A study by American researchers paints a disturbing picture of the state of health of Everest’s glaciers, which are melting at breakneck speed.
One would expect that glaciers located several kilometers above sea level, in the middle of the Himalayas, would be relatively spared from global warming. It is not so; a study published last week claims that the South Col Glacier, a mass of ice perched at more than eight thousand meters which connects Mount Everest to Lhotse, would have lost the equivalent of 2000 years of ice in the space of three decades.
To reach this disturbing conclusion, researchers at the University of Maine, USA, had to break some records for science; indeed, they installed the two meteorological stations and collected the highest ice samples in the world. The sampling, in particular, was very important, because the ice can act as a climatic archive; with a sufficiently long ice core, it is possible to trace the entire history of the glacier to find out how it has evolved over time.
Armed with this data, the team generated several predictive models which enabled it to propose numerical estimates. And the findings are anything but encouraging. Indeed, the researchers estimated that this expanse of ice would lose the equivalent of several decades of ice each year. During 25 years, the South Col Glacier would thus have lost nearly 54 meters thick. And the origin of this change is anything but unexpected: as often, human activity has played a disproportionate role compared to the expected natural evolution.
“This study answers one of our main questions, namely whether the highest altitude glaciers are also impacted by human-induced climate change”, explains Paul Mayewski, co-author of the study, in a press release. . “The answer is a resounding “yes”, and this impact has been particularly significant since the late 1990s.“, he says in a press release.
A vital reservoir for millions of humans
It was on this date that the outer layer, which had already begun to melt very slowly since the 1950s, finally gave up the ghost. This event constituted an important tipping point, since it deprived the glacier of its protective layer. Indeed, this layer composed mainly of snow reflects the sun’s rays particularly well. It therefore plays the role of a shield by absorbing the energy that otherwise ends up directly in the glacier, with the consequences that we know.
Since the disappearance of this layer, the ice finds itself directly exposed to the aggressions of our star. This situation considerably accelerated the melting of the glacier, so much so that today, researchers believe that it is already doomed. “The South Col Glacier seems destined for rapid regression,” they say in their study.
This is a relatively disturbing finding, even compared to the sordid reports that testify to the large-scale melting of the ice. Remember that this is a gigantic mass of ice, stored at altitude in one of the coldest areas in the world. If the South Col Glacier is also bearing the brunt of global warming, this suggests that eventually no mass of ice in the world will be able to escape its grip – including the other glaciers of the Himalayas, whose decline seems to be just as inevitable. A chilling prospect, insofar as more than a billion people are directly dependent water stored in the multiple glaciers of the Himalayas according to LiveScience.
The text of the study is available here.