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Himalayan climate change action urged
by Staff Writers
Kathmandu, Nepal (UPI) Oct 5, 2010


NASA launches Himalayan monitoring system in Nepal
Kathmandu (AFP) Oct 5, 2010 - A new system that will allow scientists to monitor the impact of climate change in the Himalayas using images from NASA satellites was launched in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu on Tuesday. Around 1.3 billion people depend on the water that flows down from the Himalayan glaciers, which experts say are melting at an alarming rate, threatening to bring floods and later drought to the region. But relatively little is known about the impact of climate change on the vast region, which environmental campaigners describe as a "third pole" because of its huge water reserves in the form of ice and snow.

The web-based system, called SERVIR, will allow scientists, governments and aid agencies to access satellite images of the Himalayas, giving them early warning of floods and other disasters and aiding research on climate change. A NASA statement said SERVIR, launched in partnership with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, could be used to address threats to biodiversity as well as risks from flooding, forest fires and storms. "The whole of the Himalayan region is something of a black hole for scientists and we hope to use this system to bridge the data gap," said Basanta Shrestha, a senior ICIMOD executive. "We can use this to monitor the dynamics of the cryosphere (ice systems) in the light of climate change, which is very important in terms of both disaster management and future water availability."

More regional and bilateral cooperation is needed to tackle climate change in the Himalayas, an Indian official said.

"The behavior of Himalayan glaciers is fundamentally different from that of glaciers in the polar regions and they need special investigation and analysis," Indian Minister for Environment and Forests Shri Jairam Ramesh said Monday, The Himalayan Times reports.

"Biodiversity does not stop at geographical boundaries and countries have no choice but to work together for protection and management and also to support adaptation," he said.

Solid scientific information is necessary to provide a basis for political decision making and improving governance, Ramesh told some 250 participants from 24 countries attending a Himalayan region climate change symposium organized by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu.

To address that need, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development during the conference Tuesday launched a Web-based environmental management system that allows scientists, governments and aid agencies to access satellite images of the Himalayas.

Designed to address critical issues such as land cover change, air quality, glacial melt and adaptation to climate change, SERVIR-Himalaya will integrate Earth science data from NASA satellites with geospatial information products from other U.S. government agencies.

"NASA's science mission begins here on Earth, with greater awareness and understanding of our changing planet, and solutions for protecting our environment, resources and human lives," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a news release.

Some 1.3 billion people rely on water that flows from Himalayan glaciers.

Earlier this year the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced it had made a mistake in saying the Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035 due to climate change. IPCC clarified, however, that while the projected year was in error, the glaciers are indeed melting away.

Madan Shrestha of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, who has been studying the glaciers since 1974, told the Inter Press Service news agency, "We have ample scientific evidence to prove that climate change is causing the Himalayan glaciers to retreat."

Dawa Sherpa, climate ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund, told IPS that the devastation of climate change is already evident on Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

"Snow cover in the mountains is decreasing, crevasses are opening up in the glaciers," said Dawa, who has twice scaled Everest, the world's highest peak. "Avalanches (have been) occurring frequently (in) the past two years."

Puddles of water, he said, have even been observed at altitudes of 26,000 feet on Mount Everest.

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