Himalayan Glaciers Will Continue Shrinking Regardless Of Temperature

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The Himalayan glaciers are going to continue to shrink, no matter which way the temperatures go, according to new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Summer Rupper, a geology professor at Brigham Young University, has just returned from her research in the Bhutan region of the Himalayas and has reported findings that nearly 10% of these glaciers will disappear within the next 30 years. She also reported that while these glaciers disappear, they´ll also be releasing 30% less melt water back into the ecosystem. Even if the temperatures stay the same, Rupper suggests these glaciers will continue to dwindle away.

Though it is often blamed for the disappearance of glaciers, Rupper says the increasing temperatures in this region aren’t the main culprit. Other eroding factors, such as evaporation, high winds and humidity also play a key role in the glacial melt. And with the massive size of these bodies of ice–some more than 13 miles across–it could take decades for them to completely respond to these imbalances.

“These particular glaciers have seen so much warming in the past few decades that they’re currently playing lots of catch up,” said Rupper in a prepared statement.

In fact, if temperatures were to climb by just 1 degree Celsius, the melting of these glaciers would quicken to 25% annually with a 65% loss of melt water. Though Rupper´s research suggests these glaciers will melt regardless of the temperature, it´s very likely the temperature will increase, greatly affecting the speed at which these behemoths melt.

According to the geology professor, the only way for these Bhutan glaciers to avoid melting away is for snowfall levels to nearly double. This isn´t likely, of course, as the warming temperatures have brought more rain to the area than snow. This rain also contributes to the glacial melt, leading to flooding, which could devastate the Bhutan region.

“Much of the world’s population is just downstream of the Himalayas,” said Rupper. “A lot of culture and history could be lost, not just for Bhutan but for neighboring nations facing the same risks.”

To conduct her research, Rupper teamed up with graduate students from Columbia University, researchers from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, NASA and Bhutan´s Department of Hydro-Meteorological Services.

The team hiked through the Himalayan region to reach some of the most secluded glacial hotspots to take their measurements. Once there, they placed a weather station and other monitoring equipment to actively watch the glacier for years to come.

“It took seven days just to get to the target glacier,” said Rupper, who returned from her trip in October. “For our pack animals, horsemen and guides, that terrain and elevation are a way of life, but I’ll admit the westerners in the group were a bit slower-moving.”

In September, a report from the National Research Council (NRC) concluded glaciers in the Himalayas are, in fact, melting at an alarming rate. The glaciers in the Eastern and Central Himalayas in particular are melting rapidly, while those glaciers in the western Himalayas are actually growing.

The NRC report differs slightly from Rupper´s, suggesting these disappearing glaciers will melt and provide water to the surrounding areas. Rupper´s report suggests these glaciers will evaporate and erode as they disappear, releasing less water back into the rivers and streams.