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Tropical summers in Kashmir, courtesy global warming

In the latest proof of hastening climate change in India, an as-yet-unreleased study by the University of Kashmir shows 11 of the last 15 years have been the hottest in recorded history in the Valley. Toufiq Rashid reports.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2009 00:02 IST
Toufiq Rashid

By 2050, a new study predicts, the pleasant Kashmir summer may be a thing of the past.

In the latest proof of hastening climate change in India, an as-yet-unreleased study by the University of Kashmir shows 11 of the last 15 years have been the hottest in recorded history in the Valley.

University researchers who studied temperatures from 1893 to 2009 found a sharp upward trend over the last decade. Their 160-page report has been sent to the Indian Space Research Organisation for a peer review and is likely to be released in early 2010.

“If current global greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically reduced, we will experience much hotter summers than we have been having even for the last few years,” said Shakil Romshoo, professor at the university and climate change expert.
How hot? Try 37 degree C.

Temperatures in Kashmir have remained 4 degree C to 5 degree C above normal over the last five years, going up to 37 degree C in peak summer.

The warmer temperatures have led to decreased snowfall over the last decade, and more melting of glaciers in the region — a cycle that will eventually hit water supply to the Valley and to rest of India.

“More water is flowing from glaciers and melting icecaps into the tributaries of the Indus basin,” said Romshoo. “It is only a matter of time before we see decreasing trends in the snowmelt runoff and that will affect virtually every sector of our economy — hydropower, agriculture, horticulture, drinking water supply and even tourism.”

In other parts of the state, like the cold desert of the Nobra valley in Ladakh, rising temperatures have seen abnormal increases in green cover.

“Over the last four decades, we have observed an increase of about 32 sq km in the vegetation cover in the Nobra valley,” said Romshoo.

As the Indus and its tributaries begin to shrink in the summer and flood in the wet season, changes in flow are likely to raise tensions between India and Pakistan as the two fight over the water, he said.

“Even if an agreement on carbon emission limits is reached at the climate change meet in Copenhagen — and this would be nothing less than a miracle — temperatures will still keep on rising ... for some time,” said Romshoo. “It would take about 90 years for Kashmir to return to normal — if global emissions are contained today.”

Meanwhile, experts say the Valley should prepare itself for an extreme weather calamity in the near future.

“We have been fortunate that the Valley has not been hit by such an event already,” said Romshoo. “But as temperatures rise, and melting snows flood the rivers, there is likely to be an extreme event of the kind observed in Mumbai in 2005, Bihar in 2008 and Karnataka in 2009. In other words, one of the worst floods in the history of Kashmir.”