HIMALAYAS
The Himalayan glaciers which are large and situated at high altitudes have been the subject of scientific controversy with conflicting reports suggesting they are losing or gaining weight. (REUTERS)

Glaciers in the eastern Himalayas are retreating, but this is not likely to affect river flows significantly in the coming decades, say scientists from the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

An ICIMOD report presents fresh evidence of retreating glaciers in the eastern Himalayas in India and Nepal.

"Multiple researchers presented evidence of the retreat of glaciers in the eastern Himalayas, but suggested that river flows will not decline significantly in the coming decades, as melt rates and precipitation are projected to increase," the ICIMOD said.

The study brought together 240 scientists from 26 countries, who took part in a six-day International Symposium on Glaciology in High-Mountain Asia.

The study also highlighted the anomaly seen in Karakoram where glaciers are not retreating, calling for further studies.

The role of black carbon that triggers glacier melt and high-altitude precipitation observations are some of the areas of contention among various groups involved in climate study.

Conflicting claims
Melting of Himalayan glaciers hit the headlines back in 2007 when the UN climate body IPCC said they were receding faster than in any other part of the world and would disappear by 2035 or sooner under present conditions.

It attributed the melting primarily to global warming from increased greenhouse gas emissions. The relatively high population density near these glaciers and consequent deforestation and land-use changes were indicated in the glacier melting.

But the IPCC retracted the claim in 2010 after media reports pointed out that the source was not peer-reviewed scientific literature. Many senior scientists too called the claim regarding the large glaciers disappearing in decades as unrealistic.

A 2012 study by the University of Colorado using data from Grace satellite then showed that no ice was lost from the glaciers in the last decade.

In 2013, the IPCC was back with its former head R Pachauri saying glaciers of the Himalayas are melting so fast they will affect the water supplies of a population twice that of the US within 22 years, affecting 500 million people in south Asia and 250 million people in China.

Again the claim was challenged in 2014, this time by Indian physicists who concluded Himalayan glaciers show little sign of retreat following one of the largest studies of its type ever carried out.

They studied changes to 2,000 glaciers in various Himalayan regions between 2001 and 2011 to conclude that 1,700 were stable.

A study by Princeton University in 2014 noted that glaciers in the Karakoram region of the Himalayas are stable and snowfall is actually increasing adding to their bulk.