Everest’s ice is retreating as climate change grips the Himalayas

November 14, 2011 • Climate Change & Mitigation, News

From Population Matters.

The climb to Everest base camp is a journey into a monochrome world, a landscape reduced to rock, ice and grey sky. The only spots of colour are the bright, domed tents of the few climbing teams willing to attempt the summit in the off-season. There are no birds, no trees, just the occasional chunks of glacier splashing into pools of pale green meltwater like ice cubes in some giant exotic drink. The stillness suggests nothing has changed for decades, but Tshering Tenzing Sherpa, who has been in charge of rubbish collection at base camp for the past few years, remains uneasy. “Everything is changing with the glaciers. All these crevasses have appeared in the ice. Before, base camp was flat, and it was easy to walk,” he said.

Climbers had reported that they barely needed crampons for the climb, there was so much bare rock, Tenzing said. That’s not how it was in Edmund Hillary’s day. Tenzing pointed towards the Khumbu ice fall – the start of the climb, and part of a 16km stretch of ice that forms the largest glacier in Nepal. “Before, when you looked out, it was totally blue ice, and now it is black rock on top,” he said. He’s convinced the changes have occurred in months – not years, or even decades, but during the brief interval of the summer monsoon. “This year it’s totally changed,” he said.

This much is known: climate change exists, it is man-made, and it is causing many glaciers to melt across the Himalayas. Beyond that, however, much is unclear or downright confusing. For that, scientists blame a blunder in a United Nations report that was presented as the final word on climate change. The 2007 report – which included the false claim that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 – probably did more to set back science, and delay government action on climate change, than any other event. The scandal, known as Glaciergate or Himalayagate, was a gift to climate-change deniers when it came to light early last year, and a deep embarrassment to glaciologists. Now they are desperately trying to recover.

Mention melting and Himalayas to almost any glacier expert working in the region, and they will instantly plead for caution: please do not repeat the mistake of thinking all the ice will be gone in the next few decades. “It was just nonsense,” said Alton Byers, the scientific director of the Mountain Institute. “It’s absolutely staggering when you look at some of those high mountains. They are frozen solid, at minus 15 or 20 degrees, and they are going to remain that way.”

At lower elevations, it’s a different scenario, Byers acknowledged. Low-lying glaciers are melting, and far more rapidly in the past 10 or 15 years than in previous decades, scouring out new landscapes and creating a whole new realm of natural disasters for countries that are some of the poorest on Earth.

More: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/25/climate-change-himalayas-glaciers-melting

More on climate change: http://populationmatters.org/issues/environment/climate-change-2/

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