Using data gathered from 111 weather stations across southwest China, researchers have shown that increasing annual temperatures are devastating glaciers across the region and are statistically significant in terms of a warming trend.
The research – which was conducted by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and published in the October 25 edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters – concluded that 77 percent of the weather stations examined display a statistically significant increase in annual temperatures.
In the Pengqu basin of the Himalayas, for example, the 999 glaciers had a combined area loss of 131 km2 between 1970 and 2001, whilst the Yalong glacier in the Gangrigabu Mountains retreated over 1500 meters from 1980 to 2001.
“I think glacial loss is caused mainly by rises in temperature, especially in the high altitude regions,” said lead author Dr Zongxing Li. “From the 14 weather stations above 4000 m, there was an annual mean temperature increase of 1.73 °C from 1961 to 2008.”
Southwest China alone has 23,488 glaciers, which cover an area of 29,523 km2 across the Himalayas and the Nyainqntanglha, Tanggula and Hengduan mountains. If warming continues the retreat of the glaciers, loss of mass and an increase in the amount of water in the region could lead to devastating consequences. Widespread flooding is more than likely when the glacial lakes break their banks, as well as mudflows, rock falls, and numerous socioeconomic problems as well.
“It is imperative we determine the relationship between climate change and glacier variations, particularly the role of precipitation, as the consequences of glacial retreat are far reaching,” added Dr Li.