Environmental balance on thin ice

Ice acts as a protective blanket over the Earth and our oceans. These bright white dots reflect excess heat back into space and keep the planet cooler. In theory, the Arctic stays colder than the equator because more of the sun’s heat is reflected off the ice, back into space. Glaciers around the world can range from ice hundreds to thousands of years old and provide a scientific record of climate change over time. Through their study, we gain valuable insight into how rapidly the planet is warming. They provide scientists with a record of how the climate has changed over time.

Today, about 10% of the Earth’s land area is covered in glacial ice. Nearly 90% is in Antarctica, while the remaining 10% is in the Greenland Ice Sheet. Rapid glacial melting in Antarctica and Greenland also influences ocean currents, as massive amounts of very cold glacial meltwater entering warmer ocean waters slow ocean currents. And as the ice on land melts, sea levels will continue to rise.

All this does not force us to rethink our activity. But, recently, news of rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers caught our attention. It is said that in a few decades, all the glaciers of the Himalayas could disappear, including that of Everest. The Indian government is aware of and maintains data regarding the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. Various Indian institutes, universities, organizations (Geological Survey of India (GSI), Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), National Center for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Space Application Center (SAC) , Indian Institute of Science (IISc), etc.) monitor Himalayan glaciers for various scientific studies including glacier melting and reported accelerated heterogeneous mass loss in Himalayan glaciers.

The average rate of retreat of the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers is only increasing rapidly and is affecting flows in the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins. However, glaciers in the Karakoram region showed a relatively minor change in length indicating a stable state. The University of Leeds has reconstructed the size and ice surfaces of 14,798 Himalayan glaciers during the Little Ice Age, 400 to 700 years ago. The study concludes that Himalayan glaciers have been losing ice ten times faster in recent decades than on average since the last major glacier expansion.

Over the past 400 to 700 years, glaciers have lost about 40% of their surface area, going from 28,000 km2 to about 19,600 km2. The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), through its autonomous institute NCPOR, has since 2013 been monitoring six glaciers in the Chandra basin (area of ​​2437 km2) in the western Himalayas. GSI undertook a glacier melting project in the Beas Basin, south Chenab Basin and Chandra Basin in Himachal Pradesh, Shyok Basin and Nubra in Ladakh during the 2021-22 field season. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has supported various R&D projects for the study of Himalayan glaciers under the National Mission for Himalayan Ecosystem Maintenance (NMSHE) and the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change (NMSKCC).

Mass balance studies conducted for some Himalayan glaciers by the University of Kashmir, University of Sikkim, IISc and WIHG, revealed that the majority of Himalayan glaciers are melting or retreating at varying rates. Statistics from other reports are similar. None of this is good news for the people of the subcontinent. What future will the countries that live in the past have?