(Inside Science) -- The huge glaciers in the Himalayan mountain system have been called the "water towers of Asia." They are immense reservoirs of water for the rivers that feed the world's most populated continent. However, scientists have been concerned that increased melting of the glaciers could increase natural disasters such as flooding and create imbalances and hostilities between the nations that depend on the melted water.
The April 20th issue of the journal Science presents somewhat encouraging news on the state of Himalayan glaciers; they are overall melting no faster than other world glaciers, which may ease concerns from earlier research such as satellite studies from 1962 to 2004 which indicated they may have been melting more rapidly.
The review, prepared by Tobias Bolch of the University of Zurich and the Technical University of Dresden and multinational collaborators, also provides new information of the less-studied glaciers in the Karakoram region, which spans Pakistan, India and China. The Karakoram glaciers may be stable and even gaining ice, they report. "This Karakoram anomaly stands out as a phenonemon that deserves further investigation," the authors write.
The rest of the glaciers, according to the review, appear to be shrinking at slow but stable rates. Nonetheless, "Continuing shrinkage outside the Karakoram," the authors write in the paper, "will increase the seasonality of runoff, affect irrigation and hydropower, and alter hazards."
Bolch and colleagues call for numerous measures to fill knowledge gaps in Himalayan glaciers such as "a regionally complete, up-to-date, and accurate glacier inventory conforming to international standards and including the most important topographic parameters."
Scientists are sure to train their eyes intensively on this important source of water in Asia in the years to come.