Joint Field Expedition to Thana Glacier in Bhutan

The expedition team members  along with trekking support staffs in front of a lake below Thana Glacier. The terminus of Thana Glacier is visible in the background (Photo credit: Pema Namgyel, DHMS).

Experts from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) Cryosphere Initiative and Department of Hydro Met Services (DHMS) in Bhutan carried out a joint field expedition to Bhutan’s benchmark glacier, Thana Glacier, 3-24 September 2016.  The activities were carried out under the Cryosphere Monitoring Programme-Bhutan (CMP-B). 

The team carried out annual glacier mass balance measurements, maintained automatic weather stations, conducted discharge measurements and collected snow samples for black carbon deposition. ‘Long-term data from Thana Glacier will provide key climate indicators for prepared adaptation to climate change and also help understand Bhutan’s water reserve’, Tshering Tashi, CMP-B coordinator, DHMS said.  

Additionally, the glacier was surveyed with a differential GPS to determine changes in glacier surface elevation as a result of internal and basal melting in addition to the surface processes. Ground reflector corners were installed on existing control points to allow for better and more detailed monitoring of the region with satellite images. 

The team walking to a working site on Thana glacier (Photo credit: Inka Koch).

Thana Glacier was selected for long-term mass balance monitoring and research as a first benchmark glacier of Bhutan.  ICIMOD has been collaborating with DHMS for regular field activities in the glacier since 2015.  Thana Glacier feeds Chamkarchu in central Bhutan. The government of Bhutan have planned two hydropower plant in the downstream of the river. 

‘Data from Himalayan glaciers in Bhutan will also contribute to a better understanding of the different behaviour of glaciers in an east-west direction of the Hindu Kush Himalayas’ said Anna Sinisalo, Programme Coordinator, Cryosphere Initiative, ICIMOD.

Joint field expeditions with ICIMOD’s partners also provide the opportunity to train members in partner institutes to carry out quality field measurements. ‘Carrying out field measurements with experts improved my data collection skills’, says Jambay Choden from DHMS, for whom the expedition was her first glaciological fieldwork. 

Joel Barker writes down details regarding the glacial stream measurement he just conducted (Inka Koch/ICIMOD). 

The international expedition team comprised members from five nations, who work in three different countries (Bhutan, Nepal and the United States of America). Joel Barker, a professor at Ohio State University and specialist in ice chemistry, will analyse the snow samples for black carbon content to better understand its influence on ice melt and investigate pollutant sources. 

Fieldwork on glaciers is an integral part of the Cryosphere Initiative at ICIMOD. The Cryosphere Initiative and activities are supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and partners.