A team of researchers from France, Nepal and the Netherlands has worked to produce a new model to predict the future changes in glaciers in the Everest region of the Himalayas. While the study, which was conducted by the European Geosciences Union (EGU), only represents an initial approximation of ice loss in the region, the model suggests that dramatic changes may be ahead.
The findings of the study suggest that, in light of the continued increase in temperature caused by the ongoing rise of greenhouse gas emissions, it's likely glaciers in the region in question will experience sustained or even accelerated ice loss in the coming decades.
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To conduct the study, the team started by making field observations and taking data from local weather stations, using readings spanning the last 50 years to calibrate and test a glacial change model. Following this, numerous different temperature and precipitation scenarios were applied to the model to track how the ice might respond in the future.
The results paint a bleak picture of the Himalayan glaciers' future, predicting a reduction in volume between 70 and 99 percent by the year 2100. The results are dependent on an assumed rise in greenhouse gas emissions, and how that effects rainfall, snowfall and temperature in the region.
According to the model, the increased temperature will lead to a lower freezing level – the altitude at which mean monthly temperatures are 0 ºC (32 ºF) – from between 5,500 and 3,200 m (18,000 and 10,500 ft) to just 800-1,200 m (2,600 - 4,000 ft). This will leave around 90 percent of the current glacier area susceptible to melting in warmer months, with much of what is now snowfall being replaced by rain.
The Himalayan glaciers are home to the highest volume of ice outside polar regions, meaning that its loss will have some serious knock-on effects. Changes in the volume of ice will have an impact on the availability of water, with initially increased waterflow, followed by significantly less as the glaciers shrink. In the long term, this will adversely effect agricultural activities in the region, as well as hydropower generation efforts.
Once again, the team urges that the findings are merely the first approximation of how the glaciers will react to increasing temperatures. However, it's confident in the data, stating in the research paper that "the signal of future glacier change in the region is clear and compelling."
The results of the study were published in the journal The Cryosphere.