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30 Nov 2018 | Cryosphere

Knowledge sharing on the 3D motion of glaciers in China’s Central Tien Shan region

To stimulate cryosphere research and knowledge sharing on the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) Cryosphere Initiative regularly organizes CryoBrain sessions, which allow members of the international science community to share their research findings with ICIMOD’s cryosphere team. The CryoBrain session held in November 2018 at the ICIMOD headquarters hosted lecturer Jia Li from Central South University, Changsha City, China, who presented his work on the 3D motion of glaciers (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.02.067).

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Lecturer Jia Li presents his work on the 3D motion of glaciers to a team of cryosphere researchers at ICIMOD. (Photo: Tenzing Sherpa/ICIMOD)

Li’s work focused on the derivation of high-resolution 3D glacier motion to understand the interaction between a glacial lake and glacier velocities in China’s Central Tien Shan region. This research is particularly important for the existing knowledge on the topic because the 3D motion of glaciers (with both horizontal and vertical components) has not been extensively researched. Observations of these 3D ice velocity fields are crucial for understanding glacier hydraulics and interactions of glaciers with their adjoining lakes. In case of surge-type glaciers, understanding 3D motion is even more essential in establishing the dynamics of the abrupt movement.

To derive 3D glacier motion, Li and his team used multiple image pairs from Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in the spatial and temporal dimensions. In his presentation, he highlighted how correlating the velocity data with the outburst event of the glacial lake showed the considerable sensitivity of the glacier to changes in the lake. He concluded that the technique is effective for assessing the dynamics of a mountain glacial system and interactions with the glacial lake in the vicinity.

Li was also visiting ICIMOD as a representative of Central South University to explore collaboration between the two institutes. Discussions were held on conducting collaborative research work on glacial lakes to assess their impacts on livelihoods and infrastructure and on surge-type glacier dynamics and their downstream impacts.

Understanding how a glacier is moving is key to understanding what a glacier is – it is the motion of a glacier that determines its flow of mass from accumulation to the ablation zone of the glacier. This determines glacier geometry and extent, which allows better insight into the dynamics of a glacier’s mass distribution and its interactions with the changing climate.

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