EcoAlert: Himalaya’s Vanishing Glaciers

_46715902_e520457-himalaya_mountain_range,_shuttle_image-spl Glaciers around the world are showing dramatic signs of retreat from global warming from Glacier National Park in Montana to the jagged peaks of the Andes to the storied peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest. The intense public debate on how rapidly the Himalayan glaciers (satellite image above) are retreating highlights the necessity for the constant monitoring of glaciers worldwide by satellites. Glaciers are the visible field events of climate change, because they can have a major impact on the planets water supply. A detailed glacier inventory is critical  to assess these changes and to model their future evolution.


In 2007, ESA started the GlobGlacier project as a major effort to develop and apply existing methodologies to monitor glaciers and contribute to a global glacier inventory using satellite observations. GlobGlacier, part of ESA’s 'Data User Element', is adding about 20 000 of the estimated 160 000 glaciers worldwide to this inventory to allow their histories to be adequately tracked.

Kashmir, part of the Indian Himalayas, is one of the selected regions where little information is available on overall glacier extent or changes. GlobGlacier is creating inventory data for more than 1000 glaciers in this region.

When a time series of suitable images are available for a certain region, changes in glacier length and extent can be calculated. "Such data allow scientists to assess the overall pattern of changes in a larger region for a better determination of climatic change impacts," said GlobGlacier Project Manager Frank Paul from the University of Zurich.

While most of the smaller and debris-free glaciers in the Kashmir show considerable retreat in this period, the larger glaciers with completely covered tongues have not changed much. Several of the pro-glacial lakes have grown. Quite a few glaciers at lower altitudes are nearly free of snow in the August 2001 image, indicating a retreat that year.

The ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, which will produce robust long-term records of essential climate variables, will build on the results of the GlobGlacier project by further improving the algorithms for glacier monitoring and continually updating the related glacier inventory information.

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