Himalayan glaciers are melting at an exceptional rate because of global warming, threatening the water supply of millions of people in Asia, a study published on Monday said.
Glaciers in the Himalayas have lost ice 10 times more quickly in the past few decades than on average since the last major glacier expansion 400-700 years ago, a period known as the Little Ice Age, said the study published in Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed journal of the Nature group of journals.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Leeds School of Geography in the UK, found that 14,798 Himalayan glaciers have lost around 40% of their area compared to the Little Ice Age.
“Our findings clearly show that ice is now being lost from Himalayan glaciers at a rate that is at least 10 times higher than the average rate over past centuries,” co-author Jonathan Carrivick of Leeds University said in a statement. “This acceleration in the rate of loss has only emerged within the last few decades, and coincides with human-induced climate change.”
The eastern Himalayas are more sensitive to warming and glacier shrinkage, the study said, citing glaciers in east Nepal and Bhutan. The number and size of glacial lakes are increasing, which causes further acceleration glacier mass loss, the researchers said.
“The glaciers will continue to shrink at a rapid pace till mid-century, leading to higher run-off. After mid-century, the run-off will gradually decrease as glaciated area would have reduced,” said Anil Kulkarni, glaciologist at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change in the Indian Institute of Science. “This will impact seasonality of water availability and total water availability in the region.”
The Hindu Kush Himalayas experienced a temperature rise of as much as 1.3 degree Celsius between 1951 to 2014, a comprehensive study on climate change over India by the earth sciences ministry had said in June 2020. Several areas of Hindi Kush Himalayas have experienced a declining trend in snowfall and retreat of glaciers in recent decades, it said.
The mountainous region will experience warming in the range of 2.6-4.6 degrees by the end of this century, the official Indian study predicted, which will cause severe hydrological and agricultural impacts in the country.