Modelling the response of a Himalayan watershed to climate change: new insights from linking high resolution in-situ data and remote sensing with an advanced simulation model

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 3:25 PM
Silvan Ragettli, ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, Francesca Pellicciotti, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland and Wouter Immerzeel, Utrecht University, Department of Physcial Geography, Utrecht, 3584, Netherlands
In high-elevation watersheds of the Himalayan region the correct representation of the internal states and process dynamics in glacio-hydrological models can often not be verified due to missing in-situ measurements. The aim of this study is to provide a fundamental understanding of the hydrology of a Himalayan watershed through the systematic integration of in-situ data in a glacio-hydrological model. We use ground data from the upper Langtang valley in Nepal combined with high resolution satellite data to understand specific processes and test the application of new model components specifically developed. We apply a new model for ablation under debris that takes into account the varying effect of debris thickness on melt rates. A novel approach is tested to reconstruct spatial fields of debris thickness through combination of energy balance modelling, UAV-derived geodetic mass balance and statistical techniques. The systematic integration of in-situ data for model calibration enables the application of a state-of-the art model with many parameters to model glacier evolution and catchment runoff in spite of the lack of continuous long-term historical records. It allows drawing conclusions on the importance of processes that have been suggested as being relevant but never quantified before. The simulations show that 8.7% of total water inputs originate from sub-debris ice melt. 4.5% originate from melted avalanched snow. These components can be locally much more important, since the spatial variability of processes within the valley is high.

The model is then used to simulate the response of the catchment to climate change. We show that climate warming leads to an increase in future icemelt and a peak in glacier runoff by mid-century. The increase in total icemelt is due to higher melt rates and large areas that are currently located above the equilibrium line altitude additionally that will contribute to melt. Catchment runoff will not reach below current levels throughout the 21st century due to precipitation increases. Debris covered glacier area will disappear at a slower pace than non-debris covered area. Still, due to the relative climate insensitivity of melt rates below thick debris, the contribution of sub-debris icemelt to runoff will not exceed 10% at all times.