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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 11, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 11, 81-99, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-11-81-2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Special issue: The evolution of permafrost in mountain regions

The Cryosphere, 11, 81-99, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-11-81-2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Review article 13 Jan 2017

Review article | 13 Jan 2017

Review article: Inferring permafrost and permafrost thaw in the mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region

Stephan Gruber1, Renate Fleiner2, Emilie Guegan3, Prajjwal Panday4, Marc-Olivier Schmid2, Dorothea Stumm2, Philippus Wester2, Yinsheng Zhang5, and Lin Zhao6 Stephan Gruber et al.
  • 1Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
  • 2International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal
  • 3Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • 4Nichols College, Dudley, MA, USA
  • 5Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 6Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu, China

Abstract. The cryosphere reacts sensitively to climate change, as evidenced by the widespread retreat of mountain glaciers. Subsurface ice contained in permafrost is similarly affected by climate change, causing persistent impacts on natural and human systems. In contrast to glaciers, permafrost is not observable spatially and therefore its presence and possible changes are frequently overlooked. Correspondingly, little is known about permafrost in the mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, despite permafrost area exceeding that of glaciers in nearly all countries. Based on evidence and insight gained mostly in other permafrost areas globally, this review provides a synopsis on what is known or can be inferred about permafrost in the mountains of the HKH region. Given the extreme nature of the environment concerned, it is to be expected that the diversity of conditions and phenomena encountered in permafrost exceed what has previously been described and investigated. We further argue that climate change in concert with increasing development will bring about diverse permafrost-related impacts on vegetation, water quality, geohazards, and livelihoods. To better anticipate and mitigate these effects, a deepened understanding of high-elevation permafrost in subtropical latitudes as well as the pathways interconnecting environmental changes and human livelihoods are needed.

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We review what can be inferred about permafrost in the mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region. This is important because the area of permafrost exceeds that of glaciers in this region. Climate change will produce diverse permafrost-related impacts on vegetation, water quality, geohazards, and livelihoods. To mitigate this, a better understanding of high-elevation permafrost in subtropical latitudes as well as the pathways connecting environmental change and human livelihoods, is needed.
We review what can be inferred about permafrost in the mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalaya...
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