A team of geo-scientists have attempted to set the record straight on the melting of Himalayan glaciers in an academic paper released earlier this month.
In its most recent report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cited sources which claimed that the glaciers which feed Asia’s five largest rivers were in danger of melting by 2035 – a claim now widely discredited and for which Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, has apologised.
Past studies assumed that a warmer world would accelerate the melting of glaciers and snow in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.
But a team from Utrecht University has published a study showing that, for the most part, the glaciers are not thinning and are unlikely to disappear by 2035.
The researchers used data from a pair of satellites known as GRACE, which are normally used to monitor changes in the Earth’s gravity field.
Only the glaciers which supply the Ganges are thinning at the relatively slow rate of 22 centimetres per year. Those that supply the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers were unchanged in thickness between 2001 and 2007.
The glaciers which sit at the head of the Indus actually grew at the rate of 19 centimetres per year over the period.
However, the study concluded that climate change will eventually result in declining flows of water to two of the rivers, impacting the volume of irrigation water available by 2050.
“Our model calculations show that the Brahmaputra and Indus are the most vulnerable. According to our estimates, this will threaten the food security of the approximately 60 million inhabitants of these areas by the year 2050,” said Walter Immerzeel, head of the research team.
“However, the opposite is also possible. In the Yellow River basin, an increase in wintertime rainfall is expected, resulting in increased availability of water early in the growing season.”