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Event Details

Glacier Melting event report

Category: Glacier Melting
Observation: 18.01.2010
Continent: Asia
Country: India
Area: Himalayan glaciers
Severity: Hight
Event details
India's Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh Monday said “I was right on the glaciers” while maintaining that the Himalayan glaciers are "indeed" receding, which is a cause for great concern, but the view that these rivers of ice would melt down completely by 2035 due to global warning is "alarmist" and without any scientific basis. "It is a clear vindication of our position. (But) It is a serious issue. (Himlayan) glaciers are serious issues for India. Most of the Himalayan glaciers are in a poor state, but the report that suggested that the glaciers will vanish completely by 2035 is alarmist and misplaced," Ramesh told reporters in New Delhi. He maintained that the causes for the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas needs to be carefull studies. Ramesh was referring to the study by the Nobel prize winning group - United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 had - that claimed that most of the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. The Rajendra Pachauri-led UN panel had warned that the melting of glaciers would have far-reaching consequences for India. However, new evidence has emerged to suggest that the IPCC may have been mistaken. The IPCC's claim was based on an article in a London-based science journal which had borrowed the statement from India's glaciologist Syed Iqbal Hasnain. “The study was not made on any scientific evidence,” a very happy sounding minister. WWF-India Climate Change and Energy Programme chief Shirish Sinha admitted that there are "limitations to scientific models used for such studies." "We need to look at new data and study. The larger issue is the coming of scientific data which is not validated," said Sinha. The report was based on compilation of papers. We regret the report that was put out. The information used in the report was not validated and the predictions were based on scientific models. What WWF has seen is that smaller glaciers are more vulnerable but larger ones are not that vulnerable," Sinha has been quoted as saying by CNN-IBN television channel. A little-known scientist Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Syed Husnain who first issued the doomsday warning, has admitted that it was based on a news story in a science journal. Pachauri, however, washed his hands off the report saying Husnain was not working with him but in the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) when he published it. "Husnain was with JNU when the report was published in 1999. I am not responsible for what he did in his past, can't say anything now. Have to assess facts first," Pachauri replied when asked if the misleading report was an embarrassment for The Energy and Resources Institute. Just before the Copenhagen Climate Summit, Minister Ramesh had said that there was no conclusive scientific evidence to link global warming to what had been happening to the Himalayan glaciers. Indian scientist have been maintaining that the glaciers in the Himalayas were retreating while refusing to hazard a guess whether it was due to global warming or just cyclical phenomenon. A leading space scientist said last month that satellite images of the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas show that its snowline has receded by 1.5 kilometers in the past 30 years. The report also said that Alpine vegetation has now started growing at a higher altitude than it used to a few decades ago. According to R.R. Navalgund, director of Space Application Centre at Ahmedabad,: "We have looked at snowy glaciers, some of them in the past 20 years, specially the ones at lower latitudes and altitudes, have retreated. It is difficult to say whether it is due to global climate change. It could be a part of the inter-glacial period and other related phenomena," he said. Gangotri glacier is located in Uttarakhand state region that borders China. The glacier is the sources of River Ganges, considered a holy waterway by the Hindus in India. The glacier is about 30 kilometers long (19 miles) and 2 to 4 km (1 to 2 mi) wide. India in December created an international row when it challenged a globally accepted view that the Himalayan glaciers were receding due to global warming by publishing a discussion paper which says that the glaciers, although shrinking in volume and constantly showing a retreating front, have not in any way exhibited any abnormal annual retreat of the order that some glaciers in Alaska and Greenland have reported. Brought out by V.K. Raina, a former Deputy Director-General of the Geological Survey of India, for the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the discussion paper called “Glacial Studies, Glacial Retreat and Climate Change” on the Himalayan glaciers points out that it was premature to make a statement that the glaciers were retreating abnormally because of global warming. The study says a glacier is affected by a range of physical features and a complex interplay of climatic factors, and it is, therefore, unlikely that the snout movement of any glacier can be claimed to be the result of periodic climate variation until many centuries of observations become available. While glacier movements are primarily due to climate and snowfall, snout movements appear to be peculiar to each glacier, the paper adds. Releasing the documents, Minister Ramesh had said that while most Himalayan glaciers were retreating, some were advancing as well. This included the Siachen glacier, also located in the Himalayas. “Some glaciers are retreating at a declining rate, like the Gangotri glacier and the overall health of the Himalayan glaciers was poor as the debris cover had reached alarming proportions,” he said, citing the paper. The minister, who studied engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) maintains that there is no conclusive scientific evidence to show that global warming was resulting in the glacial retreats. He says that contrary to what most believe, there can be no comparison between the Arctic glaciers and the Himalayan glaciers, as the former are at a sea-level and the latter at a very high altitude. The Himalayan glaciers feed major rivers flowing through India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. “If we see the cumulative average of rate of retreat over the past 100 years, no glacier has deviated from that,” said Raina. Using the Gangotri glacier as an example, Raina said: “This glacier is 30km long. Even if we assume it retreats at the rate of 30m a year, it will still take 1,000 years to disappear.” The IPCC, which is the leading body for assessing climate change and established by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization, attributed the receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers primarily to global warming. Pachauri had blasted the Indian research, calling it "unsubstantiated" and said “ We do need more extensive measurement of the Himalayan range but it is clear from satellite pictures what is happening." He likened the explanations to "climate change deniers and school boy science". Raina admits in his paper that there is a lack of available data. For the moment long-term data exists for only 20 to 30 Himalayan glaciers and that there was only one automated weather station recording climatic data in the Himalayas, he said. According to Raina, all glaciers under observation in the Himalayan region during the past three decades have shown cumulative negative mass balance (determined by annual snow precipitation). Degradation of the glacier mass has been the highest in Jammu and Kashmir state, relatively lower in Himachal Pradesh region, even less in Uttarakhand, and the lowest in Sikkim — showing a declining trend from the north-west to the north-east. Irrespective on latitudinal difference, glacier melt contributes to about 25-30 per cent of the total discharge of glacier ice, with maximum discharge in mid-July and August.
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