The two cloudbursts that lashed the Leh area of Ladakh with unprecedented fury on Thursday and Friday, could be another sign that rising temperatures in the cold desert were leading to climate change, experts said, reports Times of India.
The western Himalayan region is warming faster than the rest of the continent. A recent analysis of temperature trends in the country since 1901 done by scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, found that maximum temperatures in the region were rising at an alarming rate of 0.53 degrees Celsius.
M P Sah of the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology said cloudbursts in this cold desert was a recent phenomenon. “We see a rising trend of cloudbursts since the late 1990s. These weather events aren't expected in this dry and cold region.”
Sah said warming in the region was a plausible explanation for the rising incidents of cloudbursts. “Rainfall is increasing in Ladakh. This ties in with the warming trend in the region.
As Ladakh warms, there is more evaporation from the soil, leading to a rise in relative humidity. With increased water holding capacity of the air, the possibility of strong local convection currents leading to heavy rain increases.”
The geomorphologist who has been studying climate hazards in the Himalayas added that this was a hypothesis that explained the phenomenon but specific research needed to be conducted based on these models. In the past decade or so, cloudbursts have been hitting Ladakh with regularity. On May 23, 2010, 30 houses and 100 small structures were damaged in different villages of Leh in the wake of a cloudburst.
Earlier, on the night of July 31 2006, a cloudburst caused floods in Leh, Saboo, Phyang, Igoo and Shara of Leh district and different pockets of Sankoo block in Kargil. Army's help had to be sought in supplementing relief work. On August 3, 1999, the famous Hemis monastery, 43km from Leh, was damaged in another cloudburst. Though there were no casualties, several living quarters of the lamas reported extensive damage. As a result of the downpour, Leh airport had to be shut, leaving visitors stranded.
Intensifying the damage were the shallow mud and boulders dislodged in flash floods caused by the turbulent downpour of rain, which destroyed a large number of buildings and monasteries in the area.
While scientists have concurred that the cloudburst was a rare phenomenon for the region, differences of opinion have emerged on whether it was caused by climate change in Ladakh.
The meteorological observatory of the Indian Air Force reported that 12.8 mm of rainfall was received in a 24- hour period between August 5 and 6, nearly equalling the average precipitation received by Ladakh during August — prime conditions for a cloudburst, which occurs when heavy rains fall over a small area in a short period.
Professor G. M. Bhat, the head of the geology department at Jammu University, counters that a cloudburst was a natural phenomenon when clouds get trapped in high altitude areas and has nothing to do with global warming.
“ Although the average temperature of the Himalayas has increased in recent years, the cloudbursts cannot be attributed to this,” he said.
P. A. Ramshoo of Kashmir University's geology department also rubbished the claims, saying: “ There were similar floods in 2006 but because Friday's floods hit the urban areas, there was more damage to life and property.”