Government quells panic over Himalayan glacial melt

Himalayan glacial meltFor the first time, the Indian government has challenged western research that says global warming has hastened the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

On Monday, environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh released a paper saying there was no evidence of such a link.

V. K. Raina, a former deputy director general of the Geological Survey of India, wrote the paper, Himalayan Glaciers.

“The health of Himalayan glaciers is poor,” Ramesh said. “But according to the paper, the doomsday prediction of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore is also not correct. I want scientists to critique the report.”

The IPCC and Gore, a former US vice-president, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

The government’s view goes against the IPCC’s claims that most Himalayan glaciers will vanish by 2035.

“Our prediction [in 2007] was based on government data, and a peer review was done by all countries before our report was released,” IPCC chief R. K. Pachauri said.

“I disagree that there’s no evidence of impact of global warming, but agree there’s a need to do more research on Himalayan glaciers.”

The IPCC’s forecast was based on Indian Space Research Organisation data that said 1,000 Himalayan glaciers had retreated by 16 per cent between 1962 and 2004.

Raina’s paper is based on previously classified information — going back more than 100 years — that was provided to researchers recently to generate a debate on the state of Himalayan glaciers.

“Nothing abnormal is happening to Indian glaciers,” said Raina. “They’re retreating because of negative mass balance. There’s no evidence of climate change.”

Mass balance is primarily determined by annual snow precipitation. Raina could not give reasons for the decrease in snowfall in the Himalayas. “It is for the weather departments to tell,” he said.

Government bodies such as the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, have blamed climate change as one of the reasons for weather changes in the Himalayas.

“Our studies of glaciers in Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim over 10 years have shown that temperature rise (caused by climate change) is a big reason for the melting of glaciers,” said Delhi- based glaciologist Syed Iqbal Hasnain.

L. M. S. Pani, director, GB Pant Institute for Himalayan Environment and Development, Dehradun, said it was difficult to understand weather changes in the Himalayas when there was just one weather station (in J&K) for the 2,500-km-long range. The Himalayan range is said to have between 9,000 and 12,000 glaciers.

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