Friday, January 28, 2011

Himalayan glaciers - Melting or not?

There have been several different reports claiming that climate change is the main factor responsible for the melting of Himalayan glaciers but the latest study by scientists at the Universities of California and Potsdam has found that half of the glaciers in the Karakoram range, in the northwestern Himalaya, are doing quite an opposite, namely growing and not melting.

If the results of this study are correct then this would mean that climate change in form of global warming isn't the only deciding factor whether certain glacier will melt or not.

The scientists found out that global warming is not the main force behind the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, the most important role in fact belongs to the amount of debris (rocks and mud) – strewn on their surface. What this means is that the glaciers surrounded by high mountains and covered with more than two centimeters of debris are well protected from melting.

Such conclusion can be also drawn from the fact that debris-covered glaciers are common in the rugged central Himalaya, but they are very rare in subdued landscapes on the Tibetan Plateau, where melting rates are significantly higher.

The scientists have studied 286 glaciers between the Hindu Kush on the Afghan-Pakistan border to Bhutan, and they discovered that more than half of these glaciers are in stable or even advancing state.

Debris cover therefore looks to be the factor of major importance when it comes to melting of the glaciers, and this effect has so far been neglected in many previous climate change studies.

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change still hasn't expressed their opinion on this study. It would be very interesting to hear their opinion about this matter, particularly given the fact that their first reports on this matter predicted that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

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