Recent slowdown and thinning of debris-covered glaciers in south-eastern Tibet

niklas.neckel [ at ]


Recent large-scale remote sensing studies have shown that glacier mass loss in south-eastern Tibet, specifically in the eastern Nyainqêntanglha Range exceeds the average in High Asia. However, detailed studies at individual glaciers are scarce and the drivers behind the observed changes are poorly constrained to date. Employing feature tracking techniques on TerraSAR-X data for the periods 2008/2009, 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 we found measurable surface velocities through to the glacier terminus positions of five debris-covered glacier tongues. This is contrary to debris-covered glaciers in other parts of High Asia, where stagnant glacier tongues are common. Our feature tracking results for the 2013/2014 period suggest an average deceleration of 51% when compared with published Landsat velocities for the period 1999/2003. Further, we estimated surface elevation changes for the five glaciers from recently released one arc second resolution elevation data obtained during the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in 2000 and an interferometrical derived TanDEM-X elevation model for the year 2014. With an average rate of −0.83 ± 0.57 m a^-1 we confirm strong surface lowering in the region, despite the widely discussed insulation effect of debris cover. Beside the influence of thermokarst processes and delayed response times of debris-covered glaciers, we highlight that abundant monsoonal summer rainfall might contribute significantly to the pronounced negative mass balances in the study region.

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DOI 10.1016/j.epsl.2017.02.008

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Neckel, N. , Loibl, D. and Rankl, M. (2017): Recent slowdown and thinning of debris-covered glaciers in south-eastern Tibet , Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 464 , pp. 95-102 . doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2017.02.008

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