The study, which was authored by 32 scientists from around the world, was led by Prof. Walter Immerzeel and Dr. Arthur Lutz of Utrecht University, longtime researchers of water and climate change in high mountain Asia.
“What is unique about our study is that we have assessed the water towers’ importance, not only by looking at how much water they store and provide, but also how much mountain water is needed downstream and how vulnerable these systems and communities are to a number of likely changes in the next few decades,” said Immerzeel. Lutz added, “By assessing all glacial water towers on Earth, we identified the key basins that should be on top of regional and global political agendas.”
Arun B. Shrestha, who leads the River Basins and Cryosphere Programme at International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), as well as co-author of the report, said “Taking forward the findings of the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report, this study showcases the vulnerability of river basins that are fed by mountain catchments. The study has found the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) river basins to be increasingly vulnerable, and implies the need of global attention to build resilience in these basins.”
Likewise, Santosh Nepal, water and climate specialist at ICIMOD, and also a co-author highlighted, “Four out of the five most relied-upon and vulnerable water towers in all of Asia are located in the HKH region. Even when we assess at a global scale, the Indus in particular is one of the most critical and vulnerable water towers in the world. This is something the region as a whole needs to take seriously and work on addressing collectively.”
This research was supported by National Geographic and Rolex as part of their Perpetual Planet partnership, which aims to shine a light on the challenges facing the Earth’s critical life-support systems, support science and exploration of these systems, and empower leaders around the world to develop solutions to protect the planet.
“Mountains are iconic and sacred places around the world, but the critical role they play in sustaining life on Earth is not well understood," said Jonathan Baillie, executive vice president and chief scientist at the National Geographic Society. "This research will help decision-makers, on global and local levels, prioritize where action should be taken to protect mountain systems, the resources they provide, and the people who depend on them.”
To explore the data and compare water tower rankings, visit natgeo.com/PerpetualPlanet.
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