Estimation of the recession rate of Gangotri glacier, Garhwal Himalaya (India) through kinematic GPS survey and satellite data

Abstract

Snout monitoring of the Gangotri glacier (Uttarakhand, India) during the ablation season (May to September) in years 2005 and 2015 by using rapid static and kinematic GPS survey reveals that the retreating rate has been comparatively more declined than shown by the earlier studies. Our study is based on the individual measurement by the remote sensing, added by the ground observations by using Differential global positioning system (DGPS) to determine the precise recession rate of the glacier at sub-centimeter level of accuracy. The GPS dataset show that the total average retreat along the snout has been 102.57 ± 0.05 m from 2005 to 2015 with an average rate as 10.26 ± 0.05 m/yr. Additionally, the shift in snout position was also measured through multi-temporal satellite data from 1989 to 2016. The results indicate that the Gangotri glacier snout has retreated by 585.62 ± 38.30 m during this period with an average retreat of 26.75 ± 4.36 m/yr from 1989 to 1999, 21.58 ± 3.77 m/yr from 1999 to 2009 and 14.60 ± 4.81 m/yr from 2009 to 2016. Such a decline in retreat is further confirmed by the satellite data set. A close examination of meltwater discharge and retreating rate (r2 = 0.95) show that both parameters are strongly correlated. Therefore, we suggest that a consistent decrease in meltwater discharge from 1999 to 2015 is in agreement with decreasing trend of retreating rate during the recent years. To determine the possible causes of decreased retreating rate, a relationship between debris thickness and melt rate was also established by ablation stakes. Further, we infer that the declining trend in the glacier retreat is not only controlled by prevailing weather conditions (rainfall and air temperature) but is also governed by increased debris cover on the glacier surface which prevents the ice to melt.

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Acknowledgements

The research was mostly funded by the Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, New Delhi (Grant No. SR/DGH/58/2013). We thank the Director, G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora for providing facilities to carry out this work. We are also thankful to Naveen Chandra Joshi, Jagdish Chandra Pandey, Nikesh Pandey, Pankaj Kandpal and Mohit Tewari for their assistance.

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Bisht, H., Kotlia, B.S., Kumar, K. et al. Estimation of the recession rate of Gangotri glacier, Garhwal Himalaya (India) through kinematic GPS survey and satellite data. Environ Earth Sci 79, 329 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-020-09078-0

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Keywords

  • Gangotri glacier
  • GPS survey
  • Retreating rate
  • Debris cover
  • Glacier snout