by Carol Rasmussen, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Himalaya. Karakoram. Hindu Kush. The names of Asia’s high mountain ranges conjure up adventure to those living far away, but for more than a billion people, these are the names of their most reliable water source.
Snow and glaciers in these mountains contain the largest volume of freshwater outside of Earth’s polar ice sheets, leading hydrologists to nickname this region the Third Pole. One-seventh of the world’s population depends on rivers flowing from these mountains for water to drink and to irrigate crops.
Rapid changes in the region’s climate, however, are affecting glacier melt and snowmelt. People in the region are already modifying their land-use practices in response to the changing water supply, and the region’s ecology is transforming. Future changes are likely to influence food and water security in India, Pakistan, China and other nations.