A study carried out by scientists from Divecha Centre for Climate Change, at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru—the findings of the study will be published in the journal, Current Science, soon—shows that the Satluj Basin will face catastrophic loss of its glaciers by 2050. It is estimated that around 55% and 97% of glaciers in the Satluj Basin will disappear by 2050 and 2090, respectively. The study attributes the loss to the unfolding climate emergency. The loss of glacial area from the Satluj Basin will severely affect the availability of water, impacting not just irrigation but also power generation—the basin is a huge contributor to the Bhakra Dam (around 80%) reservoir. The Satluj Basin has 2,026 glaciers spanning 1,426 km2—the small glaciers (less than 1km2) are more vulnerable, and 62% of those will be lost by 2050.
The Satluj Basin has already lost 21% of glacier volume between 1984 and 2013—the rise in near surface air temperature in North Western Himalayas has been 0.65oC, higher than mean global rise of 0.47oC. The researchers, therefore, estimate 33% and 81% reduction in the glacier area by 2050 and 2090 respectively. This gradual melting will affect the contribution of melt run-off to the Bhakra reservoir, and lead to glacier lake outburst floods.
Research like this need to be taken seriously by the various government bodies of states and the Centre. As the Bhakra Dam provides electricity and irrigation to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh, these will be the first states to experience the consequences of this climate change, and may lead to large scale flooding of areas in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. While the need is to act on stalling the march of the climate crisis, this can’t be a local or even a national effort. India must flag this issue internationally and press the West for greater commitment towards climate action.