Already a known fact that Himalayas are melting, a new study from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that the glacier-capped mountains of South Asia region known as the Third Pole, which provide billions of people with drinking water, are warming at an alarming rate.
The latest study A Scientific Assessment of the Third Pole said that Third Pole has been warming at almost twice the global mean. It also says that the area is getting wetter for now and in the decades to come. The retreat of glaciers may lead to water shortages across South and East Asia.
Stressing that the disaster risk was increasing, Deliang Chen, one of the authors of the report said that the changes between years and seasons are becoming greater “We are seeing that some rivers are already past their peak water, while other rivers will be in the coming decades,” said Chen, who is a professor at the University of Gothenburg,
UNEP came up with the report in collaboration with Third Pole Environment, Pan-TPE and the UNEP-International Ecosystem Management Partnership.Itfinds that permafrost is degrading, the growing season is expanding and lake levels have been increasing by 0.14m a year. Across the region, the seasons are becoming less reliable and extreme events, such as flooding, drought and ice collapses, are becoming more common.
The study shows that ice core and tree ring data confirmed that climate of the Third Pole has experienced several warm and cold phases, with a general warming and wetting trend over the past 2000 years. The present warming started in the late 19th century but accelerated in the 20th century, with this century becoming the warmest in the past 2000 years, the UNEP said. “Similar to the warming trend, the recent episodes of precipitation increase began in the 20th century and continue. Both the warming and wetting trends are confirmed by the observational data in the TP in the past decades, which highlight seasonal and regional differences, amplified warming in higher elevations, and increased amounts during extreme precipitation events,” the report said.
The UNEP report also states that snow cover depth, area and duration have decreased in recent decades, River discharge has also shown an increasing trend in most of the Third Pole Rivers over the past decades. The variations in discharge are closely linked to changes in precipitation and glacial melt runoff contributions. Air temperature in the region is projected to increase in the late 21st century by 1.4-5.6°C relative to the 1995-2014 reference period, the report said.
The UNEP said that human activities outside the Third Pole region, including air pollutant emissions such as black carbon, heavy metal, and persistent organic pollutants, are negatively affecting the region’s environment. The Indian summer monsoon, westerlies and local circulation such as those of mountain valley winds are responsible for bringing such pollutants into the region from different source regions. While the current levels of atmospheric pollutants such as black carbon, heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants are low compared with urban environments, they are showing an increasing trend. The input of atmospheric pollutants from surrounding countries to the TP not only has a negative impact on human health, but also contributes to the glacier melt.
Third Pole covers over five million square kilometres and stretches from Afghanistan in the west to China in the east. It includes the Pamir-Hindu Kush the Himalayan, the Hengduan, the Tienshan and Qilian mountain ranges. The Third Pole has around 100,000 square kilometres of glaciers and feeds more than ten river systems and 12,000 lakes. It is named Third Pole, as it is the largest store of frozen water after the North and South pole . Known as the ‘Asian Water Tower’ as it provides water to over two billion people or 30 per cent of the world’s population. It is also the highest ecosystem in the world with 14 highest mountain peaks.