Known for its serene environment, Kashmir has been witnessing erratic climate for the last several years.
The valley has been witnessing heavy spells of snow in winter. In March and April, Kashmir received incessant spells of rain and suddenly in June, there was dry spell amid scorching temperatures.
On June 23, Srinagar recorded its hottest June day after 18 years at 35.0 degree Celsius. This matches the previous record set on June 3, 2018, when the temperature also reached 35.0°C. Famous hill station Pahalgam in south Kashmir recorded 30.2 degree Celsius, the second highest maximum temperature in June in 15 years.
Indicators of climate change in Kashmir are visible. Heavy spells of snow, rains and heat waves coupled with sudden windstorms and hailstorms point towards serious climatic changes. Kashmir is from last month witnessing high temperature resulting in heavy discharge in water bodies. Director of Meteorological Department (MeT), J&K, Sonam Lotus took to twitter to share his surprise over the rapid melting of snow cover.
“How much Snow cover has been lost in 102 days (March 14–July 2023) in J&K and Ladakh? Observe the difference. Rapid #melting, especially after June 21st. See the pink color which rep. Snow,” Lotus wrote on his twitter handle showing two comparative satellite pictures of loss of snow cover.
What is more concerning is rapid melting of glaciers in Kashmir mainly due to increase in temperature. Summer heat waves contributed significantly to high glacier melting. Studies indicate that Kolahoi, the largest glacier of Kashmir valley’s Jhelum Basin, is retreating rapidly due to spurt rise in temperature triggered by global warming and extreme pollution.
Thajiwas, Hoksar, Nehnar, Shishram, and glaciers around Harmukh are also retreating slowly. Glaciologists on the basis of studies state that during the last few years, glacier melting in Kashmir and Ladakh region has been highest as compared to the rest of the Himalaya and the Alps.
Kolahoi Glacier has lost almost 23 percent of its area since 1962 and has fragmented into smaller parts. In the last over a decade, the average mass balance of the glacier has increased recently. Kolahai is losing mass at the rate of about 1.0 m water equivalent annually, which is significantly higher than the glaciers in the rest of the Himalayas. Experts fear that mass loss of glaciers is expected to exacerbate in future as a result of projected climate changes. Subsequently this will further diminish the stream flow of trans-boundary rivers emanating from the region.
The problem is compounded by below-normal snowfall during last winter accompanied by high winter temperatures. Kashmir valley is bound by Pir Panjal and Greater Himalayan mountain ranges and these do not allow air masses to find an escape route. Temperature inversion in late Autumn and Winter restricts vertical mixing of air and triggers build-up of haze primarily comprising dust (PM10 and PM2.5) and smoke (black carbon). As a matter of concern, the PM2.5 concentration in Srinagar’s air on January 9 this year was 28.2 µg/m³, which is 5.6 times over the World Health Organisation’s air quality values.
Experts blame unprecedented increase in temperature, deforestation, increasing human activities, constructions in eco-fragile zones and high levels of pollution caused by the emission of greenhouse gases by vehicles and cement plants for retreating of Kolhai Glacier. The glacier has developed several crevasses and cracks over the years.
Prominent earth scientist, Prof Shakil Romshoo cautions that given the projected climate change across the Kashmir Himalayan region, “glacier mass loss could enhance with serious implications for regional water availability. He states that this will also hit hydrological regimes and trans-boundary sharing of waters emanating from the region, particularly during the lean period, when glacier melt dominates the stream flow.
Food, energy, and water security as well as the dependent livelihoods particularly downstream will be significantly impacted by the melting of glaciers. It is also projected that the glacier-melt contribution to stream flow in the Indus Basin will further diminish in the future.
This will have an impact on the hydrograph, especially during summer and autumn seasons. Srinagar city’s future climate under Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) 245 scenario suggests accumulated rainfall is projected to increase by 55 mm/year in near future and by 85 mm/year in far future. In the SSP-585 scenario the accumulated rainfall is projected to increase by 87 mm/year and 225 mm/year in the near and far future respectively.
“Under SSP-245 scenario in near future the maximum and minimum temperature is projected to increase by 1.22°C and 1.25°C respectively. In far future, under the SSP-245 scenario the maximum and minimum temperature is going to increase by 2.51°C and 2.48°C respectively.
Under SSP-585 scenario in near-future the maximum and minimum temperature are projected to increase by 1.42°C and 1.47°C respectively while the upsurge is on the higher end by 4.30°C and 4.51°C in the far-future.” India is a signatory to the Paris Agreement and has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The Paris Agreement is an international agreement that aims to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial levels. An Independent weather forecaster Faizan Arif Keng states that the weather patterns in Kashmir observed this year have displayed a notable level of unpredictability, which is consistent with the trend observed over the past decade.
“The underlying cause behind these erratic changes can be attributed to climate change. The winter season witnessed below-average snowfall, and the first half of spring remained predominantly dry. However, the weather patterns suddenly shifted in the latter half of spring, with frequent occurrences of rain, hailstorms, and thunderstorms. Additionally, temperatures remained below average, with approximately 35 out of 45 days being partly to mostly cloudy,” he explains.
These conditions continued in the first week of June. This all led to considerable losses to the horticulture and agriculture sectors. Paddy crops, as well as cherry and apple orchards, suffered significant damage as a consequence Keng states that following the cold weather, there was another abrupt change in the weather conditions, transitioning to sunny days with pleasant weather.
“However, as time progressed, temperatures continued to rise, resulting in a heatwave hitting the Kashmir region after June 20th. Daytime temperatures consistently stayed above the normal range by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius.”
“The recurring and drastic alterations in weather conditions each month and every year, which we are presently observing, are considerably abnormal and diverge from the typical patterns of weather fluctuations. It is evident that climate change is the principal driving force behind these shifts. These circumstances indicate that we are heading towards a potentially disastrous situation, with profound consequences anticipated for Kashmir in the next decade,” Keng cautions.
“The likelihood of more extreme weather events unfolding is high, thereby posing a substantial threat of further damage.” The Department of Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing, (J&K), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have prepared a Climate Resilient City Action Plan (CRCAP) for Srinagar City.
The CRCAP aids the government in estimating greenhouse gas emissions, identifying vulnerability hotspots, understanding critical infrastructure systems with respect to resilience, and developing specific climate change mitigation and adaptation plans while promoting sustainable development.
The CRCAP for Srinagar typically includes a thorough analysis of climate change risks, and GHG emissions, identifying priority areas for action, and developing action plans that include specific measures to boost the resilience and adaptive capacity of Srinagar city.
Green House Emissions of Srinagar city have increased at an estimated CAGRof~0.96% from 591.67 kilotons of CO2 equivalent (ktCO2 e) in 2005 to 676.09 kt CO2 e in 2019. As per CRCAP, the energy sector was the major contributor of GHG emissions in Srinagar city’s total economy wide emissions across all the reference years, contributing an average of 80% to economy-wide emissions.
Emissions from the energy sector increased from 479.51 kt CO2 e in 2005 to 538.14 kt CO2 e in 2019 and emissions from the waste sector increased from 67.11 kt CO2 e in 2005 to 108.77 kt CO2 e in 2019. In contrast, emissions from the AFOLU sector decreased from 45.05 kt CO2 e to 29.18 kt CO2 e.
Despite the increase in the total GHG emissions of Srinagar city, its per capita emissions decreased between 2005 and 2019, with a CAGR of 1.17% from 0.57 t CO2 e/capita in 2005 to 0.48 t CO2 e/capita in 2019. Under the BAU scenario, the emissions are expected to increase almost ~13% by 2030 from 2019 level.
As per projections, the Energy sector will be the key driver of emissions in the city, accounting for ~78% of the total GHG emissions in 2030.
Though global warming cannot be controlled, there are several measures that can be taken at the local level. There is a need to go for sustainable transport, eco-tourism, scientific disposal of waste, use solar energy and undertake massive plantations to minimise generation of heat and subsequent increase in temperature.
We need to understand that Kashmir has a fragile eco-system and is vulnerable to natural disasters including floods, earthquakes and landslides. Such is the fragility that a continuous spell of rain brings back haunting memories of devastating floods in 2014. We need to learn lessons from past natural disasters. At least we need to give nature its due space to cool down.
Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.