Good Snowfall Rejuvenates Himalayan Glaciers

  • Date: 06/12/12
  • Suresh Sharma, The Times of India

With high-altitude mountains in Himachal Pradesh experiencing up to 100 cm fresh snowfall in November month after 10 years, the abundance of snow on mountains has rejuvenated nearly one thousand Himalayan glaciers and has ensured uninterrupted supply of water for drinking, irrigation and hydel projects. 

Himalayan glaciers from space NASA.jpg

Astronauts on board the International Space Station recently took advantage of their unique vantage point to photograph the Himalayas, looking south from over the Tibetan Plateau. Mt. Everest (29,035 feet) is at right. (NASA)

Even after years of research on glaciers and climate of Himalayas, scientists have failed to learn the pattern of the weather here. While scanty snowfall and rising temperature in last decade had sparked the possibilities of fast shrinking of glaciers, good spells of snowfall in last three years have changed the trend with glaciers almost growing to their original size. Some scientists say that despite heavy snowfall in winters, the extreme heat in summers is causing the melting of the glaciers with abnormal speed and others say extreme cold in winters is neutralizing the minor effect of risen temperature in summer. Overall, speed of melting of glaciers has reduced over the past few years only due to good snowfall in winter months.

Bara Shigri, Dhaka, Beas Kund, Sonapani, Gora, Gangstang, Miyad, Gyephang, Bhadal, Chandra, Bhaga, The Lady of Keylong, Nahan, Dudhon, Parbati and Perad are some of the prominent glaciers in Himachal which give birth to hundreds of brooks and rivers. According to scientists, global warming has changed the pattern of snowfall on Himalayas. Though it could be harmful for the weather-cycle, good amount of snowfall help glaciers retain water.

“Global warming is a contentious issue but it’s a reality,” said J C Kuniyal, senior scientist with GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, who is studying the behaviour of Himalayan environment for many years. “It’s good that our receding glaciers are receiving good amount of snow. Glaciers not only play an important role in balancing life of flora and fauna, but presence of snow on mountains also helps in balancing the temperature. Snowfall would give new life to underground water sources,” he said.

The 11-km-long Bara Shigri is the largest glacier in Himachal, but is shrinking very fast. The Dhaka glacier in Chandrabhaga mountain ranges is also losing its length, width and height. This was proved beyond doubt when wreckage of an AN-12 aircraft which remained beneath the glacier since 1968 recently surfaced due to melting of snow. However, the thick layer of fresh snowfall has again built a safety wall on all the glaciers. The extreme cold temperature is another advantage as melting of snow has stopped almost completely.

According to Kuniyal, changing pattern of weather, which is causing extreme weather conditions and shifting of the seasons, is a matter of concern. “Snowfall is good but heavy snowfall in lower and new areas and scanty snowfall on higher areas is sign of global warming. For now, regular spells of snowfall are good for vegetation and hydel projects as there would be enough moisture and water in summer months.”

The Himalayas comprise about 15,000, glaciers which include more than 1,000 glaciers in Himachal and they store around 12,000 cubic kilometres of fresh water. Good snowfall in Himachal is beneficial for Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and other neighbouring provinces, besides Pakistan, which get water from the state.

The Times of India, 3 December 2012

see also:  Some Himalayan glaciers actually growing, scientists find