Himalayan glaciers are in retreat: UN body

Last Updated: Friday, January 22, 2010 - 21:26

New Delhi: Himalayan glaciers are retreating, and small glaciers will probably disappear by the end of the century, the UN body in charge of the Himalayas said Friday.
It was commenting on another UN report that had admitted it blundered by predicting disappearance of all Himalayan glaciers by 2035.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN is under fire for having included in its 2007 report -- without adequate peer review -- an assertion that glaciers in the Himalayas will disappear by 2035 due to global warming. It has since retracted the statement.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), however, supported the overall conclusions of the IPCC.

"We can state that the majority of glaciers in the region are in a general condition of retreat, although with some regional differences; that small glaciers below 5,000 metres above sea level will probably disappear by the end of the century, whereas larger glaciers well above this level will still exist but be smaller; and that deglaciation could have serious impacts on the hydrological regime of the downstream river basins," it said in a statement.

The Kathmandu-based group also said: "The positive aspect of the debate has been the immense awareness created at various levels including politicians, decision makers, the media, and the public at large, which has led to some positive outcomes in recent months."

According to Icimod, "many of the inferences regarding glacial melting are based on terminus fluctuation or changes in glacial area, neither of which provides precise information on ice mass or volume change.

"Measurements of glacial mass balance would provide direct and immediate evidence of glacier volume increase or decrease with annual resolution. But there are still no systematic measurements of glacial mass balance in the region although there are promising signs that this is changing."

Icimod, a UN body of eight countries that straddle the Himalayas -- India, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Afghanistan -- said: "China is the only country in the region which has been conducting long-term mass balance studies of some glaciers and it has expressed the intention of extending these to more Himalayan glaciers in the near future.

"India has recently started to study several glaciers for regular mass balance measurements. Recognising the importance of mass-balance measurements, Icimod has been promoting mass balance measurements of benchmark glaciers in its member countries and has co-organised trainings to build capacity for this in the region."

It pointed out that "Icimod has been drawing attention to the severe problems resulting from the lack of good scientific data and information for the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, especially but not only on glaciers. This severely limits the ability to understand present changes or predict future impacts, a prerequisite for good decision-making".

Icimod is now developing a database so that a regional monitoring system on the status of snow and glaciers can be put in place.

It said: "Although the lack of information and knowledge about the glacier melt processes in the Himalayas has been used to politicise the larger issues, the positive aspect of the debate has been the immense awareness created at various levels including politicians, decision makers, the media, and the public at large, which has led to some positive outcomes in recent months."

Icimod welcomed India`s "decision to establish a specialised glacier research centre. Similarly, the concept of the Third Pole Environment initiated by the Chinese Academy of Sciences will have a positive impact on minimising the gaps in our basic understanding".

PTI



First Published: Friday, January 22, 2010 - 21:26

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