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Study shows 10% decline in Snow Cover in Himachal Pradesh Himalayas

Analysis of four river basins reveals negative trends in snow cover

Shimla, May 20

A recent study conducted by the State Centre on Climate Change in Himachal Pradesh has revealed a concerning 10% decline in snow cover across the Himalayan region of the state. The study, which evaluated the four major river basins of Chenab, Beas, Ravi, and Satluj, compared the monthly average of snow cover in the 2022-23 winter season to the previous year.

The winter season holds significant importance for Himachal Pradesh, as it receives a substantial amount of precipitation in the form of snow, particularly at higher altitudes. Approximately one-third of the state’s total geographical area remains covered in thick snow during this season. The seasonal snow cover plays a crucial role in sustaining the discharge of major rivers like Chenab, Beas, Ravi, Satluj, and their tributaries, as well as regulating the accumulation and ablation patterns of glaciated regions in the state.

By utilizing satellite data of various resolutions, the researchers were able to map the extent of snow cover in different river basins from October to April. The analysis revealed early snowfall in October and November, resulting in positive trends in the Chenab and Beas basins. However, the Ravi and Satluj basins experienced negative trends, indicating a decrease in snow cover during the 2022-23 winter season. During the peak winter months of December to February, all four basins exhibited negative trends compared to the previous year, with Ravi and Satluj being the most affected.

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The study further highlighted the specific variations in snow cover for each month in comparison to the previous year. For instance, in October, Chenab experienced a 36% decline, Ravi saw a 54% decline, Satluj recorded a 27% decline, while Beas witnessed a slight enhancement of 3%. In November, Chenab and Beas showed enhancements of 5% and 21%, respectively, whereas Ravi and Satluj recorded declines of 3% and 22%.

The decline in snow cover persisted in December, with Satluj basin witnessing a significant 56% reduction, while Chenab had the smallest decline of 10%. January and February followed a similar pattern, with all basins experiencing declines ranging from 3% to 38%. In March, the declining trend continued with 2% to 7% decreases across all basins.

However, as the ablation period began in April, an overall enhancement in snow cover was observed in each basin. Chenab, Beas, Ravi, and Satluj recorded enhancements of 22%, 39%, 54%, and 29%, respectively, compared to the previous year. Chenab accounted for 85% of the basin area, followed by Beas (51%), Ravi (33%), and Satluj (43%) in terms of snow cover area during April 2023.

When considering the entire Himachal Pradesh Himalayas and all four basins, a total decline of 10% was observed in snow cover during the 2022-23 winter season compared to the previous year. Chenab basin showed a decline of 0.39%, Beas declined by 6.9%, Ravi by 22.42%, and Satluj declined by 14.61% in terms of total snow cover area.

Prabodh Saxena, IAS, Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh, expressed concern over the study’s findings, emphasizing that the rising temperatures in the higher Himalayan region are affecting the state’s glaciers, leading to mass loss. He also noted the significant shift in snowfall patterns during winters, which impacts river discharge during the peak summer season. Saxena highlighted the need for concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as promoting e-vehicles and renewable energy, in order to mitigate the rise in temperatures and potential water shortages in the coming years.

The study serves as a crucial reminder of the alarming impact of climate change on the Himalayan region and emphasizes the importance of adopting sustainable measures to mitigate its adverse effects on the environment and water resources in Himachal Pradesh.


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