The sustainability of water resources in High Mountain Asia in the context of recent and future glacier change
Ann V. Rowan, Duncan J. Quincey, Morgan J. Gibson, Neil F. Glasser, Matthew J. Westoby, Tristram D. L. Irvine-Fynn, Phillip R. Porter, Michael J. Hambrey, 2018. "The sustainability of water resources in High Mountain Asia in the context of recent and future glacier change", The Himalayan Cryosphere: Past and Present, N.C. Pant, R. Ravindra, D. Srivastava, L.G. Thompson
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High Mountain Asia contains the largest volume of glacier ice outside the polar regions, and contain the headwaters of some of the largest rivers in central Asia. These glaciers are losing mass at a mean rate of between –0.18 and –0.5 m water equivalent per year. While glaciers in the Himalaya are generally shrinking, those in the Karakoram have experienced a slight mass gain. Both changes have occurred in response to rising air temperatures due to Northern Hemisphere climate change. In the westerly influenced Indus catchment, glacier meltwater makes up a large proportion of the hydrological budget, and loss of glacier mass will ultimately lead to a decrease in water supplies. In the monsoon-influenced Ganges and Brahmaputra catchments, the contribution of glacial meltwater is relatively small compared to the Indus, and the decrease in annual water supplies will be less dramatic. Therefore, enhanced glacier melt will increase river flows until the middle of the twenty-first century, but in the longer term, into the latter part of this century, river flows will decline as glaciers shrink. Declining meltwater supplies may be compensated by increases in precipitation, but this could exacerbate the risk of flooding.
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The Himalaya mountains contain not only one of the largest concentrations of ice outside the polar regions, but contribute to the hydrological requirements of large populations spread over seven nations. The exceptionally high elevations of this low-latitude cryosphere presents a natural laboratory and archives to study climate–tectonics interactions as well as regional v. global climate influences. The existing base-level data on the Himalayan cryosphere are highly variable. Several climate fluctuations occurred during the late Quaternary (MIS1–MIS5, especially the last c. 100 ka), which led to the evolution of the Himalayan landscape. Detailed studies of these archives, along with those of the present cryosphere and related hydrosphere, are essential for understanding the controls on present and future hydrology of the glacial-fed mountain rivers.
This volume, a follow-up of the XII International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Science, Goa (A SCAR symposium), provides new data from locales spread over the entire Himalaya region and from Tibet. It provides a glimpse of the late Quaternary cryosphere, as well as a discussion in the last section on sustainability in the context of geohazard mitigations as well as the hydrological budget.