Mass-balance changes of the debris-covered glaciers in the Langtang Himal, Nepal, from 1974 to 1999

Journal of Glaciology

Thick debris cover on glaciers can significantly reduce ice melt. However, several studies have suggested that debris-covered glaciers in the Himalaya might have lost mass at a rate similar to debris-free glaciers. We reconstruct elevation and mass changes for the debris-covered glaciers of the upper Langtang valley, Nepalese Himalaya, using a digital elevation model (DEM) from 1974 stereo Hexagon satellite data and the 2000 SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) DEM. Uncertainties are high in the accumulation areas, due to data gaps in the SRTM and difficulties with delineation of the glacier borders. Even with these uncertainties, we obtain thinning rates comparable to those of several other studies in the Himalaya. In particular, we obtain a total mass balance for the investigated debris-covered glaciers of the basin of –0.32 ± 0.18 m w.e. a−1. However, there are major spatial differences both between glaciers and within any single glacier, exhibiting a very distinct nonlinear mass-balance profile with elevation. Through analysis of surface velocities derived from Landsat ETM+ imagery, we show that thinning occurs in areas of low velocity and low slope. These areas are prone to a general, dynamic decay of surface features and to the development of supraglacial lakes and ice cliffs, which may be responsible for a considerable increase in overall glacier ablation.