“This is a crime scene.”

“When I look at this landscape, deep down in my heart I believe there is a problem here and people should know about it.” With these words American mountaineer David Breashears expressed what he felt in 2007 when he photographed the same Himalayan valley that pioneer George Mallory had photographed in 1924 and compared the two images. Almost a century later, Everest still dominates the scene in the background, but the Rongbuk glacier has thinned considerably and what was once a river of ice is now a bed of rocks.

This is one of the comparison images posted by the promoters of the #SaveOurSnow campaign (Let’s save our snow) to try to raise awareness in the world about the effects of climate change in the Himalayas and its consequences on the populations of particularly populated areas of this region, such as the Hindu Kush. In these snapshots, and in other updated snapshots that elDiario.es has accessed, you can see the changes experienced in the area around Everest since the middle of the 20th century, with a great loss of snow in each location.

“What we see in the pictures is a very concrete example of how climate change is affecting the environment,” explains Miriam Jackson, a cryosphere specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and one of Bell’s coordinators. “Glaciers are like sensors of phenomena that are invisible, like the rise in temperature and CO2. Here the images are telling you: look, this is real, it’s happening and it’s getting faster and faster.

“An SOS from the Roof of the World”

In Jackson’s opinion, the Himalayan valleys where snow and ice are rapidly retreating are the best place on the planet to understand what is happening. “Climate change is a crime scene and glaciers are making it visible,” he remarked in a video conference from Kathmandu. That’s why this initiative aims to bring together mountain communities, climbers, athletes and scientists to launch “an SOS from the roof of the world.”

The report on the effects of warming in the Himalayas (the so-called Hi-Wise), released by ICIMOD in 2023, already warned that, if we maintain the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, 80% of the current volume of the glaciers in the region will disappear by 2100 and much of the planet will experience increased floods and landslides. “In this region, millions of people depend largely on glacial water and are very vulnerable to changes, since they affect agriculture and can alter basic subsistence levels,” warns Jackson.

The report shows that the melting rate has accelerated in the last decade. “It is now decreasing at a rate of half a meter per year,” the expert says. When you look at the data tables for the entire Himalaya, it is clear that, as we get closer to the present, the melting rate increases, especially in the eastern region, where more people live and the impact of the weather is more noticeable. Changes in the monsoon cycle due to the climate crisis. “It’s like looking at the effects of rising temperatures over time,” he says.

Witness to destruction

The most striking photographs of the valleys near Everest have been taken by geographer and mountaineer Elton Byers, who has been replicating photographs taken by pioneer climbers over the years to show the spectacular changes taking place in the region. “During their explorations, pioneers such as Austrian mountaineer Erwin Schneider took hundreds of photographs, so I returned to these places and replicated the photographs from the exact same points,” Byers told elDiario.es. “And what I saw shocked me.”

The pictures are telling you: look, it’s real, it’s happening and it’s moving faster and faster

In his continued trips to the Himalayas, Byers has witnessed tremendous changes, glaciers that suddenly become huge lakes that grow larger every year due to melting snow and endangering the population, floods that suddenly emerge from the glaciers and sweep away everything, permafrost that melts even at high altitudes or rock falls and landslides that transform the landscape.

“The Repeated photo It gives you a window to the past, but you have to understand that it’s only a moment in time and things happen in between each other that we can now see by satellite,” summarises Buyer. “But it has become a medium that speaks to people very clearly, because you put yourself in the place and the time: people understand that something is happening, that something is not right.”

Anyone who has visited the Himalayas consistently in recent decades has noticed the changes. “We mountaineers are privileged witnesses, because we have not only seen the snow; we have stepped on them, we have climbed them and we have seen in real time what was happening, we didn’t have to have anyone tell us,” says Spanish mountaineer and adventurer Sebastián Álvaro. “I have been in the Himalayas in the 80s and now, forty years later, the effects are being seen on all the glaciers”

I lived in the Himalayas in the 80s and now, forty years later, the effects are visible on all glaciers

The experienced explorer has recently been to Antarctica and is concerned that the melting there is already visible with the naked eye. “There is tremendous glacial retreat all over the planet,” explains Sebastian Alvaro. The places where melting is progressing the fastest are Patagonia, Greenland and some glaciers in the Himalayas, especially where the human impact could be very high. “Thousands of people live on the water of mountain glaciers,” he says. “Not only will there be a shortage of water, but glaciers form lakes and when they burst they affect the populations living below, causing huge losses of humans and crops.”

Inaute Izagirre, a glaciologist and professor at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), believes that expeditions like this are particularly timely and prepare the ground for 2025, which the United Nations has decided to designate as an international year for glacier protection. “In this region of the planet, the amount of snow in the high Asian mountains is such that historically it has been considered the “third pole” and is considered one of the Water towers (water towers),” he explains.

The water that drains from these mountains feeds four major rivers and provides drinking water to almost a quarter of the world’s population, approximately 2 billion people.

“The water that drains these mountains feeds four major rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Indus and the Yellow River, and it is often said that they provide drinking water to almost a quarter of the world’s population, around 2 billion people.” He explains that this is why it is important to raise awareness of this global problem, and even more so considering that in some places, such as the Pyrenees and the Alps, the rate of melting has tripled in the last two years.

“To be honest, this speed has even impressed us scientists, because we did not think things were going to change so quickly,” Miriam Jackson confesses. What is also worrying for her is that all this is happening at the same time and so quickly around the world. When it comes to the future, the models are not at all optimistic. They say, if we continue at this pace, in a few years the average speed of retreat of Himalayan glaciers will reach one meter per year. “These changes are already affecting millions of people and will affect the rest of us in many different ways,” she concludes. “We cannot look the other way.”


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