Saturday, December 5, 2009

Scientist’s Himalayan mission provides unwelcome proof: glaciers are dying

The Times (UK): Inching over the treacherous surface of the Rathong glacier, almost 5,000 metres (16,400ft) high in the eastern Himalayas, Dr Shresth Tayal stooped to inspect a 7m steel rod he buried vertically in the ice six months ago. After a decade studying Himalayan glaciers, he had expected to find at least half the rod exposed — an alarming enough indication of how fast the Rathong is melting — but even he was surprised by what he found last week.

“Six metres in six months,” he cried, breathing hard in the thin mountain air as The Times and the rest of his team stepped gingerly between hidden crevasses and gushing rivulets of freshly melted ice. “It’s pathetic,” he said. “The glacier is dying.”

…But such setbacks are routine for Dr Tayal, one of a handful of intrepid Indian scientists studying a crucial question in the climate change debate: are the Himalayan glaciers disappearing — and with them the biggest fresh water store outside the polar icecaps?

The short answer is yes. There is plenty of anecdotal, photographic and piecemeal scientific evidence to suggest the glaciers — which feed the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers and provide fresh water to two billion people in the dry season — are indeed melting fast….

Goecha peak, near Kanchenjunga, from the Zemathang Glacier, Western Sikkim. Shot by Amar, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

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