JUN 02, 2019 4:32 PM PDT

What the shrinking Himalayan glaciers mean for the people below

A study published recently in the journal Nature highlights the crucial role that Asia’s high-elevation glaciers play in diminishing drought on the continent. The region, which is particularly vulnerable to drought, is being impacted by climate change just as is the rest of the world, and glaciologists fear that Asia’s shrinking glaciers will have significant economic and social consequences.

The study was led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) glaciologist Dr. Hamish Pritchard, who analyzed glaciers from the Third Pole, which refers to the high-mountainous region of the Himalayas, Karakoram, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Tien Shan, Kunlun Shan and Alai mountains. With its 95,000 glaciers, this area provides water for approximately 800 million people in the valleys below and feeds a total of roughly 36 cubic kilometers of meltwater into the rivers of the region.

“This is enough water to fulfill the basic needs of 221 million people, or most of the annual municipal and industrial needs of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,” reports Science Daily. “This supply is unsustainable, though, because climate change is causing the region's glaciers to lose 1.6 times more water than they gain each year from new snowfall.”

Using climate datasets and hydrological modeling, Dr. Pritchard determined the volume of glacier water entering and leaving the region's major river basins during normal years and during periods of drought. While we may think of glaciers as relatively stable, the amount of water that moves throughout them as a system is changing significantly in our warming world.

Eight hundred million people depend on the meltwater from these high-mountain glaciers. Photo: Pixabay

"This study is about answering the question -- why do glaciers matter? Even in high-mountain Asia, they are remote and cover quite a small part of the region. It turns out that they are particularly valuable to society as a natural store of water that keeps the rivers flowing through summer, even throughout long droughts,” commented Dr. Pritchard.

"Against a background of increasing drought-related water and food shortages and malnutrition, which have been predicted with high confidence for the coming decades, Asia's glaciers will play an increasingly important part in protecting downstream populations from drought-induced spikes in water stress -- spikes that, without mitigating changes in the way water is stored and used, are the potential trigger for a sudden jump in the price of water that could be profoundly destabilizing for this region."

Sources: Science Daily, Nature

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUL 27, 2020
Plants & Animals
Why Mosquitoes Have a Preference for Human Blood
JUL 27, 2020
Why Mosquitoes Have a Preference for Human Blood
There is a huge variety of mosquitoes in the world - around 3,500 species - and only a few seek humans for their blood m ...
JUL 31, 2020
Plants & Animals
This Fungus Spreads by Manipulating Male Cicadas into Mimicking Females
JUL 31, 2020
This Fungus Spreads by Manipulating Male Cicadas into Mimicking Females
Researchers from West Virginia University (WVU) recently discovered how a parasitic fungus uses male cicadas to spread i ...
AUG 05, 2020
Plants & Animals
Satellite Images Reveal New Emperor Penguin Colonies
AUG 05, 2020
Satellite Images Reveal New Emperor Penguin Colonies
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) recently shared excellent news about emperor peng ...
AUG 11, 2020
Microbiology
A New Microbe is Discovered in an 'Unnatural' Environment
AUG 11, 2020
A New Microbe is Discovered in an 'Unnatural' Environment
While we can exert a degree of control over our surroundings, we still share the world and our bodies with microbes.
AUG 20, 2020
Health & Medicine
New Method to Detect Microplastics in Human Tissues
AUG 20, 2020
New Method to Detect Microplastics in Human Tissues
Microplastics make headlines frequently these days, and a discovery from Arizona State University (ASU) researchers is b ...
SEP 08, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Huge international supply chains account for 20% of global emissions
SEP 08, 2020
Huge international supply chains account for 20% of global emissions
This may come as a surprise to exactly no one, but multinational companies are the culprits of the highest levels of car ...
Loading Comments...