Himalayan glaciers melting at ‘exceptional rate’

The accelerating melting of the Himalayan glaciers threatens the water supply of millions of people in Asia, new research warns.

Himalayan glaciers have lost ice ten times more quickly over the last few decades than on average since the last major glacier expansion 400-700 years ago.

The Himalayan mountain range is home to the world’s third-largest amount of glacier ice, after Antarctica and the Arctic and is often referred to as ‘the Third Pole’.

The acceleration of melting of Himalayan glaciers has significant implications for hundreds of millions of people who depend on Asia’s major river systems for food and energy. These rivers include the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus.

“People in the region are already seeing changes that are beyond anything witnessed for centuries. This research is just the latest confirmation that those changes are accelerating and that they will have a significant impact on entire nations and regions.”

The Murrumbidgee River’s wet season height has dropped by 30% since the 1990s, and the outlook is bleak

The southern Murray-Darling Basin occupies the southern half of NSW and northern Victoria. It receives most of its water from rain in the cooler months that fills dams, with any overflow spilling into the floodplains.

The Murrumbidgee River catchment is approximately 84,000 square kilometres, or about 8% of the basin. It encompasses a complex series of wetlands and floodplains.

The height of the Murrumbidgee River—the third longest in Australia and highly valued for irrigation and hydro-electricity—has dropped by about 30% during the growing season. This is a loss of approximately 300 million litres per day.

The findings follow a major report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on Monday, which found much of Australia will become more arid as the world warms. This will bring reduced river flows, mass tree deaths, more droughts and drier soils.

Given this drop is associated with the wettest months from April to September, the outlook for the warmer months between October and March is dismal. The number of days when the river ceases to flow will certainly increase.

Dam building and excessive irrigation are often behind decreased river flows across the Murray-Darling Basin. But in this case, we can point to decreased rainfall from climate change as the reason the Murrumbidgee River catchment is losing water.

Under climate change, we can expect further drying of wetlands and major losses of wildlife habitat. For farmers and communities, we can expect huge reductions in the amount of water allocated for irrigation. The ability for communities to survive these severe decreases in agricultural productivity will be tested.

Young farmers in Klamath Basin lose hope

The Klamath Basin in the western U.S. was once a string of pristine wetlands but in the middle of the 19th century settlers began diverting the three big rivers feeding the system for their own needs. All the wetlands were drained, the streams were straightened, the trees were cut down and cows were put on the land. Water diverted to the basin is now dwindling.

Some young farmers trying to find a path forward said it does feel like it’s not just the weather that’s against them – but the government and the courts too. With the only water left to them in the ground, and only for those with wells to pump it from, frustration has hit a peak.

“It’s costing us an absolute fortune”

The cost of pumping water compounds the already challenging cost of farming. There are mortgages, land leases, labor. And farmers are also required to pay fees to maintain the irrigation systems, even those that turn into dusty ditches. Those costs all favor scale, forcing smaller operations to shutter and pave way for large farms to buy up land.

“You don’t want to think about what’s coming. You want to just keep going and hope it gets better”.

“I guarantee if we have another year of drought, this Klamath Basin scenario is going to be in every irrigation district across the west.”

CSIRO predicts more drought, drastic drop in Murray-Darling basin water

“Going to get worse.”