Snow loss rate at Everest less than in Alps: Study

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2007 report, presented the startling projection that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 if the earth keeps warming at the current rate.

The IPCC report, which apparently lacked sufficient data to substantiate its projection, was criticized by scientists for what they said was an erroneous calculation of glacier melting rates. After a global furor over its erroneous statement, IPCC admitted its mistake.

Five years after the IPCC fiasco, a study being conducted by a team of experts at the Mera and Pokalde glaciers in the Everest region has come up with yet another finding that could possibly rub salt into the wound for the leading international body for assessing climate change.

The study, a report of which was published in the November edition of The Cryosphere journal, concluded that the Mera and Pokalde glaciers, both located at altitudes of over 5,000 meters, are losing snow even in winter, contrary to a general belief that snow melts only in summer due to solar radiation. Wind erosion and sublimation are the prime causes of glacier melting in the Everest region in winter, explains the report.

In an additional finding that sounds still more astonishing, the report states that the rate of snow loss in the Everest region is nearly four times less than that in the Alps in Europe.

“In spite of snow loss even in winter, the rate of snow loss in the Everest glaciers is lower than that in the Alps,” says Patrick Wagnon, a visiting scientist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). “It is probably because heavy precipitation compensates snow loss in the Everest glaciers.”

Wagnon, the lead author of the report, says their findings evidently contradict the conclusion reached in IPCC´s fourth assessment report. “Our findings imply that the Himalayan glaciers will not disappear by IPCC´s projected year even if the earth keeps warming at the current rate,” says Wagnon, who has been involved in research on the evolution of glaciers for the last 20 years. “However, having said that, it is also important to understand that even a slight increase in the global warming rate could certainly accelerate the glacier retreat rate in the Himalayan region,” he said.

Glacier melting in the Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, arguably the world´s largest volume of glaciers and perennial snow outside the polar region, contributes to the major rivers that supply fresh water to almost a quarter of the human population, which lives downstream.

Hence, study of the evolution of glaciers in the HKH has always fascinated scientists across the world. “On the flip side, the controversial IPCC report did something good for the people in the Himalayan region,” says Wagnon. “Now, more scientists are focusing on the Himalayan glaciers, which could contribute to prevention of disasters like Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in future.”

Wagnon´s team has been studying the Mera and Pokalde glaciers since 2007. As part of their study, they have been studying the seasonal and annual mass balances of these two glaciers twice a year — in summer and then in winter. Wagnon just returned from the Everest region after studying these two glaciers for this year´s winter. “Our study is a continuous process,” he said. “After some years, we will hopefully be able to make some projections about glacier melting in the Everest region.”

source: republica, 20 DEC 2013

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