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Himalayan glacial melting still a threat
by Staff Writers
Amsterdam, Netherlands (UPI) Jun 14, 2010


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

While the Himalayan glaciers may not be in danger of disappearing as claimed by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, they are still affected by global climate change, threatening food security for 60 million people, a new study shows.

IPCC had said that glaciers in the Himalaya were likely to disappear by 2035 or sooner if climate warming continues.

But that statement was sharply criticized in January when it was learned that the findings weren't based on peer-reviewed research, leading to a public apology by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, who said it had been an error.

Using data from satellites for the latest study, a team from the Netherlands estimated the changes in the thickness of Himalayan glaciers that feed five major rivers in Asia: the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China.

More than 1.4 billion people rely on drinking and irrigation water from these rivers.

The researchers said their findings show that melted ice, or glacial melt water, "is extremely important" in the Indus basin and important for the Brahmanputra basin, but "only plays a modest role for the Ganges, Yangtze and Yellow rivers."

Melt water accounts for 60 percent of the water carried by the Indus and 20 percent for the Brahmaputra and for less than 10 percent of the Ganges, Yangtze and Yellow rivers, the study states. Rainfall accounts for the rest.

When temperature, rainfall and snow projections are together accounted for, the researchers found that by 2050 the upstream flow of the Brahmaputra and Indus rivers could shrink 19.6 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, despite 25 percent more rain.

"The Brahmaputra and Indus basins are most susceptible to reductions of flow, threatening the food security of an estimated 60 million people," the report states.

The findings give credibility to increasing evidence that the Indus Basin, located between India and Pakistan, is particularly vulnerable to climate change, said Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Nature.com news reports.

"This is a matter that obviously concerns India and Pakistan very much," Kargel said.

"The two nations must talk to one another and see that it is in their mutual best interests to arrive at an equitable means of sharing and utilizing water."

Based on the research by the Netherlands team, the Ganges and Yangtze rivers could see declines of 17.6 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

The Yellow River fared best, because melt water accounts for just 8 percent of its flow. With rainfall predicted to rise by 14 percent, the river will be able to feed an extra 3 million people by 2050, the study shows.

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