‘We are using geospatial technology to understand spatial and temporal variability of...

‘We are using geospatial technology to understand spatial and temporal variability of snow’

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With the mighty Himalayas overlooking the Northern frontier of India, the region is susceptible to the fury of avalanches, impacting both troops and civilians. Ashwagosha Ganju tells us about the activities and initiatives of Snow & Avalanche Study Establishment to mitigate the threat of avalanches

Ashwagosha Ganju
Ashwagosha Ganju
Director
Snow & Avalanche Study Establishment

Kindly brief us about the activities of Snow & Avalanche Study Establishment. How do these contribute towards the security of the troops posted in mountain areas?
Snow & Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) has a mandate to enhance the mobility of troops as well as civilians living in high snow bound, avalanche-prone regions of the Himalayas. This is achieved through two approaches – active and passive. In the passive approach, avalanches are predicted in advance to forewarn the people living in these areas about the impending danger. SASE has developed models for the prediction of avalanches. Presently our accuracy is in the range of 80-85 percent. We hope to achieve a sustained 85 percent in near future. Also in passive approach, we impart training on avalanche safety and rescue methods, principally to troops deployed in these areas. In the active approach, we completely mitigate the threat of avalanches by either stopping their release from mountain slopes or diverting them to unaffected regions or restricting them to certain areas away from habitation or pre-empting their release from mountain slopes. The third aspect that helps troops posted in mountain areas is the prediction of mountain weather three days in advance, which SASE has taken up lately for the benefit of the troops.

How is geospatial technology being used in the activities of SASE?
There exists large spatial and temporal variability of snow in mountainous belts. To understand such large variability, in order to predict avalanches accurately, we are extensively exploiting remote sensing data. We are developing algorithms using all types of satellite data as well as the data collected with the help of aerial platforms. With the help of this data, we are monitoring changes in terrain, land use, snow cover, snow surface features and glacier features. All these things and many more are going to help us in mitigating various geo-hazards we come across in mountains.

You pioneered the use of translucent snow profile in the country. Can you elaborate on it?
Translucent profiling of snow is a technique which enables a snow scientist to know exact structure of snow pack on mountain slopes. This eventually helps in identifying weak layers in a snow pack for the prediction of avalanches. The technique of translucent profiling of snow has been developed long back and is practiced world over to understand snow pack structure on mountain slopes. I was the first in the country to use translucent profiling in the year 1996 and made further improvements in the technique to quickly do the pit study on mountain slopes.

SASE provides consultancy services to other state governments also. What are the kind of services you provide?
The weather and avalanche forecast that we generate is also passed on to the civilians living in these areas. The dissemination is done through local radio/TV stations and wherever possible, through fax messages. Whenever, any hill state government needs some advice on protection of a facility from avalanche threat. We do so and provide design and execution details to them. We also participate in various brainstorming sessions, conferences and workshops etc that state governments organise and appraise them about the developments in this field.

You are initiating the use of doppler radar technology for predicting rains. Can you elaborate on this?
We have not yet started with this work and hope to take up this task in near future. Lately, there has been an increase in the incidence of cloud burst in the Himalayan belt; one can recall the Leh cloud burst in 2010. So there is a requirement of increasing the network of observations in the Himalayas including doppler weather radars.

How does SASE aim to help the civilian population in mountainous regions?
We are in the pursuit of developing technologies for the mitigation of various mountain hazards in Himalaya. As and when we develop something new, its usage can be extended to civilian population also.

SASE has recently organised a conference on impact of climate change on cryospheric regions of the world. Kindly highlight some takeaways?
The symposium was organised to bring together scientists and practitioners on a common platform to address the issues that are likely to come up as a result of interaction of warming climate in cryospheric regions of the Himalayas. Many scientists presented their work that has been carried out in the Himalayas and other cryospheric regions of the world. We are all concerned about the impact of climate change leading to lean winter situations, unusual weather conditions, rapid melting etc. that is presently taking place in different regions of the Himalayas. In order to understand these processes and throw some light on the cryospheric regions of Himalaya, there is need to monitor the entire cryospheric region of the Himalayas continuously and augment it with a more dense network of observatories. With the analysis of more data for a few more years; substantial deductions can be drawn about various processes at play in the cryospheric regions of Himalaya.