2018
  • Non-ICIMOD Publication
No Cover Photo

Mountain Rock Glaciers Contain Globally Significant Water Stores

  • Jones, D. B.
  • Harrison, S.
  • Anderson, K.
  • Betts, R. A.

Glacier- and snowpack-derived meltwaters are threatened by climate change. Features such as rock glaciers (RGs) are climatically more resilient than glaciers and potentially contain hydrologically valuable ice volumes. However, while the distribution and hydrological significance of glaciers is well studied, RGs have received comparatively little attention. Here, we present the first near-global RG database (RGDB) through an analysis of current inventories and this contains >73,000 RGs. Using the RGDB, we identify key data-deficient regions as research priorities (e.g., Central Asia). We provide the first approximation of near-global RG water volume equivalent and this is 83.72 ± 16.74 Gt. Excluding the Antarctic and Subantarctic, Greenland Periphery, and regions lacking data, we estimate a near-global RG to glacier water volume equivalent ratio of 1:456. Significant RG water stores occur in arid and semi-arid regions (e.g., South Asia East, 1:57). These results represent a first-order approximation. Uncertainty in the water storage estimates includes errors within the RGDB, inherent flaws in the meta-analysis methodology, and RG thickness estimation. Here, only errors associated with the assumption of RG ice content are quantified and overall uncertainty is likely larger than that quantified. We suggest that RG water stores will become increasingly important under future climate warming.

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