Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 16, Issue 7, pp 1515–1533 | Cite as

Characteristics of mountain glacier surge hazard: learning from a surge event in NE Pamir, China

  • Xin YaoEmail author
  • Javed IqbalEmail author
  • Ling-jing Li
  • Zheng-kai Zhou


Abnormal glacier movement is likely to result in canyon-type hazards chain, such as the barrier lake of Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon formed by glacier debris flow in October 2018 in China. Glacier hazard usually evolves from the glacier surge and may occur in a regular cycle. Understanding the characteristics and process of glacier surge is important for early hazard recognition and hazard assessment. Based on field investigations, remote sensing interpretations and SAR offset-tracking surveys, this study confirms a typical glacier surge in the northeast Pamir, and presents its characteristics and processes. “Black ice” mixed moraines choking uplift and overflowing lateral marine are the most important scenic characteristics, which were formed under the conditions of stagnant glacier downstream and abundant super-glacial moraine. Glacier movement event can be divided into a five-period cycle including quiescent, inoculation, initiation, fracture and decline. This surge event lasted for about 300 days, initiated in February 2015 developed extensive fracturing zone in spring and early summer at maximum velocity of 10±0.95 m/day, declined after August 2015 and recovered to quiescent status in October 2015 for the next inoculation. The average height of glacier “receiving” area increased by 20–40 m with 2.7–3.6×108 m3 ice transferred from glacier “reservoir”, and this volume accumulation again require 50–100 years for glacier mass balance which gives approximately 100 years frequency of the glacier surge. Nevertheless, long-period increase of precipitation and temperature were favorable for the occurrence, hydrological instability is the direct triggering mechanism, and while the Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) hazards are unlikely to occur with this surge.


Glacier surges Moraine Glacier hazards Mountain glacier Glacier monitoring Offset-tracking SAR 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



This research was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2018YFC1505002), CGS Research Fund (JYYWF20181501), National Natural Science Foundation of China (41672359) and Chinese Academy of Sciences President’s International Fellowship Initiative (grant No. 2018PC0009). One of our manuscript submitted but not considered for publication in “The Cryosphere” and later withdrawn, contains some contents which also appear in this paper. We extend our thanks to Prof. XU Baiqing for providing the information of temperature and rainfall. We are also thankful to handling editor and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments which greatly helped to improve the original manuscript.


  1. Bahr DB, Meier MF, Peckham SD (1997) The physical basis of glacier volume-area scaling. Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth 102: 20355–20362. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barrand NE, Murray T (2006) Multivariate controls on the incidence of glacier surging in the Karakoram Himalaya. Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research 38(4): 489–498.[489:MCOTIO]2.0.CO;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Björnsson H (1998) Hydrological characteristics of the drainage system beneath a surging glacier. Nature 395(6704): 771–774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Burgess, EW, Forster RR, Larsen CF, et al. (2012) Surge dynamics on Bering Glacier, Alaska, in 2008–2011. The Cryosphere 6: 1251–1262. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chen J, Ohmura A (1990) Estimation of Alpine glacier water resources and their change since the 1870s, IAHS Publications -Hydrology in Mountainous Regions, I — Hydrological Measurements; the water cycle, Proceedings of two Lausanne Symposia, August 1990, edited by: Lang, H. and Musy, A., IAHS Publ.,193, 127–135.Google Scholar
  6. Clarke GKC, Collins SG, Thompson DE (1984) Flow, thermal structure, and subglacial conditions of a surge-type glacier. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 21(2): 232–240. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clarke GKC, Schmok JP, Ommanney CSL, et al. (1986) Characteristics of surge-type glaciers. Journal of Geophysical Research 91(B7): 7165–7180. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarke GKC (1991) Length, width and slope influences on glacier surging. Journal of Glaciology 37(126): 236–246. 110.1017/S0022143000007255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Copland L, Sylvestre T, Bishop MP, et al. (2011) Expanded and recently increased glacier surging in the Karakoram. Arct. Antarct. Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research 43(4): 503–516. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ding GX, Chen CP, Xie CW (2014) Study of the ice tongue ablation features of a large glacier in the south slopes of the Mt. Tuomuer in the Tianshan Mountains. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 36(1): 20–29. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  11. Dolgoushin LD, Osipova GB (1975) Glacier surges and the problem of their forecasting, Snow and Ice-Symposium-Neiges et Glaces (Proceedings of the Moscow Symposium, August 1971; Actes du Colloque de Moscou, août 1971): IAHS-AISH Publ. No. 104.Google Scholar
  12. Fatland, DR, Lingle CS (1998) Analysis of the 1993–95 Bering Glacier (Alaska) surge using differential SAR interferometry. Journal of Glaciology 44(148): 532–546. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frappe TP, Clarke GKC (2007) Slow surge of Trapridge glacier, Yukon Territory, Canada. Journal of Geophysical Research, 112 (F3).
  14. Frey H, Machguth H, Huss M, et al. (2014) Estimating the volume of glaciers in the Himalayan-Karakoram region using different methods. The Cryosphere 8: 2313–2333. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guo WQ, Liu SY, Xu JL (2012) Monitoring recent surging of the Yulinchuan glacier on north slopes of Muztag Range by remote sensing. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 34(4): 765–774. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  16. Haeberli, W (2016) Brief communication: On area- and slope-related thickness estimates and volume calculations for unmeasured glaciers. The Cryosphere Discuss. Revised manuscript has not been submitted, website is
  17. Han HD, Ding YJ, Liu SY (2005) Estimation and analysis of heat balance parameters in the ablation season of debris-covered Kerqikaer glacier. Tianshan Mountains, Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 27(1): 88–94. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  18. Hagen JO. (1987) Glacier surge at Usherbreen, Svalbard. Polar Research 5(2): 239–252. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Holzer N, Vijay S, Yao T (2015) Four decades of glacier variations at Muztagh Ata (eastern Pamir): a multi-sensor study including Hexagon KH-9 and Pléiades data. The Cryosphere 9: 2071–2088. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jiang ZL, Ding YJ, Liu SY (2012) A Study of the Debris-covered Glacier Limit Based on SAR. Advances in Earth Sciences 27(11): 1245–1251.Google Scholar
  21. Jiang ZL, Liu SY, Long SC (2014) Analysis of the glacier dynamics features in Kongur Mountain based on SAR technology and DEMs. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 36(2): 286–295. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  22. Jónsson SA, Schomacker A, Benediktsson ÍÖ, et al. (2014) The drumlin field and the geomorphology of the Múlajökull surge-type glacier, central Iceland. Geomorphology 207: 213–220. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kamb B, Raymond CF, Harrison WD, et al. (1985) Glacier surge mechanism: 1982–1983 Surge of variegated glacier, Alaska. Science 227(4686): 469–479. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kang ES, Zhu SS, Huang MM (1985) Glaciers and weather in Mt. Tomor of Tianshan Mountains, Xinjiang People”s Publishing House, Urumchi, 99–119.Google Scholar
  25. Kotlyakov VM, Osipova GB, Tsvetkov DG (2008) Monitoring surging glaciers of the Pamirs, central Asia, from space. Annals of Glaciology 48: 125–134. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Li SS, Zhang MJ, Li ZQ (2013) Variation of glacier terminuses in the Tianshan Mountains, China, during the Period of 1960–2009. Arid Zone Research 30(2): 378–384.Google Scholar
  27. Li JL, Chen X, Bao AM, et al. (2016) Glacier hazard emergency monitoring of the Jiubie Peak in Kongur Mountains using unmanned aerial vehicle photogrammetry. Arid land Geography 39(2): 378–386. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  28. Liu WG, Xiao CD, Liu JS (2013) Analyzing the ablation rate characteristics of the Rongbuk glacier on the Mt. Qomolangma, central Himalayas. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 35(4): 814–823. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  29. Liu JS, Wang D (2009) Surging glacier found in upstream Yarkant River of Karakorum Mountains in 2009 summer. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 31(5): 45. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  30. Luckman A, Quincey D, Bevan S (2007) The potential of satellite radar interferometry and feature tracking for monitoring flow rates of Himalayan glaciers. Remote Sensing Environment 111(2): 172–181. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mao WY, Sun BG, Wang T (2006) Change trends of temperature, precipitation and runoff Volume in the Kaxgar river basin since recent 50 years. Arid Zone Research 23(4): 531–538. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  32. Meier MF, Post AS (1969) What are glacier surges? Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 6(4): 807–817. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mt. Tomor Glacier Research Team of Lanzhou Institute of Glaciology and Cryopedology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (1982) Basic characteristics of glaciers in Mt. Tomor of Tianshan Mountains. Science in China, Series B 12(8): 736–744.Google Scholar
  34. Murray T, Strozzi T, Luckman A, et al. (2003) Is there a single surge mechanism? contrasts in dynamics between glacier surges in Svalbard and other regions. Journal of Geophysical Research 108(B5): 2237. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Murray TGW, Miller PJ, Woodward J, et al. (2000) Glacier surge propagation by thermal evolution at the bed, Journal of Geophysical Research 105(B6): 13491–13507. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Niu JF, Liu JS, Wang D (2011) Monitoring on ice-dammed lake and related Surging Glaciers in Yarkant River, Karakorum in 2009. Journal of Mountain Sciences 29(3): 276–282. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  37. Quincey DJ, Glasser NF, Cook SJ (2015) Heterogeneity in Karakoram glacier surges. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface 120: 1288–1300. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Quincey DJ, Braun M, Glasser NF, et al. (2011) Karakoram glacier surge dynamics, Geophysical Research Letters 38: L18504. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Quincey DJ, Luckman A, Benn D (2009) Quantification of Everest region glacier velocities between 1992 and 2002, using satellite radar interferometry and feature tracking. Journal of Glaciology 55(192): 596–606. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Robinson AC, Yin A, Manning CE, et al. (2006) Tectonic evolution of the northeastern Pamir: Constraints from the northern portion of the Cenozoic Kongur Shan extensional system, western China. Geological Society of America Bulletin 116(7): 953–973. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Robin GQ (1969) Initiation of glacier surges. Canada Journal of Earth Sciences 6(4): 919–928. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Scherler D, Bookhagen DB, Strecker MR (2011) Spatially variable response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change affected by debris cover. Nature Geosciences 4: 156–159. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Shangguan DH, Liu SY, Ding YJ (2005) Surging glacier found in Shaksgam River, Karakorum Mountains. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology, 27(5): 641–64. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  44. Shangguan DH, Liu SY, Ding YJ, et al. (2016) Characterizing the May 2015 Karayaylak Glacier surge in the eastern Pamir Plateau using remote sensing. Journal of Glaciology 62(35): 944–953. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sevestre H, Benn D (2015) Climatic and geometric controls on the global distribution of surge-type glaciers: Implications for a unifying model of surging. Journal of Glaciology 61(228): 646–662. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shi YF, Zhang XS (1978) Modern-time regression and progression of Batura glacier in Karakorum Mountains. Acta Geographica Sinica 33(1): 27–40. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  47. Shi YF, Cui ZJ, Li JJ (1989) Quarternary glaciers and environmental problems in east China, Science Press, Beijing. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  48. Shi YF (2000) Glaciers and environment in China: past, present and future, Science Press, Beijing.Google Scholar
  49. Shi YF, Cui ZJ, Su Z (2006) Quarternary glaciers and environmental change in China, Hebei Science & Technology Press, Shijiazhuang. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  50. Strozzi T, Luckman A, Murray T (2002) Glacier motion estimation using SAR offset-tracking procedures. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 40(11): 2384–2391. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Strozzi T, Kouraev A, Wiesmann A (2008) Estimation of Arctic glacier motion with satellite L-band SAR data. Remote Sensing Environment 112(3): 636–645. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Su Z, Ding L, Liu CC (1984) Glacier thickness and its reserves calculation on Tianshan Mountains. Xinjiang Geography 7: 37–44. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  53. Su Z, Li S, Wang ZC (1989) Modern glaciers in Muztag and Kongur. Journal of Natural Resources 4(3): 241–246. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  54. Wang L, Li ZQ, Wang FT (2011) Spatial distribution of the debris layer on glaciers of the Tuomuer Peak, western Tien-Shan. Journal of Earth Science 22(4): 528–538. (In Chinese)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Xie CW, Ding YJ, Liu SY (2004) Analysis on the glacial hydrological features of the glaciers on the south slope of Mt. Tuomuer and the effects on runoff. Arid Land Geography 27(4): 570–575. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  56. Xue Y, Han P, Feng GH (2003) Change trend of the precipitation and air temperature in Xinjiang since recent half century. Arid Zone Research 20(2): 127–130. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  57. Yao X, Dai FC, IQBL J, et al.(2016) A Close Observation to a Typical Continental Valley Glacier Surge in Northeastern Pamir. The Cryosphere Discussion.
  58. Yang HA, An RZ (1991) Resources and distribution of modern glaciers in Yarkant River watershed, Chinese glacier catalog (Tarim River inland watershed: Yarkant River watershed), volume 3, Science Press, Beijing, pp 3–5. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  59. Yao TD (1987) Relations among glacier mass balance, snow line and climate — a case study in Glacier No.1 at the headwaters of Urumqi River, Tianshan Mountains. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 9(4): 289–300. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  60. Yao TD, Liu SY, Pu JC (2004) Recent glacial retreat in high Asia and its impact on water resource in Northwest China. Science in China Series D 34(6): 535–543. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  61. Zhang WJ (1983) A surging glacier in the Najiabawa Peak area. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 5(4): 75–76. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  62. Zhang Z, Liu SY, Wei JF (2016) Monitoring recent surging of the Karayaylak Glacier in Pamir by remote sensing. Journal of Glaciology and Geocryology 38(1): 11–20. (In Chinese)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Active Tectonic and Crustal Stability Assessment; Institute of GeomechanicsChinese Academy of Geological SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Earth SciencesAbbottabad University of Science and TechnologyPeshawar, KPKPakistan
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Mountain Hazards and Surface Processes, Institute of Mountain Hazards and EnvironmentChinese Academy of SciencesChengduChina

Personalised recommendations