Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security

Committee on Himalayan Glaciers, Hydrology,
Climate Change, and Implications for Water Security

Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate
Water Science and Technology Board

Division on Earth and Life Studies

Committee on Population

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education



Washington, D.C.


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Committee on Himalayan Glaciers, Hydrology, Climate Change, and Implications for Water Security Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Water Science and Technology Board Division on Earth and Life Studies Committee on Population Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the Committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This study was supported by the United States intelligence community. Any opinions, findings, and conclu- sions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agency or any of its subagencies. International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-26098-5 International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-26098-1 Additional copies of this report are available for sale from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu/. Cover photo by Alton Byers, Khumbu, Nepal, 2007, The Mountain Institute. Copyright 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

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COMMITTEE ON HIMALAYAN GLACIERS, HYDROLOGY, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR WATER SECURITY HENRY J. VAUX, JR. (Chair), University of California, Berkeley DEBORAH BALK, Baruch College of the City University of New York EDWARD R. COOK, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY PETER GLEICK,* Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, Oakland, CA WILLIAM K.-M. LAU, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD MARC LEVY, Columbia University, Palisades, NY ELIZABETH L. MALONE, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Joint Global Change Research Institute, College Park, MD ROBERT MCDONALD, The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA DREW SHINDELL, NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, New York, NY LONNIE G. THOMPSON, The Ohio State University, Columbus JAMES L. WESCOAT, JR., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA MARK W. WILLIAMS, University of Colorado, Boulder Consultant RICHARD MATTHEW, University of California, Irvine NRC Staff MAGGIE WALSER, Study Director LAURA J. HELSABECK, Senior Program Officer MALAY MAJMUNDAR, Program Officer SHELLY FREELAND, Senior Program Assistant Asterisk (*) denotes member who resigned during the course of the study. v

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Preface M any glaciers and snowpacks around the for water supplies and extreme climatic events such as world are receding. The rates and timing of floods? glacial wasting, the volume of icemelt that What water management systems are in place to causes a net loss of glacier volume, vary and the causes help adapt to changes in regional hydrological systems are complex. In most instances there are multiple influ- and how might those systems be strengthened? ences that interact in complicated ways. In the early What are the main vulnerabilities of down- stages of glacial wasting, streamflows increase while stream populations to changes in water supplies, what in the later stages they may decline. Wherever glaciers are the prospects for conflict and/or cooperation, and are wasting continuously there are concerns about the what are the implications for national security? consequences for available water supplies. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan The Committee addressed these questions from (HKH) region are among the largest and most spec- several perspectives: the physical geography of the tacular in the world. Although there is some scientific region, the human geography of the region, and the knowledge and information about the state of the gla- environmental security of the region. The Committee ciers of the HKH region, with implications for future also identifies additional scientific and data needs as water supplies, there is also significant uncertainty. well as possible means of adapting to changes in water Concern has been heightened by several highly visible security, and draws a series of conclusions. pronouncements which upon examination proved to be To help inform its analyses the Committee hosted highly qualitative, local in scale, or to lack any cred- an interdisciplinary workshop in fall 2011 in Washing- ible scientific basis. This report, prepared by a com- ton, D.C. The 2-day workshop included both invited mittee appointed by the National Research Council, presentations and extended discussion to explore the seeks to describe and analyze the scientific knowledge many issues that bear on streamflows, water supplies, about the glaciers of the region, their impact on the and the problems of adaptation in the region. The regional waterscape, and likely impacts of changes in agenda for the workshop and a list of participants the glaciers on the population of South Asia. More comprise Appendix A. The Committee expresses its specifically, the Committee addressed the following appreciation to all of the workshop participants for questions: sharing their perspectives and wisdom. The Commit- tee would like to thank Richard Matthew, who assisted How sensitive are the Himalayan glaciers to with revisions to the report. The Committee is also climate and other environmental factors? grateful for the assistance of National Research Council What are the potential impacts of changes in staff Lauren Brown and Daniel Muth who served as climate and glaciers on the timing and volume of river note takers at the workshop, and Keren Charles and flows in the region and what are the likely implications Zhen Liu who prepared data and graphics. vii

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viii PREFACE The Committee was especially fortunate in being land of BASC provided all manner of administrative supported by three different units of the National support, which helped to make the Committee's efforts Research Council: the Board on Atmospheric Sciences both efficient and pleasant. Finally, the Committee and Climate (BASC), the Water Science and Technol- would like to thank the individuals responsible for the ogy Board (WSTB), and the Committee on Population review of this report. Their comments were valuable (CPOP). We are particularly grateful for the help and and strengthened the report significantly. guidance of Program Officers Maggie Walser of BASC, Laura Helsabeck of WSTB, and Malay Majmundar Henry J. Vaux, Jr., Chair of CPOP. These three ably kept the Committee on Committee on Himalayan Glaciers, task and provided many of their own valuable insights, Hydrology, Climate Change, which substantially improved the report. Shelly Free- and Implications for Water Security

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Acknowledgments T his report has been reviewed in draft form by David Michel, Stimson Center individuals chosen for their diverse perspec- John Pomeroy, University of Saskatchewan tives and technical expertise, in accordance V. Ramanathan, Scripps Institution of with procedures approved by the National Research Oceanography Council's Report Review Committee. The purpose of Alan Washburn, Naval Postgraduate School this independent review is to provide candid and criti- Michael White, Brown University cal comments that will assist the institution in making Aaron Wolf, Oregon State University its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objec- Although the reviewers listed above have provided tivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. constructive comments and suggestions, they were not The review comments and draft manuscript remain asked to endorse the views of the committee, nor did confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative they see the final draft of the report before its release. process. We wish to thank the following individuals for The review of this report was overseen by Dr. Gerald their review of this report: E. Galloway, University of Maryland, appointed by the Division on Earth and Life Studies, and Dr. M. Granger Ana Barros, Duke University Morgan, Carnegie Mellon University, appointed by the Mahendra Bhutiyani, Snow and Avalanche Study Report Review Committee, who were responsible for Establishment, India making certain that an independent examination of this Bodo Bookhagen, University of California, Santa report was carried out in accordance with institutional Barbara procedures and that all review comments were carefully Abbas Firoozabadi, Yale University considered. Responsibility for the final content of this Stefan Hastenrath, University of Wisconsin, report rests entirely with the authoring panel and the Madison institution. Arthur Lee, Chevron Corporation ix

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Contents SUMMARY1 1INTRODUCTION 7 Study Context and Charge to the Committee, 9 Geographic Scope, 10 Study Approach and Methodology, 14 Organization of the Report, 14 2 PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY 15 Glacial Mass Balance, 15 Regional Climate and Meteorology, 23 Paleoclimate, 31 Regional Hydrology, 39 Physical Extreme Events, 45 Conclusions, 47 3 HUMAN GEOGRAPHY AND WATER RESOURCES 49 Population Distribution and Migration, 49 Patterns of Water Use, 53 Clean Water and Sanitation Access, 66 Measuring Water Scarcity, 66 Water Management, Institutions, and Hydroclimatic Change, 68 Conclusions, 70 4 ENVIRONMENTAL RISK AND SECURITY 73 Natural Hazards and Vulnerability, 73 Security Dynamics and Water Conflict, 84 Conclusions, 91 5CONCLUSION 93 A Way Forward, 94 Research and Data Needs, 95 Options for Adapting to Changes in Climate, Hydrology, and Water Availability, 97 xi

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xii CONTENTS REFERENCES103 APPENDIXES115 A Workshop Agenda and Participants 115 B Summaries of Workshop Presentations 119 C Glacier Measurement Methods 127 D Disaster Agencies and Databases 131 E Acronyms and Abbreviations 137 F Institutional Oversight 139 G Biographical Sketches of Committee Members 141