The Impact of Glacial Change in the Himalayas

Published on September 25th, 2012 | by

Himalayan glacier-fed stream

The Himalayas are home to over a thousand glaciers, and these slow moving ice masses provide a significant portion of the water for the people that live in the area. In both the central and eastern parts of the region, the glaciers are melting, mimicking a problem faced in many other areas. However, if you look west, the glaciers seem to be doing well and might actually be getting bigger, according to information that was just released by the National Research Council.

The National Research Council focused their attention on the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, an area that spans eight Asian countries and is home to some of the most prominent rivers in the world, include the Ganges and Yangtze. They are particularly interested in determining how glacier activity might impact the local people, rivers and water sources. Previously, several reports came out that raised concerns about the diminishing size of the glaciers; the newest one reviews a few issues but also discusses potential solutions.

The Situation In The East

In the east, and along the Tibetan Plateau, glaciers are shrinking. The climate is hotter than it used to be, particularly in areas where black carbon and desert dust are prominent. Still, while the water supply may be slightly unstable due to population increases and other factors, it will probably be many years before the impact of the glacier melt is truly realized.

This is partially due to the fact that both snowmelt and monsoon precipitation factor largely into how much water is available for use. Certain places, particularly at high elevations, may see changes related to glacier melting sooner, though, especially during dry season.

What The Future Holds

During the next thirty years or so, glacial melting could (literally) be a lifesaver for the people of the Himalayas. If there is a severe drought or another environmental catastrophe, glacial ice has the potential to make a huge difference in the water levels of the rivers and streams in the area. As a result, the individuals living there could survive a very trying time that ordinarily would have caused a substantial loss of life.

It is important, however, that everyone does their part to try and slow down global warming so that glaciers will be around for many years to come. Products that help harness renewable energy resources, like solar panels, can help to achieve this goal. Flexible management is another key to successfully adjusting to the glacial change.

Himalayan glacier-fed stream photo via Shutterstock

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