The planet’s iconic mountain ranges have instilled awe and inspired exploration for millennia. But they also play an integral role in supplying one of our planet’s most vital resources: fresh water. Mountain ranges around the globe serve as water towers — areas where precipitation collects and later flows downstream — supplying fresh water to more than half of the world’s population. That water supply is increasingly under threat due to rising temperatures, melting glaciers, pollution, and other impacts of human-caused climate change.
Our goals are to develop a better understanding of how these water towers have evolved over time, and to contribute to our ability to predict future impacts of climate change on these life-sustaining resources.
Mountains as our planet’s Water Towers
The yellow regions on the map represent the high mountain regions that store water
as snow and ice and serve as vital sources of water for huge populations downstream.
Map by NGS Staff
Mountains can be incredibly hostile environments, their highest peaks off limits to all but a select few. As a result, there is a huge gap in our understanding of what kind of life exists in the upper reaches of our atmosphere and of how these landscapes support the people and wildlife that live below them. By bringing together scientists across multiple disciplines with some of the world’s leading climbers, the Life at the Extremes: Mountains program will contribute to groundbreaking research to better understand the glaciers, species, weather systems, and more that impact communities around the world.