Rita Sharma

Rita Sharma

Head of Newton Fund in India

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

17th February 2014 New Delhi, India

North Pole, South Pole and the Third Pole!

In elementary Geography we are taught that there are two poles on Earth – one in the Arctic and the other in the Antarctic, but that’s not true! Did you know that there is also a Third Pole?  The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is the Earth’s third Pole as it’s the storehouse of the third largest body of snow on our planet after the Antarctic and the Arctic.

The Third Pole spans across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. It’s the source of over 9000 glaciers, contains the world’s highest mountains and ten major rivers which provide drinking water, energy and irrigation for over 20% of the world’s population. This makes its water a vital resource of livelihood as well as a potential crisis driver in the region.

The region is susceptible to high levels of climate warming, earthquake activity, extreme weather events, glacial melting and relative sea-level rise in addition to being under considerable stress due to disputes over dams and river diversions, floods, water shortages and contamination. In the past, changes in the river systems and their basins have impacted directly on the wellbeing of millions of people.

In terms of the number of people affected, the impact of climate change in the Third Pole is the most far-reaching. And no climate change policy or treaty will be complete without including the Himalayan communities. Only last year cloud bursts leading to flash floods in Uttarakhand have cost India over 5000 lives and devastated a number of towns and villages.

One of the most prominent uncertainties in the Himalayan hydrology is to be able to measure how much of the precipitation is in the form of snow and how much is rain. This is crucial in understanding its response to climate change. The relation between precipitation and the Himalayan ranges is ill-defined due to the remoteness and the lack of reliable rainfall networks. UKaid is funding a study to better calibrate relationship between rain and snow at higher altitudes. This in turn will improve the modelling of climate change on precipitation as inputs to hydrological models which will lead to better prediction capabilities.

The Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences has announced the creation of a research station to carry out cryosphere studies in the Himalayas. This is not a lone initiative that India has undertaken on polar research.  India’s Polar program is over 30 years old and has resulted in the establishment of three research stations in Antarctica, one in the Arctic and active research has now also started in the third Pole (Himalaya). India is steering ahead to strengthen its polar programme and is also planning to acquire two new oceanography research vessels for carrying out polar research as well as mineral exploration activities. It will soon float tenders for the research. The polar research vessel, which it had been chartering till now, will be used for six months each at the Arctic and the Antarctic bases.

UK’s Polar programme on the other hand has been led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) which has been working on polar research for over 60 years now. It also houses the Arctic office which is closely linked to its Arctic Research Programme. The UK has vast experience in both.

It is widely accepted that studying the Polar Regions is the key to unlocking the past, better understanding the present and predicting the future (brought out clearly in a short video by BAS). For this reason it makes a lot of sense to forge ahead with joint collaborations in this area to be able to provide the best scientific evidence for effective policy making.

About Rita Sharma

Dr Rita Sharma is the Head of Newton Fund in India. The Newton Fund aims to promote the economic development and social welfare through strengthening science and innovation capacity and…

Dr Rita Sharma is the Head of Newton Fund in India. The Newton Fund aims to promote the economic development and social welfare through strengthening science and innovation capacity and unlocking further funding to support this work. The Vision of the Fund is to build a stronger, sustainable and systemic relationships with India through jointly funded research and innovation. Rita’s key role is to work with all the Newton Delivery Partners to ensure a holistic science and innovation partnership between the UK and India. Prior to taking up this position, Rita was working as the Senior Science and Innovation Adviser leading on Science Policy, Energy, Climate Change, Water and Environmental Sciences. In this capacity, her work ranged from brokering research collaborations between the UK and Indian researchers to assisting in utilisation of best available science to influence effective policy making. Rita has significant experience of working with UK and Indian government, academic and industrial partners to deliver multi-million programmes. In the past she has worked in Research Councils UK's India office as their Deputy Director and UKaid’s South Asia Research Hub as their Research Adviser. Rita has a Bachelor’s degree in Botany, Masters in Anthropology and completed her PhD in Cell Biology from Germany.

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