Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security
Committee on Himalayan Glaciers, Hydrology,
Climate Change, and Implications for Water Security
Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate
Water Science and Technology Board
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Committee on Population
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the Committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by the United States intelligence community. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agency or any of its subagencies.
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Cover photo by Alton Byers, Khumbu, Nepal, 2007, The Mountain Institute.
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COMMITTEE ON HIMALAYAN GLACIERS, HYDROLOGY, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR WATER SECURITY
HENRY J. VAUX, JR. (Chair), University of California, Berkeley
DEBORAH BALK, Baruch College of the City University of New York
EDWARD R. COOK, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY
PETER GLEICK,* Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security Oakland, CA
WILLIAM K.-M. LAU, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
MARC LEVY, Columbia University Palisades, NY
ELIZABETH L. MALONE, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Joint Global Change Research Institute, College Park, MD
ROBERT MCDONALD, The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA
DREW SHINDELL, NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, New York, NY
LONNIE G. THOMPSON, The Ohio State University, Columbus
JAMES L. WESCOAT, JR., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
MARK W.WILLIAMS, University of Colorado, Boulder
RICHARD MATTHEW, University of California, Irvine
MAGGIE WALSER, Study Director
LAURA J. HELSABECK, Senior Program Officer
MALAY MAJMUNDAR, Program Officer
SHELLY FREELAND, Senior Program Assistant
Asterisk (*) denotes member who resigned during the course of the study.
Many glaciers and snowpacks around the world are receding. The rates and timing of glacial wasting, the volume of icemelt that causes a net loss of glacier volume, vary and the causes are complex. In most instances there are multiple influences that interact in complicated ways. In the early stages of glacial wasting, streamflows increase while in the later stages they may decline. Wherever glaciers are wasting continuously there are concerns about the consequences for available water supplies.
The glaciers of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region are among the largest and most spectacular in the world. Although there is some scientific knowledge and information about the state of the glaciers of the HKH region, with implications for future water supplies, there is also significant uncertainty. Concern has been heightened by several highly visible pronouncements which upon examination proved to be highly qualitative, local in scale, or to lack any credible scientific basis. This report, prepared by a committee appointed by the National Research Council, seeks to describe and analyze the scientific knowledge about the glaciers of the region, their impact on the regional waterscape, and likely impacts of changes in the glaciers on the population of South Asia. More specifically, the Committee addressed the following questions:
• How sensitive are the Himalayan glaciers to climate and other environmental factors?
• What are the potential impacts of changes in climate and glaciers on the timing and volume of river flows in the region and what are the likely implications for water supplies and extreme climatic events such as floods?
• What water management systems are in place to help adapt to changes in regional hydrological systems and how might those systems be strengthened?
• What are the main vulnerabilities of downstream populations to changes in water supplies, what are the prospects for conflict and/or cooperation, and what are the implications for national security?
The Committee addressed these questions from several perspectives: the physical geography of the region, the human geography of the region, and the environmental security of the region. The Committee also identifies additional scientific and data needs as well as possible means of adapting to changes in water security, and draws a series of conclusions.
To help inform its analyses the Committee hosted an interdisciplinary workshop in fall 2011 in Washington, D.C. The 2-day workshop included both invited presentations and extended discussion to explore the many issues that bear on streamflows, water supplies, and the problems of adaptation in the region. The agenda for the workshop and a list of participants comprise Appendix A. The Committee expresses its appreciation to all of the workshop participants for sharing their perspectives and wisdom. The Committee would like to thank Richard Matthew, who assisted with revisions to the report. The Committee is also grateful for the assistance of National Research Council staff Lauren Brown and Daniel Muth who served as note takers at the workshop, and Keren Charles and Zhen Liu who prepared data and graphics.
The Committee was especially fortunate in being supported by three different units of the National Research Council: the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC), the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB), and the Committee on Population (CPOP). We are particularly grateful for the help and guidance of Program Officers Maggie Walser of BASC, Laura Helsabeck of WSTB, and Malay Majmundar of CPOP. These three ably kept the Committee on task and provided many of their own valuable insights, which substantially improved the report. Shelly Freeland of BASC provided all manner of administrative support, which helped to make the Committee’s efforts both efficient and pleasant. Finally, the Committee would like to thank the individuals responsible for the review of this report. Their comments were valuable and strengthened the report significantly.
Henry J. Vaux, Jr., Chair
Committee on Himalayan Glaciers,
Hydrology, Climate Change,
and Implications for Water Security
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Ana Barros, Duke University
Mahendra Bhutiyani, Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment, India
Bodo Bookhagen, University of California, Santa Barbara
Abbas Firoozabadi, Yale University
Stefan Hastenrath, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Arthur Lee, Chevron Corporation
David Michel, Stimson Center
John Pomeroy, University of Saskatchewan
V. Ramanathan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Alan Washburn, Naval Postgraduate School
Michael White, Brown University
Aaron Wolf, Oregon State University
Although the reviewers listed above have provided constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the views of the committee, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Dr. Gerald E. Galloway, University of Maryland, appointed by the Division on Earth and Life Studies, and Dr. M. Granger Morgan, Carnegie Mellon University, appointed by the Report Review Committee, who were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring panel and the institution.