The Thirsty Dragon and Parched Tiger: The Imbalance of the Asian Water Tower

Via Nature, an abstract on a new research paper on the Third Pole:

The Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalayan system, named the Third Pole because it is the largest global store of frozen water after the polar regions, provides a reliable water supply to almost 2 billion people. Marked atmospheric warming has changed the balance of this so-called Asian water tower and altered water resources in downstream countries. In this Review, we synthesize observational evidence and model projections that describe an imbalance in the Asian water tower caused by accelerated transformation of ice and snow into liquid water. This phase change is associated with a south–north disparity due to the spatio-temporal interaction between the westerlies and the Indian monsoon. A corresponding spatial imbalance is exhibited by alterations in freshwater resources in endorheic or exorheic basins. Global warming is expected to amplify this imbalance, alleviating water scarcity in the Yellow and Yangtze River basins and increasing scarcity in the Indus and Amu Darya River basins. However, the future of the Asian water tower remains highly uncertain. Accurate predictions of future water supply require the establishment of comprehensive monitoring stations in data-scarce regions and the development of advanced coupled atmosphere–cryosphere–hydrology models. Such models are needed to inform the development of actionable policies for sustainable water resource management.

Key points

  • During 1980–2018, warming of the Asian Water Tower (AWT) was 0.42?°C per decade, twice the global average rate.
  • Annual precipitation in the AWT increased by 11?mm per decade in endorheic basins and 12?mm per decade in exorheic basins, despite decreased precipitation in some large river basins.
  • From 2000 to 2018, total glacier mass in the AWT decreased by about 340?Gt whereas total water mass in lakes increased by 166?Gt.
  • Changes in the westerlies and the Indian monsoon led the AWT to develop an imbalance characterized by water gains in endorheic basins and water losses in exorheic basins.
  • Ubiquitous increases in precipitation and river run-off are projected in the future of the AWT; however, these changes cannot meet the accelerating water demands of downstream regions and countries.
  • Comprehensive monitoring systems, advanced modelling capacity and sustainable water management are needed to develop adaptation policies for the AWT through collaboration between upstream and downstream regions and countries.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2022 at 4:04 am and is filed under China, India, Tibet.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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