Reaching the peaks of the Himalayan mountain range is a lifelong goal of many experienced climbers. Unfortunately, the changing climate is making it more difficult to both reach the top and return to base camp alive.
Recent data suggested that climbing the Himalayan mountain range is more dangerous than ever before. Over the past five decades, at least 564 people were killed while climbing peaks over 14,770 feet on the range. 33% of the 1,400 deaths (from 1895 to 2022) on the 14 largest peaks have been due to avalanches.
Although occasional avalanches are a natural and expected occurrence in the range, scientists reported that the phenomenon’s increased prevalence and frequency are due to warming global temperatures.
Researchers reported that the Indian Ocean, which is South of the mountain ranges, has had more erratic monsoon seasons over the past few decades. Increased periods of heavy rain (or snow in high altitudes), followed by long dry periods, are the perfect formula for avalanches on the range.
Paired with the cyclones in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, the region has seen unprecedented weather conditions in recent years that are expected to influence the lives of people in the region as well as visiting climbers.
“In response to the rapid warming in the Indian Ocean, the monsoon has become more erratic, with short spells of heavy rains and long dry periods, and the cyclones in the Arabian Sea have increased in frequency, intensity, and duration – and they are intensifying quickly both in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told The Guardian.
Why is it important?
Climbing and adventure tourism are an integral part of the economy in this region of the world. Tourism to the area has increased 50-60% since the 1990s. Nearly 700,000 tourists visit the range each year, bringing in immense financial investment and contributing to the local economy.
Any disruption to tourism, such as avalanche closures, can make the area less geopolitically stable than it already is.
The changing climate is also making it harder for victims to survive avalanches. Researchers noted that higher snow densities and wetter avalanches limit the ability of victims to breathe when covered in the snow. The melting snow cover also increases the risk of blunt force trauma as rocks and ground become more exposed.
What’s being done to stop it?
Researchers continue to examine the correlations between the changing climate and avalanches in the area and what it could mean for other mountainous regions worldwide.
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