Himalayan glacier melting doubled since 2000, spy satellites show

The melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the turn of the century, with more than a quarter of all ice lost over the last four decades, scientists have revealed. The accelerating losses indicate a “devastating” future for the region, upon which a billion people depend for regular water.

The scientists combined declassified US spy satellite images from the mid-1970s with modern satellite data to create the first detailed, four-decade record of ice along the 2,000km (1,200-mile) mountain chain.

The analysis shows that 8bn tons of ice are being lost every year and not replaced by snow, with the lower level glaciers shrinking in height by 5 meters annually. The study shows that only global heating caused by human activities can explain the heavy melting. In previous work, local weather and the impact of air pollution had complicated the picture.

Serious consequences will be felt by those who rely on the great rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, China and other nations. “It’s the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said Philippus Wester, at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, and said the new work was very convincing. “Increasingly uncertain and irregular water supplies will impact the 1 billion people living downstream from the Himalaya mountains in south Asia.”

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