Himalayan Glaciers at Risk Because of Climate Change

New findings indicate that climate change puts Himalayan glaciers at risk. They seem to melt at a faster pace. The low-altitude glaciers in the Himalayan area started losing, even more, water compared to the one in higher reaches. The increasing temperatures are responsible for this, raising water risks in these regions.

Scientists indicate that Himalayan glaciers represent a massive water reservoir which is capable of supporting millions of people living in India. These glaciers fuel several rivers like Brahmaputra, Indus, and Ganga. All these rivers and many others originate from the melting process of glacial ice. Most of the glaciers in the area are melting. However, only some of them registered severe advancement in the last few decades.

The temperatures have significantly raised

A new study that looked at 146 glaciers that spread over 660 square kilometers in Chandra basin in the western Himalayas indicated the tremendous loss of volume. The research will help scientists understand the glaciers’ behavior regarding the change in temperatures caused by climate change. Even if the overall spread of the glacier might not break, the water content may still go down.

The new study was recently published in the international general Annals of Glaciology. Anil V Kulkarni is the author of the study, being a member of the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore. He was previously part of India Space Research Organization (ISRO). Kulkarni also headed ISRO’s glacier monitoring unit.

Kulkarni indicates that they were able to establish how much mass and volume of glaciers has been lost due to effects of climate change in Chandra basin. Researchers are planning to use similar estimates to analyze other glaciers in the Himalayan area.

The study proved that the Chandra basin lost approximately 11.1 giga-tones of water between 1984 and 2012. This massive amount of water represents 1/5 of the estimated volume. Nevertheless, during that period, the loss of water in low altitude glaciers was of approximately 67% during that period. Kulkarni also says that people in the area should not worry. There is no danger indicating that the glaciers may vanish in the near future, depriving people of stable sources of water.

Glaciers melting may affect many villages in the Himalayan region

However, this study helps to determine fresh waste stored in the Himalayan glaciers. Furthermore, it would be extremely important for water resource management to use necessary mitigation measures. Several researchers from different scientific institutes in India collaborated to estimate the mass balance of glaciers in the Chandra basin relying on satellite data.

The study comprised information about 146 glaciers situated in the basin in Lahul-Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh. This area registered a raise in temperature of 2 Celsius degrees in the last century. However, if we were to look at the latest ISRO estimate, in the Himalayan region, there are 34,919 glaciers which have 75,779 square kilometers of frozen areas in river basins.

Nevertheless, the ISRO did not register any sort of changes in 1,752 glaciers while 18 of them indicated signs of advancement. The remaining glaciers are retreating due to increase in debris and rising emissions. In a different study, Kulkarni argues that the Himalayan glaciers appear to have retreated by 13% during the last forty years. The water loss increased from 9 giga-tones per year between 1975-1985 to about 20 giga-tones per year between 2010-2015.

A landscape of the Himalayan glaciers

The increased temperatures in the Himalayan region trigger massive meltdown.

Image Source

Global warming puts Himalayan glaciers at risk

The high temperatures will determine numerous glaciers in the Mount Everest region to disappear in the next century. The estimated 5,500 glaciers situated in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) area may reduce their volume by 70% to 99% by the end of 2100. These changes will severely affect several industries like hydropower generation downstream and farming.

Joseph Shea is a glacier hydrologist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal. He indicated in a previous study that the signs of future glacier change in the area are certain. Massive meltdowns will affect numerous glaciers by the end of the century due to the terrible effects of climate change.

The team of scientists he led in that previous study analyzed glaciers in the Dudh Kosi basin in the Nepal Himalaya. Here you can find the greatest and highest mountain peaks in the world including Mount Everest and more than 400 sq km of glacier area. The new research indicated that the lower glaciers are likely to melt even faster since the freezing level will increase higher up the mountains due to temperature rise.

The melting glaciers may cause floods

An increase in the freezing levels would certainly reduce the accumulations of snow over the glaciers, exposing more than 90% of the present glacierized region to melt during the warm months. However, scientists could not establish how severely greenhouse gases will affect rainfall, snowfall, and temperature.

The predicted speed of glacier meltdown in the Himalayas has been long argued since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided misleading information. In 2009, they have erroneously reported data which was not reviewed by specialists. They indicated that glaciers were likely to vanish altogether by 2035.

Nevertheless, the observable facts are the increasing rates of ice melt and snow. Furthermore, precipitation may change from snow to rain at crucial elevations, where glaciers are centered. By 2100, climate change may affect hydropower generation downstream and farming in the Himalayan peaks. More than 1 billion people in Asia rely on rivers fueled by glaciers for their livelihoods and food.

Increased glacier melt will trigger increased water flows. Furthermore, the constant retreat will lead to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months. Next, glacier retreat can trigger the formation and development of lakes blocked by glacial debris. Therefore, earthquakes and avalanches may breach the dams, determining terrible floods.

Over the past few years, milder weather reduced snowfalls, pushed up the sowing date of fast-growing lentils, barley, and wheat and stretched out the growing season.

Summing up

All these changes brought by global warming will affect the homes of the inhabitants in the area. Severe melting of the glaciers will cause floods, destroying villages around the Himalayan area. Once again climate change puts Himalayan glaciers at risk, causing drastic temperature changes in the region.

Image Source: UiO

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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