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Himalayan glacial melt threatens water supply for 1.3 billion people

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pscot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-08-09 09:00 PM
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Himalayan glacial melt threatens water supply for 1.3 billion people

Tim Johnson - McClatchy Newspapers


KAROLA PASS, TibetThe glaciers of the Himalayas store more ice than anywhere on Earth except for the polar regions and Alaska, and the steady flow of water from their melting icepacks fills seven of the mightiest rivers of Asia.Now, due to global warming and related changes in the monsoons and trade winds, the glaciers are retreating at a startling rate, and scientists say the ancient icepacks could nearly disappear within one or two generations.
But for people living in the watershed of the Himalayas and other nearby mountain ranges along the Tibetan Plateau, glacial melt could have catastrophic consequences.Himalayan glaciers release water steadily throughout the year, most critically during the hot, dry, sunny periods when water is most needed. Once they vanish, major lifeline rivers such as the Ganges and Indus could become more seasonal, and large tributaries may dry up completely during non-monsoon periods.
"The presence of glaciers is very vital to the Himalayan river systems," said Anil Kulkarni of the Indian Space Research Organization, who has used satellite data to measure the glacial retreat. "It is really alarming. We have to be really concerned."
"Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps getting warmer at the current rate," the report said. The total area of glaciers in the Himalayas likely will shrink from 193,051 square miles to 38,600 square miles by that year, the report said.
Yao Tandong, one of China's premier glacier scientists and director of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, in China's capital, Beijing...... said that from 1960 to 2000, China's 46,298 glaciers retreated by 7 percent, not a hugely significant loss. But the pace of retreat is picking up."It's accelerating. The retreat is more rapid now. We see it from satellite photos and in situ observation," Yao said. "All scientists agree now that it is from warming."

Glacial runoff in the Himalayas is the largest source of freshwater for northern India, and provides more than half the water to its most important river, the Ganges.Glacial runoff also is the source of the headwaters for the Indus River in Pakistan, the Brahmaputra that flows through Bangladesh, the Mekong that descends through Southeast Asia, the Irrawaddy in Burma, and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers of China.Scientists say 1.3 billion people reside in areas affected by glacial retreat, either in flood-prone areas or in locales that rely on year-round supplies of fresh water from glaciers rather than from the monsoon rainfall of only three or four months.
The retreating glaciers are occurring across an area that's the largest high-altitude land mass on the planet, bordered by the Himalayas to the south, the Tian Shan range to the north, and the Pamirs and the Karakorum mountains to the west.Throughout the area, experts say, dwindling glaciers may lead to unstable mountainsides, greater sedimentation in rivers and disrupted irrigation systems, in addition to threatening water supplies to large populations.
China issued its first ever report on climate change in late December, saying average temperatures will rise two to three degrees Fahrenheit by 2020 and up to 6.4 degrees by the end of the century, unleashing more frequent "extreme weather events."Scientists say glacial retreat will bring a feast-or-famine cycle to the Himalayas.
As climate change intensifies, she said, humans growing desperate for year-round water are likely to pay less attention to the needs of protecting biodiversity.Small villages in Nepal, Bhutan, India and Pakistan that rely on glacier-fed water "are already feeling the pinch of this," Kulkarni said.
Far from the highest peaks in Tibet, large lakes fed by glacial runoff are rising by as much as 30 feet, experts said, submerging new areas and displacing some nomads. Experts say permafrost, or perennially frozen ground, is also beginning to melt.
The Himalayas, with 17 percent glacial cover, have far more extensive glaciers than other ranges, such as the Alps, which have only a 2 percent cap of glacier and icepack.(more)

(McClatchy Newspapers special

This is rather chopped up. The whole story is at the link
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FirstLight Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-09-09 12:05 PM
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1. It is going to hapen faster than the models show...
Just like the Arctic icemelt, it will happen faster than originally thought, and in a decade water shortages will show up on all continents...
I'm glad I live next to a freshwater lake! But we could be surprised where climate change will take now it is way past the turning point. all we can do is hang on for the ride... the planet (mother nature) is ultimately the boss here ...
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pscot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-09-09 02:06 PM
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2. The future is difficult to see
Edited on Sun Aug-09-09 02:07 PM by pscot
It seems to be obscured by blowing dust. Lots of it.
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troubledamerican Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-09-09 03:02 PM
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3. Same problem with The Andes, South America.
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