (usually men) sustain themselves from hunting and fishing. Most employed people also go hunting and fishing supplying their other income with local fresh food resources.

Picture 9: Afternoon trip moving the fishing hut in the hope to get more catches in the new area

Picture 10: Afternoon trip finding new location for fishing hut

Picture 11: One of the fjords nearby Qaanaaq town where local hunters go for halibut fishing in February and March

History of Qaanaaq

Qaanaq is a young town. It was established in 1953 as part of a relocation from Thule (Old Thule/Pittufik). The United States AirForce constructed an air defence site near that village and the Danish government forcibly relocated “Old Thule” with about 130 inhabitants to a new village approximately 97 km north. Today there is still a military base operating with soldiers from US, Canada and Denmark and the base host a weather station and also a number satellite networks (21st space Wings global network of warnings of space surveillance and space control) collaborating with American Aerospace Defence command (NORAD) and Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).  

In a Danish Supreme Court judgment of 28 November 2003, the move was considered an expropriative intervention. During the proceedings it was recognized by the Danish government that the movement was a serious interference and an unlawful act against the local population. 

Picture 12: Interview with women that experienced the forced relocation from old Thule to Qaanaaq. Today she lives on the elderly care home.

Water supply in town

Water in town is supplied during the four summer months directly from the river. In the fall ans winter the town receives water from tanks that were filled up during summer. The remaining months, the trucks go out on the sea ice and dig out huge pieces of inland ice that is melted in a big water plant. Approximately 40% of the houses get water through pipes, while 55% of the house get water from a water tank that is filled once a week. The remaining housesdon’t have water installations and go to get water in town. There are two public water taps from where people can get water. There are no flushing toilets in town, instead people use black waste backs. Used backs are placed outside and picked up in a truck twice a week by the sanitary department. 

Picture 13: Truck bringing the inland ice to the smelter Nukissiorfiit

Picture 16: Antenna providing internet, radio and television to inhabitants in Qaanaaq

Picture 14: Inland ice that will melted and provide drinking water to habitants in Qaanaaq

Picture 17: Permafrost monitor a bit outside Qaanaaq town

The natural environment 

The climate in the area is classified as cold tundra climate. Winter is cold and dark while there are 2-3 months 24 -hour daylight in summer. Peak temperatures occur in July and seldom exceed 10 °C. The town is located by the North Water that is a polynya- an area of open sea, which never freezes completely, but is circumscribed by sea ice. Every summer the sea ice melts, and the polynya disappears. During fall and winter, it reappears when the surrounding sea freezes. 

One can see a polynya as an area, a phenomenon, or a kind of Arctic oasis. The North Water Polynya constitutes a unique ecosystem, which is not only abundant in wildlife, but has also been an essential hunting area for humans for millennia. 

Local observations

Hunters from Qaanaaq experience that the sea ice has changed from being a stable infrastructure for their hunt to become more unpredictable because of global warming. They observe that the fast ice boundaries are retreating towards the coast, and that the ice has become thinner and forms later each winter. Twenty years ago, it would be stable in October/November but now this winter (2019-2020) the ice was not stable before January.

This has led to challenges for both the wildlife and the people who are dependent on the living resources of this area, thus, destabilising the relationship between hunting areas, hunting seasons, and the management of these. This tendency has had severe economic consequences for several families relying on hunting/whaling. These circumstances are further challenged by restrictions on international trade with certain by-products from animals such as seals, polar bears, narwhals, and walruses. 

In general, the weather is less predictable, and each year is different. This also impacts the ability for the local hunters to get good catches, e.g. in 2018 only half of the quota for Narwhals were used. According to the local hunters it was due to bad weather with many stormy days. When a hunting quota for one year is not used it is transferred to the year after. For 2019 the full quota including the transfer from 2018 were catches and informants reported how they could feel more people in the town were happier and they correlated with the fact of the extra income gained that year compared to the year before. 

People in Qaanaaq also mention the change in snow. Many places rocks on the ground are visible because of the shallow snow cover. People mention that more snow comes later in spring i.e. April and May. The lack of snow also impacts the dogs, they don’t run as well without snow, it starts to hurt their paws, so the hunters must go on shorter dog sledding trips in the periods in winter that lack snow. 

Picture 15: Qaanaaq town, seen behind pieces of sea ice

To sum up, climate change is clearly experienced by people in Qaanaaq. Each hunter and each household adapt differently and where some pursue the strategy to become less dependent on subsistence activities others change the species, they catch e.g. many hunters are now getting income from small scale halibut fishing. Tourism is also popular during spring and summer, however, with the current outbreak of COVI 19, all planned dog-sledge trips with tourists are cancelled for spring 2020. Other activities for the seasonal calendar in Qaanaaq are narwhale hunting and the hunters still make use of their kayak and harpoon’s keeping an old Inughuit tradition alive. 

A hub within a biocultural mesh: Climate change in the Betsileo perception (Madagascar)

The Betsileo are an ethnic group of rice growers and livestock keepers occupying the south of the highlands of Madagascar. Rice and zebu, Betsileo main staple foods and important gifts for the ancestors, are deeply affected by climate change. Interestingly, from the Betsileo perspective, climate change is not only the result of a bioclimatic process but also the consequence of people’s failure to comply with traditional rules and taboos.

Fig.1 Map of the study area, Namoly valley (Madagascar)

From December 2019, LICCI core team member Vincent Porcher has been conducting research among the Betsileo, an ethnic group occupying the southern part of central Madagascar. Vincent’s research aims to understand the role of wild edible plants collected by children and adults play in Betsileo subsistence food system in a context of climate change. Vincent is conducting research in the Namoly valley, located in the southern part of the Betsileo territory, at the foot of the Andringitra massif at an altitude of 1500m (fig.1). The relief and altitude of this area confer a unique microclimate in Madagascar with a cyclonic tropical season followed by a cold and dry winter (10-14 ° C) then a short off-season. Despite abundant rainfall, frost conditions allow only one rice harvest per year in the region, versus two in the rest of the country. This particularity makes the production of their staple food particularly vulnerable to sudden climate change with greater risks during the lean season.

Data collected during these first months of fieldwork show that the Betsileos perceive many climate-related changes, most often embedded in long chains of complex physical and ecological processes also involving spiritual entities. Among the many observations, the Betsileo systematically mention the drop in rainfall in the wet season, which is their main concern. According to the Betsileo, the decrease in the number of cyclones per year over the past 15 years is the cause of the irrigation problems in the rice fields, as cyclones bring rain. Decreases in rain are accompanied by a shift in the seasons, which profoundly disrupts the agricultural calendar. Delays in rice transplanting due to the lack of water drastically reduces the rice-growing window before the arrival of frosts, which destroy production. The direct consequences are the spread of the lean season and the decrease in annual income.

Fig.2 Simplified scheme of Betsileo perceptions of the drivers of climate change.

the Betsileo explain these changes in the climate system as the result of local bioclimatic or ecological processes that feed on each other cyclically (fig.2). For example, deforestation is driven by population increase. But, in turn, deforestation reduces cloud formation, and therefore results in less rains. At the same time, the drier weather limits Betsileo ability to control pasture fires, which destroy the forest.

However, for the Betsileo, this complex system of multiple drivers of climate change is also intertwined with magico-religious processes influencing the climate. The social system of Betsileos is maintained and regulated by many rules and taboos called fady directly connecting to spiritual entities and ancestors. The non-compliance of these taboos has direct consequences which include sudden changes in climate (e.g. hail, lightning and heavy rain). Thus, the Betsileo interpret recent changes in the climate system as the synergy of independent bioclimatic processes and the decadence of their society linked to the loss of ancestral customs.

Understanding Betsileo perceptions of the drivers of climate change is important because this perception affect their adaptation system. Adaptation strategies adopted by Betsileo are often mixed involving technical (i.e. modification of the irrigation system, abandonment of landrace) as well as magico-religious responses (i.e., increase in the number of requests to ancestors, use of specific magic ritual, solicitation of traditional healers-diviners (Ombiasa)).

Thus, for the Betsileos, climate change is a hub in a more complex biocultural mesh.

Betsileo family in front of their traditional house during an interview. (Amabalamarina village, Namoly) picture: Ludovic Iribarne
Rice paddy landscape in the valley. (Ambalamanandray village, Namoly) picture: Vincent Porcher