“For me a snowless Chilai Kalan is not worrisome but if the trend of depletion of glaciers continues at the present speed, it is surely worrisome”

Professor and HoD Earth Science in Kashmir University Shakil Ahmed Ramshoo tells Saima Bhat that in next few decades amount of snowfall in Chilai Kalan will be reduced by 50 per cent


Kashmir Life (KL):  It seems winter has missed its date this year. We had a dry spell in Chilai Kalan (coldest 40 days of winters). What were the reasons and what could be the consequences?

Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo (SR): The indicators of climate change in Kashmir is clear and loud. As per the climatic data – rainfall and temperature –over the last 127 years of Srinagar, the winter temperatures have significantly increased, particularly in Chilai Kalan.

We used to get maximum snowfall in Chilai Kalan and because of the very low temperatures that snow used to remain there for a longer time. But this year, we didn’t receive snowfall in January. It happened in February when the water content in it is more due to its wetness and melts sooner due to higher temperatures in Feb.

Going through the data of all these years (127), we have some snowless Chilai Kalans in the past, but if we look at the amount of snowfall over the last 5-6 decades, it has drastically decreased which is a cause of concern. As per the research, by the end of this century, we will be getting 30 to 50 per cent less snowfall as compared to now. So, snowless ChilaiKalan may be a more frequent feature in the future now. Time is not far away when we will be going to Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other high altitude places to witness snowfall. Like, it happens in developed cities like Tokyo now.

Even if Kashmir plains have gone snowless this year that doesn’t mean Kashmir mountains have gone snow less too. On average Pir Panchal Range receives 7.5 meters of snow, 10 meters in Shamsbari Range, 5 meters in Greater Himalayas Range (Pahalgam and Sonmarg) starting from November 01 to April 30. So less snow won’t affect us now, it may in the next few decades or so.

KL: Is there any link between the recent September floods and this dry spell in winters?

 SR: No. Not at all. In a way, it was good that we didn’t get much snow, because, after floods, the water table was already high. It is a norm when we look at the historical flood data that, after a large flood we do get a flood within the next 2 years with a very high probability. You have to be ready but it won’t be of that magnitude. But this dry spell has in a way helped us in reducing the probability of that small flood.

KL: Many blame global warming for the change in temperature but then Western Countries received their share of snowfall on time.  Why these western disturbances were weak when they reached Kashmir?

SR: All this is happening because of climate change, we may get a dry spell in one year and next year it can snow heavily. In some regions it is flooding and in other regions, it is drought. From 2010, we consistently had good snowfall; Shivlingum did not vanish in Amarnath cave as happened in 2007, 2008 and 2009. This erratic behaviour is the signature of climate change.

After the September floods, 2014, I visited a few glaciers where winter snow (of 2014) was still present in the month of October. Otherwise, all the snow of the previous year usually melts by August or September. But during the last few years, our glaciers had received comparatively much snow and this year, so far it has been comparatively less.

In the northern hemisphere, 2014 was the warmest year in the recorded history but the US and UK had quite good snowfall. Our weather system is dependent on the winds originating from the Atlantic Ocean and we didn’t receive any strong western weather disturbances to date this winter and that is the reason for less snowfall here.

KL: There have been snowless Januaries in 1902, 1963, 1966 and then in 1980s. So how can we now blame global warming as the reason for this change?

SR: For me, a snowless Chilai Kalan is not worrisome this time but if the trend of depletion of snowfall and glaciers continues at the present tend and pace, it is surely more worrisome. As per the data of the last 127 years over Srinagar, we used to normally receive one meter of snow in plains earlier, but now we have only a few inches, which is mainly attributed to global warming.

By these observed trends and future projections, we will be having 30 to 50 per cent lesser snowfall by the end of this century. So we won’t any serious problem now, but it will become an important issue after 30 or 40 years if the current trends continue.

However, we still have many glaciers left, which will continue to give us water. If not in plains, but we still have quite a good amount of snowfall in the mountains regions.

KL: Can snow of February and March compensate for the loss of snowless January?

SR: Yes why not. Kashmir is not the plains only. We have mountains where snow remains for a longer period of time. Mountains continue to have sub-zero temperatures in Feb and even March. On average, the Karakorum Range has an average of minus 18 degrees temperatures from November 01 to April 30. So snow remains there for a longer time.

It is good if we get snow even in Feb and March. I am sure that even when we don’t get snow in the plains, it must be snowing every time somewhere in these upper ranges during Jan and Feb.

KL: How fast are glaciers melting? What are the reasons?

SR: I am studying how much of our Himalayan glaciers are melting because of global warming and how much due to the deposition of black carbon. So far I can say it is happening mainly because of global warming but the influence of black carbon is also quite substantial.

The main area of concern in the Himalayas is the depletion of glaciers. Not even a single glacier is left in the Pir Panchal Range, though some small glaciers (niche) are in Kousarnag areas but the bigger ones have already vanished there. As per my research, I have found that our glaciers are melting faster than the other glaciers in the rest of the Indian Himalayas. It is a strange finding and we are investigating the causes using scientific instrumentation; We have found that black carbon emission levels are 3 to 4 times higher than in the other Himalayan regions Most probably that is why there is faster depletion of these glaciers.

This black carbon comes from the emission when we burn woody biomass, fossil fuels and hard coke for heating and warming. And more importantly, this content of black carbon was found more in autumn than in winters due to leaf and twig burning for charcoal making.

From space, you will see that there is a blanket of smoke present over the valley in the autumn season. That happens mainly because we burn twigs, leaves in this season as the lands under horticulture have increased severalfold during the last few decades. Black carbon has a residence period of 8 days only, then it has to get settled somewhere. So it also settles on our glaciers located in the Greater Himalayas, Pir Panchal and Shamsbari, which surround our valley.

But if we see some of this black carbon also comes from Punjab, which is our neighbouring state. They have mechanized harvesting of paddy and waste like hay etc. they burn it. So that black carbon and other particulate matter travels by air and get settled on our glaciers and might be responsible for enhanced melting of the glaciers

KL: How does the assimilation of black carbon takes place near glaciers and is global warming responsible for the melting of glaciers?

SR: When we talk of climate change and global warming, we blame the developed countries like America; it is they who emit more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In comparison to that, ours is nothing. It stays in the atmosphere for 5 to 10 years and with the help of winds, it travels from one place to another, one country to another, and even from one continent to another and is responsible for the increasing temperatures all over the globe

But the black carbon is generated locally or comes here from Punjab or the Indian gigantic plains, or Pakistan and China. Who is responsible for this now; West or India and its neighbouring developing countries? I think they are responsible for the depletion of our glaciers because of the high emission of black carbon

KL:  What is the state of glaciers in Kashmir?

SR: No doubt that they are melting at an enhanced rate. We had 147 glaciers in Kashmir valley in 1969 but now there are only 141 glaciers left, out of which 110 are in the Lidder and Sindh valley.

KL: Many say the September floods were because of climate change. What do you think as an expert?

SR: Yes it was.  Many have reported that in the Himalayas the frequency of occurrences of extreme events has increased, examples were the Uttrakhand, Leh cloudburst and Kashmir’s flood.

In Kashmir, we received 650 mm of rainfall in South Kashmir, in September was an extreme weather event, which triggered such huge floods.

The indicators of increasing climate extremes are there. They have already started impacting us.

There are massive land system changes observed in Kashmir during the last 5-6 decades. People have shifted from one land system to another, For example, massive land system changes from agriculture, I mean from water-intensive paddy culture, about 900 kms2 of agricultural land has been diverted to the horticulture during the last 42 years starting from 1972.

In certain cases, people have changed it to horticulture because of the less water availability but still, there is much water available in certain areas but still, people have shifted to horticulture due to economic reasons. All this has impacted the climate and land surface processes here.

KL: How is it going to affect the agriculture sector in Kashmir?

SR: We still have enough water available and immediately our agriculture industry won’t get affected. We still have chances of getting rain and snow in the month of February and March.  But if such a condition (depleting snowfall) continues it is worrisome. We might face water scarcity 50 to 60 years from now.

KL: How do you see effect of human intervention in deteriorating conditions of glaciers?

 SR: Both fossil fuels and black carbon is the result of human intervention. We require a proper and effective mass transit system, which can help us in decreasing the emission of these gases from burgeoning traffic on the roads.

The use of private cars can be reduced if we have a proper metro system in place. We live in winter zone, heating is important but if can use our hydro energy for warming instead of wood and coal. That can reduce the emission of black carbon. Brick kilns are also the culprit but the government needs to regulate the pollution from these brick kilns.

I believe if we harness our hydroelectricity, I guarantee you we can bail out entire North India and even our government from the energy crisis and earn huge financial resources for our overall economic development. However, we don’t have the infrastructure and financial resources to set up the power projects. It needs thousands of crores to develop a power project which we don’t have. That is why the NHPC has come on the scene and they are harnessing it, giving a very minimal amount, 10 per cent of it, to the state.


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