WWF India: Smaller glaciers more vulnerable

New Delhi, India –Smaller glaciers in the Himalayas are proving much more vulnerable to climate change impacts than previously thought, with significant implications for the livelihood and freshwater supplies of millions, according to a new report by WWF-India and Birla Institute of Technology (BIT).

Witnessing Change: Glaciers in the Indian Himalayas analyses continuing monitoring of two central Himalayan glaciers since 2006, trying to overcome the lack of baseline data on glaciers that is hampering studies of this key climate indicator. 

The cracking - and - retreating snout of Gangotri Glacier. But smaller glaciers and significantly, their tributaries, are retreating faster in the face of climate change-© Rajesh Kumar/BIT

One of the glaciers studies is Gangotri, a 30 km long glacier famed and sacred as a principle source of the Ganges. Overall, nearly 30 percent of Ganges water comes from snow and glacier melt, with variations in snowfalls, melt rates and flow regimes having potentially profound effects across a huge area of northern India.

Kafni Glacier, whose now separate elments are 4.2 kilometres long, also empties into the headwaters of the Ganges.  Kafni is not only losing ice faster than Gangotri but its former and now hanging tributaries are losing ice faster still.

“need . . . to better predict future water resource scenarios”

“The rapid decline of smaller glaciers is of concern,” said Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO of WWF-India.    “These glaciers are perhaps more vulnerable to local climate variations.”

“We see a need for more long- term and continuous assessment to monitor the hydro-meteorological parameters existing in the vicinity of glaciers in order to better predict future water resource scenarios.”

The WWF study explores how the glaciers in the Indian Himalayas are going through change by using scientific data as well as empirical evidence of ground level parameters. In order to understand the impact of hydro-meteorological parameters, the team has installed two automated weather stations– one at Bhojwasa near Gangotri and another in Kafni.

The initial results from the field study indicate that the Himalayan glaciers are retreating, but at a reduced rate and the larger glaciers like Gangotri are unlikely to disappear in near future, due to their large mass balance.

Smaller glaciers like Kafni are not only retreating at a faster rate, but are losing more of their glaciated portion and tributary glaciers- a trend which has been observed across the Himalayas for many other smaller glaciers as well.

Changing cropping patterns

The new research says that the impacts of glacier retreat on the livelihoods of people, ecosystems and biodiversity have been underestimated so far. It confirms visible changes in the social and economic dimensions of the Himalayan region, in addition to the climatic variations that this phenomenon is causing.

Communities living closer to Gangotri have indicated changes in snowfall levels in the winter months resulting in less soil moisture, which in turn is changing cropping patterns and availability of water.

“Witnessing Change shows that while science has provided evidence of changes in glaciers, anecdotal evidence and observations of the communities provide evidence of how communities are coping and managing with change,” said Ravi Singh.

The report discusses the areas of focus needed as way forward, which includes enhancing the monitoring of smaller glaciers, addressing the data challenge, development of regional climate models and engagement of communities in developing suitable adaptation responses.



One Response to WWF India: Smaller glaciers more vulnerable

  1. mspelto says:

    People forget how important these glaciers are to hydropower as well. In 2005 the Tehri Dam was finished on the Bhagirathi River, it is a 2400 mw facility that began producing hydropower in 2006. The headwaters of the Bhagirathi River is the Gangotri and Khatling Glacier, Garhwal Himalaya.

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