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60-Second Earth

How Fast Are Himalayan Glaciers Melting?

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change goofs in predicting total meltdown by 2035. But the roof of the world is still losing its icy coat. David Biello reports

The village of Brep in Pakistan doesn't exist in the same place anymore. That's because a torrential flood forced the community to move after a lake formed by glacial meltwater burst its bounds and leveled the town.  

Glacial lake outbursts have become a yearly occurrence across the high mountain region stretching from Afghanistan to Bhutan sometimes called the Roof of the World. 

Such floods are now common because temperatures in this high mountain region are rising even faster than those at lower elevations. A rise in altitude of 2,000 meters equals a tripling in the increase of average temperatures. As a result, many Himalayan, Hindu Kush and Karakoram glaciers are dwindling. 

Yet, predictions of the glaciers imminent demise may have been premature. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change famously predicted they could disappear as soon as 2035. It turns out that guesstimate was based on misquoting a researcher in a 1999 news articlenot a result from any kind of peer-reviewed scientific study

The incident reflects a breakdown in the IPCC process but it doesn't undercut the reality that glacier loss, particularly in what are technically tropical regions such as the Andes and Himalayas, continues to accelerate in the 21st century. Though they likely won't disappear entirely for centuries, losing the glaciers will eventually be bad news for the billions around the world who rely on meltwater to survive.

—David Biello

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