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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

almost a quarter of bhutanese glaciers have shrunk in last three decades

Scientists warn that climate change could be devastating as the Himalayan region provides food and energy to 1.3bn people living in downstream river basins

A new report released at COP17 in Durban, South Africa, revealed that one fifth of the glaciers in the Himalayas have shrunk in the last 30 years.
The findings published by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), show Bhutan’s glaciers have shrunk by an alarming 22% over the 30 years while another study found a significant reduction in snow cover across the region in the last decade.
There are three reports published by ICIMOD: The Status of Glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region, Snow Cover Mapping and Monitoring in the Hindu Kush- Himalayas, and Climate Change in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas: The State of Current Knowledge.
These reports are seen as the most comprehensive assessment of the extent of melting Himalayas glaciers ever.
“These reports provide a new baseline and location-specific information for understanding climate change in one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world,” said Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The study on the snow cover in Bhutan by ICIMOD revealed that snow coverage in the countrydropped to almost 14% in the last decade.
The snow coverage area of Bhutan decreased from 9,058 square kilometers to 7,851 square kilometers in 2010. This has been attributed to warming temperatures.
Since rivers in Bhutan depend on snow melt for water, changes in snow cover because of climate change can influence the distribution and availability of water, states the report.
The report also says that change in snow fall can influence national economy and livelihood of the people of Bhutan where snow is an essential natural resource for hydropower and agriculture which constitute two major contributors to the national exchequer with 22% and 17% share of gross domestic product.
Speaking at the Joint High Level Segment of COP17 at Durban, agriculture and forest minister Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, said the recent IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events reconfirms the vulnerability of mountain regions.
“As a small, landlocked least developed country, Bhutan faces immense challenges for development with very limited capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change,” said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.
Lyonpo said another concern of the mountainous countries is that the rate of temperature rise increases with altitude, leading to greater and faster climate change in mountainous areas compared to lower lying areas.
“With the impacts of climate change already visible in the Eastern Himalayas, from rapidly increasing temperatures, disappearing glaciers, drying of water sources and increasing climatic disasters, we cannot afford to delay action,” said Lyonpo.
The Hindu Kush-Himalaya region’s glaciers and snow are essential for the regional monsoon system and also feed the headwaters of 10 major river systems across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.
“The HKH region is one of the most ecologically sensitive and fragile areas in the world. The effects of climate change will likely become more evident here than perhaps any where else first and with the greatest impact since this ecosystem supports the livelihoods of more people than any other coherent ecosystem in the world,” said the agriculture and forest minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.
Glacial melting creates huge lakes that threaten to burst and devastate mountain communities downstream.
In Bhutan, there are around 2,674 glacial lakes out of which 25 are identified as potentially dangerous and pose risks of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF). The most dangerous glacial lake is the Thorthormi glacial lake where every year works are under way to reduce the water level to avoid GLOFs.
The region offers livelihoods to the 210 million people living there and indirectly provides goods and services to the 1.3 billion people living in river basins downstream who benefit from food and energy. Rich in biodiversity, the region is home to some 25,000 plant and animal species, and contains a larger diversity of forest types than the Amazon. Yet despite an abundance of natural resources in the region, poverty is rife. HKH countries account for 15% of the world’s total migration.
The reports follow a claim made by scientists in 2007 that the regions glaciers would be gone by 2035. The study also found significant reduction in snow cover across the region in the last decade.

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