Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Scientists Find Plants Are Growing Higher up the Himalayas

Science
Ama Dablam mountain of the Himalayan mountains. Rohit Tandon / Unsplash

Researchers have found that plants are growing farther up the Himalayas than they did in the past, according to a new study in the journal Global Change Biology, as Newsweek reported.


Researchers looked at satellite data from 1993 to 2018 and found plant life extending into the harsh terrain between the top of the tree line and the bottom of the snowline. The new growth may have large impacts on the water that feeds the rivers that flow down from the Himalayas, according to lead researcher, Karen Anderson, of the University of Exeter in the UK.

"If the ecology is changing, that will have impacts on the hydrology. Nobody's considered that before," she said, as the New Scientist reported.

That's significant since nearly 1.4 billion people rely on water from the Himalayas, according to The Telegraph.

Anderson and her team looked at 25 years of images from NASA's Landsat satellites to zero in on the subnival region - the area between the tree line (the edge of where trees can grow) and the snow line (the boundary between permanently snow-covered land and snow-free land), as BBC reported. The rocky, cold terrain that is over 4,500 meters (13,600 feet) above sea level is particularly inhospitable to most plants, meaning the vegetation is mostly shrubs and grasses.

The subnival region is also very large, extending five to 15 times the size of the landmass covered in snow and ice, according to the study. "Yet, the harsh conditions make the area difficult to study. There's hardly any ecological data from this region at all," said Anderson, as the New Scientist reported.

For this paper, Anderson and her team focused on three sections of the Hindu Kush Himalaya, a range that stretches from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east, as Newsweek reported.

"The strongest trend in increased vegetation cover was between 5,000 meters and 5,500 meters altitude," said Anderson, as BBC reported. "At higher elevations, the expansion was strong on flatter areas while at lower levels that has been observed on steeper slopes."

There is no definitive reason that plants are moving to higher elevations, but the climate crisis is a likely culprit. "My initial guess would be that the primary driver is temperature limitation being removed," said Anderson to the New Scientist. She added that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could also be helping the plants grow.

The climate crisis is dramatically affecting the Himalayas, which are warming rapidly due to greenhouse gas emissions. That has meant that elevations that were once too cold for plants may now be hospitable to them, as the New Scientist reported.

Already, concern has grown over the Himalayas' melting glaciers and how it will alter borders between countries. Furthermore, the melting glaciers will wreak havoc on the water supplies of countries that rely on runoff, causing an increase in floods and droughts.

Water that runs from the Himalayas feeds the 10 largest rivers in Asia, and 250 million rely on water from the range's glaciers, which are threatened by global warming, as the Telegraph reported. If global warming is somehow held to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, then one-third of the Himalayan ice caps will still melt away.

Anderson told the New Scientist that it is crucial to figure out how the new vegetation climbing the mountains will affect the flow of water. Plant growth may trap more heat, causing the snow to melt faster.

"The plants could trap more snow. Or the plants could warm the areas nearby through albedo effects, causing the snow to melt at a different rate," she said, as the Telegraph reported.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes bubonic plague in animals and humans. Illustration based on light microscope image At 1000x. BSIP / UIG Via Getty Images

A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Plant pathologist Carolee Bull works in her home garden in State College, Pennsylvania. Carolee Bull, CC BY-ND

By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull

Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.

Read More Show Less
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Emma Charlton

The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.

Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.

Read More Show Less
Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba") is a free-living microscopic amoeba (single-celled living organism). Centers for Disease Control

As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.

Read More Show Less

Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix. Flickr / CC by 2.0

Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Japan Self-Defense Forces and police officers join rescue operations at a nursing home following heavy rain in Kuma village, Kumamoto prefecture on July 5, 2020. STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP / Getty Images

Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.

Read More Show Less