Background

The mountain cryosphere is sensitive to climate change. The effects of global warming such as shrinking glaciers, a shortened snow-cover season, thawing permafrost, etc., are clearly visible in most mountainous regions. Glaciers are the source of water for over half of humanity. Changes in high mountain glaciers have significant social and economic impacts on water supplies, hydropower production and tourism. Recent evidence suggests an acceleration of glacier mass loss in several key regions due to climate change. Regions such as the Andes and the Himalayas face the prospect of first an increase in floods from more melting and glacial lake outburst floods followed by a decrease in water supplies to large population centres. The adverse impact of these changes is limited not only to the mountainous regions themselves, but will also be noticed far downstream. Glacier- and ice-sheet melt in the northern regions contribute substantially to recent sea-level rise and may alter global ocean circulation.  Society’s response ranges from sophisticated engineering solutions to simple early-warning systems for glacial lake outburst floods. There is a need to improve hydrologic process and ice dynamic models in order to produce better predictions via models of future changes and to provide workable solutions for the adaptation and mitigation of these impacts.

Glacier observations in these high mountain regions are scarce, despite their possible increased sensitivity to climate change and large numbers of people potentially affected by these changes. The aim of the conference is to bring together scientists studying the cryosphere in the Himalayas and Andes with those studying downstream effects of these changes, and cryospheric scientists who have worked in other areas, as well as policymakers who have to respond to these changes.