Photo Friday: Siachen, the World’s Highest Militarized Glacier

This Photo Friday highlights Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, located on the India and Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir. Soldiers there are facing harsh conditions to ensure stableness of the line between the countries.

On 25 December, the Indian Army announced the recovery of an army helicopter stuck at 18,000 feet. This ALH Dhruv chopper had been stranded due to a technical snag in a spot called the Khanda at the Siachen glacier. It landed safely directly on the snow instead of on the helipad, and it was overturned because of the overnight snowfall, which made it even more difficult for the soldiers to perform a rescue. Technicians and pilots of the Army ALH squadron 203 in Leh managed to repair it by replacing the broken part of the chopper and bringing it back safely to the Siachen Glacier base camp.

Sunset at Siachen Glacier, from the Pakistan side (Source:Danokhan/Creative Commons).


A soldier is holding a Pakistan flag on Siachen Glacier (Source: Junaidrao/Flickr).


The helicopter was overturned due to the overnight snowfall (Source: Asian News/Twitter).


Technicians and pilots of the Army ALH squadron 203 in Leh are repairing the chopper (Source: Asian News/Twitter).


Technicians and pilots of the Army ALH squadron 203 in Leh replaced part of the chopper (Source: Asian News/Twitter).

Roundup: Glacier Collapse, Avalanche, and Loss

Collapse of Two Glaciers in Tibet After Surge-like Instability

From Nature: “Surges and glacier avalanches are expressions of glacier instability, and among the most dramatic phenomena in the mountain cryosphere. Until now, the catastrophic collapse of a glacier, combining the large volume of surges and mobility of ice avalanches, has been reported only for the 2002 130 × 106 m3 detachment of Kolka Glacier (Caucasus Mountains), which has been considered a globally singular event. Here, we report on the similar detachment of the entire lower parts of two adjacent glaciers in western Tibet in July and September 2016, leading to an unprecedented pair of giant low-angle ice avalanches with volumes of 68 ± 2 × 106 m3 and 83 ± 2 × 106 m3… Our findings show that large catastrophic instabilities of low-angle glaciers can happen under rare circumstances without historical precedent.”

Learn more about these rare occurrences here.

An ice-rock avalanche in the Kazbek region sheared off almost the entire Kolka Glacier and devastated the Genaldon valley in 2002 (Source: GRID Arendal/Flickr).


Five Army Personnel Missing After Avalanche Hits Siachen

From The Express Tribune: “At least five army personnel have gone missing after an avalanche hit an army base in world’s higgest battle ground Siachen. The Pakistan army has started a rescue operation in the area with the help of locals. Heavy machinery has also been sent to speed up the rescue operation. However, the army has still not confirmed any casualties… Avalanches and landslides are common at the Siachen Glacier during the winter and temperatures there can drop as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius. An estimated 8,000 troops have died on the glacier since 1984, almost all of them from avalanches, landslides, frostbite, altitude sickness or heart failure rather than combat.”

Read more about the avalanche at the Siachen Glacier here.

An estimated 8,000 troops have died on the Siachen glacier since 1984 (Source: junaidrao/Flickr).


3-D Stereo Images Reconstruct Changes in Antarctic Peninsula Glaciers

From Remote Sensing of Environment: “This paper presents detailed elevation and volume analysis of 16 individual glaciers, grouped at four locations, spread across the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). The study makes use of newly available WorldView-2 satellite stereo imagery to exploit the previously untapped value of archival stereo aerial photography. High resolution photogrammetric digital elevation models (DEMs) are derived to determine three-dimensional glacier change over an unprecedented time span of six decades with an unparalleled mean areal coverage of 82 percent per glacier… The analysis provides insight into one of the most challenging and data-scarce areas on the planet by expanding the spatial extent north of the AP to include previously un-studied glaciers located in the South Shetland Islands. 81 percent of glaciers studied showed considerable loss of volume over the period of record.”

Learn more about the study here.

View of the northern Antarctic Peninsula during IceBridge’s flight back from the Foundation Ice Stream, on Oct. 28 (Source: NASA/Flickr).

Roundup: On Glaciers This Week: Raves, Yoga and Kayaks

Icelanders Celebrate Solstice with Glacier Rave

Revellers at the Secret Solstice Festival (Source: Entirety Labs)
Revellers at the Secret Solstice Festival (Source: Entirety Labs)

From The Daily Beast: “Sure enough, there he was: a man dressed in a head-to-toe panda costume running toward the bus and waving his hands, a sweaty tornado of furry stress, desperate not to miss the bus that would transport him to the Langjökull Glacier—and the 500-meter tunnel that will take him to the party held 25 meters beneath the icy surface.

“This is the second year that the Secret Solstice festival has held the special event. Whispers of last year’s party—not to mention the insane photos—helped land not just the excursion, but Iceland’s four-day music marathon itself, on the top of the must-attend list in the world’s festival circuit.”

Read more here.

Indian Army practices Yoga on Siachen Glacier

Indian soldiers practice yoga on world's highest battlefield
Indian soldiers practice yoga on world’s highest battlefield (Source: IANS)

From Business Standard: “The second International Day of Yoga was celebrated by Army’s Fire and Fury Corps today at the Siachen Glacier, along with several other high-altitude forward locations in Leh and Kargil.

“The has incorporated Yoga Asanas into the daily routine of the soldier in High Altitude Areas deployed in harsh climatic conditions.

“Practice of Yoga by soldiers in such an environment helps them to combat various diseases such as high altitude sickness, hypoxia, pulmonary oedema and the psychological stresses of isolation and fatigue.”

Read more about it here.


Film-maker kayaks in Vatnajökull Glacier’s lake

From Watch film-maker Henry Jun Wah Lee explore the Vatnajökull Glacier, and its proglacial lake by kayak.

More stunning footage here.

Roundup: Glacier Tragedy, Artists, Melting Glacier Candles

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news. 

Siachen Glacier Tragedy: An Opportunity for Peace?

From National Geographic:

“The death of over a hundred Pakistani soldiers due to an avalanche on April 7 has brought forth the forgotten frozen frontiers of Siachen in the news cycle. This is the world’s highest battlefield where more die of hypothermia than of battle wounds and yet no end is in sight for this senseless conflict. Seven years ago, I wrote an article for India’s Sanctuary Asia magazine on how to quell this conflict using ecological approaches. This was a very practical solution modeled after the Antarctic treaty, which erstwhile adversaries such as the United States and the Soviet Union signed at the height of the Cold War.”


To learn more about the research, click here.

These Artists Covered A Glacier In A Blanket To Save It


“In a summer or two, climate change might turn the highest mountain peak in Sweden into the second highest. For the past two decades, the 40-meter-thick glacier on top of Kebnekaise mountain has been shrinking, on average, a meter every year.The project is the third in a series of art projects that looks at geoengineering and the human desire to control the climate and weather. As the artists started researching ice, they read about attempts to slow the ice melt on the Rhone glacier in Switzerland by covering it with blankets.”


To learn more about the research, click here.

These Melting Glacier Candles Have a Point to Make


“These candles are made in the shape and color of glaciers so when they melt, as candles tend to do, they are making a point. And that point is: the glaciers are melting. A little on the nose? Perhaps, but you have to at least give Icelandic designer Brynjar Sigurðarson a hand for executing a concept in a very straightforward, clearly communicated way. And also for designing some nice looking candles, which are being produced by Spanish brand PCM.Mini glacier candles remind you of global warming as they melt”


To learn more about the research, click here.

Photo Friday: 10 Indian soldiers were killed in an avalanche

In the Himalayan region, at least 10 Indian soldiers were dead due to an avalanche which engulfed their station near the Siachen Glacier. The India’s Defense Ministry made an announcement on Thursday. After the accident, Indian Army and Air Force personnel were sent to the accident spot to search for possible survivors even though temperatures on the Siachen glacier range from -25 C to -42 C.

“It is with deepest regret that we have to state that chances of finding any survivors are now very remote,” the ministry said in a statement.  Earlier in January, an avalanche hit a patrol party and four soldiers were dead in this accident. On the Siachen Glacier, the border between India and Pakistan, extreme weather conditions have already killed many soldiers stationed here. “Since 1984, India has lost 869 troops due to the extreme weather events,” said S. D. Goswami, a spokesperson for the Indian Army’s Northern Command.

The most recent news indicates that the soldiers who were trapped in the avalanche all died. Public opinion in India remains strongly in favor of maintaining this base, despite the ongoing loss of life that it entails.

Roundup: An Avalanche, A Landslide and a New Plant

Army Captain dies after avalanche hits patrol party in Siachen glacier

An army Captain was killed and 15 soldiers were rescued after an avalanche struck a patrol party in Siachen Glacier in Ladakh sector of Jammu and Kashmir of India on Friday, November 13. Regimental Medical Officer Captain Ashwini Kumar died after the avalanche hit the southern area of glacier.

Captain Kumar, from 3 Ladakh Scouts, was a bachelor and hailed from Patiala in Punjab. The Army commander has conveyed his condolences to the bereaved family.

Picture for presentation. Photo: PTI
Picture for presentation. Photo: PTI

Read more about the story, click here.

China’s bottled water industry to exploit Tibetan plateau

Water in Tibet is abundant and much cheaper than in other parts of China. Water bottled upstream among snow-capped peaks is also perceived as pure, commanding a premium. This has led to a huge influx of companies hoping to cash in on the region’s water resources. Though it only makes up a very small proportion of China’s annual bottled water production, such premium water is seen as the new point of growth for the country’s booming bottled water industry.

But tapping glaciers will come at a huge cost to Tibet’s fragile environment, warned China Water Risk’s recent report “Bottled Water in China – Boom or Bust?”. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau – known as Asia’s water tower – is the source of the continent’s major rivers that provide a lifeline for China and other parts of Asia.

“Qomolangma Glacier Water” is one of China’s leading premium brands. It bottles water in a national park, 80 km from Everest Base Camp.
“Qomolangma Glacier Water” is one of China’s leading premium brands. It bottles water in a national park, 80 km from Everest Base Camp.

Read more about the story, click here.

Landslide onto Steele Glacier

On October 11, 2015, roughly 45 megatons of rock and ice—equivalent to the weight of about 700 aircraft carriers—tumbled down the southeast flank of Mount Steele and slid across the surface of Steele Glacier. Mount Steele, the fifth highest mountain in Canada, stands amidst the Saint Elias mountains in an uninhabited part of southwestern Yukon Territory. Without a network of seismometers and satellites, the avalanche would likely have gone unnoticed in this remote region. However, Colin Stark and Göran Ekström, scientists from Columbia University who monitor long-period seismic wave activity for evidence of landslides, were quick to detect the event.

acquired October 6, 2015
acquired October 6, 2015
acquired October 13, 2015
acquired October 13, 2015

Read more about the story, click here.

India PM Modi Visits World’s Highest Battleground

On October 23, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Siachen Glacier lauding the Indian soldiers based there. Modi tweeted “From the icy heights of the Siachen Glacier and with the brave jawans and officers of the armed forces, I wish all of you a happy Diwali.”

The Indian soldiers are based in heights of 22,000 ft above sea level on the Siachen Glacier. Both sides have lost thousands of personnel, not in combat, but primarily due to frostbite, avalanche and other hazards in this harsh region. Read more on the India Pakistan dispute of Siachen Glacier here.
India and Pakistan have thousands of troops stationed on the Siachen glacier. (Prashant Panjiar/BBC)

Modi’s visit to Siachen Glacier was right after the two sides exchanged gunfire and the 2003 ceasefire was violated. Just this past month, intense gunfire exchange in Kashmir cost 20 civilian lives and wounded dozens. Media interpreted Modi’s Siachen Glacier visit as a message for Pakistan that the status of the disputed border areas is “non-negotiable”.

Diwali is, the “festival of lights”, the largest South Asian holiday of Hindu origins, celebrating the victory of light over darkness. Happy Diwali!

At the world’s highest battleground, India and Pakistan fight over a glacier
India and Pakistan have thousands of troops stationed on the Siachen glacier. (Prashant Panjiar/BBC)

The highest battleground in the world is over an un-demarcated glacier in the Himalaya’s Karakoram range.

For three decades, India and Pakistan’s military dispute has incuded the militarization and control of Siachen glacier. Amid calls of demilitarization of the area from Pakistan and international actors, the Indian government has vowed to continue supporting the armed troops stationed on Siachen Glacier. With India’s recent general elections, the changing leadership in Indian parliament could directly impact the militarization of Siachen.

Siachen Glacier is the second longest glacier outside polar regions. The Indian government has spent the equivalent of $1.3 billion alone on keeping a presence on the glacier, or an estimated $1 million a day to occupy Siachen. While the glacier is an important source of water for both sides, the glacier symbolizes the violent partition and relations of the two countries that have been beleaguered with hostility and suspicion.

The conflict between the two powers began after India successfully gained control of the Siachen Glacier in 1984, marking the first time that the barren and inhospitable terrain was militarized. Pakistan claims it lost almost 900 square miles of claimed territory, and attempted several costly and failed missions to reclaim positions there. A cease-fire went into effect in 2003. By then, both sides had lost more than 2,700 personnel, not in combat, but primarily due to frostbite, avalanche and other hazards in this harsh region

Beyond NJ9842: The Siachen Saga“, a new book by Indian journalist, Nitin Gokhale, contains accounts of Indian soldiers on the glacier. The soldiers call Siachen “the toughest call of duty” as survival on the glacier rrequires combating long periods of isolation, struggling to find clean drinking water, living in cramped temporary shelters without electricity and making do with canned food. Working at 17,000 feet above sea level, the soldiers are also exposed to extreme health hazards such as blood clots in lungs, brain, and limbs. Many return home as amputees.

At any time, each side has 3,000 troops posted along the glacier. The area is a high priority for both nations; important officials from both India and Pakistan have made official visits to the area.

In 2012, 130 Pakistani troops on Siachen died in an avalanche. Since then, Pakistan has been calling for the demilitarization of the region, while India has opposed it and instead called for increased patrolling. Most recently, India’s Minister of Defense, Jitendra Singh, conducted an aerial survey of the entire glacier in February 2014. He promised the best operational preparedness resources for his country’s troops to survive the hostile environment.

The outgoing Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, leader of Indian National Congress party, had been pushing to make Siachen “a zone of peace”. Top officials from the Ministry of Defense, however, are keen to keep Siachen well-manned. Over the past three decades, India and Pakistan has had 13 rounds of talks about Siachen. In the last two talks, agreements on demilitarization were nearly reached but ultimately prevented by political interests.

The victorious Indian People’s Party in the April-May election has pledged harder stance on dealing with border “enemies” and anti-Indian terrorism. Experts from both sides fear BJP will have harsher crisis management, compared to the Congress Party, leaving an uncertain future for the region as BJP’s Narendra Modi begins his tenure as India’s 15th prime minister.