May 3, 2016
Raging forest fires in Uttarakhand could have a devastating effect on the state’s glaciers which are the lifeline of the major rivers flowing through India’s northern plains.
According to experts at Nainital’s Aryabhatta Research Institute for Observational Sciences (ARIES) and Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development (GBPIHED) in Almora, ‘black carbon’ from smog and ash is covering the glaciers, thereby making them prone to melting.
Elaborating on what he termed a ‘long lasting effect’ of the fires, Manish Kumar, a senior scientist at the atmospherics department in ARIES, told TOI, “Black carbon is formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels and biomass. It absorbs light and increases heat, which is why it can cause glaciers to melt faster.”
Water in the rivers which originate from these glaciers also stand to get heavily polluted by harmful particles and compounds that constitute black carbon, Kumar said.
According to experts, forest fires have already resulted in a jump of 0.2 degrees Celsius in temperatures across northern India which can have a detrimental effect on the monsoons. “Black carbon floats in air for a long time and gets deposited on clouds interfering with the normal cycle of the monsoons,” said Kirit Kumar, a scientist from Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Almora. Other experts, however, said the interaction of black carbon with clouds was complex and could have varied effects.
The glaciers which are most at risk, according to Kumar of ARIES, are those that are situated at relatively low altitudes such as Gangotri, Milam, Sundardunga, Newla and Cheepa, which are also the source of many rivers. In order to study the effect that the fires are having on these glaciers, a team of scientists from GBPIHED would soon undertake a scientific trip to these heights.
Pointing out why the scientific community was getting increasingly concerned as the fires have kept on raging in the forests, Kirit Kumar said, “In normal circumstances, glaciers act as mirrors reflecting most of the light and heat. This is known as ‘albedo’. But when black carbon gets deposited on them, it results in their absorbing all the light and heat which eventually results in their meltdown. This is a serious concern.”
Originally published in the Times Of India