Pakistan’s glaciers to melt sooner than thought: Survey

ISLAMABAD: Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan has expressed concern over the recent scientific finding of the international climate scientists and glaciologists that Pakistan’s glaciers in the northern mountainous region are at risk of melting at an increased pace because of global warming.


“If melting of glaciers in the north, which are vital to sustainability of country’s agro-based economy, picks up pace, then flow in the rivers would swell which could lead to devastating floods in the coming years,” he warned in a statement issued on Sunday.

Mushahidullah Khan said that there was a need for boosting the country’s climate/flood resilience in the light of the study to mitigate devastating impacts of the floods.

He urged the provincial governments to increase budgetary allocations to strengthen the irrigation network across the country and make public infrastructures, transport systems and buildings climate-resilient to avoid or reduce impacts of any possible flood-induced destruction in the future.

Published in the international Nature Climate Change Journal in May 2015, a renowned body of scientists from Pakistan, China, US, Canada, UK, Ecuador, Italy, Austria and Kazakhstan concluded in a research that melting of Pakistan’s glaciers is likely to speed up in coming decades as temperature in the mountain valleys of the north is escalating at a higher pace.

One of the authors of the research and senior scientific officer at the Global Change Impact Study Centre of the Ministry of Climate Change, Dr Ziaur Rehman Hashmi said the team of scientists came together as part of the Mountain Research Initiative, a global effort funded by the Swiss National Foundation, to study impacts of global warming on different mountain regions across the world including Pakistan.

“We researchers have found clear evidence that mountain regions at and above 5,000 metres could be warming faster than previously thought. However, we have called for urgent and rigorous monitoring of temperature patterns in the mountainous regions,” he added.

Dr Hashmi noted that average temperatures in mountain valleys have surged steadily over the past 50 years and the rate of change is speeding up further.

He highlighted that Pakistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change.

“If we are right and the mountains in Pakistan are warming more rapidly as compared to the lower part of the country, then the social and economic consequences could be graver, and we could see our glaciers disappearing much sooner than thought, leading to a dramatic change in the hydrologic regime of the Indus River System,” he warned.

He said water shortages could exacerbate once the glaciated area comprising over 5,000 glaciers, shrinks in the coming decades. Talking about major causes of warming temperatures in the mountain regions, he said that increasing release of heat in the high atmosphere, aerosol pollutants at low elevations and deposit of dust and black soot on the surface of glaciers at high elevations, which causes more incoming sunlight to be converted to heat, has led to spike in warming in the glaciated regions.

He said that researchers of the study have underlined need for improved observations, expansion in glacier monitoring satellite network for satellite-based remote sensing and more climate model simulations to gain a true picture of warming in mountain regions.

It has also been recommended in the study that effort should be taken to find, collate and evaluate observational data that already exists wherever it is in the world.