The Dirty Himalaya
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that the high mountains of the world – replete with massive glaciers and regular snowfall – are an essential component of the world water supply. And, the Himalaya, those highest mountains of all, provide a huge source of fresh water for some one billion people living in their shadow.
Despite the growing numbers of people climbing in the high mountains these days, looking up at the glimmering-white snows of these peaks one would be hard pressed to imagine the mountains – and their waters – as polluted in any serious way.
But, according to a new paper by Bill Yeo and S. Langley-Turnbaugh of the Department of Environmental Science, University of Southern Maine, the pristine-white of the high mountains is quite deceptive.
Their recent study, which appears in the current issue of Soil Survey Horizons, took soil and snow samples from Everest and other peaks worldwide. Lab tests revealed abnormally high levels of arsenic and cadmium, among other compounds.
According to their paper, nearly 20% of the earth’s surface is comprised of mountains that play a role in the storage and distribution of fresh water, and one-tenth of the world’s population relies on that mountain snowpack as their sole source of fresh water.
Much of the study was technical and over my head, but the gist of it was digestible, and a bit unnerving. Read the full account – Trace Element Deposition on Mount Everest – here. And, thanks to The Hindu for their informing me about this in the first place.