The “Have-a-Mind-of-Their-Own” Glaciers of Asia’s Karakoram

Nov 12th, 2014 | By | Category: Carbon, Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Glaciers

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.

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