Climate Change! How is it Affecting the Himalaya?
Travelling to Everest is giving me the perfect opportunity to observe climate change in action. The region is filled with many glaciers and climbers frequently have to travel across them to gain access to the high peaks. Climate scientists have published many papers recording the rapid pace at which these high-altitude glaciers are melting. Controversy has flared up about the likely date at which Himalayan glaciers may disappear but it seems one thing is sure: the majority of Himalayan glaciers are shrinking fast.
Earth Observatory (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/) provides graphic proof. The organisation takes historic photographs of glaciers from early expeditions and compares them to modern photographs taken from the same position. It is fascinating to see how things have changed.
So, what will happen if the glaciers of the Himalaya do melt away? Will the mountain range become a desert? How will the people who live in this region be affected?
One massive impact would be the gradual drying up of the many important rivers that spring to life in the high Himalaya. Many millions of people in Asia depend on these rivers for their livelihood. If the glaciers disappear so will some very important rivers.
Meanwhile, for our expedition, the Khumbu Glacier is our home. We are camped right on it and the creaks and cracks and groans are a reminder that this vast body of ice is moving, like a great icy snake, heading ever downwards, shaping the mountains in amazing ways.
Questions for class discussion:
1. Can you name five major rivers that spring from the Himalaya?
2. What countries of Asia would be badly affected if the glaciers of the Himalaya disappeared?
3. Will the glaciers of the Himalaya become more dangerous for climbers as a result of global warming? How?
The Everest (Khumbu) glacier is one of an estimated 54,000 glaciers in the Himalayan mountain range. © Matt Dickinson
This picture shows how pools of water form on the surface of glaciers during high daytime temperatures then freeze overnight as the temperature drops. © Matt Dickinson
Climbers in the Himalaya have to spend a lot of time travelling across glaciers. This requires special techniques as glacial terrain is dangerous. © Matt Dickinson
As temperatures warm, the hazards of climbing in ice falls and glaciers become more acute. Two years ago Everest saw a tragic incident where sixteen Sherpa guides were killed by a massive ice wall collapse. Was climate change to blame? Many climbers believe yes, they point to increasing temperatures causing more avalanches. © Matt Dickinson
This picture shows clearly how glaciers 'bend' and even flow like water (though very slowly!) depending on the shape of the valley they are in. Many become big and powerful enough to actually shape the terrain they are in through erosion and scouring. © Matt Dickinson
Crevasses are splits in glacial ice. On Himalayan glaciers they can be very big and wide. Here, climbers are training in techniques to cross crevasses using ladders. © Matt Dickinson