Himalayan glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate

(Bangalore) Glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate in the Himalayan mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush and could lose up to 80% of their current volume this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not not greatly reduced, according to a new study.

The report from the Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development says flash floods and avalanches are likely to increase in coming years, and freshwater availability will be affected for nearly 2 billion people who live downstream of 12 rivers that have their source in these mountains.

Ice and snow in the Hindu Kush Himalayan ranges are an important source of water for these rivers, which cross 16 countries in Asia and provide fresh water to 240 million people in the mountains and 1 .65 billion downstream.

“People living in these mountains, which have contributed almost nothing to global warming, are at high risk due to climate change,” said Amina Maharjan, a migration specialist and one of the report’s authors.

“Current adaptation efforts are woefully insufficient, and we are extremely concerned that without increased support, these communities will not be able to cope with what may arise. »

Various previous reports had revealed that the cryosphere – the regions of the Earth covered in snow and ice – is among the most affected by climate change. Recent research has revealed that the glaciers of Mount Everest, for example, have lost the equivalent of 2,000 years of ice in the past 30 years alone.

“We are mapping for the first time the links between cryosphere change with water, ecosystems and society in this mountainous region,” said Ms.me Maharjan.

Among the report’s key findings, glaciers in the Himalayas have disappeared 65% faster since 2010 than in the previous decade and the reduction in snow cover due to global warming will lead to a reduction in fresh water for people living downstream. The study found that 200 glacial lakes across these mountains are considered unsafe and the region could experience a major spike in glacial lake flooding by the end of the century.

The study found that communities in mountainous regions are much more affected by climate change than many other parts of the world. It says changes to glaciers, snow and permafrost in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region driven by global warming are “unprecedented and largely irreversible”.

The effects of climate change are already being felt, sometimes acutely, by Himalayan communities. Earlier this year, the Indian mountain town of Joshimath began to collapse and residents had to be relocated within days.

“Once the ice melts in these regions, it’s very difficult to get it back into its frozen form,” said Pam Pearson, director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, who was not involved in the report.

“It’s like a big ship in the ocean. Once the ice starts to come off, it’s very hard to stop. So with glaciers, especially the large glaciers in the Himalayas, once they start losing mass, it’s going to continue for a very long time before it can stabilize,” she added.

Mme Pearson said it’s critically important for Earth’s snow, permafrost and ice that warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference.

“I feel like most policy makers don’t take this goal seriously, but in the cryosphere irreversible changes are already happening,” she said.

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