Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Global warming Army’s new foe
Increased frequency of avalanches threatens troops at Siachen; 10 killed in Feb.
In the wee hours of February 3 this year, an unprecedented ‘ice avalanche’ hit the northern part of the Siachen glacier. It killed 10 soldiers and put spotlight on the new risk posed to troops by global warming on the glacier and the adjoining 18,000-ft-high peaks of the mighty Karakoram mountains.
It’s now emerging that the frequency of avalanches has increased by some 30 per cent at Siachen and also on the higher peaks of the Karakoram range on which India has a vital toehold in eastern Ladakh. The range in India largely falls in an area defined by military as the sub-sector north (SSN).
The quantum of snowfall has doubled, winter is setting in late and the maximum snow is being witnessed in April; thirdly, the rise in minimum temperature is not allowing the snow to freeze into hard ice. Thus, snow remains moist, resulting in slippery slopes that are avalanche-prone.
In the past four to five years, the average minimum temperature has risen. From minus 40°C in 2012, it has risen to minus 30°C this year. Similarly, the average maximum temperature has gone up from 13°C in 2012 to 15.5°C in 2016. The snowfall increased from average 650 cm in 2012-13 to 1,300 cm in the winter of 2015-16.
The extreme conditions in the Siachen region have killed far more soldiers than enemy fire. The evidence that changes in observed conditions are due to global warming seems a bit thin – a warm, snowy winter could easily be due to natural variation, if -30C (-22F) could be considered in any way “warm”.
Blaming “global warming” might be a convenient way to deflect rising public outrage, at the ongoing environmental attrition of Indian (and Pakistani) soldiers.
Lets hope that India and Pakistan find a peaceful way to resolve this decades old military standoff, instead of continuing to pointlessly waste the lives of their young people, in a futile ongoing struggle over ownership of a useless tract of ice.