The world’s highest battlefield has vanished by half, but not quite the way peaceniks would want it.
Geological field evidence has established for the first time that the original length of the 19,000-feet high Siachen Glacier, in what is currently Indian territory, was 150 kilometres, an Indian researcher said. It is now down to 74 kilometres.
That melting process could touch the lives of millions across Pakistan, where much of the lifeline Indus River is fed by waters from the Nubra and Shyok rivers that originate from the Siachen and a tributary glacier called Rimo.
Melting of glaciers — slow-moving rivers of ice — can cause flooding, landslides and lakes that can burst, like Tibet’s Parchu Lake in June 2005.
“There is now evidence that global warming has caused the Siachen Glacier to recede by at least 76 kilometre — and this doesn’t include its other tongues and territory in Pakistan,” Dr. Rajeev Upadhay, of the geology department at Nainital’s Kumaun University, told Hindustan Times.
Upadhyay, whose paper on his findings appeared last week in the journal Current Science, has studied the glacier since 1995.
Artillery fire doesn’t rage there now, but several thousand Indian and Pakistan soldiers are deployed at Siachen, the site of one of the border disputes between the two countries.
More than 500 Indian soldiers have died, but mostly due to sunburns and frostbites in temperatures that plunge to -40 degrees C.
Upadhyay shrugged off the view that military activity in the region has caused all the damage.
“The military presence has been there for two and a half decades. Artillery shelling certainly had some effect, but I have not seen any physical evidence in my visits of such swift damage,” he said by telephone from Nainital. The findings are based on his visits to the region in 1995, 1996, 2002 and 2008 in the Nubra — Shyok river valleys and the adjoining Karakoram Mountains.
“I found signs of lateral moraines — debris on the sides of the glacier up to 600 metres high where thick ice sheets of the glacier would have been earlier,” Upadhyay said. He added that rocks were polished or had grating marks, signifying that the glacier ran through there earlier. “If this trend continues and snowfall keeps reducing, the glacier will vanish one day,” Upadhyay said.