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  2. 14-03-2005 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - himalaya melting spells water shortage - Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people, the conservation group WWF has warned. In a report, the WWF says India, China and Nepal could experience floods followed by droughts in coming decades. The Himalayas contain the largest store of water outside the polar ice caps, and feed seven great Asian rivers. (bbc)

  3. 21-04-2005 eco nws - global warming - impact - arctic - Climate Change Taking a Toll on Glaciers - Scientists have issued a fresh warning about the effect of climate change on Antarctica, saying that more than 200 coastal glaciers are in retreat because of higher temperatures. Of the 244 marine glaciers that drain inland ice on the Antarctic peninsula, a region previously identified as vulnerable to global warming, 87 percent have fallen back over the last half century, according to research by British experts. Using 2 000 aerial photos dating back to the late 1940s and 100 satellite pictures, experts from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) compiled a record of glacier-ice shelves and tidewater glaciers along the peninsula - the tongue of land that juts 800km northwards out of continental Antarctica. 'Since then this pattern has reversed' Glacier-ice shelves are floating glaciers on the shoreline that are still connected to the land glaciers from which they flowed. Tidewater glaciers rest on rock and break off into the ocean when they reach the water's edge. Over the last half century, during which time regional temperatures have risen by around 2?C, these glacier fronts have reversed direction, the authors note in a study published on Friday in the US weekly journal Science. Until the mid-1950s, most of the glaciers advanced. For the next decade after that, they were roughly stable. Since then, though, most have been shrinking. In the past five years, the retreat has accelerated, and the pattern of retreat is widening. It started in the warmer northern tip of the peninsula and is heading progressively to the colder south as atmospheric temperatures rise. 'Fifty years ago, 62 percent of the glaciers that flowed down from the mountains to the sea we looked at were slowly growing in length, but since then this pattern has reversed,' said lead author Alison Cook. (earth hope)

  4. 02-07-2005 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - Indian mountain glacier in danger - Scientists in India have warned that the ancient glacier that feeds the holy river Ganges is likely to melt down before the end of the century. They say it could disappear even faster if climate change speeds up. They say man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are almost certainly to blame for the current level of warming. They are worried because the glaciers are vital for their contribution to water supplies to many millions of people in the Himalayan region. Some scientists say the effects of glacial meltdown could stretch to billions of people in one of the most densely populated areas of the planet. (bbc)

  5. 08-12-2005 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - arctic - arctic melting - Greenland glacier races to ocean - Scientists have been monitoring what they say may be the fastest moving glacier on the planet. Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier on the east coast of Greenland has been clocked using GPS equipment and satellites to be flowing at a rate of 14km per year. It is also losing mass extremely fast, with its front end retreating 5km back up its fjord this year alone. The glacier 'drains' about 4% of the ice sheet, dumping tens of cubic km of fresh water in the North Atlantic. This gives it significant influence not just on global sea level rise but on the system of ocean circulation which drives through the Arctic. 'We've seen a 5km retreat of the terminus, we've see an almost 300% acceleration in the flow speed and we've seen about a 100m thinning of the glacier - all occurring in the last one or so years,' said Dr Gordon Hamilton, of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. 'These are very dramatic changes.' And they are not confined to Kangerdlugssuaq. He was speaking here at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Helheim Glacier, just to the south of Kangerdlugssuaq, is exhibiting similar changed behaviour. It is flowing only slightly slower at 12km per year - the equivalent of half a football field a day. Hamilton thinks a couple of factors may be triggering the quick melt. The observed recent increase in summer surface melting on the Greenland Ice Sheet is producing large quantities of liquid water which, if it percolates down to the base of the glacier, can lubricate its flow over rocks towards the ocean. And if that same warming is bringing higher-temperature sea waters into contact with the front of Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim, this could explain their rapid retreat. If other large glaciers in the region are seen to go the same way, it could begin to 'pull the plug' on Greenland, said Dr Hamilton. 'The model predictions for sea level rise do not include the effects of rapid changes in ice dynamics,' he added. 'We're seeing now that this component might be extremely important. And what it suggests is that the predictions for both the rate and the timing for sea level rise in the next few decades will be largely underestimated.' (bbc)

  6. 21-12-2006 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - regions - china - india - economic growth - India and China in warming study - India and China have agreed to send an expedition to the Himalayas to study the impact that global warming is having on glaciers there. They fear that melting glaciers could threaten rivers which support the lives of millions of people. Scientists and mountaineers from the two countries are now planning to head for the source of two rivers. Last week a report said that Asia's greenhouse gas emissions would treble over the next 25 years. The Asian Development Bank report provided detailed analysis of the link between transport and climate change in Asia. Air pollution and congestion would seriously hamper the ability to move people and goods effectively, it warned. It pointed out that China was already the world's fourth largest economy, and the number of cars and utility vehicles could increase by 15 times more than present levels to more than 190 million vehicles over the next 30 years. In India, traffic growth is likely to increase by similar levels over the same time period, the report said. Carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles could rise 3.4 times for China and 5.8 times for India. (bbc)

  7. 29-01-2007 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - Melting of glaciers 'speeds up' - Mountain glaciers are shrinking three times faster than they were in the 1980s, scientists have announced. The World Glacier Monitoring Service, which continuously studies a sample of 30 glaciers around the world, says the acceleration is down to climate change. Its announcement came as climate scientists convened in Paris to decide the final wording of a major report. There is reported to be some disagreement over what forecasts they will make for sea level rise. But whatever form of words they agree on, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will declare that human-induced climate change is happening and needs to be tackled. We will enter conditions which we have not seen in the past 10,000 years, and perhaps conditions which mankind has never experienced Wilfried Haeberli, WGMS '[The report] embodies substantial new research, it addresses gaps that existed in our knowledge earlier, it has reduced existing uncertainties,' IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri told reporters at a news briefing in Paris. 'I hope policies and actions will be formed to address the problem.' The report, due out on Friday, forms the first part of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, and will be the latest definitive assessment of climate science. Melting away Of all the various features that make up the surface of the Earth, glaciers are perhaps showing the starkest signs of rising temperatures. The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based in Switzerland, continuously studies a set of 30 mountain glaciers in different parts of the world. It is not quite a representative sample of all mountain glaciers, but does give a reliable indication of global trends. MOUNTAIN GLACIERS DECLINE Data comes from sample of 30 mountain glaciers Glaciers have different densities, so thinning is expressed in metres of water equivalent (mwe) One mwe is roughly equivalent to 1.1m of ice The latest survey, just released, shows accelerating decline. During 2005, this sample of 30 glaciers became, on average, 60-70cm thinner. This figure is 1.6 times more than the average annual loss during the 1990s, and three times faster than in the 1980s. With mountain glaciers typically only tens of metres thick, this meant, said WGMS director Wilfried Haeberli, that many would disappear on a timescale of decades if the trend continued. (bbc)

  8. 23-03-2007 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - models - 'Snowball Earth' theory put out in the cold - The theory that Earth once underwent a prolonged time of extreme global freezing has been dealt a blow by new evidence that periods of warmth occurred during this so-called 'Snowball Earth' era. Analyses of glacial sedimentary rocks in Oman, published online today in Geology, have produced clear evidence of hot-cold cycles in the Cryogenian period, roughly 850-544 million years ago. The UK-Swiss team claims that this evidence undermines hypotheses of an ice age so severe that Earth's oceans completely froze over. Using a technique known as the chemical index of alteration, the team examined the chemical and mineral composition of sedimentary rocks to search for evidence of any climatic changes. A high index of alteration would indicate high rates of chemical weathering of contemporary land surfaces, which causes rocks to quickly decompose and is enhanced by humid or warm conditions. Conversely, a low chemical index of alteration would indicate low rates of chemical weathering during cool, dry conditions. The researchers found three intervals with evidence for extremely low rates of chemical weathering, indicating pulses of cold climate. However these intervals alternate with periods of high rates of chemical weathering, likely to represent interglacial periods with warmer climates. These warmer periods mean that, despite the severe glaciation of this time in Earth history, the complete deep-freeze suggested by 'Snowball Earth' theories never took place, and that some areas of open, unfrozen ocean continued to exist. Leader of the study, Professor Philip Allen of Imperial College London's Department of Earth Science and Engineering, explains: 'If the Earth had become fully frozen for a long period of time, these climatic cycles could not exist � the Earth would have changed into a bleak world with almost no weather, since no evaporation from the oceans could take place, and little snowfall would be possible. In fact, once fully frozen, it is difficult to create the right conditions to cause a thaw, since much of the incoming solar radiation would be reflected back by the snow and ice. The evidence of climatic cycles is therefore hostile to the idea of 'Snowball Earth'.' Professor Allen adds that understanding how Earth's climate has changed in the past provides important data for current climate change models. (science blog)

  9. 18-06-2010 eco nws - global warming - impact - crops - Climate Change Threatens Food Supply of 60 Million People in Asia - ScienceDaily (June 18, 2010) � According to an article by three Utrecht University researchers published in the journal Science on 11 June, climate change will drastically reduce the discharge of snow and ice meltwater in a region of the Himalayas, threatening the food security of more than 60 million people in Asia in the coming decades. The Indus and Brahmaputra basins are expected to be the most adversely affected, while in the Yellow River basin the availability of irrigation water will actually increase. More than one billion people depend on the meltwater supplied by the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yangtze and Yellow River. The snow and ice reserves situated upstream are important in sustaining the availability of water downstream. Researchers from Utrecht University and FutureWater have calculated the reduction in glacier and snow coverage and forecasted the future river discharge and made predictions about food security in the basins of these five major rivers. - How important is meltwater? - "The role of meltwater in the Indus basin is much more significant than that in other river basins in Asia," according to Walter Immerzeel, hydrologist at Utrecht University and FutureWater. "The downstream sections of the Indus are dry, are home to one of the largest irrigation networks in the world and are completely dependent on meltwater." - Food production - Climate change will ultimately result in declining discharge levels of the major Asian rivers, impacting the volume of irrigation water available. "Our model calculations show that the Brahmaputra and Indus are the most vulnerable. According to our estimates, this will threaten the food security of the approximately 60 million inhabitants of these areas by the year 2050," explains Immerzeel. "However, the opposite is also possible. In the Yellow River basin, an increase in wintertime rainfall is expected, resulting in increased availability of water early in the growing season." - Uncertainty about glaciers - The size and discharge of Himalayan glaciers are experiencing significant decline due to climate change. "However, observed glacial decline varies greatly from region to region, and there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding the speed of decline," says Marc Bierkens, hydrology professor at Utrecht University. "However, the trends identified in the river discharge forecast do not take this uncertainty into account." The researchers based their results on a combination of hydrologic models, climate forecasts from five different climate scenarios, and satellite images depicting snow and ice, rainfall, and changes in the Earth's gravitational field.

  10. 30-03-2011 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - greenland - Ocean Circulation Plays Important Role in Transporting Heat to Greenland Glaciers - ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2011) � Warmer air is only part of the story when it comes to Greenland's rapidly melting ice sheet. New research by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) highlights the role ocean circulation plays in transporting heat to glaciers. Greenland's ice sheet has lost mass at an accelerated rate over the last decade, dumping more ice and fresh water into the ocean. Between 2001 and 2005, Helheim Glacier, a large glacier on Greenland's southeast coast, retreated 5 miles (8 kilometers) and its flow speed nearly doubled. A research team led by WHOI physical oceanographer Fiamma Straneo discovered warm, subtropical waters deep inside Sermilik Fjord at the base of Helheim Glacier in 2009. "We knew that these warm waters were reaching the fjords, but we did not know if they were reaching the glaciers or how the melting was occurring," says Straneo, lead author of the new study on fjord dynamics published online in the March 20 edition of the journal Nature Geoscience. The team returned to Greenland in March 2010, to do the first-ever winter survey of the fjord. Using a tiny boat and a helicopter, Straneo and her colleague, Kjetil V�ge of University of Bergen, Norway, were able to launch probes closer to the glacier than ever before -- about 2.5 miles away from the glacier's edge. Coupled with data from August 2009, details began to emerge of a complicated interaction between glacier ice, freshwater runoff and warm, salty ocean waters. "People always thought the circulation here would be simple: warm waters coming into the fjords at depth, melting the glaciers. Then the mixture of warm water and meltwater rises because it is lighter, and comes out at the top. Nice and neat," says Straneo. "But it's much more complex than that." The fjords contain cold, fresh Arctic water on top and warm, salty waters from the Gulf Stream at the bottom. Melted waters do rise somewhat, but not all the way to the top. "It's too dense," Straneo says. "It actually comes out at the interface where the Arctic water and warm water meet." This distinction is important, adds Straneo, because it prevents the heat contained in the deep waters from melting the upper third of the glacier. Instead, the glacier develops a floating ice tongue -- a shelf of ice that extends from the main body of the glacier out onto the waters of the fjord. The shape of the ice tongue influences the stability of the glacier and how quickly it flows. In addition, the team found that vigorous currents within the fjord driven by winds and tides also play a part in melting and flow speed. "The currents in the fjord are like waves in a bath tub," Straneo says. "This oscillation and mixing contribute to heat transport to the glaciers." The March 2010 trip marked the first time the researchers were able to observe winter-time conditions in the fjord, which is how the system probably works nine months out of the year. "One surprise we found was that the warm waters in the fjord are actually 1 degree Celsius warmer in winter, which by Greenland standards is a lot," Straneo says. "It raises the possibility that winter melt rates might be larger than those in the summer. "Current climate models do not take these factors into account," she adds. "We're just beginning to understand all of the pieces. We need to know more about how the ocean changes at the glaciers edge. It's critical to improving predictions of future ice sheet variability and sea level rise." Co-authors of the work include Ruth Curry and Claudia Cenedese of WHOI, David Sutherland of University of Washington, Gordon Hamilton of University of Maine, Leigh Stearns of University of Kansas, and Kjetil V�ge of University of Bergen, Norway. Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, WHOI's Ocean and Climate Change Institute Arctic Research Initiative, and NASA's Cryosperic Sciences Program.

  11. 27-06-2011 eco nws - global warming - impact - arctic - glaciers - glacier melting - Ocean Currents Speed Melting of Antarctic Ice: A Major Glacier Is Undermined from Below - ScienceDaily (June 27, 2011) � Stronger ocean currents beneath West Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf are eroding the ice from below, speeding the melting of the glacier as a whole, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. A growing cavity beneath the ice shelf has allowed more warm water to melt the ice, the researchers say -- a process that feeds back into the ongoing rise in global sea levels. The glacier is currently sliding into the sea at a clip of four kilometers (2.5 miles) a year, while its ice shelf is melting at about 80 cubic kilometers a year -- 50 percent faster than it was in the early 1990s -- the paper estimates. "More warm water from the deep ocean is entering the cavity beneath the ice shelf, and it is warmest where the ice is thickest," said study's lead author, Stan Jacobs, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. In 2009, Jacobs and an international team of scientists sailed to the Amundsen Sea aboard the icebreaking ship Nathaniel B. Palmer to study the region's thinning ice shelves -- floating tongues of ice where landbound glaciers meet the sea. One goal was to study oceanic changes near the Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf, which they had visited in an earlier expedition, in 1994. The researchers found that in 15 years, melting beneath the ice shelf had risen by about 50 percent. Although regional ocean temperatures had also warmed slightly, by 0.2 degrees C or so, that was not enough to account for the jump. The local geology offered one explanation. On the same cruise, a group led by Adrian Jenkins, a researcher at British Antarctic Survey and study co-author, sent a robot submarine beneath the ice shelf, revealing an underwater ridge. The researchers surmised that the ridge had once slowed the glacier like a giant retaining wall. When the receding glacier detached from the ridge, sometime before the 1970s, the warm deep water gained access to deeper parts of the glacier. Over time, the inner cavity grew, more warm deep water flowed in, more melt water flowed out, and the ice thinned. With less friction between the ice shelf and seafloor, the landbound glacier behind it accelerated its slide into the sea. Other glaciers in the Amundsen region have also thinned or widened, including Thwaites Glacier and the much larger Getz Ice Shelf. One day, near the southern edge of Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf, the researchers directly observed the strength of the melting process as they watched frigid, seawater appear to boil on the surface like a kettle on the stove. To Jacobs, it suggested that deep water, buoyed by added fresh glacial melt, was rising to the surface in a process called upwelling. Jacobs had never witnessed upwelling first hand, but colleagues had described something similar in the fjords of Greenland, where summer runoff and melting glacier fronts can also drive buoyant plumes to the sea surface. In recent decades, researchers have found evidence that Antarctica is getting windier, and this may also help explain the changes in ocean circulation. Stronger circumpolar winds would tend to push sea ice and surface water north, says Jacobs. That in turn, would allow more warm water from the deep ocean to upwell onto the Amundsen Sea's continental shelf and into its ice shelf cavities. Pine Island Glacier, among other ice streams in Antarctica, is being closely watched for its potential to redraw coastlines worldwide. Global sea levels are currently rising at about 3 millimeters (.12 inches) a year. By one estimate, the total collapse of Pine Island Glacier and its tributaries could raise sea level by 24 centimeters (9 inches). The paper adds important and timely insights about oceanic changes in the region, says Eric Rignot, a professor at University of California at Irvine and a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The main reason the glaciers are thinning in this region, we think, is the presence of warm waters," he said. "Warm waters did not get there because the ocean warmed up, but because of subtle changes in ocean circulation. Ocean circulation is key. This study reinforces this concept."

  12. 02-08-2011 eco nws - global warming - impact - arctic - glaciers - glacier melting - Ancient Glacial Melting Shows That Small Amount of Subsurface Warming Can Trigger Rapid Collapse of Ice Shelves - ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2011) � An analysis of prehistoric "Heinrich events" that happened many thousands of years ago, creating mass discharges of icebergs into the North Atlantic Ocean, make it clear that very small amounts of subsurface warming of water can trigger a rapid collapse of ice shelves. The findings, to be published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide historical evidence that warming of water by 3-4 degrees was enough to trigger these huge, episodic discharges of ice from the Laurentide Ice Sheet in what is now Canada. The results are important, researchers say, due to concerns that warmer water could cause a comparatively fast collapse of ice shelves in Antarctica or Greenland, increasing the flow of ice into the ocean and raising sea levels. One of the most vulnerable areas, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, would raise global sea level by about 11 feet if it were all to melt. "We don't know whether or not water will warm enough to cause this type of phenomenon," said Shaun Marcott, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University and lead author of the report. "But it would be a serious concern if it did, and this demonstrates that melting of this type has occurred before." If water were to warm by about 2 degrees under the ice shelves that are found along the edges of much of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Marcott said, it might greatly increase the rate of melting to more than 30 feet a year. This could cause many of the ice shelves to melt in less than a century, he said, and is probably the most likely mechanism that could create such rapid changes of the ice sheet. To find previous examples of such events, scientists reconstructed past ocean temperatures and used computer simulations to re-create what probably happened at various times during Heinrich events of the distant past. It had been known for some time that such events were associated with major climate changes, but less clear whether the events were a reaction to climate change or helped to cause them. "There is now better evidence that the climate was getting colder prior to the Heinrich events, causing surface ocean waters to cool but actually causing warmer water in the subsurface," Marcott said. "We tried to demonstrate how this warmer water, at depth, caused the base of the ice shelf to warm and collapse, triggering the Heinrich events." A present-day concern, Marcott said, is that ocean currents could shift and change direction even before overall ocean water had warmed a significant amount. If currents shifted and warmer water was directed toward ice shelves, more rapid melting might begin, he said.

  13. 18-08-2011 eco nws - global warming - impact - arctic - glaciers - glacier melting - Greenland Glacier Melting Faster Than Expected - ScienceDaily (Aug. 18, 2011) � A key glacier in Greenland is melting faster than previously expected, according to findings by a team of academics, including Dr Edward Hanna from University of Sheffield. Dr Hanna, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Geography, was part of a team of researchers that also included Dr Sebastian Mernild from the Los Alamos Laboratory, USA, and Professor Niels Tvis Knudsen from the University of Aarhus, Denmark. The team�s new findings present crucial insight into the effects of climate change. The researchers found that Greenland's longest-observed glacier, Mittivakkat Glacier, made two consecutive record losses in mass observations for 2010 and 2011. The observations indicate that the total 2011 mass budget loss was 2.45 metres, 0.29 metres higher than the previous observed record loss in 2010. The 2011 value was also significantly above the 16-year average observed loss of 0.97 metres per year. The 2011 observations further illustrate, even comparing the mass balance value against simulated glacier mass balance values back to 1898, that 2011 is a record-breaking glacier mass loss year. Mittivakkat Glacier has been surveyed for mass balance and glacier front fluctuations since 1995 and 1931 respectively. In 2011 the glacier terminus has retreated about 22 metres, 12 metres less than the observed record of 34 metres in 2010, and approximately 1,300 metres in total since the first photographic observations in 1931. These observations suggest that recent Mittivakkat Glacier mass losses, which have been driven largely by higher surface temperatures and low precipitation, are representative of the broader region, which includes many hundreds of local glaciers in Greenland. Observations of other glaciers in Greenland show terminus retreats comparable to that of Mittivakkat Glacier. These glaciers are similar to the Mittivakkat Glacier in size and elevation range. Local glacier observations in Greenland are rare, and the Mittivakkat Glacier is the only glacier in Greenland for which long-term observations of both the surface mass balance and glacier front fluctuations exist. Since 1995, the general trend for the Mittivakkat Glacier has been toward higher temperatures, less snowfall, and a more negative glacier mass balance, with record mass loss in 2011. In 14 of the last 16 years, the Mittivakkat Glacier had a negative surface mass balance. Principal Investigator on this summer's fieldwork, Dr Edward Hanna, commented: "Our fieldwork results are a key indication of the rapid changes now being seen in and around Greenland, which are evident not just on this glacier but also on many surrounding small glaciers. It's clear that this is now a very dynamic environment in terms of its response and mass wastage to ongoing climate change. "The retreat of these small glaciers also makes the nearby Greenland Ice Sheet more vulnerable to further summer warming which is likely to occur. There could also be an effect on North Atlantic Ocean circulation and weather patterns through melting so much extra ice. An extended glacier observation programme in east Greenland for the next few years is clearly needed to improve understanding of the links between climate change and response of the glaciers in this important region."

  14. 04-12-2011 eco nws - global warming - impact - glaciers - mountain glaciers - human drinking water - Impacts of Climate Change On World's Highest Mountains - ScienceDaily (Dec. 4, 2011) — Findings from the most comprehensive assessment to date on climate change, snow and glacier melt in Asia's mountainous Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region -- site of Mount Everest and many of the world's tallest peaks -- highlight the region's extreme vulnerability to climate change, as rising temperatures disturb the balance of snow, ice and water, threatening millions of mountain people and 1.3 billion people living downstream in Asia's major river basins. The findings, published in three reports by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), were recently released at Mountain Day, a convening of mountain experts, policy makers, and climate change negotiators on the sidelines of UN climate talks. "These reports provide a new baseline and location-specific information for understanding climate change in one of the most vulnerable ecosytems in the world," said Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "They substantially deepen our understanding of this region -- and of all mountain systems -- while also pointing to the knowledge gaps yet to be filled and actions that must be taken to deal with the challenge of climate change globally and to minimise the risks from impacts locally." The three reports published by ICIMOD provide the most up-to-date compilation of information on the current status of climate change in the HKH region and the first authoritative data on the number and extent of glaciers and the patterns of snowfall in the world's most mountainous region. "The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is like a gentle giant. While physically imposing, it is one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the world," said David Molden, director general of ICIMOD. "We must meet the intensity of climate change in these mountains with an equal intensity of will to mitigate and to adapt to the impacts." 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 percent of the world's total migration. - Valuable new data on glaciers and snow - The HKH region, home to 30 percent of the world's glaciers, has been called the "Third Pole." But there are scant data on these glaciers. One of the reports, The Status of Glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region -- presenting findings of a three-year Sweden-funded research project led by ICIMOD -- begins to fill in the important data gaps. Using remote sensing studies, the project was able to tally the number of glaciers in the region -- more than 54,000 -- and measure the area covered, 60,000 km. Of these 54,000 glaciers, however, only ten have been studied regularly to determine the net loss or gain of ice and snow (called the mass balance). That handful of studies shows a loss of mass balance, with the rate of loss roughly doubling between 1980 and 2000 and 1996 and 2005. In the Everest area, the data show a marked acceleration in the loss of glacial mass between 2002 and 2005. Glaciers appear to be shrinking in both the central and eastern Himalayas. Country-specific studies have found that depletion of glacial area over the past 30 years was 22 percent in Bhutan and 21 percent in Nepal. The clean glaciers of the Tibetan plateau are retreating at a faster rate than the glaciers of the rugged central Himalayas, which have higher debris cover; debris creates an insulating effect, slowing melting. Although field verification and additional data collection will be needed before firmer conclusions about glacier retreat can be drawn, the data represent a significant step in bridging the knowledge gap on climate change in the HKH. "Up until now, there has been complete uncertainty on the numbers and area of glaciers and the present status of their environmental conditions in the region. This research give us a baseline from which to measure the potential impact of climate change in the region and to develop options for mitigating the impact of dynamic changes the region is expecting in the coming years," said Basanta Shrestha from ICIMOD. A second report, Snow-Cover Mapping and Monitoring in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, documents the first comprehensive status report of snow cover in the region, drawn from a regional monitoring scheme. However, there was an indication of an overall decrease in snow cover over the decade in the central HKH region and overall, and a slight increase in the western and eastern parts of the region. The HKH region's glaciers and snow breathe life into the regional monsoon system and feed the headwaters of 10 major river systems that stretch across eight Asian countries -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. - Status of climate change in a vulnerable region - "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 Hon. Lyonpo Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Minister of Agriculture and Forests and also Minister In-charge of Environment of Bhutan. "Meeting this challenge will require increased regional cooperation between governments and other actors. This research, which involved eight countries in the HKH region, represents the kind of cooperation needed to meet the climate challenge." The third report, Climate Change in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas: The State of Current Knowledge, considers the mass of data and published studies in three major areas: climate and hydrology; biodiversity and ecosystems; and atmospheric changes. It also points out the limits of current data and the short time frame of most records (few extending more than 50 years). In addition, climate-related studies in the region suffer from a lack of repeat studies, permanent plots, field validation, and peer review. Nonetheless, the report provides a snapshot of changes occurring in the HKH region. The HKH region is one of the world's hotspots for global warming. The rise in temperature has been greater at higher altitudes and more pronounced during the cooler months than in the warmer months. This imbalance narrows the seasonal variation in temperature, potentially favoring some plant species over others and already having impacts on agriculture. Warming across the region is greater than the global average of 0.74°C over the past 100 years. However, this change is not evenly distributed. It is most pronounced in higher altitude areas like the central Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. In Lhasa, for example, temperatures increased by 1.35°C between 1950 and 1980. - Impacts of warming and melting in the HKH - Two major land use systems in the region are changing. In mountain forests, tree lines and species are shifting to higher elevations, and species already living at the highest elevations may have nowhere to go. Meanwhile, the vast grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau are being steadily degraded. Increases in glacial melting are projected to limit the natural water storage provided by expanses of snow and ice and to heighten the risk of glacial lake outburst floods. Mass losses from glaciers and accelerating reductions in snow cover are expected to ultimately reduce water supplies and hydropower potential. Changes in the seasonality of flows in river basins supplied by melt water from snow and ice are also predicted. Droughts will likely affect greater areas, and with dry spells there will need to be greater reliance on irrigation, even as water sources become more restricted, according to the authors. The risk of flooding is also increasing with increased variability of climate. Agriculture is very sensitive to climate change, which can affect temperature, precipitation, length of growing season, the timing of climate events relative to crop development, and changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration. However, the report notes the difficulty of projecting the impact of climate change on agriculture, as it occurs along with many other drivers. This compilation of information is a vital first step. "From here, greater focus needs to be put on providing people and governments with options for climate-resilient development," said Molden. "These include adaptation and mitigation measures such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, water storage measures, and regional cooperation around policies for managing water for energy, agriculture and development."