Using an Ablation Gradient Model to Characterize Annual Glacial Melt Contribution to Major Rivers in High Asia

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Mary J. Brodzik1,2, Richard L Armstrong1,2, Siri-Jodha S Khalsa1,2, Thomas H Painter3, Adina Racoviteanu2 and Karl Rittger1,2, (1)University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States, (3)Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
Ice melt from mountain glaciers can represent a significant contribution to freshwater hydrological budgets, along with seasonal snow melt, rainfall and groundwater. In the rivers of High Asia, understanding the proportion of glacier ice melt is critical for water resource management of irrigation and planning for hydropower generation and human consumption. Current climate conditions are producing heterogeneous glacier responses across the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan ranges. However, it is not yet clear how contrasting glacier patterns affect regional water resources. For example, in the Upper Indus basin, estimates of glacial contribution to runoff are often not distinguished from seasonal snow contribution, and vary widely, from as little as 15% to as much as 55%. While many studies are based on reasonable concepts, most are based on assumptions uninformed by actual snow or ice cover measurements. While straightforward temperature index models have been used to estimate glacier runoff in some Himalayan basins, application of these models in larger Himalayan basins is limited by difficulties in estimating key model parameters, particularly air temperature. Estimating glacial area from the MODIS Permanent Snow and Ice Extent (MODICE) product for the years 2000-2013, with recently released Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTMGL3) elevation data, we use a simple ablation gradient approach to calculate an upper limit on the contribution of clean glacier ice melt to streamflow data. We present model results for the five major rivers with glaciated headwaters in High Asia: the Bramaputra, Ganges, Indus, Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Using GRDC historical discharge records, we characterize the annual contribution from glacier ice melt. We use MODICE interannual trends in each basin to estimate glacier ice melt uncertainties. Our results are being used in the USAID project, Contribution to High Asia Runoff from Ice and Snow (CHARIS), to inform regional-scale planning for vulnerability to changing water resources.