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The influence of debris cover and glacial lakes on the recession of glaciers in Sikkim Himalaya, India

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We investigated area changes in glaciers covering an area of ∼200 km2 in the Tista basin, Sikkim, Eastern Indian Himalaya, between ∼1990 and 2010 using Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and Indian Remote-sensing Satellite (IRS) images and related the changes to debris cover, supraglacial lakes and moraine-dam lakes. The glaciers lost an area of 3.3 ± 0.8% between 1989/90 and 2010. More detailed analysis revealed an area loss of 2.00 ± 0.82, 2.56 ± 0.61 and 2.28 ± 2.01 km2 for the periods 1989–97, 1997–2004/05 and 2004–2009/10, respectively. This indicates an accelerated retreat of glaciers after 1997. On further analysis, we observed (1) the formation and expansion of supraglacial lakes on many debris-covered glaciers and (2) the merging of these lakes over time, leading to the development of large moraine-dam lakes. We also observed that debris-covered glaciers with lakes lose a greater area than debris-covered glaciers without lakes and debris-free glaciers. The climatic data for 24 years (1987–2011), measured at the Gangtok meteorological station (1812 m a.s.l.), showed that the region experienced a 1.0°C rise in the summer minimum temperature and a 2.0°C rise in the winter minimum temperature, indicating hotter summers and warmer winters. There was no significant trend in the total annual precipitation. We find that glacier retreat is caused mainly by a temperature increase and that debris-covered glaciers can retreat at a faster rate than debris-free glaciers, if associated with lakes.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2013-12-01

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