Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mount Everest Melt

Photos of Mount Everest taken 88 years apart. It's hard to tell
 from the black and white photo, but less ice is
present in the 2009 photo.
The news media were talking about global warming today after research presented at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun suggested that it is responsible for glacial melting on Mount Everest. As the world's tallest mountain, the disappearance of its snow caps will draw much attention to the problem of rising global temperatures. Scientists have found that the glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk by 13% in the last 50 years and the snowline has risen by 590 feet. In the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park, the glaciers have retreated an average of 1,300 feet since 1962. And not only is the ice melting, but the rate at which it is melting is increasing; more is melting faster. The glacial melting is not only caused by the rising temperatures, but also by the fact that precipitation has decreased since the early 1990's (about 3.9 inches). Glaciers are melting and not being replenished.

The melting glaciers are not only an aesthetic problem, but an environmental problem that is causing water shortages for the 1.5 billion people who depend on the water from the summer thaw for drinking and power. "The Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are considered a water tower for Asia since they store and supply water downstream during the dry season. Downstream populations are dependent on the melting water for agriculture, drinking, and power production," said Sudeep Thakuri, the doctoral student who is leading this research.
Mount Kilimanjaro in 1993 and 2000
Mount Kilimanjaro in 1970 and 2000

The researchers said they suspect the melting is due to global warming, but need a firm connection. I think it is pretty obvious that there is a correlation between the two. It is not only occurring near Mount Everest, but at mountain ranges and glaciers all over the world. It was reported in 2009 that Bolivia’s Chacaltaya glacier had lost 80% of its surface area since 1982, and Peruvian glaciers had lost more than one-fifth of their mass in the past 35 years, which reduced the water flow to the country’s coastal region (home to 60% of Peru’s population) by 12%. Some reports argue that in certain areas, glaciers are staying the same or actually growing, with the Karakoram Mountains in Asia being an example. While this is true, areas like this are "anomalous compared with the global average," according to Graham Cogley, a researcher from Trent University. Growing glaciers are likely due to increased precipitation and/or lower temperatures in a local area. The overall trend is that glaciers are shrinking. If global warming is not slowed, it could have major impacts on the water supply, not to mention it will change the faces of iconic mountains we have come to know.

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