Expert Column | VOL. 9, ISSUE 56, September-October 2009 |

Ladakh: Impact of Climate Change

Professor of paleo – climatology in the Department of Geology, The Durham Kumaun University, Nanital, Dr Kotlia has undertaken nearly 500 glacier studies using extensive field work and GPS technology.

Is it true that the glaciers of Ladakh (e.g.Khardung glacier) have thinned? Mountaineering guides, for example, say glaciers which once needed sophisticated ice craft to traverse can now be negotiated by trekkers.

Ladakh which is currently under arid or semi-arid environment is likely to experience water stress conditions, decreased soil moisture and desert expansion. A general decrease in precipitation in a linear fashion is observed. In the last few years, the impact of global climate change has been increasingly visible in Ladakh. Rainfall patterns have been changing, small glaciers and permanent snow fields are melting and temperature rise has been affecting water runoff in the rivers. At times, the higher winter precipitation is followed by the lower summer precipitation which clearly indicates the erratic behaviour of precipitation in Ladakh in the last century (see graphs beside). Khardung Pass which used to be completely covered by a layer of thick snow about 4 meters (in July) until 1995 is witnessing a new predicament. The Pass had no snow in July, 2009.

 

Is Ladakh seeing less snowfall due to changing climatic regimes?

Yes, undoubtedly. In the past, Lakadh also used to get a small amount of precipitation from the southwest monsoon (perhaps about 5 per cent) and at least 70 per cent moisture from westerlies. Today it receives about 50 per cent moisture from westerlies and almost nothing from southwest monsoon.

 

What are issues that, you feel needs to be highlighted by policy makers for this area?

Water conserving policies in any case is the most viable option. Artificial glaciers (by storing water being channelled from melting glaciers) is another workable solution. Perhaps these are the only ways that Ladakh can quench its thirst.

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