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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Research article
30 Nov 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).
Multiannual observations and modelling of seasonal thermal profiles through supraglacial debris in the Central Himalaya
Ann V. Rowan1, Lindsey Nicholson2, Emily Collier3, Duncan J. Quincey4, Morgan J. Gibson5, Patrick Wagnon6, David R. Rounce7, Sarah S. Thompson8,9, Owen King4, C. Scott Watson4, Tristram D. L. Irvine-Fynn5, and Neil F. Glasser5 1Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK
2Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
3Climate System Research Group, Institute of Geography, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), Germany
4School of Geography, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
5Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, SY23 3DB, UK
6University of Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, Grenoble-INP, IGE, F-38000 Grenoble, France
7Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
8College of Science, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK
9Department of Geology, University Centre in Svalbard, 9171 Longyearbyen, Norway
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.

Citation: Rowan, A. V., Nicholson, L., Collier, E., Quincey, D. J., Gibson, M. J., Wagnon, P., Rounce, D. R., Thompson, S. S., King, O., Watson, C. S., Irvine-Fynn, T. D. L., and Glasser, N. F.: Multiannual observations and modelling of seasonal thermal profiles through supraglacial debris in the Central Himalaya, The Cryosphere Discuss.,, in review, 2017.
Ann V. Rowan et al.
Ann V. Rowan et al.

Data sets

Supraglacial debris temperatures, near-surface temperatures and on-glacier air temperatures measured during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 monsoon seasons at Khumbu Glacier, Nepal
A. V. Rowan, D. J. Quincey, M. J. Gibson, and T. D. L. Irvine-Fynn
Ann V. Rowan et al.


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Short summary
Many glaciers in the Himalaya are covered with thick layers of rock debris that acts as an insulating blanket and so reduces melting of the underlying ice. Little is known about how melt beneath supraglacial debris varies across glaciers and through the monsoon season. We measured debris temperatures across three glaciers and several years to investigate seasonal trends, and found that sub-debris ice melt can be predicted using a temperature–depth relationship with surface temperature data.
Many glaciers in the Himalaya are covered with thick layers of rock debris that acts as an...