By Karim Dad, Amjad Saleem, Dr. Siddique Ullah Baig
Melting glaciers is a common sensation in recent years, especially in Himalaya and Karakorum region. Experts link this trend with global warming that result in climate change. In Pakistan a perception particularly prevailed some years ago that by 2035 major glaciers located in the northern region will diminish. The perceived imminent result could be drying up of considerable part of Indus River basin. Such a situation caused panic among populace downstream, who are dependent upon river water for both drinking and irrigation purposes. Pakistan Economic Survey 2014-15 and reported in Tribune in 2016 revealed that “Pakistan’s 5,000 glaciers are retreating faster than any other part of the world”.
However other intensively studied reports state that global warming is yet to effect glaciers in Karakoram Range. A report argues “glacier melting is slowed down with more precipitation nourishing glaciers’ top in winter and summer, hence the mass balance of the glaciers in highly elevated catchments is positive”.
This paper attempts to highlight the behavior of Shishper Glacier, based on recent hands on observations of locals including the authors who frequently visit the valley since decades. Shishper Glacier has stretched significantly towards south-west direction from north-east. Minor movements were observed for the last two years but since May-June this year, a drastic growth can be evidently observed both forward and upward. The Glacier is located in Shishper Valley in central Hunza and can be accessed four kilometers away from Hassanabad ravine (naalah). The peak rise of the glacier upwards is about 180 feet from its previous normal position. A local observer opined that its upward rise is due to the force created as the glacier hit the mountain to the south-west during forward movement. “The glacier bed, where it has risen abruptly also needs to be examined through modern scanners to assess the possibility of any underground movement” opined another expert.
Mochowar glacier, a parallel to Shishper is positioned to the north-west and is stretched towards south- east. Both the glaciers converged into one to form a confluence in the past but since a decade, Mochowar Glacier has retreated about four kilometers. Nevertheless locals, who frequently visit the area have reported its slow upward movement again since two years back. The present distinct retreat of this glacier is linked to general trend of receding glaciers. However, elders, who have been witness to the movement for more than a half century argue that the same glacier positioned itself at the same point some four to five decades ago where it has stood today. Based on the cited observations it can be inferred that the recession is not the current behavior only rather such to and fro movement prevailed in the past as well.
The surge in Shishper Glacier may be a good omen for people concerned due to retreating glaciers and their potential implications. However, the glaciers’ recent behavior has negatively affected the locals. It has put at risk hundreds of livestock which were taken into the summer pastures in both the valleys. Their return is uncertain as the trajectories leading to both Shishper and Muchowar valleys have been hampered by rough canvases created on the glacier surface due to its upward surge. In the past there was a thick layer of debris on the glacier surface which enabled people and livestock to tread upon.
“I didn’t believe while shifting my livestock into the pasture in early June that glacier will expose the way it has now. It appears there is no any alternate way to bring back my livestock during autumn. They (livestock) will not endure the harsh winter and will ultimately die”, a local told this scribe.
Dozens of miners, who earned their livelihood during summer too were unable track into the valleys this year. “Though the conditions are very harsh but we could earn something from mining in summer and could meet our ends for the year. Now we are in doldrums how to meet even routine expenses as we couldn’t go for mining due to blockade of the track”, a local miner narrated his position to the scribes.
The only alternate option is to blast the steep rock above the glacier and build a pony track. It will be approximately half a kilometer long and can be a permanent access route to the pastures but it requires sufficient time and resources.
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