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Glacier area changes and its relation to climatological trends over Western Himalaya between 1971 and 2018

Abstract

Understanding the climatic complexity and its consequences on glacier health are of critical importance for the health of the Himalayan glacier and its contribution to the water budget. In this study, satellite datasets are used to estimate the glacier area loss, snow cover variability, and reanalysis data for climatic trends for four glacierised basins (Chandra, Bhaga, Miyar, and Parvati) of the Western Himalaya. In total, 257 glaciers covering a glacierised area of 1306 km2, having a mean altitude of 5200 m asl, and an average slope of 18°, were analyzed using Corona (1971) and Sentinel (2018) satellite data. These glaciers have experienced a significant glacier area loss rate (0.2 km2a−1) and an increase in the number of glaciers on account of fragmentation. Snow cover estimate during 2000–2019 using MODIS data showed no significant change or a slight decrease in snow cover area during the last two decades. However, the ERA-Interim reanalysis data revealed a systematic decrease in precipitation, an increase in temperature and an increase in liquid precipitation over the region during 1979–2018. The increased liquid precipitation possibly contributed to the faster melting of the snow and ice and consequently affected the glaciers’ health. The observed glacier fragmentation and glacier mass loss over the five decades and enhanced rainfall activity revealed a significant influence of climatic changes over the glacierised region in Western Himalaya.

Research highlights

  • Estimated glacier area loss and glacier fragmentation over the Chandra, Bhaga, Miyar, and Parvati basins of the Western Himalaya revealed a significant loss of glacier area and increased fragmentation during 1971 and 2018.

  • Comparison with climatological data from 1979 to 2018 showed a clear impact of climatic variability over the studied glaciers across the four basins.

  • The snow cover during 2000–2018 has shown a significant interannual variability, with a slightly increasing trend during the period, controlled by the Western Disturbances.

  • The consequences of decreased snow accumulation and increased liquid precipitation over the glacierised catchments of Western Himalaya have been highlighted.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Director, National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Goa for support, and the Ministry of Earth Sciences for financial support through the project PACER – Cryosphere and Climate. The US Geological Survey (USGS) is acknowledged for the declassified Corona images, Sentinel 2B images, and ASTER GDEM V2 datasets. We also acknowledge the technical support of Rahul Day and Sunil Oulkar (NCPOR) for helping in acquisition and analysis of the climatological datasets. We are thankful to both anonymous reviewers for their fruitful comments. This is NCPOR contribution no. J-47/2021-22.

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LKP: Design, methodology, data analysis, and writing. AS: Climatological and glaciological dataset preparation and analysis. PS: Data validation, analysis, writing, and review of the manuscript. AS: Prepared the glaciological and climatological datasets. MT: Supervision, writing, and reviewing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lavkush Kumar Patel.

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Supplementary material pertaining to this article is available on the Journal of Earth System Science website (http://www.ias.ac.in/Journals/Journal_of_Earth_System_Science)

Communicated by Aparna Shukla

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Patel, L.K., Sharma, A., Sharma, P. et al. Glacier area changes and its relation to climatological trends over Western Himalaya between 1971 and 2018. J Earth Syst Sci 130, 217 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12040-021-01720-0

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Keywords

  • Glacier retreat
  • glacier fragmentation
  • climatological trend
  • Upper Indus Basin
  • Western Himalaya