Crop burning fuelling glacier melt in Himalayas

The burning of agricultural waste around Delhi that is causing air pollution in the capital is also contributing significantly to the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, a new study has suggested.

Open agricultural burning, a common practice in north and northwest India, releases black carbon due to insufficient combustion. These particles cause a relatively localised greenhouse gas effect and contribute to an increase in temperatures in a small region.

“There is almost a definite linkage between agricultural burning in Punjab and other nearby places and the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas. The problem is that we have been seeing an increase in agricultural burning practices in these areas,” Svante Bodin, European Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative told media.

“Data reveals a substantial increase in burning activities over the last 10 to 15 years,” Bodin said.

A Swedish meteorologist who formerly worked for the government, Bodin has been involved in a project to study crop burning patterns in the Himalayan region and around the Andes in South America and its impact.

“One of the most striking features in India is the massive burning that happens around November in Punjab. Almost all the farmers seem to be burning rice stubble during this time. A peak is seen in late May as well. A similar situation is seen in the Punjab of Pakistan and southern Nepal. Since these regions are so close to the Himalayas, they are likely to significantly affect the melting of glaciers due to black carbon emissions originating from agricultural burning transported up along the valleys and hillsides,” he said.

After a major public debate on air quality in Delhi, the National Green Tribunal had directed last month that crop burning in the four states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and UP be banned.

Amitabh Sinha

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