Are Himalayan Glaciers Headed to Hell in a Handbasket?
Bali, R., Agarwal, K.K., Ali, S.N. and Srivastava, P. 2011. Is the recessional pattern of Himalayan glaciers suggestive of anthropogenically induced global warming? Arabian Journal of Geosciences 4: 1087-1093.
So what's the real story?
The four researchers - all of whom are associated with the Centre of Advanced Study in Geology at India's Lucknow University - write that in the Garhwal Himalaya, the Gangotri glacier, which was earlier receding at a rate of around 26 m/year between 1935 and 1971 (Raina, 2003; Sharma and Owen, 1996; Naithani et al., 2001; Srivastava, 2003), "has shown a gradual decline in the rate of recession," coming down to around 17 m/year between 1974 and 2004, and that it has lastly showed "a recession of about 12 m/year during 2004 and 2005 (Kumar et al., 2008)." They also say that the Dokriana glacier has "maintained an overall constant rate of recession (around 16-18 m/year) between the year 1962 and 1995 (Dobhal et al., 2004)," and they indicate that their monitoring of the Pindari glacier in the Kumaun Himalaya suggests that "the rate of recession has come down to almost 6.5 m/year between 1966 and 2007 (Bali et al., 2009), as compared to around 26 m/year between 1845 and 1906."
Likewise, they report that the Milam glacier in the Goriganga valley, Pithoragarh district, has shown a rate of recession around 16.5 m/year over the last 150 years, citing Shukla and Siddiqui (2001), while they add that the snout of the Donagiri glacier "has shown signs of moderate recession along with intermittent advances (Srivastava and Swaroop, 2001; Swaroop et al., 2001)," and that "the Satopanth glacier, which had earlier been receding at the rate of 22.86 m/year, has lately shown a recession rate of 6.5 m/year during 2005-2006 (Ganjoo and Koul, 2009)."
Most conspicuously of all, however, they note that the 70-km long Siachin glacier "has been standing steady for the last several decades," noting that "the snout has been almost stable and has even shown signs of advancement during the last decade (Sinaha and Shah, 2008)," while adding that "recent studies have shown that the glacier has receded by only 8-10 m between 1995 and 2008 (Ganjoo and Koul, 2009)." In addition, they indicate that recent studies by researchers at England's Newcastle University show consistent growth among the glaciers of Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Western Himalayan mountain ranges.
In commenting on these and other pertinent findings, Bali et al. say "it is very much evident" that the glaciers of the Indian subcontinent "are receding at a much slower pace in comparison to what they were about a few decades back," and they comment that "the much talked about Gangotri glacier, which has been accused of being on the verge of extinction, still needs around 2,500 years to perish at the current recessional rate," stating that "the glacial fed rivers are thus not going to die an immediate death." Furthermore, they add that "even if a time comes that there are no glaciers around, the rivers will still flow," because the scientists who are involved in glaciological and hydrological studies point out that "at the foot hills, the contribution of glacial melt water is only around 10-15%, the rest being the rain and ground water," so that "even if a time comes that there are no glaciers around, the rivers will still flow."
Bali, R., Agarwal, K.K., Ali, S.N., Rastogi, S.K. and Krishna, K. 2009. Monitoring recessional pattern of Central Himalayan Glaciers: some optimistic observations. Proceedings of the Indian Science Congress 96: 79-80.
Dobhal, D.P., Gergan, J.T. and Thayyen, R.J. 2004. Recession and morphogeometrical changes of Dokriani glacier (1962-1995) Garhwal Himalaya, India. Current Science 86: 692-696.
Ganjoo, R.K. and Koul, M.N. Is the Siachen glacier melting? Current Science 97: 309-310.
Kumar, K., Dumka, R.K., Miral, M.S., Satyal, G.S. and Pant, M. 2008. Estimation of retreat rate of Gangotri glacier using rapid static and kinematic GPS survey. Current Science 94: 258-262.
Naithani, A.K., Nainwal, H.C. and Prasad, C.P. 2001. Geomorphological evidences of retreat of Gangotri glacier and its characteristics. Current Science 80: 87-94.
Raina, V.K. 2003. History of Gangotri glacier down the ages. In: Proceedings of Workshop on Gangotri Glacier, 2003. Geological Survey of India, Special Publication 80: 1-10.
Raina, V.K. 2006. Glaciers: The Rivers of Ice. Geological Society of India.
Sharma, M.C. and Owen, L.A. 1996. Quaternary glacial history of NW Garhwal, Central Himalaya. Quaternary Science Reviews 15: 335-365.
Shukla, S.P. and Siddiqui, M.A. 2001. Recession of the snout front of Milam glacier, Goriganga valley, Pithoragarh district, Uttar Pradesh. Geological Survey of India, Special Publication 53: 71-75.
Sinha, L.K. and Shah, A. 2008. Temporal analysis of Siachen Glacier: a remote sensing perspective. Nat. Sem. Glacial Geomorphology and Paleoglaciation in Himalaya, pp. 43-44.
Srivastava, D. 2003. Recession of Gangotri glacier. Proceedings of the Workshop on Gangotri Galcier, 2003. Geological Survey of India, Special Publication 80: 21-30.
Srivastava, D. and Swaroop, S. 2001. Oscillations of snout of Dunagiri glacier. Geological Survey of India, Special Publication 53: 83-85.
Swaroop, S., Oberoi, L.K., Srivastava, D. and Gautam, C.K. 2001. Recent fluctuations in the snout of Dunagiri and Chaurabari glacier, Dhauliganga and Mandakini-Alaknanda basins, Chamoli district, Uttar Pradesh. Geological Survey of India, Special Publication 53: 77-81.