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Climate change threat looms over Kailash-Mansarovar, says new report

The threat of climate change is looming over Mount Kailash and Mansarovar, considered holy by four religions. A new study predicts that in the Kailash region, temperatures will increase as it will rain, colder regions will recede, forests and meadows will cover more area and mountain communities will experience serious changes in natural cycles. The study was carried out by the Kathmandu based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).


The Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL) is a 31,000 square kilometer region spanning parts of India, Nepal and the Tibetan autonomous region of China. The 6638 meter Mount Kailash or Kailash Parvat as it is known in India is located at KSL's northern edge abutting the Tibetan plateau.

The ICIMOD study used data collected since 1960 to analyse rainfall/snowfall, temperatures, forest covers and several other climatic parameters to distinguish 8 different zones within the KSL. These range from the sal forests in Uttarakhand's terai and foothills to pine forests, other conifer forests, sub-alpine and alpine shrub and meadows to the frozen regions at great heights. In terms of temperature and precipitation these range from extremely hot and xeric (desert like) to extremely cold and xeric at the heights.

Based on their average elevation, each of the KSL zones show an upward shift of from 285 to over 600 m, except for the highest elevation zone 'extremely cold and moist', which remains relatively the same, the report said. Shifting higher means due to higher temperature, flora and fauna of a particular zone will be found at higher altitudes by 2050. For instance tropical broadleaf forest consisting of sal mostly is currently found at an average elevation of 922 meters, but by 2050, it will be found at 1225 meters. Similarly, temperate conifer forests will shift from a mean height of 2794 meters to 3160 meters.

Areas of these zones will also change dramatically. The mountain peak conditions are encompassed in the 'extremely cold and moist zone' which stretches over 3469 square kilometres currently. But by 2050 this will drop to just 1332 square kilometers, that is, just 38 percent of what it is today. Similarly, the high altitude 'extremely cold and mesic to xeric' zone is expected to decrease by more than 1,600 square km, while the lower 'cold and mesic to xeric' zone is expected to increase by just under 2,300 square km. The 'warm temperate and mesic zone' is expected to decrease by nearly 1,400 km2, while the remaining zones show substantial increases in area. A new small area, 'hot and xeric', which is not present under current climate conditions, is projected to appear, the report predicted.

Higher temperatures and rainfall will mean that vegetation will grow more and cover more area. The report calculates that total annual net primary productivity (NPP), that is the total weight of biomass, varies across the KSL from fairly high rates for lower elevation strata (over 900 tonnes per square km for tropical broadleaf forest) to areas of very low productivity at higher elevations. Current annual NPP for the entire KSL area is estimated at nearly 10 million tonnes, with temperate broadleaf forest contributing the highest proportion (20 per cent), the report said. Increases in temperature and precipitation are projected to impact on the productivity of all ecosystems in the KSL. Based on the analysis in this study, the productivity of the entire KSL area will increase by nearly 1.9 million tonnes (over 16 per cent) by the year 2050, according to the report.


"Climate change is likely to increase the risk for many endemic and already threatened species of fauna and flora. The many genetic lines and landraces of important food crops and livestock breeds found in the KSL are at risk. The highly diverse and finely-tuned agrobiodiversity of this region may provide opportunities, while facing risks at the same time under such change. These results should be taken into account when planning for conservation, ecological restoration, and development in the KSL and a high priority should be assigned to adaptation in the area and region," the report said.

Changing climate will mean changes in rain/snow, rivers and streams, vegetation, pollinating insects, birds, animals and a host of other elements that make up the ecosystem and enable communities to survive. The reports said that the effects on mountain communities "are likely to be profound".



Source:The Hindu, 5 June 2013