(CN) – Himalayan glaciers have been melting at a far more aggressive rate since the turn of the 21st century, a new study has found.
The study, published Wednesday in Science Advances, examined satellite and geographic data from the last 40 years to better understand the icy profiles of several key Asian glaciers. Researchers found the 21st century has seen far greater rates of glacier thaw than was experienced from 1975 to 2000, with glaciers of the last 19 years losing up to a foot and a half of ice annually – roughly double what was lost in the last quarter of the 20th century.
Researchers warn this kind of melting has serious consequences for local ecosystems and communities.
“Shrinking Himalayan glaciers pose challenges to societies and policy-makers regarding issues such as changing glacier melt contributions to seasonal runoff, especially in climatically drier western regions, and increasing risk of outburst floods,” the study says.
Lead author Joshua Maurer, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, found climate change and rising temperatures have undoubtedly been major factors in the faster pace of glacier melt. Temperatures in the Himalayan mountains are up by roughly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 1975 to 2000, a small but extremely significant increase.
The study also suggested, however, that while increased temperatures are certainly a key factor, Himalayan glaciers could also be melting for other reasons as well. The glaciers are located in Asia, a continent that burns a sizeable amount of fossil fuels annually. This sends soot and other debris into the atmosphere that eventually settles on the surfaces of these glaciers and hastens their melting.
If Himalayan glaciers continue to melt at the current rate, roughly one-third of glacier ice could be depleted by 2100 according to the study.
Maurer did not respond to a request for comment by press time.