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30 Oct 2018 | Cryosphere

Collaborative research on the Ponkar Glacier with Kathmandu University

Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) serve as a major source of the water in the region’s rivers. They also provide clear climate change indicators and are essential to understanding future water availability for downstream communities. Accordingly, researchers from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Kathmandu University (KU) carried out their second joint field expedition to the Ponkar Glacier in Manang, Nepal, from 24 September to 6 October 2018.

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Launching UAV flight at Bhimthang. Photo: Rakesh Kayastha, Research Associate, KU

The team conducted measurements at the lower parts of the glacier to quantify ice melt amount under debris layers and its contribution to glacier-fed river basins using in situ stake measurement, differential Global Positioning System (dGPS), Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) survey data. Data collected with dGPS and GPR will help in the comparison and understanding of the glacier’s thickness and changes.

Building on the work done during previous field works, the team also extended the area coverage for GPR survey. Using stake measurement, the team found that between May and September 2018, the average melt of the lower part of the Ponkar Glacier at stake 2 was 0.67 m. A series of UAV flights was conducted over the ablation part covering the terminus of the glacier to analyze the surface changes of the glacier. “With the repeat photo we took using UAV, we now have spatial data for the glacier. With that, we can study the change in glacier thickness,” said Sudan Maharjan, Remote Sensing Analyst, ICIMOD. The team also used UAV to capture and prepare a poster on the Gangapurna Lake area in November 2016. This poster will be displayed at the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) office in Manang.

Debris-covered glaciers form a major part of Himalayan glaciers, but related data are limited. Owing to the rugged terrain, the lower part of debris-covered Himalayan glaciers are inaccessible, making it difficult for researchers to study and understand its dynamics and melt process. However, the Ponkar Glacier, a compound glacier with debris on its surface at the ablation area, serves as an ideal site for long-term research given its accessibility.

The team handing over the Gangpurna lake area poster to Babu Lal Tiruwa, Conservation Officer, ACAP office, Manang. Photo: ACAP staff

In terms of glacier mapping and monitoring, ICIMOD has been working with partner institutes in the region to build a regional database of HKH glaciers and glacial lakes since 1999. Research on the Ponkar Glacier was started in November 2015 by KU as a new glacier research site in Nepal. KU, a major long-term partner in ICIMOD’s cryosphere research activities, will continue to work with ICIMOD to find new glacier research sites in Nepal in the future.

Rijan Bhakta Kayastha, Associate Professor of Kathmandu University, remarked, “Besides the good scientific work we are doing, we are continuously building each other’s capacity and improving our research skills through this collaboration. We will continue to explore and extend our research dimension for future collaboration.”

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