2017
  • Non-ICIMOD Publication
No Cover Photo

Spatial Variability in Mass Loss of Glaciers in the Everest Region, Central Himalayas, between 2000 and 2015

  • King, O.
  • Quincey, D. J.
  • Carrivick, J. L.
  • Rowan, A. V.

The mass balance of the majority of Himalayan glaciers is currently negative, and has been for several decades. Region wide averaging of mass change estimates has masked any catchment or glacier scale variability in glacier recession, thus the role of a number of glaciological processes in glacier wastage remains poorly understood. In this study, we quantify surface lowering and mass loss rates for the ablation areas of 32 glaciers in different catchments across the Everest region, and specifically examine the role of glacial lakes in glacier mass change. We then assess how future ice loss is likely to differ depending on glacier hypsometry. Spatially variable ice loss is observed within and between the Dudh Koshi and Tama Koshi catchments and glaciers that flow onto the Tibetan Plateau. Surface lowering rates on glaciers flowing onto the Tibetan Plateau are 54 and 19 % greater than those flowing southward into the Dudh Koshi and Tama Koshi catchments, respectively. Surface lowering rates of up to −3.78 ± 0.26 m a-1 occurred on some lacustrine terminating glaciers, although glaciers with small lakes showed rates of lowering comparable with those that terminate on land. We suggest that such a range reflects glacial lakes at different stages of development, and that rates of mass loss are likely to increase as glacial lakes expand and deep water calving begins to occur. Hypsometric data reveal a coincidence of the altitude of maximum surface lowering and the main glacier hypsometry in the Dudh Koshi catchment, thus a large volume of ice is readily available for melt. Should predicted CMIP5 RCP 4.5 scenario warming (0.9–2.3 °C by 2100) occur in the study area, 19–30, 17–50 and 14–37 % increases in the total glacierised area below the Equilibrium Line Altitude will occur in the Dudh Koshi and Tama Koshi catchments, and on the Tibetan Plateau. Comparison of our data with a conceptual model of Himalayan glacier shrinkage confirms the presence of three distinct process regimes, with all glaciers in our sample now in a state of accelerating mass loss and meltwater storage.

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