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Why a Glacier Is Not Melting in a Warming World


Image credit: Princeton University. The surprising stability of the glaciers of the Karakoram mountains may have been explained.

No matter where it is, at high altitudes or the poles, glaciers the all over world would be quite responsive to hotter temperatures, and retreat at the amazingly rapid rates. However, in regard to the Karakoram Range, it is now possible to explain the great anomaly to this pattern.

In consideration of the glaciers of the Karakoram, their stability, and sometimes even growth would be an interesting puzzle. Located at the point where China India and Pakistan meet, the KarakoramMountains offer much of the water for the IndusRiver, on which Pakistani people rely. Rainfall on such mountains will undoubtedly get to these rivers in the end, however, glaciation means that instead of a boom-bust cycle of flood and dry, the water is released at a controlled rate.

As many glaciers in the KarakoramMountains are covered in rubble, it is demonstrated from the one previous theory that it might be attributed to the insulating effect.

According to those denying climate changes, the Karakoram anomaly is far more important than the ice decline shown in the Antarctic and Arctic as well as high mountains in the rest of the world, the majority of the Himalayas included. An incorrect prediction on glacial decline in the region was the one significant error in the 3,000-page 4th assessment report presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In the paper published in Nature Geoscience, Dr. Sarah Kapnick of PrincetonUniversity pins the blame on seasonal weather patterns. As she says, heavy summer rain falls on most of the Himalayas owing to the south Asian monsoon, and this much outweighs the winter snows. However, in case of Karakoram, the situation is quite different; the cold winter winds from Central Asia bear most of the rainfall. It is unusual for the monsoon to get to Karakoram, because it is generally hindered by the GreatHimalayanRange to the south.

It is very difficult to model the effects of climate change in terms of the snowfall because of extreme topography the area, including the second highest mountain in the world, namely K2, and other three high mountains over 8,000 meters. In the past, scientists used average altitudes for the region, but this time, Kapnick resorted to high-resolution maps and monthly precipitation data instead.

Kapnick has discovered that, even if being affected by some warming, in the summer time the higher slopes of the mountains were too to melt the glaciers and scientists have no reason to expect average snowfalls to be decreased. Therefore, in her prediction, snowmass would remain stable or increase above 4,500 meters until 2100, compensating declines at lower altitudes.

Although it should be good news to Pakistani people, Kapnick believes her findings should not be applicable to the rest of the Himalayas, since it has already seen sharp glacial declines. In her opinion, climate scientists should always remember that some models might be useful in addressing certain questions, but they are not necessarily practical for other questions. While the models of IPCC could be specifically useful for other parts of the world, it is necessary that you should use a higher resolution for this particular area.

Journal reference: Kapnick, Sarah B., et al. “Snowfall less sensitive to warming in Karakoram than in Himalayas due to a unique seasonal cycle.” Nature Geoscience (2014).