Retreating Glaciers

A study carried in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh has found that the glaciers in the regions have witnessed an annual reduction in mass of 35 centimetres on average between 2000 and 2012. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study spans 1200 glaciers in the Himalayan region including areas across the Line of Control and Line of Actual Control. The glaciers were studied for thickness and mass changes.

Shockingly enough, the team has noted that during one decade of observation, the region has lost about 70.32 gigatonnes of glacier mass and which is quite significant. At this rate, the environmental situation in the three regions will drastically change in the coming decades. Melting of the glaciers will impact the water, food and energy security. More alarmingly, another study, published in the journal Climatic Change has found that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh may witness a temperature increase of up to 6.9 degrees Celsius by the end of the century due to climate change. This, in turn, is projected to reduce the glaciers in this Himalayan region by 85 per cent.

These are dire predictions. In recent years, according to some surveys, many natural streams in various parts of Kashmir Valley have run dry. And the reason for this is the steady depletion of the glaciers. This has not only reduced the discharge in the rivers and streams but also made many water bodies extinct affecting the irrigation in the Valley.

Triggering alarm bells is the slowly shrinking Kolahai glacier, the biggest in Valley, which is the source of Lidder and Sindh, two major streams of river Jehlum. The area of Kolahai, according to a study, has retreated 13.87 square kilometers to 11.24 sq kms from 1976 with the annual rate of depletion at 0.08 square kilometre.

The situation is no different with other glaciers. An Action Aid Report in 2009 had said there has been an overall 21 per cent reduction in the glacier surface area in the Chenab basin. Many of the areas in parts of eastern Srinagar and Pirpanjal mountain range in district Pulwama, the report added, had witnessed a complete disappearance of small glaciers. In other areas, like Budgam, the height of the small glaciers has reduced to over one-fourth of the original height.

Similialy, the upper reaches of the Sindh Valley in Ganderbal district, the Najwan Akal which was said to be a major glacier, has completely disappeared. Thajwas, Zojila and Naranag glaciers which once used to last up to October through November till a few decades back too have considerably reduced. The report said the length of the Hangipora glacier in Anantnag has reduced from 35ft to 12ft and the Naaginad glacier has reduced from 30ft to 10ft.

Though we can do nothing about the larger, global scale changes in the climate, we certainly need to address the local man made causes that reinforce their impact on us. It is also important that the government’s policies and actions are informed by the studies about the environment. We need to start early and take effective steps to avert the catastrophic consequences of the changing climate.

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