Nepali Times
Climate Change
The gods are angry


There is 24-hour load shedding here in the Rolwaling Valley, the farmers don't know who Nepal's prime minister is, there are no chukka jams because there are no roads.

But what they do see in the towering mountains around them are signs of climate change. They don't know why, but the snowline is receding every year, the glaciers are melting and this winter has been the driest anyone can remember.

Gauri Shankhar VDC is named after the 7,181m mountain known locally as Chomo Tseringma. The distinctive twin peaks are visible from Kathmandu, but from up close the lower spurs block the view of its majestic summit. This year, there is no snow on the slopes and Gauri Shankhar is just a massive rocky outcrop.

Locals are superstitious, and say climate change is a result of the gods being angry. They have no idea that it is all a result of fossil-fuel burning by the rest of the world.

The Rolwaling Valley was first linked to global climate change when the Tso Rolpa lake here threatened to burst in the mid-1990s because of accelerated glacial melt. An expensive effort to siphon the water and lower the pressure on the moraine dam was undertaken. Villages downstream were prepared for evacuation and early-warning sirens were installed.

The project was able to reduce the water level by 3m of the targeted 20m, but the cost of lowering the water level further is too prohibitive. "The risk of Tso Rolpa bursting has been temporarily reduced, but there is still a danger," says Om Ratna Bajracharya hydrologist at the Department of Hydrology and Meterology in Kathmandu which has listed 200 glacial lakes in Nepal that could burst.

Tso Rolpa is frozen solid this winter. Global warming seems very far away up here at nearly 5,000m amid the frigid Himalayan winter. But climate variability is something everyone here has noticed. Villagers say that the winter snow has been decreasing through the past decade and the mountains all around are rocky and snowless. Farmers down the valley are afraid there will be snow in spring.

"Like in previous years, we may get six feet of snow in spring and that will destroy our potatos," says Ang Wasang Sherpa of Beding.

This year the mean temperature has been higher than normal across the country. In central Nepal's valleys the minimum temperature in the 2008-9 winter was four degrees above normal. The irony of it all is that farmers here like Ang Wasang don't burn any fossil fuels, and are the least responsible for the climate change that is affecting their lives.
FIRE AND ICE: Global warming melted the ice that made Tso Rolpa so big, but last week it was frozen solid.

Gauri Shankar towers over the Rolwaling Valley its slopes bereft of snow because of this year's dry winter.

The sluice gate of a dam that was built to let out the lake's water to reduce the danger of a catastrophic burst.

'Meltdown', #100

Before and after
The effect of climate change in the Himalaya appear most dramatic when pictures taken a few decades apart are juxtaposed.

Erwin Schneider, Khumbu, Nepal, 1956?1961. Courtesy of the Association for Comparative Alpine Research, Munich

Alton Byers, 2007, The Mountain Institute.

The photograph above was taken by Austrian cartographer Erwin Schneider in early 1950s from Nang Kartshung Monastery. The peaks at centre are Taboche (6367m) and Jobo Laptsan (6440m) with Pheriche in the valley below. Tsholo Tso is a moraine dammed lake at the foot of Jobo Laptsan. The moraine, seen as a white, glacial-like feature, is blocking the lake.

By 2007 (below) the clean, debris-free glaciers and ice nestled below the Taboche summit have been reduced considerably by recent warming trends. The ice in the small glaciers below the ridgelines to the north has suffered the most, perhaps because of its lower altitude, below 6000 metres. A comparison of satellite images of Khumbu Himal taken in the 1970s, and in recent years shows that hundreds of these small glaciers have disappeared.

'The melting Himalaya' Nepali Times #427
'Himalayan meltdown' Nepali Times #371

(Pictures courtesy: Erwin Schneider/Association for Comparative Alpine Research, Munich and Alton Byers/The Mountain Institute)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)