Mount Everest is shedding its frozen cloak as its glaciers have shrunk at an alarming rate of 13 per cent over the last 50 years due to global warming, a new study has warned.
Glaciers smaller than one square kilometre are disappearing the fastest and have experienced a 43 per cent decrease in surface area since the 1960s, researchers said.
The snowline also has shifted upward by 180 metres, according to lead researcher Sudeep Thakuri, from the University of Milan in Italy.
Because the glaciers are melting faster than they are replenished by ice and snow, they are revealing rocks and debris that were previously hidden deep under the ice.
These debris-covered sections of the glaciers have increased by about 17 per cent since the 1960s, according to Mr. Thakuri. The ends of the glaciers have also retreated by an average of 400 metres since 1962, the team found.
Researchers taking a new look at the snow and ice covering of Mount Everest and the national park has also been studying temperature and precipitation trends in the area.
They found that the Everest region has been warming while snowfall has been declining since the early 1990s.
Researchers suspect that the decline of snow and ice in the Everest region is from human-generated greenhouse gases altering global climate.
However, they have not yet established a firm connection between the mountains’ changes and climate change, Mr. Thakuri said.
Mr. Thakuri and his team determined the extent of glacial change on Everest and the surrounding 1,148 square kilometre Sagarmatha National Park by compiling satellite imagery and topographic maps and reconstructing the glacial history.
Their statistical analysis shows that the majority of the glaciers in the national park are retreating at an increasing rate, Mr. Thakuri said.
The researchers found that the Everest region has undergone a 0.6 degree Celsius increase in temperature and 100 millimetre decrease in precipitation during the pre-monsoon and winter months since 1992.
“The Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are considered a water tower for Asia since they store and supply water downstream during the dry season,” said Mr. Thakuri.
“Downstream populations are dependent on the melt water for agriculture, drinking, and power production,” he said.
The findings were presented at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico — a scientific conference organised by the American Geophysical Union.