INDIA WILL BE greatly affected by global warming. The effect will be experienced in the reduction of snow cap size in the Himalayas, retreat of glaciers that feed the rivers, an increased flooding of the snow-fed rivers initially, followed by partial drying up of the rivers, and formation of new lakes and flooded lakes at upper altitudes.
Outside the polar region, the Himalayas contain the largest volume of ice. The size of this ice depends on South Asian monsoons, as well as the winter precipitation that the area receives resulting from the flow of moisture-laden winds that originate in the North Atlantic Ocean and pass through the Mediterranean Sea. About six centuries of historical records and analyses of ice dust and chloride concentrations in the Tibetan ice field have shown that there were modest monsoon failures in India in 1230, 1280, 1330, 1530, 1590, and 1640. The most catastrophic failure, with severe drought, occurred 1790-76. Researchers have ascertained that there is a positive correlation between snowfall and temperature. In recent years, the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau have experienced warming periods, such as 1960-90, causing diminution of snowfall.
Glacial retreat has been observed in the Himalayas. The United Nations climate report predicts that by 2035, some Himalayan glaciers will disappear with the rising temperatures. Gangotri glacier, the source of the Ganges River, is retreating at a rate of 755 ft. (230 m.) per year. The glacial retreat and lower ice cap after 2035 will lower the volume of the snow-fed rivers of north India, such as the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers, and some of the tributaries originating from the Himalayan ice field. Flooding will endanger riverside cities, such as Varanasi, Kanpur, and Patna.
These million-plus cities already experience flooding during the high monsoon season and will be further endangered. Flooding will also wreak havoc on the farming areas of northern India and cause dislocation in the road and rail transports. Some of the multipurpose River Valley Project dams, such as those across the Kosi and Sutlej rivers, will overflow, causing extreme devastation of rice paddies, cornfields, and settlements.
When a tipping point is reached by 2035, the ice melting will either stop, or be minimized because of continued warming; therefore, the rivers will experience weakened streams during monsoon months and in summer. The perennial nature of these rivers then will be challenged, as they will look like those of south India, where the size of the rain-fed rivers is much diminished during the non-monsoon dry months. Variation in water flows will disrupt river irrigation, on which a large number of the farmers depend, particularly in the Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and northwestern Rajasthan states.
As global temperature continues to rise from about 57 degrees F (14 degrees C) (base) in 2000 to an estimated 66 degrees F (19 degrees C) (maximum) in 2100, various effects will be felt on weather, water bodies, farming, desertification, precipitation, and diseases. Sea levels will rise to an estimated 3.9 in. (0.1 m.) (minimum) to 35 in. (0.9 m.) (maximum) by 2100. Parts of coastal cities of India, such as Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata, and coastal area farmlands will be inundated, especially during high tides. Parts, or entire coastal islands will also be submerged. Lohachara is the first island in the world to be submerged due to global warming. This Sunder-bans Island is situated in the southern edge of the Ganges delta in the Bay of Bengal. Its 10,000 residents turned into the first global warming-generated refugees. The Lakhadweep group of 27 islands, scattered in the Arabian Sea off the coast of the south Indian state of Kerala, is home to about 61,000 people. These low-lying coral islands are in danger of submergence as well. If this happens, the Indian Union will lose one of its seven territories.
India is the world's fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter. Such man-made environmental pollution aggravates the process of global warming. With increased temperatures, there will be a constant rise in precipitation. Higher intensity of cyclones reaching levels 4 and 5 that originate mainly in the Bay of Bengal will plague the coastal states of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamilnadu; the territory of Andaman and the Nicobar islands will also be affected.
Rising evaporation resulting from warmer conditions in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea will accentuate the desertification process around the West Indian Rajasthan Desert. Rising temperature will also enable farmers and plantation (tea and coffee in particular) operators to increase their domain upwards to higher altitudes. Therefore, there will be an increase in primary sector activity in certain mountainous parts of north-northeast and southwest India. Anopheles mosquitoes spreading malaria will also invade the same higher altitudes. Higher altitude areas and the resort towns like Darjeeling, Nainital; Massouri in the Himalayas; and Ooty (Udhagamandalam) and Kodai-kanal in the Western Ghats Mountain Range will be invaded by anopheles mosquitoes spreading malaria, which will only breed in warm weather.
sEE ALso: Diseases; Drought; Floods; Glaciers, Retreating; Hurricanes and Typhoons; Monsoons.
BIBLIoGRAPHY. "Global Warming," Time (v.167/14, 2006); Michael A. Toman and Brent Sohngen, Climate Change (Ashgate Publishing, 2004); IPCC, Climate Change 2001: The Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
ASHOK K. DUTT University of Akron
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