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Rising River Flows Throughout the Twenty-First Century in Two Himalayan Glacierized Watersheds

  • Immerzeel, W. W.
  • Bierkens, M. F. P.
  • Pellicciotti, F.

Greater Himalayan glaciers are retreating and losing mass at rates comparable to glaciers in other regions of the world. Assessments of future changes and their associated hydrological impacts are scarce, oversimplify glacier dynamics or include a limited number of climate models6, 7, 8, 9. Here, we use results from the latest ensemble of climate models in combination with a high-resolution glacio-hydrological model to assess the hydrological impact of climate change on two climatically contrasting watersheds in the Greater Himalaya, the Baltoro and Langtang watersheds that drain into the Indus and Ganges rivers, respectively. We show that the largest uncertainty in future runoff is a result of variations in projected precipitation between climate models. In both watersheds, strong, but highly variable, increases in future runoff are projected and, despite the different characteristics of the watersheds, their responses are surprisingly similar. In both cases, glaciers will recede but net glacier melt runoff is on a rising limb at least until 2050. In combination with a positive change in precipitation, water availability during this century is not likely to decline. We conclude that river basins that depend on monsoon rains and glacier melt will continue to sustain the increasing water demands expected in these areas10.

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  • Journal:
    Nature Geoscience , advance online publication
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