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A Grim Future For Earth’s ‘Third Pole’

There’s so much ice packed into the high mountains of Asia that scientists call it Earth’s “Third Pole.” The Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau hold the largest reserves of freshwater outside the Arctic and Antarctic. Here, thousands of glaciers form the headwaters for 10 of Asia’s largest rivers, which help supply the region with drinking water, crop irrigation and hydroelectric power. These glaciers are already melting because of climate change. Now, in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers have modeled all the glaciers in Asia to try to unravel what will happen to them as Earth warms even more. Their results show a disturbing trend. Asia’s glaciers will still see significant melting even if global governments can meet their optimistic goals under the Paris Agreement, which would hold global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Meeting that goal means humans must stop burning fossil fuels by 2050. However, if the Paris Agreement fails and greenhouse gas emissions keep rising, some two-thirds of Asia’s glaciers could melt by the year 2100. That could spell trouble for the millions of people who rely on that water in India, Pakistan, China, Nepal and other neighboring countries. Cross-border tensions go back centuries. And mountain skirmishes are already breaking out among these nuclear-armed nations. “The irrigation fields and also drinking water and hydropower might really be impacted,” says study author Philip Kraaijenbrink of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “It can be a big cascade of impacts if irrigation changes — if food security changes.”

Read More: Discover Magazine

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