Bhutanese glaciers to shrink despite steady temperature

The research findings indicate that even if climate remained the same Bhutan would lose almost 10% of its glaciers within a few years

In what could be a shocking revelation, a research conducted in the mountains of Bhutan showed that almost 10% of Bhutan’s glaciers would disappear within the next few decades even though the climate remained steady.

According to the research conducted by a geology professor of the Brigham Young University (BYU), Summer Rupper, not only glaciers would vanish within a few decades but the amount of melt water coming off these glaciers could also drop by 30%.

In fact, if temperatures were to increase by just 1 degree Celsius, Bhutanese glaciers would shrink by 25% and the annual melt water would drop by as much as 65%.

With climate continuing to warm, such a prediction is not altogether unlikely, especially given the years it can take for glaciers to react to change.

According to Summer Rupper, while increasing temperature is just one culprit behind glacier retreat a number of climate factors such as wind, humidity, precipitation and evaporation can affect how glaciers behave.

“These particular glaciers have seen so much warming in the past few decades that they are currently playing lots of catch up,” said Summer Rupper.

Professor Summer Rupper says the only way for these glaciers in Bhutan to avoid melting is for snowfall levels nearly double. This is an unlikely scenario because warmer temperatures lead to rainfall instead of snow.

Last year, a report released by the ICIMOD (International Center for Integrated Mountain Development) during COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, revealed that snow cover in Bhutan dropped to almost 14% in the last decade.

The report “Snow Cover Mapping and Monitoring in the Hindu Kush Himalayas” revealed that snow coverage area of Bhutan decreased from 9,058 square kilometers to 7,851 square kilometers in 2010. This has been attributed to warming temperatures.

“Much of the world’s population is just downstream of the Himalayas,” says Summer Rupper. “A lot of culture and history could be lost, not just for Bhutan but for neighboring nations facing the same risks.”

The research was conducted by Summer Rupper and BYU graduate students Landon Burgener and Josh Maurer, researchers from Columbia University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, NASA and Bhutan’s Department of Hydro-Meteorological Services.

It took the team seven days just to get to the target glacier trekking through rainforests and barren cliffs to reach some of the world’s most remote blocks of ice.

“For our pack animals, horsemen and guides that terrain and elevation are a way of life, but I’ll admit the westerners in the group were a bit slower-moving.”

The team also placed a weather station and glacier monitoring equipment that can be used to gather real-time data in the months and years to follow.

The research which is one of the first of its kind would used to make long-term decisions about Bhutan’s water resources and flooding hazards.

“They could potentially have a better idea of where best to fortify homes or build new power plants,” said Summer Rupper.

She said good science can lead to good engineering solutions for the changes we’re likely to witness in the coming decades.”

Another report released by ICIMOD titled “The Status of Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region” showed Bhutan’s glaciers have shrunk by an alarming 22% over the last 30 years.

http://www.businessbhutan.bt/?p=10912 published in Business Bhutan

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