Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Himalayas' Melting Glaciers

There is ominous news today about the long-term sustainability of the source of a majority of Asia's great rivers.

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 22, 2009) — Glaciers that serve as water sources to one of the most ecologically diverse alpine communities on earth are melting at an alarming rate, according to a recent report.

A three-year study, to be used by the China Geological Survey Institute, shows that glaciers in the Yangtze source area, central to the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in south-western China, have receded 196 square kilometres over the past 40 years.

Glaciers at the headwaters of the Yangtze, China's longest river, now cover 1,051 square kilometres compared to 1,247 square kilometres in 1971, a loss of nearly a billion cubic metres of water, while the tongue of the Yuzhu glacier, the highest in the Kunlun Mountains fell by 1,500 metres over the same period.

Melting glacier water will replenish rivers in the short term, but as the resource diminishes drought will dominate the river reaches in the long term. Several major rivers including the Yangtze, Mekong and Indus begin their journeys to the sea from the Tibetan Plateau Steppe, one of the largest land-based wilderness areas left in the world.

Read On
I first realized the magnitude of the Himalayas' melting glacier problem from Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." In the documentary, Gore explained that Himalayan glaciers are the source of the the most important rivers in Asia, and thus billions of people.

The melting of the glaciers is going to feed the rivers with more water in the short term, but dry them out in the long term. Because the water is melting quickly, the next twenty years or so should see raging rivers flowing down from these glaciers. But because the glaciers are losing so much water, they are going to be gone before too long.

As I've talked about before on my blog, North China is drying up. Deserts are spreading, water tables are receding, rivers are polluted and dying, and rain is sporadic. Adding in this new caveat that the remaining rivers will dry up in a few decades and then the sustainability of North China becomes very grave.

One can only hope that it is not too late to reverse things and that societies across the globe will begin seriously addressing the toll unrestrained CO2 emission is having on the environment.

The realist in me says that it probably is too late to reverse course on these melting glaciers and that humanity isn't ready to put curbing CO2 emissions at the top of the problems that we need to solve though.


Anonymous said...

The only thing Al Gore can do is invent things, the Himalayas' Glaciers are not melting away as Gore ststed, its just more lies. Read how one mans opinion somehow became a sientific fact to Gore and the IPCC.

Anonymous said...

Gore would be the same idiot that things the temperature of the earth is two million degrees, two kilometres down. He embellished that piece of nonsense, by saying that, "It was so hot it was melting the drillbits..." (In the context of geo-thermal energy. But he continued that they would be able to resume drilling when they were able to invent drillbits that could with stand the heat. To put this in perspective - the temperature of the surface of the sun in ~6000C.