New Delhi: In what is set to raise concerns over the ongoing climate change, warmer winters and early spring in recent decades have led to an increase in the frequency of snow avalanches in the Western Indian Himalayas, said a recent study published in the official scientific journal of US-based National Academy of Sciences.
The study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by researchers from University of Geneva, Switzerland.
Researchers reconstructed the longest time series of snow avalanche history of nearly 150 years of the Western Himalayan region using growth rings of 144 trees on a forested avalanche slope in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh.
The study showed that climate warming observed in recent decades has been accompanied by increase in the occurrence of avalanches and run out distances (the point of the farthest reach of the debris), posing a risk to the people of the region.
“Warming air temperatures in winter and early spring have enhanced the occurrence of wet snow avalanches which are able to reach the bottom of sub-alpine slopes in Western Indian Himalayas, where they have high potential to cause damage," the study states.
In the wake of increasing human habitation along the mountain region and increasing traffic on the steadily expanding road network, the study predicts major implications and flags concerns over the growing risk to people living in the region due to climate change.
The research also forewarns that the model predictions have pointed to an increased probability of snow avalanches towards the second half of the 20th century, which coincides with warming trends observed between December and March, as well as with an increase in accumulated precipitation in January and February.
Pressing upon the need for strategies to mitigate the risk and adapt to climate change, researchers note, “It could be assumed that more intense heavy snowfall or increasing winter temperature variability is likely lead to an increase in high-altitude snow avalanche activity."
According to the study, there has been long-term average occurrence ratio of 0.24 avalanches per year, which were mostly in late winter or early spring.
“Climate warming in the region and ongoing melting of snow and ice are anticipated to change the magnitude and frequency of avalanches in ways that will permanently change high mountain landscapes and associated socioeconomic systems," it said.
Calling upon the need for a well-coordinated action to improve risk management of snow avalanches and adapt to climate change, the researchers highlighted, “Given the potentially dramatic consequences of such high-magnitude events with larger extent and higher pressures, the ongoing climate warming is currently exacerbating the avalanche risk in the region."