Asia will likely lose at least one-third of its glaciers by the end of this century, according to a study published September 13, 2017 in Nature. The ambitious target of keeping global average temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels set by the Paris Climate Accords won’t even be enough to curtail this fate, with rising temperatures having an outsized effect on glaciers in the high mountains of Asia.
Philip Kraaijenbrink, the lead author on the paper told GlacierHub:
Our work shows that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees actually means a temperature increase of 2.1 degrees on average for the glacierized area in Asia. We show that even if the world meets this extreme ambitious target, thirty-six percent of the ice volume will be lost by 2100.
The goal of 1.5 degrees is generally regarded as extremely ambitious, and Kraaijenbrink and his team found that under more realistic scenarios, ice loss will be between 49 and 64 percent. Meltwater from those glaciers supply water to 800 million people. A loss of even one-third of the glaciers in the region has the potential for serious consequences for water management, food security, and energy production. Kraaijenbrink’s study stops short of investigating the actual impact this loss may have on people, and it is difficult to predict exactly what the future will hold for communities downstream of these glaciers.
Anna Sinisalo, a glaciologist with ICIMOD, who was not associated with the study, told GlacierHub:
There is also a need to reconstruct historical variability of climate to better understand the ongoing change, as without knowing the past we cannot make reliable predictions about the future.
However, this research is still a necessary step to understand how increasing temperatures will affect the region.
In addition to showing that a warming world will lead to losses of glaciers, the researchers also found large differences in how glaciers in the region would respond to climate change. Much of this is due to the characteristics of the individual glaciers, like the amount of debris cover, or differences in local precipitation and temperature projections. Places like Hindu Kush and Pamir, for example, will experience a mean increase in temperature over 2 degrees, while other locations like the Central Himalayas will be closer to the global mean increase.