The Burning Issue Of Melting Himalayas

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The Himalayas and its burning climatic concerns drew world attention at the latest round of UN climate talks in South Africa’s Durban, as the Kathmandu headquartered International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) released reports pointing at the dire consequences of the impact of climate change on the highest elevations on the earth. The reports said that warming of the Himalayas will limit the water storage capacity of the vast expanse of the snow and ice mass, heightening the risks of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). "Mass losses from glaciers and accelerated thinning of the snow cover are expected to reduce water supplies and hydropower potential," said the climate change assessment of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region extending from Afghanistan to Bhutan. The report has predicted changes in the seasonality of water flows to downstream basins which is supplied by the melt water from snow and ice up in the mountains. Droughts and dry spells are feared to affect larger areas in the region, rendering farmers more dependent on irrigation facilities. Such a need has emerged at a time when water sources become scarcer. As warming increases, tree line and animal species move to higher elevations. Strange things are happening in the mountains - mosquitoes have appeared in places where they could never be found in the past. People have reported to have spotted cobra in mid hills while some trekkers were surprised to sight flies in the altitude as high as Everest Base camp, a location at 5,300 metres. The reports said that species already living at highest elevation may have nowhere to go. The Hindu Kush-Himalaya region has been described as one of the hotspots in respect to the global warming and climate change. Temperature rises are observed to be at greater rates at higher altitude and during cooler months than in warmer months and warmer regions. This imbalance will eventually narrow the seasonal variation in temperature. This will turn out to be more favourable for some species while proving hostile to others. As a result, agriculture will be directly impacted, the ICIMOD reports said. Warming across the Himalayan region is higher than the global average of 0.74° Celsius over the past 100 years. However, this change is not evenly distributed. Rate of warming is found to be much greater in the central Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. In Lhasa, for example, temperatures were found to have increased by 1.35° Celsius between 1950 and 1980. Also known as the ‘Third Pole’, the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region harbours 30 per cent of the world’s glaciers. A three year research project led by ICIMOD and funded by Sweden has identified the existence of more than 54,000 glaciers in the region. The project named the ‘Status of Glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region’ covered the Himalayan length of 6,000 kilometres. In the Nepalese Himalaya alone, a total of 3,252 glaciers have been recorded, with 20 falling in the danger list of bursting. However, with increasing warming and resultant ice and snow melt, these glaciers are disappearing slowly. As glaciers vanish, new glacial lakes are born or existing lakes grow in depth and size. There are 2,315 glacial lakes in the Nepalese Himalaya. Climate predictions about the Himalayas are based on speculative projections because there is a serious gap of scientific studies and relevant data. When the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that all the Himalayan ice cover will melt away by 2035, leaving behind only black rocks, the scientific community raised serious objections. The apocalyptic projections were not based on scientific studies and facts. Nor was the report peer reviewed. Finally, the IPCC chief Dr. Rajendra Pachauri had to apologise saying that the prediction was erroneous. Of the 54,000 glaciers, only ten have been studied regularly to determine their net loss or gain of ice and snow, says the ICIMOD. Nonetheless, these small scale studies show a loss of mass balance with the rate of loss approximately doubling between 1980 and 2000, and 1996 and 2005. According to the study data, the Everest region witnessed a marked acceleration in the loss of glacial mass between 2002 and 2005. Glaciers have been found to be shrinking in both the central and eastern Himalayas. Country-specific studies have shown that the depletion of the glacial area over the past 30 years was 21 per cent in Nepal and 22 per cent in Bhutan. ICIMOD said that the clean glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau are retreating at a faster rate than the glaciers of the rugged central Himalayas with higher debris cover. Debris creates an insulating effect, slowing down the process of melting. The ICIMOD reports, with three separate compilations released on the sidelines of the Durban climate meet, are hailed as something that fills the data deficiency about the impacts of climate change on the Himalayas. "These reports provide a new baseline and location-specific information for understanding climate change in one of the most vulnerable ecosytems in the world," said IPCCC chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri. Talking about the reports, he added that ‘they substantially deepen our understanding of this region, and of all mountain systems while pointing to the knowledge gaps yet to be filled and actions that must be taken to deal with the challenge of climate change globally and to minimise the risks locally’. The Hindu Kush-Himalaya region is rich in bio-diversity which is home to 25,000 plant and animal species. It boasts of housing diverse forest types even larger than that of the Amazon. The Himalaya is considered as water tower and 1.3 billion people living the downstream basins depend on these snowy mountains for energy, water supply and irrigation. So, the impact of climate change on the Himalayas is going have broader repercussions in the region. "It is one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the world. We must meet the intensity of the climate change in these mountains with equal intensity of willpower to mitigate and to adapt to the impacts," says David Molden, director general of ICIMOD.
Language: English
In: The Rising Nepal, News article p.

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 Record created 2011-12-15, last modified 2014-03-19