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No government study on shrinking glaciers in 7 decades

House panel warns of cataclysmic changes in Himalayan region

No government study on shrinking glaciers in 7 decades

Photo for representation. — iStock

Tribune News Service

Aditi Tandon

New Delhi, March 29

Despite an increase in extreme weather events in the Himalayan region, no study has been conducted in the government system in seven decades to assess the loss of glacier volume or warming to be able to predict potential cataclysmic changes.

This has been observed by the parliamentary standing committee on water resources in its report on “Glacier management in India” tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. The report was undertaken in the wake of frequent disasters in the Himalayan region and the most recent flash flood that occurred in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli in February 2021 due to glacial lake outburst leading to loss of lives. Red-flagging the dangers of lack of data for predictions, the committee has called for urgent establishment of a dedicated Mountain Hazard and Research Institute.

The recommendation followed the Geological Survey of India’s deposition that it had not conducted any specific studies on the estimated volume loss of glaciers between 1950 and 2020 and also not projected any estimate of loss by 2100. Further, there is no comprehensive information about the volume loss of glaciers in the Indian Himalayan Region nor has the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change conducted any study or awarded any project on the warming of Himalayan glaciers, the panel said.

“The Central Water Commission has not issued any advisory to the local governments concerned regarding the anticipation of floods caused by avalanches, cloudburst landslides in the Himalayan region. There is also no specific information on stretches of the Himalayas where the danger of melting of glaciers and consequent glacial lake outburst floods are most severe. ISRO and the GSI have also not conducted any study on temporal changes in glacial lake numbers and their extent,” the committee noted.

Adding that no study has been carried out by the GSI, ISRO and Department of Science and Technology to even critically analyse the enlargement and origin of glacial lakes near human settlements and their potential cause for a lake outburst, the panel said, “Considering these gaps, we recommend an overarching organisation at the national level that can coordinate with others in handling different hydro-geological and hydro-meteorological hazards, including glacier-related hazards, bring findings at one place and maintain reliable database for everyone to access and issue timely alerts.”

Glaciers remain important components of the hydrological cycles of the Indian Himalayan Region and a source of three large river systems — Indus, Ganga and the Brahmaputra — which provide water security to millions of people and ensure water availability even in the post-monsoon period.

The panel notes that the Indian Himalayan Region has 9,775 glaciers and 1,306.1 cubic km of ice volume (about 1,110 cu km of water) is locked up in glacierised basins of the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra, though specific information about separate volume of ice and snow water is not available.

The thinning of Himalayan glaciers has been accelerated in recent years. Accordingly, the committee observed that close and frequent monitoring of glaciers, glacier discharge, glacial lakes and prospective glacial lake outburst floods in the Himalayan region have become vital and critically important as never before for predicting and mitigating the potential hazard disasters that may arise in future.

Importantly, the late RK Pachauri had led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s study on Himalayan glacier melting for which he along with former US Vice-President Al Gore received a Nobel prize.

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