Polythermal structure of a Himalayan debris-covered glacier revealed by borehole thermometry

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Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Article number16825
JournalScientific Reports
Volume8
Issue number1
DOI
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2018
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Abstract

Runoff from high-elevation debris-covered glaciers represents a crucial water supply for millions of people in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region, where peak water has already passed in places. Knowledge of glacier thermal regime is essential for predicting dynamic and geometric responses to mass balance change and determining subsurface drainage pathways, which ultimately influence proglacial discharge and hence downstream water availability. Yet, deep internal ice temperatures of these glaciers are unknown, making projections of their future response to climate change highly uncertain. Here, we show that the lower part of the ablation area of Khumbu Glacier, a high-elevation debris-covered glacier in Nepal, may contain ~56% temperate ice, with much of the colder shallow ice near to the melting-point temperature (within 0.8°C). From boreholes drilled in the glacier’s ablation area, we measured a minimum ice temperature of -3.3°C, and even the coldest ice we measured was 2°C warmer than the mean annual air temperature. Our results indicate that high-elevation Himalayan glaciers are vulnerable to even minor atmospheric warming.