The continued increase of greenhouse gas emissions in the world is threatening to melt the majority of glaciers found in the Everest, according to a research.

Experts believe this could potentially cause a disastrous shift in the ecology of the Kosi River basin and create massive floods downstream from Nepal to India.

In a study, published [pdf] in the journal The Cryosphere, scientists from the European Geosciences Union (EGU) estimated that around 70 and 99 percent of the volume of glaciers in the region will be reduced by the year 2100.

The projected results of this phenomenon could depend on the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and the effect it will have on the rainfall, snowfall and temperature in the area.

Joseph Shea, a glacier hydrologist from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the leader of the study, said that the loss of glacier mass will likely continue and possibly accelerate because of the expected increase in temperatures.

He explained the glaciers in the Everest region may be highly sensitive to temperature changes, and that the precipitation in the area is not enough to prevent the glaciers from melting.

Aside from increasing the melting rate of snow and ice in the Himalayas, the rise in temperatures can also cause the precipitation to change from snow to rain in higher areas where most of the glaciers are located.

Shea added that these two factors serve to reduce the growth of glaciers as well as expose larger areas of the region to melting.

The study took the team of scientists to investigate the glaciers found in the Dudh Kosi basin, which is in the Nepalese side of the Himalayas. The area is known for some of the highest mountain peaks in the world such as Mount Everest.

Shea said that glaciers in the Dudh Kosi basin are important to their study because they provide meltwater to the Kosi River. Changes in the glaciers will significantly affect the flow of the river downstream.

This could impact the availability of water in the region and possibly offset the local agriculture and hydropower production.

Glacier retreats help reduce the meltwater flowing to the basin, especially during warmer months. They provide the locals with enough water supplies before the monsoon season arrives.

These retreats can also form lakes in the area which are then blocked by glacial debris. The glacial dams, however, are often breached during earthquakes and avalanches, causing widespread flooding and swelling the Kosi basin to up to 10 times its normal size.

Locals call the Kosi River the "sorrow of Bihar" because of the massive floods it had caused in the past.

Shea and his colleagues used data from local weather bureaus together with their field observations in order to test their model of the changes in the glaciers over the past five decades.

They studied the sensitivity of modeled glaciers to future changes in the climate through the use of eight precipitation and temperature scenarios. These scenarios were then applied to the historical data the researchers gathered to find out how the glacier volumes and areas responded to the changes.

"Our estimates need to be taken very cautiously, as considerable uncertainties remain," co-author Patrick Wagnon from the L'Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement in said.

The researchers noted that the evidence of potential changes in the glaciers is "clear and compelling." They said that the extent of the changes as well as the reduction in ice thickness will most likely occur as seen on even the most conservative climate change scenario they studied.

Photo: Rupert Taylor-Price | Flickr 

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