Everest Glaciers Could Virtually Disappear by 2100

Lost 15.6 percent of ice since 1961

Glaciers in Nepal's Dudh Koshi basin, home to Mount Everest, could shrink by more than 70 percent by 2100, according to a new study. (Wikimedia Commons)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A new study published in the Cryosphere on Wednesday details how, over the next century, glaciers in Nepal’s Dudh Koshi basin could shrink by more than 70 percent. The 1 million-acre basin is home to some of the world’s tallest mountains, including Everest.

Researchers at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMD) in Kathmandu and Utrecht University’s Department of Physical Geography in the Netherlands carried out the study. Lead author Joseph Shea of ICIMD told Discovery News that the region is ideal for studying glacial changes over time. Nepal gets most of its snow during the monsoon season, which brings 77 percent of all annual precipitation, and that snow is critical for maintaining the glaciers. While wet spells may be increasing in intensity, according to a study published last year in Nature Climate Change, some signs point to an overall decrease in the amount of precipitation.

The study predicts that rising temperatures due to climate change could raise the freezing line on the mountains, meaning that snow would fall in a smaller area and more of the glaciers would be exposed to melting. Shea and his co-authors estimate that the freezing line could rise as much as 3,900 feet by 2100, leaving the majority of the region’s glaciers in temperatures higher than 32 degrees during summer.

The Dudh Koshi basin has already seen an estimated 15.6 percent loss in ice volume since 1961. High-end estimates from Shea’s study indicate a 99 percent glacier loss by 2100, essentially wiping them out from the region.

“I want to caution that this is a tool,” Shea told Discovery News, since this was the first modeling done in the region and there are a few uncertainties. “But what we see is that glaciers are really sensitive to temperature changes.”

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