Melting Himalayan glaciers threaten 1.3 billion Asians

Feb 16, 2009
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AFP: Melting Himalayan glaciers threaten 1.3 billion Asians

Melting Himalayan glaciers threaten 1.3 billion Asians

KATHMANDU — More than a billion people in Asia depend on Himalayan glaciers for water, but experts say they are melting at an alarming rate, threatening to bring drought to large swathes of the continent.

Glaciers in the Himalayas, a 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) range that sweeps through Pakistan, India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, provide headwaters for Asia's nine largest rivers, lifelines for the 1.3 billion people who live downstream.

But temperatures in the region have increased by between 0.15 and 0.6 degrees Celsius (0.27 and 1.08 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade for the last 30 years, dramatically accelerating the rate at which glaciers are shrinking.

As world leaders gather in Copenhagen this month for a crucial climate change summit, campaigners warn that some Himalayan glaciers could disappear altogether within a few decades.

"Scientists predict that most glaciers will be gone in 40 years as a result of climate change," said Prashant Singh, leader of environmental group WWF's Climate for Life campaign.

"The deal reached at Copenhagen will have huge ramifications for the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in the Himalayan drainage systems who are already highly vulnerable due to widespread poverty."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body regarded as the world's top authority on climate change, has warned Himalayan glaciers could "disappear altogether by 2035" and experts say the effects of global warming are already being felt in the region.

In Nepal and Bhutan, the receding glaciers have formed vast lakes that threaten to burst, devastating villages downstream.

Nepalese mountaineer and environmental campaigner Dawa Steven Sherpa said he first became interested in climate change after a close call when part of the Khumbu icefall above Everest base camp collapsed during an expedition in 2007.

Sherpa, who has scaled Everest three times, was walking on the glacier minutes before the collapse, and said his near miss alerted him to the dramatic toll that global warming is already taking on the Himalayas.

"Every time I go to the mountains the older Sherpas tell me this is the warmest year yet," Sherpa, who will take part in a special "summiteers' summit" in Copenhagen, told AFP.

"Initially it struck me how much more dangerous mountaineering would become. But then I realised it was much bigger than that. Entire villages could be wiped out if one of the glacial lakes burst."

In China, studies have shown that the rapid melting of the glaciers will result in an increase in flooding in the short term, state news agency Xinhua has reported.

In the longer term, it said, the continued retreat of glaciers would lead to a gradual decrease in river flows, severely affecting large parts of western China.

Experts say the resulting water shortages could hit the economic development of China and India, with potentially dire consequences for development in two of the world's most populated countries.

Even in low-lying Bangladesh, prone to severe floods, the IPCC has said rivers could run dry by the end of the century.

But research on the impact of global warming on the rugged and inaccessible Himalayas remains sparse, with the IPCC describing the region as a "blank spot" due to a lack of scientific data.

Even the experts disagree on the issue, with some arguing that some of the Himalayan glaciers are actually advancing.

India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh recently came under fire for denying that climate change was causing Himalayan glaciers to melt, citing research by the Indian geologist Vijay Kumar Raina.

The Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has studied the Himalayan region for more than three decades and warns of an "urgent need" for more research on the impact of climate change.

"There are so many uncertainties surrounding where, how and to what extent the Himalayan region will be affected by climate change," ICIMOD climate change expert Arun Shrestha told AFP.

"But most experts accept that temperatures are changing, and this is happening more rapidly at altitude."

ICIMOD has warned that the current trends in glacial melt suggest flows in major Asian rivers including the Ganges, Indus and Yellow Rivers will be "substantially reduced" in the coming decades.

"The situation may appear to be normal in the region for several decades to come, and even with increased amounts of water available to satisfy dry season demands," it said in a recent report on the Himalayas.

"However, when the shortage arrives, it may happen abruptly, with water systems going from plenty to scarce in perhaps a few decades or less."

Shrestha added: "When the glaciers get hotter, you get more water, but there comes a point when the water will run out.

"It's like a bank balance, if you're not putting money in, you can't take it out."


The southern Man
Senior Member
Jul 15, 2009
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Himalayan glaciers melting deadline 'a mistake'
The UN panel on climate change warning that Himalayan glaciers could melt to a fifth of current levels by 2035 is wildly inaccurate, an academic says.J Graham Cogley, a professor at Ontario Trent University, says he believes the UN authors got the date from an earlier report wrong by more than 300 years. He is astonished they "misread 2350 as 2035". The authors deny the claims. Leading glaciologists say the report has caused confusion and "a catalogue of errors in Himalayan glaciology". The Himalayas hold the planet's largest body of ice outside the polar caps - an estimated 12,000 cubic kilometres of water.

They feed many of the world's great rivers - the Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra - on which hundreds of millions of people depend.

'Catastrophic rate'

In its 2007 report, the Nobel Prize-winning Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said: "Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. It is not plausible that Himalayan glaciers are disappearing completely within the next few decades

Himalayan glaciers' 'mixed picture'

"Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometres by the year 2035," the report said.

It suggested three quarters of a billion people who depend on glacier melt for water supplies in Asia could be affected.

But Professor Cogley has found a 1996 document by a leading hydrologist, VM Kotlyakov, that mentions 2350 as the year by which there will be massive and precipitate melting of glaciers.

"The extrapolar glaciation of the Earth will be decaying at rapid, catastrophic rates - its total area will shrink from 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometres by the year 2350," Mr Kotlyakov's report said.

Mr Cogley says it is astonishing that none of the 10 authors of the 2007 IPCC report could spot the error and "misread 2350 as 2035".

"I do suggest that the glaciological community might consider advising the IPCC about ways to avoid such egregious errors as the 2035 versus 2350 confusion in the future," says Mr Cogley.

He said the error might also have its origins in a 1999 news report on retreating glaciers in the New Scientist magazine.

The article quoted Syed I Hasnain, the then chairman of the International Commission for Snow and Ice's (ICSI) Working group on Himalayan glaciology, as saying that most glaciers in the Himalayan region "will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming". Scientists say Himalayan glaciers need more study
When asked how this "error" could have happened, RK Pachauri, the Indian scientist who heads the IPCC, said: "I don't have anything to add on glaciers."

The IPCC relied on three documents to arrive at 2035 as the "outer year" for shrinkage of glaciers. They are: a 2005 World Wide Fund for Nature report on glaciers; a 1996 Unesco document on hydrology; and a 1999 news report in New Scientist. Incidentally, none of these documents have been reviewed by peer professionals, which is what the IPCC is mandated to be doing.

Murari Lal, a climate expert who was one of the leading authors of the 2007 IPCC report, denied it had its facts wrong about melting Himalayan glaciers.

But he admitted the report relied on non-peer reviewed - or 'unpublished' - documents when assessing the status of the glaciers. 'Alarmist'

Recently India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh released a study on Himalayan glaciers that suggested that they may be not melting as much due to global warming as it is widely feared. He accused the IPCC of being "alarmist". India says the rate of retreat in many glaciers has decreased in recent years

Mr Pachauri dismissed the study as "voodoo science" and said the IPCC was a "sober body" whose work was verified by governments. But in a joint statement some the world's leading glaciologists who are also participants to the IPCC have said: "This catalogue of errors in Himalayan glaciology... has caused much confusion that could have been avoided had the norms of scientific publication, including peer review and concentration upon peer-reviewed work, been respected." Michael Zemp from the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich also said the IPCC statement on Himalayan glaciers had caused "some major confusion in the media". "Under strict consideration of the IPCC rules, it should actually not have been published as it is not based on a sound scientific reference. "From a present state of knowledge it is not plausible that Himalayan glaciers are disappearing completely within the next few decades. I do not know of any scientific study that does support a complete vanishing of glaciers in the Himalayas within this century."

BBC News - Himalayan glaciers melting deadline 'a mistake'


May 4, 2009
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Latest study by ISRO using satellite imagery has shown that the Gangotri glacier which is the source of the River Ganga has shrunk by 1.5 KMs in last 30 years.

However the report also adds that in recent year the ice melt has reduced considerably.

The science behind this is still in its infancy and it is not clear whether this ice melt is wholly due to global warming or due to some other reason.

Gangotri glacier receded 1.5 km in 30 yrs: ISRO report


Senior Member
Feb 23, 2009
Even the Dalai lama urges Indians to be more proactive.

India should take up issue of Tibet plateau degradation: Dalai Lama

Published: Saturday, Apr 2, 2011, 19:36 IST

Worried over the impact of global warming on the Tibetan Himalayan region, the Dalai Lama today said India which stands to be directly affected by the phenomenon should take up the issue more forcefully.

Noting that all major Indian rivers originate from the Himalayan glacier region, the Tibetan spiritual leader said the country has reason to be more vocal in putting forth concerns on the ecological degradation of the Tibetan plateau.

"I am convinced with every major disaster, that things are turning bad due to global warming. The Tibetan plateau region is ecologically very sensitive and major rivers in north India flow from the Himalayan glaciers in the region.

"You, therefore, have reason to show concerns about the ecology of that region," he said, pointing out that millions of Indians were using the water flowing from the Himalayan glacier.

"This has nothing to do with politics, this is in everybody's interest, including of the Chinese," he said.

The Dalai Lama was speaking at an event to mark the birth centenary of former president R Venkataraman here.

He pointed out that unlike previous administrations in China that were not much concerned about the condition of the plateau region, authorities in recent years have become more sensitive to the ecological conditions of the region.

"Fortunately, the authorities are now making efforts to prevent deforestation in the region," he said.

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