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Late-20th-century changes in glacier extent in the Caucasus Mountains, Russia/Georgia

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Glaciers occupy an area of ∼1600 km2 in the Caucasus Mountains. There is widespread evidence of retreat since the Little Ice Age, but an up-to-date regional assessment of glacier change is lacking. In this paper, satellite imagery (Landsat Thematic Mapper and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus) is used to obtain the terminus position of 113 glaciers in the central Caucasus in 1985 and 2000, using a manual delineation process based on a false-colour composite (bands 5, 4, 3). Measurements reveal that 94% of the glaciers have retreated, 4% exhibited no overall change and 2% advanced. The mean retreat rate equates to ∼8 m a−1, and maximum retreat rates approach ∼38 m a−1. The largest (>10 km2) glaciers retreated twice as much (∼12 m a−1) as the smallest (<1 km2) glaciers (∼6 m a−1), and glaciers at lower elevations generally retreated greater distances. Supraglacial debris cover has increased in association with glacier retreat, and the surface area of bare ice has reduced by ∼10% between 1985 and 2000. Results are compared to declassified Corona imagery from the 1960s and 1970s and detailed field measurements and mass-balance data for Djankuat glacier, central Caucasus. It is concluded that the decrease in glacier area appears to be primarily driven by increasing temperatures since the 1970s and especially since the mid-1990s. Continued retreat could lead to considerable changes in glacier runoff, with implications for regional water resources.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2006-01-01

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.

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