Himalayan Glaciers are Melting

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Illustration by Fran Caballero
Sources by WWF - NPR

The Himalayas is one of the world's most sensitive hotspots to global climate change, with impacts manifesting at a particularly rapid rate. A situation that is predicted to intesify in coming years, with dire and far-reaching impacts on food, water and energy security, as well as biodiversity and species loss. Not just in the Himalayas, but throughout Asia.

The Himalayan glaciers are the water towers of Asia, and the source of many of the world's great rivers: The Yangtze, the Ganges, the Indus and the Mekong. Over a billion people depend directly on the Himalayas for their survival, with over 500 million people in South Asia, and another 450 million in China completely reliant on the health of this fragile mountain landscape.

A Third of Himalayan glaciers could be gone by 2100 because of earth’s warming climate. That could have disastrous effects on the water resources of some 240 million people.

Climate change in the Himalayas poses a serious threat to the source of these great rivers with dire and far-reaching impacts on biodiversity, food, water and energy security. Vulnerable nations must therefore move rapidly to build resilience to these impacts and adapt to the changing climate.
The melting of glaciers would bring a series of significant changes to the region. Rivers would have more flow initially, creating the potential for flooding. But eventually the flows from the melting glaciers would decrease. The overall impact of climate change is also causing sources of water for agriculture in Nepal, like springs, to dry up.

Glacial melting will also likely cause global sea levels to rise, threaten already endangered species like the snow leopard and tiger and dramatically change the roof of the world. "We'll no longer have these snow-capped mountains," says Wester of the iconic Himalayan range topped off by glacial snow and ice.

The people living in the high mountains are already seeing the changes. Sherab Lama is a Buddhist monk who grew up in a village that juts up around 16,000 feet in Nepal's Dolpa region. From Lama's village, a triplet of mountains are visible. Lama says the mountains are called Ghangri Poosum in Tibetan, which translates loosely to "three ice-covered brothers." During his father's childhood, the three brothers lived up to their name, but when Lama was a boy, only two were ice-covered. Now, the 40-year-old says, just one has ice left.