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Apex body for glacier management

Published: 30th Mar, 2023

Context

The Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended setting up an overarching apex body for glacier management in the country.

Glacier Management in India:

  • There are different ministries/departments/institutions with different mandates for dealing with hydro-meteorological and hydro-geological hazards of Himalayan glaciers.
  • While the glaciers are surveyed and their detailed inventory is maintained by the Geological Survey of India, Ministry of Mines; the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change looks into all matters related to climate change.
  • The Department of Science & Technology is involved in conducting research on glaciers and the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research has done some studies on the Himalayan Cryosphere.

Recommendations of the Committee:

  • New strategies:
    • Given the strategic role and importance of glaciers as a vital national resource, there is a critical and imperative need as never before, to formulate new strategies for combating the challenges posed by the climate change and global warming in the glacier management.
  • Single nodal agency:
    • Committee recommended setting up a single nodal agency for bringing out synergies among various government departments/ministries involved in glaciological research and monitoring.
    • Such an agency should be entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating the activities of all the departments/agencies involved in Himalayan glaciers’ monitoring and research work.
  • Role of concerned agencies:
    • Committee urge upon the Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation to play a lead role in this regard so as to take the matter to its logical conclusion.

About Glaciers:

  • Glaciers are large, thick masses of ice that form on land when fallen snow gets compressed into ice over many centuries.
  • Presently, 10 percent of land area on Earth is covered with glacial ice, including glaciers, ice caps, and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.
  • In India, mostly glaciers are confined to the Himalayan region, specifically in Greater Himalayan ranges.
  • Glacierized areas cover over 15 million square kilometres (5.8 million square miles).
  • Glaciers store about 69 percent of the world's fresh water.

Glacier mapping in India:

  • There are about 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayas.
  • Total area of Himalayas is about five lakh square kilometres (Area of India is nearly 32 lakh sq km). About 33,000 sq.km area is covered by snow.
  • The snow line (the lowest level of perpetual snow) varies in different parts of the Himalayas depending upon latitude, amount of precipitation and local topography.

List of Important Glaciers in India:

S. No.

Glacier Name

Length

Location

1

Siachen Glacier

76 km

Ladakh

2

Gangotri Glacier

30 km

Uttarakhand

3

Bara Shigri Glacier

27.7 km

Himachal Pradesh

4

Zemu Glacier

26 km

Sikkim

5

Drang-Drung Glacier

23 km

Ladakh

6

Milam Glacier

16 km

Uttarakhand

7

Shafat Glacier/ Parkachik Glacier

14 km

Ladakh

8

Pindari Glacier

9 km

Uttarakhand

9

Chhota Shigri Glacier

9 km

Himachal Pradesh

10

Machoi Glacier

9 km

Ladakh

Significance of Glaciers:

  • Glaciers as Reservoirs:About three-quarters of Earth's freshwater is stored in glaciers. Therefore, glacier ice is the second-largest reservoir of water on Earth and the largest reservoir of freshwater on Earth.
    • The cold runoff from glaciers also affects downstream water temperatures.
  • Glacier-feeding Rivers:The Gangotri Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains, is the source of the Ganga River.
    • The Ganges is the most important source of fresh water and electricity in India and Bangladesh.
  • Glaciers for Aquatic Life: Many aquatic species in mountainous environments require cold water temperatures to survive which is provided by Glaciers.
    • Some aquatic insects are especially sensitive to stream temperature and cannot survive without the cooling effects of glacial melt water.
    • Such changes in stream habitat may also adversely impact native trout and other keystone salmon species.
  • Glaciers for People:Glaciers provide people with many useful resources. Glacial till provides fertile soil for growing crops.
    • Deposits of sand and gravel are used to make concrete and asphalt.

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