Gangotri glacier, the origin of the River Ganga, is feared to be receding fast
If there was one word that encompassed feelings of confusion, rage, denial, relief and anger together, it would have best described the present state of the world's environmentalists today. The release of a government report that rubbished the global line of thought and claimed that there was no evidence of climate change causing "abnormal" shrinking of the Himalayan glaciers has left the world in quandary.
The report directly contradicts what the UN agency -the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - had said two years ago. IPCC, which evaluates the risk from global warming, had warned that the Himalayan glaciers were receding faster than in any other part of the world and could "disappear altogether by 2035 if not sooner".
The Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, released the latest discussion paper "Himalayan Glaciers: A State of-Art Review of Glacial Studies, Glacial Retreat and Climate Change". The paper, brought out by V.K. Raina, former Deputy Director-General, Geological Survey of India, for the Ministry of Environment and Forests, is based on the findings of the GSI since 1956.
|Glacier monitoring in the Himalayas started in the early 20th century, when GSI started making a repository of the data generated while studying 20 odd glaciers in the Himalayas. The analysis showed that most glaciers were retreating or showing degenerated conditions along the glacier front. The average annual retreat was around 5m with a few glaciers like the Pindari glaciers as exceptions which had an annual retreat of 8-10m.
||Sonapani glacier has retreated by about 500m during the last 100 years but Kangriz glacier has practically not retreated even an inch in the same period.
|Other features in the Report
- All the glaciers under observation, during the last three decades of 20th century have shown cumulative negative mass balance
- Degeneration of the glacier mass has been the highest in Jammu & Kashmir and the lowest in Sikkim, clearly showing a declining trend from north-west to north-east
- Irrespective of latitudinal differences, glacier melt contributes to about 25% to 30% of the total discharge of glacier ice
- The sediment load producing capacity of the glacier ice is to the order of 30 tonnes of ice per day per square km² during the melt season in a granite / gneissic terrain
- Ice, forming a glacier in the Himalayas, in its vertical profile, can exhibit the characteristics of a cold glacier at certain levels and that of a temperate glacier at other levels
The report said that the studies also revealed that fluctuation of the glacier snout is not a simple phenomenon that can be attributed to climate change, but in fact is the result of complex regional and local phenomenon. A glacier snout, the front end of the glacier, is generally believed to reflect the health and state of a glacier. The monitoring of glaciers, sensu stricto, is restricted to the study of the glacier snout.
The report emphasises that Himalayan glaciers, although shrinking in volume and constantly showing a retreating front, have not in any way exhibited, especially in recent years, an abnormal annual retreat, of the order that some glaciers in Alaska and Greenland are reported.
In fact the Himalayas, over a period of the last 100 years, have been found to be behaving in contrasting ways. For example, Sonapani glacier has retreated by about 500m during the last one hundred years but Kangriz glacier has practically not retreated even an inch in the same period, the report said.
Siachen glacier is believed to have shown an advance of about 700m between 1862 and 1909, followed by an equally rapid retreat of around 400m between 1929 and 1958, and hardly any retreat during the last 50 years.
In yet another remarkable finding, the report claims the Gangotri glacier actually receded fastest at an average of around 20m per year till around 2000 AD but since September 2007 is "practically at a stand still". Some scientists had earlier warned that the river beds of the Gangetic Basin could run dry once glaciers go. However, such concerns are scotched by the report.
Unlike the popular understanding of the subject and the earlier researches, the report states that declaring that Himalayan glaciers are retreating abnormally due to global warming would be a hasty and premature statement. The snout movement of a glacier cannot be totally claimed to be a result of periodic climate changes unless observations is made over many centuries.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are taken aback by these latest findings. Many have said that they were unconvinced by the minister's arguments.
The IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri accuses Indian environment ministry of 'arrogance' for its report claiming there is no evidence that climate change has shrunk Himalayan glaciers.
"We have a very clear idea of what is happening. I don't know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement," he was quoted as saying in an UK-based newspaper.
So while the different lobbies are fighting over which report is more comprehensive and valid, we the common men are waiting with our fingers ready, lest it be time to press the panic button or is it time already???