Wednesday 23 April, 2014

Tallest mountain peaks bear the brunt of climate change

Published On: Mon, Dec 5th, 2011 | Climate Change | By BioNews

Asia’s mountainous Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region, site of Mount Everest and many of the world’s tallest peaks, are extremely vulnerable to climate change, a new study has revealed.

Kathmandu-based researchers from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have said that as rising temperatures disturb the balance of snow, ice and water, threatening millions of mountain people and 1.3 billion people living downstream in Asia’s major river basins.

The region offers livelihoods to the 210 million people living there and indirectly provides goods and services to the 1.3 billion people living in river basins downstream who benefit from food and energy.

Rich in biodiversity, the region is home to some 25,000 plant and animal species, and contains a larger diversity of forest types than the Amazon. Yet despite an abundance of natural resources in the region, poverty is rife.

The HKH region, home to 30 percent of the world’s glaciers, has been called the “Third Pole”. But there are scant data on these glaciers. Using remote sensing studies, the project was able to tally the number of glaciers in the region, more than 54,000, and measure the area covered, 60,000 km.

Of these 54,000 glaciers, however, only ten have been studied regularly to determine the net loss or gain of ice and snow (called the mass balance). That handful of studies shows a loss of mass balance, with the rate of loss roughly doubling between 1980 and 2000 and 1996 and 2005.

In the Everest area, the data show a marked acceleration in the loss of glacial mass between 2002 and 2005. Glaciers appear to be shrinking in both the central and eastern Himalayas. Country-specific studies have found that depletion of glacial area over the past 30 years was 22 percent in Bhutan and 21 percent in Nepal.

The clean glaciers of the Tibetan plateau are retreating at a faster rate than the glaciers of the rugged central Himalayas, which have higher debris cover; debris creates an insulating effect, slowing melting.

Although field verification and additional data collection will be needed before firmer conclusions about glacier retreat can be drawn, the data represent a significant step in bridging the knowledge gap on climate change in the HKH.

“Up until now, there has been complete uncertainty on the numbers and area of glaciers and the present status of their environmental conditions in the region. This research give us a baseline from which to measure the potential impact of climate change in the region and to develop options for mitigating the impact of dynamic changes the region is expecting in the coming years,” Basanta Shrestha from ICIMOD, said.

A second report documents the first comprehensive status report of snow cover in the region, drawn from a regional monitoring scheme. However, there was an indication of an overall decrease in snow cover over the decade in the central HKH region and overall, and a slight increase in the western and eastern parts of the region.

The third report considers the mass of data and published studies in three major areas: climate and hydrology; biodiversity and ecosystems; and atmospheric changes. It also points out the limits of current data and the short time frame of most records (few extending more than 50 years).

In addition, climate-related studies in the region suffer from a lack of repeat studies, permanent plots, field validation, and peer review. Nonetheless, the report provides a snapshot of changes occurring in the HKH region.

The study has been published in three reports by (ICIMOD).

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