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Glaciers in India – Are Himalayan Glaciers really melting?

Glaciers are considered to act as the sensors of climate change. Out of the 3% freshwater available on earth, 67% is stored in glaciers and ice caps. Himalayan glaciers alone supply an estimated 30-40% of the water to the Ganges which is particularly critical in the dry season prior to the Monsoon rains in India.

Glaciers are the result of continuous snow falls over large period of time that compresses into large, thickened ice masses. Put simply, a glacier is a mass of ice on land and forms when snow remains in one location for a long time so that it transforms into ice.

Glaciers constitute the frozen part of the earth i.e. cryosphere and are very important to study the effects of climate change. Glaciological studies give valuable insights on the earth’s changing climatic patterns. Earth’s climate is dramatic and keeps on  changing continuously.  Earth’s cryosphere has a lot of information stored in various layers of ice.  Ice in the glaciers contains detailed records of past climate in the form of air bubbles that capture samples of the earth’s ancient atmosphere.

Globally, glaciers occupied about 10% of the world’s total land area. 96% of all glacial ice on this planet is in Antarctica and Greenland which is around 84% and 12% respectively. As per the latest data provided by the Geological Survey of India, Ministry of Mines, Government of India, Indian Himalaya contains 9,575 glaciers distributed in the States of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Gangotri glacier is alone more than 30 km long and covers an area of about 148 sq km.


List of major Glaciers in India;

List of glaciers of India


The scientists around the world have expressed concern on the effects of climate change on glaciers. Many scientific studies have proven that the warming earth’s temperature is the main culprit in the unusual melting of Glaciers. As the earth’s climate is very dynamic in nature, a small variation in the climatic parameters can cause major variations over a period of time. Climate is the long-term statistical expression of short-term weather. We can call climate as an ‘expected weather’ and when changes in the expected weather occur, it results in climate change. Changes in climate can increase the temperature and dramatically alter the planet’s snow and ultimately affects the cryosphere.

Are Indian Glaciers really melting?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the Indian Government in its fourth assessment report that the Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than in any other part of the world and could disappear altogether by 2035. In 2009, former environment minister Mr. Jayram Ramesh denied IPCC study and said, “There is no conclusive scientific evidence to link global warming with what is happening in the Himalayan glaciers.”

IPPC controversy on the melting of Himalayan glaciers was just disappearing and in year 2010, Dr A.K. Dubey, Director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WITG) has rejected the Global Warming Theory and told that the Himalayas are quite safer zone on earth, where Global Warming has no role in controlling the conditions (Hindustan Times, 06th March, 2010). However, there are still many other researches show that the Himalayan glaciers are melting at an alarming rate.  As per the latest report published in 2011 by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Himalayan glaciers appear to be shrinking in both the central and eastern Himalayas.

Indian scientist Mr. V.K. Raina explained that the most of the scientific literature available on the Himalayan glaciers is based on the rate of the glacial loss. Many scientists used the rate of glacial loss from other parts of the world to the Himalayas irrespective to the geography of the region. Himalayan glaciers are located at very high altitudes and form a completely different climatic system.

Are Himalayan glaciers really melting or not still remains an unanswered question but one thing is sure that the climate change studies cannot reach to a conclusion based on the data for very short period.  Long term data on climatic parameters are critically important for climate change researches.

Ref: Geological Survey of India, Ministry of Mines, Government of India, Hindustan Times

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