The Himalayas

In the summer 2015, I am hoping to be going on a trip to the Himalayas as part of a new module for my third year. Since going to the information meeting in early October, I’ve gained a real interest in the area of the Himalayas. One of the projects I would complete whilst there focusses on melt water in the region, and the glacial water and how this sustains life for many in the valleys below; as the Himalayas contain one of the largest freshwater reservoirs of snow, ice and water (Boltch et al, 2012). Figure 1 below shows an amazing satellite image of the Himalayas taken from NASA’s Visible Earth webpage.

Figure 1: The Himalayas from space. (Source: NASA, 2014)

Figure 1: The Himalayas from space. (Source: NASA, 2014)

Whilst researching this aspect of the Himalayas, and how remote sensing could be used to measure the magnitude of this reservoir I found a paper by Kulkami (2006). The paper focussed on glacial retreat in the Himalayan using Indian satellites, in particular the Advanced Wide Field Satellite (AWiFS) which has a swath of 360km (Kulkami, 2006). Normalized Difference Soil Index (NDSI) values calculated using the same satellite have also been used for similar research in this field (Negi et al, 2009). This was a direct link to between my chosen modues; and as I have previously mentioned in my ‘Purpose’ post, this blog is to be about the things that are inspiring my learning and interest me throughout this module. These links seem to be growing!

The Chenab, Parbati and Baspa basins, were the three study areas for Kulkami (2006). Tt was estimated at the start of the study that 466 glaciers in these basins were retreating. Kulami (2006) concluded with the use of satellite imagery, that there is an overall reduction in the total area covered by glaciers, with a decrease of 21%  from 2077km2 to 1628km2. This retreat is thought to have occurred from 1962 onwards, as this is the earliest the satellite imagery could be referred back to. There were also records of high glacial fragmentation and increases to the rate of deglaciation in  glaciers of high areal extent (Kulkami, 2006). This research was also supported by Negi et al (2009) which showed a decrease in seasonal snow cover when comparing NDSI values to NWiFS data, which can be seen in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: AWiFS image (left) compared to NDSI image (right) showing snow cover in the Beas Basin, Himalayas (Source: Negi et al, 2009)

Figure 1: AWiFS image (left) compared to NDSI image (right) showing snow cover in the Beas Basin, Himalayas (Source: Negi et al, 2009)

The results shocked me, that in such a short period of time over 20% of a glaciers extent could be lost. The short time span of observation, due to correlation only being made since 1962, made me question how much deglaciation had taken place before this, or if this was indeed a direct link to the recent phenomenon of global warming. Kulkami (2006) also made a strong statement about the impact of this glacial retreat on the sustainability of the Himalayan glaciers. This would directly impact the lives of thise people who depend on a fresh water supply from the Himalayas; this sparks the debate of who is paying the price of global warming? Both Negi et al (2009) and Kulkmi (2006) listed rising temperatures as one of the factors for the decrease in glacial extent.

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References: 

Bolch, T., Cogley, J. G., Huggel, C., Kääb, A., Kulkarni, A., Paul, F. and Stoffel, M. (2012). ‘The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers’ Science, 336(6079), pp. 310-314.

Kulkarni, A. V. (2006) ‘Glacial retreat in Himalaya using Indian Remote Sensing satellite data’. In Asia-Pacific Remote Sensing Symposium, pp. 641117-641117.

Kulkarni, A. V., Negi, H. S. and Semwal, B. S. (2009). ‘Estimation of snow cover distribution in Beas basin, Indian Himalaya using satellite data and ground measurements’. Journal of Earth System Science, 118(5), 525-538.

NASA. (2014). Visible Earth: The Himalayas. [Online] Available at: http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=63013 (Accessed: 16 November 2014)

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