Retreat rates of debris-covered and debris-free glaciers in the Koshi River Basin, central Himalayas, from 1975 to 2010

  • Yang Xiang
  • Tandong Yao
  • Yang Gao
  • Guoqing Zhang
  • Weicai Wang
  • Lide Tian
Original Article


Debris-covered glaciers are common in the Himalayas and play a key role in understanding future regional water availability and management. Previous studies of regional glacial changes have often neglected debris-covered glaciers or have mixed them with debris-free glaciers. In this study, we generated a new glacier data set that includes debris-covered and debris-free glaciers to study the glacial surface area change in the Koshi River Basin in the central Himalayas. Long time-series Landsat data were used to extract the glacier boundaries using automatic and manual classification methods. The glacial area decreased by 10.4% from 1975 to 2010 at a rate of 0.30% a−1, with accelerated melting since 2000 (0.47% a−1). Small glaciers melted faster than large glaciers. In terms of distinctive glacier types, debris-free glaciers shrank at a rate of 0.45% a−1, faster than debris-covered glaciers (0.18% a−1), while debris-covered glaciers larger than 5.0 km2 retreated at a rate faster than debris-free glaciers of the same-sized group. We also studied the potential interactions between 222 supraglacial lakes and debris-covered glaciers. Debris-covered glaciers with glacial lakes melt faster than glaciers without lakes. This study can improve our understanding of the differences in the changes between debris-covered and debris-free glaciers in the central Himalayas and help evaluate water resource changes in the Himalayas.


Glacier change Debris-covered glacier Debris-free glacier Glacial lake Koshi River Basin Central Himalayas 



This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41190081, 41401082, 41571061 and 41701069), the Strategic Priority Research Program (B) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB03030203) and the Major Special Project—The China High-Resolution Earth Observation System (30-Y30B13-9003-14/16-01). We would like to thank Dr. Xiaoxin Yang for the helpful comments on the earlier draft of this paper. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and advices in improving the manuscript. We also thank the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for providing Landsat data.

Supplementary material

12665_2018_7457_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (83 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 83 kb)


  1. Bajracharya SR, Maharjan SB, Shrestha F (2011) Glaciers shrinking in Nepal Himalaya. In: Climate change: geophysical foundations and ecological effects, pp 445–458Google Scholar
  2. Banerjee A (2017) Brief communication: thinning of debris-covered and debris-free glaciers in a warming climate. Cryosphere 11:133–138. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Basnett S, Kulkarni AV, Bolch T (2013) The influence of debris cover and glacial lakes on the recession of glaciers in Sikkim Himalaya, India. J Glaciol 59:1035–1046. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benn DI, Bolch T, Hands K, Gulley J, Luckman A, Nicholson LI, Quincey D, Thompson S et al (2012) Response of debris-covered glaciers in the Mount Everest region to recent warming, and implications for outburst flood hazards. Earth Sci Rev 114:156–174. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bhambri R, Bolch T, Chaujar RK (2011) Mapping of debris-covered glaciers in the Garhwal Himalayas using ASTER DEMs and thermal data. Int J Remote Sens 32:8095–8119. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bolch T, Kamp U (2006) Glacier mapping in high mountains using DEMs, Landsat and ASTER data. Grazer Schriften der Geographie und Raumforschung 41:37–48Google Scholar
  7. Bolch T, Buchroithner MF, Kunert A, Kamp U (2007) Automated delineation of debris-covered glaciers based on ASTER data. In: Geoinformation in Europe. Proceedings of the 27th EARSeL symposium, pp 4–6Google Scholar
  8. Bolch T, Buchroithner M, Pieczonka T, Kunert A (2008) Planimetric and volumetric glacier changes in the Khumbu Himal, Nepal, since 1962 using Corona, Landsat TM and ASTER data. J Glaciol 54:592–600. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bolch T, Yao T, Kang S, Buchroithner MF, Scherer D, Maussion F, Huintjes E, Schneider C (2010) A glacier inventory for the western Nyainqentanglha Range and the Nam Co Basin, Tibet, and glacier changes 1976–2009. Cryosphere 4:419–433. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bolch T, Pieczonka T, Benn D (2011) Multi-decadal mass loss of glaciers in the Everest area (Nepal Himalaya) derived from stereo imagery. Cryosphere 5:349–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bolch T, Kulkarni A, Kaab A, Huggel C, Paul F, Cogley JG, Frey H, Kargel JS et al (2012) The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers. Science 336:310–314. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Buri P, Pellicciotti F, Steiner JF, Miles ES, Immerzeel WW (2016) A grid-based model of backwasting of supraglacial ice cliffs on debris-covered glaciers. Ann Glaciol 57:199–211. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Collier E, Maussion F, Nicholson LI, Mölg T, Immerzeel WW, Bush ABG (2015) Impact of debris cover on glacier ablation and atmosphere–glacier feedbacks in the Karakoram. Cryosphere 9:1617–1632. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Frey H, Paul F, Strozzi T (2012) Compilation of a glacier inventory for the western Himalayas from satellite data: methods, challenges, and results. Remote Sens Environ 124:832–843. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fujita K, Nuimura T (2011) Spatially heterogeneous wastage of Himalayan glaciers. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:14011–14014. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fujita K, Sakai A (2014) Modelling runoff from a Himalayan debris-covered glacier. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 18:2679–2694. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gardent M, Rabatel A, Dedieu J-P, Deline P (2014) Multitemporal glacier inventory of the French Alps from the late 1960s to the late 2000s. Glob Planet Change 120:24–37. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Granshaw FD, Fountain AG (2006) Glacier change (1958–1998) in the North Cascades National Park Complex, Washington, USA. J Glaciol 52:251–256. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guo W, Liu S, Xu J, Wu L, Shangguan D, Yao X, Wei J, Bao W et al (2015) The second Chinese glacier inventory: data, methods and results. J Glaciol 61:357–372. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hall DK, Bayr KJ, Schöner W, Bindschadler RA, Chien JYL (2003) Consideration of the errors inherent in mapping historical glacier positions in Austria from the ground and space (1893–2001). Remote Sens Environ 86:566–577. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Immerzeel WW, van Beek LP, Bierkens MF (2010) Climate change will affect the Asian water towers. Science 328:1382–1385. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Janke JR, Bellisario AC, Ferrando FA (2015) Classification of debris-covered glaciers and rock glaciers in the Andes of central Chile. Geomorphology 241:98–121. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jawak SD, Luis AJ (2015) A rapid extraction of water body features from antarctic coastal oasis using very high-resolution satellite remote sensing data. Aquat Procedia 4:125–132. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jin R, Li X, Che T, Wu L, Mool P (2005) Glacier area changes in the Pumqu river basin, Tibetan Plateau, between the 1970s and 2001. J Glaciol 51:607–610. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Juen M, Mayer C, Lambrecht A, Han H, Liu S (2014) Impact of varying debris cover thickness on ablation: a case study for Koxkar Glacier in the Tien Shan. Cryosphere 8:377–386. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kääb A, Treichler D, Nuth C, Berthier E (2015) Brief Communication: contending estimates of 2003–2008 glacier mass balance over the Pamir–Karakoram–Himalaya. Cryosphere 9:557–564. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kaspari S, Hooke RL, Mayewski PA, Kang S, Hou S, Qin D (2008) Snow accumulation rate on Qomolangma (Mount Everest), Himalaya: synchroneity with sites across the Tibetan Plateau on 50–100 year timescales. J Glaciol 54:343–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ma L, Tian L, Pu J, Wang P (2010) Recent area and ice volume change of Kangwure Glacier in the middle of Himalayas. Chin Sci Bull 55:2088–2096. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mann HB (1945) Nonparametric tests against trend. Econometrica 13:245–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mayer C, Lambrecht A, Mihalcea C, Belò M, Diolaiuti G, Smiraglia C, Bashir F (2010) Analysis of glacial meltwater in Bagrot Valley, Karakoram. Mt Res Dev 30:169–177. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mcfeeters SK (1996) The use of the Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) in the delineation of open water features. Int J Remote Sens 17:1425–1432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Nagai H, Fujita K, Nuimura T, Sakai A (2013) Southwest-facing slopes control the formation of debris-covered glaciers in the Bhutan Himalaya. Cryosphere 7:1303–1314. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Naidu CV, Durgalakshmi K, Krishna KM, Rao SR, Satyanarayana GC, Lakshminarayana P, Rao LM (2009) Is summer monsoon rainfall decreasing over India in the global warming era? J Geophys Res Atmos 114:144–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nie Y, Zhang Y, Liu L, Zhang J (2010) Glacial change in the vicinity of Mt. Qomolangma (Everest), central high Himalayas since 1976. J Geogr Sci 20:667–686. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Paul F, Andreassen LM (2009) A new glacier inventory for the Svartisen region, Norway, from Landsat ETM+ data: challenges and change assessment. J Glaciol 55:607–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Paul F, Svoboda F (2010) A new glacier inventory on southern Baffin Island, Canada, from ASTER data: II. Data analysis, glacier change and applications. Ann Glaciol 50:22–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Paul F, Huggel C, Kääb A, Kellenberger T, Maisch M (2002) Comparison of TM-derived glacier areas with higher resolution data sets. EARSeLeProc 2(1):15–21Google Scholar
  38. Paul F, Barrand NE, Baumann S, Berthier E, Bolch T, Casey K, Frey H, Joshi SP et al (2013) On the accuracy of glacier outlines derived from remote-sensing data. Ann Glaciol 54:171–182. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Paul F, Bolch T, Kääb A, Nagler T, Nuth C, Scharrer K, Shepherd A, Strozzi T et al (2015) The glaciers climate change initiative: methods for creating glacier area, elevation change and velocity products. Remote Sens Environ 162:408–426. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pellicciotti F, Stephan C, Miles E, Herreid S, Immerzeel WW, Bolch T (2015) Mass-balance changes of the debris-covered glaciers in the Langtang Himal, Nepal, from 1974 to 1999. J Glaciol 61:373–386. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pfeffer WT, Arendt AA, Bliss A, Bolch T, Cogley JG, Gardner AS, Hagen J-O, Hock R et al (2014) The Randolph Glacier Inventory: a globally complete inventory of glaciers. J Glaciol 60:537–552. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pratap B, Dobhal DP, Mehta M, Bhambri R (2015) Influence of debris cover and altitude on glacier surface melting: a case study on Dokriani Glacier, central Himalaya, India. Ann Glaciol 56:9–16. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Qiao L, Mayer C, Liu S (2015) Distribution and interannual variability of supraglacial lakes on debris-covered glaciers in the Khan Tengri-Tumor Mountains, Central Asia. Environ Res Lett 10:014014. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Racoviteanu A, Williams MW (2012) Decision tree and texture analysis for mapping debris-covered glaciers in the Kangchenjunga Area, Eastern Himalaya. Remote Sens 4:3078–3109. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rathore B, Singh S, Brahmbhatt R, Bahuguna I, Rajawat A (2015) Monitoring of moraine-dammed lakes: a remote sensing-based study in the Western Himalaya. Curr Sci 109:1843–1849CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Reid TD, Brock BW (2014) Assessing ice-cliff backwasting and its contribution to total ablation of debris-covered Miage glacier, Mont Blanc massif, Italy. J Glaciol 60:3–13. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rounce DR, Quincey DJ, McKinney DC (2015) Debris-covered glacier energy balance model for Imja-Lhotse Shar Glacier in the Everest region of Nepal. Cryosphere 9:2295–2310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rowan AV, Egholm DL, Quincey DJ, Glasser NF (2015) Modelling the feedbacks between mass balance, ice flow and debris transport to predict the response to climate change of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalaya. Earth Planet Sci Lett 430:427–438. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sakai A, Fujita K (2010) Formation conditions of supraglacial lakes on debris-covered glaciers in the Himalaya. J Glaciol 56:177–181. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sakai A, Takeuchi N, Fujita K, Nakawo M (2000) Role of supraglacial ponds in the ablation process of a debris-covered glacier in the Nepal Himalayas. IAHS Publication, Wallingford, pp 119–132Google Scholar
  51. Scherler D, Bookhagen B, Strecker MR (2011) Spatially variable response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change affected by debris cover. Nat Geosci 4:156–159. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Shangguan D, Liu SY, Ding YJ, Wu LZ, Deng W, Guo WQ, Wang Y, Xu JL et al (2014) Glacier changes in the Koshi River basin, central Himalaya, from 1976 to 2009, derived from remote-sensing imagery. Ann Glaciol 55:61–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Shukla A, Gupta RP, Arora MK (2010) Delineation of debris-covered glacier boundaries using optical and thermal remote sensing data. Remote Sens Lett 1:11–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Singh KV, Setia R, Sahoo S, Prasad A, Pateriya B (2014) Evaluation of NDWI and MNDWI for assessment of waterlogging by integrating digital elevation model and groundwater level. Geocarto Int 30:650–661. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Smith T, Bookhagen B, Cannon F (2015) Improving semi-automated glacier mapping with a multi-method approach: applications in central Asia. Cryosphere 9:1747–1759. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Steiner JF, Pellicciotti F, Buri P, Miles ES, Immerzeel WW, Reid TD (2015) Modelling ice-cliff backwasting on a debris-covered glacier in the Nepalese Himalaya. J Glaciol 61:889–907. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wang W, Yao T, Yang X (2011) Variations of glacial lakes and glaciers in the Boshula mountain range, southeast Tibet, from the 1970s to 2009. Ann Glaciol 52:9–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wang W, Xiang Y, Gao Y, Lu A, Yao T (2015) Rapid expansion of glacial lakes caused by climate and glacier retreat in the Central Himalayas. Hydrol Process 29:859–874. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yao T, Thompson L, Yang W, Yu W, Gao Y, Guo X, Yang X, Duan K et al (2012) Different glacier status with atmospheric circulations in Tibetan Plateau and surroundings. Nat Clim Change 2:663–667. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ye Q, Zhong Z, Kang S, Stein A, Wei Q, Liu J (2009) Monitoring glacier and supra-glacier lakes from space in Mt. Qomolangma region of the Himalayas on the Tibetan Plateau in China. J Mt Sci 6:211–220. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ye Q, Bolch T, Naruse R, Wang Y, Zong J, Wang Z, Zhao R, Yang D et al (2015) Glacier mass changes in Rongbuk catchment on Mt. Qomolangma from 1974 to 2006 based on topographic maps and ALOS PRISM data. J Hydrol 530:273–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Yenilmez F, Keskin F, Aksoy A (2011) Water quality trend analysis in Eymir Lake, Ankara. Phys Chem Earth 36:135–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zhang G, Yao T, Xie H, Wang W, Yang W (2015) An inventory of glacial lakes in the Third Pole region and their changes in response to global warming. Glob Planet Change 131:148–157. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yang Xiang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tandong Yao
    • 2
    • 3
  • Yang Gao
    • 2
    • 3
  • Guoqing Zhang
    • 2
    • 3
  • Weicai Wang
    • 2
    • 3
  • Lide Tian
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.College of GeomaticsXi’an University of Science and TechnologyXi’anChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Tibetan Environmental Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)BeijingChina
  3. 3.CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth SciencesBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations