Posted tagged ‘Nicholas Kristoff’

Surface Soot in Kashmir – “Glacial” Doesn’t Mean Slow When It Comes To Warming

July 18, 2010
Kashmir (Sooty Glacier With Goat)

Kashmir - Sooty Glacier (With Goat)

Nicholas Kristoff writes in today’s New York Times about the decline of glaciers in the Himalayas, and the resulting damage to agriculture and waterways on the Indian plains.  One factor in the deterioration (aside from a general rise in temperatures) is apparently the soot on the surface of the glaciers, caused by the exhaust systems of trucks and buses traveling the roadways there.   Because the soot reduces the reflective quality of the snow and ice, it causes them to absorb more heat and melt more quickly.

Archival and new photographs illustrating Himalayan deterioration are currently on display at the Asia Society in New York, but I couldn’t resist adding my own photographic evidence.  The photo above (taken June 2009) shows a slice of soot-covered Himalayan glacier; a goat travels on top of the blackened-ice, whitish buses haunt the background.

The roads–the road in that area, which travels from Srinagar, through Kargil, to Ladakh, is only open from mid-May to October.  In these months, it is extremely crowded with both commercial (beautifully decorated) trucks transporting the year’s worth of supplies, and extensive army convoys.  (They move about the thousands of soldiers stationed in Kashmir.)

Drass, Kashmir, India

The glaciers are beautiful, but sadly grey.  As we began ascending the mountains (by car – no crampons), I thought the grey was a sign of the age of the ice (as in humans!) but closer viewing showed it to be the coating of ash and soot that Kristoff writes of.   (It actually reminded me of snow in New York City — say, near the Holland Tunnel.)

You don’t need to do extensive “backwater” explorations to see an effect on lowland rivers – below is a picture taken in India’s primary tourist city, Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, showing the riverbed of the Yamuna (part of Indus river system fed by Himalayas.)    It’s my understanding that the “islands” used to be submerged.

Yamuna River, Agra

So many people rely on these waterways.  This is not just a problem of dry pipes or reduced pressure – people (often children or women) actively take livestock, laundry, and their individual selves to the riverbanks.

The reduced flow seems not only to mean lesser water but, increased muck – less dilution of the zillion and one pollutants that burden these poor waterways.

Where else can the people go?  They walk out further onto the caked silt of the old riverbed to get to the mirk of water that’s still there.

Kristoff hopes in the article that the BP spill will make Americans, and others, aware of the increasing degradation of the environment worldwide.   I, for one, think it’s doubtful, since Americans have difficulty recognizing the degradation of their home environment.   But many poorer countries – certainly not just India – which have hopped onto  a developmental train of manufacturing and consumption, have no environmental safeguards, enforcement, or even disposal systems, and  tragedy looms.  As nature is reduced, as true rivers and glaciers “melt down”,  mountains of undisintegrated plastic and pools of shinily suspicious liquids move in to fill (or deepen) the void.  (I couldn’t quite make myself take pictures of those.)

Yamuna River, Agra, India