453743239aa58210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q4Before your very ice: glacial evidence of global warming353743239aa58210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____Before your very ice: glacial evidence of global warmingHigh in the Himalayas, scientists are measuring how much the glaciers that feed the huge rivers that supply much of Asia with water are melting under the impact of climate change.Rathong, Himalayas<p><embed src="http://multimedia.thenational.ae/pic440_new.swf?xmlfile=http://multimedia.thenational.ae/ssp_director/images.php%3Falbum=2414&xmlfiletype=Director" quality="high" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" width="440" height="360" name="The National" align="middle" allowScriptAccess="sameDomain" allowFullScreen="true" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer"/></p>
<p>Rathong Glacier, West Sikkim, India // Breathing heavily in the thin Himalayan air, Shresth Tayal pauses for a moment on the steep mountain track and gestures with his walking stick towards the Rathong glacier, nestling like a pearl between two jagged peaks on the skyline.
Then, with a sweep of his stick, he points down beneath him to a wide, silver scar running along the brown-green floor of the Rathong Valley in India's north-eastern state of Sikkim.</p>
<p>"That's where the glacier used to be," he said, tracing the length of the pale, rubbly corridor with his cane. "Last year it was in a much better state."
Up close, the glacier reveals further signs of deterioration. The sound of running water burbles up from hollows in its core and at its snout (the technical name for a glacier's lowest point) a lake has formed.
For Mr Tayal, this is all evidence of one thing: that climate change is causing the Himalayan glaciers - the largest store of fresh water in the world after the polar ice caps - to disappear.</p>
<p>His claims are backed up by a wealth of anecdotal evidence, old maps and photographs, and occasional, but unco-ordinated, scientific studies.
The United Nations' Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2007 that the glaciers, which feed the great rivers of Asia, would dry up by 2035, leading to famine, disease, water wars and the displacement of millions of people.
Surprisingly, given their importance, there is still very little scientific proof about how climate change is affecting the 15,000-plus glaciers that dot the 2,414km line of the Himalayas.</p>
<p>This has allowed some people - including, as of last month, India's environment ministry - to deny that the glaciers are receding abnormally fast, thus undermining calls for India and China to take stronger action on emissions.
Now, to prove the naysayers wrong, The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) in New Delhi, where Mr Tayal works as a glaciologist, has launched a project to gather the systematic data needed to prove that the glaciers are in danger.</p>
<p>Under the plan, the institute is installing hi-technology monitors, including a weather station, a black carbon meter and a state-of-the-art global positioning system, on three glaciers spaced out along the breadth of the Indian Himalayas.
Their hope is that within two years, the sensors will have gathered enough information to establish a clear link between human activity and glacial retreat.
Easier said than done.</p>
<p>India's 10,000 glaciers - unlike those in the Alps, for example - are situated in some of the world's most remote and inhospitable terrain, mostly above 3,500 metres, where the air is thin and there are almost no roads or helipads. Many are in border areas restricted by the military.
The Rathong is located at just below 5,000 metres, only a few kilometres from the border with Nepal, and in the shadow of Mount Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak.</p>
<p>To get there, Mr Tayal had to travel for seven days, the past four of which were on foot in a climb so steep it took him from subtropical jungle and alpine forests to windswept tundra.
To carry the necessary tents, food and fuel - plus 150kg of scientific equipment - he had to hire a caravan of yaks and ponies, as well as porters for the final ascent to the glacier, which is too steep for the animals to climb. He also brought a small team of assistants, all of whom he employs because of their love of the mountains, but none of whom has any formal training in glaciology or mountaineering.</p>