Two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers could melt

Olive Hawkins
February 6, 2019

The report, the first large-scale and peer-reviewed study to detail the region's alarming vulnerabilities, points to a looming reality: Even if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century is met, almost half of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region will still melt due to an inevitable 2-degree Celsius spike in temperature.

"This is a climate crisis you have not heard of".

Even if governments try to control the rising temperature, it would still lead to the melting of at least one-third of Himalayan glaciers.

According to a report released by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), if drastic action isn't taken to halt climate change, two-thirds of the glaciers in the HKH region could be gone by 2100.

Two-thirds of the Himalayan glaciers - that constitute Mount Everest- will melt by the year 2100 if the rise in temperature continues at the same pace.

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"But it's the projected reductions in pre-monsoon river flows and changes in the monsoon [season] that will hit hardest, throwing urban water systems and food and energy production off-kilter", he continued. "Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of the HKH cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century". This would be catastrophic for the 250 million people who live there and the 1.65 billion people who live along the glacial valley and rely on the rivers fed by these glaciers. Billions of people depend on these river systems for food and energy. Since the 1970s, there has been a slow and steady retreat of ice in the region and the amount of snow has decreased.

Satellite data shows that numbers of such lakes in the region grew to 4,260 in a decade from 3,350 in 1990. In recent years, a high level of air pollution originating from the Indo-Gangetic Plains has led to vast deposits of black carbon and dust on the Himalayan glaciers, exacerbating glacial melting as well as changing monsoon circulation and rainfall distribution over Asia.

As this report, and many others before, have highlighted, despite the fact that climate change (especially in the mountainous regions) invariably intersects with and poses threats to all three of these issues, it is continually overlooked in regional policy deliberations.

"Without the ice reserve in the mountains to top up the rivers through the melt season, droughts will be harsher on those living downstream", noted Hamish Pritchard, an expert on ice dynamics at the British Antarctic Survey, commenting on the findings.

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