The Himalayas Are Changing – for the Worse – Inter Press News Service

Last week all eyes were on the Himalayas’ highest peak – 29,000-foot Mt. Everest, whose summit is bisected by the China-Nepal border – in honor of the 60th anniversary of the first human ascent of the mountain.

But the momentous occasion presented as much cause for panic as for celebration, when images showing bare rock jutting out from under the receding ice caps called attention to the rapidly changing face of this majestic range.

Sudeep Thakuri, who led the Italian team of researchers, told IPS that the continuous and increased melting is most likely caused by rising temperatures. http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/the-himalayas-are-changing-for-the-worse/

Fears Grow of a Himalayan Tsunami as Glaciers Melt – TIME

While attending the 2013 PANOS South Asia Climate Change Fellowship in Nepal last month, I was quite intrigued by the possibility of a ‘Himalayan Tsunami’. Having experienced the 2004 Asian Tsunami at dangerously close quarters, I wanted to pursue this straight out of hell disaster risk. Here is the resultant story that I did for TIME –  http://world.time.com/2013/05/27/fears-grow-of-a-himalayan-tsunami-as-glaciers-melt/

Year 2012 among top ten warmest years: WMO

GENEVA/ISLAMABAD: The World Meteorological Organization’s Statement on the Status of the Global Climate says that 2012 joined the ten previous years as one of the warmest — at ninth place — on record despite the cooling influence of a La Niña episode early in the year, according to a WMO report released last weekend.

The 2012 global land and ocean surface temperature during January–December 2012 is estimated to be 0.45°C (±0.11°C) above the 1961–1990 average of 14.0°C. This is the ninth warmest year since records began in 1850 and the 27th consecutive year that the global land and ocean temperatures were above the 1961–1990 average, according to the statement. The years 2001–2012 were all among the top 13 warmest years on record.

“Although the rate of warming varies from year to year due to natural variability caused by the El Niño cycle, volcanic eruptions and other phenomena, the sustained warming of the lower atmosphere is a worrisome sign,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “The continued upward trend in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and the consequent increased radiative forcing of the Earth’s atmosphere confirm that the warming will continue,” he said.

“The record loss of Arctic sea ice in August-September — 18% less than the previous record low of 2007 of 4.17 million km2 — was also a disturbing sign of climate change,” said Mr Jarraud. “The year 2012 saw many other extremes as well, such as droughts and tropical cyclones. Natural climate variability has always resulted in such extremes, but the physical characteristics of extreme weather and climate events are being increasingly shaped by climate change,” he said.

“For example, because global sea levels are now about 20 cm higher than they were in 1880, storms such as Hurricane Sandy are bringing more coastal flooding than they would have otherwise,” said Mr Jarraud.

WMO’s annual statements gather the key climate events of each year. The series stands today as an internationally rec­ognized authoritative source of information about temperatures, precipitation, extreme events, tropical cyclones, and sea ice extent. The newly released statement provided in-depth analysis of regional trends as part of a WMO drive to provide more information at regional and national levels to support adaptation to climate variability and change.

The 2012 climate assessment, the most detailed to date, will inform discussion at WMO’s Executive Council meeting (15-23 May 2013).

Above-average temperatures were observed during 2012 across most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America, southern Europe, western Russia, parts of northern Africa and southern South America. Nonetheless, cooler-than-average conditions were observed across Alaska, parts of northern and eastern Australia, and central Asia.

Precipitation across the globe was slightly above the 1961-1990 long-term average.  There were drier-than-average conditions across much of the central United States, northern Mexico, northeastern Brazil, central Russia, and south-central Australia. Wetter-than-average conditions were present across northern Europe, western Africa, north-central Argentina, western Alaska, and most of northern China.

Snow cover extent in North America during the 2011/2012 winter was below average, resulting in the fourth smallest winter snow cover extent on record, according to data from the Global Snow Laboratory. This was in marked contrast to the previous two winters (2009/2010 and 2010/2011), which had the largest and third largest snow cover extent, respectively, since records began in 1966.

Meanwhile, the Eurasian continent snow cover extent during the winter was above average, resulting in the fourth largest snow cover extent on record. Overall, the northern hemisphere snow cover extent was above average – 590000 km2 above the average of 45.2 million km2 – and was the fourteenth largest snow cover extent on record.

Greenland ice sheet: In early July, Greenland’s surface ice cover melted dramatically, with an estimated 97 per cent of the ice sheet surface having thawed in mid-July. This was the largest melt extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. During the summer it is typical to observe nearly half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet melt naturally, particularly across the lower elevations. However, in 2012 a high-pressure system brought warmer-than-average conditions to Greenland, which are associated with the rapid melting.

Arctic sea ice extent reached its record lowest level in its annual cycle on 16 September at 3.41 million km2. This value broke the previous record low set on 18 September 2007 by 18 per cent. It was 49 per cent or nearly 3.3 million km2 below the 1979–2000 average minimum. The difference between the maximum Arctic sea-ice extent on 20 March and the lowest minimum extent on 16 September was 11.83 million km2 – the largest seasonal sea-ice extent loss in the 34-year satellite record.

Antarctic sea-ice extent in March was the fourth largest on record at 5.0 million km2 or 16.0 per cent above the 1979–2000 average. During its growth season, the Antarctic sea-ice extent reached its maximum extent since records began in 1979 on 26 September, at 19.4 million km2. This value surpassed the previous maximum sea-ice extent record of 19.36 million km2 set on 21 September 2006.

Extreme Events: Hurricane Sandy killed close to 100 people and caused major destruction in the Caribbean and tens of billions of US dollars in damage and around 130 deaths in the eastern United States of America. Typhoon Bopha, the deadliest tropical cyclone of the year, hit the Philippines – twice – in December. During the year, the United States and south-eastern Europe experienced extreme drought conditions, while West Africa was severely hit by extreme flooding. The populations of Europe, northern Africa and Asia were acutely affected by extreme cold and snow conditions. Severe flooding occurred in Pakistan or a third consecutive year.

Climate change is aggravating naturally occurring climate variability and has become a source of uncertainty for climate-sensitive economic sectors like agriculture and energy.

“It is vital that we continue to invest in the observations and research that will improve our knowledge about climate variability and climate change,” said Mr Jarraud.

“We need to understand how much of the extra heat captured by greenhouse gases is being stored in the oceans and the consequences this brings in terms of ocean acidification and other impacts. We need to know more about the temporary cooling effects of pollution and other aerosols emitted into the atmosphere. We also need a better understanding of the changing behaviour of extreme weather and climate events as a consequence of global warming, as well as the need to assist countries in the most affected areas to better manage climate-related risks with improved climate early warning and climate watch systems,” said Mr Jarraud.

The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), adopted by the Extraordinary World Meteorological Congress in 2012, now provides the necessary global platform to inform decision-making for climate adaptation through enhanced climate information.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 6, 2013

Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/06/year-2012-among-top-ten-warmest-years-wmo/

Planted Glacier Now Threatens Valley

Today, high above the rocky Bindu “Gol” or valley in Chitral, which is located on the way to Mastuj, lies the manmade Bindu glacier. “This was an artificially seeded glacier that was made in 1840 by our forefathers”, explains Siraj, a local villager. “There was no water in our area and so they decided to grow a glacier a hundred feet above the settlement”. He says there is no one left in the village with the knowledge of how to grow a glacier today, but in the past they heard that “cow manure, salt and straw” were combined to “plant” the glacier. “It took three years for it to grow into a glacier and then it kept growing”. Now it is so big that there was a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in August 2010, which ended up blocking the Chitral River below the valley for twelve hours since so much debris had come down with the flood.

Full story: http://dawn.com/2012/11/25/earthly-matters-planted-glacier-now-threatens-valley/

The GLOF from the Bindu glacier damaged orchards and fields

Residents fear glacial lake outburst

Sixty-year-old Zam of Soe Jangothang grew up to the magnificent sight of glacier ice at the base of Mount Jichudrake. The small glacier ice surrounding the snow capped mountain, according to Zam, were like diamonds around a turquoise. This once beautiful sight has turned into a source of torment in recent years. http://www.kuenselonline.com/2011/?p=36767

Bhutan’s most dangerous glacial lake tamed, finally

[This story was published in Business Bhutan on 20 October 2012, and can be read at http://www.businessbhutan.bt/?p=10770]

In a span of four working seasons, around 1,000 workers, including 123 soldiers were deployed to reduce the water level of the Lake which was posing a catastrophe in the making

The last spade of debris was cleared and the last blocks of boulders were removed. As the men dusted their worn-down boots and packed their bags to go their own separate ways, they all had one common feeling- they were leaving behind a tamed lake that once challenged to take thousands of lives and cause colossal destruction downstream.

The Job was done. Some 4500meters above sea level the 1,000 Bhutanese workers successfully reduced the water level of the most dangerous glacial lake in Bhutan by 5 meters, the end to a set target five-year project.

Downstream, Punakha valley breathed a sigh of relief. The valley had already seen a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in 1994 which claimed 20 lives and caused irreparable damages to infrastructure and livestock.

The destruction of the GLOF this time, if untamed, would have been three times more.

The Project Manager of the lake mitigation project, Dowchu Drukpa, said it has been a hard five year period with every year bringing new challenges and difficulties.

Among others, difficulties the workers faced include heavy rain falls, heavy snow cover, massive landslides, cold weather and road blockages.

He said the achievement of the project is expected to reduce the extent of damage downstream in the event of an unforeseen glacial lake outburst.

“Despite the unpredictable weather conditions and challenges of working in a remote high altitude and inhospitable work environment, we have managed to reduce the water level of the lake by the set target over a period of 4 working seasons,” said Dowchu Drukpa.

He said, with the total water level reduced by 5meters, it is estimated that the total volume of water released is 17mn cubic meters, almost equal to the volume of water discharged by the 1994 GLOF of 18mn cubic meters.

“The volume of water released in the span of four working seasons is equal to the 1994 outburst and this means we have released a lot,” said Dowchu Drukpa.

It took about 300 workers each working season to successfully lower the water level of the lake. Each year the workers had 2-3 months of manual working season. Workers had to work from 8 am to 4 pm everyday.

“Every year we had different workers but there were some who worked for two seasons also,” said Dowchu Drukpa.

The project to artificially reduce the water level of Thorthormi Lake began in 2008.

The initial year of the project started with technical assessment of the site and only by the second year some 300 workers were recruited.

During the first year of the working season in 2009, workers were able to reduce the water level by 87 centimeters while in the following years water levels were lowered by 1.3 meters and 1.45 meters respectively.

“The initial working season was tough because as it was the start of the project and there were many things to be done,” Dowchu Drukpa said.

With a total of 3.68 meters achieved by the third year, 1.32 meters were left for the workers to complete the whole project.

This year, with support from the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA), around 123 soldiers helped reduce the water level and achieve the target of 5 meters although half the numbers of regular workers were in attendance.

The job is done but it didn’t come without a cost.

In 2010, three men died in a span of four months due to altitude sickness and many more were hospitalized because of the working conditions.

The deaths raised a lot of questions on the safety of the workers. Subsequentlty the project management initiated various programs of which one was to set up transit medical camps at two different locations.

A transit medical camp was set up at 3,900 meters before the highest pass toward Lunana and the other was set up after the highest pass at around 4,100 meters.

“After the incident, lessons were learned and we did everything possible to make it safer for the workers,” Dowchu Drukpa said. He said a through medical check-up was carried out for all the workers before sending them up north. At the base camp they were further checked and were allowed to work only if found fit.

Dowchu Drukpa said even though the work is complete regular monitoring of the lake will continue as the debris may start to recollect and water levels may rise again.

A series of studies conducted by the Department of Geology and Mines, Ministry of Economic Affairs, in collaboration with international research institutes in the late 1990’s and early 2000, revealed that Thorthormi lake is among the most dangerous glacial lakes in the country.

The studies thus recommended for construction of a spillway channel to reduce GLOF threats for the lake. It was then that the artificial lowering of the lake was prioritized under the National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) with funding for the Least Developed Countries Fund/ Global Environment Facility and co-financing by the United Nations Development Program, Austrian Development Cooperation, World Wildlife Fund Bhutan and the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Thorthormi Lake is located in the headwater of Pho Chhu sub-basin at an altitude of around 4,428 meters above sea level in the remote Lunana area of northern Bhutan. The lake poses the most pertinent GLOF threat and in the event of an outburst has a potential to cause unprecedented damage to the valleys of Pho Chhu and Punatsang Chhu