Kashmir risks rapid glacial meltdowns, floods as mercury rises early

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An early rise in temperature across the Kashmir valley can lead to a faster meltdown of glaciers which, experts warn, can cause flood and water scarcity in the region.

The warning has come as the Kashmir region has witnessed a quick departure of the winter and the mercury has risen by at least seven degrees Celsius above the normal during the last fortnight of February, the intermediate month between bitter winter and a rejuvenating spring.

Kashmir’s main city Srinagar had last week recorded its warmest February night in 57 years as the temperature overnight had dropped to a low of 7.4 degrees Celsius, which was six degrees above normal.

Irfan Rashid, a Senior Assistant Professor at the University of Kashmir’s Geoinformatics department, said the abrupt change in February weather can “severely affect” the glaciers, which are the source of water for Kashmir’s rivers and streams during the summer months and provide sustenance to the region’s irrigation systems.

“Warm sunny days, no snowfall, night temperatures (up) more than 5°C and snow gone from main valley floor could severely affect glacier mass balance regimes,” Rashid said.

He said the reason for the dramatic change in the weather pattern, apart from global factors, was also localised events that include a rise in the number of vehicles that emit climate forcing agents like carbon dioxide, methane, smoke and black carbon.

“During last 15 years, I believe, 130 percent of private vehicles have increased on roads, causing pollution,” he said.

A research last year had found the glaciers in Kashmir were melting at an alarmingly “significant rate” as compared to other parts of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, said Rashid, who was part of the study.

The study had used satellite data to find that over 1,200 glaciers in the Himalayan region saw an annual reduction in mass of 35 centimeters on average between 2000 and 2012.

Rashid said the sharp rise in temperature can speed up the melting of glaciers and lead to glacial lake outbursts. “If our glaciers start melting it can translate into the same. We can have mass floods or it can directly lead to water scarcity,” he said.

Tariq Abdullah, a researcher studying glacier dynamics over Kashmir Himalayas, said
the rise in temperature in early spring can affect stream flows and the dependent population on them.

“The accelerated melting forms a few lakes in front of the glacier and that water can be breached anytime, increasing the chances of flash floods,” he said.

He said that the main contributor to the water in the Jehlum river is glaciers, particularly in drier seasons. “The agricultural activities can also be affected as the main source of the fields for the water is Jehlum.”

Abdullah said that in the long run, biodiversity can also be affected. He said that the rise in temperature increases the “melting window for glaciers”.

Sonam Lotus, Director Srinagar Meteorological Centre, said the “minimum temperature rose because of the cloudy condition and February remains mainly dry.”

“This is nothing new. Climate has changed over the years in Kashmir just like any other part of the world.”

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