The First Regional Research and Scoping Meeting on Permafrost in the HKH region was held at ICIMOD on 16 May 2014. The meeting brought together regional and international permafrost experts to chart a way forward for permafrost research in the HKH region.
Permafrost is ground material (rock or soil) at or below 0°C for two or more years. Many people in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region live near permafrost or in areas potentially affected by changes in permafrost. As with snow and glaciers, permafrost parameters are essential climate variables. Because of the tight coupling of atmosphere and subsurface temperatures, widespread permafrost thaw during the coming decades is highly likely. Permafrost thaw as a consequence of climate change will have societal, economic, and biological impacts in the HKH, as observed in other parts of the world. For this reason, ICIMOD started a Permafrost Pilot Study in collaboration with the Carleton University, Canada, in 2013. The objective of the pilot study is to determine where permafrost occurs in the HKH region and identify priority topics resulting from changes in permafrost.
At the scoping meeting, regional and international permafrost experts discussed the state of knowledge on permafrost; permafrost degradation; and the linkages between permafrost, hydrology, ecosystems, and livelihoods in the region. The participants also identified research gaps and priorities and discussed how to design a permafrost pilot project for the region, as well as ideas for a longer-term research programme. Preceding the meeting, a permafrost session was held at the International Cryosphere Conference at ICIMOD on 15 May, at which an overview was given of permafrost knowledge in the region.
The presentations and discussions during the meeting demonstrated that permafrost is widespread in the HKH region in Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Changes in permafrost can impact on hydrology, vegetation, and livelihoods. Methods suggested to investigate the issues included long-term monitoring and short-term investigation, encompassing measuring the changes in permafrost, vegetation, and the water cycle and setting up a permafrost database. Field measurements are central, but should be complemented by modelling approaches. The possible study sites are predominantly in sloping areas to account for mountain permafrost and cover areas with various climatic regimes. Cross-regional learning, collaboration, networking, knowledge and data sharing, and capacity building were considered important aspects.
The scoping meeting was the first international permafrost meeting at ICIMOD and raised interest and commitment within the scientific community. The meeting output will be used to define future work. The International Symposium on Glaciology in High-Mountain Asia to be held in Kathmandu in March 2015 will provide the next opportunity to discuss the progress made in this area.