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Perennial Snow and Ice Cover Change from 2001 to 2021 in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan Region Derived from the Landsat Analysis-Ready Data

  • Ahmad Khan
  • Peter Potapov
  • Matthew C. Hansen
  • Amy H. Pickens
  • Alexandra Tyukavina
  • Andres Hernandez Serna
  • Kabir Uddin
  • Jawairia Ahmad
  • Summary

The changing climate directly affects spatial and temporal patterns of snow and ice cover globally and in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. In the HKH, around 3.3 billion people across 11 countries depend on water originating from mountain glaciers and snowfields, and melting snow cover has a direct impact on their livelihood and well-being. Various studies have shown that the snow and ice cover in the HKH is declining at an alarming rate but have been limited in geographic, spatial and temporal scales. Here, we employed the Global Land Analysis and Discovery analysis ready Landsat time-series data (GLAD ARD) to map changes in perennial snow and ice between 2001 and 2021 at five-year epochs using decision tree ensemble models. These maps were used to create a stratified sampling design for reference data collection to estimate area and map accuracy. All five-year epoch maps have user's accuracies above 90% and producer's accuracies above 91%. Our sample data analysis showed that one-eighth of the extent of perennial snow and ice in the HKH, totalling 15,770 km2 (CI ± 3195 km2), disappeared over the last two decades with 105,935 km2 (CI ± 3396 km2) remaining in 2021. From map-based estimates, the largest decline of perennial snow and ice cover among the mountain ranges was found in the Himalayas with an estimated reduction of 5741 km2. Among HKH countries, China had the largest area of perennial snow and ice reduction of 10,654 km2, Nepal had the highest net perennial snow and ice reduction rate (31%). Among the river basins, the maximum net loss of perennial snow and ice cover between 2001 and 2021 was in the Indus (24.8%), followed by Brahmaputra (18.3%), and Tarim (15.7%). Our results confirm wide-spread loss of perennial snow and ice across the HKH region and provide both regionally consistent maps with derived area estimates at landform, national and basin-levels and methodology to continue monitoring snow and ice melt.

  • Published in:
    Remote Sensing Applications: Society and Environment, 34
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