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Wheat crops in India  (Source: NY Times)
Populations around the Himalayas at risk

recent study in the journal Science shows that the shrinkage of glaciers will cause a lack in water sources for crops, ultimately leading to food shortages for approximately 60 million people living near the Himalayas. This study is one of the first to observe the effect melting glaciers have on the Himalayan river basins, and could possibly further provoke the existing debate that climate change will destroy river basins located mostly in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China and Bhutan.

Dutch scientists Marc Bierkens, Walter Immerzee and Ludovicus Van Beek – who conducted the study and wrote in the journal -- concluded that basins around the Himalayas such as the Indus, Ganges and Brahamaputra depend on the melting glaciers to water their crops, and could see a 19.6 percent decline in their water supply by 2050. 

"We estimate that the food security of 4.5 percent of the total population will be threatened as a result of reduced water availability," the researchers wrote. "The strong need for prioritizing adaptation options and further increasing water productivity is therefore eminent."

This new study largely contrasts the U.N. report in 2007, where the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that hundreds of millions of people were in danger from the receding glaciers. According to the scientists, the reason for the "discrepancy" is that only some basins in this area depend on the glaciers. Others, such as China's Yellow River basin, obtain their water from rainfall and are expected to see a 9.5 percent increase in water supply due to the changing climate altering the pattern of monsoons. 

"We show that it's only certain areas that will be affected," said Bierkens. "The amount of people affected is still large. Every person is one too many but it's much less than was first anticipated."

In addition, the U.N. report included other errors such as the Himalayas disappearing by 2035, when actual data indicates that this will happen by 2350. Client change skeptics attacked this inaccuracy, which in fact, was just a mistake in transposing the numbers. 

Most scientists agree that "glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate as temperatures increase," and that the reason is related to the higher "atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide." Evidence for this appears in the considerable losses seen in glaciers across the Andes, Alaska, the Alps and several other ranges. According to researchers in the United States and Europe, "more than 90 percent of glaciers worldwide are in retreat."

Researchers who did not take part in the study, such as Zhongqin Li, director of the Tianshan Glaciological Station in China, noted that the scientists performing the study disregarded many other basins in central Asia and northwest China which will be affected by the glacial losses. Other glacial experts and scientists warned that "uncertainties and lack of data for the region makes it difficult to say what will happen in the next few decades to the water supply." While many researchers are skeptical of exact numbers in the study, they do agree that there should be a concern for those living in the glacial-dependent basins due to climate change. In addition, problems like pollution, overpopulation and poverty are added stress to the situation.

"The paper teaches us that there's a lot of uncertainty in the future water supply of Asia and within the realm of plausibility are scenarios that may give us concern," said Casey Brown, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Massachusetts. 

"At present, we know that water concerns are already a certainty - the large and growing populations and high dependence on irrigated agriculture which makes the region vulnerable to present climate variability. 

"This paper is additional motivation to address these present concerns through wise investments in better management of water resources in the region, which for me means forecasts, incentives, efficiency."

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RE: Mayb locally...
By Exodite on 6/11/2010 4:02:13 PM , Rating: 1
But warming will lengthen growing seasons in many places, and make previously unproductive land productive.

Sadly that doesn't matter in the slightest, even if true.

If we end up suffer a notable change in climate, and I do stress the if, nothing good will come of it.

True, maybe previously infertile lands will prove adequate for producing crops as the climate shifts but that still means we'll have to move our food-producing industries, machinery and people to those new lands.

Even those who care nothing about the other negative aspects of climate change would have to appreciate the immense economic costs that moving large parts of global food production centers would entail.

RE: Mayb locally...
By surt on 6/11/2010 6:20:19 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, Canada has massive amounts of land that have a narrow fertile window right now that are already heavily farmed. Doubling the fertile window would make a tremendous amount of additional food available, with next to nothing in additional costs.

RE: Mayb locally...
By zozzlhandler on 6/11/2010 6:24:18 PM , Rating: 3
People are rarely happy with change, but I would hardly say "nothing good will come of it". Longer growing seasons will allow much existing land to produce more food. The increase in arable land is slightly more long-term, and may not produce the food where it is needed, but that's why we have modern transportation isn't it?

We are not talking about moving major parts of the global food production. We are talking about being able to cover short-term shortages due to climate change (if any). We are most emphatically NOT going to stop the climate from changing. We don't have that level of power. If the changes result in greater overall food production (which warming would) we can certainly move the new food surplus around to where it is needed in the short term.

RE: Mayb locally...
By JediJeb on 6/11/2010 6:37:08 PM , Rating: 3
Mankind has been spoiled by the recent era of relatively stable climate. We are arrogant to believe we can control it, and selfish to believe we need it to not change. Ever since man first walked on this planet he has had to migrate as the climate changed, why should those of us currently present on the planet not expect to do the same?

How can we think our society and way of doing things should remain static when we live on such a dynamic planet? It is the world leaders who relish their power over everything who do not want things to change because it shows that there are areas where they have no control. They will tax and regulate us to death in an attempt to first control what they can not control, then to avert our attention from their lack of control. In the end we will all suffer for their arrogance if we allow them to continue.

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