Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
Science | By

High Alert! Two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2100

High Alert! Two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2100

The report, the first large-scale and peer-reviewed study to detail the region's alarming vulnerabilities, points to a looming reality: Even if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century is met, almost half of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region will still melt due to an inevitable 2-degree Celsius spike in temperature. Crucially, this estimate is at the lower end of the spectrum, representing a best-case scenario where efforts to stave off climate change circumvent the most drastic effects of global warming.

Nepal's Hindu Kush Himalayan Region, home to numerous world's highest peaks, has always been celebrated as a source of national pride.

Such degree of warming is likely to lead to melting or severe retreat of one-third of the region's glaciers, the study commissioned by Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) said on Monday.

"Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of the (Hindu Kush Himalaya) cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century", Wester said.

The Himalayas now hold more than 30,000 square miles of glacial ice-a figure only surpassed by the North and South Poles, according to National Geographic's Alejandra Borunda.

The study said the thaw will disrupt rivers including the Yangtze, Mekong, Indus and Ganges, where farmers rely on glacier melt water in the dry season.

Interestingly, this trend is expected to reverse beginning in the 2060s, with annual snowfall failing to match ice loss triggered by climate change. The predictable nature of glacial melt has allowed for seasonal agriculture throughout the region.

"One-in-100-years floods are starting to happen every 50 years", Wester told The Guardian. "So even 1,5 degrees, a very ambitous target if we achieve that, it will still be too hot in these moutains, because two degrees is the climate threshold". As the Times' Schultz and Sharma report, this predicted warming further supports the proposed phenomenon of elevation-dependent warming, which suggests that rising temperatures are not only amplified at higher latitudes such as the Arctic, but also at higher elevations.

The 2,000-mile Hindu Kush and Himalaya range stretches from Afghanistan to China and provides a source of water that sustains more than a quarter of the world's population, according to the report.

The assessment said that the impact of the melting could range from flooding from the increased runoff to increased air pollution from black carbon and dust deposited on the glaciers. There is also an urgent need to engage with these communities by forming community-government partnerships and ensuring that the resources for climate change mitigation are easily accessed by the most vulnerable.

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