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article imageThe Earth's 'Third Pole' is thawing fast due to climate change

By Karen Graham     Feb 4, 2019 in Science
At least a third of the ice in the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush will thaw in this century as temperatures rise, disrupting river flows vital for growing crops from China to India, scientists said on Monday.
Central Asia’s glaciers make up the third-largest mass of frozen fresh water on earth, the planet’s “third pole.” This region includes the Pamir, the Hindu Kush, Himalayan mountains and the Tibetan Plateau - and is the source of 10 major river systems, supplying irrigation, power and drinking water to over 1.3 billion people.
The thing is, even if the planet were to dramatically and rapidly cut carbon emissions, and succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5C, we would still lose 36 percent of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range by 2100. If emissions are not cut, the loss soars to two-thirds.
Water from the glaciers is critical to the survival of 250 million people living in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region. Another 1.65 billion people rely on the rivers flowing from the great peaks into India, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and other nations, reports
“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said Philippus Wester of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), who led the report, according to CBC Canada. "Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of the HKH cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century
The 650-page report - covering a five-year period between 2013 and 2017 - was compiled by over 300 leading researchers, experts and policymakers, brought together by the Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Programme (HIMAP) under the coordination of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
According to the authors, river flows will increase during and up to 2050 to 2060 - raising the risk of high-altitude lakes bursting their banks and engulfing communities. Then, the river flows will decline as less ice is available to melt. The Indus and central Asian rivers will be most affected. “Those areas will be hard hit,” said Wester.
Himalayan Shweta Glacier to Kalindi Base Uttarakhand India in 2014.
Himalayan Shweta Glacier to Kalindi Base Uttarakhand India in 2014.
Sharada Prasad CS
Lower river flows will end up cutting power at hydroelectric dams, impacting farmers and communities downstream from the water needed for irrigation and power sources. Changes to spring melting already appear to be causing the pre-monsoon river flow to fall just when farmers are planting their crops.
The report also highlights the vulnerability of a large swath of the planet's people who live in hard to reach areas of the world. In the event of a climate catastrophe, they are usually harder to reach, as we have seen in the past. There are also political tensions to consider, such as the animosity between Pakistan and India, reports The Guardian.
“There are rocky times ahead for the region. Because many of the disasters and sudden changes will play out across country borders, conflict among the region’s countries could easily flare up,” said Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of Icimod.
Hamish Pritchard, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey and not part of the report, said it is “a substantial piece of work.”
“Take the ice away and those people are exposed to serious water stress and the consequences of that are local, regional and potentially global, in terms of conflict and migration,” he said.
More about Himalaya region, HinduKush, Glaciers, third pole, Climate change
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