The Shrinking of Himalayan Glaciers

The Trans-Himalayan Mountain Desert

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Trans-Himalaya mountain range is a cold desert with winter temperatures touching -30° C, and an average annual rain/snow fall of only 100 mm.

Himalayan Mountains
A satellite's-eye-view of India and Tibet.
Rainshadow effect on the Tibetan Plateau.
Climate of Ladakh

Glacier melt is the main water resource

There are approximately 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayas. Each summer, these glaciers release meltwater into the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra Rivers. Approximately 500 million people depend upon water from these three rivers.

These glaciers, like others in the world, are at risk of melting due to increasing temperatures and erratic weather patterns. Glaciers depend on heavy precipitation to replenish ice on an annual basis. If these glaciers melt, many people dependent on them will be flooded during winter and experience drought during summer.

Glacier Retreat, India
Rivers Fed by The Tibetan Plateau

Himalayan glaciers have shrunk

The impact of global warming may already be affecting the Himalayas.

A shift in the snowline will result in less input to the glacier mass balance during summer periods. Therefore, higher atmospheric temperature and more liquid precipitation at higher altitude will lead to rapid retreat of glaciers in the Himalayas.

Changes in surface temperature 1970-2004
Record of retreat of some glaciers in the Himalaya

High rate of glacier melt

At current rates of global warming, the Himalayan glaciers could shrink rapidly.

The 1956 photograph of the Imja glacier, then one of the largest glaciers at an altitude of around 5,000m, shows a layer of thick ice with small meltwater ponds. In 2007, much of the glacier had melted into a vast but stunning blue lake. The 30-kilometre Gangotri glacier is also steadily retreating.

Series of before and after panoramas of Imja glacier taken five decades apart highlights dramatic reduction of Himalayan ice