RAPID melting of one of the largest glaciers of Kashmir Himalayas, Kolhai, mainly due to global warming and pollution has evoked concern among the environmentalists who stress for immediate measures to at least minimize its melting rate.
Kolhai has shrunk 18 percent during past three decades due to unprecedented increase in temperature, deforestation, increased activity of Gujjars near the glacier and high levels of pollution caused by the emission of greenhouse gases by military vehicles and cement plants, experts said.
Glaciers are important source of fresh water in Kashmir, and any change in the temperature or winter precipitation in the form of snowfall influences the flow in the hydrological system of the Valley.
Veteran Glaciologist, Prof Syed Iqbal Hasnain, who last year conducted on-the-spot assessment of the Kolhai Glacier told Greater Kashmir that it was receding at a fast pace. "The glacier has developed several crevasses and cracks over the years. Human interference including the Amarnath pilgrimage is one of the reasons for the glacier's recession. Gujjars who are putting up in the glacier's core area are major contributors for its meltdown," Prof Hasnain said. He recommended the rehabilitation of the Gujjars, stopping deforestation and declaring the area from Lidderwath to Kolhai as a National Park.
Prof Hasnain, who is also the chairman of Glacier and Climatic Commission, Govt of Sikkim, said it was for the first time that scientific studies were being conducted on the glacier. "The studies will last for five years after which we will recommend measures to bring down the glacier's recession rate."
He warned that if the glaciers meltdown completely, Kashmir would become a desert. He said sophisticated machinery has been installed at Kohlai. "It will help to measure the rate of shrinkage and other changes in this important source of water. Based on the findings the team will recommend measures for the preservation of the glacier which has shrunk considerably in the past decade."
Commander Satyabrata Dam of Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF), who also visited Kohlai, said it has receded by a few kilometres. "I climbed up to the glacier in 1978. It has shrunk considerably and split at various places. The matter of concern is that it is melting at a fast rate even after the onset of winter," Dam said.
Earlier a study on Kolhai Glacier conducted by remote sensing by the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, revealed that its spatial extent has changed from 19.34 Km² in 1992 to 17.23 Km² in 2001, a net decrease of 2.11 Km² in 10 years. The rate of retreat in 2007 was 21.88 meters in the main snout.
Under Ministry of Environment and Forests, GOI, sponsored research project, Dr. Shakil A Romshoo of Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Kashmir, is conducting detailed glaciological and hydrological studies in the Lidder and Sind basins of the Jhelum.
Romshoo said the glaciated area of Kolhai has undergone drastic changes in the recent past. The glacier area has shrunk from 13.87 sq. km in 1976 to 11.24 sq. km in 2006. In 1999, it was spread over an area of 12.98 sq. km and shrunk to 11.79 sq. km in 2001.
"Eighteen percent of the glacier was lost during the last 30 years. The observations and hydrological simulations from the Lidder and Sind rivers are showing increased discharge trends due to increase in glacier melt runoff, and the snow cover has progressively declined in both the basins," he said.
He said the integrated study is focused on assessing the long term impacts of the snow and glacier depletion, erratic snowfall in the region and increased anthropogenic pressures on the ecosystem services particularly the availability of water for drinking water and irrigation in the Kashmir Valley.
A study on glacier recession in Kashmir by Muneer Ahmad, an environmental expert from the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, says the Kolhai Glacier has been shrinking since the start of 19th century. But in the last decade it has been receding quite fast.
The study says several small glaciers have disappeared completely in some areas, the thickness of glaciers has reduced by more than two-thirds, and most of the springs in the Valley have dried up, and the remaining are drying up.
"The quantity of snowfall has been clearly reduced over the last some decades. Cement plants in the Kashmir Valley are producing heat-trapping gases that could lead to no snow in the plains in the next two decades," the study says.
The study further reveals that more than 300 military convoys producing high-level green house gases move across the Valley everyday. "The gases emitted by these vehicles disturb the atmosphere of the Valley. The annual Amaranth Yatra is proving disastrous to the fragile environment of the area," it states.
The study states that receding of the glaciers has increased the amount of sediments in Lidder catchment in Pahalgam. Lidder Valley forms base of the two main ice fields, the Kolahoi and Shesram. And it is the source of two main upper streams, the West and East Lidder that join near Pahalgam. The study underscores the need for a detailed data on the sediments from glaciated zone.
MINUS KOLHAI, KASHMIR WILL BECOME A DESERT
The glacier has developed several crevasses and cracks over the years. Human interference including the Amarnath pilgrimage is one of the reasons for the glacier's recession. Gujjars who are putting up in the glacier's core area are major contributors for its meltdown. If the glacier melts down completely, Kashmir will become a desert.