A team of scientists on Nadu glacier in Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh.(HT File Photo)
A team of scientists on Nadu glacier in Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh.(HT File Photo)

India has more than 10,000 glaciers but less than 30 being monitored: Experts

  • In Uttarakhand which has approximately 1,400 glaciers, less than ten are being monitored.
By Suparna Roy
PUBLISHED ON FEB 09, 2021 06:33 PM IST

Sunday's disaster in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district has put spotlight on the lack of monitoring of glaciers in the Indian Himalayan region due to various challenges.

Scientists from Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) Dehradun said that 25-30 glaciers are being monitored across the country which has around 10,000-15,000 glaciers.

SK Rai, senior scientist with glaciology and hydrology department with WIHG said, “Of the total 10,000-15,000 glaciers that are situated in India, intense and regular monitoring is done for maximum 25 glaciers across the Indian Himalayan Region. A minuscule percentage of total glaciers are studied but there is constant effort to increase this number.”

In Uttarakhand which has approximately 1,400 glaciers, less than ten are being monitored. The glaciers being monitored in Uttarakhand by scientists from the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology include Gangotri, Chorabari, Dunagiri, Dokriyani and Pindari.

Listing the challenges in studying and monitoring glaciers, Rai said that there are issues like lack of resource and good quality equipment which include proper snow kits for scientists which cost up to lakhs of rupees, automatic weather systems, good infrastructure like huts, good quality ropes; logistical issues like proper drivers and vehicles. He also said that regular permissions from departments concerned like forests or border areas for studying the glaciers are few of the major problems.

“Only after meeting these challenges fulfilling departmental requirements can we visit the areas and stay for 15-20 days to collect data. Another very important reason for the lack of studies on glaciers is that our country has very less institutes where glaciology is taught. Other topics of sciences may be taught in 500 or more institutes but glaciology is taught in barely five institutes. As glaciers are the main source of fresh water, more research is needed in this field,” said Rai.

Kalachand Sain, director of WIHG said that inaccessibility to the glacial regions is another important reason due to which not many studies are conducted.

“All mapping of glaciers has been done through satellite data, but glaciers are all in high-altitude and inaccessible regions, so monitoring those areas automatically becomes difficult. Even if we have large manpower it is difficult to monitor them,” said Sain.

The director further said that the area where the disaster took place in Chamoli district, there are 25 glaciers of which only a few are being monitored.

“It is true that all glaciers are not covered and very few are being monitored. We are in touch with our scientists and departments concerned to increase the capacity, generate more knowledge about the glaciers, future consequences (if any) in down streams,” he added.

Speaking on the importance of studying glaciers, geologist Navin Juyal, scientist who has retired from the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad said that glaciers are like umbilical cords for all climate processes, especially monsoon.

“Glaciers are the major drivers of climate change. Any climate variability on this planet, whether it has happened in the past or happening at present, is dictated by the movement of the glaciers. The expansion and contraction of glaciers affect monsoon, hydrological changes in the river system and many other climate variabilities. Glaciers are like umbilical cords of the climate system, as everything is linked,” said Juyal.

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