A first-of-its-kind study which used satellite data has revealed that glaciers in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are melting at a "significant" rate.
The study found that between 2000 and 2012, over 1,200 glaciers in the Himalayan region saw an annual reduction in mass of 35 cm on average.
The study, covering 12,243 glaciers, was carried out over the Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh region, including areas across the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The researchers said that in one decade of observation, the region has lost around 70.32 gigatonnes of glacier mass, which is "quite significant."
"In general, it was observed that the glaciers in the Pir Panjal range are melting at the higher rate — more than one metre per year — while as the glaciers in the Karakoram range are melting relatively at slower rate, around 10 cms per year," said Professor Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, corresponding author of the study.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study was carried out by a research team including Tariq Abdullah and Irfan Rashid, both from Geoinformatics Department, University of Kashmir.
"Some glaciers are even advancing or stable in the Karakoram range. In other mountain ranges like the Greater Himalayan range, Zanaskar range, Shamabari range, Leh ranges, the glaciers are undoubtedly melting but the rate of melting is variable," Romshoo, Dean of Research at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, told PTI.
While the Zanskar Range is losing thickness of the glaciers at 117 cm per year, the greater Himalayan range was reducing at 112 cm. This was followed by the Ladakh range at 46 cm. Meanwhile, the least affected glaciers were in Karakoram Range which are losing 11 cm per year.
For the study, the researchers used two satellite observations made in 2000 by NASA and in 2012 by German space agency DLR. Using this data, the team determined the glacier thickness changes over the entire Upper Indus Basin.
"We conducted research about how glaciers have thinned and how much volume of ice has depleted from 2000 to 2012," Abdullah was quoted as saying by Deccan Herald.
He added that the team used various research tools and satellite imagery. "These research tools include Geographic information System (GIS). We have also used data from US-based satellites and German AeroSpace satellites," Abdullah said.
The research was conducted as part of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) research project "Centre of Excellence for glacial research in the western Himalaya."
Romshoo, professor at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir, said that this is a first of its kind study and gives a great insight into the glaciers in the region.
"There is no such data (satellite observations) available in the world after 2012. This is a first of its kind study in the region and provides a very good idea about what is happening to the glaciers in the region," Romshoo said.
He added that till date only six to seven glaciers have been studied in the region for thickness and glacial mass changes using field observations.
The researchers added that while glacier melting is a continuous process and routine examinations of the shrinkage in the area of glaciers are carried out, thickness and mass changes are not always possible due to the lack of satellite data.
In addition, there are several limitations and challenges to field-based studies in the mountainous Himalayan region.
The continued melting of glaciers will have significant adverse impacts on every sector of the economy in the region and beyond and especially in the downstream areas which are already facing water scarcity, Romshoo said.
"It is pertinent to mention here that the waters emanating from this region are shared between the neighbouring countries in the south Asia," he said.
The research on the glacier thickness changes across different mountain ranges in the Himalayan region is crucial for determining the sustainability of water resources in the south Asian region, the team said.
Melting of the glaciers in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh result in severe water scarcity in the coming years, adversely affecting the dependent livelihoods, the study said.
The researchers said that the glacial melt in the Himalayan region is mainly driven by increasing temperatures and decreasing snow precipitation due to from greenhouse gas emissions from industrialisation and increasing use of fossil fuels across the globe.
Kashmir Himalayas have the highest number of glaciers in the Indian sub-continent which feed important rivers in the northern parts of India. All these glaciers are now melting due to the tremendous rise in temperature.
While there is "almost no industrialisation" in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh Himalaya, Romshoo said, the mountainous region is facing the brunt of climate change happening around the world.
Another study published recently in the journal Climatic Change found that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh may witness an increase in temperature of up to 6.9 degrees Celsius by the end of the century due to climate change. The researchers warned that if the projections come true, the glaciers in this Himalayan region could shrink by 85 per cent.
A recent research also found that in the last six decades, the Kashmir glaciers have lost 23 per cent of the area. Experts stated that in the coming years the region could face severe water scarcity, resulting in less agricultural productivity.
The research found that the annual discharge of river Jhelum will drop by 50 per cent by the end of 2050, resulting in a decrease in agricultural production in Kashmir by more than 50 per cent.
Experts added that climate change will have adverse effects on food production in Kashmir. While there is already a 36 per cent food grain deficit in the region, it may cross 50 per cent by 2030 if the government does not take corrective measures.
In addition, as most power generation in Kashmir is dependent on hydro resources, experts have warned that the reduction in the volume of ice in glaciers will have adverse effects on streamflow, which will, in turn, affect hydroelectricity generation in the region.