The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Brown Comments on Shrinking Himalayan Glaciers

The Associated Press interviewed Dr. Casey Brown, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, for an international story about a new Dutch study, which shows that shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas could lead to food shortages and crop failures in Asia. The Himalayas are the source for most of the major rivers in China and South Asia. Dr. Brown observed that climate variability in that region has the potential to make a serious impact on the lives of millions of people. “The paper teaches us there's lot of uncertainty in the future water supply of Asia, and within the realm of plausibility are scenarios that may give us concern," he said.

The AP article was circulated widely and published throughout Asia, the United States, India, Africa, Australia, and elsewhere.

As Brown went on the say in the article: "At present, we know that water concerns are already a certainty - the large and growing populations and high dependence on irrigated agriculture which make the region vulnerable to present climate variability. This paper is additional motivation to address these present concerns through wise investments in better management of water resources in the region, which for me means forecasts, incentives, efficiency."

The Dutch scientists, writing in Science, concluded that the impact would be much less than previously estimated a few years ago by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"We show that it's only certain areas that will be affected," said Marc Bierkens, an Utrecht University hydrology professor, who, along with Walter Immerzee and Ludovicus van Beek, conducted the study. "The amount of people affected is still large. Every person is one too many, but it's much less than was first anticipated."

Those who do count heavily on glaciers, like residents of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahamaputra basins in South Asia, could see their water supplies decline by as much as 19.6 percent by 2050. China's Yellow River basin, in contrast, would see a 9.5 percent increase in precipitation as monsoon patterns change due to the changing climate. (June 2010)