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Mount Everest Is Melting (Or At Least Its Glaciers Are)
May 18, 2013
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An aerial view of Everest and the Himalayas (Photo: Prakesh Mathema/AFP/Getty)

A warming climate is shrinking the glaciers surrounding Earth's highest mountain, according to a new environmental study.

Researchers have discovered that Mount Everest's glaciers are receding because of rising temperatures and decreases in snowfall.

The study, led by researcher Sudeep Thakuri at Italy's University of Milan, used satellite imagery and topographic maps to create a glacial history of the mountain and the 1847-square-kilometre Sagarmatha National Park where it sits.

The Week has put together a post breaking down the numbers. On average, each glacier around Everest has receded 400 metres since 1962.

Overall, the "frozen cloak" around the mountain has shrunk by 13 per cent in the past 50 years.

The west shoulder of Everest circa 1974 (Photo: P. Morris/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Smaller glaciers, meanwhile, have shrunk much faster, registering a 43 per cent decline in surface area since the '60s.

The researchers speculated the decline could be due to human-made greenhouse gases, although they said they haven't established a definitive connection, according to the LA Times.

Either way, all this melting has consequences for many people in the region who depend on melt-water from Himalayan glaciers.

"The Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are considered a water tower for Asia since they store and supply water downstream during the dry season," said Thakuri. "Downstream populations are dependent on the melt water for agriculture, drinking and power production."

In the past, predictions of glacial melt in the Himalayas have been a source of controversy among climate scientists. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claimed in a 2007 report that glaciers could melt away entirely by 2035.

They later admitted that claim was unfounded, with later analysis by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite finding the melt was one-tenth the reported rate.

A separate study published last year, however, found that Himalaya's glaciers are in fact getting smaller, and quickly.

"The majority of the glaciers have been shrinking rapidly across the studied area in the past 30 years," said Yao Tandong, a glaciologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Tibetan Research.

Via The Week


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