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The Changing Himalayas
Traditional practices have developed over generations. Will they be able to cope in a changing world?
meteorological stations at comparatively low altitudes and Downstream Effects
upon assumptions based on other, better-studied, parts of
The downstream effects of changing water flow regimes in
the world (Rees and Collins 2004). The importance of
the large Himalayan rivers are to a great extent, unknown.
the most widespread cryogenic processes – avalanches,
Few (if any) studies have attempted to model the impact of
debris flows, rock glaciers, alpine permafrost, and surging
a 30-50% reduction in dry season flow on, for example,
glaciers – has been recognised and their incidence
downstream economic growth, livelihood conditions, and
recorded for certain areas. Yet, almost no basic scientific
urban water use. It is likely that these changes will have
investigation of these cryogenic processes has taken place
major impacts on downstream societies; however, these
in the greater Himalayan region, even though they involve
impacts are largely unknown. Impacts on water resources
significant hazards, which may increase or decrease
will differ depending upon the importance or influence
risk in given areas. The immense diversity of local effects
of different sectors (such as tourism, irrigated agriculture,
found within the region should be recognised: diversity of
industry, and resource extraction), the ecosystems involved,
climates and topo-climates, hydrology and ecology, and,
and the mitigation measures implemented to reduce water-
above all, of human cultures and activities. Before effective
induced hazards. There are substantial variations within,
responses can be developed, much work has to be carried
as well as between, these sectors in different countries and
out to identify and predict the possible effects of climate
valleys in the region.
change across different systems – from glaciers to water
resources, from biodiversity to food production, from natural
hazards to human health – and filtered through diverse
Global Feedback Effects
contexts. In particular, there has been little engagement
Glaciation at low latitudes has the potential to play an
with local populations so far to learn from their knowledge
important role in the global radiation budget. A climatic
and experience in adapting to unique and changing
feedback mechanism for Himalayan glaciation shows
environments and to address their concerns and needs
that a higher glacier free or low albedo surface has a
(Xu and Rana 2005).
cooling effect over the Himalayas and a warming effect
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