Effect of climate change on runoff of a glacierized Himalayan basin

  • Singh P
  • Arora M
  • Goel N
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The continuous increase in the emission of greenhouse gases has resulted in global warming, and substantial changes in the global climate are expected by the end of the current century. The reductions in mass, volume, area and length of glaciers on the global scale are considered as clear signals of a warmer climate. The increased rate of melting under a warmer climate has resulted in the retreating of glaciers. On the long-term scale, greater melting of glaciers during the coming years could lead to the depletion of available water resources and influence water flows in rivers. It is also very likely that such changes have occurred in Himalayan glaciers, but might have gone unnoticed or not studied in detail. The water resources of the Himalayan region may also be highly vulnerable to such climate changes, because more than 50% of the water resources of India are located in the various tributaries of the Ganges, Indus and the Brahmaputra river system, which are highly dependent on snow and glacier runoff. In the present study, the snowmelt model SNOWMOD has been used to simulate the melt runoff from a highly glacierized small basin for the summer season. The model simulated the distribution and volume of runoff with reasonably good accuracy. Based on a 2-year simulation, it is found that, on average, the contributions of glacier melt and rainfall in the total runoff are 87% and 13% respectively. The impact of climate change on the monthly distribution of runoff and total summer runoff has been studied with respect to plausible scenarios of temperature and rainfall, both individually and in combined scenarios. The analysis included six temperature scenarios ranging between 05 and 3 C, and four rainfall scenarios (10%, 5%, 5%, 10%). The combined scenarios were generated using temperature and rainfall scenarios. The combined scenarios represented a combination of warmer and drier and a combination of warmer and wetter conditions in the study area. The results indicate that, for the study basin, runoff increased linearly with increase in temperature and rainfall. For a temperature rise of 2 C, the increase in summer streamflow is computed to be about 28%. Changes in rainfall by 10% resulted in corresponding changes in streamflow by 35%. For the range of climatic scenarios considered, the changes in runoff are more sensitive to changes in temperature, compared with rainfall, which is likely due to the major contribution of melt water in runoff. Such studies are needed for proper assessment of available water resources under a changing climate in the Himalayan region. Copyright 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Climate change
  • Glaciers
  • Himalayas
  • Melt runoff
  • Streamflow

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  • Pratap Singh

  • Manohar Arora

  • N. K. Goel

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