Weather watch: Dirty Glaciers Melt Faster Than Clean Glaciers

Feb 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Glaciers, News, Pollution, Waste

Guardian: Dirty snow melts faster than clean snow. Nowhere is this clearer than on the glaciers of the Himalayas, where scientists have recorded accelerated melting, coinciding with a greying of the glaciers.

Photo: Scientists have recorded accelerated melting, coinciding with the greying of the glaciers. Photograph: Paul Souders/Corbis

Asia’s industrial revolution is pumping out lots of smoke. Much of that smoke is billowing over the Himalayas, depositing dirty black soot on pristine white glaciers. Jing Ming, of the China National Climate Center in Beijing, and colleagues, have been using satellite data going back to 2000 to measure how dirty the glaciers have become.

Focusing on 11 representative glaciers, they discovered a clear darkening trend over the last 20 years. The findings are published in the journal Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday. Meanwhile, field studies show that this dirt becomes concentrated over time, with many years worth of dust compressed into the lower layers of the glacier, a related paper in the same journal shows. Together with global warming this dirt is helping to melt Himalayan glaciers – dirty glaciers are less reflective and absorb more of the Sun’s heat. The glaciers are the main fresh water reservoirs for much of Asia, serving more than 1bn people. Without them flash floods will become more frequent and fresh water scarce.

Pollution can be cleaned up: if Asian countries clean up their factories and cars and cut down their smoke Himalayan glaciers could eventually revert to shiny white, perhaps buying the glaciers, and all of us, some more time.



Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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