BOULDER – The U.S. government is deploying Colorado scientists to lead a $5.4 million effort to gauge the impact of shrinking Himalayan glaciers on water supplies across Asia.
The question is whether rivers that sustain more than 2 billion people are fed primarily by water from rainfall, by seasonal snowmelt or by the glaciers that are vulnerable to climate change.
A significant drop in water supply could lead to food shortages and, according to U.S. Agency for International Development officials, create new conflicts in already volatile areas.
The high-mountain glaciers, seen as water towers for Asia, have been shrinking at a rate of 0.5 percent a year – similar to glaciers in South America’s Andes and the European Alps . As Asia’s glaciers recede, Chinese and Indian governments are moving to control headwaters with at least 19 proposed dam projects, adding to eight or so existing major dams.
U.S. intelligence agencies were among those interested in enlisting University of Colorado senior research scientist Richard Armstrong and geography professor Mark Williams.