Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Research article
22 May 2014
Research article |  | 22 May 2014

Climate change implications for the glaciers of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan region

A. J. Wiltshire

Abstract. The Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalaya (HKH) region has a negative average glacial mass balance for the present day despite anomalous possible gains in the Karakoram. However, changes in climate over the 21st century may influence the mass balance across the HKH. This study uses regional climate modelling to analyse the implications of unmitigated climate change on precipitation, snowfall, air temperature and accumulated positive degree days for the Hindu Kush (HK), Karakoram (KK), Jammu–Kashmir (JK), Himachal Pradesh and West Nepal regions (HP), and East Nepal and Bhutan (NB). The analysis focuses on the climate drivers of change rather than the glaciological response. Presented is a complex regional pattern of climate change, with a possible increase in snowfall over the western HKH and decreases in the east. Accumulated degree days are less spatially variable than precipitation and show an increase in potential ablation in all regions combined with increases in the length of the seasonal melt period. From the projected change in regional climate the possible implications for future glacier mass balance are inferred. Overall, within the modelling framework used here the eastern Himalayan glaciers (Nepal–Bhutan) are the most vulnerable to climate change due to the decreased snowfall and increased ablation associated with warming. The eastern glaciers are therefore projected to decline over the 21st Century despite increasing precipitation. The western glaciers (Hindu Kush, Karakoram) are expected to decline at a slower rate over the 21st century in response to unmitigated climate compared to the glaciers of the east. Importantly, regional climate change is highly uncertain, especially in important cryospheric drivers such as snowfall timing and amounts, which are poorly constrained by observations.

Data are available from the author on request.