The Himalayan glaciers are melting—and quickly, scientists have confirmed for the first time. Over the past three decades, the 10 glaciers surveyed have shrunk by up to 22%, scientists revealed yesterday at a UN climate change conference in South Africa. Bhutan’s glaciers have shrunk 22%, while Nepal’s have melted 21%, and the melting sped up between 2002 and 2005, AFP reports. The area’s snow cover has also been reduced over the past 10 years, a separate study finds.
“These reports provide a new baseline and location-specific information for understanding climate change in one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world,” says the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such shifts in what environmental activists call the “third pole” could lead to a food and energy crisis for the 1.3 billion people downstream. The melting is creating lakes that could prompt flooding, while the loss of the glaciers could lead to drought, scientists note.