Large Areas with Permafrost in Mountainous HKH, but Little Knowledge Concerning it

   TwitCount

Scientists from ICIMOD’s Permafrost Special Project have reviewed existing knowledge on permafrost in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), and want to see what we can learn from other areas around the globe.

Credit: Gruber 2012

Scientists from the Permafrost Special Project at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have reviewed existing knowledge on permafrost in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), and explored what we can learn from other areas around the globe in a recently published journal article. The concerned study, led by Stephan Gruber from Carleton University in Canada, argues that climate change in concert with increasing development will likely bring about diverse permafrost-related impacts on vegetation, water quality, geohazards and livelihoods.

Knowledge on permafrost in the mountainous regions of the HKH is sparse, even though its area is likely about 14 times larger than the area covered by glaciers. With two thirds of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau underlain by permafrost, China is the only HKH country with significant expertise in permafrost research and engineering. Given the extreme nature of the HKH environment – steep mountains, vast high-elevation plateaus, extremely dry as well as wet cold climates – it is to be expected that the diversity of conditions and phenomena encountered in permafrost exceeds what has previously been described and investigated in other parts of the globe. 

Limited understanding and observational data as well as diverse regional climate patterns and trends make possible future impacts on permafrost difficult to predict. For example, a delayed onset or reduced thickness of winter snow cover can promote ground cooling in winter, while higher summer temperatures have the opposite effect. Co-author of the paper, Dorothea Stumm from ICIMOD, emphasizes this fact saying, “Climate change affects permafrost in the HKH. We have to study the impact of permafrost thaw on the water, the associated hazards and the ways in which mountain people are impacted by it.”