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      Widespread Climate Change in the Himalayas and Associated Changes in Local Ecosystems


      1 , 2 , * , 3 , 1 , 4 , 5

      PLoS ONE

      Public Library of Science

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          Climate change in the Himalayas, a biodiversity hotspot, home of many sacred landscapes, and the source of eight largest rivers of Asia, is likely to impact the well-being of ∼20% of humanity. However, despite the extraordinary environmental, cultural, and socio-economic importance of the Himalayas, and despite their rapidly increasing ecological degradation, not much is known about actual changes in the two most critical climatic variables: temperature and rainfall. Nor do we know how changes in these parameters might impact the ecosystems including vegetation phenology.

          Methodology/Principal Findings

          By analyzing temperature and rainfall data, and NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) values from remotely sensed imagery, we report significant changes in temperature, rainfall, and vegetation phenology across the Himalayas between 1982 and 2006. The average annual mean temperature during the 25 year period has increased by 1.5°C with an average increase of 0.06°C yr −1. The average annual precipitation has increased by 163 mm or 6.52 mmyr −1. Since changes in temperature and precipitation are immediately manifested as changes in phenology of local ecosystems, we examined phenological changes in all major ecoregions. The average start of the growing season (SOS) seems to have advanced by 4.7 days or 0.19 days yr −1 and the length of growing season (LOS) appears to have advanced by 4.7 days or 0.19 days yr −1, but there has been no change in the end of the growing season (EOS). There is considerable spatial and seasonal variation in changes in climate and phenological parameters.


          This is the first time that large scale climatic and phenological changes at the landscape level have been documented for the Himalayas. The rate of warming in the Himalayas is greater than the global average, confirming that the Himalayas are among the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

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          Most cited references 58

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          The melting Himalayas: cascading effects of climate change on water, biodiversity, and livelihoods.

          The Greater Himalayas hold the largest mass of ice outside polar regions and are the source of the 10 largest rivers in Asia. Rapid reduction in the volume of Himalayan glaciers due to climate change is occurring. The cascading effects of rising temperatures and loss of ice and snow in the region are affecting, for example, water availability (amounts, seasonality), biodiversity (endemic species, predator-prey relations), ecosystem boundary shifts (tree-line movements, high-elevation ecosystem changes), and global feedbacks (monsoonal shifts, loss of soil carbon). Climate change will also have environmental and social impacts that will likely increase uncertainty in water supplies and agricultural production for human populations across Asia. A common understanding of climate change needs to be developed through regional and local-scale research so that mitigation and adaptation strategies can be identified and implemented. The challenges brought about by climate change in the Greater Himalayas can only be addressed through increased regional collaboration in scientific research and policy making. ©2009 Society for Conservation Biology.
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            Spring temperature change and its implication in the change of vegetation growth in North America from 1982 to 2006.

            Understanding how vegetation growth responds to climate change is a critical requirement for projecting future ecosystem dynamics. Parts of North America (NA) have experienced a spring cooling trend over the last three decades, but little is known about the response of vegetation growth to this change. Using observed climate data and satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data from 1982 to 2006, we investigated changes in spring (April-May) temperature trends and their impact on vegetation growth in NA. A piecewise linear regression approach shows that the trend in spring temperature is not continuous through the 25-year period. In the northwestern region of NA, spring temperature increased until the late 1980s or early 1990s, and stalled or decreased afterwards. In response, a spring vegetation greening trend, which was evident in this region during the 1980s, stalled or reversed recently. Conversely, an opposite phenomenon occurred in the northeastern region of NA due to different spring temperature trends. Additionally, the trends of summer vegetation growth vary between the periods before and after the turning point (TP) of spring temperature trends. This change cannot be fully explained by summer drought stress change alone and is partly explained by changes in the trends of spring temperature as well as those of summer temperature. As reported in previous studies, summer vegetation browning trends have occurred in the northwestern region of NA since the early 1990s, which is consistent with the spring and summer cooling trends in this region during this period.
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              Precipitation fluctuations in the Nepal Himalaya and its vicinity and relationship with some large scale climatological parameters


                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                15 May 2012
                : 7
                : 5
                [1 ]University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [2 ]Harvard University Herbarium, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [3 ]Department of Biostatistics, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [4 ]Sustainability Science Program, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [5 ]Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India
                Ohio State University, United States of America
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: UBS KSB. Performed the experiments: UBS SG. Analyzed the data: UBS KSB. Wrote the paper: UBS SG KSB.

                Shrestha et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 10
                Research Article
                Global Change Ecology
                Earth Sciences
                Atmospheric Science
                Climate Change
                Climate Record



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