Powered by

Home Environment Stories

Climate crisis in Kashmir, rock glacier raises alarm for future disasters: study

A recent study explored how glaciers in the Kashmir Himalaya's Jhelum basin transform into rock glaciers, and it investigated

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Climate crisis in Kashmir, rock glacier raises alarm for future disasters: study

A recent study explored how glaciers in the Kashmir Himalaya's Jhelum basin transform into rock glaciers, and it investigated the distribution of permafrost in the region.

The researchers used high-resolution satellite images and on-the-ground investigations to create a detailed map of 207 rock glaciers in the area, covering approximately 50 square kilometers. Over 100 of these rock glaciers were found to be active. The study also developed a permafrost distribution map based on factors like temperature, solar radiation, and slope aspect.

The findings highlight the significant presence of permafrost in the Himalayan region, raising concerns about potential thawing due to climate warming in the future. This research contributes valuable insights, filling knowledge gaps about permafrost and rock glaciers in the Himalayas.

(a) Features identify active rock glaciers. (b) Features identify relic rock glaciers with gentle slopes. © Features identify relic rock glaciers with vegetation.

In many mountainous areas around the world, rock glaciers are becoming more noticeable because of climate change. These structures contain permafrost that is rich in ice. This is according to Remya and her team of researchers from India and other countries.

The study was published in the American Geophysical Union’s Earth and Space Science journal. The team includes scientists from the Geological Survey of India, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay-Monash Research Academy, Northumbria University in the UK, Indian Space Research Organisation Headquarters, and Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

In general, the Kashmir valley faces deglaciation. However, the southwestern parts, in particular, clearly show a very serious transition from glaciers to rock glaciers, which people consider as the final stage of glaciation in any region.

Study maps melting rock glaciers

In various parts of the world, melting glaciers have transformed into unique landforms called rock glaciers. These formations contain ice-rich permafrost, which refers to ground that stays frozen for at least two consecutive years. Permafrost plays a crucial role in regulating water processes, slope stability, and carbon storage in mountainous areas.

However, the study of permafrost and rock glaciers in the Himalayan region is limited compared to glaciers. This is concerning due to the vulnerability of the region to the impacts of climate change. The Himalayas are rich in water resources, with glaciers and permafrost playing significant roles in hydrological systems.

This research focused on the Jhelum basin in the Kashmir Himalaya and aimed to create a detailed map of rock glaciers and permafrost distribution. The team used satellite images and field investigations to identify and classify rock glaciers based on their surface features.

Field visits observed rock glaciers and related landforms in the Chirsar and Bramsar glacier valleys. This included the upper catchment areas, glacier bifurcation, a large glacial boulder, paired lateral moraines, and a small rock glacier.

The map created in this study aligns well with global permafrost maps, confirming the accuracy of the approach. The elevation of rock glaciers ranged from 3,700 m to 4,550 m, with average surface slopes between 12° to 26°. Most rock glaciers faced south or southeast and occurred in highly elevated regions with steep slopes.

Study analyzes climate change impacts

The research examined the climatic conditions and changes over time in the Jhelum basin, crucial for understanding permafrost and rock glacier dynamics. The Mann-Kendall test was used to analyze the temperature and precipitation trends. The results showed a significant increase in annual mean temperature and precipitation, indicating a warming trend and potential impacts on hydrology and glacial systems.

Rising temperatures could accelerate glacier melt, affecting hydrological systems. Increased precipitation may impact water resources and the overall water balance. These changes have implications for ecosystems, water management, and community livelihoods, highlighting the need for continuous monitoring and adaptation strategies.

View of Pinnacle Peak and Lingsarmo glacier from a road in Jammu and Kashmir. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The study emphasized the importance of further research to explore spatial and temporal temperature and precipitation variability in the Jhelum basin. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for improved water resource management, hazard assessment, and climate change adaptation.

The research achieved its goals by combining remote sensing, field investigations, and modeling techniques. The findings provided insights into permafrost and rock glacier distribution, vulnerability to climate change, and potential risks associated with thawing permafrost.

Climate varies with altitude, location

Researchers conducted the research in the Upper Jhelum Basin in the Pir Panjal region of the Indian Himalaya, specifically in the pink region. This area situates between the latitudes 34° and 35°N and longitudes 73° and 75°E. The Pir Panjal Range, a component of the Western Himalaya, covers 900 square kilometers and features steep slopes and elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 m.

The climate in the Upper Jhelum Basin experiences significant temperature, rainfall, and snowfall variations. Precipitation is highly variable, with the monsoon season contributing most of the rainfall. Temperature decreases with increasing altitude, and precipitation increases with higher altitude.

Thajiwas Glacier, Sonamarg. Photo Credit: Flickr

The climate is characterized by high-altitude, cold desert-like conditions, influenced by the basin's altitude, topography, and location in the Indian Himalaya.

For the study, data collection involved the use of remote sensing data, including high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth Pro for the years 2019–2022. These images helped identify and map rock glaciers in the challenging Himalayan terrain. The ASTER Digital Elevation Model (DEM) provided information on slope, aspect, and elevation of rock glaciers.

Satellite images used to map glaciers

The research used high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth to identify and map rock glaciers in the Jhelum basin. This involved manually mapping each rock glacier's boundaries and features on the images, a time-consuming process requiring a skilled analyst familiar with the terrain.

The rock glaciers were classified into active and relic categories based on their geomorphological features. Active rock glaciers showed ridge and furrow topography, indicating internal deformation due to creep movement, and swollen bodies suggesting ice-rich permafrost. Relic rock glaciers displayed flattened bodies with vegetation cover, indicating the absence of permafrost.

The study contributes valuable insights into the rock glacier distribution, permafrost zonation, and glacial dynamics in the challenging Himalayan region.

Keep Reading

Follow Ground Report for Climate Change and Under-Reported issues in India. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterKoo AppInstagramWhatsapp and YouTube. Write us on [email protected].