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Himalayas are melting away - prompting dread, panic among villagers

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Evidence of global warming, climate change is everywhere - but few are as ominous and unsettling as the condition of the Himalayan Mountains. With the world's eyes focused on the Himalayas' highest peak, 29,000-foot Mt. Everest last week . jubilation turned to dread. Celebrations to honor the 60th anniversary of the first human ascent of the mountain grew still after images of bare rock jutting out from under the receding ice caps proved the rapidly changing face of this majestic range.
 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A village nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Jhirpu Phulpingkatt went on red alert. Villagers on the banks of the Bhote Koshi river fear the sound of incoming text messages, which may carry evacuation warnings.

Research conducted by experts from the University of Milan shows that the snowline in the Everest region of the Himalayas, also known as the Khumbu region in the northeast of Nepal, has receded by 180 meters in the last 50 years, while glaciers have shrunk by 13 percent.

The ongoing melting is most likely caused by rising temperatures, which were 0.6-degrees Celsius higher this year than they have been in previous years, researcher Sudeep Thakuri says.

This has led to the proliferation of massive glacier lakes, which is melting ice held back by natural dams of moraine and debris that could spell disaster for those living in the rocky ravines down below.

Avalanches, erosion, heavy water pressure and even snowstorms could cause glacial outbursts, "releasing millions of cubic meters of water in a few hours (resulting in) catastrophic flooding downstream", according to the non-governmental agency Germanwatch, dedicated to sustainable development.

Glacier lake outbursts are not uncommon. Over the last century scientists have recorded at least 50 incidents of these icy lakes breaking their dams. One of the most devastating incidents occurred when the Sangwang Cho glacial lake in Tibet burst in 1954, flooding the cities of Gyangze and Xigaze.

Scientists say that the lakes are filling up faster than ever before and new lakes are being created at an alarming rate.

"If climate warming continues, as is predicted, accelerated glacial thinning and retreat are likely," Pradeep Mool, program coordinator at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development says. 

According to research, there are over 20,000 glacial lakes in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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