KATHMANDU – Ice on a glacier near the summit of Mount Everest that took millennia to form has shrunk dramatically over the past three decades due to climate change, a new study has shown.
The South Col Formation may have already lost about 55 meters (180 feet) in thickness over the past 25 years, according to a study conducted by the University of Maine and published this week by Nature.
Carbon dating showed that the top layer of ice was around 2,000 years old, suggesting the glacier was thinning more than 80 times faster than the time it took to form, according to the study.
At this rate, South Col was “probably going to disappear within a few decades,” lead scientist Paul Mayewski told National Geographic.
“It’s a pretty remarkable transition,” he added.
The South Col Glacier sits approximately 7,900 meters (26,000 feet) above sea level and one kilometer below the summit of the world’s tallest mountain.
Other researchers have shown that the Himalayan glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate.
As glaciers shrink, hundreds of lakes have formed in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains that could burst and trigger floods.
Nepali mountaineer Kami Rita Sherpa, who has climbed Everest a record 25 times since 1994, told AFP on February 12 that he had witnessed firsthand the changes on the mountain. “We are now seeing exposed rocks in areas where there was snow before. Not just on Everest, other mountains are also losing their snow and ice. It’s worrying,” Sherpa told AFP.
The Himalayan glaciers are an essential source of water for nearly two billion people living around the mountains and river valleys below.
They feed 10 of the world’s most important river systems and also help supply billions of people with food and energy.
The water-related impacts of climate change are already being felt daily by millions around the world, according to UN climate scientists.