Supraglacial debris thickness and supply rate in High-Mountain Asia

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Michael McCarthy, Evan Miles, Marin Kneib, Pascal Buri, Stefan Fugger, Francesca Pellicciotti


Supraglacial debris strongly modulates glacier melt rates and can be decisive for ice dynamics and mountain hydrology. It is ubiquitous in High-Mountain Asia (HMA), yet because its thickness and supply rate from local topography are poorly known, our ability to forecast regional glacier change and streamflow is limited. Here we resolved the spatial distribution of supraglacial debris thickness (SDT) for 4401 glaciers in HMA for 2000-2016, via an inverse approach using a new dataset of glacier mass balance. We then determined debris-supply rate (DSR) to 3843 of those glaciers using a debris mass-balance model. Our results reveal high spatial variability in both SDT and DSR, with supraglacial debris most concentrated around Everest, and DSR highest in the Pamir-Alai. We demonstrate that DSR and, by extension, SDT increase with the temperature and slope of debris-supply slopes regionally and that SDT increases as ice flow decreases locally. Our centennial-scale estimates of DSR are an order of magnitude lower than millennial-scale estimates of headwall-erosion rate from 10Be cosmogenic nuclides, indicating that debris supply to the region's glaciers is highly episodic. We anticipate that our datasets will enable improved representation of the complex response of HMA's glaciers to climatic warming in future modelling efforts.



Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Supraglacial debris thickness, Englacial debris content, High-Mountain Asia, Debris-supply rate


Published: 2021-12-05 03:11

Last Updated: 2021-12-05 03:11


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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