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Asian glaciers on course to lose one-third of their water by 2100

At least one-third of the ice stored in Asia’s glaciers will have melted by the end of the century, affecting the water supply for millions of people, and bringing the threat of more intense flooding. This prediction is made in a new report, and based on the Earth’s temperature rising by only 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, a goal that scientists have previously said has a 1 percent chance of being achieved.


“To meet the 1.5 C target will be a task of unprecedented difficulty,” researchers said. “And even then, 36 percent (give or take 7 percent) of the ice mass in the high mountains of Asia is projected to be lost” by 2100.

The research, published by a group of Dutch scientists, also examined what would happen if the Earth’s temperature rises by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The researchers concluded that if temperatures rose by 3.5, 4.0 and 6.0 degrees Celsius respectively, Asian glacier losses could amount to 49 percent, 51 percent, or 65 percent.

Two years ago, 195 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement — which Donald Trump recently pulled out of — and committed to holding the Earth’s temperature “well below 2 degrees Celsius” above pre-industrial levels. In July, scientists said the chances of meeting that goal were just 5 percent, and the chances of keeping the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius were just 1 percent.

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“Even if temperatures stabilize at their current level, [glacier] mass loss will continue for decades to come,” the report warned.

Millions of people in Asia depend on meltwater from glaciers in mountain ranges like the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, which between them hold the biggest store of frozen water outside the poles. The water is used not only for drinking but also for crop irrigation and electricity generation.

Speaking about the new study, J. Graham Cogley of Trent University in Canada said the researchers’ glacier model “has some innovative features that might raise eyebrows among glaciologists, but it is difficult to find fault with it as a pioneering effort.”

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And it’s not just happening in the Himalayas. In Peru, a 2014 study found glaciers had shrunk by more than 40 percent since 1970, while the glaciers of the French Alps lost about a quarter of their surface area between 2003 and 2015.