Thursday, June 17, 2010

Snouts in place, Kashmir glaciers lose thickness

Srinagar: The footprints of climate change are becoming increasingly visible in Jammu and Kashmir – a phenomenon borne out by a scientific investigation which concludes that glaciers are melting due to average temperature increase in this Himalayan region. The situation is particularly of deep concern for Pakistan, the lower riparian on Indus, Jhelum and Chenab rivers fed by glaciers in Kashmir.Interestingly, the glaciers are showing a differential response to increase in temperature even in the same micro-climatic regime, say scientists at Kashmir University.In a research study focused on status of glaciers, changes and causes, the Geology and Geophysics Department of Kashmir University further concluded that average precipitation in this Himalayan region has also shown a declining trend.The ongoing research study, funded by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) since 2006, focuses on two river basins – Suru, a tributary of Indus in Zanskar mountain range in Ladakh, and Lidder, a tributary of Jhelum river that runs south to north in Kashmir valley. Along with the Chenab, the Indus and Jhelum form the western rivers of the Indus basin and provide for Pakistan's water requirements under the terms of the Indus Waters Treaty."We have studied data of the last 40 years. Fourteen smaller glaciers in Suru valley have already vanished and the overall loss is about 16.43 percent," says Dr. Shakeel Romshoo, a System Analysis Expert and an Associate Professor at Geology and Geophysics Department who heads the ISRO funded project studying the effects of climate change in Jammu and Kashmir.Since 1969, the glacier cover in Suru Basin which has around 360 glaciers, has been reduced from 567 sq kilometers to 474 sq kilometers, Dr Romshoo says. "But different glaciers are responding differently to global climatic change. While the lengths of some glaciers have reduced, some have shown reduction in depth or thickness even if their snouts have remained in the same place as earlier," he explains.The study shows that the length of Kangrez glacier near Parkhache village in Zanskar region has not changed. However, the glacier has shown almost 15 metre reduction in thickness. In other glaciers, named S1 and S3 in the study, the researchers noted a decrease of 1 km and 1.5 km in length respectively. The snouts of other glaciers, named S2 and S4, have shown no change in length but changes in thickness have been noted."We have collaborated date from satellite imagery of past and present, data from metrology and hydrology and water discharge data besides collecting field data about these glaciers," says Romshoo.In Lidder basin, the study found an increase in water discharge. Researchers link this increase to climate change that affects Kolhai Glacier that feeds the Lidder river. "Precipitation in Lidder basin is decreasing while the temperature is increasing. As a result, water discharge in Lidder is also increasing. It is a safe conclusion that water discharge is increasing due to excessive melting of glaciers. There are also drastic changes in snowfall patterns in this basin," says Romshoo.The study revealed that water discharge in the river has increased by an average of 2000 cusecs pr year since 1979. The characteristic temperature curve in Lidder valley too shows a steep upward trend. "The temperature increase in the basin over the last 100 years was one degree centigrade. The increase is more rapid in last 30 years," says Romshoo.Out of the 24 watersheds of Jhelum River, Lidder is the only river that has shown an increase in discharge. The discharge in 19 others is already showing a decrease as precipitation in these basins is also decreasing.Researchers at Kashmir University say that the melting of glaciers at such a rate is going to affect different economic activities including agriculture and hydropower generation besides causing drinking water problems in some areas. Kolhai glacier also feeds ground water resources and its melting is bound to have an impact in Kashmir valley where the population uses water from natural springs for domestic use as well as agricultural purposes.However, a greater worry is the impact on agriculture and hydel power generation in Pakistan where water intensive farming almost entirely depends on the perennial flow from these glaciers. Scientists say that the increase in average discharge will eventually reach a peak before a downward trend brings the water discharge levels in these rivers plunging down, thus affecting agriculture and other economic activities.

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