Experts warn that global warming is increasing the dangers inherent in high-altitude mountaineering.
Popular peaks in the central Himalayas already pose a very high avalanche risk for climbers / photo REUTERS
Research shows that avalanches in the Himalayas are causing an increasing number of deaths and endangering the safety of climbers. He writes about it The Guardian.
Experts warn that high-altitude mountaineering carries an avalanche risk, but global warming is increasing the danger during the climbing season in the Himalayan range.
According to a recent analysis, over the past five decades, at least 564 people have died in avalanches while climbing peaks above 4,500 meters in the Himalayas.
Adding up the data to 14 peaks over 8,000 meters and several other peaks over 6,000 meters in the Himalayas, there were at least 1,400 mountaineering deaths between 1895 and 2022, 33% of which were due to avalanches.
Alan Arnett, a mountaineer and chronicler of climbing seasons in Nepal, said deadly avalanches on popular peaks including Everest, Ama Dablam, Manaslu and Dhaulagiri had not started recently. “Avalanches occur in the mountains. This has been happening for several decades,” he said.
However, the frequency and timing of recent avalanches may be an indication of what the future holds for Himalayan mountaineering under conditions of global warming.
The climbing season in the central Himalayas, where most of the other popular climbing peaks are located, has traditionally been in clear weather from March to May, before and after the monsoon season from September to November. This coincides with the cyclone season in the Indian Ocean and was not a major concern until recently.
“The mountainous region of the Himalayas is usually protected from the impact of cyclones originating in the Indian Ocean, as the cyclones lose strength as they move overland. However, sometimes cyclones affect the interior of the Himalayan highlands, causing heavy snowfall and even causing human casualties,” Arun said. Bhakta Shrestha, climate scientist from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development.
“In response to rapid warming in the Indian Ocean, monsoons have become more erratic, with shorter periods of heavy rain and longer dry periods, and the frequency, intensity and duration of cyclones in the Arabian Sea have increased – and are rapidly intensifying in both the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal Roxy Mathew Call, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said.
With dramatic changes in monsoon rainfall patterns and more frequent and intense cyclone formation in the rapidly warming Indian Ocean, the once predictable ascent season is increasingly disrupted by these powerful storm systems.
“In 1996, when we had a disaster on Everest (eight climbers died during a snowstorm, in 2015 a film was released based on this story, – UNIAN), it simply cemented the fact that what is happening in the Bay of Bengal needs to be taken into account. If there is a cyclone, you must watch it. In four of the last five years, we’ve had something to worry about in the Bay of Bengal during the peak Everest climbing season,” said Chris Tomer, a meteorologist and weather forecaster for Himalayan climbing expeditions.
Evidence suggests that popular peaks in the central Himalayas, including Annapurna and Everest, as well as those under extended monsoon influence, such as Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas, already pose a very high avalanche risk to climbers.
Fresh and heavy snowfall is one of the main causes of avalanches, and when unseasonal storms hit these mountains, the danger and potential for loss of life also increases.
Tomer, who has been forecasting for almost two decades, said: “Not that the weather wasn’t challenging 20 years ago, but it was very interesting to see the amount of snow in Manaslu and Dhaulagiri in the last couple of years. They stand out as some of the most extreme weather in recent years. a few years”.
The risk of avalanches is also increasing due to global warming. According to a 2018 study that used tree rings as a proxy, in the absence of long-term observations to reconstruct snow avalanche history in the Indian Himalayas, warmer winter and early spring temperatures led to an increase in avalanche frequency.
In addition, a 2021 study found that avalanches may become more deadly, with asphyxiation and trauma becoming increasingly common in avalanche deaths in a changing climate, as denser snow in wet avalanches can restrict breathing for fully buried victims. Blunt trauma and secondary injuries may also become more common as the snowpack becomes thinner and the roughness of the terrain increases.
The Himalayan range is warming twice as fast as the global average, and experts suggest that temperature-induced snowpack instability, leading to increased avalanche activity, may continue into the future.
Due to a lack of long-term observations and poor documentation, as well as a limited understanding of the complex relationships between climate and potential triggers, the steady rise in avalanche deaths cannot yet be clearly explained by any single factor, warned Jakob Steiner, a hydrologist at the Himalayan University Consortium and of the University of Graz in Austria and one of the authors of a recent article.
“There are so many other things going on that it’s hard to say it’s just climate change. But you can see the traces of it. We’re doing this work [готуємо вичерпну інформацію про лавини]because in the end we want to conduct work to establish the reasons,” he said.
Melting glaciers – what is known
As UNIAN reported, earlier a group of scientists warned that the Himalayan Hindu Kush glaciers may lose up to 75% of their volume by the end of the century due to global warming. This will cause both dangerous floods and water shortages for the 240 million people who live in this mountainous region.
In 2021, 18 people died in the Himalayas as a result of an avalanche. Another 200 people are considered missing. As a result of the incident, an avalanche also occurred, and a flood occurred in the Alaknanda river basin.
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