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Rising temperatures are accelerating the loss of Himalayan glaciers


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New research by scientists in Nepal confirms that ice and snow on the world’s highest mountains are disappearing as a result of rising temperatures, and at a faster rate than previously thought. report from International Center for Integrated Mountain Development In Kathmandu, it was found that glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan mountain range region melted 65 percent faster from 2010 through 2019 than in the previous decade.

This discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that the consequences of climate change are accelerating, and that some changes will be irreversible.

Nearly two billion people living in more than a dozen countries within the mountainous region or in river valleys downstream depend on melting snow and ice for their water supplies. Melting glaciers destabilize the landscape and increase the risk of hazards such as floods and landslides. These rapid changes are compressing much of the region’s unique wildlife into smaller, more dangerous habitats. For some unlucky species, it is already too late.

said Miriam Jackson, a cryospheric researcher at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development and one of the authors the report. “Just a couple of decades ago to the last decade, there have been very big changes. And I think this is a surprise to a lot of people, that things are happening so quickly.”

Dr. Jackson and her colleagues studied an area of ​​about 1.6 million square miles they call the Hindu Kush Himalaya, stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. Their research has been funded in part by the federal governments of several countries in the region, which are striving to understand how climate change is affecting their natural resources and how their citizens can adapt.

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A second report released on Tuesday by the World Meteorological Organization and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service also recorded a significant loss of glaciers. In 2022, glaciers in the European Alps will see a record amount of ice mass lost in a single year, according to The State of the Climate in Europe 2022.

The new Himalayan Report updates work published by the same group in 2019, which found that even in the most optimistic case that average global warming is limited to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, the Hindu Kush-Himalayas would lose at least a third of their value. its glaciers. That estimate remains the same, but improved satellite data has since allowed for more accurate measurements of how much glaciers in the region have already shrunk, and better projections of how quickly they are shrinking beyond 1.5 degrees of warming.

“Technically, I think it’s amazing,” said Marco Tedesco, a professor of marine geology at Columbia University who was not involved in the research. Dr. Tedesco also praised the new report’s focus on the social and environmental impacts of rapidly melting glaciers. He said it is a welcome sign that public interest in global warming is shifting from a narrow scientific focus on physical changes to a broader understanding of how these changes affect people around the world.

The timing and locations of meltwater in the region will also change.

“There will be a lot of water in some places and there will be very little water in some places,” said Santosh Nepal, a researcher at the International Water Management Institute and another author of the report.

Right now, meltwater will start to be available earlier in the year. Dr. Nepal predicts that as climate change makes precipitation patterns erratic around the world, people in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region will depend more on meltwater rather than rainwater – although this meltwater cannot be relied upon for more than 20 or 30 years old.

As glaciers melt, there are other dangers to people. Natural hazards, which are already a fact of life in the mountains, will only get worse. Erosion of mountain slopes and hillsides would set the stage for cascading disasters such as floods and landslides when sudden shocks occur to the system, such as earthquakes.

Dr. Nepal said the region’s emergency preparedness and response systems “are not designed to handle this type of disaster.”

Likewise, ecosystems in the Himalayan Hindu Kush region are unprepared for the changes already underway. A number of scientific studies indicate that some species are unique to the region in particular butterfliesalready extinct. Frogs and other amphibians are also at great risk.

Seeing the data pile up as they compiled studies from across the Himalayas was “really shocking for us to see,” said Sunita Chaudhary, an ecosystem researcher at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development and another author of the report. Dr Chaudhary’s team concluded that by 2100, a quarter of the plants, animals and other life forms found only in the region could be “wiped out”, adding that the Indian part of the Himalayas would be particularly affected. .

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Researchers said that while it is too late to save some species, there is still time to help the many animals as well as the millions of people whose lives have been radically changed by the loss of glaciers. Their report includes a range of policy recommendations, including formal protection of biodiversity hotspots; encourage collaboration between experts in separate sectors of the economy such as agriculture and water; and additional research into related topics such as permafrost.

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