Melting Tipra glacier triggers early blooming

Blossoming of alpine flowers in the Valley of Flowers is always a welcome sight but this year, flowers which usually bloom in June, when the UNESCO site is opened for tourists, have started appearing in May. The valley is already blanketed in lavender, pink and yellow. This is because the Tipra glacier, which usually starts to melt only in May and feeds the Pushpawati stream that replenishes groundwater table and causes the blooming, started melting as early as in March-end due to rising temperatures this year.

Experts are worried. They said the phenomenon could end in harsh consequences, from extinction of plants due to overheating and flourishing of weeds like polygonum and golden ferns, which are already ravaging the valley. India recorded the hottest March in 122 years this year and Uttarakhand saw exceptionally warm March and April.

The erratic weather, with intense heat waves and intermittent and sparse rainfall (in March and April, the hill state recorded a massive 75% rain deficit), led to humid conditions and warmed up the alpine zone. As a result, Himalayan plants that are dormant for much longer bloomed early. Dr SK Singh, head of northern regional centre of Botanical Survey of India, said, “In the alpine zone, plants remain in a dormant state until they get warm, temperate and humid conditions to flower. Due to excessive heat in March and April, the flowering of these plants must have ‘shifted’, so to say.

Detailed scientific studies are required to understand the long-term implications of climate change on the valley. ” The forest team currently patrolling the valley said they saw glaciers melting and rivers rapidly streaming down the valley well ahead of time. “Tipra glacier started melting by March-end this year. If anyone were to visit the valley now, they would be awestruck by the lavender beauty of primula denticulata (drumstick primrose) and the magical pink of morina longifolia (Himalayan whorl flower). But it’s a premature bloom and in the long run may lead to flowers dying from the heat and weeds growing in the valley,” said Brijmohan Bharti, range officer, Valley of Flowers. Other high-altitude plants also bloomed prematurely in the Himalayas this year. The flaming-red rododendron flowered in March instead of April while the white Brahma kamal, Uttarakhand’s state flower, which usually flowers in August, bloomed months earlier.

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