Satellite observations show no net change in the percentage of supraglacial debris-covered area in northern Pakistan from 1977 to 2014

Publication
Journal of Glaciology
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Spatial evolution of supraglacial debris cover on mountain glaciers is a largely unmonitored and poorly understood phenomenon that directly affects glacier melt. Supraglacial debris cover for 93 glaciers in the Karakoram, northern Pakistan, was mapped from Landsat imagery acquired in 1977, 1998, 2009 and 2014. Surge-type glaciers occupy 41% of the study area and were considered separately. The time series of debris-covered surface area change shows a mean value of zero or near-zero change for both surging and non-surging glaciers. An increase in debris-covered area is often associated with negative regional mass balances. We extend this logic to suggest that the stable regional mass balances in the Karakoram explain the zero or near-zero change in debris-covered area. This coupling of trends combined with our 37 year time series of data suggests the Karakoram anomaly extends further back in time than previously known.