Monitoring and understanding permafrost in Humla, Nepal


“Do you know that the ground can be frozen?”, asks Miriam Jackson, our Senior Cryosphere Expert, to a group of bewildered students of MahaBouddha Secondary School in Yalbang, Humla District, Nepal.

We were on the final leg of our fieldwork in Humla, where we had just installed micro weather stations and deployed ground temperature sensors in various sites of the Limi Valley. Along with conducting important scientific work, educating communities about the scientific processes and implications of climate change are also critical parts of our work on permafrost. In Yalbang, we interacted with students from grades 9 and 10 to teach them about permafrost. This was the first time most of them had heard that the ground can be frozen.

Miriam Jackson explaining to students the importance of permafrost. (Photo: Chimi Seldon/ICIMOD)

Permafrost is the soil, rock, or sediment, usually held together by ice, that stays frozen for at least two consecutive years. It can be found in high-latitude and high-elevation regions, mostly 4,000 metres above the sea level in the High Mountains in case of the HKH region. A significant part of Humla falls within the famous Limi Valley, and as we travelled through the valley, our experts identified several signs that showed the presence of permafrost.

One of these signs is the rock glaciers, which are frequently used as a proxy to map permafrost distribution. Rock glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya are hydrologically significant because they hold large amounts of water that are frozen. Further, rock glaciers are more resistant to climate change than glaciers. Our colleague, Prashant Baral, explains how to differentiate active rock glaciers from inactive ones.

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