Smaller glaciers more vulnerable

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The report presents the analysis of an on-going research to monitor two central Himalayan glaciers since 2006 - Gangotri, a 30km long glacier; and Kafni, a 4.2km one.

'The rapid decline of smaller glaciers is of concern,' said Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF India. 'These glaciers are perhaps more vulnerable to local climate variations. We see a need for more long- term and continuous assessment to monitor the hydro-meteorological parameters existing in the vicinity of glaciers in order to better predict future water resource scenarios.'

The WWF study explores how the glaciers in the Indian Himalayas are going through change by using scientific data as well as empirical evidence of ground level parameters. In order to understand the impact of hydro-meteorological parameters, the team has installed two automated weather stations- one at Bhojwasa near Gangotri and another in Kafni.The initial results from the field study indicate that the Himalayan glaciers are retreating, but at a reduced rate and the larger glaciers like Gangotri are unlikely to disappear in near future, due to their large mass balance.

Smaller glaciers like Kafni are not only retreating at a faster rate, but are losing more of their glaciated portion and tributary glaciers- a trend which has been observed across the Himalayas for many other smaller glaciers as well.

The new research says that the impacts of glacier retreat on the livelihoods of people, ecosystems and biodiversity have been underestimated so far. It confirms visible changes in the social and economic dimensions of the Himalayan region, in addition to the climatic variations that this phenomenon is causing. Communities living closer to Gangotri have indicated changes in snowfall levels in the winter months resulting in less soil moisture, which in turn is changing cropping patterns and availability of water.

'The Witnessing Change report shows that while science has provided evidence of changes in glaciers, anecdotal evidence and observations of the communities provide evidence of how communities are coping and managing with change, said Ravi Singh.

The report discusses the areas of focus needed as way forward, which includes enhancing the monitoring of smaller glaciers, addressing the data challenge, development of regional climate models and engagement of communities in developing suitable adaptation responses.

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