Thursday, September 23, 2010

Himalayas: The Meltdown!




An image of a melting glacier: (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qeZVqzQ29Uw/SwLGazNc6sI/AAAAAAAAATc/OCUfu8aLXnY/s1600/melting-glacier.jpg)


This was an article published in February this year by Moises Manoff of the Christian Science Monitor. He clearly states that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC made a mistake in their prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would “very likely disappear by 2035” based on the article in the New Scientist Magazine in June 1999 by Fred Pearce (http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Bright-Green). According to a study by Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain, he said, "All the glaciers in the middle Himalayas are retreating," and that “all the glaciers in central and eastern Himalayas could disappear at their present rate of decline” (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16221893.000-flooded-out.html). The article used the year 2035 of which Mr. Syed Hasnain contended he never mentioned the time in his research papers, which the UN body had included in its climate change report. He added that he was not consulted by the IPCC for including his research papers in the report.

It happens to be quite surprising and unusual that such a big, international body (IPCC) could carry out a study and even filed a report without supporting evidence of the glaciologist’s research (primary source) and only using the information from the published article, bringing a lot of confusion to many about the rate at which the glaciers are melting, which many people would believe to be 2035- the year that the glaciers are expected to be extinct according to the IPCC. Another controversial matter is that, Mr. Hasnain is reported to have noticed the mistake in the article but did not seek to correct Mr. Pearce on the published article and it has been almost a decade since the article in the new scientist magazine.

It is important to note that, even with the error in the printing of a specific date when the glaciers will have melted, in years to come, the glaciers are bound to come down and reduce to water. This is a prediction based on how fast the earth is warming up by other glaciologists. It is expected that the Asian community, which relies on water from the Himalayas will be greatly affected because in the short run there will be several series of floods and in the long run, drought, once the rivers dry up.

According to a new study by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NCAR and NASA’s Goddard institute for Space Studies, there are claims that particulate matter from aerosols e.g. cooking fires, which is normally black in color is the main reason as to why glaciers are melting at an alarming rate. The first method that causes the glaciers to melt is: when the matter is suspended in the atmosphere, it absorbs heat from the sun and warms the surrounding atmosphere. This in turn warms the glaciers and the warmer glaciers begin to melt. The second way in which the glaciers melt is when the particulate matter lies on top of the ice (which has a bright, shiny surface making it suitable to reflect the sun’s rays) preventing it from reflecting the sun’s rays and instead warms the ice (due to the black color which absorbs heat) therefore turning it into water. With the increase in the particulate matter suspended in the air, the amount of water streaming down to the rivers over a period of time due to the meltdown increases tremendously. However, A positive attribute towards this is, links to previous studies suggest that the black carbon stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time as compared to carbon dioxide, which stays in the atmosphere for many years therefore the simplest solution to reduce the melting rate of glaciers is to use a cleaner method of cooking i.e. biogas or biomass instead of burning coal.
Himalayan glaciers’ seasonal melt water is what keeps the great rivers-Ganges, Indus, Mekong and Yellow flowing year in, year out. If the glaciers are no longer present, there will be no water supply to the rivers therefore; they will eventually dry up, affecting millions of people who rely on these water sources.

The limitation of reducing aerosols from matter being achieved is quite high because the Himalayan glaciers are situated within developing countries, which still use coal as a source of fuel and most of this countries emit a lot of pollution thus the increase in particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Another limitation is the fact that an increase in the green house gases globally is still warming the earth therefore the glaciers are still bound to melt because of the increase in temperature but at a slower and less alarming rate.

All in all, the glaciers are expected to melt but the time frame is not specifically defined therefore, the Asian community and the world in whole need to come together and look into ways of reducing the rate of the meltdown of the glaciers because it will have an adverse effect on the concerned population.

References:

Image from: http://xblackstone.multiply.com/journal/item/53

Original article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16221893.000-flooded-out.html (Pearce F. 1999)

Target article: “Himalayan glaciers would "very likely" disappear by 2035” www.csmonitor.com (Mainoff M. 2010)

Angela Kabii
Student Number: 095

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