For much of their water needs, South Asia’s residents—numbering roughly a billion—rely on thousands of glaciers nestled in the Himalaya. The glaciers feed major rivers such as the Ganges, and one such glacier is Chorabari Glacier in India. Situated between the Kedarnath summit to the north and the town of Kedarnath to the south, this glacier produces a vigorous stream that eventually merges with the Ganges River.
The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite took this picture of Chorabari Glacier on November 22, 2007. In this false-color image, the land surface appears reddish brown, snow cover appears white (with dark blue shadows), and glaciers appear pale blue. Covering some 6 square kilometers (2.3 square miles), the Chorabari Glacier sports a rocky coating that helps insulate it from melting. Nevertheless, according to a New York Times report, the glacier had retreated by 2007. A map dating from 1962 placed its terminus, or snout, 262 meters (860 feet) farther down the mountain slope.
Because Indian glaciers have not been studied in detail for the past several decades, assessing their long-term trends has been difficult. More recent studies, however, suggest they are vulnerable to rising temperatures, which increased by 2.2 degrees Celsius (3.96 degrees Fahrenheit) between the 1980s and the new millennium. A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that continued melt of Himalayan glaciers could increase the likelihood of floods over the coming three decades, followed by a reduction in water supply to South Asia’s rivers.
NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Michon Scott.