Gangotri retreat slows down

Glaciers in poor health due to declining snow cover


Himalayan glaciers do not pose a threat to global health.Himalayan glaciers do not pose a threat to global health.Even though the Himalayan glaciers are shrinking in volume, they have not exhibited any abnormal annual retreat—particularly in recent years—of the order shown by some glaciers in Alaska and Greenland. Analysing volumes of data on Himalayan glaciers, the scientists have come out with a review that showed most of the Himalayan glaciers were in poor health because of declining snow cover. There is no conclusive scientific evidence linking global warming to glaciers’ retreat in the Himalayas, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said here on Monday releasing the independent review.

The report found that while most of the Himalayan glaciers are retreating, some of them like Siachen are advancing as well. In some of the glaciers like Gangotri the rate of retreat is gradually slowing down. The maximum retreat in Gangotri happened between 1977 and 1980 after which the recession rates came down. There are roughly 9500 glaciers of various sizes in the Indian Himalayas.

“It is premature to make a statement that glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating abnormally because of global warming,” said V K Raina, lead author of the report and a former deputy director general of Geological Survey of India. The report challenges western researchers, who claim Himalayan glaciers are receding at an alarming rate.
Even the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fourth assessment report observed that many Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035.
However, senior Indian geologists are sceptic on the IPCC finding.

“This report is against conventional wisdom. We want more scientific debate on the issue,” Ramesh said pushing the ball into IPCC’s court. Despite repeated attempts, IPCC chairperson R K Pachauri was not available for comment.

Raina pointed out that the western scientists made the crucial mistake of comparing Arctic glaciers with that of Himalayas. The comparison is flawed because the Himalayan glaciers are located at a higher altitude while the Arctic glaciers are at the sea level.

The Indian scientists accepted all glaciers are in poor health which means they have a negative mass balance. But they are not retreating alarmingly. “There is less snow fall in the last 20 years, which has contributed to the deteriorating health,” Raina said. India is woefully short of data to properly analyse the glaciers’ health.

To bridge the data-gap, the Centre is setting up 15 automated weather towers in the Himalayas. While 13 of them will be inside the Indian territory, two towers will be set up in Nepal and Bhutan to study the Himalayan glaciers in continuity, said LMS Palni, director of GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Almora.

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