Retreating of Glaciers in Ladakh

by Sep 3, 2021Energy & Environment0 comments

Arecent study has revealed that the Pensilungpa Glacier (PG), located in Zanskar, Ladakh, is retreating.

The retreat has been attributed to an increase in the temperature and decrease in precipitation during winters.

Since 2015, the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), Dehradun, an autonomous institute under the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India, has been working on various aspects on glaciology, i.e., glacier health (mass balance) monitoring, dynamics; discharge, past climatic conditions, speculation for future climate change and its impact on glaciers in this region. A team of scientists from the institute ventured to study the less explored region of the Himalayas, i.e., Zanskar, Ladakh.

Based on field observations for glaciers mass balance collected via stake networking (stake made of bamboo, is installed (insert) on the glacier surface using the steam drill for mass balance measurement) over the glacier surface since 2016-2019, they assessed the impact of climate change through the lens of past and present response of the Pensilungpa Glacier (PG), Zanskar Himalaya, Ladakh.

Field observations for the last 4 years (2015–2019) showed that the glacier is now retreating by 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 recessional trends of the Pensilungpa Glacier to an increase in the temperature and decrease in precipitation during winters.

The study also points at the significant influence of debris cover on the mass balance and retreat of the glacier’s endpoint, especially in summer.

Furthermore, the mass balance data for the last 3 years (2016–2019) showed a negative trend with a small accumulation area ratio.

The study also suggests that due to continuous rise in the air temperature in line with the global trend, the melting would increase, and it is possible that the precipitation of summer periods at higher altitudes will change from snow to rain, and that may influence the summer and winter pattern.

Another study made in 2014 had shown in the Nubra valley nestled in the Karakorum Mountains of Ladakh that houses about 600 glaciers of various dimensions, small-sized glaciers outnumbered the large-sized glaciers.

Almost 52.6% of the studied glaciers were of the size less than 5 km and 31.5% of the total glaciers were between the size of 5 and 10 km.

The monitoring of the glaciers was based on the study of Survey of India topographical sheets of 1969 and satellite imageries of time series between 1989 and 2001. The monitoring of thirty glaciers showed that 17 glaciers have lost their area between 1969 and 2001.

The loss in area is from 2150 km2 in 1969 to 2026 km2 in 2001.

The study of eighty- four glaciers on short-term basis between 1989 and 2001 suggested that 26 glaciers have retreated, 25 glaciers have advanced and 33 glaciers show no change during the time period.

The changes in the glaciers , obviously affect people in various ways.

Glaciers provide drinking water. People living in arid climates near mountains often rely on glacial melt for their water for part of the year. Many of the rivers coursing through China, India, and other parts of the Asian continent are fed largely by snowmelt from the Himalaya, but in late summer a significant part of riverflow comes from melting glaciers.

Demand for glacier water has increased in other, perhaps less expected ways, too. Some beverage companies sell bottles of glacial meltwater, and ice cubes made of glacier ice are popular in some specialty drinks.

Glaciers irrigate crops. Over a thousand years ago, farmers in Asia knew that dark colors absorb solar energy. So they spread dark-colored materials such as soil and ashes over snow to promote melting, and this is how they watered their crops during dry periods.

In fact, in Ladakh, successful experiments have been made in creating several small, artificial glaciers to provide more water for crops and drinking during seasonal dry periods.

These man-made glaciers are situated in areas to catch large amounts of water that would otherwise flow away, and will have temperatures low enough to freeze that water over the winter. Warm summer weather slowly melts these glaciers, releasing a steady supply of water.

Glaciers help generate hydroelectric power. Scientists and engineers in Norway, central Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and South America have worked together to tap into glacial resources, using electricity that has been generated in part by damming glacial meltwater. This can be attempted in Ladakh too.

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