Glacial melting in Himalaya: Local Impacts of Climate Change on Mountain Ecosystems and Livelihoods


  • Kavita Tariyal Department of Applied Sciences & Humanities, THDC Institute of Hydropower Engineering & Technology, Bhagirathipuram, Tehri Garhwal-249001, Uttarakhand, India.
  • Dhanesh Mohan Bartwal Department of Applied Sciences & Humanities, THDC Institute of Hydropower Engineering & Technology, Bhagirathipuram, Tehri Garhwal-249001, Uttarakhand, India.
  • Uma Melkania Department of Environmental Sciences, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar-263145, Uttarakhand, India.


Adaptation strategies, Biodiversity, Climate change, Himalayas, Livelihoods, Mitigation, Third Pole


Mountains are amongst the most flimsy environments on Earth. They are prosperous repositories of biodiversity, water and providers of ecosystem goods and services on which downstream communities, both regional and global, rely. The transport of atmospheric pollutants and climate-altering substances can significantly impact high mountain areas, which are generally considered “clean” regions. The snow glaciers of the Himalayas, considered the “third pole”, one of the largest stores of water on the planet and accelerated melting could have far-reaching effects, such as flooding in the short-term and water shortages in the long-term as the glaciers shrink. The data available on temperature in Himalayas indicate that warming during last 3-4 decades has been more than the global average over the last century. Some of the values indicate that the Himalayas are warming 5-6 times more than the global average. Mountain systems are seen globally as the prime sufferers from climate change. There is a severe gap in the knowledge of the short and long-term implications of the impact of climate change on water and hazards in the Himalayas, and their downstream river basins. Most studies have excluded the Himalayan region because of its extreme and complex topography and the lack of adequate rain gauge data. There is an urgent need to close the knowledge gap by establishing monitoring schemes for snow, ice and water; downscaling climate models; applying hydrological models to predict water availability; and developing basin wide scenarios, which also take water demand and socioeconomic development into account. Climate change induced hazards such as floods, landslides and droughts will impose considerable stresses on the livelihoods of mountain people and downstream populations. Enhancing resilience and promoting adaptation in mountain areas have thus become among the most important priorities of this decade. It is important to strengthen local knowledge, innovations and practices within social and ecological systems as well as strengthen the functioning of institutions relevant for adaptation. A common understanding of climate change needs to be developed through regional and local-scale research so that mitigation and adaptation strategies can be identified and implemented.


Download data is not yet available.


ADB (2010). Climate Change Adaptation in Himachal Pradesh: Sustainable strategies for Water Resources. Asian Development Bank.

Agrawala, S., Raksakulthai, V., Van Aalst, M., Larsen, P., Smith, J. & Reynolds, J. (2003). Development and Climate Change in Nepal. Focus on Water Resources and Hydropower. Environment Directorate, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Paris (France).

Bahadur, J. (1992). Snow and glaciers and their contribution to India’s water resources. In: Water science educational series, series no. 1. National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, India. pp. 72.

Bahadur, J. (1993). The Himalayas: A Third Polar Region. Snow and Glacier Hydrology (Proceedings of the Kathmandu Symposium, November 1992). IAHS Publ. No. 218.

Ballantyne, C.K. & Benn, D.I. (1994). Paraglacial slope adjustment and resedimentation following recent glacier retreat, Fåbergstølsdalen, Norway. Arct. Alp. Res., 26(3): 255–269.

Barnett, T.P., Adam, J.C. & Lettenmaier, D.P. (2005). Potential impacts of a warming climate on water availability in snow-dominated regions. Nature, 438: 303–309.

Bates, B.C., Kundzewicz, Z.W., Wu, S. & Palutikof, J.P. (Eds.) (2008). Climate Change and Water. Technical Paper of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Secretariat, Geneva, pp. 210.

Chalise, S.R. (2001). An introduction to climate, hydrology and landslide hazards in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. In: Tianchi, L., Chalise, S.R. & Upreti, B.N. (eds), Landslide Hazard Mitigation in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, Kathmandu: ICIMOD. pp. 51–62.

Dadson, S.J. & Church, M. (2005). Postglacial topographic evolution of glaciated valleys: a stochastic landscape evolution model. Earth Surf. Processes Landforms, 30(11): 1387–1403.

Dirnböck, T., Dullinger, S. & Grabherr, G. (2003). A regional impact assessment of climate and land-use change on alpine vegetation. J. Biogeogr., 30(3): 401–417.

Du, M., Kawashima, S., Yonemura, S., Zhang, X. & Chen, S. (2004). Mutual influence between human activities and climate change in the Tibetan Plateau during recent years. Global Planet. Change, 41(3): 241–249.

Dyurgerov, M.B. & Meier, M.F. (2005). Glaciers and the changing Earth system: A 2004 snapshot. Occasional Paper No. 58. Boulder, Colordo: Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado.

EFY Plan (2006). Report of the Task Force on the Mountain Ecosystems [Environment and Forest Sector] for Eleventh Five Year Plan. Planning Commission, Government of India.

Eriksson, M., Fang, J. & Dekens, J. (2008). How does climate change affect human health in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region? Regional Health Forum, WHO South-East Asia Region, 12(1): 11-15.

Eriksson, M., Jianchu, X., Shrestha, A.B., Vaidya, R.A., Nepal, S. & Sandström, K. (2009). The changing Himalayas - Impact of climate change on water resources and livelihoods in the Greater Himalayas – A report by ICIMOD. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, Nepal. pp. 1-23.

Gao, X.J., Li, D.L., Zhao, Z.C. & Giorgi, F. (2003). Climate change due to greenhouse effects in Qinghai-Xizang Plateau and along the Qianghai-Tibet Railway. Plateau Meteorol., 22(5): 458–463.

Hofer, T. & Messerli, B. (2006). Floods in Bangladesh: History, Dynamics and Rethinking the Role of the Himalayas. United Nations University Press.

IPCC (2007). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Solomon, S.D., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Avery, K.B., Tignor, M. & Miller, H.L. (eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. pp. 996.

Ives, J.D. (2004). Himalayan perceptions: Environmental change and the well-being of mountain peoples. Himalayan Journal of Sciences, 2(3): 17–19.

Ives, J.D. & Messerli, B. (1989). The Himalayan Dilemma: Reconciling development and conservation. United Nations University Press, Routledge, U.K.

Kollmair, M., Gurung, G.S., Hurni, K. & Maselli, D. (2005). Mountains: Special places to be protected? An analysis of worldwide nature conservation efforts in mountains. Int. J. Biodivers. Sci. Manage., 1(4): 181–189.

Körner, C. (2004). Mountain Biodiversity, Its Causes and Function. Ambio, 33(sp13): 11-17.

Lawrence, D.M. & Slater, A.G. (2005). A projection of severe near-surface permafrost degradation during the 21st century. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(24): L24401.

Ma, X., Xu, J., Luo, Y., Aggarwal, S.P. & Li, J. (2009). Response of hydrological processes to land-cover and climate changes in Kejie watershed, south-west China. Hydrol. Processes, 23(8): 1179–1191.

Nijssen, B., O'Donnell, G.M., Hamlet, A.F. & Lettenmaier, D.P. (2001). Hydrologic Sensitivity of Global Rivers to Climate Change. Clim. Change, 50(1): 143–175.

Nogués-Bravo, D., Araújo, M.B., Errea, M.P. & Martínez-Rica, J.P. (2007). Exposure of global mountain systems to climate warming during the 21st Century. Global Environ. Change, 17(3): 420–428.

Parmesan, C. (2006). Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., 37(1): 637–669.

Qin, D. (1999). Map of glacier resources in the Himalayas. Beijing: Science Press and Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou Institute of Glaciology and Geocryology.

Nemani, R.R., Keeling, C.D., Hashimoto, H., Jolly, W.M., Piper, S.C., Tucker, C.J., Myneni, R.B. & Running, S.W. (2003). Climate-Driven Increases in Global Terrestrial Net Primary Production from 1982 to 1999. Science, 300(5625): 1560–1563.

Rebetez, M. & Dobbertin, M. (2004). Climate change may already threaten Scots pine stands in the Swiss Alps. Theor. Appl. Climatol., 79(1): 1–9.

Rees, H.G. & Collins, D.N. (2006). Regional differences in response of flow in glacier-fed Himalayan rivers to climatic warming. Hydrol. Processes, 20(10): 2157–2169.

Ren, J.W., Qin, D.H., Kang, S.C., Hou, S.G., Pu, J.C. & Jin, Z.F. (2003). Glacier variations and climate warming and drying in the central Himalayas. Chin. Sci. Bull., 48(23): 2478-2482.

Ruosteenoja, K., Carter, T.R., Jylhä, K. & Tuomenvirta, H. (2003). Future climate in world regions: an intercomparison of model-based projections for the new IPCC emissions scenarios. Helsinki: Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finnish Environment Institute, The Finnish Environment 644.

Schild, A. (2008). The case of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas: ICIMOD's Position on Climate Change and Mountain Systems. Mt. Res. Dev., 28(3): 328–331.

Shrestha, A.B., Wake, C.P., Dibb, J.E. & Mayewski, P.A. (2000). Precipitation fluctuations in the Nepal Himalaya and its vicinity and relationship with some large scale climatological parameters. Int. J. Climatol., 20(3): 317–327.<317::AID-JOC476>3.0.CO;2-G.

Siddiqui, K.M., Mohammad, I. & Ayaz, M. (1999). Forest ecosystem climate change impact assessment and adaptation strategies for Pakistan. Clim. Res., 12(2-3): 195–203.

Srivastava, D. (2003). Recession of Gangotri glacier. In: Srivastava, D., Gupta, K.R. & Mukerji, S. (eds), Proceedings of Workshop on Gangotri glacier, 26–28 March, Lucknow, India, Geological Survey of India, Special Publication, Number 80, pp. 21–32.

Thompson, M. & Warburton, M. (1985). Uncertainty on a Himalayan Scale. Mt. Res. Dev., 5(2): 115–135.

Vohra, C.P. (1993). Himalayan glaciers. In: Verghese, B.G. & Iyer, R.R. (eds), Harnessing the eastern Himalayan rivers: regional cooperation in south Asia. Konark Publishers, New Delhi.

WHO (2005). Human Health impacts from climate variability and change in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region. Report of an inter-regional workshop, Mukteshwar, India, October 2005.

Wilkes, A. (2008). Towards Mainstreaming Climate Change in Grassland Management Policies and Practices on the Tibetan Plateau. Working Paper No. 67. Beijing: World Agroforestry Centre, ICRAF China.

WWF (2005). An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China. WWF Nepal Program. Kathmandu, Nepal. pp. 79.

Xu, J. & Wilkes, A. (2004). Biodiversity impact analysis in northwest Yunnan, southwest China. Biodivers. Conserv., 13(5): 959–983.

Xu, J., Grumbine, R.E., Shrestha, A., Eriksson, M., Yang, X., Wang, Y. & Wilkes, A. (2009). The melting Himalayas: cascading effects of climate change on water, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Conserv. Biol., 23(3): 520–530.

Xu, J., Eriksson, M., Vaidya, R., Shrestha, A.B. & Hewitt, K. (2007). The Melting Himalayas: Regional Challenges and Local Impacts of Climate Change on Mountain Ecosystems and Livelihoods. ICIMOD Technical Paper. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Xu, Z.X., Gong, T.L. & Li, J.Y. (2008). Decadal trend of climate in the Tibetan Plateau—regional temperature and precipitation. Hydrol. Processes, 22(16): 3056–3065.

Yao, T., Guo, X., Thompson, L., Duan, K., Wang, N., Pu, J., Xu, B., Yang, X. & Sun, W. (2006). δ18O record and temperature change over the past 100 years in ice cores on the Tibetan Plateau. Science in China: Series D Earth Sciences, 49(1): 1–9.


Abstract views: 22 / PDF downloads: 7



How to Cite

Tariyal, K., Bartwal, D. M., & Melkania, U. (2013). Glacial melting in Himalaya: Local Impacts of Climate Change on Mountain Ecosystems and Livelihoods. Advances in BioScience, 4(3), 109–114. Retrieved from