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5 Jan 2022 | Cryosphere

Expanding permafrost research in the HKH

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We worked with Tribhuvan University to organize the “Cryosphere Forum 2021: Status of research on changing permafrost and associated impacts in the Hindu Kush Himalaya” – an event focused on state-of-the-art knowledge about permafrost research in the HKH region.

This conference – held on 20–23 September 2021 – brought together over 200 scientists and early career researchers from across the world, who presented on permafrost science from the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, Europe, and North America, covering a wide range of climatic and landscape types. Such knowledge sharing on permafrost research is crucial since permafrost measurements require long-term, regional planning. Moreover, the HKH region needs such collaboration since permafrost monitoring here has been limited to sporadic field and remote-sensing investigations, except in the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau.

Key messages

The researchers presenting at the conference shared some key messages and developments in permafrost research:

  • Permafrost thawing causes the release of solutes and sediments in rivers and mountain catchments. This affects hydropower reservoirs and turbines in downstream areas.
  • Temperature borehole records show 1°C warming in the last 30 years. As a warming rock glacier starts moving faster than glacier and debris-covered glaciers, it is capable of destabilizing steep mountain slopes and causing mass movement events.
  • The HKH region needs sustainable, long-term monitoring programmes implemented through local, regional, and international cooperation. Such monitoring programmes need to concentrate on developing reliable data with measurements focused on contemporary and cascading effects associated with thawing permafrost.
  • The impacts of permafrost changes on livelihoods, ecosystems, and hazards require further research, with feedback from relevant international research organizations such as Glacier and Permafrost Hazards in Mountains (GAPHAZ) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
  • The HKH region requires field investigations, remote sensing, and modelling for coordinated investigation of permafrost. The establishment of transects representing thermal and hydrological variability is important for selecting ground truth sites. Laboratories for permafrost soil experiments are also necessary. Ground truth data is crucial for policy design and implementation.
  • Establishing a network of critical zone observatories in the HKH region is an important milestone for permafrost research in the region. Such information can provide opportunities for international collaboration and reduce uncertainties that can arise from having a single critical observatory in the region.
  • Future climate services should combine local and indigenous knowledge and scientific practices for permafrost monitoring in this region. Regional and international collaboration and the availability of adequate resources are critical for addressing existing knowledge gaps and supporting early career researchers. The HKH needs to be represented in the Internal Permafrost Association and other organizations dedicated to permafrost research.


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