Melting of Himalayan Glaciers

  • IASbaba
  • April 7, 2022
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Melting of Himalayan Glaciers

Part of: GS-Prelims and GS-III: Environment, Conservation

Context: Several Indian institutes/universities/organizations monitor Himalayan glaciers for various scientific studies including glacier melting and have reported accelerated heterogeneous mass loss in Himalayan glaciers. Majority of Himalayan glaciers are observed melting/ retreating at varying rates in different regions.

  • Melting glaciers have significant impact on water resources of Himalayan rivers due to change in glacier basin hydrology, downstream water budget, impact on hydropower plants due to variation in discharge, flash flood and sedimentation. 
  • They also increase in risk related to glacier hazards due to enhanced number and volume of glacier lakes, accelerated flash flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), impact on agro practices in high Himalayan region etc.
  • The melting of glaciers is a natural process and cannot be controlled. However, melting of glaciers does increase the risks related to glacier hazards. 

Glacier melting in HKH region is caused by:

  • larger anthropogenic modifications of the atmosphere 
  • disruption in weather patterns and precipitation due to global warming 
  • changes in Glacier volume 
  • Unplanned urbanization


  • Threatens climate as well as monsoon patterns 
  • It impacts 10 major river systems which help in agricultural activities, provide drinking water and hydro electricity production in the region 
  • socio-economic disruption and human displacement


A. Pattern of losses of ice bodies in different parts of the world:

Antarctica: Retreating of glaciers

  • Antarctica encompasses land, island and oceans south of 60° latitude. This region stores about 70% of the world’s fresh water in the form of snow and ice.
  • The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has confirmed that the region is one of the fastest warming regions of the planet. Over the past 50 years, it has warmed over 3°C.
  • The annual ice loss in the Antarctic region has increased at least six folds between 1979 and 2017.
  • 87% of glaciers along the West Coast of the Antarctic Peninsula have retreated in the last 50 years with most of these showing accelerated retreats in the past 12 years.

Arctic and Antarctic region: Glaciers Melting from the Bottom

  • Glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice at alarming rates, and warmer air isn’t the only cause.
  • Scientists increasingly agree that warm ocean water is seeping beneath the ice and melting it from the bottom up.
  • Breaking of Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica and several smaller ice shelves in the Arctic are a result of global warming.

Ice mass loss in the Russian Arctic:

  • Ice mass loss in the Russian Arctic has nearly doubled over the last decade according to Cornell University research published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.
  • Glaciers there are shrinking by area and by height. We are seeing an increase in the recent speed of ice loss, when compared to the long-term ice-loss rate.

South America:

  • The 18,000-year-old Chacaltaya glacier in the Bolivian Andes disappeared. 
  • In Ecuador, an avalanche at the base of the Cayambe glacier occured. Also, an avalanche caused serious damage in the area of Pampa Linda.
  • These isolated avalanches confirm the trend towards the collapse of the Andean glaciers.

B. Following necessary steps can be taken to contain the ice bodies’ loss: 

  • In order to stop the temperature from rising, the only solution is to cool the planet as advised by the scientists. For this, the world not only needs to slow down greenhouse gas emissions but also reverse them.
  • There are around 1,98,000 glaciers in the world and India alone has about 9,000 of them. However, all of these glaciers are mostly unexplored. More detailed research is required to fully understand the state of glaciers and the risk their loss poses.
  • Reduce black carbon emissions from – (1) cookstoves; (2) Diesel engines; (3) Open burning. It could significantly reduce radiative forcing
  • Steps to be Taken by Regional Governments:
    • Review the policies on water management
    • Careful planning and use of hydropower to reflect changes in water flows and availability.
    • Increasing the efficiency of brick kilns through proven technologies.
    • Greater knowledge sharing in the region.

C. HKH extends over 8 countries – Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, India Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan 

  • It contains the world’s third largest storage of frozen water after Antarctica and Arctica 
  • It is also referred as the third pole of the world.

News Source: PIB

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