Glacier dynamics of the Pamir-Karakoram-Himalaya region over the last 40 years
Abstract:Climate warming over the 20th century has caused drastic changes in mountain glaciers globally, and of the Himalayan glaciers in particular. The stakes are high; glaciers and ice caps are the largest contributor to the increase in the mass of the world's oceans, and the Himalayas play a key role in the hydrology of the region, impacting on the economy, food safety and flood risk. Partial monitoring of the Himalayan glaciers has revealed a mixed picture; while many of the Himalayan glaciers are retreating, in some cases locally stable or advancing glaciers in this region have also been observed. But recent controversies have highlighted the need to understand the glaciers dynamic and its relationship with climate change in the region.
Earth Observation provides a mean for global and long-term monitoring of mountain glaciers’ dynamics. In the frame of the Dragon program, a partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Chinese Center for Earth Observation (NRSCC), we begun a monitoring program aimed at quantifying multidecadal changes in glaciers’ flow at the scale of the entire Himalayas and Karakoram from a 40 years’ archive of Earth Observation. Ultimately, the provision of a global and time-sensitive glaciers velocity product will help to understand the evolution of the Himalayan glaciers in lights of glaciological (e.g. presence of debris-cover, surges, proglacial lakes) and climatic conditions.
Here we present a region-wide analysis of annual and seasonnal glacier flow velocity covering the Pamir-Karakoram-Himalaya region obtained from the analysis of the entire archive of Landsat data. Over 90% of the ice-covered regions, as defined by the Randolph Glacier Inventory, are measured, with precision on the retrieved velocity of the order of 2 m/yr. We show that the first order temporal evolution of glacier flow mirrors the pattern of glacier mass balance. We observe a general decrease of ice velocity in regions of known ice mass loss, and a more complex patterns consisting of mixed acceleration and decrease of ice velocity in regions that are known to be affected by stable mass balance and surge-like behavior.