Cumulative frequency graph of glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. The best-fit line suggests an increase in GLOF frequency through time, although older events may be under-reported. GLOFs also took place in Patagonia, Chile in 2008 and 2009. Dussaillant et al., 2010, from Richardson and Reynolds, 2000 via unep.org

By Christopher Buckley; editing by Cynthia Osterman
Tue Dec 7, 2010 3:23pm EST

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Residents of the Himalayas and other mountain areas face a "tough and unpredictable future" as global warming melts glaciers and threatens worse floods and water loss, officials said during U.N. climate talks on Tuesday.

A study said that glaciers in southern Chile and Argentina, followed by ones in Alaska, had been losing mass "faster and for longer than glaciers in other parts of the world."

Negotiators at two-week talks in Cancun, a seaside resort in Mexico, have been seeking agreement on how to cut the greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, forest loss and land changes that are stoking global warming and threatening dangerous climate changes.

Tuesday's report [pdf], by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), found that many people in vulnerable mountainside homes are already living with the growing risks of global warming and need more support to help them adapt to a changing landscape.

The melting of glaciers was triggering more frequent "glacial lake outburst floods," when masses of melted water burst through brittle rock barriers and inundating valleys below, said the report.

"People in the Himalayas must prepare for a tough and unpredictable future," said Erik Solheim, Norway's environment minister, in a statement accompanying the report.

"Global climate change has posed a serious threat to the Himalayan region. Countries are highly vulnerable to climate change, due to their vast dependence on water … originating in high mountains," said Madhav Karki, of the Nepal-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, at a news conference to release the report.

Melting glaciers threaten floods in Himalayas, Andes

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