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Decreasing Glaciers: How Will They Impact Climate Change

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One of the most present and prominent issues associated with consistent climate change is the shrinking of the glacial regions of the world. Globally, glaciers are dissolving at an unprecedented rate in the modern epoch. Many areas across the nation rely on the effects of constant glacial shrinking and regrowth for agricultural purposes and irrigation. Glaciers store accumulated amounts of snow and ice over large periods of time, flowing down mountains and eventually melting at the lowest points of the glaciers while more snow moves towards the top. This allows a sustained, consistent regeneration of water throughout the winter season, which in turn enters into rivers and lakes in the summer, helping to regulate the flow of water in these areas. Areas throughout Asia such as the Himalayas are greatly affected by climate change due to the fact that climate change itself directly alters the course of glacial regrowth and the amount of either water or snow that finds its way into agricultural areas in these regions.

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In terms of present issues that affect these regions, one of the most destructive consequences is that of flooding in these areas. This mostly affects any areas that are located near river deltas in many ways. First, when the overall glacial mass disappears significantly, there is no reserve that can be released during the summer time. This in turn affects the water supply in these regions and the amount of water that comes during different seasonal periods. When the glacial reserves aren’t able to be utilized in these regions that rely on them, the only supplemental resource is that of man-made dams, which have a tremendous impact on the environment and people in general. (Ruddman, 2005) Often times, these dams can result in the displacement of up to millions of people. Asia has many of the world’s most reliant regions on glacial activity. The Himalayas supply a large portion of water from glacial-fed streams and rivers.

The rivers that in turn come from the glacial regions of the Himalayas are among the most widely used and near the most densely populated areas in the entire world. As of 2000, these rivers, such as the Indus, Ganges, Salween, Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Huang Ye collectively provided water to approximately 1.4 billion people worldwide. (Toman, Chakravorty, Gupta, 2003) As a result of climate change, the glaciers in the Himalayan region are already decreasing. Because of the reliance on these glaciers, populations that exist downstream are often the most potentially vulnerable. For instance, the Indus River valley has one of the largest and most developed irrigation systems throughout the entire world. As Ruddman states (2005), over 90 percent of the crop production within Pakistan is grown under these irrigation channels, and this water is supplied from the Indus. Other hydro-power facilities have been developed to help curb the effects of glacial retreat and the reliance that these peoples have on the glaciers. Yet, these systems are inefficient by many standards, such as the Three Gorges Damn which has displaced approximately 2 million people overall.

Studies indicate that as glacial reserves continue to dwindle, there will be a higher reliance on these types of retaining dams. As a result, these will have a severe impact on the river deltas and the flow systems that are already established. Any alteration of this scale would devastate regions which rely on aquaculture, irrigated agriculture or fishing to provide sustenance. The collective impact of such systems could be tremendously detrimental to essentially all of the Asian region. The systems that these regions rely on are precarious as is, but the devastation of collective deterioration of glacial reserves could ensure that millions of people and wildlife are displaced or killed.

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