Glacier Mass Loss in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

June 20, 2023


The Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) region is experiencing a rapid loss of glacier mass, as highlighted in a recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). This concerning trend has significant implications for water resources, ecosystems, and communities dependent on the cryosphere. The report underscores the urgent need for adaptation measures to address the challenges posed by cryospheric change in the region.  

Accelerated Glacier Mass Loss 

The report reveals that the Hindu Kush Himalayas have experienced a staggering 65% faster loss of glacier mass. Between 2010 and 2019, the region lost an average of 0.28 meters of water equivalent (m w.e.) per year, compared to 0.17 m w.e. per year between 2000 and 2009. 

Karakoram Range in Decline 

Contrary to its previous stability, even the Karakoram range has shown a decline in glacier mass during 2010-2019, losing an average of 0.09 m w.e. per year. 

Critical Water Source 

The ice and snow in the HKH region play a vital role in sustaining 12 rivers that flow through 16 Asian countries. Approximately 240 million people residing in the mountains and 1.65 billion people downstream depend on these water resources. 

Projections for Glacial Loss by 2100 

Under a business-as-usual scenario, HKH glaciers could potentially lose up to 80% of their current volume by 2100. This substantial loss would have severe implications for water availability and the livelihoods of millions. 

Projected Snowfall Decline 

The report forecasts a decline in snowfall in the Indus Basin between 2070 and 2100. Compared to the average snowfall between 1971 and 2000, the projected decline ranges from 30% to 50%. Such reductions exacerbate water scarcity issues in the region. 

Impacts of  Thawing Permafrost 

Thawing permafrost in the Hindu Kush region poses grave consequences, including infrastructure damage and an increased risk of landslides. The instability of the ground threatens the well-being of local communities and ecosystems. 

Protecting Biodiversity 

Approximately 40% of the region’s biodiversity is found within protected areas. Climate change-related impacts, such as species migration, ecosystem degradation, habitat suitability decline, species decline and extinction, and the invasion of alien species, are evident in the Hindu Kush Himalayas. 

Urgent Adaptation Measures 

The report emphasizes the critical need for immediate adaptation measures to address the changing cryosphere. Urgent action is required to protect vulnerable mountain communities and ensure their resilience in the face of cryospheric change. 

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