Long-term estimation of glacier mass balance using geospatial techniques in Western Himalayas, Ladakh, India

Elsevier, Quaternary Science Advances, Volume 12, October 2023
Bhattacharjee S., Chandra Pandey A., Garg R.D.

All glaciers are subject to mass fluctuations in the current context of climate change. For daily requirements like food, drink, irrigation, and the generation of hydroelectric power, these glaciers provide water to important basins including the Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra. Changes in glacier patterns are a blatant sign of local climate variability. Monitoring of glaciers requires long-term studies on glacier dynamics. Himalayan glaciers, because of their disposition in a complex topographic setting and inaccessible terrain render difficulty in the glacier observations in a continuous mode. Glacier mass fluctuations can be associated with glacier area shrinkage or expansion and concomitant snout shift. In the current study, two adjoining glaciers of different sizes, Pensilungpa and Drang Drung glaciers in the Zanskar Valley, Ladakh, India are selected. The period of the study was taken between the years 2000–2022. Earlier studies used a single day per year Accumulation Area Ratio (AAR) method to compute mass balance, which had limitations due to snow cover variability. The present study calculated and averaged all the AAR values for cloud-free images per year during the peak ablation period (mid-July to early September). Digital Elevation Model (DEM) difference technique was also employed for computing the mass budget between 2000 and 2021 b y utilizing two-time period DEMs. It was revealed that in the case of the AAR method, the Pensilungpa glacier showed 7 years of positive and 16 years of negative mass balance. The years 2003–2005 and 2011 to 2016 were depicted with negative mass balance with the highest value up to −0.752-m water equivalent (m.w.e.) for the year 2015. It has negligible areal fluctuations ranging from 0.01 to 0.6 km2. Drang Drung Glacier has shown 12 years of positive and 11 years of negative mass balance. The years 2002–2004 and 2009 to 2012 were depicted with positive mass balance with the highest value up to 0.305 m. w.e. Except, for the year 2009–2012 (areal increment ∼ 2.65 km2), years 2013–2015 showed a negative mass balance with negligible areal fluctuations. Mass balance estimation using DEM differencing method revealed an average estimated mass balance of −0.03 m. w.e. For Pensilungpa glacier though, it is 0.08 m. w.e. For Drang Drung glacier which shows good matches with the mass balance estimated using AAR method in m. w.e. Such contrasting behavior of mass balance suggests higher sensitivity of smaller glaciers to climate change.