Study paints alarming picture of glacial retreat

Study paints alarming picture of glacial retreat

Nepal’s mountains lost a glacier area of 1,266 square kilometres, 24 percent of the total glaciated area of the country between 1977 and 2010, a study has shown.

The findings of a new research made public last week blame rising temperatures caused by climate change to the colossal loss of ice deposits in the Himalayas. The glacial retreat in the mountainous region is some of the largest proportionate losses on earth and would have implications on hydropower generation, drinking water supply, agriculture production and tourism. Every year glaciers—the major source of freshwater required to run day-to-day lives of thousands of people— were found to have receded by 38 sq km during the period.

According to Samjwal Ratna Bajracharya, one of the lead researchers, the accelerated loss of glaciers could severely impact highaltitude urban areas as well as downstream villages with the growing problems of water scarcity and occurrence of water-induced disasters such as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). “High-altitude villages and tourist areas are highly dependent on glaciers as the major source of drinking water and other purposes. The increased retreating of glaciers will directly impact their lives and livelihood,” he said.

The fast melting of glaciers due to rising temperatures has resulted in formation and development of glacial lakes in high-altitude areas, posing threats of GLOFs and avalanches. The downstream villages face high risks, said Bajracharya. According to the findings of the research titled ‘Glacier status in Nepal and decadal change from 1980 to 2010’, prepared by the Kathmandubased International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), the overall glacier area of the country decreased from 3.6 percent to 2.6 percent over the period.

The research has drawn stakeholders’ attention to the vulnerability of Himalayas to climate change as glacier melting is considered a key indicator of climate-induced impacts, said Bajracharya. The total glaciated area in Nepal forms the upper reaches of four major river basins—the Mahakali, Karnali, Gandaki, and Koshi—with 19 sub-basins, all of which are part of the Ganga basin system. It is estimated that the glacier-fed river basins drain a total area of 89,457 square km, or about 61 percent of the total land area of Nepal. 

Source: The kathmandu Post