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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
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HIMALAYAN
GLACIERS

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
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.

www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001

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.

International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-26098-5
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-26098-1
ISBN 0-309-26098-1

Additional copies of this report are available for sale from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu/.

Cover photo by Alton Byers, Khumbu, Nepal, 2007, The Mountain Institute.

Copyright 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.

The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.

www.national-academies.org

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
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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

Consultant

RICHARD MATTHEW, University of California, Irvine

NRC Staff

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.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
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Preface

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.

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
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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

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
×

Acknowledgments

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.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13449.
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Scientific evidence shows that most glaciers in South Asia's Hindu Kush Himalayan region are retreating, but the consequences for the region's water supply are unclear, this report finds. The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is the location of several of Asia's great river systems, which provide water for drinking, irrigation, and other uses for about 1.5 billion people. Recent studies show that at lower elevations, glacial retreat is unlikely to cause significant changes in water availability over the next several decades, but other factors, including groundwater depletion and increasing human water use, could have a greater impact. Higher elevation areas could experience altered water flow in some river basins if current rates of glacial retreat continue, but shifts in the location, intensity, and variability of rain and snow due to climate change will likely have a greater impact on regional water supplies.

Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security makes recommendations and sets guidelines for the future of climate change and water security in the Himalayan Region. This report emphasizes that social changes, such as changing patterns of water use and water management decisions, are likely to have at least as much of an impact on water demand as environmental factors do on water supply. Water scarcity will likely affect the rural and urban poor most severely, as these groups have the least capacity to move to new locations as needed. It is predicted that the region will become increasingly urbanized as cities expand to absorb migrants in search of economic opportunities. As living standards and populations rise, water use will likely increase-for example, as more people have diets rich in meat, more water will be needed for agricultural use. The effects of future climate change could further exacerbate water stress.

Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security explains that changes in the availability of water resources could play an increasing role in political tensions, especially if existing water management institutions do not better account for the social, economic, and ecological complexities of the region. To effectively respond to the effects of climate change, water management systems will need to take into account the social, economic, and ecological complexities of the region. This means it will be important to expand research and monitoring programs to gather more detailed, consistent, and accurate data on demographics, water supply, demand, and scarcity.

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