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Glaciers in the Himalaya mountain range are melting much faster than anyone expected

A team of researchers has found that glaciers in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountain range region melted 65 percent faster in the 2010s than in the previous decade. This suggests that quickly rising temperatures are already having a major impact in this region.

Moreover, under worst case climate conditions, the world’s highest peaks are at the risk of losing up to 80 percent of their volume by the end of this century.

This study was led by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). These experts conducted the study by examining the impact of climate change on an area stretching 1.6 million square miles (4.1 million square kilometers). The area spanned from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east.

Shocking conclusions about the Himalaya mountain range

In a previous report from 2019, experts from ICIMOD had determined that, even in the most optimistic case – in which average global warming does not surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – this region would likely lose one third of its glaciers. 

According to the current report, the region will lose 30 to 50 percent of its volume by 2100. That’s if warming levels stay between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius of warming. If global temperatures rise to 3-4 degrees of warming, the situation gets much worse. Glaciers in Nepal and Bhutan in the eastern Himalayas could lose 75 to 80 percent of their ice.

Far-reaching impacts from melting Himalaya glaciers

The Hindu Kush Himalaya region will severely affect the lives of 240 million people if such grim scenarios materialize. Additionally, another 1.65 billion people living downstream will also face displacement.

Although many high mountain communities rely on glacial waters to irrigate crops and maintain their livestock, accelerated melting would inundate farmlands downstream.

These periods would alternate with seasons of drought as water sources dry up. Moreover, the erosion of glacial slopes will increase the likelihood of floods, avalanches, and landslides.

“For them, this is home, and their livelihoods are mostly dependent on agriculture, livestock, tourism, and medicinal and aromatic plants,” said co-author Amina Maharjan. He is an expert in Mountain Livelihoods and Economies at ICIMOD.

“What we realized in doing this assessment is that all of these are very, very sensitive to slight changes in climatic conditions and cryospheric conditions in the region.”

For instance, snowfall patterns are already out of sync with seasonality. This shrinks the grazing land for livestock and leading to significant die-offs due to lack of food in Nepal, India, and Bhutan.

Moreover, due to the remoteness and rough terrain of these areas, many mountain communities lack access to immediate disaster response. 

Unforeseen consequences 

Finally, rapid climatic changes severely threaten many ecosystems. For example, 14 species of butterflies that have already become extinct in the Murree Hills in Pakistan. In addition, various endemic frog species are currently experiencing breeding problems and developmental deformities. 

“The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalaya are a major component of the Earth system. With two billion people in Asia reliant on the water that glaciers and snow here hold, the consequences of losing this cryosphere are too vast to contemplate. We need leaders to act now to prevent catastrophe,” concluded Izabella Koziell, the deputy director general of the ICIMOD.

The “Water, ice, society, and ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya” report can be found here.

More about the Himalaya glaciers

The Hindu Kush Himalaya region, often referred to as the “Third Pole,” is home to the largest concentration of snow and ice outside of the polar regions. This region spans eight countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.

The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region are vital for the millions of people living downstream, as they provide a steady source of water for agriculture, drinking, and hydroelectric power.

These glaciers feed into major river systems such as the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, and Mekong, upon which a significant portion of the world’s population relies.

Some of the key glaciers in the region include the Siachen Glacier (the second-longest glacier outside of the polar regions), the Biafo Glacier, and the Baltoro Glacier.

Each of these glaciers presents unique characteristics and behaviors based on their geographic location, altitude, aspect, and local climate.

Like many glaciers around the world, those in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region are retreating and thinning due to climate change.

The consequences of such glacial loss could be devastating, with impacts on water supply, agriculture, biodiversity, and increase in the likelihood of natural disasters like Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).

More about the Himalaya mountain range

The Himalaya mountain range is one of the most iconic and majestic mountain ranges in the world. It stretches across several countries in South Asia, including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (China), and Pakistan. Here are some key points about the Himalayas:

Geography and Location

The Himalayas span approximately 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) from east to west, and their width varies from 200 to 400 kilometers (125 to 250 miles). The range starts in the northwest with the Indus River in Pakistan and ends in the southwest at the Brahmaputra River in northeastern India.

Highest Peaks

The Himalayas are home to some of the highest peaks on Earth, including Mount Everest, which is the highest at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) above sea level. Other notable peaks include K2, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, and Dhaulagiri.

Cultural Significance

The Himalayas are not only known for their stunning natural beauty but also for their cultural and religious significance. The region is deeply rooted in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other indigenous beliefs. Numerous temples, monasteries, and sacred sites are scattered throughout the Himalayas, attracting pilgrims and tourists alike.


The Himalayas are a biodiversity hotspot, hosting a wide range of plant and animal species. The region is known for its diverse flora and fauna, including the rare and endangered snow leopard, Himalayan musk deer, red panda, and various species of rhododendrons.

Rivers and Watersheds

The Himalayas are the source of many major rivers in Asia, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Yangtze, and Mekong. These rivers provide vital water resources for millions of people in the region, supporting agriculture, hydropower generation, and sustaining biodiversity.

Mountaineering and Trekking

The Himalayas are a popular destination for mountaineers and trekkers from around the world. Mount Everest and other peaks attract experienced climbers seeking to conquer the highest summits. Additionally, there are numerous trekking routes and trails, such as the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp trek, offering breathtaking views and a chance to explore the region’s natural beauty.

Environmental Challenges

The Himalayas face several environmental challenges, including deforestation, habitat loss, climate change, and unsustainable tourism practices. Glacial melting, attributed to climate change, poses a significant threat to the region’s water resources and ecosystems.

Regional Conflicts

The Himalayas have also been a site of geopolitical tensions between neighboring countries. Disputes over territory and border control exist between India and Pakistan (Kashmir conflict), India and China (Arunachal Pradesh dispute), and India and Nepal (Kalapani dispute), among others.

The Himalayas are a captivating natural wonder that continues to inspire awe and reverence. Their grandeur, cultural significance, and ecological importance make them a truly remarkable mountain range.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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