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Third Pole Melting Away: Himalayan Cryosphere in Peril

Himalayan Cryosphere in Peril

Context: Recent findings by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) alarmingly reveal an accelerated disappearance of Himalayan Cryosphere (glaciers), melting at a staggering rate 65% faster since 2010. This rapid melting could drastically diminish water flows in vital rivers like the Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra.

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Cryosphere and Its Vulnerabilities

The cryosphere encompasses various frozen elements like glaciers, snow, and permafrost. The heightened mean temperatures in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, surging at an average trend of 0.28°C per decade since 1951, are affecting this fragile ecosystem. The ramifications of glacial melt are dire for crucial river systems.

Vulnerability Factors

Several factors render Himalayan glaciers especially vulnerable. The Tibetan plateau, warming three times faster than the global average, absorbs rising warm, moisture-laden air due to its high elevation, accelerating ice loss.

Consequences of Melting Glaciers

Forecasts project alarming scenarios: if global temperatures remain below 1.5°C, the region could experience over 2°C of warming, potentially losing 30 to 50 percent of glaciers by 2100. Failure to mitigate emissions could lead to a staggering 5°C rise. This threatens a significant decline in water availability by 2100, accompanied by reduced snowfall and increased disasters like landslides and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).

Challenges and Biodiversity Impact

The ecological repercussions include species decline and potential extinctions. The report foresees a quarter of endemic species in the Indian Himalayas wiped out by 2100, contributing to ecosystem degradation.

High Stakes and Recommendations

About 60% of the Himalayan region relies on seasonal cryosphere for water and ecosystem services. Disturbingly, permafrost degradation is projected to reach alarming levels. The consequences of melting glaciers also contribute to rising sea levels, impacting low-lying deltas and bays.

Policy Recommendations

The ICIMOD’s comprehensive survey urges urgent actions:

  1. Reducing global carbon emissions is paramount to mitigate the cryosphere challenges.
  2. Expanding observation networks and data-sharing agreements across the region is critical.
  3. Improvements in research and observation must anticipate and minimize disaster impacts, such as GLOFs and avalanches.

The urgency to address these pressing issues becomes increasingly critical as the fragile Himalayan cryosphere continues to face imminent threats.

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