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Two-thirds of Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2100: Study

Date: 05 February 2019 Tags: Climate Change

Scientists in new study titled Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment have warned that two-thirds of Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) glaciers could melt by 2100 if global emissions are not reduced. It was released by Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

HKH Assessment

  • It provides insights into changes affecting one of greatest mountain systems in the world.
  • It calls for greater recognition of protection mountain areas and HKH region in global efforts to fight climate change.
  • It has been styled after Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and over 350 researchers, practitioners, experts, and policy-makers were involved in drafting it.

Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) range

  • HKH covers 3500 kms across eight countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.
  • It is referred to as planet’s “third pole” as it harbours more ice than anywhere outside Arctic and Antarctica.
  • It is source of ten major river basins including Ganga, Brahmaputra and Indus in India that flow to India, Pakistan, China, Nepal and others, and thus of critical importance.
  • These glaciers are critical water source for some 250 million people in mountains as well as to 1.65 billion others in the river valleys below across Asia.

Key Findings of HKH Assessment

  • Even if efforts are made to limit global warming to 1.5 degree C by end of 2100 (ambitious goal set by the Paris Agreement to limit global warming), HKH will warm by around 1.8 degree C.
  • HKH will warm more than global mean and more rapidly at higher elevations. The warming will at least be 0.7 degree C higher in northwest Himalaya and Karakoram region
  • It will lead to melting of one-third of region’s glaciers, potentially “destabilizing” Asia’s rivers. Tibetan Plateau, Central Himalayan Range and Karakoram will warm more than HKH average.
  • Global warming will also transform frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of HKH cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century.
  • The warming rate in HKH over last 50 years has been 0.2 degree C per decade. Extreme indices in region have also changed over this period: occurrences of extreme cold days and nights have declined.
  • Occurrences of extreme warm days and nights have also increased. Warm nights have increased throughout region, and extreme absolute temperature indices have changed significantly.
  • Extremes in precipitation are increasing in HKH region and number of intense precipitation days and intensity of extreme precipitation have increased overall in the last five decades.
  • If these trends persist frequency and magnitude of water-induced hazards in region will increase in t future.
  • Pre-monsoon flows are expected to decline, with implications for irrigation, ecosystem services and hydropower.

HKH is also sensitive to air pollutants originating within and near it as they will amplify effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and accelerate melting of cryosphere through deposition of black carbon and dust, and changing monsoon circulation and rainfall distribution over Asia.

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