ICIMOD bids farewell to cryosphere champion

By Chimi Seldon/ICIMOD

'When I first started working for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in 1995, cryosphere research in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region was considered geopolitically sensitive. Cryosphere activities were linked with water resource data, and potential study sites were located in high mountain areas where most regional member countries (RMCs) had border issues’, said Pradeep Kumar Mool, the outgoing programme coordinator of the Cryosphere Initiative of ICIMOD. 

Today, ICIMOD has a full-fledged Cryosphere Initiative generating HKH cryosphere data and building capacity for cryosphere research in the region. The pioneer of the initiative was Mr Mool, who has been the programme coordinator since its inception. 

Mr Mool is a trained geologist and geomorphologist with vast experience in natural hazard and environmental management. Throughout his 37 year career, he was dedicated to bringing more attention to the cryosphere in the HKH region and building a valuable knowledge base. 

He dedicated 21 years of his professional career to ICIMOD and retired on 30 September, 2016. Following his departure, our cryosphere team wanted to share the legacy he left behind.  

An undated photo of Pradeep Mool (right) as he identifies potential landslides and hazardous areas along Bhote Koshi of Sindhupal district, Nepal which has a history of geo hazard disasters
Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya.

Initially, due to the restrained approach of the researchers towards cryosphere research in the HKH region, as it was considered sensitive, there was limited cryosphere literature about the region. The cryosphere research in the region was isolated to small scale research focused mostly on the glacial lakes and glacial lake outburst studies, and there were no coordinated activities. Mr Mool led a study funded by the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) to carry out inventory of glaciers, glacial lakes and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) in Bhutan and Nepal Himalayas, and two volume books went on to become ICIMOD’s first publication on the subject. 

Inventory of Glaciers, Glacial lakes and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) for Nepal and Bhutan is a two-series publication published in 2001. Besides documenting glaciers and glacial lakes, the books also map areas where GLOF events occurred and glacial lakes that pose a potential threat of GLOFs in the future.  The database and analysis were the first to cover the entire country on large scale for both Nepal and Bhutan.

The report was released along with the release of the globally significant 3rd Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in Paris and London with support from UNEP. 

Releasing the findings at the release IPCC III report had a huge impact in getting donor interest. It provided the much needed exposure for ICIMOD in global context.

'People began to recognise the role ICIMOD could play in bringing more cryosphere research and activities in the HKH region’, said Mr Mool. 

With the initial funding provided by Global change System for Analysis, Research and Training (START), and Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN), ICIMOD was able to extend Cryosphere research focus to India, China and Pakistan. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had also expressed interest in carrying out mass balance measurement in the region. 

The urgency of having a legitimate research agency, that can carry out long term research and monitoring in the HKH region, was felt in 2007 when the fourth IPCC report inadvertently reported that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. The incident also highlighted the serious lack of data from the third pole which had remained a white spot till then. 

ICIMOD as a regional intergovernmental organisation also recognised the need to extend cryosphere research and activities beyond glacial lakes and outburst events. Particularly in addressing the data gap and capacity building in the region.

Following the controversial report statement, the Norwegian government committed five million US dollars for five years to build regional capacity building and established long term field based monitoring.

With Mr Mool as the lead for cryosphere activity at ICIMOD, he played a pivotal role in procuring the funding. The Cryosphere Initiative has come long way. It has become a pioneer in cryosphere research in the region, working towards achieving increased understanding of change in the cryosphere in the HKH contributing to improved water resource and risk management.

With climate change impact visibly increasing in the region and worldwide, Mr Mool feels that ICIMOD’s Cryosphere Initiative could continue to play an important role in bringing regional collaborations for research and policy uptake. He has traveled across the region from Tibetan plateau glaciers in China to Hindu Kush glaciers in Pakistan. Known for his vast knowledge and experience on Himalayan  glaciers, he remains a crowd favourite especially among the members of media who were able to learn about climate change and its severe impact on the glaciers and the mountain communities. Many of them describe him as articulate scientist who can link science with people who are the real beneficiaries of ICIMOD’s work.

Mr Mool’s success and contributions are not confined only to his line of work. He is also a two-time national award winner: ‘Mahendra Vidhya Bhushan’ gold medal for his scholastic achievement and ‘Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu’ for his excellent contribution in the public service sector of the Government of Nepal.

Mr Mool’s history with ICIMOD started when he joined as a remote sensing specialist and moved up the professional ladder to become the programme coordinator for the Cryosphere Initiative. Mr Mool leaves behind a legacy that is of great value for promoting and advocating environmental Hindu Kush Himalayas. 

'I may have left ICIMOD physically but it’s always in my heart and I will contribute to cryosphere issues that ICIMOD has invested so much into for Hindu Kush Himalayan region’, Mr Mool said.  

Pradeep Mool
Sketch by Asha Kaji Thaku/ICIMOD