A glacier system of the Great Himalayan Range. | Commons
A glacier system of the Great Himalayan Range. | Commons
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New Delhi: Areas around Mount Everest and across the Himalayan region are getting increasingly greener, with plant life growing in areas that used to be permanently under snow cover, say scientists.

A team from UK’s University of Exeter used data from 1993 to 2018 from NASA’s Landsat satellites to measure the extent of subnival vegetation — plants growing between the treeline and snowline — in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.

The research, published in Global Change Biology journal found small but significant increases in the subnival vegetation cover.

These ecosystems, which predominantly consist of grass and shrubs, now cover between five to 15 times the area of what were permanent glaciers and snow, researchers said.

While they did not study the reasons for the spike in plant life, the findings are consistent with previous estimates, which predict a decline in glacier cover in the Himalayan region due to global warming.

Also read: India’s longer summers & delayed monsoons are partly due to retreating Himalayan glaciers

Ice loss doubled between 2000 and 2016

The team found significant increase in vegetation at the height of 4,150-6,000 metres above sea level. The height of 6,000 metres is generally considered the maximum height at which plants can grow.

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Within this range, vegetation increased the most at the height of 5,000-5,500 metres above sea level.

“A lot of research has been done on ice melting in the Himalayan region, including a study that showed how the rate of ice loss doubled between 2000 and 2016,” said Karen Anderson from the University of Exeter.

“It’s important to monitor and understand ice loss in major mountain systems, but subnival ecosystems cover a much larger area than permanent snow and ice and we know very little about them and how they moderate water supply,” she added.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region extends across eight countries, from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. According to the researchers, more than 1.4 billion people depend on water from catchments emanating here.

Anderson said detailed fieldwork and further validation of these findings is required to understand how plants in this high-altitude zone interact with soil and snow.

Also read: High CO2 levels, vanishing glaciers, extinctions – why climate change is more real in 2019


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