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New Delhi: India plans to conduct airborne radar surveys to estimate the thickness of Himalayan glaciers, with a pilot study to be conducted in Lahaul-Spiti basin of Himachal Pradesh. Once the pilot project is done, similar studies will be conducted in Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra sub-basins.

The development assumes significance given the importance of glaciers in India’ river systems and the 500 million lives they sustain downstream in the Indo-Gangetic plains. They are also important from the energy security standpoint and have a strategic imperative.

“A proposal has been initiated by National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) Ministry of Earth Sciences to estimate thickness of Himalayan glaciers using innovative airborne radar surveys in collaboration with established Indian researchers in India and abroad," said Dr. Harsh Vardhan, science and technology, earth sciences and health and family welfare minister in a written reply in Lok Sabha on Friday.

This also comes in the backdrop of India being one of the most vulnerable country for extreme weather events, ranking 20th on Climate Risk Index (CRI). Also, the country was recently witness to a human tragedy when several people lost their lives, after a glacier near Raini village above Rishiganga river in Uttarakhand burst in February.

“There is a high interdependence between the glaciers located in the Himalayas and the energy security of the country. Almost 33% of country’s thermal electricity and 52% of hydropower in the country is dependent on the water from rivers originating in Himalaya. These rivers receiving significant part of their water due to melting of ice, glaciers make an indispensable part of India’s energy security," according to a discussion paper from The Energy and Research Institute (Teri).

“Climate change has strong influence on the precipitation over Himalayas as well as melting response of glaciers/ snow cover in Himalayas. This in turn affects the runoff pattern of rivers draining from the glaciated catchments of Himalayas," the paper added.

India plans to add 45 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower capacity to its energy basket. India is also grappling with the issue of China’s ambitious $62 billion south-north water diversion scheme of the rivers that feed downstream into the Brahmaputra, known in China as the Yarlung Tsangpo.

“Different techniques like geophysical techniques and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) profiling have been employed for glacier depth assessment by Geological Survey of India (GSI). Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) carries out Research and Development study to estimate thickness of major Himalayan glaciers using remote sensing based methods," Harsh Vardhan said in his written reply, according to a statement from the ministry of earth science.

“Design, fabrication and testing of compact and lightweight radar and antennas suitable for helicopter-based operations are proposed for which sufficient expertise is available in India and with overseas Indians," the statement added.

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