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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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By BikeDude on 6/13/2010 2:52:23 PM , Rating: 2
AFAICT, almost every generation in human history have had one (or more) prophecy of doom. We all yearn to be the logical conclusion to a long history, so we celebrate rapture, ragnarok, y2k, 2012 and whatnot because surely our generation is the one that makes a difference. We're important, and that means the world must end now.

The hypothesis of man-made global warming fits neatly into the pattern of a good decent doomsday prophecy. Fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Meanwhile, our planet is already a very crowded place. We have resorted to all sorts of tricks to increase crop yields, slowly poisoning everyone of us (including animals). Heck, some of us have tried to fuel our cars on sugar canes, and immediately someone starts complaining that the price of wheat started climbing. The price of wheat hit a record low in the late 80s and the US, Russia and EU have all paid farmers to stop growing anything. Yet when the price starts to pick up slightly, people panic.

Seeing the whole picture is a difficult task. The simple truth is probably what someone summed up in the question "what is better? 10 millions starve now, or 3 billions 10 years from now?". The more people we save now, the more people will need saving down the road. The human population breed like rats, and the Catholic ban on birth control (and abortion for that matter) is not helping.

What science tells us is that Greenland is named Greenland for a reason. The vikings farmed a large portion of Greenland in locations that are still covered with a thick layer of ice. We are emerging from a mini-iceage, and our society is not set up for the kind of migrations our forefathers had to endure.

The CO2 taxation won't work. Without CO2 there would be no life on this planet. Rather than focus on particle emissions that cause real (and sometimes irreperable) damage, our politicians are singeling out the one emission that occur naturally. I am not impressed. Initially I had hoped that the Kyoto agreement would lead to at least some discussion about e.g. NOx emissions, but our elected leaders are acting like headless chickens.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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