Are the Himalayas doomed to melt? Temperature anomalies in Shimla, Uttarkashi point to grim future

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: India

Publishing organisation: India Today

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-05-12

Language: English

Authors: Dipu Rai, Srafaraz Alam


Dipu Rai is an investigative and data journalist based in New Delhi focusing on data-driven stories on finance, health, politics and environment. He is also actively involved in analyses and visualisations of data at India Today’s Data Intelligence Unit (DIU).

Dipu is well-versed in SQL, Python, R, Tableau and produces prototype visualisations quickly as per requirement. He is specialised in dealing with a variety of datasets with parsing, scraping and cleaning.

After completing the master in economics, Dipu has started his career as a business journalist. He has more than ten years of experience in broadcast, print and digital platforms.

Project description:

Himalayan glaciers are melting rapidly and posing the threat of flash floods and landslides that are not being monitored actively. New data reveals that temperature anomalies are likely concentrated in certain parts of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau.

I have collected and analysed the last 40 years’ temperature data of India’s two Himalayan cities-Shimla and Uttarkashi, to trace the unusual heat pattern in the last two months. They were warmer than the 30-year climate mean (1980 to 2010) in March and April. This temperature change triggers various natural catastrophes in the fragile mountain range.

Impact reached:

The story raises awareness among local government bodies, civil society organisations, journalists and experts about temperature anomalies and their impact.in Himalayan cities and states.

Even small temperature changes can significantly impact the mountains’ unique geography. For example, rising temperatures in the region can lead to the melting of glaciers, and this melting can cause flash floods, landslides, and other forms of disasters. Glacier-related dangers are lurking, and human settlements and infrastructure downstream are under threat.

The report is also covered by the media of Pakistan [Pakistan’s news sites](https://twitter.com/daily_khabrain/status/1524632763479040000); the country witnessed the most acute impact of extreme weather events affecting more than 30 million and killing around 1,200 people last year.

Techniques/technologies used:

I have closely followed the extreme weather events and natural disasters that occurred in the Himalayan region. To understand the problem, I teased out the climate change aspect and decided to trace the micro-level temperature change.

I collected data from web pages of major centres and institutions of the world, including the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). I scraped the local temperature data from various formats, including PDFs, Excel files and CSVs. I used Python to parse the data of many cities in this area. I narrowed my sample down to two Himalayan cities, Shimla and Uttarkashi, to trace the unusual heat pattern in the two months-March and April, which are usually colder in these areas.

To map the deviation from the climatological mean for the selected two months, I analysed the last 40 years’ temperature anomalies data for these two Indian cities. Both cities have seen an upward trend in temperature anomalies, which means they were warmer than the 30-year climate mean (1980 to 2010) in March and April.

Context about the project:

I reviewed journal articles and reports released by relevant national and international agencies. To understand the Himalayan region’s unique geography and climate conditions, I examined satellite images of past natural disasters that claimed thousands of lives.

A review of various journal articles and satellite images shows that Himalayan glaciers will recede by a third by 2100. Himalayan states Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are becoming warmer — more than twice the global average. Permafrost is already at risk in the Himalayas region, and its drastic consequence, in the form of melting glaciers, is likely only to exacerbate over time.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

The consequences of climate change on this precarious ecosystem are still being understood. A micro-level analysis of extreme weather events may help to understand other cataclysms that may not appear directly related to temperature anomalies or climate change. Journalists can track climate changes on a local level and the frequent disasters in the areas.

For instance, Joshimath, a Himalayan town in the state of Uttarakhand, is facing a severe crisis of sinking, as cracks have appeared on roads and houses across the town. (https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/climate-change/joshimath-s-tragedy-again-shows-us-how-fragile-uttarakhand-s-himalayas-are-86982). Thousands of people are cooped up in camps after their homes develop alarming cracks.

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