Study: Asia's glaciers face massive melt from global warming

September 13, 2017 by Frank Jordans
In this Monday, Feb. 22, 2016 file photo, international trekkers pass through a glacier at the Mount Everest base camp, Nepal. Scientists say a third of the ice stored in Asia's glaciers will be lost by the end of the century even if global warming stays below 1.5 degrees Celsius. (AP Photo/Tashi Sherpa, file)

Scientists say one-third of the ice stored in Asia's glaciers will be lost by the end of the century even if the world manages to meet its ambitious goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, affecting water supplies for millions of people on the continent.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in the Netherlands also examined what would happen if average global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. They concluded that almost two-thirds of the ice in Asia's glaciers could vanish, if no effort is made to curb .

"In regions where glacier melt water is an important part of the river flow, the retreating glaciers can become a problem," Philip Kraaijenbrink, a University of Utrecht geographer who led the study, said.

"There are many people living in basins that have their rivers originating in Asia's high mountains, such as the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra," Kraaijenbrink said. "In these basins, the river water is used for irrigation of cropland, drinking water and for hydropower dams."

The 1.5-degree target was set at the international climate conference in Paris two years ago, but experts say it would require a massive shift to the world economy.

In total, the researchers compared 110 climate simulations and found that high mountain glaciers in Asia tended to experience greater levels of warming than the global average. All glaciers analyzed already are losing mass except those in the Kunlun Mountains of western China.

In this May 20, 2015 file photo Kashmiri nomad tends to his heard of sheep and goats as he crosses a glacier near Dubgan, 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Srinagar, India, Scientists say a third of the ice stored in Asia's glaciers will be lost by the end of the century even if global warming stays below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Bakarwals are nomadic herders of India's Jammu-Kashmir state who wander in search of good pastures for their cattle. Every year in April-May more than one hundred thousand people from the nomadic Bakarwal tribes arrive in the meadows of Kashmir and parts of Ladakh from areas of the Jammu region with their flocks of cattle and sheep. After crossing snowy mountains with their cattle and belongings, Kashmir valley's lush green meadows become their home from April to September, after which they begin their return journey. This seasonal shifting of "homes" ensures a regular flow of income for the families. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Taking into account the effect on melting levels of rubble covering some of the glaciers, they concluded that the amount of ice lost from Asian is almost proportional to the amount of warming they experience, though with some regional variations.

"Even if temperatures stabilize at their current level, mass loss will continue for decades to come until a new equilibrium is reached," the researchers said.

Kraaijenbrink acknowledged that a scenario in which remains under 1.5 degrees Celsius is optimistic.

"We are aware that more extreme, business-as-usual scenarios are possibly a more likely future," he said.

In a comment published along with the study, J. Graham Cogley of Trent University in Canada said the researchers' glacier model "has some innovative features that might raise eyebrows among glaciologists, but it is difficult to find fault with it as a pioneering effort."

"The authors have shown that achieving the 1.5 Celsius target will conserve a substantial fraction of Asia's resources and that, if we fail in this regard, we will pay in direct proportion to the extent of the failure," Cogley said.

Explore further: Researchers predict more runoff in High Asia due to increasing precipitation and glacier melt

More information: P. D. A. Kraaijenbrink et al, Impact of a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius on Asia's glaciers, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nature23878

Related Stories

Researchers crack the 'Karakoram anomaly'

August 7, 2017

A summer 'vortex' of cold air over the Karakoram mountain range is causing the glaciers in the region to grow in spite of global warming, scientists have shown.

ADB warns climate change 'disastrous' for Asia

July 14, 2017

A business-as-usual approach to climate change will be "disastrous" for Asia, undoing much of the phenomenal economic growth that has helped it make vast inroads against poverty, the Asian Development Bank said in a report ...

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Solving the jet/cocoon riddle of a gravitational wave event

February 22, 2019

An international research team including astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has combined radio telescopes from five continents to prove the existence of a narrow stream of material, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.