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Retreating Glaciers of the Himalayas
Global warming threatens life along the Ganges River
Vishal Bharti (vishal)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-10-13 11:19 (KST)   
Himalayan glaciers feed six major river systems in India, Nepal, and China. Millions of people depend on these rivers for sweet water.

Glaciers are formed during the natural system of snowfall accumulation in the high peaks, where it turns into ice. Excessive snowfall or evaporation will respectively increase or decrease the mass of glaciers.

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This phenomenon is cyclical. There is a glacial phase and an interglacial phase. The earth went through a glacial phase from the 16th to the 18th century -- also called the mini Ice Age -- in which the mass of glaciers increased.

At the moment earth is going through an interglacial phase. This is causing the retreat of glaciers.

Gangotri glacier is the second largest of 6,500-odd small and large glaciers in the Himalayas (the largest is Siachen, an 82-km-long (51-mile) glacier). This glacier gives birth to the Bhagirath, the main tributary of the Ganges. Gangotri glacier is situated on the base of a mountain called Shivling, and is 30.2 km (19 miles) long and 0.2 to 2.5 km (0.1 to 1.6 miles) wide.

Experts say the rate of meltdown of this glacier has been three times more in the last three decades than it was over the last two centuries.

The "snout" of Gangotri retreated 7.3 m (24 feet) every year from 1842 to 1935. Thereafter, its retreat was 19 m (62 feet) annually. The main concern since 1971 has been its speed of retreat, around 34 m (112 feet) a year.

Satellite photo showing retreat of Gangroti glacier
©2006 NASA
Some scientists attribute this to global climate change. The earth's temperature increase during the postindustrial phase has been around 0.6 C (1.1 F).

It has been said that Himalayan glaciers are most vulnerable to this change of temperature. The Working Group on Himalayas (WGHG) of the international commission for snow and ice, constituted in 1995, recently affirmed, "Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world, and if the present rate continues the likelihood of their disappearing by 2035 is very high."

If this is true, then there will be no Bhagirath to feed the Ganges after 2035, which will be a huge ecological catastrophe for the larger part of India.

Scientists say this change will lead to very bad consequences, starting with more floods and leading to droughts.

This change of temperature is largely due to the emission of carbon dioxide. The quest for profits is taking our world in the wrong direction. What matters to industrial units that leave hazardous carbon dioxide in the air is short-term profits. Presently they are not in the mood to care about this ecological change, but the symptoms of destruction can be seen even today. One can then very well imagine the future of coming generations.

The Kyoto Protocol is an attempt to control this environmental change. Only the U.S. and Australian governments from the "developed world" have not signed it, because big corporations oppose restrictions on their emissions.

It is time to act, lest in three decades there are no glaciers in the Himalayan peaks, and snow turns into floods of water, which will wash away life on the beautiful banks of these rivers.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Vishal Bharti

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