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Bhutan and Nepal: Disappearing Himalayan glaciers and water security in High Asia

Monday, April 28, 2014, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Mark Williams


ARC room 620

Full title

Bhutan and Nepal: Disappearing Himalayan glaciers, water security in High Asia, temples, elephants, and phalluses


I’ll present cool travel insights along with research results from my recent Fulbright in Nepal and Bhutan. Happy also to chat about pros and cons of a Fulbright, along with strategies to successfully apply for one.

There is considerable controversy about retreat rates and mass loss of Himalayan glaciers, and how that might affect water security for 2 billion people who rely on runoff from High Asia for their water needs. I’m part of a large project funded by USAID to answer a simple question: “How much does melting glacier ice contribute to discharge today for the major rivers of South and Central Asia, such as the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra?” Our primary research tool is remote sensing of snow and ice, and melting the snow and ice using downscaled climate data to parameterize energy balance melt models. We know there is a lot of error. So, our validation is hydrochemical mixing models.

My Fulbright allowed me to visit field sites and collect water samples for these mixing models. What we now know for the eastern Himalaya is that runoff at low elevations—where most of the people live—is primarily from monsoon rains with a small contribution of melting glacier ice. Groundwater inputs are important and must be included in any hydrologic investigation. Rates of glacier retreat for the Sikkim region are lower than previously thought.

We’ll also do a quick tour of Bhutan, the Khumbu, Annapurna Sanctuary, Langtang, and Chitwan National Park in the Terai. Bhutan was beautiful. Paintings of phalluses on houses are ubiquitous, as are “wind chimes” made of phalluses and knives. I’ll explain their importance. I’ll finish with tales of elephants and rhinos and other cool animals from Chitwan National Park in the Terai.


Free and open to the public.