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Melting glaciers threaten millions

india Updated: Dec 06, 2011 00:43 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Melting of snow on the world's tallest peak, the Mount Everest, has increased dramatically between 2002 and 2005 with receding of glaciers in Hindu-Kush Himalayan region having doubled in the last 20 years.

A first comprehensive study of 54,000 glaciers covering 60,000 sq kilometers -- bigger than area of United Kingdom --- by United Nations supported International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) says that the glaciers were melting in both central and eastern Himalayas.

"Country specific studies have found that depletion of glacial area over the past 30 years was 22 % in Bhutan, 21 % in Nepal and about 15 % in India," the report said. Mount Everest has witnessed a faster rate of the glacial melt between 2002 and 2005.

But, global warming was having bigger impact on clean glaciers of the Tibetan pleateau, which recorded faster rate of retreating than the glaciers of the rugged central Himayalan region. It is because the glaciers in the Central Himalayan belt are covered in debris, which provide insulation to glaciers, thereby slowing down the melting process.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region has about 30 % of the world's glaciers and also referred as third pole, after North and South poles.

The study based on satellite maps of glaciers also reports huge ecological and survival implications for 1.3 billion people who live in basins of rivers originating from Himalayan glaciers.

"Two major land use systems in the region are changing," the report said. In mountain forests, tree lines and species are shifting to higher elevations, and species already living at the highest elevations may have nowhere to go. For humans, there is a risk of outburst of huge glacial lakes discovered during the study and lesser water for livelihood when the glaciers recede beyong a limit. "Changes in the seasonality of flows in river basins supplied by melt water from snow and ice are also predicted," the report said.