Climate change is warming the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region at an alarming rate, leading to the rapid recession of glaciers and to the creation of super moraine-dammed lakes. But that's not all that's happening, researchers and mountain communities are sharing knowledge and building solidarity across mountain regions around the world.
Ama Dablam, Solukhumbu, (2018)
Often referred to as the “Third Pole”, the Hindu Kush Himalayan region retains the largest amount of ice outside the Arctic and Antarctic. As the water tower of Asia, the region is the source of 10 major rivers including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, Yellow, Amu Darya and Tarim.
But all is not well in the Third Pole. A comprehensive environmental assessment of the Tibetan plateau and the mountains of the Hindu Kush undertaken in 2019 by the Nepal based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has found that the region is getting hotter, wetter and more polluted, resulting in rapid glacial recession which will lead to one third of regions ice fields being lost by 2100, even if warming is capped at 1.5°C.
A glacier on the flank of Pumori mountain, Solukhumbu (2018)
The Khumbu Glacier which cascades out of Mt Everest's Western Cwm is already retreating at an average of 20m per year, with 1km of ice having been lost since the 1960s. The once monumental seracs within the glacier's moraine which once towered over Base Camp at over 100ft tall have decreased significantly in height since the mountain was first climbed in 1954. The summit ridge of the mountain itself has also changed as snow fields have reduced and at times the ridge is only scarcely covered with snow and ice during the dry season.
A serac closed to Everest base camp, Khumbu Glacier, Solukumbu (2018)
“There is barley enough snow to climb the summit ridge of Everest now.”
Dr. Nyima Namgyal Sherpa
The ablation of the region's glaciers is also being spread up by the darkening of the ice and snow on the surface of glaciers by air pollution caused by industrial activity in regions surrounding the high Himalayas. Black carbon and dust reduce the albedo of the ice and snow on top of the glacier leading to more heat being absorbed in the surface of the glacier. As snow and ice on the surface of the glacier warm, pools of melt water form and then penetrate the glacier which lubricates its base, thereby increasing the speed at which it retreats.
A hanging glacier below the peaks of Lobuche East and West, Soulkhumbu (2018)
A s regional temperatures rise the periglacial landscape between the tree line and the snow line is also changing as the permafrost underneath its surface melts. This is causing the fragile soil and vegetation layer that rests on top of the permafrost to break up and then blow or wash away. With the Sherpa communities of the upper Khumbu valley dependant on the landscape's vegetation for yak grazing those that can afford it have resorted to carrying in feed for the animals from lower altitudes to supplement grazing.
Dingboche high altitude weather monitoring station, Dingboche, Solukhumbu (2018)
The Imja-Lhotse Shar Glacier is one of the glaciers experiencing the highest rate of loss in the Mount Everest region, in part due to the expansion of the 2-mile-long moraine-dammed Imja Tsho glacial lake that has formed within its lower section.
The Imja-Lhotse Shar Glacier, Soulkhumbu (2018)
Alerted to the imminent threat of a catastrophic glacial lake outburst flood that would have washed away numerous villages downstream and affected between 90,000 and half a million people, a plan was devised by the Nepal Army, UNDP and the Governments Department of Meteorology and Hydrology to dig through the moraine dam to drain the dangerously full lake which had grown by over a square kilometre since the 1960s.
Working in harsh conditions at 5000m plus, Nepali Army and Sherpa personnel took 6 months to construct the drainage channel and a further 2 months to drain approximately four million cubic metres of water from the glacial lake into the Imja Khola river, thereby reducing the risk of the lake bursting through its moraine-dam.
The Imja Khola river, The Imja Valley, SoluKhumbu, (2018)
For nearly 2 billion people dependant on the region’s glaciers, including those in the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, a climate-changed future could see increased water stress that would exacerbate food and water insecurity, increase the loss of livelihoods, reduce hydropower yields, see increasing numbers of floods and droughts, and worsen local and regional conflicts.
The streets of Kathmandu, I-II Naya Sadak and III Ashok Binayak Marg, Kathmandu (2018)
The Kathmandu Valley has seen sprawling urban growth as Nepali’s migrate to the city from rural and mountain regions in the pursuit of better economic prospects and as a loss of livelihoods, landslides, floods and drought have displaced them. The resultant rapid unplanned development of poor-quality structures in the earthquake prone valley significantly increased the death toll of the 2015 earthquake.
Kathmandu at night, Dullu, Kathmandu (2018)
However, by pulling together the expertise of researchers and communities from the eight countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region to tackle climate related mountain changes, Nepal based organisations including ICIMOD have developed and shared research, information and innovations that empower mountain communities to adapt to climate, environmental, and socioeconomic changes, valuable Knowledge that can unite and support mountain communities around the world.
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Climate change is warming the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region at an alarming rate, leading to the rapid recession of glaciers and to the creation of moraine dammed lakes. But thats not all thats happening, explore how researchers and mountain communities are sharing knowledge and building solidarity across mountain regions around the world.