Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Floods spur mountain study

Jane Qiu in Nature: A snapshot of weather-related disasters in the Himalayas suggests that things are amiss on the roof of the world.

This spring, for example, western Nepal was hit by a severe drought, leading to crop failures and exacerbating an already serious food crisis. In June, the same region was devastated by its worst floods in 50 years, caused by unusually intense monsoon rains. The deluge wreaked havoc in the northern Indian states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, killing at least 5,700 people and causing an estimated loss of US$2 billion.

After decades of such climate-related incidents, the eight member countries of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional body, have agreed that enough is enough. On Monday, they launched a three-year study that aims to comprehensively assess the current state of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, the enormous area sustained by the world’s highest mountain range, and to make recommendations on how it might be safeguarded and developed.

And none too soon, say many scientists. As climate change tightens its grip, “disasters will become increasingly frequent”, says Vinod Tewari, a geologist at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, India. The Himalayas are getting warmer at a rate of 0.6 °C each decade, three times the global average. Rainfall there is increasing at a rate of 65 millimetres per decade and the monsoon season is getting wetter. However, winters are getting drier...

A panoramic view of Rudraprayag Sangam on June 21, 2013. The Alaknanda river flowing in from the right, while Mandakini joins from the top (North). The image is almost unrecognizable compared to what it was like before 17 June 2013. There used to be a footbridge (jhula) over the mandakini that was washed away in the 2013 Uttarakhand floods. Shot by Mukerjee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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