Unbridled industrialisation leading to Himalayan eco-disaster, new study confirms

19 May 2014


In further evidence – if any were needed – that global warming is accelerating glacier melt in the Himalaya, a new research reveals that nearly 400 glaciers have come into existence in the last four decades alone.

In terms of numbers, Himalaya glaciers are on the rise – but this does not help, as the area of each glacier is shrinking rapidly. The number of glaciers totalled 3,430 in 1980 and reached 3,808 in 2010, according to the report titled Glacier Status in Nepal.

The area coverage of the glaciers in the Nepal Himalayas has decreased by nearly 1,266 km, raising serious concerns for the environmental balance of the Himalayan region where India's biggest and holiest rivers originate, the study released in Kathmandu last week said. Area coverage has slumped to 3,902 km in 2010 from 5,168 km in 1980 due to shrinkage and fragmentation as a result of global warming.

The rise in the number of glaciers is misleading, says the study. "More glaciers are appearing every decade," said Samjwal Ratna Bajracharya, one of the main authors of the report. "But, it does not mean that new glaciers are forming. In fact, large glaciers are now fast breaking into several smaller glaciers."

The report was released at the end of a three-day conference on the 'Cryosphere of the Hindu Kush Himalaya: State of Knowledge'. Around 120 scientists, climate change experts, and officials from 16 countries attended the conference. The participants were mainly from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, China, and Myanmar.

The reduction is mainly due to global warming, though Nepal is not making any contribution in this regard, pointed out Samjwal Bajracharya, one of the authors of the authors of the report – clearly hinting that the country's rapidly industrialising neighbours India and China were responsible for the potential environmental disaster in little-industrialised Nepal.

Throwing more light on how global warming is causing glacier melt rate to accelerate, the report shows that the areas covered by Himalaya glaciers and ice reserves that they contain are actually on the wane. "It indicates that global warming is really affecting glaciers," said Bajracharya, a remote sensing specialist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Claiming that average temperature rise in the Himalaya region is higher than global temperature rise, Bajracharya said, "Human activities could also be the reason behind shrinking glacier areas and ice reserves and emergence of more glaciers."

According to Bajracharya, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that global temperature has risen by 0.74 degree Celsius in the last 100 years while a 2000-report by the ICIMOD shows that average temperature rise in the Himalaya region is 0.12-0.63 degree Celsius in just 10 years. "This could help explain why glaciers are fragmenting," said Bajracharya. "It is like how a piece of ice melts faster when you keep it outside a refrigerator."

The report, jointly published by the ICIMOD and the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), also contains varied data about glaciers in the whole Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region. "The report has a lot of implications," said Rishiram Sharma, director general of the DHM. "It could help us in planning and implementing programmes."

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