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Expert Says Rising Sea Salinates India’s Ganges

February 2, 2009

A climate change expert warned Monday, that rising sea levels are causing salt water to flow into India’s biggest river, threatening its ecosystem and turning vast farmlands barren in the country’s east.

A study by an east Indian University in the city of Kolkata revealed surprising growth of mangroves on the Ganges river.

“This phenomenon is called extension of salt wedge and it will salinate the groundwater of Kolkata and turn agricultural lands barren in adjoining rural belts,” said Pranabes Sanyal, an expert in global warming.

In some parts of the Bay of Bengal, sea levels were rising at 3.14 mm annually against a global average of 2 mm, threatening the low-lying areas of eastern India.

Last year, climate experts warned that as temperatures rise, the Indian subcontinent will be badly hit with more frequent and more severe natural disasters such as floods and storms and more disease and hunger.

The mangrove plants were spotted by Sanyal and the department of Oceanography at the Kolkata-based Jadavpur University, a rare phenomenon along the Ganges river belt, where east India’s biggest city of Kolkata with 12 million people lies.

“We were surprised over the natural regeneration of mangroves along the river bank in Kolkata and it is worrisome,” said Sanyal, who teaches in the university.

Mangroves are found about 60 miles away in the swampy Sundarban archipelago spread over a 10,000 sq. mile area on the world’s largest delta region.

The sea had once extended up to the northern fringe of Kolkata, according to the university.

“We fear what happened 6,500 years ago might recur and we have already spotted more saline water fish in the river,” he said.

However, a senior department official in West Bengal stage, M.L. Meena, said, “We don’t think there is cause for immediate concern.”

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