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Future Earth: Mountains without permanent snow and ice

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Huss Matthias,
Project Global Change and Mountain Regions: the Mountain Research Initiative Coordination Office
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Nature GeoScience
Title of proceedings Nature GeoScience


The cryosphere in mountain regions is rapidly declining, a trend that is expected to accelerate over the next several decades due to anthropogenic climate change. A cascade of effects will result extending from mountains to lowlands with associated impacts on human livelihood, economy and ecosystems. With rising air temperatures and increased radiative forcing, glaciers will become smaller and, in some cases, disappear, the area of frozen ground will diminish, the ratio of snow to rainfall will decrease, and the timing and magnitude of both maximum and minimum streamflow will change. These changes will affect erosion rates, sediment and nutrient flux, and the biogeochemistry of rivers and proglacial lakes, which in turn influence water quality, aquatic habitat and biotic communities. Changes in the length of the growing season will allow low-elevation plants and animals to expand their ranges upward. Slope failures due to thawing alpine permafrost, and outburst floods from glacier- and moraine-dammed lakes will threaten downstream population. Societies even well beyond the mountains depend on meltwater from glaciers and snow for drinking water supplies, irrigation, mining, hydropower, agriculture and recreation. Here, we review the impacts of anticipated climate change on the alpine cryosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, and consider the implications for adaptation to a world of mountains without permanent snow and ice. 45