A spike in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), temperature, black carbon and other pollutants in the atmosphere is taking a toll on the glaciers in the pristine Drass region in Western Himalayas’ Ladakh, a team of Indian scientists has said, warning that a ‘business as usual’ scenario may wipe them out forever.
The long-term consequences of shrinking glaciers will affect the downstream community in the Indus basin, which encompasses Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and a part of Rajasthan, Haryana, and Chandigarh, the scientists from Kashmir University warned.
On the basis of the satellite study of around 77 glaciers, they said that situated in the Drass region, these have thinned by 1.27 metres due to soaring temperatures and black carbon (or soot, a component of particulates) which has risen from 330 nanograms to 680 nanograms in the period between 1984-2020.
“If this current trend continues in the future, the Himalayan glaciers may disappear entirely.
This will have a significant impact on regional water supplies, hydrological processes, ecosystem services and transboundary water sharing,” the researchers said in the study published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research on SpringerLink platform.
The study aimed to investigate the shrinkage, snout retreat, ice thickness changes, mass loss and velocity changes of these glaciers between 2000 to 2020.
Earth Scientist and glaciologist, Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, who has co-authored the study ‘Anthropogenic climate change drives melting of glaciers in the Himalaya’, said that there is a direct link between black carbon and the melting of glaciers.
“Climate change has two components — one is natural and another is anthropogenic. Broadly anthropogenic climate change is all about increasing greenhouse gases and pollutants the world over,” Romshoo said.
Through this study, “we have tried to establish a link between greenhouse gases, black carbon and increased glacial melt in the Himalayas,” he said.“Black carbon deposition on glaciers decreases the reflectivity of the ice surface resulting in faster ice melt. Likewise, increasing black carbon concentration in the atmosphere increases radiative forcing and upon deposition on glaciers absorbs solar radiation, ultimately playing a part in fast-melting of snow cover and glaciers in the mountains,” he was quoted as saying by Mongabay, a news platform.
The other authors of the study include Khalid Omar Murtaza, Waheed Shah, Tawseef Ramzan, Ummer Ameen and Mustafa Hameed Bhat, all from Kashmir University.
“In Kashmir, a major factor for the increase in black carbon is the burning of pruned branches of orchard trees in autumn and woody biomass for heating in winter mainly driven by economic considerations as the horticulture sector gives 5-6 times more monetary benefits to farmers than paddy cultivation,” he said.
As a solution, Romshoo suggested that the pruned branches of orchard trees can be converted into high calorific wood pellets, which would help to meet the demand for wood for heating during harsh winters when the temperature dips to several degrees below zero in the valley.