“Once that drop was ice among the great peaks whence the river came; that very same drop may be one of the snow flakes which perhaps a
hundred years ago alighted on the highest point of the valley, on the divide of the Zarafshan Pass, fifteen thousand feet above the plain. This is the end, that was the beginning, and between them is the life-time and the work of a drop of water; between them are generations of men.”
– W. Rickmer Rickmers, 1930
The Greater Himalaya has the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar ice sheets, with almost 35,000 square kilometers of glacial coverage. This is why the Himalaya is often referred to as the “Third Pole”. The snow and ice stored within these high-altitude glaciers provide seasonal flows of fresh water for almost every major river system of Asia: the Indus, Yellow, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong and Yangtze.
There is much debate in the scientific community about the rate and extent to which Himalayan glaciers are shrinking. Nevertheless, scientists agree that there is a trend of melting beyond what is expected to occur naturally. Although future impacts of glacial melt cannot be known, any disruption to the water supply will inevitably present challenges to the millions of people living downstream.