The Himalayas contain many of the world’s tallest mountains as well as many of the world’s glaciers. The resulting meltwater from these glaciers and snowpack contributes to the water supply for the people in the surrounding region, much like water towers hold and distribute water for a town or city. Because the Himalayas play a crucial role in supplying water to the continent, they are sometimes called the “water towers” of Asia.
The Himalayas derive their name from the Sanskrit words meaning “abode of snow.” It is an apt name for these towering landmarks, because the Himalayas are home to vast quantities of ice and snow. Spanning more than 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) and several countries such as China, Bhutan, and Nepal, the Himalayas are an impressive sight made famous by the tallest peak above sea level, Mount Everest. This mountain system creates a barrier between the subcontinent Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan Plateau, and contains the third largest number of glaciers in the world, only surpassed by the Arctic and Antarctic. This includes Khumbu Glacier on Everest, the highest glacier in the world. Because of this, the Himalayas are often dubbed the “Third Pole.”
These Himalaya glaciers are a vital resource to the people of the region. The meltwater from the glaciers and snowpack drains into 10 river basins in Asia and several major rivers, including the Indus and Ganges. This snow and glacial melt, coupled with monsoon season rains, provides water for more than one billion people.
Scientists are currently studying the effect of climate change on the mountains. Some studies have detected a decrease in the amount of snowpack in parts of the mountain chain; this has caused some scientists to fear that climate change might lead to water scarcity in the region. In recent years, scientists have also observed increased glacial melt, often called glacial retreat, due to global warming.