Karakoram glaciers bucking global warming trend and ‘putting on mass’
London: Some glaciers on Asia’s Karakoram mountains, which is home to K2, are defying the global trend and getting thicker, a new study has claimed.
For the study, a French team used satellite data to show that glaciers in part of the Karakoram range, to the west of the Himalayan region, are putting on mass.
The reason is unclear, as glaciers in other parts of the Himalayas are losing mass, which also is the global trend.
The region’s glaciers are poorly studied, yet provide a vital water source for more than a billion people.
The response of Himalayan glaciers to global warming has been a hot topic ever since the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which contained the erroneous claim that ice from most of the region could disappear by 2035.
Although often regarded as part of the Himalayas, the Karakoram range is technically a separate chain that includes K2, the world``s second-highest peak.
Much of the region is inaccessible, and there has been a general recognition that observations need to be stepped up in order to clarify what is going on.
“It could be due to a very specific regional climate over Karakoram,” the BBC quoted Julie Gardelle, CNRS-Grenoble as saying.
The French scientists, from the National Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Grenoble, compared two models of land surface elevation derived from satellite observations, for 1999 and 2008.
The method has been used before in other mountain ranges, but it is not as straightforward as it might sound.
“It’s not been used more because these elevation models are quite difficult to acquire - you need clear sky conditions and reduced snow cover,” Gardelle, the lead researcher, said.
Other factors that can change the height of the ice surface, other than changes to the ice itself, also need to be accounted for.
Having done all these calculations, the team found that between 1999 and 2008 the mass of the glaciers in this 5,615 sq km (2,168 sq miles) region of the Karakoram increased marginally, although there were wide variations between individual glaciers.
Why this should be is not clear, though it is well known from studies in other parts of the world that climate change can cause extra precipitation into cold regions, which if they are cold enough, gets added to the existing mass of ice.
“We don’t really know the reason.
“Right now we believe that it could be due to a very specific regional climate over Karakoram because there have been meteorological measurements showing increased winter precipitation; but that’s just a guess at this stage,” she said.
Whatever the region, it is clear that the trend contrasts with other parts of the wider Himalayas-Hindu Kush region, home to an estimated 210 million people and where glaciers act as fresh water stores for about 1.3 billion living in river basins below.
The study has been published in the Nature Geoscience journal.
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