Gangotri Glacier Retreat and Hydropower

In India the Gangotri Glacier is the largest glacier at the headwaters of the Bhagirathi River. The false-color image below provided by NASA shows the retreat of Gangotri Glacier, situated in the Uttarkashi District of Garhwal Himalaya. It is one of the larger glaciers in the Himalaya, and like all of the nearby Himalayan glaciers is retreating significantly. The Bharigrathi River has the Tehri Dam, a 2400 mw hydropower facility. With an area of 286 square kilometers Gangotri Glacier (Singh and others, 2006) provides up to 190 cubic meters per second of runoff for this river . Gangotri Glacier provides hydropower as it passes three hydropower plants generating 1430 MW, including the 1000 MW Tehri Dam and reservoir, which also provides flood control, such as this past week of June 17, 2013(second image). The Tehri Reservoir level rose 25 m within 48 hours which is a storage of approximately 1.3 billion cubic meters. Below is a view of the Tehri Reservoir, images of the dam and its operations are here.tehri dam map 2007Gangotri Glacier retreated 26.5 meters per year form 1935-1971. From 1968-2006 the glacier has retreated 800 meters, close to 20 meters per year (Bhambri et al, 2012). Bhambri et al (2012)also noted that the retreat rate from 2001-2006 had slowed below the long term average. A short term change such as this on a large debris covered glacier cannot be traced to a climate signal. The glacier continues to thin and tributary inflow decline, while the thick heavily insulated by debris terminus retreat is slow. Srivastava (2012) have a report with numerous terminus pictures though they do not have a common reference point beginning on page 90. Where the river exits the glacier is referred to as Gomukh, in Google Earth the 2010 image gives a clear view of Gomukh which can be compared to the 2006 Cartosat image from Bhambri et al (2012). This glaciers remains over 30 km long, and is not in danger of disappearing anytime soon. The lower section of the glacier is heavily debris covered, which slows melting. The debris cover prevents black carbon-soot from enhancing melt over most of the ablation zone. The upper reaches of the glacier extends above 6000 meters and remains snow covered even during the summer melt season June-August, as this is also a main accumulation season due to the summer monsoon. This is different from other alpine regions, where the melt season is also the dry season, here it coincides with the wet season and the accumulation season on the upper glacier. Compare the differences in hydrographs from Thayyen and Gergen (2009) Figure 3 and 4. The new snowcover on the upper glacier also limits the impact of black carbon or soot on ablation. The glacier is fed from avalanches off of the even larger area of mountains above 6000 meters adjacent to it. This is one of many glacier in the Himalaya that is being tapped for hydropower. Updated Feb. 2012.

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1 Comment

  1. [...] of the glacier. This glacier has a similar behavior, but a more limited accumulation zone than Gangotri Glacier or Khumbu Glacier. The transition zone where the glacier is not debris covered and there is [...]

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