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Impact of glacier changes and permafrost distribution on debris flows in Badswat and Shishkat catchments, Northern Pakistan

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Knowledge of glacier changes and associated hazards is of great importance for the safety consideration of the population and infrastructure in the mountainous regions of Upper Indus Basin (UIB). In this study, we assessed the variations in glacier velocity, glacier surface elevation change, meteorological conditions, and permafrost distribution in Badswat and Shishkat catchments located in UIB to access the potential impact on the occurrence of debris flow in both catchments. We find that the glacier surface velocity increased during the debris flow event in the Badswat catchment and the mean daily temperature was 3.7°C to 3.9°C higher in most of the locations. The enhanced glacier surface elevation lowering period coincide with the rise in temperature during spring and autumn months between 2015 to 2019 in Badswat catchment. The source region of debris flow falls within the lower boundary of permafrost occurrence zone and lies below the 0°C isotherm during late spring and summer months. In Shishkat catchment the 0°C isotherm reaches above the debris flow source area during August and the glacier do not show any significant variations in velocity and surface elevation change. The debris flow source area is adjacent to the slow-moving rock glacier in Shishkat catchment while in Badswat catchment the debris flow initiated from the former glacier moraine. Both catchments are largely glacierized and thus sensitive to changes in climatic conditions and changes in the cryosphere response possess significant threats to the population downstream. Continuous monitoring of cryosphere-climate change in the region can contribute toward the improvement of disaster risk reduction and mitigation policies.

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Availability of Data/Materials: Daily meteorological data used in the current study can be obtained from PMD and GMRC-WAPD on request. The ASTER DEM can be obtained from ( SAR images are available at (, Landsat images are available at (, Planet images are available at ( Field collected data can be requested from corresponding authors. Python code for the figures can be obtained on request from Wajid Hassan.


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The authors are especially grateful to China-Pakistan Joint Research Center on Earth Sciences for their support in the implementation of this study. We are thankful to the Pakistan Glacier Monitoring Research Centre-Water and Power Development Authority (GMRC-WAPDA) and the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) for collecting and providing the hydrometeorological data. We thank the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment-Chinese Academy of Sciences (IMHE-CAS) and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences for their support in facilitating this research through resources for fieldwork. We acknowledge the United States Geological Survey and Planet for making the satellite imagery available. We are thankful to COSI-Corr team for developing and making the tool available for research. This research has been undertaken as part of a Master research project supported by the Alliance of International Science Organizations (ANSO). This research was supported by the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program (STEP, Grant Nos. 2019QZKK0902 and 2019QZKK0903), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 42071017), the CAS President’s International Fellowship Initiative (Grant No. 2021VEA0005), the Science and Technology Research Program of Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. IMHE-ZDRW-03).

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HASSAN Wajid conceptualized and designed this study, performed simulations, analyzed and visualized the results, and completed the manuscript; SU Feng-huan, LIU Wei-ming, HASSAN Javed and ALI Muzaffar helped with analysis and visualization of the results, manuscript writing and editing, and improvement of the quality of the research; HASSAN Wajid, BAZAI Nazir Ahmed, HASSAN Muzammil, YANG Ze-wen and CASTELLANOS Daniel Garcia helped with the revision and editing of the manuscript. HASSAN Wajid, BAZAI Nazir Ahmed, HASSAN Muzammil collected the field data.

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Correspondence to Feng-huan Su or Wei-ming Liu.

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Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Hassan, W., Su, Fh., Liu, Wm. et al. Impact of glacier changes and permafrost distribution on debris flows in Badswat and Shishkat catchments, Northern Pakistan. J. Mt. Sci. 20, 3687–3702 (2023).

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