Plant Life Around Mount Everest Expanding Thanks to Climate Change

Researchers used NASA satellite data to measure the subnival ecosystem in the Himalayas.
Interesting Engineering

Thanks to climate change, the plant life in the area around Mount Everest and the Himalayas are expanding, prompting scientists to call from urgent research on what impact that may have. 

While researchers have spent a lot of time looking at the impact the rapidly warming planet has on the Himalaya region, little focus has been on the subnival ecosystem between the tree line and snow line, which is made up of short-statue plants like shrubs and seasonal snow.  


NASA satellites show the expanding vegetation 

Researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK used NASA Landsat satellite data from 1993 to 2018 to measure the increases in vegetation.  They broke down the measurements into four categories based on height and found there were "small but significant" changes in all four categories. 

The biggest changes occurred for plants that were between the heights of 16,400 and 18,000 feet. The scientists also found the area surrounding Mount Everest saw increases at all four heights. 

The scientists noted in a report which was published in journal Global Change Biology, that the growth in subnival vegetation was due to climate change as the number of areas where it's too cold for plants to thrive dwindles. 

"Our results show vegetation expansion is occurring at high altitudes (>4,150 m a.s.l.) across the HKH (Himalayas) and that subnival systems cover between five and 15 times the area of permanent ice and snow," wrote the scientists.

More than 1 billion people get their water from the region 

"We argue that subnival ecological systems play an important role in HKH hydrology and their role will increase as snowlines ascend and glaciers melt. There is an urgent need for new science to uncover the status, role, and fate of high altitude ecosystems in the unique setting." 

With 1.4 billion people depending on the water that comes from the region, scientists need to know if the expanded vegetation will trap snow causing it to melt slower or speed up the melting.  

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