- Himalayan glaciers have been disappearing 65% faster since 2010 which could drastically reduce water flows in the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra.
- The Third Pole, also known as the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan system refers to the region of the world with the largest concentration of ice outside the polar regions.
- It encompasses the Himalayan mountain range and the Tibetan Plateau, which spans several countries including China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and parts of Pakistan.
- The Third Pole holds vast amounts of glaciers, snow, and ice that are critical sources of freshwater for numerous major rivers such as the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, and Mekong.
- Latest assessment from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD),pointed that the regions of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are seeing an increase in mean temperature, with an average observed trend of 0.28°C per decade from 1951 to 2020.
- This is likely to impact the cryosphere, and in particular glacial melt, which is a major contributor of water for Himalayan rivers like the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Indus.
- About 60% of the Himalayan region features seasonal cryosphere (snow, glaciers, permafrost and glacial lakes), a major source of water and ecosystem services, which is vulnerable.
- The cryosphere refers to the portion of the Earth’s surface where water exists in solid form, including ice, snow, glaciers, icebergs, permafrost, and frozen ground.
- As global temperatures rise due to climate change, the cryosphere is experiencing significant changes, including:
- Glacial Retreat: Glacial retreat refers to the process by which glaciers shrink in size over time due to the melting of ice and snow. Many glaciers around the world are retreating at an accelerated pace, leading to decreased freshwater availability in certain regions.
- Permafrost Thaw: As permafrost thaws, it can release stored carbon dioxide and methane, potent greenhouse gases that contribute to further warming.
- Rising Sea Levels: The melting of ice sheets and glaciers contributes to rising sea levels, which poses risks to coastal communities and ecosystems.
Consequences of Glacial melting.
- Peak water in most basins will be reached around mid century, and water availability will decline by 2100.
- Peak water refers to the point in time when the availability of freshwater resources in a particular region reaches its maximum sustainable limit.
- The Hindu Kush Himalayas will also see a decline in snowfall of 30 to 50 per cent in the Indus basin; 50 to 60 percent in the Ganga basin; and 50 to 70 percent in the Brahmaputra basin between 2070 and 2100, as against the average from 1971 to 2000.
- There will be an increase in disasters like landslides, avalanches and Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) .
- Glacial Lake Outburst Flood refers to a sudden and often catastrophic release of water from a glacial lake, resulting in a rapid and large-scale flood downstream.
- GLOFs are triggered when natural barriers that hold back water in glacial lakes, such as moraines or ice dams, weaken or collapse.
- This sudden release of water can cause a surge of water, debris, and sediment downstream, posing significant risks to communities, infrastructure,etc
- The report highlights that ecosystem degradation, species decline and extinction as major factors to result in biodiversity loss.
- It is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to addressing the challenges and opportunities faced by the mountainous regions of the Hindu Kush Himalayas and adjoining mountain ranges.
- ICIMOD was established in 1983 and is headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal.
- The organization’s main focus areas include sustainable development, climate change adaptation, natural resource management, disaster risk reduction.
- It aims at fostering regional cooperation among the countries that share the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. These countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
- The focus must be on lowering carbon emissions. The challenges of managing the cryosphere will only increase if the world warms at a faster rate.
- Improvements in research and observation should be used to anticipate disasters such as GLOFs and avalanches, to minimise their impacts.