Researchers in Canada have discovered that proglacial freshwaters are important carbon sinks. Glacier retreat has often been considered a negative consequence of climate change, but this finding suggests there may be benefits as well.
Himalaya GLOF Threat Featured in National Geographic Features
From National Geographic: “Scientists say the accelerated melting of Asia’s estimated 56,000 glaciers is creating hundreds of new lakes across the Himalaya and other high mountain ranges. If the natural dam holding a glacial lake in place fails, the resulting flood could wipe out communities situated in the valleys below. Engineers in Nepal are looking at ways to lower the most dangerous lakes to reduce the threat.
“It’s all happening much faster than we expected it to even five or 10 years ago,” says Alton Byers, a National Geographic explorer and mountain geographer at the University of Colorado Boulder.”
An Invasive Plant Species Is Taking Over Antarctica’s Glacier Forelands
Invasive species are an enormous threat in Antarctica where one non-native vascular plant species is widespread and studies have shown negative impacts on native flora. The continent has only two species of “higher” plants, but a newcomer has people worried. New research shows that it is often founds in “glacier forelands”––areas exposed by recent glacier retreat.
From the abstract: “Using field “common garden” experiments, we evaluate the competitive impact of the increasingly wide- spread invasive grass Poa annua on the only two native vascular species of Antarctica, the forb Colobanthus quitensis and the grass Deschampsia antarctica. We focus on interactions between these three plant species under current and a future, wetter, climate scenario, in terms of density of individuals.”
From Antarctic Science: “The soil microbiome was investigated at environmentally distinct locations on King George Island in the South Shetland Islands (Antarctic Peninsula) … the taxonomic analysis revealed 20 bacterial and archaeal phyla, among which Proteobacteria (29.6%), Actinobacteria (25.3%), Bacteroidetes (15.8%), Cyanobacteria (11.2%), Acidobacteria (4.9%) and Verrucomicrobia (4.5%) comprised most of the microbiome.”
Read more about how deglaciation and human impacts affect prokaryotic communities in Antarctic soils here.
Borehole Thermometry and Vulnerability of Himalayan Glaciers
From Nature Scientific Reports: “From boreholes drilled in the glacier’s ablation area, we measured a minimum ice temperature of −3.3 °C, and even the coldest ice we measured was 2 °C warmer than the mean annual air temperature. Our results indicate that high-elevation Himalayan glaciers are vulnerable to even minor atmospheric warming.”
Read more about Himalayan glacial vulnerability due to complex surface topography and seasonal variations here.
Record of Environmental Change in Lake Pastahué
From SAGE Journals: “The aim of this study was to reconstruct the environmental and climatic history of the last 1000 years of Lake Pastahué through a multi-proxy sediment core analysis … the variations observed since the beginning of the 20th century could be the result of the combined effect of anthropogenic activities and the increase in temperature recorded in south-central Chile and Patagonia.”
Read more about documenting paleo records on Lake Pastahué here.
A paper set to be published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources takes a critical view of the breadth of academic literature on climate change policy and politics in India. It evaluates not only the ideas and knowledge regarding climate change, but also recent shifts in domestic and international governance and policy. The authors underscore the ways that glaciers have played a role in shaping the trajectory of climate change responses in India.
India has a significant stake in the climate change arena with about 9,000 glaciers within its boundaries. In fact, it was recently named the most vulnerable country to climate change, in a report by HSBC bank earlier this year.
The Himalayan region has millions of people that reside in India and in the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. The residents depend on the glacial meltwater that sources rivers for drinking water, electricity generation, and irrigation. Snowfall from the monsoon season is able to replenish the glaciers to create the foundation for this hydrological system, but climate change disrupts this pattern and dramatically increases the vulnerability of all who depend on it.
India’s scientific community has closely studied monsoons and glacial melt. In this way, they have helped usher initial attention toward climate change action among the public and policy makers. However, this attention has not been without controversy.
The Himalayan glaciers were the subject of heated debate after the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Fourth Assessment Report claimed that they would completely disappear by 2035. This claim was later corrected after it was determined to be incorrect. While Himalayan glacier retreat may be substantial by the end of the century, models show that the glaciers will not completely disappear.
The issue of glacial melt is just one of the many factors that raised the importance of climate change policy action in India, which the paper highlights as shifting substantially over time.
Initially, India built its international negotiation strategy on a pillar of climate equity, bridging rich and poor nations. But the paper notes that the meaning of this term has broadened over time “to include not only disparities among nations, but also disparities within India and the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations.”
Although emphasis remains on the developed nation’s obligation to take responsibility for its contribution to climate change, India has stated its own national contribution to mitigation.
Its forest sequestration pledge to increase forest cover came with Indian advocacy for the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program, for example. This rewards increased sequestration of carbon, not just reduced deforestation, and was eventually adopted in Bali during the UNFCCC’s 15th Conference of the Parties.
Despite India’s push toward forest expansion, the paper emphasizes the remaining global concern over the country’s future role in carbon emissions, including black carbon, which is a significant factor in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers.
The literature has provided a range for future carbon emissions that is largely dependent on India’s energy future. Future demand and supply will shape how India will be able to contribute to global mitigation efforts, and the outcome of this is one of the main issues the paper discusses.
“India has made significant progress in mitigation measures but has not been able to take sufficient steps for including adaptation measures in its development policies,” Sumit Vij, a Ph.D. candidate researching public administration and policy at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, told GlacierHub.
This is a major problem for the vulnerable country, especially for those living in the Himalayan region, where coordinated efforts that work on the ecosystem level could be of benefit.
“The adaptation strategies are focused toward the local level. There has been no focus on transboundary or regional level adaptation measures from India,” Vij continued.
Of the adaptation policies that currently exist, they have been overly focused on the short-term, which inclines them “toward development or business-as-usual,” according to Vij.
“Conceptually, it makes sense that adaptation policies focus on long-term impacts of climate change, rather than on short-term development interventions,” he said.
Nevertheless, India has worked to strengthen its commitment to climate change, which represents a move in the right direction for the country. “However, given the overhang of immediate development challenges, climate change can only be salient to politics and governance if a robust analytical framework is developed to integrate climate considerations alongside and interwoven with pressing development challenges,” concludes the paper. This will remain the next frontier for future climate change research and responses in India.
The Himalayas, located between the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan Plateau, is among the world’s best known mountain ranges, but the region is rapidly melting as a result of climate change. This has life-threatening consequences for the diverse wildlife and people who call the mountains home.
Animals native to the Himalaya range include the critically endangered red panda, Himalayan brown bear, snow leopard and tahr, to name just a few. Many of these species are gradually dwindling in number as their habitats are impacted by humans, rising temperatures and glacial melt.
In 2012, for example, the World Wildlife Fund found that 30 percent of snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas may be lost to treeline shift as a result of warmer and wetter conditions, with only an estimated 4,000 snow leopards still left in the wild. The increase in temperature has caused the glaciers in the snow leopard’s habitat to recede, affecting permafrost, precipitation and water resources. Pakistan’s Minister of Climate called the snow leopard a “thermometer of the health of the mountain ecosystem.”
GlacierHub hopes you will marvel at this collection of photos from the Himalayas, featuring wildlife that may very well soon be lost to climate change.