The research’s lead author said that dramatic changes could be seen much sooner than what they had previously thought

Mountains warming faster than expected, scientists report

As per the study, the warming of mountains is a ‘poorly observed phenomenon that requires urgent attention, to ensure that potentially important changes in high mountain environments are adequately recorded.’ Photo: AFP
New Delhi: Mountainous regions are warming faster than previously thought and thus there is an urgent need for rigorous monitoring of temperature patterns in such regions as records of weather patterns at high altitudes are extremely sparse, a group of scientists has said in a study.
The research published in the journal, Nature Climate Change, last month was conducted by a team of scientists that came together as part of the Mountain Research Initiative, a mountain global change research effort. The team included scientists from the UK, the US, Switzerland, Canada, Ecuador, Pakistan, China, Italy, Austria and Kazakhstan who studied data on mountain temperatures worldwide collected over the past 60-70 years.
The research team said that without substantially better information, one risks underestimating the severity of a number of already looming problems, including water shortages and the possible extinction of some alpine flora and fauna.
Mountains provide habitat for many of the world’s rare and endangered species.
As per the study, the warming of mountains is a “poorly observed phenomenon that requires urgent attention, to ensure that potentially important changes in high mountain environments are adequately recorded.”
It called for a strategy combining network of field observations, satellite remote sensing and high-resolution climate modelling to fully understand and address the problem.
“More rapid changes in high mountain climates would have consequences far beyond the immediate mountain regions, as mountains are ‘water towers’ and the major source of water for large populations in lower elevation regions. The social and economic consequences of enhanced warming in mountain regions could therefore be large,” said the study.
The research further said that the most striking evidence that mountain regions are warming more rapidly than surrounding regions comes from the Tibetan plateau.
“Here temperatures have risen steadily over the past 50 years and the rate of change is speeding up. But masked by this general climate warming are pronounced differences at different elevations. For example, over the past 20 years temperatures above 4,000 metre have warmed nearly 75 % faster than temperatures in areas below 2,000 metre,” the study explained.
The research’s lead author Dr Nick Pepin, who is from the University of Portsmouth, said that dramatic changes could be seen much sooner than what they had previously thought.
“Most current predictions are based on incomplete and imperfect data, but if we are right and mountains are warming more rapidly than other environments, the social and economic consequences could be serious, and we could see much more dramatic changes much sooner than previously thought,” said Pepin.
“Changes to climate, glaciers and snow cover in the high mountains of Asia are of vital importance for water supplies to a fifth of the world’s population, so understanding past changes are key to understanding what might happen in the future. This paper highlights the need for additional monitoring in high elevation locations worldwide, but particularly in the less-researched Himalayan region,” said Professor Hayley Fowler of the Newcastle University’s School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.
Fowler, one of the co-authors of the study, has been working on climate change in the Himalayas for over a decade.
The research also noted that records of weather patterns at high altitudes are extremely sparse.
“The density of weather stations above 4,500 metre is roughly one-tenth that in areas below that elevation. Long-term data, crucial for detecting patterns, doesn’t yet exist above 5,000 metre anywhere in the world. The longest observations above this elevation are 10 years on the summit of Kilimanjaro,” the study further said.
The world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, stands at 8,848 metre and more than 250 other mountains including Mt Elbrus in Russia, Mt Denali in Alaska, Mt Aconcagua in Argentina and Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa are all above the 5,000 metre mark.
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