About this Research Topic
Mountain environments around the world are considered to be amongst the most sensitive to the impacts of climate change. This is true in the Himalaya, where the dramatic dissaperance of mountain glaciers is indicative of the influence of humans on the climate system, and the adverse impacts that are unfolding. These impacts are devastating for mountain dwelling communities and ecosystems, but also have consequences extending far downstream.
The Himalayas are known as the water towers of Asia, providing an important water source for drinking, sanitation, irrigation, and hydropower generation for over 1.35 billion people downstream. The Himalayan glaciers are estimated to provide around 8.6 x 106 m3 of water annually feeding Asia’s seven major rivers, yet considerable uncertainty remains around the long-term sustainability of this vital resource.
The Himalayan region is also one of the most recognized biodiversity hotspots in the world, with diverse forests providing ecosystem services for both upland and lowland communities. While local inhabitants directly depend on this biodiversity for their sustenance, lowland inhabitants too place great value on goods and services coming from mountain regions. However, due to climate change, conditions are becoming unfavorable for many species, causing an altitudinal shift in their habitation range, and fragmentation of ecosystems. Likewise, animals and other fauna may be migrating from lowland to upland zones as temperatures increase. Hence, climate change represents an additional stress to the Himalayan ecosystems, which are already struggling due to other anthropogenic pressures such as over-exploitation, land degradation, and habitat destruction. For critically endangered or vulnerable plant species, and the societies or communities that depend on them, it is of paramount importance to better understand how these sensitive ecosystems will respond to further climate change.
The downstream impacts from flood, landslides and other climate-related disasters that originate from mountain catchments can also be significant and far-reaching. For example, the ice-rock avalanche at the head of the Seti River in Nepal in 2012, transformed into a far-reaching debris flow and flood event causing significant loss of life along its 35 km downstream path. Likewise, flooding and landslide across the mountainous Northern Indian state of Uttarakhand led to over 6000 deaths. With climate change potentially influencing both the frequency and magnitude of extreme events in mountain regions (through retreat of glaciers, thawing of frozen slopes, increased heavy rainfall, etc.), and glacial lakes increasing in number and expanding as the ice melts, the risk of related far-reaching disasters is expected to increase substantially.
Himalayan tourism generates economic growth, infrastructural development and employment opportunities for mountain communities. In view of rapidly changing environmental conditions, a key challenge for local authorities is to maintain a safe and sustainable tourism industry that is resilient to the threat of climate change. The aftermath of a climate-related disaster on the tourism industry and local or national economies can be far-reaching.
Keywords: Himalayas, Climate, Cryosphere, GLACIER
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