Kashmir Has Three Times More Soot Than Neighbouring States

13 February 2015
The Economic Times
Masood Hussain

Srinagar: The quantum of black carbon (BC) and other particulate matter (PM) in Kashmir's atmosphere is three times that of its neighbouring states, a study has revealed. That could be a reason why the glaciers are shrinking and why weather patterns are changing. 'Kashmir is surrounded by three mountain ranges and in the last 60 years, Shamsbari and Pir Panchal ranges have lost all their glaciers,' earth scientist Shakil Ramshoo told ET. 'We are left with a handful of glaciers in the Himalayan range around Sindh and Lidder basins and they are shrinking fast,' he cautioned. A study that is measuring black carbon and particulate matter in 40 places across Kashmir has revealed that the atmosphere here has two to three times more black soot than its neighbouring states. 'If we compare a glacier in Kashmir with that in Western Himalayas, say for instance in Uttarakhand, we find 1600 nano grams of BC per sq meter here and only 500 in Uttrakhand,' Ramshoo said. 'At the peak of autumn when Kashmir is busy creating charcoal stocks for winters, Srinagar reports 12000 nano grams of BC which is phenomenal.' Unlike methane-CO2 emissions which are believed to be the big reason for climate change across the world, black carbon is soot that is added to the atmosphere by burning charcoal and coal during and before winters. The soot remains in the atmosphere for eight whole days and then settles over the mountains including glaciers. 'There is a possibility of some of the black carbon flying from neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab and Delhi,' Ramshoo said, adding, 'this might be a factor for fast shrinkage of glaciers.' Kolhai glacier in south Kashmir has reported shrinkage by 18 percent in the last 30 years. What is challenging Ramshoo and his community is why Kashmir is unable to sustain the glaciers despite heavy snowfall on upper reaches. 'We have 127 years data available about the snowfall patterns and we know for sure that between November and April, Shamasbari, Pir Panjal and Greater Himalayan ranges get an average snowfall of about 10, 7.5 and 5.5 meters, respectively,' Ramshoo said. 'But the issue is that while Zanskar and Suru belts (Ladakh) get barely 2 meters of snowfall they still have stable glaciers, so why are Kashmir glaciers receding so fast?' The effects are already palpable. With quantum of snow gradually reducing and becoming more erratic in the plains, night temperature, even in the harshest phase, is going up. This was Kashmir's third dry winter in the last 30 years. Kashmir has 70 days of winter; the first 40 days called Chila Kalan, which ends on January 31, is the harshest phase during which most of the snow falls and temperatures nosedive to the extent that the snow converts into ice. Though snow does not stop in the subsequent two phases - 20 days each of Chilai Khurd and Chila Buch, temperatures improve and help cover the icy part. By early spring, the snow begins to thaw but the temperature rises gradually. In the last few years with less snowfall there is less ice which means temperature rises fast. Already inadequate water for irrigation has encouraged south Kashmir to convert its vast swathes of paddy land into apple orchards. 'Srinagar gets an average of 50 mm of snow in winter but once it goes below 10 mm, we categorise it as dry winter,' Sonum Lotus, Director meteorological Centre in Srinagar said. 'In last three decades, we had this phenomenon thrice - in 1986 it was 9 mm, in 2007 it was 7 mm and in 2015 it was barely 4 mm.' Srinagar alone had 49 mm of snowfall in 2014. 'It may require some more time to establish conclusively but basically the high incidence of BC is linked to high glacier recession rate and declining snowfall trends,' Ramshoo said. 'We are witnessed a decrease in the quantum of snow we get and some Western experts foresee Kashmir getting half of the snow of what we are getting right now in the next 100 years.'