by Plutonium Page
Over the past few weeks, we've been watching Michael Palin's excellent account of his journey through the Himalayas. In the opening scene, his helicopter lands on the Baltoro glacier in Concordia. It's incredible scenery, and you can see where the area gets its name, for "Himalaya" is Sanskrit for "The Abode of Snow".
However, there's something that you can't see unless you look at satellite images. Here's one of the Gangotri glacier:
Details below the fold.
For reference, here's a map of the Himalaya region:
Seventy percent of the worlds freshwater is frozen in glaciers. Glacier melt buffers other ecosystems against climate variability. Very often it provides the only source of water for humans and biodiversity during dry seasons. Freshwater is already a limited resource for much of the planet, and in the next three decades, the population growth is likely to far exceed any potential increase in available water.
The Himalayas have the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar caps. With glacier coverage of 33,000 km2, the region is aptly called the “Water Tower of Asia” as it provides around 8.6 X 106 m3 of water annually (Dyurgerov and Maier, 1997). These Himalayan glaciers feed seven of Asia’s great rivers: the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Huang Ho. It ensures a year round water supply to millions of people.
Climate change has impacted the glacial ecosystem tremendously. Sixty-seven percent of glaciers are retreating at a startling rate in the Himalayas and the major causal factor has been identified as climate change (Ageta and Kadota, 1992; Yamada et al., 1996; Fushinmi, 2000).
Glacial melt will affect freshwater flows with dramatic adverse effects on biodiversity, and people and livelihoods, with a possible long-term implication on regional food security.
The report specifies that the melting glaciers will first result in the increase in river volume, and consequential flooding. However, after a few decades, the volume of water in the rivers will decrease.
The Gangroti glacier (image above the fold) feeds India's Ganges river. The consequences of the declining water level of the Ganges would obviously be enormous.
From all three case studies [Nepal, India, and China] one can gather the enormity of the predictions of retreating glaciers and associated impacts for the many millions of people whose very survival depends directly or indirectly on fresh water from these sources. While it is not yet clear which stage of deglaciation we are currently in, it is only wise to prepare for the worst. It is imperative to make vulnerability assessments of different development sectors and devise adaptation plans. Climate change impacts and responses are transboundary issues. Therefore, in addition to national discourses on linkage between climate change, mitigation and adaptation measures and development efforts, regional collaboration is necessary to formulate co-coordinated strategies.
The WWF news release regarding their report mentions that the WWF has sent a letter to the countries attending the "Energy and Environment Ministerial Round Table" as well as a G8 meeting focusing on climate change. Specifially, the WWF:
...calls on all governments to recognize that global average temperature must stay below 2°C (3.6°F) in comparison to pre-industrial levels, to agree upon a series of ambitious initiatives to vastly change the way their countries produce and use energy, and to launch a power sector governance initiative where all countries commit to practicing the principles of transparency, accountability and public participation in energy sector decision-making.
The United States is one of the governments attending the round table. Since we refused to acknowlege the Kyoto Protocol, the WWF letter must have gone into the Official Bush Administration Shredder.