Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Himalayan glaciers retreating at accelerated rate in some regions: Consequences for water supply remain unclear

Date:
September 12, 2012
Source:
National Academy of Sciences
Summary:
Glaciers in the eastern and central regions of the Himalayas appear to be retreating at accelerating rates, similar to those in other areas of the world.

Everest and Lhotse mountain peaks view from Kala Pattar, Nepal.
Credit: axel / Fotolia

Glaciers in the eastern and central regions of the Himalayas appear to be retreating at accelerating rates, similar to those in other areas of the world, while glaciers in the western Himalayas are more stable and could be growing, says a new report from the National Research Council.

Related Articles


The report examines how changes to glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, which covers eight countries across Asia, could affect the area's river systems, water supplies, and the South Asian population. The mountains in the region form the headwaters of several major river systems -- including the Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers -- which serve as sources of drinking water and irrigation supplies for roughly 1.5 billion people.

The entire Himalayan climate is changing, but how climate change will impact specific places remains unclear, said the committee that wrote the report. The eastern Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau are warming, and the trend is more pronounced at higher elevations. Models suggest that desert dust and black carbon, a component of soot, could contribute to the rapid atmospheric warming, accelerated snowpack melting, and glacier retreat.

While glacier melt contributes water to the region's rivers and streams, retreating glaciers over the next several decades are unlikely to cause significant change in water availability at lower elevations, which depend primarily on monsoon precipitation and snowmelt, the committee said. Variations in water supplies in those areas are more likely to come from extensive extraction of groundwater resources, population growth, and shifts in water-use patterns. However, if the current rate of retreat continues, high elevation areas could have altered seasonal and temporal water flow in some river basins. The effects of glacier retreat would become evident during the dry season, particularly in the west where glacial melt is more important to the river systems. Nevertheless, shifts in the location, intensity, and variability of both rain and snow will likely have a greater impact on regional water supplies than glacier retreat will.

Melting of glacial ice could play an important role in maintaining water security during times of drought or similar climate extremes, the committee noted. During the 2003 European drought, glacial melt contributions to the Danube River in August were about three times greater than the 100-year average. Water stored as glacial ice could serve as the Himalayan region's hydrologic "insurance," adding to streams and rivers when it is most needed. Although retreating glaciers would provide more meltwater in the short term, the loss of glacier "insurance" could become problematic over the long term.

Water resources management and provision of clean water and sanitation are already a challenge in the region, and the changes in climate and water availability warrant small-scale adaptations with effective, flexible management that can adjust to the conditions, the committee concluded. Current efforts that focus on natural hazard and disaster reduction in the region could offer useful lessons when considering and addressing the potential for impacts resulting from glacial retreat and changes in snowmelt processes in the region.

Many basins in the region are "water-stressed" due to both social changes and environmental factors, and this stress is projected to intensify with large forecasted population growth, the committee concluded. Climate change could exacerbate this stress in the future.

Although the history of international river disputes suggests that cooperation is a more likely outcome than violent conflict in this region, social conditions could change. Therefore, modifications in water supplies could play an increasing role in political tensions, especially if existing water management institutions do not evolve to take better account of the region's social, economic, and ecological complexities, the committee said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Academy of Sciences. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Academy of Sciences. "Himalayan glaciers retreating at accelerated rate in some regions: Consequences for water supply remain unclear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120912125826.htm>.
National Academy of Sciences. (2012, September 12). Himalayan glaciers retreating at accelerated rate in some regions: Consequences for water supply remain unclear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120912125826.htm
National Academy of Sciences. "Himalayan glaciers retreating at accelerated rate in some regions: Consequences for water supply remain unclear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120912125826.htm (accessed October 26, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins