Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Study: Glaciers in western Himalayas bucking global melting trend

By Matthew Knight, CNN
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 1704 GMT (0104 HKT)
The Karakoram mountains in the western Himalayas as seen from a NASA satellite. New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience is showing that some of the glaciers in the region have experienced small gains in mass in the 21st century. The Karakoram mountains in the western Himalayas as seen from a NASA satellite. New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience is showing that some of the glaciers in the region have experienced small gains in mass in the 21st century.
HIDE CAPTION
New study reveals glaciers gaining mass
<<
<
1
2
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Glaciers in the Karakoram mountains in western Himalayas are stable or gaining mass, new study says
  • Data from two satellites reveals small increases since beginning of 21st century
  • Small gains are in contrast to the picture of melting in rest of Himalayas and in other regions

(CNN) -- A heavily glaciated region of the Himalayas is bucking the trend of global ice loss and showing small signs of increasing in mass, according to a new study.

Data examining six regions in the Karakoram mountains in the western Himalayas, which contains 7,700 square miles (nearly 20,000 square kilometers) of glaciers, revealed more than half of them are either stable or have been advancing in recent years.

French scientists observed the size and shape of ice covering 2,168 square miles (5,615 square kilometers) in central Karakoram using satellite data from the Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (STRM) and the Satellite Pour l'Observation de la Terre (SPOT5).

Between 1999 and 2008 the glaciers gained, on average, the water equivalent of around 11 centimeters a year, according to the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Lead author, Julie Gardelle from University of Grenoble in France says explanations for this increase are still not clear, but might lie in the localized climate.

"Studies have already reported an increase in winter precipitation and a lowering of summer temperatures since the 1960s in low-altitude valleys of Karakoram," Gardelle said.

In our warming world, there are regions of the Earth where, during a few years or decades, the atmosphere is not warming or even cooling
Julie Gardelle, University of Grenoble

"Given the wide extent of high mountain Asia, we cannot expect the climate to be uniform over the whole range, so a peculiar atmospheric behavior over Karakoram may not be surprising," she added.

The study confirms an anomaly in the region which was put forward in 2005 and contrasts with the experience of the central and eastern Himalayas where most glaciers are shrinking, say researchers.

That story is one which is being repeated globally, say the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) and has been since the end of the Little Ice Age around 150 years ago.

WGMS estimate that since 1980 the cumulative average thickness loss of monitored glaciers across the world has been 11.3 meters.

Despite the overall picture of retreat, there are instances where glaciers are able to re-advance and Karakoram is an example, says WGMS director Michael Kemp.

Seeking a solution to global warming

"The Himalayas is the highest mountain range on Earth with the highest elevation difference. It's a huge area. So we expect regions (of it) to act a bit different," Kemp said.

Glacier data in the wider Himalayan region hit the headlines in 2010 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had to apologize for a "poorly substantiated" study they cited which claimed all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.

Kemp told CNN at the time that the data, which found its way into their Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), was flawed, saying there were "simply no observations available to make these sorts of statements."

But this most recent work using satellites is of great value, he says, giving a picture of what is happening in a region where data has traditionally been scarce due to its remoteness and political issues -- the Karakoram range borders India, Pakistan and China.

Despite the slight gains, Gardelle says, the message on climate change remains the same.

"Global warming is far from spatially homogeneous and continuous with time. In our warming world, there are regions of the Earth where, during a few years or decades, the atmosphere is not warming or even cooling," Gardelle said.

"Karakoram may be one of those, but we lack consistent high elevation weather station to conclude firmly on this."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 16, 2013 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
More than two million people are dying every year from the effects of outdoor air pollution, according to a new study.
July 12, 2013 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
What's better than fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables? How about fresh, locally-grown, free fruits and vegetables, all within an easy walk of your home or office?
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 1017 GMT (1817 HKT)
Living amid the garbage-strewn sewage canals, residents of Haiti's Cite Soleil endure a grim battle for survival every single day.
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
In just 12 years Vietnam cut the country's malnutrition rate in half by investing in small scale farming. Now other countries are following suit.
July 4, 2013 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
We're all familiar with the phrase "waste not, want not," but how well are we applying these words today?
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
Sodo, known as Haiti's sacred heart, is one of the few remaining forests in the country.
Take a look into CNN Special Correspondent Philippe Costeau's photo diary of how Haiti can break a vicious cycle of deforestation.
March 27, 2013 -- Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT)
Philippe Cousteau recalls his grandfather's advice and asks how you'd like to look at the ocean in 10 years' time -- with regret or awe.
March 27, 2013 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
We need to rebuild the ocean's abundance, variety and vitality. Without such action, our own future is bleak, say marine scientists.
March 22, 2013 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
Getting water to every person on the planet can and should be done by 2030, argues WaterAid's Chief Executive Barbara Frost.
March 20, 2013 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
This deep-sea angler fish was collected from a submersible. Just 3 inches long but fierce-looking, it has a long spine tipped with bioluminescent tissue that it can dangle in front of its mouth.
Oceans cover more than two-thirds of our planet producing half of the oxygen we breathe and helping regulate our climate.
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Global warming has propelled Earth's climate from one of its coldest decades since the last ice age to one of its hottest -- in just one century.
July 17, 2012 -- Updated 0807 GMT (1607 HKT)
Dressed in a wet suit, air tanks on his back is an image of Jacques Cousteau most people would recognize. But he was also an inventive genius.
ADVERTISEMENT