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Climactic change

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

You read about climate change, you hear about glacial retreat. But it is not until you get up in the air that you get to see for yourself how real it is.

Not long ago, I had the chance to get up on Tara Air’s brand new Pilatus Porter with a Danish tv crew to take a one-hour flight from Lukla overflying the Upper Khumbu. I wanted to share with you some of the pictures from that vantage point:

1. Climbing up past Namche I got this extraordinary view of the Phunki Glacier which you don’t notice from the Everest trail because of foreshortening. The glacier has retreated so dramatically up Thamserku’s northern flank that you don’t even see it anymore, just the remains of the lateral moraines and the summit ice cap.

Phunki Glacier

2. The Ama Dablam Glacier, one of the ‘tributaries’of the Lhotse Glacier, is now just a jumble of boulders, sand and melt pools. And there is green grass in the meadows behind the moraine walls!


3. A view from higher and further of the north wall of Ama Dablam with its glacier. The stream coming from left is Imja Khola as it finds its way through the moraine complex after leaving Imja Lake.


4. Below the north face of Ama Dablam are these small differently-coloured hanging lakes trapped after the ice retreated up the mountain.


5. The Imja Lake isn’t there in trekking maps of the region from the 1970s. Melting ice and snow in the catchment basin below Lhotse and Ama Dablam have now turned it into a lake nearly 2 km long, 1km wide and 100 m deep. Luckily its terminal moraine has been bolstered by the moraine wall of the Ama Dablam Glacier, so the danger of it bursting and unleashing a catastrophic flood is not as serious as in some other glacial lakes like Tso Rolpa in Rolwaling or Thulagi in Manaslu. Unless there is a major earthquake.


6. The Khumbu Glacier is retreating 50 m a year according to some estimates. At top centre is Everest Base Camp and the houses below left are Gorak Shep.


7. The emerald green of Chola Tso, a lake formed by the debris brought down by the Chola Glacier blocking off a side valley during a rapid advance, possible during the last mini-Ice Age. The Chola Glacier is now virtually extinct.


8. Looking straight down from 20,000 ft flying past the summit of Ama Dablam at an inky blue lake formed by collected ice melt that is perched precariously above the settlement of Dingboche.


As dramatic as these pictures are, we know climate change is not just about retreating glaciers. Ice and snow get the media spotlight, water is less glamorous and its depletion is less visible.

Only four per cent of the water in the Ganges comes from the melting of ice and snow in the Himalaya. The rest is monsoon runoff, or sourced from springs in the mountains. The Himalaya, therefore, is not just a frozen water tower but a gigantic sponge that absorbs rainwater and releases it slowly through the year.

We know climate change is melting the Himalayan permafrost, but how do erratic monsoons caused by climate change affect rainfall and the recharging of Himalayan aquifers? We need answers, and solutions to these problems. Time is running out.

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11 Responses to “Climactic change”

  1. Johann on Says:

    The pictures are out of this world. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Geolog Munich on Says:

    Another very interesting blog, Kunda. And what fabulous pictures. You are right of course that ice and snow get all the media (and scientific) attention because that is where the funding is. Water is the key, and seeing that only 4% of the water in the Ganga is from Himalayan snow melt (I have seen elsewhere this figure is actually 8%, and how much of this is permafrost and how much glacial and snow melt?) should give make us pause to rethink our climate change adaptation strategies.

  3. Nilabh on Says:

    It is all because of the greed of a few and the folly of many that we will have no natural beauty left for our future generations.

  4. Tashi Tamang on Says:

    Dear Kunda ji,

    Thank you very much for sharing us this wonderful pictures, but seeing these barren glaciers is sad and it send us a sense of urgency to save these vanishing water sources of the Himalayan region. You are truly a good author, a publisher and also a good explorer on dirty Nepali politics and failing efforts by the government and people of Nepal to save the environment.

    As to look upon these realities, one can easily find it just below ones own nostrils and eye brows, filthy rotten stench from Bagmati and Visnumati river. All the major rivers (kholas) running through Kathmandu valley are now almost dried up in winter, except during the monsoon, otherwise it is mostly filled with sewage waters and garbage.

    The true realities of extreme danger is visible near our door steps, but people hardly see it with their polluted eyes and mind. On the other greater issues of water resources, Tibet is the main water resource of South Asia, which becomes life line of billions of people. But unfortunately Tibet was occupied by the autocrat regime of Communist China in 1959, the greedy regime deforested many parts of Tibet, diverted the rivers to other parts and build many dams and hydro plants, without any concern for the neighboring countries around. However, due to the Chinese money and power, once a good neighbors of sovereign Tibet, they all became Chinese puppet. Their eyes are just blinded by the Chinese money, so they can’t see the clear and future dangers on environment and geopolitics in whole of greater Asia, and whole of world too! It is easy to say, “Tibet is a part of China” but the dire consequences of neglecting ones own sovereignty right to righteous and truthful stand will cost dearly in near future. So, is the case of these melting glaciers, which are caused by the negligence on protecting the natures environment! so will be the case of neglecting Tibet’s true sovereignty by it’s surrounding neighbors! In reality, acts of all these political hypocrites, pollutes human society and mother earth too! So, it is worth being a human being to respect the moral ground of moral ethics, such as standing for the truth and for all the righteous deeds to protect everything, which connects us with this world of six billion human being! Scientifically, things are all interdependent, we have watch the causes of our action and it’s re-action later on!

  5. Kailash Poudel on Says:

    ”You read about climate change, you hear about glacial retreat. But it is not until you get up in the air that you get to see for yourself how real it is.”

    how do you know what is real from unreal? nuisance!

    i like the pics…but not your statement on climate change. People with brains are working all around the world at this very moment to see how much human civilisation contribute to the earth that is evolving every nano-second…its a natural process dammit! and the civilization too is a natural forces…tell me one person on earth who stepped out of the house to change the climate. its a process….we might me helping the earth…nobody knows it dammit!

    stop being al gore…and sell lullabies…keep it in ur pocket!

  6. Manik on Says:

    As if “Gone with the Wind”, “Never to return” until the next “Ice Age”… wonderful pictures and a punching reminders of what we have and are doing to our climate… thank you, Kunda jee!!

  7. Hilary on Says:

    Beautiful photos combined with stellar commentary, making it all too clear. Thanks….I think…

  8. yam gurung on Says:

    Mother nature has given us everything.But we the humanbeings are to be blame for all the destructions.Global warming,climate change etc.

    And the Nepal govt is not concern about it.

  9. Satish Shrestha on Says:

    I backpacked/camped around northwestern Montana for over a week last august (2009)and got to witness consequences of global warming in the US. Early on, I had an impression that Glacier National Park (bordering USA and Canada) was adorned by glaciers. Unfortunately I was rather wrong. Out of the 150 glaciers that existed back when the national park was first establish, only 26 remained. I was further disappointed as those remaining glaciers were in the verse of complete melt-down too.

    As a logical individual and a student of sciences, I see no reason why a normal person would deny climate change. It appears to me that climate change has been highly politicized. Here in the US, in general observation one can notice that conservatives/republicans tend to deny climate change, or at least attempt to prove that human activities aren’t significant causes of climate change. It should be obvious for every sane person with a little bit of logic/conscience that climate change is TRUE and HUMAN ACTIVITIES are major contributor. Unfortunately, there is no way we can mitigate the adverse consequences of climate change until it is approached as a global problem. Kunda is right, time is running out.

  10. Clilmactic change « Asian Window on Says:

    […] The Ama Dablam Glacier, one of the ‘tributaries’of the Lhotse Glacier, is now just a jumble of boulders, sand and melt pools. And there is green grass in the meadows behind the moraine walls! More: […]

  11. h.zollinger on Says:

    I have just visited Zermatt-Gornergrat seeing the Swiss Machhapuchhre and compared the photos taken by my grandfather in 1924. We have to consider that the global warming started more thant 150 years ago.Part of the northern hemnisphere was covered with ice several times. In between there were many other periods of global warmings. The dispute is what is man made and what has other origins.
    Every religion warns of disaters because of human misbehaving. Todays scientists are followed like the priests before. Science is a religion.

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