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.

 

Water Towers

Over the course of the year, densely accumulated snowpack on mountains like Mount Everest slowly melts and flows down into rivers and streams, making these natural water towers invaluable sources of freshwater for surrounding regions. However, the annual water cycles that support these resources are threatened by rapid climate change. 

Antarctic
Noun

region at Earth's extreme south, encompassed by the Antarctic Circle.

Noun

region at Earth's extreme north, encompassed by the Arctic Circle.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

Ganges River
Noun

(2,495 kilometers/1,550 miles) river in South Asia that originates in the Himalaya and empties into the Bay of Bengal. Also called the Ganga.

glacial retreat
Noun

process by which glaciers melt faster than precipitation can replace the ice.

Himalaya Mountains
Noun

mountain range between India and Nepal.

Indian subcontinent
Noun

landmass in south-central Asia carried by the Indian tectonic plate, including the peninsula of India.

mountain
Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

Mount Everest
Noun

highest spot on Earth, approximately 8,850 meters (29,035 feet). Mount Everest is part of the Himalaya and straddles the border of Nepal and China.

Noun

large region that is higher than the surrounding area and relatively flat.

pole
Noun

extreme north or south point of the Earth's axis.

Noun

large stream of flowing fresh water.

snow
Noun

precipitation made of ice crystals.

Noun

layers of snow that naturally build up during snowfalls.

subcontinent
Noun

large section of a continent.

Tibetan Plateau
Noun

flat, elevated landform located in Tibet, China, and India. Also known as the "rooftop of the world."