Future of Freshwater Supply – Himalayan Glacier and River Systems
Steven Goodbred, Vanderbilt University
Freshwater lies at a nexus of human health, energy, and agriculture – it is arguably our most under-valued natural resource. Globally water consumption has increased tremendously with food and energy demands of the world’s 7,000,000,000 people – a number that has quadrupled over the last century. Remarkably 41% of this population resides on just 9% of the land, within the countries of China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Not coincidentally these four nations are fed by waters of the Asian monsoon that drain the eroding Himalayan mountains – it is a region of landscapes defined by rivers, glaciers, and sediments. Within the region demands for water, energy, and land have grown rapidly with the population and economy, necessitating a robust understanding of landscape dynamics, accurate water and sediment budgets, and knowledge of their history, trends, and variability. Herein lies interconnections among several Earth-science disciplines, including climatology, tectonics, glaciology, hydrodynamics, and sedimentology, that together define the evolution and behavior of landscapes. In Asia these landscape dynamics converge with a rapidly changing society to accentuate water-related concerns that extend from mountain tops to the coast, with recurrent impacts arising from floods, drought, water extraction for irrigation and industry, contaminated groundwater, landscape erosion, coastal land loss, and groundwater salinization. Even in the most remote mountain reaches, dust particles and warming may be influencing the Himalayan glaciers, the world’s largest alpine glacial complex. Regarded as harbingers of climate change, the Himalayan glaciers have received considerable attention from scientists and the media. Together, we consider these complex and interrelated issues of water, glaciers, and society in context of this session on “Future of Freshwater Supply – Himalayan Glacier and River Systems.”
Background review article:
Walter W. Immerzeel, Ludovicus P. H. van Beek, and Marc F. P. Bierkens. Climate change will affect the asian water towers. Science, 328(5984):1382-1385, June 2010.