An icy warning – Cryosphere in Crisis: A Glimpse into Glacier Health and its Impact | 9 December 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the effect of climate change on the glaciers as highlighted in the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) recent report titled “The Global Climate 2011-2020”.


  • GS1: Important Geophysical Phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes
  • Prelims


  • Glacier health serves as an evocative barometer of climate change. This article analyzes a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report and other sources to highlight the extent of the problem and its potential consequences.


  • Key Findings:
    • Global decline: The report reveals that glaciers thinned by an average of one meter per year between 2011 and 2020. This trend is consistent across all regions, with some glaciers disappearing entirely.
    • Regional disparities: While the overall trend is negative, some regions are experiencing faster rates of melting than others. African glaciers are particularly vulnerable, with those on Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro projected to disappear by 2040.
    • Glacier lake outburst floods (GLOF): The rapid growth of pro-glacial lakes increases the risk of GLOFs, posing threats to ecosystems, livelihoods, and infrastructure. The 2013 Uttarakhand floods and the recent destruction of the Chungthang dam in Sikkim are stark examples of such disasters.
    • Accelerating rate of melt: The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development reports a 65% increase in the rate of glacier disappearance in the Hindu Kush Himalayas in the 2010s compared to the previous decade.
    • Future projections: With current greenhouse gas emission levels, we can expect a 55% to 75% decline in glacier volume by 2050, leading to significant reductions in freshwater supply.
  • Need for Action:
    • Early warning system: The lack of a GLOF early warning system highlights the need for improved monitoring and risk assessment.
    • Infrastructure development: Existing and future infrastructure projects need to be designed with the risks of glacial melt in mind.
    • Vulnerability mapping: Identifying areas at high risk of GLOFs is crucial for proactive planning and mitigation strategies.

Way Forward:

  • The melting glaciers serve as a poignant reminder of the urgency of climate action. Addressing this crisis requires a multi-pronged approach, including effective monitoring, early warning systems, risk assessments, and infrastructure development. Only through concerted efforts can we mitigate the impact of disappearing glaciers and safeguard the well-being of ecosystems and communities.

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