Glacier Melting in Hindu Kush

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    According to a recent United Nations-backed research, up to two billion people in southeast Asia can face food and water shortages even as the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) mountain ranges lose up to two-thirds of its ice by 2100.

    About Hindu Kush Himalayan Region

    • It is often referred to as the ‘Third Pole’ and is spread over 3,500 square kilometres across eight countries including India, Nepal and China.
    • It contains the world’s third-largest storage of frozen water after Antarctica and the Arctic.
    • Over 240 million people live in the region’s mountains and 1.7 billion live in the river basins downstream, while food grown in these basins reaches three billion people.  
    • Its glaciers feed at least 10 major river systems, which have bearings on agricultural activities, drinking water and hydroelectricity production in the region.

    (Image Courtesy: GRIDA)

    (Image Courtesy: ET)

    Glacier

    • It is a big body of ice that is created from falling and accumulated snow over a period of time.
      • They get created in areas where the temperatures are exceedingly low, including areas that are at sea level and mostly in high altitude areas like the mountain tops.
    • Reasons for Melting
      • Climate change, which is altering the patterns of temperature and precipitation and larger anthropogenic modifications of the atmosphere.
      • Deposits of anthropogenic Black Carbon (BC), which increase the glaciers’ absorption of solar radiation and raise air temperatures.
        • Recent evidence suggests that it is responsible for more than 50 per cent of the accelerating glacier and snow melt.
      • The HKH region lies downwind from some of the most heavily polluted places on Earth, which threatens agriculture, climate as well as monsoon patterns.

    Concerns Highlighted

    • The HKH region continues to warm through the 21st century even if the world was able to limit global warming at the agreed 1.5 degrees Celsius.
      • In the future, even if global warming is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrialisation levels, warming in the HKH region is likely to be at least 0.3 degrees Celsius higher and in the northwest Himalaya and Karakoram at least 0.7 degrees Celsius higher.
    • On the ice thickness of glaciers, it was estimated that glaciers in the HKH may contain 27 per cent less ice than previously suggested.
    • In the best-case scenarios, High Mountain Asia (the Asian mountain ranges surrounding the Tibetan Plateau) will lose a substantial part of its cryosphere in the next decades and thus a substantial part of its water storage abilities, which will lead to increased water stress in high mountain areas.
      • Cryosphere: It comprises portions of Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, etc.
    • Melting glaciers and the loss of seasonal snow pose significant risks to the stability of water resources in South Asia.
    • The glacier melt contributes to disasters such as flash floods, landslides, soil erosion and Glacial bursts, with mountain communities especially vulnerable to such disasters. 
      • Flash Floods: These are highly localized events of short duration with a very high peak and usually have less than six hours between the occurrence of the rainfall and peak flood.
        • The flood situation worsens in the presence of choked drainage lines or encroachments obstructing the natural flow of water.
      • Glacial Burst: When glaciers retreat, they leave a space which becomes a glacial lake being filled with water. When such a lake breaches, it is known as Glacial Burst or Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).
    • The melting and thinning of glaciers may also affect hydropower production, which is a key source of renewable energy for the region. 
    • Potential damage to other sectors including the infrastructure and adversely affect the larger tourism industry. 

    Recommendations/Suggestions

    • The report recommended shifting away from fossil fuel use in energy, transport, and other sectors.
    • It also suggests changing diets and agricultural practices to move to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases.
    • The countries in the region need to reduce emissions of black carbon and other air pollutants as well.
    • Farmers will need support to design and invest in locally-appropriate water storage solutions, or to shift to agricultural practices that consume less water.
    • Designs of new hydropower plants and grids will need to take into account the changing climate and water availability.
    • Improvement in the data and information, capacity-building and early warning systems and infrastructure design, which calls for sufficient funding and large-scale coordination.

    Source: DTE