India to conduct aerial radar surveys of Himalayan glaciers to estimate thickness
March 22, 2021

India is planning to conduct airborne radar surveys of Himalayan glaciers to estimate their thickness. 

A pilot study will be conducted in the Lahaul-Spiti basin of Himachal Pradesh. Following this, similar studies will be conducted in Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra sub-basins as well.

The development is significant given the importance of glaciers in India’s river systems. 

Significance

i) The glaciers help sustain around 500 million people living downstream in the Indo-Gangetic plains.

ii) The glaciers are also important from an energy security standpoint and have a strategic imperative.

Airborne Radar Surveys: Key Highlights 

•The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) Ministry of Earth Sciences had initiated a proposal to estimate the thickness of Himalayan glaciers using innovative airborne radar surveys in collaboration with established Indian researchers in India and abroad. 

•This was informed by Environment Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan in a written reply in Lok Sabha on March 19, 2021.

•The Minister had stated that the Geological Survey of India had employed several techniques such as geophysical techniques and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to assess the depth of glaciers. ISRO had also carried out Research and Development study to estimate the thickness of major Himalayan glaciers using remote sensing-based methods.
 
•The design, fabrication and testing of compact and lightweight radar and antennas that are suitable for helicopter-based operations have been proposed for which sufficient expertise is available in India. 

•The term of the project is yet to finalised. The number of people who will work on the project has also not been decided yet. 

•Funds have also not been allocated yet for the project. They will be allocated once the project is finalised. 

Why are Glaciers important?

•There is a high level of interdependence between the glaciers located in the Himalayas and the energy security of the country. 

•Around 33 percent of the country's thermal electricity and 52 percent of hydropower is dependant on the water from rivers originating in the Himalayas. 

•These rivers receive a significant amount of their water from glaciers, making them an indispensable part of India’s energy security.

Background

The project's announcement comes after India witnessed a major disaster in February 2021 when several people lost their lives due to a glacier burst near Raini village above the Rishiganga river in Uttarakhand. 

India was also ranked 20th on the Climate Risk Index (CRI) meaning that it is one of the most vulnerable countries for extreme weather events.