Are Pakistan's Glaciers Melting Away?
Recognizing it's too important an issue to let go, I decided to look into the facts and data as reported in science journals. Quickly, I came upon "Karakoram Anomaly". I learned that it's a term used to describe the fact that, unlike other mountainous regions, the Karakoram glaciers which supply most of Pakistan's river water are growing rather than shrinking.
|Baltoro Glacier in Karakoram National Park in Pakistan|
Pakistan is home to the most heavily glaciated area outside the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica. The massive glaciers of Baltoro and Biafo stretch for over 60 kilometers each in the Karakoram Mountains, according to Bina Saeed Khan who wrote on this subject in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper in 2013. The area designated as the Central Karakoram National Park in Pakistan has 711 glaciers, which is double the number of glaciers in the Alps in Europe.
A research report published in the journal Nature Geoscience has recently reported that the ice in the Karakoram mountains is sustained by a unique and localized seasonal pattern that keeps the mountain range relatively cold and dry during the summer months.
Other Himalayan ranges and the Tibetan Plateau — where glaciers have increasingly receded as Earth's climate has warmed — receive most of their precipitation from heavy summer monsoons out of hot South and Southeast Asian nations such as India.
The main precipitation season in the Karakoram in Pakistan, however, occurs during the winter and is influenced by cold winds coming from Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan to the west, while the main Himalayan range blocks the warmer air from the southeast throughout the year. The researchers determined that snowfall, which is critical to maintaining glacier mass, will remain stable and even increase in magnitude at elevations above 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) in the Karakoram through at least 2100. On the other hand, snowfall over much of the Himalayas and Tibet is projected to decline even as the Indian and Southeast Asian monsoons increase in intensity under climate change, according to Princeton News.
Understanding what will happen to the Karakoram glaciers in the next several centuries is an existential question for Pakistanis. Pakistan needs to sustain and grow its fresh water resources to support a growing population. WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) has recently set up a Glacier Monitoring Research Centre in Islamabad, which intends to conduct mass balance studies of five major Upper Indus glaciers, as well as installing new high-altitude weather stations. The six-year project is funded by the World Bank.
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