Roundup: British Royals in Pakistan, Trump’s Logging Plan, and Cracks in Pine Island Glacier

British royals visit Pakistani glacier

From the Telegraph:

“The Duke of Cambridge has warned that the world risks losing ‘many of the precious things we care about’ if it fails to take action on climate change, as he visits a melting glacier in Pakistan.

The Duke, who travelled to the north of Pakistan on the third day of their tour, said the couple hoped to ‘use our voice and lend our position’ to talk about the environment and climate change.

[…]

The Duke and Duchess have spent the day in a remote location in the Hindu Kush mountain range in northern Pakistan, beginning at the Chiatibo Glacier in Broghil National Park.

They were shown how the ice has retreated rapidly in recent years due to global warming in their first opportunity to see a melting glacier in real life.”

Read the article here.

Trump administration proposes logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

From the Washington Post:

“The Trump administration Tuesday proposed allowing logging on more than half of Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America.

President Trump instructed federal officials to reverse long-standing limits on tree cutting at the request of Alaska’s top elected officials, on the grounds that it will boost the local economy. But critics say that protections under the “roadless rule,” finalized just before President Bill Clinton left office in 2001, are critical to protecting the region’s lucrative salmon fishery and tourism operations.

The U.S. Forest Service said it would publish a draft environmental impact statement this week (Oct. 15) that, if enacted, would exempt the Tongass from the 2001 roadless rule.”

The Mendenhall Glacier, among many others, is located within Tongass National Forest.

Read the article here.

Mendenhall Glacier (Source: Wikimedia Commons/
Jay Galvin)

New cracks observed in Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier

From the European Space Agency:

“The Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites have revealed new cracks, or rifts, in the Pine Island Glacier—one of the primary ice arteries in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The two large rifts were first spotted in early 2019 and have each rapidly grown to approximately 20 km in length.

Mark Drinkwater, Head of the Earth and Mission Sciences Division at ESA, says, ‘These new rifts appeared very soon after last year’s major calving of iceberg B46. Sentinel-1 winter monitoring of their progressive extension signals that a new iceberg of similar proportions will soon be calved.'”

Read more here.

Read more on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Turkey’s Glaciers

New Satellite Imagery Shows Rapid Pace of Andean Glacier Melt

Video of the Week: Glacier Atop Mont Blanc on Precipice of Collapse

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Rising Temperatures May Not Cause More Frequent GLOF Catastrophes

Glacial lake outburst floods, GLOFs for short, are expected to increase in frequency over time as global temperatures warm. These floods can be very sudden, fast-flowing, and powerful enough to form their own seismic signatures. They carry water, rocks, trees, and debris down valleys, destroying homes and sometimes killing people and livestock.

Many glaciers such as ones in the Hindu-Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayas are shrinking rapidly, forming glacial lakes and causing potentially catastrophic floods for tourists and nearby communities. Understanding the influence of climate change on the frequency and intensity of GLOFs will help disaster risk managers in developing early warning systems and disaster response plans.

Glacial lake by the base of Gokyo Ri, a peak on the Ngozumpa glacier, the largest glacier in Nepal (Source: AlexCuby//Pixabay)

Although experts expect these moraine-dammed glacial lakes to grow in size with the addition of glacial meltwater, the risk of GLOFs doesn’t necessarily increase everywhere. In a recent article published in Nature Climate Change, Georg Veh and several of his colleagues from the University of Potsdam and the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences examined historical flood occurrences in the the Himalayas that were considered to be hotspot regions for glacier retreat. They aimed to observe GLOF activity for the last few decades, assessing changes in frequency and trend.

Some climate scientists hypothesize that dangerous GLOFs will become more frequent with the growth of moraine-dammed glacial lakes. According to Veh and his colleagues, testing this hypothesis is confounded by incomplete data. Historical reports on GLOF activity are selective, and the researchers speculated that 40 reports on GLOFs in the Hindu-Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayas since 1935 only accounted for large and destructive cases. This suggests that a significant portion of the data might be missing.

To account for reporting bias, the team examined changes in GLOF frequency through a systematic inventory of activity in the Hindu-Kush, Karakoram, and the Himalayas. They were able to identify moraine-dammed lakes and activity in Landsat images from the late 1980s to 2017. Researchers used a random forest model, which was able to generate land-cover maps. These maps provided probabilities for water, cloud, shadow, ice, and land cover across the image tiles. During GLOFs, lakes would abruptly decrease in size, changing from a water to land classification in the Landsat image.

Lake Saiful Muluk in the Karakorum mountain range (Source: Mansoor Haque 199108/Wikimedia Commons)

The research team mined over 8,000 Landsat images of the region. In addition to the 17 GLOFs reported since the 1980s, the researchers added 22 newly detected occurrences. They found that despite increasing rates of meltwater entering glacial lakes, particularly in the central and eastern Himalayas, which observed rates of up to six times higher than the northern basin, GLOF abundance remained low.

The average annual rate of 1.3 GLOFs in the region remained unchanged over the last three decades. The fraction of GLOFs per unit of meltwater area, however, has declined since the 1990s.

“We infer that climate-driven rates of glacier melt and lake expansion may be unsuitable predictors of contemporary outburst potential,” stated the researchers.

Their findings were consistent with research on glacial lakes in the Patagonian Andes.

The scientists inferred that their result may indicate a sort of resilience to climate-driven triggers such as glacier calving and ice avalanches, the most frequently reported cause of GLOFs. Unfortunately the team was unable to identify triggers for the 22 newly identified outburst floods, although 16 of them came from pro-glacial lakes within proximity of their parent glaciers. GLOFs generated by calving and avalanche events become less relevant as glaciers retreat from the lakes they have formed.

They also mentioned the importance in perceiving the role of alternate triggers such as earthquakes and landslides in the formation of outburst floods. They give the example of the 2015 Gorkha earthquake in the Nepalese Himalayas. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake did not provoke GLOFs, but it generated landslides which hit glacial lakes.

Veh said the research demonstrated that climate as a sole driver did not change GLOF frequency over the last decade, but that does not mean that frequency will remain unchanged in the future.

“Reliably projecting the future frequency of outburst floods remains an open issue, given that our current knowledge of triggers is quite vague today,” Veh said. The updated inventory of outburst floods will allow for further examination of these cases in more detail.

“Better knowledge of the processes involved in glacial lake outburst floods will ultimately reduce current uncertainties in hazard and risk assessment,” he added.

The researchers believe new generations of optical and radar sensors may be effective in better recognizing GLOF triggers and determining when the next glacier lake outburst flood might occur.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Video of the Week: A ‘Staggering’ Amount of Meltwater in Greenland

Illustrating the Adventures of German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt

The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day

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Roundup: Blood Falls, Protecting North Cascades’ Glaciers, and Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment

This week’s Roundup covers discovery of what causes the reddish tint of “Blood Falls,” the Taylor Glacier’s terminus in Antarctica, a bill passed by the US Senate that could protect glaciers in North Cascades National Park, and ICIMOD’s newly published Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment.

Scientists Determine the Geochemistry of Antarctica’s Blood Falls

From Journal of Geophysical Research: Geosciences: “Blood Falls is a hypersaline, iron‐rich discharge at the terminus of the Taylor Glacier in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica…Our results provide strong evidence that the original source of solutes in the brine was ancient seawater, which has been modified with the addition of chemical weathering products.”

United States National Science Foundation's helicopter at Blood Falls on GlacierHub
One of the United States National Science Foundation’s helicopters, with Blood Falls clearly visible (Source: German Aerospace Center/Flickr).

 

Good News for Glaciers in North Cascades National Park

From the National Parks Traveler: “Strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate has reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, protected Yellowstone and North Cascades national parks from mining on their doorsteps, designated some 1.3 million acres of wilderness, and called for a study into potential units of the National Park System, though the House of Representatives still needs to take up the measure.”

Cache Col Glacier on Mount Formidable, in the North Cascades National Park in Washington State on GlacierHub
The Cache Col Glacier on Mount Formidable, in the North Cascades National Park in Washington State (Source: jaisril/Flickr).

 

Assessing the Value of the Hindu Kush Himalaya

From ICIMOD: “This assessment report establishes the value of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) for the 240 million hill and mountain people across the eight countries sharing the region, for the 1.65 billion people in the river basins downstream, and ultimately for the world. Yet, the region and its people face a range of old and new challenges moving forward, with climate change, globalization, movement of people, conflict and environmental degradation. At the same time, we also see incredible potential to meet these challenges in a sustainable manner.”

Scenic view of the Hindu Kush mountain range on GlacierHub
Scenic view of the Hindu Kush mountain range (Source: 401st_AFSB/Flickr).

 

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Roundup: Collapsing Glaciers, Invertebrates, and Resilient Mountains

Collapsing Glaciers in The Himalaya–Hindu Kush mountain ranges & the Tibetan Plateau

From Nature: “Tibetan communities are dealing with the impacts of collapsing glaciers. In October 2018, debris dammed the Yarlung Tsangpo River, which forms the headwater of the Brahmaputra, threatening areas as far afield as Bangladesh with flooding.”

Read more about how collapsing glaciers are affecting Asian communities and their water supply here.

Tibetan Plateau (Source: Andrew and Annemarie, Flickr)

Benthic Communities in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

From Ecological Applications: ” In this study, we describe contrasting responses to an apparent regime shift [in food particle size] of two very different benthic communities in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. We compared species-specific patterns of benthic invertebrate abundance and size between the west (low productivity) and east (higher productivity) sides of McMurdo Sound across multiple decades.”

Read more about the changes to benthic invertebrates in Antarctica here.

McMurdo Sound, Antarctica (U.S. Department of State, Flickr)

Resilient Mountain Solutions in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

From UNFCCC: “Research at ICIMOD has revealed that temperatures in the mountains have increased significantly faster than the global average, and are projected to increase by 1–2°C on average by 2050. Precipitation patterns and water availability are likely to change.”

Read more about Resilient Mountain Solutions such as vulnerability reduction and improved ecosystem services here.

Hindu Kush Range, Pakistan (Source: Akbar Asif22, Wikimedia Commons)

 

RELATED: South Georgia Island’s Novosilski Glacier Is Retreating Rapidly

RELATED: Powerful Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in the Himalayas

RELATED: Ice Loss, Gravity, and Asian Glacier Slowdown

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Photo Friday: Marc Foggin & the Mountains of Central Asia

This Photo Friday, journey to the mountains of Central Asia and the Tibetan Plateau through breathtaking photographs from Marc Foggin, acting director of the Mountain Societies Research Institute at the University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. A conservation biologist specializing in the mountain environments of Asia, Foggin has over twenty years of experience traversing the glacierized landscapes of Central Asia and the Tibetan Plateau. His research primarily explores the complex human dimensions of conservation, natural resource management and community development.

His photography extends beyond the region too, capturing his adventures across the world from Nepal to Kenya to Norway to Hawaii and beyond. This week’s post showcases a few of Foggin’s landscape photographs from the Hindu-Kush, Tianshan mountains, and the Tibetan Plateau.

Check out more of Marc Foggin’s photography from across the world here.

Image of the Hindu Kush Mountain in Afghanistan from the Panj river on the Tajikistan side of the border (Source: Marc Foggin).

 

Image of the Panj River with the Hindu-Kush mountains in the background. The Panj River defines the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan (Source: Marc Foggin).

 

Image of an early morning on the Tibetan plateau at 4,800 meters above sea level. In a region known as the Sanjiangyuan, this area of grasslands and wetlands are the source areas of the powerful Yangtze, Yellow, and Mekong rivers (Source: Marc Foggin).

 

Image of the Tianshan Mountains from the eastern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, just south of the town of Karakol in Kyrgyzstan (Source: Marc Foggin).

 

 

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Flood Early Warning Systems Leave Women Vulnerable

Glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) pose an immediate threat to locations in mountain regions where rising temperatures contribute to glacier melt. This risk makes it crucial that communities at risk to GLOFs develop early warning systems (EWS) to alert residents of impending danger. In order for EWS to be effective, gender needs to be prioritized. In a recent paper published by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Mandira Shrestha et al. evaluated flood early warning systems in Bhutan and found that many EWS exclude women, who are especially susceptible to natural disasters like GLOFs.

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An aerial view of some of Bhutan’s glacier lakes (Source: Robert Simmon/NASA).

GLOFs, which are difficult to predict and devastating to local populations, occur when meltwater is suddenly released from a lake just below a glacier. When this occurs, large amounts of water rush down valleys, picking up debris. They can lead to many deaths and to extensive destruction of fields and property.  

In total, Bhutan has 24 lakes which are capable of causing GLOFs.  As temperatures rise, glacier melt increases, leading to exposed moraines and larger volumes of water. However, an EWS can help save lives during a GLOF, especially if it is combined with preparatory actions before a flood occurs.

In Bhutan, the EWS was first introduced in 1988 as part of the Hindu Kush Himalayan – Hydrological Cycle Observing System (HKH-HYCOS), a project developed by ICIMOD, national governments in the region, and the World Meteorological Organization. However, Shrestha et al. found that none of the current policies in Bhutan’s EWS address specific needs and experiences of women during natural disasters. In planning documents, women are described as victims, rather than presented as playing an important role in disaster risk management.

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An image of a GLOF (Source: MONGO/Creative Commons).

The Bhutan EWS contains four major elements, also found in other warning systems: risk assessment, monitoring and warning, dissemination and communication, and response capability. The Bhutanese government first prioritized flood early warning systems in 1994, following a detrimental GLOF, which killed 12 people, destroyed 21 homes, and washed away nearly 2,000 acres of land. Shrestha et al. point out that even a good warning system would not be fully effective in preventing such a tragedy if it fails to reach vulnerable populations like women, as well as other such populations including children, disabled people, and the elderly.

As Shrestha et al. explain, while women in Bhutan make up 49% of the population and legally have equal rights and access to education, public services, and health care, most women engage in household labor, while men dominate political work. The authors indicate that only 25 percent of women in Bhutan are involved in non-agricultural work. Extensive male out-migration in Bhutan, as elsewhere in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, leaves women to carry out the work in domestic agriculture. As a result, Bhutanese women are excluded from decision-making processes at community or larger scales.

This pattern is reflected in other nearby countries as well.  One study done on disaster-affected people seeking mental health care in Bangladesh, which has the highest natural disaster mortality rate in the world, found that women have higher mortality rates in natural disasters, and are also extremely vulnerable in the aftermath of a natural disaster. For example, they are more likely to face food shortage, sexual harassment, and disease, among other issues.

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An aerial map of Bhutan, showing different glacier lakes (Source: ASTER/NASA).

Shrestha et al. describe how the social structure in Bhutan leaves women dependent on men for receiving disaster information, because these details are shared in public places, where women typically do not go. Many of the alerts are done through sirens, but some women cannot hear them as they are located in towns rather than rural areas. Even if women do receive the information, it is often too late. Due to cultural norms that restrict their freedom of movement when in public, women are frequently left waiting to ask for permission from men to take actions that can save their lives.

Gender-inclusive EWS emphasizes assuring that women receive early warnings, but also, more importantly, that they participate in decision-making processes. Without these features, early warning systems may prove inadequate to save the lives of women in natural disasters like GLOFs.

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Himalayan Region Considers Climatic Threat to Hydropower Future

Glacial melt is threatening the Hindu Kush Himalayan region’s development of potential hydropower. A recent forum convened by the Kathmandu-based organization International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) highlighted the climatic and social challenges that accompany the establishment and sustainability of the region’s hydropower sector.

The Sept. 1 event event, “Managing climate and social risks key to hydropower development,” held in Stockholm, Sweden, was co-organized with the Stockholm International Water Institute, in addition to the research and consulting organization FutureWater and Statkraft, a Norwegian state-owned hydropower company.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region has nearly 500 GW hydropower potential, but only a fraction of it has been developed, despite the “increased climatic and social risks” this problem creates, according to ICIMOD. 

“There is a need to manage risks so that the mountains and the plains derive sustainable benefits from the region’s rich hydropower potential,” said David Molden, the Director General of ICIMOD, according to the organization’s media release.

David Molden, the Director General of ICIMOD, speaks at the September conference. (Photo courtesy Udayan Mishra/ICIMOD).
David Molden, the Director General of ICIMOD, speaks at the September conference. (Photo courtesy Udayan Mishra/ICIMOD).

The Asian mountain range extends across eight countries, from Afghanistan into Myanmar. Collectively, the biodiverse region, with 10 major river basins, directly supports the livelihoods of more than 210 million mountain inhabitants. The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, sometimes called HKH, also has the highest concentration of snow and glaciers outside the polar region, with 54,252 glaciers identified last year — meaning 1.4 percent of the region is glaciated.

Glacial retreat, onset by the impacts of climate change and warming atmospheres, varies, but has been observed across all HKH glaciers in the last few decades. Overall, the decrease in glacial mass in this region over the last several decades has been among the most pronounced worldwide.

“This surely is one of the most vulnerable regions,” said Molden during a video interview at the event.

“It is highly vulnerable to climate change and the people in the mountains are not the ones emitting the greenhouse gases, but really the ones paying the price for climate change. Some of the issues we are seeing are melting ice, permafrost… changes in rainfall patterns that will make a big difference in this region… we really have to pay attention to the area.”

Over 80 percent of the glaciers in the Himalayas have not been researched, as GlacierHub previously reported.

A view of the Nepalese Himalayas along the HKH. (Photo courtesy Flickr).
A view of the Nepalese Himalayas along the HKH. (Photo courtesy Flickr).

Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in the area, along with landslides, have also increased in recent years, placing “existing and planned hydropower plants at risk,” according to the organization.

While the Indian Himalayas has the potential to produce 150,000 MW of hydropower each year, only 27 percent of that power has actually been developed. In Nepal, only 2 percent of the region’s hydropower sources are utilized.

Companies at the September meeting expressed concern about a number of risks in generating hydrpower in the region, Molden said in the video interview. The first step, he explained, is understanding the challenges. These include tracking changes in hydrology water resources that come from glacial melt. While melting glaciers increase water flows in rivers  for short periods of time, their contribution to river systems will gradually lessen.

There are also challenges related to GLOFs, and the damage the outburst floods could inflict on hydropower plants.

Aditi Mukherji, ICIMOD’s theme leader in water and air, spoke at at the meeting, presenting on how while hydropower is produced in the mountains of India, for example, mountain people there do not always receive direct commensurate benefits from the production of the energy sources. The consultation of communities in the construction of hydropower plants was also highlighted as another ongoing issue.

Presenters at the session on "Mountains, glaciers and hydropower in a changing climate" in Stockholm. (Photo courtesy Udayan Mishra/ICIMOD).
Presenters at the session on “Mountains, glaciers and hydropower in a changing climate” in Stockholm. (Photo courtesy Udayan Mishra/ICIMOD).

Martin Hornsberg, of Statkraft, also presented at the conference, discussing how many run-off-river hydropower plants in the Himalayas depend largely on the current available surface runoff. Some ongoing challenges include deciding which emission scenarios should be assumed, as well as which climate models should be considered.

His presentation explained how hydropower plants will likely be impacted by a future decrease of water discharge and run off during the dry seasons, possibly also the wet seasons, in a worst case scenario that Hornsberg laid out for conference participants. He suggested that reservoirs would be helpful to balance inflow, but would “require more investment, have a larger impact on the environment and on local communities.”

The September event came at the end of World Water Week, created to serve as a focal point for global water issues.

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Roundup: Fungus, Hydropower, and Microbes

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

 

Fungal Biodiversity in the Periglacial Soil of Dosdè Glacier

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An example of a Northern Italian Glacier (Credit: Wikimedia)

From The Journal of Basic Microbiology:

“Periglacial areas are one of the least studied habitats on Earth, especially in terms of their fungal communities. In this work, both molecular and culture-dependent methods have been used to analyse the microfungi in soils sampled on the front of the East Dosdè Glacier (Valtellina, Northern Italy). Although this survey revealed a community that was rich in fungal species, a distinct group of psychrophilic microfungi has not been detected. Most of the isolated microfungi were mesophiles, which are well adapted to the sensitive climatic changes that occur in this alpine environment. A discrepancy in the results that were obtained by means of the two diagnostic approaches suggests that the used molecular methods cannot entirely replace traditional culture-dependent methods, and vice versa.”

Read more here.

 

Review of Climate Change and the Impacts on Cryosphere, Hydrological Regimes and Glacier Lakes

From FutureWater Report:

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Kabul, situated 5,900 feet (1,800 m) above sea level in a narrow valley, wedged between the Hindu Kush mountains (Credit: Wikimedia)

“The climate, cryosphere and hydrology of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region have been changing in the past and will change in the future. In this literature review, the state of knowledge regarding climate change and its connections to changes in the cryosphere and hydrology has been investigated, with a specific focus on impacts for hydropower development. From historical trends in climate it is clear that air temperature has been increasing in the HKH region over the past decades. Rates of increase are different for daily mean air temperature, maximum air temperature and minimum air temperature. Temperature in the higher elevations increased more over time than temperature in lower elevations. Historical precipitation trends on the other hand show no significant increasing or decreasing trends overall, but the trends vary locally.”

 Read more here.

Microbial Communities in Alpine Soils

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Air temperature, precipitation, and snow depth measured for the sampling period of this study. (Data collected from the IDAWEB database of the Swiss Meteorological Institute)

From Frontiers in Microbiology:

“Microbial communities in alpine environments are exposed to several environmental factors related to elevation and local site conditions and to extreme seasonal variations. However, little is known on the combined impact of such factors on microbial community structure. We assessed the effects of seasonal variations on soil fungal and bacterial communities along an elevational gradient (from alpine meadows to a glacier forefield, 1930–2519 m a.s.l.) over 14 months.”

Read more about microbial communities found on glaciers here.

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Major Conference Attracts Continuing Attention to Black Carbon

This past month, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Nepalese Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment hosted the International Conference on Mountain People Adapting to Climate Change. The large attendance and extensive coverage of this conference brought a great deal of attention for the Hindu Kush Himalaya region and its specific climate vulnerability. One of the central topics of discussion during the conference was the effect of black carbon deposits on the region’s glaciers. Although there is some lingering uncertainty about the precise magnitude and reach of the effects of this substance, members of the conference agreed that evidence is sufficient to begin the creation of  goals to reduce it in the near future.

Reaching this consensus is important, because the Hindu Kush Himalaya range is essential to the health of the greater Asian continent. The range spans eight countries, covers 3 million square kilometers, and is the source of ten of Asia’s major river systems. The effects of black carbon on the region’s glaciers could have broadly negative consequences for ecosystems and livelihoods. Black carbon has a double impact. Primarily, it darkens snow and ice. The dark color allows more sunlight to be absorbed by the snow and ice, which increases melting. Secondarily, black carbon is an air pollutant,. Although the tiny particles do not remain in the air for long periods, they can be inhaled by humans and cause serious respiratory problems.

Though they remain currently unrestricted, black carbon emissions are becoming an increasing concern in the region. Sources of black carbon in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region include cook-stoves, diesel vehicles, and the industrial burning of coal. In fact, one third of the black carbon suspended in the atmosphere hovers over India and China, and these particles cause at least 30% or more of the melting of glaciers in the region. Many of the gravest effects of black carbon have been well established in scientific literature, but some aspects of the substance remain up for debate. Nonetheless, “it is never wrong to start to reduce emissions of black carbon as soon as possible and as vigorously as possible,” concludes Dr. Arun Shrestha, Senior Climate Change Specialist at ICIMOD. Shifts to other forms of energy use could reduce black carbon significantly.

The conference was a clear step toward covering these critical topics in meaningful ways. “The conference’s outcome will not change everyday life of mountain people right from tomorrow,” stated Dr. David Molden, the ICIMOD’s Director General, to Xinhuanet, “but it will help us formulate policies for better adaptation solutions.” The conference marked a shift in decision-making practices, because it brought together environmental and health experts. Their efforts are bringing black carbon to a more prominent position in adaptation planning.

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Hundreds of Millions of South Asians At Risk from Glacier Melt

A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are affected by glacial melt. (Susan Novak/Flickr)
A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are at risk from glacial melt. (Susan Novak/Flickr)

Few regions on Earth depend as heavily on glaciers for food, energy and water as South Asia’s Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem. A new research paper in the journal Environmental Science and Policy highlights some of the challenges downstream communities face when glacier water from upstream communities becomes scarce.

The greater South Asian region accounts for two-thirds of the world’s population and consumes roughly 60 percent of the planet’s water. Hundreds of millions of people in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh depend on the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem for direct and indirect sustenance.

“The Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain system is often called the ‘third pole’ or ‘water tower of Asia’ because it contains the largest area of glaciers and permafrost and the largest freshwater resources outside the North and South poles,” wrote lead researcher Golam Rasul in the May 2014 paper. “Food, water, and energy security in South Asia: A nexus perspective from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.”

The Hindu Kush range extends some 800 kilometers in a northeast-to-southwest direction from the Pamir Mountains near the Pakistan-China border, through Pakistan, and into western Afghanistan. This 1879 map shows the passes between Kabul and Oxus. (Royal Geographical Society/Wikimedia Commons)
The Hindu Kush range extends some 800 kilometers in a northeast-to-southwest direction from the Pamir Mountains near the Pakistan-China border, through Pakistan, and into western Afghanistan. This 1879 map shows the passes between Kabul and Oxus. (Royal Geographical Society/Wikimedia Commons)

Rasul, the head of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s Economic Analysis division, said the best approach to the situation is a nexus approach. In other words, equal attention must be paid to watersheds, catchments, river system headwaters and hydropower.

The mountainous area is home to tens of thousands of glaciers whose water reserves are equivalent to around three times the annual precipitation over the entire regions. These glaciers – a study from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development put the number at 54,000 – are a crucial component of the region’s ecosystem, and in many ways central to providing energy, food and water to the glacier communities and those downstream.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem is under threat from unsustainable resource use. Rapid population growth, increased urbanization, and increased commercial activity are driving increasing pressure on ecosystem services, as higher demand for energy and resource intensive goods are met with little regard for sustainable resource use.

(<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/alistair_rae/5342688529/in/photolist-997Fat-aaXJPg-jpDKwu-7stWH3-8JEwWB-cmGoDo-aR7pfg-bsZtRb-9Lq3Ev-8JEwXK-8JEwSc-8JEwUn-8JEwYV-fg29L8">Meandering Mammal/Flickr)
The glaciers of the Hindu Kush mountain range are heavily relied on for water, food, energy, and more. A new study says hundreds of millions of people are at risk from the glaciers melting. ()

Rasul notes that reversing this trend is inherently difficult, given that mountain communities bear the cost of conservation, but receive only a few of the benefits due to “a lack of institutional mechanisms and policy arrangements for sharing the benefits and costs of conservation.”

In order to maximize benefits to upstream and downstream communities, the authors say a nexus approach that looks to understand the interdependencies of food, water, and energy, can maximize synergies and manage trade-offs. As the water intensity of food and energy production increases, the recognition of the role of glaciers and other hydrological resources in the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem will be vital in promoting its sustainable use.

 

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