Water and Air

Adaptation to and mitigation of climate change are of paramount importance in the HKH where mountain development poses unique challenges for the 210 million people living in the region. Water and air are two linked and critical resources at the heart of adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. Water can be a source for clean energy that can contribute to mitigating fossil fuel consumption. If mitigation is about improving air quality, then adaptation is about managing water resources sustainably. At ICIMOD, the Water and Air Theme (W&A) uses cutting-edge science to deliver solutions on both these aspects. 

There are four major strands of expertise in W&A: 

  • Cryosphere experts observe, study, and monitor characteristics of glaciers, snow, and permafrost as markers of climate change; 
  • Hydrologists investigate the impact of climate and other changes on the cryosphere, water resources, and water-related disasters in river basins using hydrological models; 
  • Water governance and management experts examine local, regional, and national scales of managing land and water resources sustainably, including springsheds, early flood warning systems, and hydropower benefit sharing; and 
  • Atmospheric scientists explore the sources and processes of air pollution, and their impact on environmental and human health, and means of mitigating pollution through work with public and private partners. 

In the last five years, we have made rapid advances in our knowledge about the atmosphere, cryosphere, and water resources in the HKH. 

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, announced that anthropogenic drivers were the main cause of climate change and its resultant negative effects on the environment and society. In MTAP-III, ICIMOD responded to the report by increasing its focus on climate change in the HKH. Since then, we have undertaken the following work: 

  • Initiated glacier mass balance monitoring networks in some RMCs. We aim to coordinate these projects with ongoing work in other RMCs and international sites; 
  • Commenced new work to measure seasonal snow cover through remote sensing-based monitoring combined with in-situ observations; 
  • Improved our understanding of high altitude weather using automatic weather stations; and 
  • Expanded our research on permafrost through mapping permafrost proxies. 

These interventions are yielding long-term time series data, which is being used to make predictions about future cryospheric change at catchment levels. We also endeavoured in the following areas: 

  • Investigated the effects of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as black carbon on glacier and snow melt; 
  • Studied cryosphere-related hazards such as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs); 
  • Developed methodological frameworks for measuring permafrost, snow and ice, and glacier mass balance; and 
  • Built capacity of instructors and students enrolled in our Kathmandu University’s glaciology programme.


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