In what may be the most glaring example of climate change yet, the glaciers atop iconic Mount Everest are melting.
Like a giant snowman sweltering in the sun, the fearsome peak’s ice is ebbing away, the American Geophysical Union announced on May 14 at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico.
Lead researcher Sudeep Thakuri, who is studying the peak for his PhD at the University of Milan in Italy, led the study. His research showed that “glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk by 13 percent in the last 50 years, and the snowline has shifted upward by 180 meters (590 feet),” said the geophysical union, which organized and co-sponsored the meeting, which runs from May 14 through 17.
Everest is part of the Himalaya Mountains, which straddle China and Nepal. The mighty peak rises 29,029 feet above sea level. Glacial melt in other parts of the Himalayan plateau have been recorded as well, though in some parts the glaciers seem to be growing, the Los Angeles Times noted.
Using a combination of satellite images and topographic maps to reconstruct the mountain’s glacial history, Thakuri and his team looked at glacial erosion on both Everest and in the 713-square-mile Sagarmatha National Park that surrounds it to find the accelerating rate of retreat. They measured temperature and precipitation and found that the temperature has risen 1.08 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, rain during the pre-monsoon and winter months has declined by 3.9 inches since 1992, she said.
The most rapidly disappearing glaciers are those of one square kilometer or less, decreasing by 43 percent in surface area since the 1960s, the geophysical union said in its statement.
“Because the glaciers are melting faster than they are replenished by ice and snow, they are revealing rocks and debris that were previously hidden deep under the ice,” the geophysical union stated. The debris-covered sections of the glaciers have increased by about 17 percent since the 1960s, and the ends of the glaciers have also retreated by an average of 400 meters since 1962, Thakuri’s team found.
Though the researchers suspected that climate change is the culprit, it has not been proven. Finding out more is key to learning what might happen to the water supply of 1.5 billion or so people who rely on the glacial runoff for power and drinking water, LiveScience.com reported.