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The "Have-a-Mind-of-Their-Own" Glaciers of Asia's Karakoram

Paper Reviewed
Rankl, M., Kienholz, C. and Braun, M. 2014. Glacier changes in the Karakoram region mapped by multi-mission satellite imagery. The Cryosphere 8: 977-989.

Using new remote sensing methods to generate an updated glacier inventory for the Karakoram region of Asia - which is part of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalaya mountain range located between the borders of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China - Rankl et al. (2014) developed what they describe as "a new comprehensive dataset on the state of advancing, stable and retreating glaciers, including the temporal and spatial variations of frontal positions between 1976 and 2012." And in doing so, they found that the vast majority of the glaciers exhibited a stable terminus (969), while 65 of them advanced, 93 retreated and 101 surge-type glaciers were identified, of which ten were previously unknown.

In commenting on their findings, the three researchers write that "the large number of stable glacier termini and glacier advances is influenced by positive glacier mass balances in the central Karakoram during the last decade," citing Gardelle et al. (2012, 2013) and Kaab et al. (2012), which they indicate is "induced by increasing winter precipitation and decreasing summer temperatures since the 1960s," citing Archer and Fowler (2004), Williams and Ferrigno (2010), Bolch et al. (2012), Yao et al. (2012) and Bocchiola and Diolaiuti (2013).

As for how this could be - and in light of the findings of the references listed above - Rankl et al. reasoned that "considering increasing precipitation in winter and decreasing summer mean and minimum temperatures across the upper Indus Basin since the 1960s," plus the "short response times of small glaciers," it is only logical to conclude that these facts "suggest a shift from negative to balanced or positive mass budgets in the 1980s or 1990s or even earlier, induced by changing climatic conditions since the 1960s."

And so we have an interesting case of non-global warming that has been giving new life to old glaciers of the Karakoram, as well as actually giving birth to a few additional ones.

Archer, D.R. and Fowler, H.J. 2004. Spatial and temporal variations in precipitation in the Upper Indus Basin, global teleconnections and hydrological implications. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 8: 47-61.

Bocchiola, D. and Diolaiuti, G. 2013. Recent (1980-2009) evidence of climate change in the upper Karakoram, Pakistan. Theoretical and Applied Climatology 113: 611-641.

Bolch, T., Kulkarni, A., Kaab, A., Huggel, C., Paul, F., Cogley, J.G., Frey, H., Kargel, J.S., Fujita, K. and Scheel, M. 2012. The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers. Science 336: 310-314.

Gardelle, J., Berthier, E. and Arnaud, Y. 2012. Slight mass gain of Karakoram glaciers in the early twenty-first century. Nature Geoscience 5: 322-325.

Gardelle, J., Berthier, E., Arnaud, Y. and Kaab, A. 2013. Region-wide glacier mass balances over the Pamir-Karakoram-Himalaya during 1999-2011. The Cryosphere 7: 1263-1286.

Kaab, A., Berthier, E., Nuth, C., Gardelle, J. and Arnaud, Y. 2012. Contrasting patterns of early twenty-first-century glacier mass change in the Himalayas. Nature 488: 495-498.

Williams, R.J. and Ferrigno, J. 2010. Glaciers of Asia. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386-F, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Yao, T., Thompson, L., Yang, W., Yu, W., Gao, Y., Guo, X., Yang, X., Duan, K., Zhao, H., Xu, B., Pu, J., Lu, A., Xiang, Y., Kattel, D.B. and Joswiak, D. 2012. Different glacier status with atmospheric circulations in Tibetan Plateau and surroundings. Nature Climate Change 2: 663-667.

Posted 11 November 2014