Cloudburst in Leh may be due to climate change

Last Updated: Wed, Aug 25, 2010 13:30 hrs

New Delhi: Based on detailed analysis of weather data of last five years in Leh, Ladakh, scientists have attributed the recent cloudburst in the region to prolonged winters which may be due to climate change.

"After going through the sequence of events of the weather that led to the cloudburst on August 6, it has been reinforced that the catastrophe was due to prolonged winters being witnessed in the region," sources in Leh-based Defence Institute For High Altitude Research (DIHAR) said.

The analysis by the research institute under the Defence Ministry was done to look into the reasons that triggered the cloudburst in Ladakh which is usually considered unnatural because it is a rain shadow area.

On the condition of anonymity, the sources said at a recent meeting on "Evaluation of climate change in Ladakh sector and causes of cloudburst in Leh," the scientists led by DIHAR director Sashi Bala had analysed the weather data of the last five years in terms of monthly temperature, rainfall, humidity and snowfall.

The study indicated that increased temperature and hot summers in the plains lead to increased evaporation and subsequent cloud formation in the hills. "This in turn, lead to increased duration of snowfall in Ladakh when compared to previous years.

"The winters in Ladakh were found to be prolonged," the experts concluded though they felt the phenomenon could not be directly associated with climate change given the short range of data.

They also noted that the region was witnessing unusual phenomenon of bright sunshine in the June and July months causing melting of snow and high relative humidity (72%) as compared to previous years (50%), the sources said.

Tracing the change in weather on the basis of the data available, the sources pointed out "since snow absorbed the latent heat also, the monthly maximum and minimum temperature remained low and did not shoot up as compared to previous years (2006).

"The low temperature and high relative humidity lead to formation of dense low clouds in the valley. Since the vapour content in the clouds were high and on trying to cross the glaciers, the vapours further condensed.

"The clouds could not retain the water droplets that lead to the cloudburst. Since the rainfall was absent on 3rd, 4th and 5th August and was negligible on 7th, 8th and 9th August the theory of occurrence of a cloudburst in Leh due to prolonged winters may be reinforced," the meeting said on the sequence of event.

The cloudburst, which led to flash floods and mudslides, claimed about 180 lives and injured about 400 people, besides causing widespread damage to public and private property.

The Defence establishment has also initiated research towards preventing soil erosion in case of heavy rains in the area in future in view of climate change.

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