River basins not climate resilient
River basins remain highly vulnerable to climate change, a new study finds out.
3 Oct 2017
Dr Manish Goyal (right) and Ashutosh Sharma with the ecosystem resilience map they developed.

Climate change remains a matter of concern globally. A new study by Indian researchers has shown that only six out of 22 river basins in the country have the potential to cope with the threat of climate change, particularly droughts.

This means nearly two-thirds of India’s terrestrial ecosystems are not resilient to drought. The central India has been found to be the most vulnerable to climate change. Parts of northwestern, northeastern and southern India appear to be resilient to cope with droughts while the rest of the country is non-resilient, says the study done by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.

“We evaluated the ecosystem resilience in terms of the capability of an ecosystem to maintain its productivity during hydroclimatic disturbances,” lead researcher Dr Manish Goyal said while speaking to India Science Wire. “Only six river basins--Brahmaputra, Indus, Pennar, west flowing rivers of Kutch and Saurashtra including Luni basin, east flowing rivers between Krishna and Pennar basins and east flowing rivers between Pennar and Cauvery basin were able to sustain their primary productivity by increasing the water use efficiency under the driest years.”

Researchers compared the response of river basin systems to water stress at different levels such as river basins, land covers, and climate types. They have developed an ecosystem resilience map of India using high-resolution remote sensing satellite data for 22 main river basins. The data productivity of a river basin and evapotranspiration was obtained from NASA’s MODIS satellite and studied along with rainfall data from the India Meteorological Department. 

Drastic reduction in water use efficiency under the driest conditions was observed for some basins which highlights their inability to cope with climate change. Low primary productivity can distort the balance of the ecosystem and its resistance to fight drought. “The inability of ecosystems at different scales to tolerate water-limited conditions may pose a serious challenge in terms of crop production and food security,” Goyal added.

Only two types of forests--evergreen needleleaf forest and evergreen broadleaf forest--were found to be resilient at the land-cover scale. The presence of such forests in the Brahmaputra basin could be the reason for its resilience. However, forests in some parts of Western Ghats and central India were found to be more vulnerable to climate change. Ganga basin, the most populous and agriculturally important basin, was also found to be slightly non-resilient. 

“It is clear that forests have a higher resilience to withstand the climatic disturbances. The deforestation activities in the name of economic development and expansion of agriculture will result in making the country more vulnerable to climate change,” researchers said. 

The research team also included Ashutosh Sharma. The study has appeared in the journal Global Change Biology. (India Science Wire)



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