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  • 19 July, 2022

  • 15 Min Read

Karakoram Anomaly

Karakoram Anomaly

What is Karakoram Anomaly?

The 'Karakoram Anomaly' is termed as the stability or anomalous growth of glaciers in the central Karakoram, in contrast to the retreat of glaciers in other nearby mountainous ranges of the Himalayas and other mountainous ranges of the world.

The reason behind the anomaly:

  • The revival of western disturbance (WD) has been instrumental in triggering and sustaining the Karakoram Anomaly as per scientists.
  • WDs are the primary feeder of snowfall for the region during winters and the study suggests they constitute about around 65% of the total seasonal snowfall volume and about 53% of the total seasonal precipitation, easily making them the most important source of moisture.
  • The precipitation intensity of WDs impacting Karakoram has increased by around 10% in the last two decades, which only enhances their role in sustaining the regional anomaly.
  • It has been revealed that the contribution of WDs in terms of snowfall volume over the core glacier regions of Karakoram has increased by about 27% in recent decades, while the precipitation received from non-WD sources has significantly decreased by around 17%.
  • The anomaly provides a very bleak but nonetheless a ray of hope. After recognizing the importance of WDs in controlling the anomaly, their future behavior might very well decide the fate of Himalayan glaciers as well.

About Karakoram Ranges

  • Karakoram Ranges are a great mountain system extending some 300 miles (500 km) from the easternmost extension of Afghanistan in a southeasterly direction along the watershed between Central and South Asia.
  • They are the greatest concentration of high mountains in the world and the longest glaciers outside the poles such as the Siachen Glacier, Biafo Glacier, Hispar Glacier, Batura Glacier, etc.
  • The Karakorams are part of a complex of mountain ranges at the center of Asia, including the Hindukush to the west, the Pamirs to the northwest, the Kunlun Mountains to the northeast, and the Himalayas to the southeast.
  • The borders of India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, all converge within the Karakoram system, giving this remote region great geopolitical significance.
  • It begins in Wakhan Corridor (Afghanistan) in the west, encompasses the majority of Gilgit-Baltistan (controlled by Pakistan), and extends into Ladakh (controlled by India) and Aksai Chin (controlled by China).
  • Its highest peak (and the world’s second highest peak), K2, is located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. The other peak includes Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak, etc.

Topography of Karakoram

  • The topography is characterized by craggy peaks and steep slopes. The southern slopes are long and steep, the northern slopes steep and short.
  • Cliffs and taluses (great accumulations of large fallen rocks) occupy a vast area.
  • In the intermontane valleys, rocky inclines occur widely. Transverse valleys usually have the appearance of narrow, deep, steep ravines.


  • Structurally, the Karakorams originated from folding in the Cenozoic Era (i.e., during the past 65 million years).
  • Granites, gneisses, crystallized schists, and phyllites dominate the geologic composition.
  • To the south and north, the central rock core of the Karakorams is edged by a region of limestones and micaceous slates of the Paleozoic and (partly) Mesozoic eras (i.e., about 245 to 540 million years old).
  • To the south, the sedimentary rock is sometimes cut by intrusions of granite.

Plant and animal life

  • The Karakorams have upper and lower tree lines, the upper delimited by cold and the lower by aridity; within these lines is found only degraded, sparse tree cover. Flora includes willow, poplar, oleander and junipers, and sea buckthorn on high altitudes.
  • Fauna includes Marco Polo sheep, or argali, Ladakh Urials, Siberian Ibex, and Markhor (hangul). Endangered animals like snow leopard, brown bear, and lynx are also found.


  • Subsistence agriculture and livestock raising dominate the local economy. Crops are limited to wheat, barley, sweet and bitter buckwheat, corn (maize), potatoes, and pulses. Tree crops, especially apricots and walnuts, were once an important local food source

Melting of the Himalayan Glacier

The Himalayan mountains are the third largest deposit of ice and snow in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic. Spanning about 2000km and with t00 billion tonnes of ice, the Himalayan glaciers supply and support 800 million people with river water for irrigation, drinking, and hydropower.

Evidence of Glacial melt

  • Various studies conducted by the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology found that many Uttarakhand glaciers like Dokriani Glacier in the Bhagirathi basin retreated by 15-20 meters annually since 1995 whereas Charoban Glacier in the Mandakini basin retreated 9-11 meters per year during 2003-2007.
  • Numerous small glaciers in the Sutlej basin are also indicating significant loss, creating a scarcity of water in summers.

Importance of the Himalayan region

As per the Hindu Kush Himalayan Assessment Report, the melting of Himalayan glaciers which are also referred to as the Third pole could impact the Asian countries and would be a threat to 1.9 billion people as:

  • As the Himalayans are spread over 8 countries namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
  • Origin of 10 major river basins of the world namely Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Amr Darya, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween, Tarirn, Yangtze, and yellow river.
  • The Himalayan region is home to four global biodiversity hotspots, and several important bird areas and provides ecosystem services in the form of carbon sink, habitat, food, water, and energy supply.
  • Ice protects the earth and oceans by reflecting excess heat back into space and the melting of the Himalayan glacier is a serious matter of concern.

Reasons for the melting of Himalayan glaciers:

The growing impact of anthropogenic developments leads to global warming and climate change.

  • Greenhouse gas emissions due to rapid industrialization and urbanization, burning of fossil fuels, and mining activities like mining of sulphide ores in Pithoragarh, and large-scale mining by China, are all factors that increase the Himalayan melt.
  • Increasing infrastructural developments in the form of rail, road bridges, large hydropower projects, hotels, restaurants, etc
  • Development of trade routes. The recent CPEC corridor could also have a significant impact on the ecology of the Himalayas.
  • Rising population and increasing human footprints in the form of travel and tourism are exceedingly far beyond the ecological threshold.
  • Report by the World Bank also alarmed about the rising emission of black carbon on the Himalayan glacier leading to reduce in albedo.
  • Encroachment in the form of agriculture, food processing, and plantation leading to widespread deforestation in the Himalayan region and increasing global warming.

Impacts Of Himalayan Melting

  • Threat to Water Security and food security- Large perennial rivers originating in the Himalayas are the life of people providing water for drinking, carrying out agricultural activities, and other socio-economic activities. It will directly impact the downstream water budget.
  • Energy crises- The Himalayan rivers have major hydropower potential and are a source of electricity in the Himalayan States.
  • Ground Water Depletion- Himalayan glaciers and rivers are also important for the recharge of groundwater aquifers.
  • Ramification for Global Climate – the region is a heat sink in the winter and even a carbon sink, melting of glaciers would also trigger global warming.
  • Glacial lake outbursts flood: Faster glacial melting has increased the threat of glacial lake outburst floods like the Kedarnath flood in 2013 due to the bursting of the Chorabari glacier which flooded the Dhauli Ganga, creating huge havoc in the region.
  • Changing microclimatic conditions: the incidents of flash floods and cloud bursts have also increased in the mountain region and occasional flash floods downstream.
  • Ecological Impact: Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by the Himalayan mountains.

Indian Government Initiative: Department of Science and Technology (DST) has supported various R&D projects for studying the Himalayan Glacier under:

  • National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem: it aims to evolve a suitable management and policy and time-bound action plan to sustain the ecological resilience and ecosystem services in the Himalayas.
  • National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change: seeks to build a vibrant and dynamic knowledge system that would inform and support national action for ecological conservation in India including the Himalayan ecosystem.
  • Secure Himalayan Project- A six-year project, launched by Union Government to conserve locally and globally significant biodiversity, land, and forest resources in the Himalayan ecosystem spread over Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim.

To ensure water supply, energy production, ecosystem integrity, agricultural and forestry production, disaster preparedness, and ecotourism, the conservation of Himalayan mountains is important. It is the responsibility of the world countries, civil societies, and the Himalayan Nations to protect and conserve this ancient cultural heritage.

Source: PIB

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