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Mountains in many parts of the world are susceptible to the impacts of rapidly changing climate, and provide interesting locations for early detection and study of signals of climatic change. The Department of Science & Technology, Government of India has been entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE) under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). The broad objectives of NMSHE include - understanding of the complex processes affecting the Himalayan Ecosystem and evolve suitable management and policy measures for sustaining and safeguarding the Himalayan eco-system, creating and building capacities in different domains, networking of knowledge institutions engaged in research and development of a coherent database on Himalayan ecosystem. The DST has identified National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Roorkee as nodal agency for assessing the impact of climate change on water, snow, ice, and glaciers in the Himalayas. Around 20 Scientists from NIH and four collaborating organizations and 26 project staff are involved in the project.

In this background, DST has approved the NIH project proposal entitled “Integrated Hydrological Studies for Upper Ganga Basin up to Rishikesh”. This project, which has been approved by the DST in January, 2016, envisages to focus on issues of comprehensive integrated hydrological studies for upper Ganga basin up to Rishikesh. 11 sub-projects have been formulated with different study teams. The broad objectives of these sub-projects are:

  1. Development of hydrological database in Upper Ganga basin
  2. Real-time snow cover information system for Upper Ganga basin
  3. Glacial Lakes & Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in Western Himalayan region
  4. Assessment of downstream impact of Gangotri glacier system at Dabrani and future runoff variations under climate change scenarios
  5. Observation and modeling of various hydrological processes in a small watershed in Upper Ganga basin
  6. Hydrological modeling in Alaknanda basin and assessment of climate change impact
  7. Hydrological modeling in Bhagirathi basin up to Tehri dam and assessment of climate change impact
  8. Study of river - aquifer interactions and groundwater potential in the upper Ganga basin up to Dabrani
  9. Understanding of hydrological processes in study basin by using isotopic techniques
  10. Environmental Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystem of Upper Ganga Basin
  11. Water Census and Hotspot analysis in selected villages in Upper Ganga basin

It is envisaged to develop capacity in concerned state and other departments/agencies to process the hydrological data and maintain the database in HIS. The project intends sharing of knowledge (derived hydrological information and related data) among the Institutions in Himalayan eco-system through an interactive website for the study area. Using the processed data and projected future climate scenarios, it is planned to calibrate and validate few hydrological models (SWAT, VIC, SNOWMOD, SPHY, WinSRM etc.) for the selected basin for determining various hydrological components, spatial and temporal water availability at different locations, and relative contributions of snow, glaciers, and rainfall in flow characteristics in present and changed climate conditions.

The project intends to study sediment yield from selected Himalayan catchment under different climate scenarios and its impact on the life of a large reservoir (Tehri) would be assessed. It is planned to assess potentially dangerous glacial lakes for glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) studies. Isotope techniques are planned to be used for understanding the hydrological processes, to identify the origin and recharge areas of Himalayan spring, and to partition different components of stream runoff at different spatial and temporal scales. Snow cover maps would be generated in the study area for forecasting likely flows in river systems and planning adaptive strategies for scarcity periods. Use of Normalized Difference Snow Index (NDSI) for snow cover delineation is being explored for different sensors, say MODIS, Landsat etc. Web application is being developed using open layers for display of real-time snow cover information in the study area.

A small watershed at the foothill of Himalayas has been heavily instrumented for detailed understanding of hydrological processes (including water balance components, groundwater dynamics, erosion processes, soil moisture variation etc.) in Himalayan environment. In addition, it is planned to assess the impact of snow and glacier-melt on the groundwater dynamics through groundwater observations and sampling. Water quality assessment, monitoring of point and non-point source pollution, adsorption characteristics of sediments, and monitoring of temporal abundance of different aquatic species at selected locations is being done through comprehensive field and laboratory investigations. In addition, it is planned to estimate environmental flows in critical reaches of the study area. Finally, water census and hotspot analysis is being carried out in 100 selected villages to capture various water resources management components.

All the sub-projects are concentrated in the Upper Ganga basin up to Rishikesh except for the glacial lake and GLOF studies which will be carried out in parts of western Himalayas region.

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