Rohtang meltdown cyclic?



It is nice to be concerned about the environment. Whatever nature has given us must be treated with care, and the we must do all we can to safeguard the balance of natural forces.

However, one has to say that these kinds of reports would be a lot more convincing if there was good science and hard data behind them. Any such anecdotal observations in nature need to be tempered with the recognition that within broad period averages, there are many natural cycles. Any blanket acceptance or rejection of concepts like global warming without hard evidence is not helping the cause of caring for the environment.

For example, it is stated that since the last few years, Rohtang is opened to traffic earlier than it used to be. But the author ignores the fact that the army has much better snow clearing equipment in the last few years..!

Indeed, if this year it has snowed less in the Himalayas than average, then in the previous year, it has snowed a lot more-more than in the last 20 years, I am told. This year, all the power projects of HP are generating very high amount of electricity, since the snow melt is higher, due to the high amount of snow last year. The same thing also happened last year.

Someone states that the temp. at Rohtang has increased by 1 degree in the last 30 years. This bland statement hides the fact that the year to year variations in temperature are much more than a degree. We simply do not have reliable data of a longer period to know whether this one degree shift observed over 30 years, is due to a generalized warming or part of a natural cycle with a slow frequency.

Climate cycles have varying frequencies-at some level, climate is known to cycle over thousands of years, at another level, over centuries, and at a further level, over decades. To really make definitive statements about any localized warming, one has to take into account the period in any of these cycles we may be in.

If indeed the traffic flow has doubled over the last 3 years, and it is this traffic that has caused the faster melting of glaciers, then there should be clear evidence that in the last 3 years, the temperature has gone up. But last year, being a longer than normal snowfall period in HP, and colder than usual summer, clearly presents a data point which is anamolous to this “warming due to increased traffic” theory. Hence this kind of hypothesis, uninformed by statistics, ought to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Having said all this, I would still advocate putting in place measures which would, in a common sensical manner, reduce the risk of pollution on the Manali-Leh Route. Allowing only vehicles which match a particular emission standard, is a very good suggestion.

The moral of the whole story, at the risk of being repetitive, and the high risk of being severely flamed at, is that people who care about the environment cannot simply use data selectively, or randomly, to claim that human activity is damaging the environment in some kind of irreversible way, either locally or globally. It would help the cause of the environment better if such statements were made after careful reasoning, proper statistical analysis, and a healthy respect for the cyclical nature of weather patterns.

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  1. I'd referred to the news item below long back in February 2004. And for the interest holders I'm putting this below again. Please read it. And interestingly, at that point of time too, many had passed on the buck to global warming, which I certainly don't deny. Also the earth would submerge into the sun one day. Right? But as human brains we are only hastening the process.

    I'd rather go to an extent to say, in the interest of humanity we should ban altogther human traffic through these passes – whether be Rohtang, Baspa or others. I'll call it a success if I'm able to delay the process by even ten years. The report below predicts the melting of glaciers by 2040.

    Do we understand the implications of this? NO. We do not understand this. Till now what was happening. Fresh snow used to fall and glaciers had been there for countless ages – underneath which are many a secrets hidden. may be the germs of early evolution and only this fresh snow used to melt down into the rivers. But now when there is less snow falling. The glaciers have started melting. Once these glaciers start melting we are bound to have flash floods. The water in the rivers is going to rise. Good for the economy., We can generate more electricity. But for how long?

    One day the mountains would be barren and the ground revealed. Rivers would dry up. We'll all go thirsty. No water for the fields or to drink or for harvesting. So where would we have the electricity from? And it affects not only Himachal, Uttaranchal or J&K. Water level in the sea rises up drastically. The coastal areas like Bombay etc. get submerged into the sea. Temperature rises and there is more water evaporation, with formation of more clouds. And we have rains and floods. The whole cycle will change. Do we understand why we have unseasonal rains now destroying all our crops?

    We cry hoarse over Ford coming up with a ski village. Let him come. He'll go back himself once there is no snow left for skiing.

    But what should we do? I'll say — one option is to stop human traffic. Tourism is temporary. The implications are permanent. Forest cover has to be increased. We cannot wait for the oil reserves to get over and then look for viable electricity and battery run vehicles. We have to start looking for these options now. Even electricity vehicles do generate heat. Where there is energy. There is heat. It is simple science. But we do not have at least smoke that is permanent in the environment. Because smoke forms a cover in the environment. Have you noticed in the winter that when there are clouds the snow melts more.

    I have no data to say when it started melting and how much snow has already melted and when will these glaciers melt totally. I'm going by simple logic and plain science. We have to at least delay the affect by a few hundred years at least. And I'm sure we can do that. We can pressurise the government to control traffic there. Instead we can have cable cars run by electricity. Another major threat I feel is the plastic menace. I know that the government has banned polythene. But we still see people throwing packs of chips and water bottles.

    Following is the news I was mentioning about:


    Himalayan glaciers head towards hot finish
    New Delhi, February 28, 2004

    Fears of global warming threatening the Himalayan glaciers have come true. For the first time, Indian space scientists have gathered concrete evidence that four glaciers in the Baspa basin in Himachal Pradesh are facing "terminal retreat." Put simply, they are disappearing.

    Fifteen more glaciers in the same basin also face extinction. All of them are showing negative mass balance. That means glaciers are losing more mass of ice due to melting in summers than accumulation of snow in winters.

    Baspa glaciers have lost 0.2347 cubic kilometer of glacial ice between 2000 and 2002. Glacial ice forms the core of a glacier. What gets melted away in summers is snow cover with most of the glacial ice beneath it remaining intact. Loss of glacial ice indicates threat to the glacier itself. Warmer winters are causing melting and retreat of snow cover in higher altitude regions — like the Beas and Baspa basins — even in December and January.

    Satellite pictures suggest four glaciers are getting covered with debris because of which they are likely to experience relatively less melting
    The debris is preventing the formation of new ice, leading to a slow death of these glaciers.

    "If climatic conditions remain same as in 2000, then our models show that the four glaciers will disappear completely by 2040. But since we know that temperatures are rising, this process will be much faster," said Dr Anil V Kulkarni, principal investigator of glaciology projects at the Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad.

    Earlier studies were based on less direct evidence such as comparison of contour maps over a period of time or by measuring run-off and evaporation. SAC scientists have used imagery from the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite to measure loss in glacial ice.

    Disappearance of glaciers is not merely of academic interest. Melt-water from Himalayan glaciers is a key source of water for most rivers in the North. If glaciers start shrinking and eventually vanish, this perennial source of water will be lost forever. Initially, run-off may be high due to excessive melting of glaciers as observed in the Baspa basin, where stream run-off has gone up by 75 percent in the last 29 years. It could result in some immediate economic losses as well. For instance, diminishing run-off from the Baspa glaciers that flows into the Baspa river — a tributary of Satluj — will hit hydroelectricity projects downstream in Himachal.

    The implications of these for the ambitious river-linking plan are also serious. Surplus water in North Indian rivers – the very logic behind the interlinking idea – will be in question because there may not be much surplus if the run-off form glaciers dries up.

  2. The weather science as it is, is at best a speculative or uncertain in nature. It would be difficult to gather hard facts since our data collection is not long enough. If we can understand the 40 years cycle, we may still not be able to get the 100 years or 1000 or 15000 years cycle right. The idea of the story probably was not to put the blame squarly on local vehical traffic but to highlight that as one of the factors.

    The global warming in not entirely because of the man-made co2 but that is the only part we can tinker with. We may be accelerating the warming by our reckless actions. Of course, we would get more snow and heavier rains because we know the higher temperature causes more evaporations on water bodies. But the snow would last shorter. The global warming itself is the observed fact just thate can’t identify a main culprit. That certainly does not mean we can ignore the CO2 emission until we find out the hard facts. There may not be an overriding single issue at all. So we have to control what we can. Therefore curbing man made pollution is the key. If we slow down on our part to how much we add , the nature may have a chance to catch up and correct our mistakes or at least move on its own pace.
    Thanks –

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