Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Ladakh, glacier melt raises fears of water woes

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: …Measurements of one Ladakh glacier taken from 2001 to 2003 with a global positioning system (GPS) receiver show an estimated annual retreat of 15 to 20 metres (49 to 66 feet). "This rate is chaos. That should not happen," said paleoclimatologist Bahadur Kotlia, who took the measurements of a glacier on the south face of the Karakoram mountains out of curiosity on his way to the Nubra valley for research.

A satellite-based study of 466 Himalayan glaciers published in January by scientists with the Indian Space Research Organisation estimated their area had reduced by 21 percent since the 1960s. "I knew things are changing very dramatically but I never had a clue (of the) extent they are retreating," the study's lead author Anil Kulkarni, who has been studying Indian glaciers for 20 years, told AFP.

…The melting of the glaciers bodes particularly ill for rain-scarce Ladakh where water demand has risen in recent years, spurred by tourism…."Very recently we started boring water,"said Chering Dorjay, head of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. "People are pumping too much water and water levels are going down." Farmers, though, are reporting plenty of water in glacier-fed streams.

"In the last 20 years we have hardly had any drought. Without good snowfall there is still good water in the streams," said a concerned Dorjay. "That means whatever reserves we have are melting." Scientists say that a period of water "luxury" -- as glaciers release water reserves built over thousands of years -- will precede the water woes to come.

"What is happening is a lot of snow is melting in winter itself," said glaciologist Kulkarni. "There may be a time when we do not feel the pinch, but this luxury aspect will not last that long."…

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