HOT SPRINGS OF THE HIMALAYAS – Inexhaustible Source of Geo Thermal Energy – Still Largely Untapped

The hot springs of the Himalaya are located in the zones of deep faults that define tectonic boundaries between the Himalayan province and mainland Asia ( Indus – Tsangpo Suture, I-TS), between the Great Himalaya and Lesser Himalaya ( Main Central Thrust, MCT) and in between the Siwalik domain and the Lesser Himalaya (Main Boundary Thrust, MBT). The geo thermal activity is highest in the Ladakh region where heat flow is of the order of 300 mW/m2. Heat flow in the hot springs along the MCT have an average rate of  130 ± 30 mW/m2 whereas the average rate of heat flow in the MBT region is of of  41 ± 10 mW/m2 .

Digital-elevation-model-of-the-Himalayan-region-from-US-Geological-Survey-showing-the
Hot spring system in Himalayas and India (Source – US Geological Survey)

Clearly the Indus-Tsangpo Suture has the greatest potential in the Himalayan region. One such “hot-spot” of the ITS region is the Puga hot spring area located in Ladakh. It covers an area of 15 km2 and this single spot has the potential of 5000 MWh of energy.

Jonathan Craig, honorary professor at University College, London, and the University of Jammu, published a paper in May, 2013 on this subject. According to him “A 20 megawatt geothermal plant at Puga could save three million litres of diesel burnt annually in the region at a cost of approximately US$ 2 million,”  “Such a plant” he adds “would eliminate the need for traditional kerosene stoves and gas-operated heaters during winter and prevent the emission of some 28,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.”

This inexhaustible source of geo thermal energy is capable of producing hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy.  since 1976, China has been operating a 25 megawatt plant in Yangbaijan, Tibet. Till 2014, the world had  11.13 gigawatts of geo thermal plant installed in 24 countries with the US leading with 3.15 gigawatts. Third world countries are not far behind. The Philippines and Indonesia hold the second and third place respectively producing 1.9 and 1.3 gigawatts of geo thermal energy.

Geo Moore, a geologist at the Energy and Geosciences Institute, University of Utah, told a conference on sustainable resource development held in the June, 2014 in Leh , “I hope lessons from elsewhere in the world can help harness these resources in the Himalayas,”

Sources:

Dynamic Himalaya by K S Valdiya
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012825213000949
http://www.earthscienceindia.info/pdfupload/tech_pdf-1255.pdf
https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2014/07/31/himalayan-geothermal-potential-untapped/
https://www.scidev.net/south-asia/environment/news/himalayan-geothermal-potential-untapped.html

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Himalayas, the 2400 Km long and 250-300 Km wide mountain barrier separates the Indian subcontinent from the mainland Asia. This insuperable barrier stops the cloud from going North and is responsible for the peculiar Monsoon cycle of the subcontinent. However, in today’s discussion we are not going to take that into account and see how the water stored in the lakes, rivers and glaciers of the Himalayas directly effect the lives of the people of the subcontinent. Stay with me. Next we’ll see if at all we this magnificent giant deserves the title of the “Water reservoir of the Indian Subcontinent” or not.

Nearly 60% of India’s population lives in the densely populated Indo – Gangetic plains. Approx 1,20.00,000 million cubic meters of water flows down the Himalayan rivers annually and nourishes the millions living in the plains.  Believe it or not this huge amount of flowing water has tremendous power potential. Nearly 2,46,600 million cubic meter from these river can be utilised in irrigation process. In table 1.1 we’ll see the potentials of three major Himalayan river systems supplying the juice of life into the subcontinent.

Irrigation & Power potential of the rivers
River System Flow
(in 109 m3 / year)
Irrigation Potential
(in 109 m3)
Power Potential
(kW at 60% Load factor)
Brahmaputra 479.3 12.3 9988
Ganges 459.84 185.0 11579
Indus 207.8 49.0 6582
Total 1146.94 246.6 28149

 

This almost inexhaustible source of fresh water gets replenished every year by direct rainfall & the melting of snow and ice which occurs in the higher altitude. The average rainfall in the whole Himalaya is ~289 cm (https://en.climate-data.org/south-america/ecuador/provincia-de-orellana/himalaya-179049/), though it varies from one region to other within Himalayas.

The average rainfall is ~240 cm/yr in the southern front, ~150 cm/yr in the most populated belt of the Himalaya (1500  – 2500 m) i.e. in the Lesser Himalaya region. The Himalayan domain ( 5000- 8000 m) experiences a surprisingly high but unpredictable rainfall pattern ranging from 240 cm to 350 cm annually where as the arid Tethys domain across the Great Himalaya in the North  faces very little rainfall (10-15 cm/yr).

average-rainfall-in-the-himalayas-289-cm
Average yearly rainfall in the Himalayas: 289 cm

The major portion of the rain water flows down the valleys in the short duration of monsoon (more or less three months) and only a small part (less than 15%) percolates down through the soil and rocks to rejuvenate the mountain springs  which essentially feed the major Himalayan rivers systems.

water-flowing-down-the-valley
Rivers feeding the valley

Although major chunk of fresh water reserve, is locked in the 1400 Km3 of snow and ice, spread over 33,050 Km2  of area (Dyurgerov and Meier, 2005).  This is in higher altitudes above the snowline, which varies from 4300 to 5800 m depending on latitude and other factors). More than 15000 glaciers of various size contribute to this.

All these statistics may not be meaningful. Let me present it another way to put things into perspective.

The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin itself is home to more than 700 million people, which is twice the population of the United States. It relies solely on this river system for daily need of fresh water (global-greenhouse-warming.com/himalayan-gangotri-glacier.html). If we take into account the water flowing down from the whole Hindukush – Karakoram- Himalaya (HKH) range, number increase. Estimated 1.9 billion people rely on this for drinking, agriculture, energy and other purposes. Simply meaning,  more than two out of every ten living human being of the world is dependent on the water stored in the Himalayas in one way or the another.

Now you tell me if there’s any exaggeration when I name this mighty giant as the water reservoir of the subcontinent?

To our utmost regret,  this great treasure is under formidable threat. Recent study shows that one third of the Himalayan glaciers will melt by the end of this century . If precautionary measures are not taken Himalaya might lose two third of its present glacier caps. This is a discussion for another day and will take me at least another blog to give you the briefest idea about what is happening.

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Don’t let your heavy rucksack spoil the fun of your hike – pack LIGHT, trek SMART

Whenever you go for a hike, be it a coastal or jungle trek or be on a rigorous high altitude trek, it’s hard to let go of everything and simply enjoy your being in your personal heaven, when your back is continuously shouting for relief. Remember those beautiful snaps you never took because your sack was so heavily plunged on your shoulder that you couldn’t even afford lifting your arms up. And the view finder thus never met your eyes. The tragedy sounds familiar?

heavy-rucksack-causes-problem-on-a-trek
Avoid carrying excess in a rucksack

Here in this blog we’ll try to have some practical solutions to this problem. Though it’s kind of fun to get pissed at these things in your first three four hikes and then come up with original solutions yourself, it doesn’t hurt to come prepared in your first trek.

1) Carry Only the Essentials:

There will always be a few things which you might need while travelling but are of no use while hiking. Leave that extra weight behind at a cloak room or locker at a Junction point where you’re going to come back after finishing the trek. Collect your stuff while returning.

Now while hiking you don’t need more than one spare clothing. Weather in high altitude is quite unpredictable. Still it’s safe to carry just one spare T-shirt or one spare trek pant. No need to carry jeans or formals.

Research thoroughly about your destination. Check the usual weather pattern of that region on your chosen date window. Plan the journey to the trek base from your hometown. Count the days and try to carry the bare minimum you need for these many days.

When you plan to join any trek with us, we take care of all the central logistics. You don’t even have to bring your own sleeping bags. All you have to bring & carry are your personal belongings. If you’re planning to go solo or independently this list of things to carry on a trek ( or Download PDF) will help you to understand what all gears are necessary for a high altitude trek in the Himalayas.

lightweight-rucksack-packing-tips
Carry only the bare minimum & fly high!

2) Buy the Lightest Gear Available :

21st Century is a blessing for hikers, in terms of availability & quality of hiking equipment. Without a doubt gears available now a days are better than ever. Patagonia, Columbia, North face etc are doing an amazing job supplying hikers exactly what they need. In my country, India, though these are pretty expensive options, Decathlon is opening new branches every now & then here.

These companies know the fact that heavyweight gears and hiking doesn’t really go hand in hand. So they are coming up with latest light weight yet more durable weather conditioned gears each year.

These high quality equipment are rather expensive, but  if you do your research and spend a few extra bucks on the right gear, I bet that you won’t repent.

3) Buy One Water Proof cum Wind Proof Jacket , Instead of Two Separate:

Water proof and wind proof jackets are must items to carry be it a short hike or a long one. Instead of carrying two separate jackets for wind and water protection, you can buy just one waterproof cum windproof jacket. It saves both extra space and extra weight required to carry another additional jacket.

use-of-wind-proof-cum-waterproof-jackets-in-a-trek
Use a single wind and waterproof jacket on a trek

Previously in pre Gore-Tex era water proof jackets used to be mostly non breathable and hence very uncomfortable. Now you have wide varieties of option available to choose from.

4) Mirrorless Camera Body:

DSLR / SLR  camera bodies are heavy. On the other hand quality wise DSLR (/SLR) images are the best, especially if you are clicking landscapes. It’s a lifelong dilemma to many hikers to carry their high end DSLRs is their hikes or not.

If you’re going through the same dilemma, check out the mirrorless cameras available in the market. You get full frame  sensors in mirrorless bodies. Since the whole mirror removing procedure is absent in mirrorless cameras, they are technically faster than any average DSLR and now a days they can capture print quality raw images at a speed as high as 12 fps.

dslr-and-mirrorless-cameras-on-a-trek.
Mirrorless cameras are much lighter than the DSLRs

One drawback of these camera bodies being small in size is their battery life. Smaller volume of camera body fits only smaller size batteries. Adventure photographers have always faced this problem with their tiny sports cams( Go por etc). They simply bought more batteries. So if you can throw a few bucks extra for additional batteries, choosing a mirrorless camera for your hiking trip sounds like a good idea. To know a few hacks to increase your battery life while hiking, click here.

5) Carry a Kindle Instead of Book(s):

Are you a regular hiker who likes to read ? But the weight of your books are stopping you to carry any books  in your trek. Or may be you’re worried your books will not endure the rough conditions while hiking.

Those are all valid concerns but you can consider carrying a kindle instead.

Kindles are Digital e book readers available in Amazon store. They have good battery life and can survive a week of rigorous reading in cold weather. And they are really light weight. The heaviest model till date weighs only 374 g.

Once fully drained the dead battery takes approximately four hours to get fully charged. Nowadays waterproof variants are available as well.

use-kindles-during-a-trek
Lightweight and waterproof Kindles

You can also read eBooks in your smartphones or tablets after installing the Kindle app. But reading a kindle is a far smoother experience for your eyes.

packing-the-rucksack-lightweight-in-treks

Hope you’ll find these hacks useful next time you pack for your hiking trip. If you’ve anything to add in this list, let us know below in the comments. Thank you.

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