Arrival of autumn might have given Kashmir some respite from the sweltering summer, but the extreme weather patterns are making weathermen and climatologists extremely worried about the change. Following harsh winter and hot summer this year, experts say weather extremes in the microclimatic condition are filled with reasons.
Environmentalist Dr. Mohammad Muslim who has published several research papers on evaluating variability and trends in extreme climate events of the Kashmir Himalayas and geospatial dynamics and urban expansion of the Srinagar city told The Himalayan Post that the whole region is moving towards a definite climate change.
“If we see the climatic data of the past 30 years, based on which we establish climate change, we see definite indicators of changing pattern on the overall physiographic spectrum,” he said.
Kashmir valley, he added, is divided into three physiographic zones: Valleys, Karewas and Mountains.
“Our studies taken from the distribution of metrological stations across these zones show orographic lifting, warming patterns and increased humidity,” Dr. Muslim said.
“There is an increased influence of Indian summer monsoons towards Kashmir valley. We define it as the microclimatic condition because, in the past, the Indian summer monsoon used to put very less effect on Kashmir’s weather but over the years, the influence of monsoons has increased. The worst part is that the western disturbances are lessening which comes in the form of north Atlantic oscillation and impacts our winters.”
Moreover, the urban heat and its effects are real and the land use is imbalanced.
Take, for instance, Srinagar city, which had a total area of 224 square kilometers. “But the Srinagar development Authority expanded it to 500 square kilometers without any vegetation cover and the areas of forests outside forest also decreased due to the settlements,” Dr Muslim said.
Some 30 years before, the areas of Habak, Pandach or Gulabagh were empty belts. “When we enter Naseem Bagh area of Srinagar, the temperature automatically drops 3 Celsius because of the Chinar trees. Geologically, vegetation does play a role.”
Climate grids for future simulations (1990–2098) showed an increasing trend in all hot extreme events but no significant trend in cold extremes, as per a research.
“And the futuristic frequency and intensity in the extreme temperature events showed a significant increase compared to extreme precipitation.”
Geologist Dr. Reyaz Ahmad Dar who is currently working on the Quaternary Geomorphology and Paleoclimatic studies of the Himalayan region of Kashmir in the University of Kashmir said that in the geographical past of the valley, when the tectonic plates were converging at a fast pace, the Pirpanjal mountain range was rising as a barrier to the tropical waves and Indian summer monsoon winds.
Although geologically, monsoon does enter the valley, the influence is not intense and widespread because of the existence of Pirpanjal range.
“The transition from tropical to temperate climate was determined by the uplifting of the tectonic plates and currently, the Pirpanjal range rises 10 millimetres per year which had kept the region’s climate moderate since 4 million years,” said Dr. Dar.
“It is because of the existence of the Pirpanjal range, our rivers don’t flow towards the southern Indian peninsula and over the years, the range has risen to more than 3000 meters, some studies even say up to 5 kilometers.”
Geologically, due to the folding of the tectonic plates, the atmosphere gets colder as higher mountains rise and over the years, the Pirpanjal range has attained a height where it can block the precipitation or it can make that precipitation in the form of a snowfall.
“That’s why,” the geologist said, “most of the mountain peaks used to be covered with glaciers in the past.”
In earth science, climate change is defined on two aspects – human-induced and natural.
In the natural aspect, the Milankovitch cycle is used to access the changing patterns in the geometry of the tilt of the earth’s orbit and the incoming solar radiation is studied by the tilting axis.
Experts say, in Kashmir, melting of small and medium glaciers, a decline of dense forest cover, shrinkage of wetlands, extreme events like droughts, floods and the expansion of cities and towns are the reason for this current heatwave in Kashmir’s climate.
Geographer Dr. Sultan Bhat said due to the contradictory data by different sources, it is difficult to give statistics of the deforestation on the forest cover area in Kashmir.
Both the Forest department of the Jammu and Kashmir and Indian agricultural statistics show no clue of extreme deforestation. In fact, the official data shows that the plantation has grown over the past 30 years among sparse forest.
However, the remote sensing data of the satellite imagery shows a decline of dense forests. It also shows an increase of sparse forests but it is the dense forest that decides the temperature and not the sparse.
“Also our small and medium glaciers are melting,” Dr. Bhat said.
“Thajwas is about to disappear, technically. We cannot call Thajwas a glacier anymore and our hundreds of wetlands like Walur, Anchar, Hokersar are already shrinking. Wetlands used to have a very strong influence on the microclimatic conditions of the region.”
Now look at the higher altitude, the geographer said. Earlier vehicular traffic was limited to the Pahalgam bowl, now the traffic goes to the Chandanwari and in 12 years it may reach to the Peeshu top or Panjtar, he warned.
“According to the index of luminosity,” Dr. Bhat said, “the Pahalgam has turned into a town which is a forest area or you can look at the hilltop expansion and the encroachment of the forest and meadows of the Sonamarg bowl.”
Since Kashmir valley is surrounded by higher mountain ranges, the weather extremes get brutal here.
“When the temperature rises, cloudbursts occur,” he said. “It also happens vice versa. From the past 3 years, the valley has received excessive snowfall and the intensity and variability of the rainfall has also changed. For example, earlier, 400mm rainfall per year would take 4 months to spread, now the same quantum amount of rainfall spreads in 1 and half month causing more chances of the flood.”
The Kashmir region is a low-lying basin surrounded in the south and southwest by the Middle or Lesser Himalayas separating it from the Jammu region. In the north and east, the Great Himalayan Range separates it from the Ladakh region.
“But it is not the greater Himalayas but the lesser Himalayas which ensure precipitations,” said an expert on the climatology of Kashmir in the University of Kashmir.
“Climate of a place is determined by many things, like altitude, latitude, topography, water bodies and atmospheric circulation. Taken all things under consideration, we can’t say the climate has changed in Kashmir but it can be defined as the extreme event.”