The Pensilungpa Glacier (PG), located in Zanskar, Ladakh, is receding, and a recent study has attributed the retreat to increased temperatures and decreased rainfall during winters. As the situation in Zanskar illustrates, climate change is affecting communities now. Much of the discussion and funding so far have focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Only 5 per cent of total climate finance has gone to climate change adaptation: adjustments to ecological, social, or economic systems to address the actual or expected effects of climate change.
Climate change is causing mountain snow to melt faster and glaciers to shrink, but this has a wide-ranging impact on Asia’s water supply, according to a new paper Glacio-hydrology of the Himalaya-Karakoram published in the journal Science.
Glaciers in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountains are the main story with some of the region’s annual water supply, particularly in high-altitude mountain valleys and in villages near the glaciers. At more distant points, elevations are lower and glaciers are of reduced importance as a source of annual water supply compared to rainfall and snow melt from mountains.
However, in some of the lower valleys during the drier seasons in the drier parts of the region, glacial water flows remain dominant, and the livelihoods and ability to live of the people there depend on the glaciers.
- Observations over four years (2015-2019) showed that the Pensilungpa Glacier is now retreating at an average rate of around 6 meters per year. This is attributed to an increase in temperature and a decrease in precipitation during winters.
- The study also points to the significant influence of debris cover on the mass balance and retreat of the glacier endpoint, especially in summer.
- The study also suggests that due to the continuous increase in air temperature in line with the global trend, melting would increase, and it is possible that the precipitation of summer periods at higher altitudes changes from snow to rain, and that may influence in summer and winter pattern.
- The Zanskar Valley is a semi-arid region located on the northern flank of the Greater Himalayas at an altitude of over 13,000 feet.
- The Zanskar Range is a mountain range in the Ladakh union territory that separates Zanskar from Ladakh and the average height of the Zanskar Range is about 6,000 m.
- This mountain range acts as a weather barrier protecting Ladakh and Zanskar from most of the monsoon, resulting in pleasantly hot and dry weather in the summer.
- Many rivers originate in different branches of this mountain range, flow north and join the great Indus River. These rivers include the Hanle River, the Khurna River, the Zanskar River, the Suru (Indo) River, and the Shingo River.
- The Zanskar River then takes a northeasterly course until it joins the Indus at Ladakh.
Since 2015, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), Dehradun, an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology, GoI has been working on various aspects of glaciology, i.e. glacier health monitoring (balance of mass), dynamic; discharge, past climatic conditions, speculations about future climate change and its impact on the glaciers of this region. A team of scientists from the institute ventured to study the least explored region of the Himalayas i.e. Zanskar, Ladakh.
Based on field observations of glacier mass balance collected through a stake network (a stake made of bamboo, is installed (inserted) into the glacier surface using the steam drill to measure the mass balance ) on the glacier surface from 2016-2019, assessed the impact of climate change through the lens of the past and present response of the Pensilungpa Glacier (PG), Zanskar Himalaya, Ladakh.
Field observations from the last 4 years (2015–2019) showed that the glacier is now retreating at an average rate of 6.7 ± 3 m a−1. In the study published in the journal Regional Environmental Change, the team attributes the observed recession trends of the Pensilungpa Glacier to increased temperature and decreased rainfall during winters.
However, climate change is not only melting glaciers, it is having a wide and deep impact on overall hydrology from mountains to river deltas. Climate change is altering the amount and distribution of rainfall. Changes in the runoff pattern from both rainfall and glacial melt are expected to increase extreme runoff incidents and the resulting flash floods, landslides, and debris flows.
The study also points to the significant influence of debris cover on the mass balance and retreat of the glacier endpoint, especially in summer. In addition, the mass balance data of the last 3 years (2016-2019) showed a negative trend with a small accumulation area ratio. The study also suggests that due to the continuous increase in air temperature in line with the global trend, melting would increase, and it is possible that the precipitation of summer periods at higher altitudes changes from snow to rain, and that may influence summer and winter patterns.
While there is an urgent need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global and national institutions must also support climate-vulnerable communities to adapt. They are the ones who have had the least to do with creating the problem, but they are bearing the brunt of the consequences.
Community-led solutions will be crucial for successful adaptation. The effects of climate change will not be uniform. Depending on environmental and socioeconomic conditions, different places will experience very different impacts. Adaptation must be tailored to local circumstances. Local communities and organizations are in the best position to lead these efforts. They understand the unique challenges you face, as well as what solutions will be most successful. Also Read Impact of climate change on agriculture in Kashmir
The research team was led by Dr. Mohd. Farooq Azam, assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Indore brought together the results of almost 250 academic papers to arrive at a more precise understanding of the links between climate warming, precipitation change, glacier shrinkage and the flow of water. the rivers.
On a regional scale, the total impact on each year’s water supply varies. The study shows that the impacts of glaciers, meltwater and climate change on glaciers are important components of the Himalaya-Karakoram rivers with greater hydrological importance to the Indus basins than the Ganga and Brahmaputra. This is because the Indus Basin is fed predominantly by monsoon rains and is mainly affected by changes in rainfall patterns. The big story of climate change is how it affects the monsoons.
The Himalayan river basins cover an area of 2.75 million km2 and have the largest irrigated area of 577,000 km2, and the world’s largest installed hydropower capacity of 26,432 MW. The melting of the glaciers satisfies the water requirements of more than one billion people in the region who will be affected when much of the mass of glacial ice melts throughout this century and gradually stops supplying the amount of water required.
The research team’s work builds a stronger consensus about the important roles of glaciers in regulating river flows in the region and how the changing climate is affecting those flows. Important gaps in knowledge remain large and need to be filled in the coming years.
Some of the open questions are: “How does snowfall and glacier health vary between river valleys? How thick are glaciers and how long will they survive in an era of accelerated melting? Why do some glaciers advance even as most of them are shrinking? Geographic variations in glacier health are substantial, and this means that one size does not fit all when future changes are projected.”
A local engineer named Tsewang Norphel recently invented the idea of artificial glaciers in hopes of mitigating this problem and providing a more reliable source of water. Artificial glaciers are essentially large ice reservoirs, created by diverting near-frozen stream water behind rock walls. They are built at lower altitudes than natural glaciers, so as the weather warms during the spring months, they melt sooner and provide crucial water for irrigation during the planting season.
The resilience and ingenuity of the communities here have been incredibly inspiring. Faced with monumental challenges, they continue to strive to find new solutions and struggle to maintain their way of life.
Zanskar is just one example of what communities around the world are facing: heat waves, melting glaciers, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels. Even if we were able to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions today, the amount we’ve already released into the atmosphere has been warming for decades.
Existing financing for climate adaptation falls far short of what is needed. Public financing for adaptation totalled $30 billion in 2018. A tenfold increase is required by 2030 to cover global costs, according to the United Nations Environment Program’s Adaptation Gap Report.
This is not an argument in favour of adaptation over emission reduction. Both are critical and intertwined. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the more difficult it will be to adapt. In Zanskar, without reducing global emissions and soot from local dirty fuels, the glaciers will continue to melt rapidly. But without funds for adaptation, communities already on the edge will be forced to leave their villages.
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