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Global warming making Siachen riskier for soldiers

By Snehesh Alex Philip
August 14, 2016 16:07 IST
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The death of 10 soldiers earlier this year in an avalanche in the critical Sonam post, located close to the Line of Control with Pakistan, was due to global warming. 

Climate change is making the life of the soldiers posted in the world’s highest and arduous battlefield -- Siachen Glacier -- not just tough but also dangerous, as temperature rises and the snow melts faster.

Siachen, which has the dubious distinction of having seen more soldiers dying due to extreme weather (temperatures at times drop below -50 degree Celsius) than the enemy bullet, is feeling the heat of global warming.

The death of 10 soldiers earlier this year in an avalanche in the critical Sonam post, located close to the Line of Control with Pakistan, was due to global warming.

“The entire incident (at Sonam) was because of climate change only. Because, we generally don’t have ice avalanches. Avalanches are generally snow avalanches.

“What happened in Sonam was that a hanging glacier, which was stuck to the ice wall had fallen off. That was just because in the last 15 or 20 days (prior to the accident), the temperature had been rising,” Lieutenant Colonel S Sengupta, Commandant of the Siachen Battle School said.

Lance Naik Hanumanthappa, who was rescued after being buried 30 feet below snow for six days at the Sonam Post, located at about 19,600 feet, could not be saved.

Sengupta said that climate change actually makes the glacier break, due to which a lot of crevasses, one of the deadliest enemies of the soldier in Siachen, keep coming up.

“It (rising temperature) is making life tough,” he said. The army has now taken some precautionary measures and even moved some of the posts a little.

Keeping ice avalanches in mind, the army is buying special radars that can detect humans buried under ice, unlike the earlier ones which could detect only through the snow.

The army is also equipping its men with Avalanche Buoyance Systems - air bags that can be triggered remotely - which prevent burial in an avalanche by providing extra buoyancy.

The effect of the climate change is such that the snout of the Siachen Glacier has actually receded back by about 800 metres in the last one decade or so.

Over 41 soldiers have lost their lives on the Siachen Glacier since 2013, even though not a single shot has been fired since the ceasefire between India and Pakistan in 2003.

At least 1,013 Indian soldiers have lost their lives in Siachen since 1984.

The studies carried out by Indian Space Research Organisation, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology Dehradun and other institutions have revealed that majority of the glaciers in India are retreating (melting) at varying rates from 5-20 metre per year.

The situation is such that at this time of the year, more than the pristine white snow, what you find more is black snow (often called moraine). 

The river Nubra, which flows through the Base Camp, is actually black in colour rather than blue it was once.

“Global warming is definitely having its side effects on the glacier but things are different during summers. During the winters, the pristine white snow will be back and the waters will again become blue,” a senior officer said. 

Explaining the impact of climate change in Siachen, officers said that over a decade ago, rains were never seen here. However, the area now witnesses light drizzle in between over the past few years. 

“Earlier one could not see any greenery over 12,000 feet. Now one can even see some green at even 15,000 feet which shows how temperatures have risen over the years,” another officer said. 

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Snehesh Alex Philip
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