M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Special
Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035
Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

The glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, a large number of them may disappear by 2035 because of climate change, warn Indian and foreign environmentalists and geologists.

The Himalayas have the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar caps. That is why, they are called the “Water Towers of Asia.”

The Himalayas lie to the north of the Indian subcontinent and to the south of the central Asian high plateau. They are bound by the Indus on the west slope of Mt Nanga Parbat (near Gilgit), and in the west, by river Jaizhug Qu on the eastern slope of Mt Namjabarwa.

The Geological Survey of India claims that the Himalayan glaciers occupy about 17 per cent of the total mountainous range, while an additional 30 to 40 per cent area has seasonal snow cover.

In the whole of the Himalayan range, independent geologists claim that there are 18,065 small and big glaciers with a total area of 34,659.62 km2 and a total ice volume of 3,734.4796 km3. The major clusters of glaciers are around the 10Himalayan peaks and massifs: Nanga Parbat (Gilgit), the Nanda Devi group in Garhwal, the Dhaulagiri massif, the Everest-Makalu group, the Kanchenjunga, the Kula Kangri area, and Namche Bazaar.

The Indian Himalayan glaciers are broadly divided into three-river basins of the Indus, Ganga and Barahmaputra. The Indus basin has the largest number of glaciers (3,538), followed by the Ganga basin (1,020) and the Barahmaputra (662).

The principal glaciers are: Siachen 72 km; Gangotri 26 km; Zemu 26 km; Milam 19 km and Kedarnath 14.5 km. The Gangotri glacier has retreated by about 850 m.

One may believe it or not but the climate change is real and happening now and it is causing a serious impact on fragile ecosystems like glaciers. Seventy per cent of the world’s freshwater is frozen in glaciers. Glacier melt buffers other ecosystems against climate variability. Very often, it provides the only source of water for humans and the biodiversity during dry seasons.

The Himalayan glaciers feed seven of Asia’s great rivers: the Ganga, Indus, Barahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Huang Ho. About 70 per cent of glaciers are retreating at a startling rate in the Himalayas due to climate change.

The Glacial melt has started affecting freshwater flows with dramatic adverse effects on the biodiversity, and people and livelihoods, with a possible long-term implication on regional food security.

The WWF’s India, Nepal and China chapters some time back carried out a massive study ‘Glaciers, glacier retreat and its impact’ on freshwater as a major issue, not just in the national context but also at a regional and trans-boundary level.

New data collected by scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru University has shown that glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating faster than anywhere else in the world. Together with those on the neighbouring Tibetan mountain plateau, the Himalayan glaciers make up the largest body of ice outside the Polar regions.

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)’s scientist, professor Syed Hasnain, in a recent study claimed that “All the glaciers in the middle Himalayas are retreating, and they could disappear from the central and eastern Himalayas by 2035.”

As the chairman of the International Commission for Snow and Ice’s (ICSI) working group on Himalayan Glaciology, Hasnain was then quoted by The New Scientist in the June 5, 1999, issue, in which also he had warned that “most of the glaciers in the Himalayan region will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming”. The article also predicted that freshwater flow in rivers across South Asia would “eventually diminish, resulting in widespread water shortages.”

The Tribune in mid-July carried a special report quoting American environment guru Lester R. Brown, who warned that the way Indian glaciers were melting because of climate change, the Ganga may turn into a ``mausmi nadi’’ before the turn of this century as its origin - the Gangotri glacier - was shrinking at an alarming speed. “Many Himalayan glaciers could melt entirely by 2035,” Brown has also warned.

The giant Gangotri glacier supplies 70 per cent of the Ganga flow during the dry season. A study carried out by the India’s Department of Science and Technology has found the Gangotri glacier shrinking at a pace of 17 m a year due to global warming and climate change. Its mammoth neighbour Pindari glacier is also reportedly melting at a speed of about 9.5 m a year. The Gangotri glacier is the outlet of one of the largest glacier systems in the Himalayas, and the source of the Bhagirathi, one of the major tributaries of the Ganga.



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