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Four decades of glacier mass balance observations in the Indian Himalaya

Abstract

Understanding the glacier mass balance is necessary to explain the rate of shrinkage and to infer the impact of climate change. The present study provides an overview of the glacier mass balance records by glaciological, geodetic, hydrological and accumulation-area ratio (AAR) and specific mass balance relationship methods in the Indian Himalaya since 1970s. It suggests that the mass balance measurements by glaciological methods have been conducted for ten glaciers in the western Himalaya, four glaciers in the central Himalaya and one in the eastern Himalaya. Hydrological mass balance has been conducted only on Siachen Glacier from 1987 to 1991. Geodetic method has been attempted for the Lahaul–Spiti region for a short time span during 1999–2011 and Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya region from 2003 to 2008. We compared in situ specific balance data series with specific mass balance derived from AAR and specific mass balance relationship. The results derived from existing and newly presented regression model based on AAR and specific mass balance relationship induced unrealistic specific mass balance for several glaciers. We also revised AAR0 and ELA0 based on available in situ AAR and specific mass balance data series of Indian Himalayan glaciers. In general, in situ specific and cumulative specific mass balance observed over different regions of the Indian Himalayan glaciers shows mostly negative mass balance years with a few positive ones during 1974–2012. On a regional level, the geodetic studies suggest that on the whole western, the central and the eastern Himalaya experienced vast thinning during the last decade (2000s). Conversely, Karakoram region showed slight mass gain during almost similar period. However, the glaciological, hydrological and geodetic mass balance data appear to exhibit short time series bias. We therefore recommend creation of benchmark glaciers network for future research to determine the impact of climate change on the Himalayan cryosphere.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to Prof. A. K. Gupta, Director, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), Dehra Dun, India, for providing facilities and support to carry out this work. We are also thankful to the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, for funding. The authors wish to express their gratitude to Deepak Srivastava (Dy. Director General GSI, Retd), Dr. Kishor Kumar (Scientist, WIHG, Dehra Dun), Prashant Kawishwar (Resource Scientist, Department of Science and Technology, Chhattisgarh) and Prof. Juan Ignacio Lopez Moreno (Editor, REEC) and three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and suggestions which improved the manuscript. The authors specially thank the workers who collected mass balance data from the Indian Himalayan glaciers without which this research would not been possible.

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Correspondence to Bhanu Pratap.

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Editor: Juan Ignacio Lopez Moreno.

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Pratap, B., Dobhal, D.P., Bhambri, R. et al. Four decades of glacier mass balance observations in the Indian Himalaya. Reg Environ Change 16, 643–658 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-015-0791-4

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Keywords

  • Himalayan glaciers
  • Mass balance
  • Glacier shrinkage
  • Indian Himalaya