Warming and thawing in the Mt. Everest region: A review of climate and environmental changes

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    Mt. Everest (Qomolangma or Sagarmatha), the highest mount on Earth and located in the central Himalayas between China and Nepal, is characterized by highly concentrated glaciers and diverse landscapes, and is considered to be one of the most sensitive area to climate change. In this paper, we comprehensively synthesized the climate and environmental changes in the Mt. Everest region, including changes in air temperature, precipitation, glaciers and glacial lakes, atmospheric environment, river and lake water quality, and vegetation phenology. Historical temperature reconstruction from ice cores and tree rings revealed the distinct features of 20th century warming in the Mt. Everest region. Meteorological observations further proved that the Mt. Everest region has been experiencing significant warming (approximately 0.33 degrees C/decade) but relatively stable precipitation during 1961-2018 AD. Projected results (during 2006-2099 AD) under different representative concentration pathway scenarios showed a general warming trend in the region, with larger warming occurring in winter than in summer. Meanwhile, the precipitation projections varied spatially with no significant trends over the region. Intensive glacier shrinkage was characterized by decreasing glacier areas, while glacier-fed river runoff increased. Glacial lakes expanded with increasing glacial lake areas and numbers. These findings indicated a clear regional hydrological response to climate warming. Owing to the remote location of Mt. Everest, the present atmospheric environment remained relatively clean; however, long-range transport of atmospheric pollutants from South Asia and West Asia may have substantially influenced the Mt. Everest region, resulting in increasing concentrations of pollutants since the Industrial Revolution. Anthropogenic activities have been shown to influence river and lake water quality in this remote region, especially in the downstream. The end of the vegetation growing season advanced in the northern slope and did not change in southern slope region of the Mt. Everest, and there was no significant change in start date of the growing season in the region. This review will enhance our understanding of climate and environmental changes in the Mt. Everest region under global warming.