Multiannual observations and modelling of seasonal thermal profiles through supraglacial debris in the Central Himalaya

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Type Article
Original languageEnglish
JournalCryosphere Discussions
DOI
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017
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Abstract

Many glaciers in the Central Himalaya are covered with rock debris that modifies the transfer of heat from the atmosphere to the underlying ice. These debris-covered glaciers are experiencing rapid mass loss at rates that have accelerated during the last two decades. Quantifying recent and future glacier mass change requires understanding the relationship between debris thickness and ablation particularly through the summer monsoon season. We present air, near-surface and debris temperatures measured during three monsoon seasons at five sites on Khumbu Glacier in Nepal, and compare these results to similar measurements from two other debris-covered glaciers in this region. Seasonal debris temperature profiles are approximately linear and consistent between sites for thick (> 0.5 m) and thin (< 0.5 m) debris across thicknesses ranging from 0.26 to 2.0 m. The similarities between these multiannual data imply that they are representative of supraglacial debris layers in the monsoon-influenced Himalaya more generally. We compare three methods to calculate sub-debris ablation, including using our temperature measurements with a thermal diffusion model that incorporates a simplified treatment of debris moisture. Estimated ablation between 3 June and 11 October at around 5000 m above sea level ranged from 0.10 m water equivalent beneath 1.5 m of debris to 0.47 m water equivalent beneath 0.3 m debris. However, these values are small when compared to remotely observed rates of surface lowering, suggesting that mass loss from these debris-covered glaciers is greatly enhanced by supraglacial and englacial processes that locally amplify ablation