Between 1969 and 2020 over 50 sq km of Himalayan glacier area have been lost in the Alaknanda river basin, the Ganges’ main contributor. A recent study attributes this to an annual 0.03C wintertime temperature increase and warns of potential water shortage consequences.
The study, authored by three scientists and produced through analysis of satellite images as well as field observations, found that the number of glaciers increased from 98 to 116 as bigger glaciers broke into smaller ones.
As a result of the changing landscape, water is now flowing through different paths which do not contribute to the Ganges River. These new water paths are decreasing the water flow of the Ganges. Moreover, these new bodies of water may overflow if the glaciers’ melting speed increases, which increases the risk of floods.
S. N. Remya, an author from the Divecha Centre for Climate Change, IISc in Bengaluru, said: ““They are melting faster and forming new water bodies such as lakes near the glacier. If the glaciers melt faster in the future, these water bodies will get added water and may overflow, causing destruction.”
This study has been published after the IPCC finalized the second part of its Sixth Assessment Report which pointed in the same direction and described Southeast Asia as a high risk region.
As reported in The water Diplomat, previous studies have found that Himalaya glaciers have decreased by as much as 40% over the last 400 years. Dr Jonathan Carrivick, Deputy Head of the University of Leeds School of Geography and co-author of the report said: "Our findings clearly show that ice is now being lost from Himalayan glaciers at a rate that is at least ten times higher than the average rate over past centuries. This acceleration in the rate of loss has only emerged within the last few decades, and coincides with human-induced climate change."