Siachen Glacier

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For the military conflict over this area, see Siachen conflict.
Siachen Glacier
SiachenGlacier satellite.jpg
Satellite imagery of the Siachen Glacier
Map showing the location of Siachen Glacier
Map showing the location of Siachen Glacier
Karakoram range, India
Type Mountain glacier
Coordinates 35°25′16″N 77°06′34″E / 35.421226°N 77.10954°E / 35.421226; 77.10954Coordinates: 35°25′16″N 77°06′34″E / 35.421226°N 77.10954°E / 35.421226; 77.10954
Length 76 km (47 mi) using the longest route as is done when determining river lengths or 70 km (43 mi) if measuring from Indira Col [1]

The Siachen Glacier is located in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalaya Mountains at about 35°25′16″N 77°06′34″E / 35.421226°N 77.109540°E / 35.421226; 77.109540, just northeast of the point NJ9842 where the Line of Control between India and Pakistan ends.[2][3] At 76 km (47 mi) long, it is the longest glacier in the Karakoram and second-longest in the world's non-polar areas.[4] It falls from an altitude of 5,753 m (18,875 ft) above sea level at its head at Indira Col on the China border down to 3,620 m (11,875 ft) at its terminus.

The Siachen Glacier lies immediately south of the great watershed that separates the Eurasian Plate from the Indian subcontinent in the extensively glaciated portion of the Karakoram sometimes called the "Third Pole". The glacier lies between the Saltoro Ridge immediately to the west and the main Karakoram range to the east. The Saltoro Ridge originates in the north from the Sia Kangri peak on the China border in the Karakoram range. The crest of the Saltoro Ridge's altitudes range from 5,450 to 7,720 m (17,880 to 25,330 feet). The major passes on this ridge are, from north to south, Sia La at 5,589 m (18,336 ft), Bilafond La at 5,450 m (17,880 ft), and Gyong La at 5,689 m (18,665 ft). The average winter snowfall is more than 1000 cm(35 ft) and temperatures can dip to −50 °C (−58 °F). Including all tributary glaciers, the Siachen Glacier system covers about 700 km2 (270 sq mi).

Etymology[edit]

"Sia" in the Balti language refers to the rose family plant widely dispersed in the region. "Chun" references any object found in abundance. Thus the name Siachen refers to a land with an abundance of roses. The naming of the glacier itself, or at least its currency, is attributed to Tom Longstaff.

Dispute[edit]

AGPL shown with yellow-colored dotted line

Both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty over the entire Siachen region.[2] US and Pakistani maps in the 1970s and 1980s were consistently showing a dotted line from NJ9842 (the northernmost demarcated point of the India-Pakistan cease-fire line, also known as the Line of Control) to the Karakoram Pass, which India believed to be a cartographic error and in violation of the Shimla Agreement. In 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot, a military operation that gave India control over all of the Siachen Glacier, including its tributaries.[2][5] Between 1984 and 1999, frequent skirmishes took place between India and Pakistan.[6][7] However, more soldiers have died from the harsh weather conditions in the region than from combat.[8] Between January 2011 and July 2014, at least 50 Indian Soldiers lost their lives due to adverse weather.[9] Both India and Pakistan continue to deploy thousands of troops in the vicinity of Siachen and attempts to demilitarize the region have been so far unsuccessful. Prior to 1984, neither country had any military forces in this area.[10][11][12] Aside from the Indian and Pakistani military presence, the glacier region is unpopulated. The nearest civilian settlement is the village of Warshi, 10 miles downstream from the Indian base camp.[13][14] The region is also extremely remote, with limited road connectivity. On the Indian side, roads go only as far as the military base camp at Dzingrulma at 35°09′59″N 77°12′58″E / 35.1663°N 77.2162°E / 35.1663; 77.2162, 72 km from the head of the glacier.[15] The Indian Army has developed various means to reach the Siachen region, including the Manali-Leh-Khardung La-Siachen route. In 2012, Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army General Bikram Singh said that the Indian Army should stay in the region for strategic advantages, and because a "lot of blood has been shed" by Indian armed personnel for Siachen.[16][17] According to the present ground positions, relatively stable for over a decade, India maintains control over all of the 76 kilometres (47 mi) long Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as the five main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier—Sia La, Bilafond La, Gyong La, Yarma La (6,100m), and Chulung La (5,800m).[18] Pakistan controls the glacial valleys immediately west of the Saltoro Ridge.[5][19] According to TIME magazine, India gained over 1,000 square miles (3,000 km2) in territory because of its 1980's military operations in Siachen.[20] India has categorically stated that India will not pull its army from Siachen until the 110-km long AGPL is first authenticated, delineated and then demarcated,[21][22] as the 1949 Karachi agreement clearly stated that the cease-fire line(CFL) would continue beyond NJ9842, “thence north to the glaciers.” [23][24][25][26] According to the Indian stance, the line of separation should continue northwards along the Saltoro Range, to the west of the Siachen glacier beyond NJ9842.[27] International boundary lines that follow mountain ranges often do so by following the watershed drainage divide [21] such as that of the Saltoro Range.[28] The 1972 Simla Agreement made no change to the 1949 Line of Control in this northern-most sector.

Drainage[edit]

Siachen glacier is a source to Nubra river which later joins Shyok river.

The glacier's melting waters are the main source of the Nubra River in the Indian region of Ladakh, which drains into the Shyok River. The Shyok in turn joins the 3000 kilometer-long Indus River which flows through Pakistan. Thus, the glacier is a major source of the Indus[29] and feeds the largest irrigation system in the world.[30]

Environmental issues[edit]

The glacier was uninhabited before 1984, and the presence of thousands of troops since then has introduced pollution and melting on the glacier. To support the troops, glacial ice has been cut and melted with chemicals.[citation needed]

Dumping of non-biodegradable waste in large quantities and the use of arms and ammunition have considerably affected the ecosystem of the region.[31]

Glacial retreat[edit]

Preliminary findings of a survey by Pakistan Meteorological Department in 2007 revealed that the Siachen glacier has been retreating for the past 30 years and is melting at an alarming rate.[32] The study of satellite images of the glacier showed that the glacier is retreating at a rate of about 110 meters a year and that the glacier size has decreased by almost 35 percent.[29][33] In an eleven-year period, the glacier had receded nearly 800 meters,[34] and in seventeen years about 1700 meters. It is predicted that the glaciers of the Siachen region will be reduced to about one-fifth of their current size by 2035.[35] In the twenty-nine-year period 1929–1958, well before the military occupation, the glacial retreat was recorded to be about 914 meters.[36] One of the reasons cited for the recent glacial retreat is chemical blasting, done for constructing camps and posts.[37] In 2001 India laid oil pipelines (about 250 kilometers long) inside the glacier to supply kerosene and aviation fuel to the outposts from base camps.[37][38] As of 2007, the temperature rise at Siachen was estimated at 0.2 degree Celsius annually, causing melting, avalanches, and crevasses in the glacier.[39]

Waste dumping[edit]

The waste produced by the troops stationed there is dumped in the crevasses of the glacier. Mountaineers who visited the area while on climbing expeditions witnessed large amount of garbage, empty ammunition shells, parachutes etc. dumped on the glacier, that neither decomposes nor can be burned because of the extreme climatic conditions.[40] About 1000 kilograms of waste is produced and dumped in glacial crevasses daily by the Indian forces.[32] The Indian army is said to have planned a "Green Siachen, Clean Siachen" campaign to airlift the garbage from the glacier, and to use biodigestors for biodegradable waste in the absence of oxygen and freezing temperatures.[41] Almost forty percent (40%) of the waste left at the glacier is of plastic and metal composition, including toxins such as cobalt, cadmium and chromium that eventually affect the water of the Shyok River (which ultimately enters the Indus River near Skardu.) The Indus is used for drinking and irrigation.[42][43] Research is being done by scientists of The Energy and Resources Institute, to find ways for successfully disposing the garbage generated at the glacier using scientific means.[44] Some scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation who went on an expedition to Antarctica are also working to produce a bacterium that can thrive in extreme weather conditions and can be helpful in decomposing the biodegradable waste naturally.[45]

Fauna and flora[edit]

The flora and fauna of the Siachen region are also affected by the huge military presence.[42] The region is home to rare species including snow leopard, brown bear and ibex that are at risk because of the huge military presence.[44][46]

Border conflict[edit]

Main article: Siachen Conflict
United Nations map of Line of Control between India and Pakistan. The Siachen Glacier area's sovereignty was not defined in the 1972 Simla Agreement.

The glacier's region is the highest battleground on Earth, where Pakistan and India have fought intermittently since April 1984. Both countries maintain a permanent military presence in the region at a height of over 6,000 m (20,000 ft).

Both India and Pakistan have wished to disengage from the costly military outposts. However, after the Pakistani incursions during the Kargil War in 1999, India abandoned plans to withdraw from Siachen without official recognition of the current line of control by Pakistan, wary of further Pakistani incursions if they vacate the Siachen Glacier posts without such recognition.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the area, during which he called for a peaceful resolution of the problem. President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari also visited the area during 2012 with Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.[47] Both of them showed their commitment to resolve Siachen conflict as early as possible. In the previous year, the President of India, Abdul Kalam became the first head of state to visit the area.

Since September 2007, India has opened up limited mountaineering and trekking expeditions to the area. The first group included cadets from Chail Military School, National Defence Academy, National Cadet Corps, Indian Military Academy, Rashtriya Indian Military College and family members of armed forces officers. The expeditions are also meant to show to the international audience that Indian troops hold "almost all dominating heights" on the key Saltoro Ridge and to show that Pakistani troops are not within 15 km of the main trunk of the Siachen Glacier.[48] Ignoring protests from Pakistan, India maintains that it does not need anyone's approval to send trekkers to Siachen, in what it says is essentially its own territory.[49] In addition, the Indian Army's Army Mountaineering Institute (AMI) functions out of the region.

On 7 April 2012, an avalanche hit a Pakistani military camp situated at Giyari Sector in the Siachen region, 30 km west of the Siachen Glacier terminus, burying 129 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians.

Peace Park proposal[edit]

The idea of declaring the Siachen region a "Peace Park" was presented by environmentalists and peace activists in part to preserve the ecosystem of the region badly affected by the military presence.[50] In September 2003, the governments of India and Pakistan were urged by the participants of 5th World Parks Congress held at Durban, to establish a peace park in the Siachen region to restore the natural biological system and protect species whose lives are at risk.[39] An Italian ecologist Giuliano Tallone terming the ecological life at serious risk, proposed setting up of Siachen Peace Park at the conference.[51] After a proposal of a transboundary Peace Park was floated, the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) organized a conference at Geneva and invited Indian and Pakistani mountaineers (Mandip Singh Soin, Harish Kapadia, Nazir Sabir and Sher Khan).[52] The region was nominated for inclusion in the United Nations' World Heritage List as a part of the Karakoram range, but was deferred by the World Heritage Committee.[53] The area to the east and west of the Siachen region have already been declared national parks: the Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary in India and the Central Karakoram National Park in Pakistan.[54]

Sandia National Laboratories taking keen interest in the Siachen issue organized conferences where military experts and environmentalists from both India and Pakistan and also from other countries were invited to present joint papers. Kent L. Biringer, a researcher at Cooperative Monitoring Center of Sandia Labs suggested setting up Siachen Science Center, a high-altitude research center where scientists and researchers from both the countries can carry out research activities[51] related to glaciology, geology, atmospheric sciences and other related fields.[55][56]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c Lyon, Peter. Conflict Between India and Pakistan: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2008. ISBN 9781576077122. 
  3. ^ The Saltoro Range-Pullout will be a Himalayan blunder by G. Parthasarathy
  4. ^ Siachen Glacier is 76 km (47 mi) long; Tajikistan's Fedchenko Glacier is 77 km (48 mi) long. The second longest in the Karakoram Mountains is the Biafo Glacier at 63 km (39 mi). Measurements are from recent imagery, supplemented with Russian 1:200,000 scale topographic mapping as well as the 1990 "Orographic Sketch Map: Karakoram: Sheet 2", Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, Zurich.
  5. ^ a b Wirsing, Robert. War Or Peace on the Line of Control?: The India-Pakistan Dispute Over Kashmir Turns Fifty. IBRU, 1998. ISBN 9781897643310. 
  6. ^ Dettman, Paul. India Changes Course: Golden Jubilee to Millennium. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 9780275973087. 
  7. ^ The Siachen question Playing China card won’t help Pakistan
  8. ^ Rodriguez, Alex (8 April 2012). "Avalanche buries Pakistan base; 117 soldiers feared dead". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "50 Indian Soldiers killed in Siachen due to adverse Weather". news.biharprabha.com. IANS. 25 July 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  10. ^ CBC Canada. 7 April 2012 http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/04/07/f-siachen-glacier-kashmir.html |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  11. ^ Eur. Far East and Australasia 2003. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 9781857431339. 
  12. ^ Siachen: A huge human cost for a piece of ice
  13. ^ "World’s highest, biggest junkyard". Tribune India. 29 August 1998. Retrieved 8 April 2012. 
  14. ^ The fight for Siachen
  15. ^ "Demilitarization of the Siachen Conflict Zone: Concepts for Implementation and Monitoring". 
  16. ^ India must continue to hold on to Siachen: Bikram Singh, Army Chief General
  17. ^ Army should stay put in Siachen, says General Bikram Singh
  18. ^ http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110606/edit.htm
  19. ^ Child, Greg. Thin air: encounters in the Himalayas. The Mountaineers Books, 1998. ISBN 9780898865882. 
  20. ^ "The Himalayas War at the Top Of the World". Time. July 31, 1989. 
  21. ^ a b They shall not pass
  22. ^ Bullish on Siachen
  23. ^ The Saltoro Range Pullout will be a Himalayan blunder by G. Parthasarathy
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  27. ^ Why India cannot afford to give up Siachen
  28. ^ Siachen glacier Dispute
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  30. ^ Rashid Faruqee (November 1999). Strategic Reforms for Agricultural Growth in Pakistan. World Bank Publications. p. 87. ISBN 978-0821343364. Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  31. ^ ActionAid (2010). Natural Resource Management In South Asia. Pearson Education. p. 58. ISBN 978-8131729434. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
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  56. ^ Wajahat Ali (20 August 2004). "US expert at Sandia wants Siachen converted into Science Centre". Daily Times. Retrieved 20 May 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]