According to a survey, dangerous flooding and water shortages would result from Himalayan glaciers melting for the 2 billion people who live downstream of rivers that have their origins in the Himalayas.
Scientists have warned that the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers in Asia could lose up to 75% of their volume by the end of the century due to unprecedented glacier melting, posing a risk of dangerous flooding and water shortages for the 2 billion people who live downstream of the dozen rivers that originate in the mountainous region.
According to a report released on Tuesday by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there will be an increase in the likelihood of flash floods and avalanches in the coming years, which will affect both the region’s 240 million residents and the 1.65 billion people living downstream.
Amina Maharjan, a migration expert and one of the report’s authors, said: “The people living in these mountains, who have contributed almost nothing to global warming, are at high danger owing to climate change.”
“Present adaptation measures are completely inadequate, and we are quite concerned that these communities won’t be able to manage without increased support,” she said.
The cryosphere, or the parts of the Planet covered in snow and ice, has been found to be among the worst affected by climate change in a number of past assessments.
For instance, according to recent studies, Mount Everest’s glaciers have lost 2,000 years’ worth of ice in the last 30 years.
In this mountainous area, Maharjan stated, “We map out for the first time the links between cryosphere alteration with water, ecosystems, and society.”
According to the assessment, changes to the region’s glaciers, snow, and permafrost caused by global warming were “unprecedented and largely irreversible.” The Himalayan glaciers have been melting 65 percent quicker since 2010 than they did over the preceding ten years.
According to the report, glaciers over the entire region will lose 30 to 50 percent of their volume by 2100 at 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial temperatures.
Yet, the location will determine where Himalayan glaciers melt fastest. Himalayan glaciers in the Eastern Himalayas, which include Nepal and Bhutan, may lose up to 75% of their ice at 3 degrees Celsius of warming, which is roughly where the world is headed under current climate policy. At a warming of 4 degrees Celsius, that rises to 80%.
According to Philippus Wester, an environmental scientist and ICIMOD fellow who was the report’s principal author, “We’re losing the glaciers, and we’re losing them in 100 years.”
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The 3,500 km (2,175 miles)-long Hindu Kush Himalaya spans Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Assessing how the Hindu Kush Himalaya is being impacted by climate change has proven difficult for scientists. The region lacks a long historical record of field measurements that show whether glaciers are increasing or decreasing, unlike the European Alps and the Himalayan glaciers Rocky Mountains of North America.
There has always been some doubt over whether the Himalayas are melting, according to Wester.
In order to establish a fresh scientific baseline, the United States declassified spy satellite photographs of the area’s glaciers from 1970 in 2019.
In the last five years, new developments in satellite technology and increased field research have improved scientists’ comprehension of the ongoing changes. The report makes use of information up to December 2022.
There is “a significantly higher level of confidence currently in these conclusions” as compared to a 2019 ICIMOD assessment of the area, according to Wester.
With various levels of global warming, “we have a better notion of what the loss will be through to 2100.”
This newly acquired knowledge raises serious concerns for the inhabitants of the Hindu Kush Mountains.
More than 1.65 billion people depend on this supply, and the analysis showed that water flows in the region’s 12 river basins, including the Ganges, Indus, and Mekong, are expected to peak around the middle of the century.
While it may appear that there would be more water since glaciers are melting more quickly, Wester predicted that there will be more periodic floods than a steady flow.
According to the study, 200 of the glacier lakes in these mountains are considered risky, and by the turn of the century, the area may experience a marked increase in glacial lake outburst floods.
Yet, after water is passed its peak, supplies will inevitably run out.
Pam Pearson, director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, who was not involved with the paper, noted that once the ice melts in these areas, it is very challenging to restore it to its frozen state.
“It’s like a gigantic ship in the water,” she continued. It’s quite difficult to halt the ice once it begins to move. So, it will take a very long time for glaciers, especially the large ones in the Himalayas, to stabilise once they begin losing mass.
According to Pearson, keeping global warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold is crucial for protecting Earth’s snow, permafrost, and ice.
Since irreversible changes are already taking place in the cryosphere, she claimed that most policymakers don’t take the goal seriously.
Himalayan communities are already experiencing the effects of climate change, sometimes severely.
Joshimath, an Indian mountain village, started sinking earlier this year, forcing residents to leave within days.
The regional governments are making an effort to get ready for these developments. China is making efforts to strengthen its water resources. In addition, Pakistan is setting up early warning systems for floods caused by glacial lake outbursts.
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