As if there weren’t enough signs of the accelerated warming that the Earth is suffering, now it has been known that the top of Everest itself is melting. The glacier at the top of Earth’s tallest mountain is melting rapidly as temperatures rise, according to research that shows the magnitude and scope of human-caused climate change.
The South Col Glacier, at the top of Mount Everest, was until recently covered in snow, which reflected sunlight and thus isolated the mass of ice below. But the loss of that snow in recent decades has exposed the ice, causing it to thin rapidly.
The scientists analyzed a 10-meter-long ice core in the glacier, as well as data from weather stations, satellite images and other records. In this way, they determined that since the 1990s, the South Col Glacier has halved and its ice mass has thinned by about 55 meters.
Warmer temperatures, lower humidity and more severe winds have accelerated this reduction, the researchers note. The findings have been published in the journal ‘Climate and Atmospheric Sciences’.
“Our study demonstrates the critical balance offered by snow-covered surfaces and the loss of high-mountain glacier systems as that snow cover is depleted,” the authors write.
“Everest’s tallest glacier has served as a sentinel of this delicate balance and has shown that even the roof of the Earth is affected by warming from anthropogenic sources”, he added.
The loss of the South Col Glacier also has social consequences and is a worrying sign for the more than 200 million people who depend on meltwater of glaciers in the high mountains of Asia.
The scientist also highlights the challenges that future expeditions to Mount Everest will face, as melting causes more avalanches and climbers accustomed to ice and snow will now have to climb over bare bedrock.
As the study notes, “all climate predictions for the Himalayas suggest continued warming and continued loss of glacier mass.”
Widespread situation in the Himalayas
And it is that, effectively, the problem covers the entire Himalayan mountain range. In recent decades, the ice is melting ten times faster than it was 400 to 700 years ago.. The disappearance of the glaciers will have a knock-on effect, as their melting threatens the water supply of millions of people in Asia.
This is what researchers from the University of Leeds warn that, in another different study, published in Scientific Reportshave concluded that the Himalayan glaciers are melting much faster than similar icy structures do in other parts of the world.
This rate of loss, which the researchers describe as “exceptional”, will cause 40% of the 14,798 Himalayan glaciers to have disappeared in the last 400 years. This means, in turn, that the frozen area has already gone from having 28,000 square kilometers of ice to only 19,600 today.
During that time, the Himalayas have also lost between 390 and 586 cubic kilometers of ice, the equivalent of all that is found today in the Alps of central Europe, the mountains of the Caucasus – between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – and Scandinavia. together.
All this water that has been released has already reached the sea, which has had a rebound effect on the world. Since then, sea levels around the world have risen by more than a centimeter.
Similarly, part of the glaciers, those that have natural debris on their surface and represent 7.5% of the total, are losing mass even faster. Their disappearance contributes to 46.5% of the total volume loss.
“This acceleration in the rate of loss has occurred in recent decades and coincides with human-induced climate change”, indicates Jonathan Carrivick, lead author of the study and deputy director of the Faculty of Geography at the University of Leeds.
However, the loss is not being uniform across the Himalayas. The eastern regions, that is, those that encompass eastern Nepal and northern Bhutan, are the most affected.
Reference studies (in English):