Do I Need to Worry if the Glaciers Melt in the Himalayas?

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In general, glaciers are the mass of the ice formed by continuous high snow compression and move gradually over land.

The natural phenomena directly associated with the glacier are the formation and accumulation of the snow in the mountains. 

It is believed that approximately 99 % of the glacial ice possesses enormous ice sheets in the polar regions, which may vary over time.

The glacier has played a vital role in the hydrological cycle, heat-energy balance, and balancing the ecosystem—definitely, glaciers matter in our livelihood. 

It’s a lifeline to us to provide the irrigation facility, daily fulfilling the foods, hydropower, and providing the pure drinking water.

Climate change has become one of the severe issues in the present context. It has influenced the aquatic ecosystem and hampers the land ecosystem regarding the glaciological phenomenon. 

Causes of the glacier melting in the Himalayas

Causes - glaciers melt
Rising Temperature and Fluctuating Precipitation Anamoly for Tibetan Plateau (source)

The rise in carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions has entirely affected many sectors. Air pollution is also not an exception to this hot topic. 

Due to the severe impacts of climate change, the glaciers are melting in the Himalayan region. The higher temperature in the atmosphere and the liquid precipitation in the higher latitudes are the fundamental cause of the glacier retreating targeting the Himalayan region. 

Glaciers of the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region are a notable example. Scientists have warned that if the temperature reaches 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will lose a third of the glaciers out of a total.

Approximately 2 billion people will be seriously affected by the melting of the glaciers. Depending on the rivers and the lakes, the locals sustain their livelihood through agriculture and fishing. 

Several fish species and insects may disappear from the water upon melting the ice. Once the glacier is melted out during the summer season, it may result in a drier condition that hugely creates negative influence, especially in agriculture irrigation.

It may create a dam upon melting the glacier, and it is not sure that it remains original. Once the dams burst, floods may be swept away towards the downstream part and the valley region.

Supportive research findings

Research - glaciers melt
Midui glacier mass balance, flux, and length change due to climate change (source)

The impact of the glacier melting in the Himalayas has been studied less than that of Greenland since in the Himalayan region, basically, in Southeast Asia, it is tough to reach the topographic barrier

Until and unless the glaciers become stable, it results in seasonal flooding and may be prone to the outbursting of the lakes on a massive scale.

Between 1970 to 2000, global warming has contributed to the ice volume loss by 9 %. We can even imagine the loss resulting from the flooding and outbursting of the glacier lakes. 

For instance, we can take Nepal’s Tsho-Rolpa lake (considered a potentially dangerous glacial lake).

Once there was an outburst in massive amounts, the melted glacier water had entered into the downstream valley over a four-hour period by which Namche hydropower was seriously affected. 

It had created severe impacts on the Khumbu indigenous community for several months. It is to be noted that it critically affects the downstream community, damaging the road, bridges, rail tracks, agricultural lands, forests, and the hydropower plant.

According to several research findings, by 2030, the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region is expected to lose the glacier mass by 10-30 %, and it might increase to 25-35 % by 2050.

This data indicates how our Himalayan glaciers are under threats imposed by the anthropogenic disturbances in the Himalayan region.

There may be an increment in the solar radiation, blockage of the outlet by the debris accumulation, rockfall, and landslides. 

Moreover, the nations in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region, including Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, China, India, are more vulnerable to the glacier retreating events.

However, natural phenomena can also be responsible for the glacier melting in the Himalayan region.

Effects of the glacier melting in numerous sectors

Glaciers Lake Outburst Flood in India. Copyright: Al Jazeera English

A wide array of the effects resulting from the glacier melting have been detected. The significant impact being visualized after the glacier melting in the Himalayas is the Glacier Lake Outburst Flood, abbreviated by GLOFs. 

Below is the inclusion of the significant devastating effects resulting from the glacier melting in the Himalayas.

1. High chances of flooding

When the melted water reaches the water system, there is the formation of the proglacial lakes. Such lakes are unstable and do not prolong for a more extended period; breaking the dams can cause catastrophic devastation.

2. Alteration in the energy production

Once the glacier lakes burst or the volume of the water increases, it can severely impact hydroelectricity production. 

Sometimes flowing the water at a larger volume may sweep away all the essential nutrients in the soil and make the soil infertile for a longer time.

3. Lower agricultural production

Regarding agricultural production, the fishing and sowing of the seeds are affected. When there is an occurrence of global warming during the summer season, the melt rate of glaciers rises. 

The effects of the large volume of water through melting can sweep away the fertilizers and pesticides within the agricultural land, thereby reducing agricultural productivity.

Mitigation measures of glacier melting

Glaciers Melt procedure and Retreat Phenomena. Copyright: NASA video

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, abbreviated by IPCC, has been working on glacier melting for many years.

Several mitigation measures, as listed below, can provide some information to acquire and are beneficial in tracking out the solution about the glacier melting and the effects that have deep-rooted us throughout the world.

  • The artificially reinforced channel can be infrastructured in the river/lake if possible, depending upon the discharge level of the glaciers.
  • The critical measure that one should have in mind is reducing the volume of the water in the glacier since such steps can reduce the peak discharge.
  • There must be a monitoring system during and after the infrastructures target the downstream areas.
  • Early warning systems such as the alarm system and installation of the warning devices are of utmost necessity to make the locals aware of reaching safer places during the devastating effects. Along with that, the earlier establishment of the gene banks and the seed banks can be very beneficial upon such devastation when the flood sweeps away all the belongings of the human lives.
  • Outlet control structure in the glacier lake can be constructed utilizing locally available resources since roads may not be accessible. Due to the rough terrain and the challenging topographical barriers, locally available materials are of immense priority.
  • A detailed inventory is very crucial when it comes to GLOFs. The digital spatial database of the glaciers and their associated lakes can be made public.
  • Training concerning the immediate response and the emergency preparedness on GLOFs can be of enormous advantage.

Conclusion

Glacier and the associated GLOF have been very challenging in terms of the devastating catastrophe resulting from the natural and anthropogenic led climate change. 

Since the issue of climate change is widely spread throughout the world, it has become late in carrying out the plan-oriented action concerning the glaciological lakes of the Himalayas. 

Every nation should prioritize the control and mitigating measures to halt the community and the country from the drastic effects of the glacier melting.

In summary, to seek our original glacier and nature, establishing the practical goals and aims can urge attention to prevent the glaciers from melting and losing our pride throughout the globe.