Mass loss of lake-terminating glaciers in Himalayas significantly underestimated: study

2023-04-04 13:33:25Global Times Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download
(Photo/Courtesy of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

(Photo/Courtesy of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

A new study has revealed that the mass loss of 2.7 gigaton (Gt) lake-terminating glaciers in the Himalayas has been significantly underestimated from 2000 to 2020, due to the inability of satellites to see glacier changes occurring underwater, with critical implications for the region's future projections of glacier disappearance and water resources.

Published in Nature Geoscience on Monday, the study was conducted by an international team including researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Graz University of Technology (Austria), the University of St. Andrews (UK), and Carnegie Mellon University (USA).

The researchers found that a previous assessment underestimated the total mass loss of lake-terminating glaciers in the greater Himalayas by 6.5 percent. The most significant underestimation of 10 percent occurred in the central Himalayas, where glacial lake growth was the most rapid. A particularly interesting case is Galong Co in this region, with a high underestimation of 65 percent.

This oversight was largely due to the limitations of satellite imaging in detecting underwater changes, which has led to a knowledge gap in the understanding of the full extent of glacier loss, according to the study.

From 2000 to 2020, proglacial lakes in the region increased by 47 percent in number, 33 percent in area, and 42 percent in volume. This expansion resulted in an estimated glacier mass loss of around 2.7 Gt, equivalent to 570 million elephants, or over 1,000 times the total number of elephants in the world. This loss was not considered by previous studies since the utilized satellite data can only measure the lake water surface but not underwater ice that is replaced by water.

"These findings have important implications for understanding the impact of regional water resources and glacial lake outburst floods," said lead author Zhang Guoqing from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, CAS.

By accounting for the mass loss from lake-terminating glaciers, the researchers can more accurately assess the annual mass balance of these glaciers compared to land-terminating ones, thus further highlighting the accelerated threat of glacier mass loss across the greater Himalayas.

The study also highlights the need to understand the mechanisms driving glacier mass loss and the underestimated mass loss of lake-terminating glaciers globally, which is estimated to be around 211.5 Gt, or roughly 12 percent, between 2000 and 2020.

"This emphasizes the importance of incorporating subaqueous mass loss from lake-terminating glaciers in future mass-change estimates and glacier evolution models, regardless of the study region," said co-author Tobias Bolch from Graz University of Technology.

David Rounce, a co-author from Carnegie Mellon University, noted that in the long run, the mass loss from lake-terminating glaciers may continue to be a major contributor to total mass loss throughout the 21st century as glaciers with significant mass loss may disappear more rapidly compared to existing projections.

"By more accurately accounting for glacier mass loss, researchers can better predict future water resource availability in sensitive mountain regions," said co-author Yao Tandong, who also co-chairs Third Pole Environment (TPE), an international science program for interdisciplinary study of the relationships between water, ice, climate, and humankind in the region and beyond.


Most popular in 24h

MoreTop news


Back to top About Us | Jobs | Contact Us | Privacy Policy
Copyright ©1999-2023 All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
[网上传播视听节目许可证(0106168)] [京ICP证040655号]
[京公网安备 11010202009201号] [京ICP备05004340号-1]