New Delhi: If the numbers are any indication, mountaineers and human settlements on the Indian side of the Himalayas do not bear the brunt of nature’s fury. Yes, there have been tragedies. According to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF),the country saw two climate-induced deaths in 2006, both Mexican. While 2005 was better with just one such fatality, the previous year had six.
But the record has been worse in neighbouring countries. In Nepal, for instance, 18 French climbers in a team of 22 perished or were feared dead in October 2005 in an avalanche on Mount Ganguru.
However, the track record of casualties, regardless of which side the ascent is being made from, is likely to worsen, going forward, given the impact of global warming on glaciers and glacial lakes across the mighty range (see ‘Dangers of global warming’).
And it is to avert, or at least minimize, high-altitude accidents resulting from this that the IMF, the nodal agency for all mountaineering activity in India, has initiated a programme to instal weather recording and warning systems at strategic locations. The foundation will be installing the first of a series of Integrated Sensor Suites (ISS) at the ”Chhota Shigri” glacier in Himachal Pradesh by 2007-end.
This 2kg contraption has a rain gauge, humidity sensor, anemometer, ultraviolet radiation sensor, barometer and thermometer. Its solar panel allows it to operate unattended for up to a year
How it works
The ISS is a microprocessor-controlled, compact weather station that will update climbers and rescue teams with essential real time data on temperature, humidity, solar and ultraviolet radiation, wind velocity and direction, and rain.
The sensors connected to the weather station, which weighs just 2 kilograms and is mounted on a tripod that weighs another 3kg, include rain gauge with automatic tipler bucket, anemometer for measuring wind velocity and direction, humidity sensor, ultraviolet radiation sensor, barometer to measure local pressure and thermometer.
”These sensors are installed in a compact casing and soon a snow sensor will be added to the list,” says the IMF secretary.
The system also has a solar panel to enhance power supply, allowing the equipment to operate unattended for between six months and a year.
All a climber has to do is switch on his radio and get the latest, most accurate updates on the weather to help him decide whether to continue an expedition, delay it or abandon it altogether.
PCS Rautela, secretary, IMF, told this correspondent the equipment is not satellite-enabled technology, but adds that the information can also be transferred via Internet. This will help teams assess the feasibility of starting an expedition.
Designed by a US-based organization, ISS sends the weather data it collects to an LCD console or weather envoy. Being lightweight, the structure can be carried and installed quite easily. With its built-in console, the station provides quick forecasting, onscreen graphics, quick view icons, weather warning and forecast.
”One set of equipment will be sent with Indo-Chinese joint expedition to the source of the Sutlej and Brahmaputra, but will be brought back. This will be repeated for four or five years. After the fructification of Chhota Shigri, we plan to instal the device at other glaciers, and are in the process of finalizing the locations,” Rautela said.
He added that Chhota Shigri has been globally identified as a representative glacier for studies on the impact of global warming. An IMF team will soon be heading towards the glacier to gather preliminary information on climate change. Scientists from across the globe are likely to stay here for short periods to contribute in the project.
Responding to a question on whether the IMF will be commercializing the project, Rautela said, ”Not for the time being, as no broadcast is planned in the immediate future.” He said the foundation wants its expeditions to be equipped with the weather station as it is easy to carry. ”Once fixed at the base camp it will monitor local weather and issue weather warnings,” he adds.
Other IMF initiatives
The list of other socio-environment initiatives taken by IMF includes a series of cleaning expeditions to some of the most frequented glaciers in India, and planting Bhoj (Silver Birch) sapling in Bhojwasa area between Gangotri and Gomukh.
Rautela says his organization has also imported safety equipment such as avalanche Victim detector, folding stretchers, inflatable stents, hyperbolic chambers, and super lightweight oxygen bottles to assist distressed mountaineers and high-altitude dwellers.
IMF is also organising a one-week capsule at Leh, at which 24 doctors from across the country will be learn about the benefits of mountain medicine.