Back to news
18 Jun 2019 | GIS and remote sensing

Bucking the trend: Glaciers in Astore Basin have remained stable in recent times

A recently conducted research on the glaciers in the Astore basin in the northwestern Himalaya found that they follow a similar trend to the glaciers of the Karakoram, where glaciers have remained stable since the early 21st century. The study estimated the current behaviour of glaciers in the northwestern Himalaya in situ using differential Global Positioning System (dGPS) and remote-sensing data. The study investigated Harcho Glacier’s surface elevation changes over 17 years (1999−2016).

2 mins Read

70% Complete
Inauguration of the newly established FABKA secretariat in Kathmandu. ICIMOD, 2019.

Ground-based research results showed much lesser mass loss compared with that detected through remote sensing, with remarkably low uncertainty. The findings of the research also suggest that the glaciers significantly shrank in the 19th century in contrast to the recent stable conditions.

Harcho Glacier, a debris-covered valley, was selected as the study site to represent the behaviour of regional glaciers since a majority of them are debris-covered at lower elevations. The study also combined available historical data from a 1934 topographical map with more recent photographs taken in 1994 and a high-resolution QuickBird image from 2016 to track terminus changes.

The study estimated the glacier surface elevation changes and found that thick debris-covered terminus exhibits slight surface elevation lowering with significant heterogeneity. However, the elevation changes vary positively from the middle to the upper (clean ice) zone of the glacier. A general negative surface elevation change characterizes the debris-covered ablation zone, whereas positive changes characterize the clean ice portions of the glacier.

1. Astore basin in the northwestern Himalaya. The glaciers (debris-free and debris-covered) and the only climate observatory in the basin are shown here. The mass balance of the Harcho Glacier was observed in the field, whereas data for glaciers outlined in black are from Brun et al. (2017). 2. Map of the glacier surface elevation change (m) between 1999 and 2016 at all measured points on Harcho Glacier. Fifty-metre elevation contour lines are overlaid on the glacier. The debris-covered part of the glacier is shown with a grey background, and the debris-free zone is in white.

The estimated results of the study regarding surface glacier loss are more negative than those derived from a similar study by Brun et al. (2017). However, the ground observations have lower uncertainty relative to those from remote sensing alone. These findings suggest that glacier mass loss in the Astore basin is slight and comparable with the adjacent Karakoram region over 17 years (1999–2016). The extensive debris coverage and the combined climate effects of the westerlies and South Asian monsoon (similar to the Karakoram glacial setting) are the most likely reasons for the limited glacier retreat in the Western Himalaya. These changes are also consistent with recent insignificant changes in temperature and precipitation records reported in the Astore basin (Muhammad and Tian 2016).

The study improves the understanding of the current glacier mass-balance changes in the region, providing data on surface elevation change and mass balance. “Our ground observations help understand the present mass balance of glaciers with reduced uncertainty and allow for comparisons and evaluations with earlier findings,” said the lead author Sher Muhammad, Remote Sensing Specialist at ICIMOD.

The research was carried out by ICIMOD in collaboration with researchers from the Institute of International Rivers and Eco-security, Yunnan University, China, and South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany.

Additional information
Link to the full published article: https://doi.org/10.1017/jog.2019.5

Citation for the full article:

Muhammad, S., Tian, L., & Nüsser, M. (2019). No significant mass loss in the glaciers of Astore Basin (North-Western Himalaya), between 1999 and 2016. Journal of Glaciology, 65(250), 270–278. doi:10.1017/jog.2019.5.

Brun, F., Berthier, E., Wagnon, P., Kääb, A. & Treichler, D. (2017). A spatially resolved estimate of High Mountain Asia glacier mass balances, 2000–2016. Nature Geosciences, 10(9), 668.
Muhammad, S., & Tian, L. (2016). Changes in the ablation zones of glaciers in the western Himalaya and the Karakoram between 1972 and 2015. Remote Sensing of Environment, 187, 505–512, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2016.10.034.

Stay current

Stay up to date on what’s happening around the HKH with our most recent publications and find out how you can help by subscribing to our mailing list.

Sign Up


Continue exploring this topic

15 Nov 2016 News
Developing an Avenue to Strengthen Community Interactions and Engagement for Conservation and Development

It has been agreed upon that a Community Information Resource Centre (CIRC) will be established in Wa San Dum, a ...

4 Mar 2015 News
Humla landslide update

According to the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), Dadeldhura received 67 mm of ...

30 Dec 2015 Himalica
Developing Community-led Micro-plans for Improving Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation

As a strategy for ensuring the sustainability of Himalica pilot interventions on livelihood improvement and climate change adaptation, Himalica supported ...

4 May 2016 News
REDD+ Gorkha International TV coverage

At the request of Deutsche Welle (DW) television service, a team from ICIMOD and DW, travelled to Ludhi Khola watershed in Gorkha, ...

2 Jan 2015 News
Asia-Pacific Youth Forum and Training Workshop on Mountain Adaptation

Participants included high-level bureaucrats, youth leaders, researchers, and tech innovators from the region. They engaged in capacity building, ...

24 Jul 2018 CBFEWS
Communities in Four Countries Gear Up to Fight Floods

At least four communities across the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) are better prepared to fight floods this year. Floods and ...

5 Apr 2016 News
China and ICIMOD’s Growing Alliance

Strategic Cooperation between NSFC and ICIMOD The bilateral workshop ‘NSFC-ICIMOD Strategic Cooperation’ was held 31 March - 1 April following a ...

6 Jun 2016 News
Understanding the Mass Balance of Yala Glacier

At an elevation of 5250 metres above sea level, a bamboo stake, about an arm’s length, stuck out oddly against ...