Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

Himalayan glaciers shrinking due to black carbon: expert

July 28, 2013

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 28, 2013

Black carbon, mainly produced by burning of agricultural waste and vehicles, is responsible for the quicker melting of Himalayan glaciers, according to an Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur study.

Black carbon is primarily unburnt fuel that travels from warmer to colder areas through air, settles on glaciers and makes them melt. It is the biggest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.

In his study, IIT-Kanpur professor Mukesh Sharma found that 40% of the glacial retreat was because of black carbon impact and 75% of Himalayan glaciers that are home to 11,480 million people are shrinking at an average of 3.75 km in 15 years.

“Reduction in black carbon emissions can lead to a near-term impact on atmospheric warming, which would prevent glacial melt,” said Sharma at a workshop by the Centre for Science and Environment.

Sharma found India emits 534 kilotonnes of black carbon every year. The maximum black carbon contribution was found to be from western and southern India, followed by central India — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

The least emissions were from the Himalayan region, which have to face consequences of glacial melt like overflowing of Kedar Dome, a cause for massive tragedy in Uttarakhand.

The findings were based on data from monitoring stations on Gangotri glacier and East Rongbuck glacier near Mount Everest in Nepal. Sharma said these emissions can be reduced by promoting the use of LPG in rural areas and banning open burning of agriculture waste.

Michael Walsh, founding chairman of the International Council on Clean Transportation said vehicles should come with particulate matter traps. India, however, is yet to come out with a policy on controlling black carbon.

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