The disaster in Uttarakhand has once again turned the spotlight on climate change and its impact on ecology. On February 7, a portion of Nanda Devi glacier broke off, leading to severe floods which washed away villages and damaged power plants. Around 200 people are still missing, and many of them are now feared dead.
Though the actual cause of the glacier burst is being probed, scientists for long have warned that glaciers are disappearing from the Earth and global warming, especially in the last three decades, is a major reason behind it. As the world is getting hotter, ice caps on mountains are melting rapidly.
Experts warn at this rate, the Himalayas might lose one-third of its glaciers by the end of this century. This is bound to be catastrophic for two billion people residing in and around the mountain range in India and neighbouring countries.
In July 2020, experts had warned about melting of glaciers in the Nanda Devi region. A study by IIT Kanpur and Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology shows nearly 26 square kilometres of the glaciated area of Nanda Devi region was lost in 37 years.
“Our study reveals that the glaciers of the valley lost 26 km² (10%) of the glaciated area between 1980 and 2017. The total glacierized area in 2017 is 217 km², which is 26% of the total area. However, during the same periods (1980-2017) the Equilibrium Line Altitude (ELA) of the glaciers fluctuated between 5200 and 5700 m asl (metres above sea level). The present study suggests that the glaciers in the region have responded to deprived precipitation conditions since 1980,” the study published in July 2020 said.
Climate change is driving temperatures up dramatically in India and the world. India has witnessed more than half degree Celsius rise in average temperature in the last 10 years, while global temperature reported anomalies of about one degree Celsius.
India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) analysed Berkeley Earth data to track temperature change in Indian and global cities. Data shows almost all major cities are witnessing a rise in average temperature.
“The global mean temperature in 2020 is estimated to have been 1.27 °C (2.29 °F) above the average temperature of the late 19th century,” Berekeley Earth, a climate research institute, said in its global report of 2020.
The last six years stand out in terms of temperature rise in 200 years. The rising temperature has put global ice caps and glaciers at higher risk. However, scientists are divided on whether global warming is responsible for such disaster as witnessed in Uttarakhand.
“Preliminary investigations show that the event in Uttarakhand is caused by a landslide. It would require more research on this to conclude if it was a man-made disaster. A similar event had happened in the region around 2016 (probably with lesser impact) which indicates that this is a very sensitive region,” independent researcher Raj Bhagat Palanichamy told India Today.
“Even though the causality of the event is debated, the effects of the disaster are because of human interventions. The deaths would not have happened if we avoid building such massive infrastructure projects in sensitive areas,” Palanichamy added.
On the other hand, Professor AP Dimri of the School of Environmental Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “There is a chance of formation of a glacial lake, which got ruptured somehow and a flash flood occurred.”
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