Glaciers in the Everest region could disappear this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, a new scientific study says, signalling an ecological shift that could set off massive disasters in the Kosi river basin and devastating floods downstream in India.
The paper, published on Wednesday in the journal The Cryosphere by researchers from Nepal, France and the Netherlands, says Everest glaciers could be very sensitive to future warming and sustained ice loss of 70-99% is possible by 2100.
"Continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures," said Joseph Shea, a glacier hydrologist with Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the leader of the project.
Glaciers in the high mountain regions of Asia, which include the Himalayas, contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions.
The scientists say lakes could be formed from glacier debris and if they burst due to avalanches and earthquakes, it could lead to tragedy in the Kosi basin.
Though the signal of future glacier change in the region is “clear and compelling”, the researchers say the estimates should be treated with caution.
“Our estimates need to be taken very cautiously, as considerable uncertainties remain,” said Patrick Wagnon, a glaciologist with Institut de recherche pour le développement in France.
The Dudh Kosi basin in the Nepal Himalayas, where the study was conducted, is home to some of the world’s highest mountain peaks, including the 8,848-metre high Mt Everest, and to over 400 square kilometres of glacier area.