Cryosphere in service for the people of HKH


The cryosphere is often seen as a purely natural scientific research object or as a source of disasters, although it also has huge positive socioeconomic impacts in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. These benefits that the cryosphere provides to people are cryosphere services.

A group of experts from relevant fields—tourism, irrigation, gender, education, hydropower, and climate change research—gathered on the sideline of ICIMOD’s resilient conference to discuss ways to bridge gaps between research, decision making, and users. 

A brainstorming session brought out different components of cryosphere services. The components discussed included medical benefits, leisure, and sports besides disaster reduction, climate change indication, and water resource for various applications. The participants and facilitators outlined the various cryosphere services available in the HKH region. 

The cryosphere of the HKH at a glance. 

Group discussions following the brainstorming session focused on identifying linkages between research and services, services and people, and research and decision making, as well as collaboration on cryosphere monitoring in the region. The discussions acknowledged the data gap in the region and the need to increase the use of these data across different sectors. The tourism sector, for example, could use cryosphere data to plan trekking itinerary and recommend trekking sites. Similarly, data on meltwater discharge can be useful for planning agro activities downstream.

In Norway, reservoir dams which store water for hydropower plants are also used during the heavy melt seasons for disaster mitigation. During the event of a glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF), water outflow is accommodated in these reservoirs, preventing damages downstream. 

One major cryosphere service is the cryosphere’s role as a climate indicator. “Changing glaciers are very visible indicators of climate change” said Miriam Jackson, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE). “We cannot directly see how carbon dioxide has increased, or how the temperature has been increasing but we can see what is happening to a glacier” she said. 

Cryosphere services as a research field is relatively young, but defining the needs of different user groups and integrating cryosphere research with socioeconomic analysis is highly relevant for both mountain people and downstream communities.

Experts discuss cryosphere services in the HKH during the satellite event, Towards Resilient Cryosphere Services in the HKH, held on 2 December 2017.

The satellite event, titled, Towards Resilient Cryosphere Services in the HKH, was held on 2 December 2017.  Thirty-two participants from ICIMOD’s regional member countries and researchers from Norway and France contributed to the event. 

Calling the event successful in outlining cryosphere services in the region, ICIMOD’s Cryosphere Initiative Programme Coordinator Anna Sinisalo said that such events help to better understand the needs of user groups.  “Our ultimate goal is to ensure the sustainability of cryosphere services in the HKH, and we will work in this direction".