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Soot finger at India - Everest glacier being hit: US and China scientists

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  • Published 9.12.09

New Delhi, Dec. 8: Soot produced in India by burning coal, diesel and biomass appears to be accumulating and threatening glaciers in Tibet, including the Rongbuk glacier on Mount Everest, American and Chinese scientists have said.

Researchers from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research in China and the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have shown that tiny particles of black soot called aerosols may be contributing to retreat of Tibetan glaciers.

Although scientists have long speculated that soot can alter the effect of sunlight on accumulated snow and ice, the new study provides hard evidence to show that black soot is sufficient to change the reflectivity of glaciers, which increases the amount of sunlight absorbed by them.

Protecting the Himalayan glaciers may require the reduction of black soot emissions, in addition to reduced greenhouse gases, the researchers said in their report.

The findings of the study appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and coincide with the Copenhagen climate summit.

The analysis of soot deposition over time at five locations on the Tibetan plateau, including a site on the Rongbuk glacier, north of Mount Everest, shows a pattern consistent with decreasing European sources and increasing Asian sources of soot.

The study has shown evidence of increasing soot concentrations on glaciers in the southern side of the Tibetan plateau — Zuoqiupu, Noijin Kangsang and East Rongbuk — which should receive black soot both from the south and the west.

The soot has increased rapidly since the 1990s, coinciding with increasing industrial activity in China and India and with observed glacial retreat.

“It is surely from both India and China — with proportions depending on where you look in the Himalayas,” said James Hansen, a senior scientist at the Nasa Goddard Institute.

“Black soot is among the most damaging of all particulates to human health,” Hansen told The Telegraph. “This just provides additional reason for India and China to move as fast as possible to clean energies such as wind, sun and nuclear power.”

The suggestion has long been controversial in the country where it is viewed as a fresh argument to coax India towards clean energy development. Some scientists in India say there is still not enough evidence to link soot with the loss of glaciers. They also believe the contribution of glaciers to river water is sometimes overstated.

The Chinese-American team has said that glacial melt provides up to two-thirds of the summer flow in the Ganga and half or more of the flow in other major rivers, citing a previous assessment by other scientists.

“But this contradicts what most glaciologists believe —that snow melt contributes less than 25 per cent of the river discharge,” said J. Srinivasan, chairman of the Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.