The glaciers of the Himalaya (the “abode of snow” in Sanskrit) are under assault by the warming effects of greenhouse gases and black carbon particles. Over the northwest Indian Himalaya, for example, temperatures have risen by 1.6 degrees Celsius over the past century—more than twice the global average temperature rise. Here, the Lirung Glacier looms above Nepal’s Langtang Valley, a catchment that is expected to lose 32 percent of its glacial area by 2035.
Zanskar's Waning Ice
“There are loud indicators that these glaciers are melting,” Shakeel Romshoo, glaciologist at the University of Kashmir, says. He has studied glaciers in Zanskar and other parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir since the mid-1980s. “Out of 365 glaciers in the Zanskar region that were there in 1969, about 6 of these glaciers are not there.” As in, completely gone.
Requiem for a Jade Dragon
The massif of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is home to the southernmost glaciers of Eurasia. Not long ago there were nineteen glaciers on its flanks; today there are fifteen. The glacier-covered area decreased by almost 27 percent between 1957 and 1999, the largest extent of retreat of any glacial region in China.
The Melting of Mount Everest
Since George Mallory’s first attempt to climb the world's tallest mountain in 1921, the Rongbuk glacier at its base has lost more than 330 vertical feet and retreated more than half a mile. In the past fifty years, glaciers on and around Everest have decreased in area by 13 percent, and their termini have retreated by an average of 400 meters.
A Most Dangerous Lake
In 1960, Imja Tso did not exist. Today this lake covers more than one square kilometer at the foot of Island Peak, on the south side of Mt. Everest. Researchers worry about hundreds of such lakes across the Himalaya, formed by accelerating glacier melt, and the prospect of damaging “glacial lake outburst floods”—when the lake’s natural moraine dam bursts, thousands of people downstream in the Khumbu Valley will be at risk.
An Irresistible Force
On October 7, 1994, a glacial lake burst its dam and poured into the Pho Chu—the “Father River”—in Bhutan's Punakha Valley. The resulting wall of water, mud and debris killed 23 people, swept away houses, and tore loose this bridge from its moorings.
The Doomed Glaciers of Kumik
The small glaciers on the summit of Sultan Largo, above the village of Kumik, are a fraying quilt of ice and snow. “In Zanskar there are many villages which are depending on glaciers, like Kumik,” says Stenzin Thinles, the head of Gonpapa, perhaps Zanskar’s oldest and original household. “Maybe after some years the glaciers are totally finished, and they are getting big water problems."
After the Water Towers Fall
“Without water, there is no life,” the people of Kumik often point out. With the loss of their life-sustaining snow and ice, they are facing an uncertain future - but they are facing it together.