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Glacial Growth: cracking the ‘Karakoram anomaly’

Glacial Growth: cracking the ‘Karakoram anomaly’ Pakawat Thongcharoen
10 Oct
Among the Himalaya region, which along with most of the rest of the planet is steadily warming, there lies an aberration which is allowing glaciers in the area to remain stable, even grow in size, rather than melt and shrink

First observed in 2005, the so-called ‘Karakoram anomaly’ has seen temperatures cooling during both the winter and summer months along the Karakoram mountain range which crosses through India, Pakistan, and China and includes K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. This is resulting in the steady accumulation of snow, and, consequently, the growth of some glaciers.

The cause of the anomaly appears to be a vortex of trapped, cold air that circulates through the Karakoram mountains, preventing them from overheating. Combined with the South Asian monsoon, this large-scale circulation system counteracts the summer warming of the rest of the Himalayas, causing the Karakoram range to cool while other areas get hotter.

‘This vortex provides an important temperature control,’ explains Dr Nathan Forsythe, research associate at Newcastle University, and lead author of a new study trying to understand the mechanics behind the Karakoram anomaly. ‘It is therefore important to look at how it has changed and influenced temperature over the last century so we can better understand how a change in the system might affect future climate.’

This phenomenon has also led to stormier weather conditions over the region, while the reduced glacial melt is likely to have affected the flow of several streams, which could be highly significant for the prosperity of people living in lower altitude river valleys. ‘This is of huge importance in terms of food security,’ continues Forsythe, ‘because of the large populations that rely on water resources from snow and ice melt from the mountainous catchments to grow their irrigated crops in the Indus Plains of the Sindh and Punjab states, and provinces of Pakistan and India.’

This was published in the October 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

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