Himalayan Glaciers Aren’t Retreating

Published November 1, 2009

After an extensive study of glaciers throughout the Himalayas, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests reports most did not retreat during 2009. The ministry further concluded there is no strong evidence the modest retreat of some Himalayan glaciers in recent years was caused by global warming.

In an August 2009 white paper, the ministry reports that even in the case of many glaciers that are retreating, ice in the remaining portion of the glacier is thickening.

Weather Variation Drives Glaciers

Geologists at India’s Jammu University report annual variations in precipitation and other weather factors, not global climate change, are the primary cause of growth and retreat of Himalayan glaciers.

“Inter and intra-annual variations in weather parameters have more impact on the glaciers of northwest Himalayas, rather than any impact due to global warming,” the Jammu University geologists reported in Current Science.

Moreover, the geologists report, many Himalayan glaciers are stable or growing. Among the glaciers that are retreating, a frequent cause is ice calving that occurs without respect to global warming.

230 Glaciers Growing

In another study, accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of Annals of Glaciology, a team of scientists led by John Shroder of the University of Nebraska-Omaha reports 230 glaciers in the Western Himalayas are growing. Glaciers at such famous sites as Mt. Everest and neighboring K2 and Nanga Parbat are among those growing.

“These are the biggest mid-latitude glaciers in the world,” said Shroder. “And all of them are either holding still or advancing.”

Snowfall increases in the region are contributing to surging river flows in addition to increasing glacier mass. Providing water for much of India and Pakistan, the Indus River has experienced larger water volume in recent years, Shroder reports.

Cyclical Variations

“Himalayan glaciers, like glaciers elsewhere, are going through cyclic growth and decay with no apparent linkage to present warming,” said meteorologist Madhav Khandekar.

“The Tibetan Plateau did show a decrease [in glacier mass] during the 1980s, but more recent satellite data do not show such a decrease at present,” Khandekar explained.

Penny Rodriguez ([email protected]) writes from Parrish, Florida.