Indian Institutes Monitor Himalayan Glaciers Amid Accelerated Melting

Indian institutions funded by various ministries observe accelerated melting of Himalayan glaciers due to climate change and global warming.
Indian Institutes Monitor Himalayan Glaciers Amid Accelerated Melting

NEW DELHI: In response to concerns about the accelerated melting of Himalayan glaciers, Union Minister of Earth Sciences, Kiren Rijiju, highlighted the efforts of several Indian institutes and organizations in monitoring these glaciers. Funded by the Government of India through various ministries like the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Department of Science & Technology (DST), Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Department of Space (DoS), Ministry of Mines (MoM), and Ministry of Jal Shakti (MoJS), these institutions conduct scientific studies on glacier melting and its impacts on the region.

According to Rijiju's written reply in the Rajya Sabha, the data collected by these institutes indicate heterogeneous mass loss in the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers. The mean retreat rate of these glaciers is 14.9 ± 15.1 meters per annum, varying in different river basins. Glaciers in the Indus basin retreat at a rate of 12.7 ± 13.2 meters per annum, while those in the Ganga basin retreat at 15.5 ± 14.4 meters per annum, and the Brahmaputra basin glaciers at 20.2 ± 19.7 meters per annum. Interestingly, glaciers in the Karakoram region show relatively stable conditions with minor length changes of -1.37 ± 22.8 meters per annum.

One significant monitoring initiative is carried out by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. NCPOR has been observing six glaciers in the Chandra basin of the western Himalaya since 2013. The state-of-the-art field research station called 'Himansh,' operational since 2016, facilitates field experiments and expeditions to glaciers. The glacier inventory prepared by NCPOR for the Chandra basin reveals that the area has lost about 6% of its glacial area in the last 20 years, amounting to 2.4 to 9 meters water equivalent (m w.e.) of ice mass during 2013-2021. Similarly, glaciers in the Bhaga basin lost a significant ice mass ranging from 6 to 9 m w.e. between 2008 and 2021. The annual rate of retreat of glaciers in the Chandra basin varied from 13 to 33 meters per year during the last decade.

Other institutions, such as the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) under the DST, have also contributed to cryospheric research. They utilize satellite data and ground-based observations to study glacier dynamics, hydrology, and hazards. WIHG has observed an overall retreat of glaciers in the Garhwal Himalaya with variable rates of melting and retreat based on factors like topography, climate, and debris cover. For instance, Dokriani Glacier in the Bhagirathi basin experiences a retreat rate of 15-20 meters per year, while Chorabari Glacier in the Mandakini basin retreats at 9-11 meters per year. Similarly, Durung-Drung and Pensilungpa glaciers in the Suru basin show retreat rates of ~12 and ~5.6 meters per year, respectively.

Space Application Centre (SAC) of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has mapped 5234 glaciers in the Himalayan-Karakoram (H-K) region using primarily IRS LISS III data. This mapping has revealed varied loss in glacier area in the region. Additionally, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and various institutes and universities funded by DST have conducted mass balance studies on numerous glaciers, concluding that most Himalayan glaciers are melting and retreating at different rates across regions.

Rijiju emphasized that glacier melting is a natural process linked to global warming and climate change. While Indian institutions are diligently monitoring and studying Himalayan glaciers using both field and remote sensing data to understand their response comprehensively, no specific suggestions for preserving these glaciers have been reported.


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