Himalayan Glacier Change Index

Himalaya Range Glacier Change Below is a list of individual glaciers in the Himalaya that illustrate what is happening glacier by glacier. In addition to the individual sample glaciers we tie the individual glaciers to the large scale changes of approximately 10,000 glaciers that have been examined in repeat satellite image inventories. In the Himalayan Range, stretching from the Karokaram Range in NW India east south east to the border region of Bhutan and China,  detailed glacier mapping inventories, from GLIMS: (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space), ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development), ISRO ( Indian Space Research Organisation) and Chinese National Committee for International Association of Cryospheric Science (IACS) of thousands of glaciers have indicated increased strong thinning and area loss since 1990 throughout the the Himalayan Range. The inventories rely on repeat imagery from ASTER, Corona, Landsat, IKONOS and SPOT imagery. It is simply not possible to make observations on this number of glaciers in the field.  This is an update to the assessment by Pelto (2012) in the BAMS State of the Climate, which was the source of a Skeptical Science article as well

Kali Gandaki Headwaters, Nepal——–Ngozumpa Glacier, Nepal

Khumbu Glacier, Nepal ————         West Barun Glacier, Nepal 

Imja Glacier, Nepal ——–                       Nobuk Glacier, Nepal

Lumding Glacier, Nepal———-

Milam Glacier, India————                Samudra Tupa, India

Ratangrian Glacier, India———–       Khatling Glacier, India

Satopanth Glacier, India———-         Durung Drung Glacier, India

Gangotri Glacier, India————         Warwan Basin, India

Sara Umaga Glacier, India—–          Malana Glacier, India 

Jaonli Glacier, India——–                  Kalabaland Glacier, India  

Jaundhar Barak, India———–         Burphu Glacier, India

Changsang Glacier, Sikkim—–     Zemu Glacier, Sikkim 

South Lhonak Glacier, Sikkim——North Lhonak Glacier, Sikkim

Theri Kang Glacier, Bhutan———-Luggi Glacier, Bhutan

Mangde Chu Glacier, Bhutan——–Thorthormi Glacier, Bhutan

Menlung Glacier, Tibet———-       Yejyumaro Glacier, Tibet

Lumding Glacier, Tibet—-             Rongbuk Glacier, Tibet

Sepu Kangri, China———–          Longbasba Glacier, Tibet

Jiongla Glacier, Tibet———-        Bode Zanbo Headwaters, Tibet

Zayul Chu Headwaters, TibetBoshula Glaciers, Tibet

Matsang Tsanpo Gl, Tibet—–    Reqiang Glacier, Tibet 


In Garhwal Himalaya, India, of 58 glaciers examined from 1990-2006 area loss was 6% (Bhambri et al, 2011). They also noted the number of glaciers increased from 69 (1968) to 75 (2006) due to the disintegration of ice bodies. Examination of 466 glaciers in the Chenab, Parbati and Baspa Basin, India found a 21% decline in glacier area from 1962 to 2004 (Kulkarni, 2007). Glacier fragmentation was also observed in this study, which for some fragments represents a loss of the accumulation area, which means the glacier will not survive (Pelto, 2010). The India glacier inventory (ISRO, 2010) identified glacier area losses and frontal change on 2190 glaciers and found an area loss rate of 3.3% per decade and 76% of glaciers retreating. (Kulkarni, 2014) reports on Indian Himalyan glaciers  that 79 of 80 with terminus change records have been receding.

In the Nepal Himalaya area loss of 3808 glaciers from 1963-2009 is nearly 20% (Bajracharya et al., 2011). The Langtang sub-basin is a small northeast-southwest elongated basin, tributary of Trishuli River north of Kathmandu and bordered with China to the north. The basin contained 192 km2 of glacier area in 1977, 171 km2 in 1988, 152 km2 in 2000 and 142 km2 in 2009. In 32 years from 1977 to 2009 the glacier area declined by 26% (Bajracharya et al., 2011). In the Khumbu region, Nepal volume losses increased from an average of 320 mm/yr 1962-2002 to 790 mm/yr from 2002-2007, including area losses at the highest elevation on the glaciers (Bolch et al., 2011).  The Dudh Koshi basin is the largest glacierized basin in Nepal. It has 278 glaciers of which 40, amounting to 70% of the area, are valley-type. Almost all the glaciers are retreating at rates of 10–59 m/year and the rate has accelerated after 2001 (Bajracharya and Mool, 2009).  ICIMOD (2013) completed an inventory of Nepal glaciers and found a 21% decline in area from the 1970’s to 2007/08.  ICIMOD has developed an  map viewer application for examining the changes through time.

An inventory of 308 glaciers in the Nam Co Basin, Tibet, noted an increased loss of area for the 2001-2009 period, 6% area loss (Bolch et al., 2010). Zhou et al (2009) looking at the Nianchu River basin southern Tibet found a 5% area loss. 1990-2005. In the Pumqu Basin, Tibet an inventory of 999 glacier from the 1974 & 1983 to 2001 indicated the loss of 9% of the glacier area and 10% of the glaciers disappeared (Jin et al, 2005). The high elevation loss is also noted in Tibet on Naimona’nyi Glacier which has not retained accumulation even at 6000 meters. This indicates a lack of high altitude snow-ice gain (Kehrwald et al, 2008).

A new means of assessing glacier volume is GRACE, which cannot look at specific changes of individual glaciers or watersheds. In the high mountains of Central Asia GRACE imagery found mass losses of -264 mm/a for the 2003-2009 period (Matsuo and Heki, 2010). This result is in relative agreement with the other satellite image assessments, but is at odds with the recent global assessment from GRACE, that estimated Himalayan glacier losses at 10% of that found in the aforementioned examples for volume loss for the 2003-2010 period (Jacobs et al, 2012). At this point the detailed glacier by glacier inventories inventories of thousands of glaciers are better validated and illustrate the widespread significant loss in glacier area and volume, though not all glaciers are retreating. This page will continue to be updated as new inventory data is published and new individual glaciers are examined herein. Yao et al (2012) in an examination of Tibetan glaciers observed substantial losses of 7090 glaciers.  Bolch et al (2012) in a report on the “State and Fate of Himalayan Glaciers” noted that most Himalayan glacier are losing mass and retreating at rates similar to the rest of the globe.  ICIMOD has also developed an application illustrating changes of glaciers in Bhutan.


Menlung Glacier Retreat, Tibet Glacier Moraine Dammed Lake Expansion

Menlung Glacier is one valley north of the Tibetan border with Nepal and on the south side of Menlungste Peak. Menlung Glacier has a glacier lake at its terminus that is dammed by the glaciers moraine (27.95 N, 86.45 E). The glacier began to withdraw from the moraine and the lake form after the 1951 expedition to the area. The glacier lake is at 5050 meters, the glacier descends from 7000 meters with the snowline recently around 5500 meters. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency has a side by side 1996 and 2007 satellite imagery that indicates the Menlung Glacier Lake developing in 1996 that still has remnant ice masses in it, that are gone by 2007. In Landsat imagery from 1992 the lake is still developing from a system of supraglacial lakes. Turning to better imagery available to the public in Google Earth in 2005 the lake has a contiguous area of with a length of 1100 meters and width of 700 meters (top). The lake rapidly expanded to a length of 1900 meters by 2009. The glacier retreat is 500 meters, the other 300 meters of expansion is a continued growth at the moraine end of the lake as ice cored moraine continues to melt (bottom). The lake is now substantial and still growing rapidly, with the rapidly melting terminus (black arrow). A look at the glacier surface indicates a large stream on the surface of the glacier that extends 2000 meters up glacier from the terminus (green arrow). This type of feature can only form on stagnant ice, otherwise movement generating crevasses would give a path for the stream to drain to the glacier bottom as is typical. The snowline in this 2009 image is at the blue arrow. . The retreat and lake expansion parallels that seen at Theri Kang and Imja Glacier.

Satopanth Glacier Retreat-Debris Cover and Hydropower

Satopanth and Bhagirath Kharak glaciers are located at the headwaters of the Alaknanda River, Uttarakhand, India. Satopanth glaciers has been assessed for the 1962-2006 period by Nainwal and others 2008 . This is accomplished through a comparsion of the 1962 Survey of India map and a total station survey completed in 2006 since 1962. Examination of satellite imagery indicates a retreat of 1900 meters from the Little Ice Age moraine that is evident. Satopanth Glacier has retreated continuously during this period. The total recession of the terminus which is at 3870 meters ranges from 1160 meters to 880 meters depending where on the glacier front retreat is measured, the average rate is reported as 22 meters per year (Nainwal and others, 2008), , for a total average retreat of 970 meters. The image of the terminus below is from the work of Nainwal and colleagues at Garhwal University.(Nainwal and others, 2008) . The glacier has an equilibrium line altitude of 4800 meters, below 4700 meters the glacier is dominantly debris covered, the mean elevation of the glacier is, above the ELA, at 4900 meters. This debris cover is thick enough to retard ablation and also prevent black carbon from enhancing ablation on this section of the glacier. This glacier has a similar behavior, but a more limited accumulation zone than Gangotri Glacier or Khumbu Glacier. The transition zone where the glacier is not debris covered and there is significant melting comprises 20% of the glacier. The remaining 30% of the glacier is in the dry snow zone, where melting is limited and hence black carbon again has a limited role. The recession of this glacier is slowed by the debris cover. An alpine glacier needs a minimum of 50% of its area to be in the accumulation zone to be in equilibrium, this glacier has 40% of its area in the accumulation zone, hence retreat will continue. The debris covered area is illustrated in the first image below, the ELA in the second image and the accumulation zone in the third image. It is apparent that the zone of melting (ablation) is significantly larger than the accumulation zone.Run of river hydropower projects to yield 140 MW have been proposed for the upper Alaknanda River basin. Satopanth Glacier will be a key contributor to this project.

Gangotri Glacier Retreat Continues 2013 and Hydropower

In India the Gangotri Glacier is the largest glacier at the headwaters of the Bhagirathi River. The false-color image below provided by NASA shows the retreat of Gangotri Glacier, situated in the Uttarkashi District of Garhwal Himalaya. It is one of the larger glaciers in the Himalaya, and like all of the nearby Himalayan glaciers is retreating significantly. The Bharigrathi River has the Tehri Dam, a 2400 mw hydropower facility. With an area of 286 square kilometers Gangotri Glacier (Singh and others, 2006) provides up to 190 cubic meters per second of runoff for this river. Gangotri Glacier provides hydropower as it passes three hydropower plants generating 1430 MW, including the 1000 MW Tehri Dam and reservoir and maneri Bhali I and II, see map below. The Tehri also provides flood control, such as this past week of June 17, 2013. The Tehri Reservoir level rose 25 m within 48 hours which is a storage of approximately 1.3 billion cubic meters. Below is a view of the Tehri Reservoir, images of the dam and its operations are here. Bhagirathi 150411
Map from the Southeast Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People
tehri dam map 2007Gangotri Glacier retreated 26.5 meters per year form 1935-1971. From 1968-2006 the glacier retreated 800 meters, close to 20 meters per year (Bhambri et al, 2012). Srivastava et al (2013) indicate the retreat rate of 21 m/ year from 2004-2010. The glacier continues to thin and tributary inflow decline, while the thick heavily insulated by debris terminus retreat is slow. Srivastava (2012) published a report with numerous terminus pictures though they do not have a common reference point beginning on page 90. Where the river exits the glacier is referred to as Gomukh.
Here we compare both Landsat and Google Earth images during the 2000-2013 period. First the 2000 and 2013 Landsat images. A 2000 and 2013 landsat image pinpoint the terminus change, the yellow and red arrows converge on the 2000 location of Gomukh. The blue arrow indicates the mouth of a side valley from the east that is at the terminus in 2013 and actively cutting the face, which is not the case in 2000. The orange dots indicate the course of this stream. A 2006 Cartosat image from Bhambri et al (2012) can be compared to the 2010 and 2013 Google Earth images. In Google Earth the 2010 image gives a clear view of Gomukh which can be compared to the 2006 Cartosat image from Bhambri et al (2012). In 2000 and even 2006 this was not the case. A 2013 Google earth also indicates this point,with the glacier having retreated to the side valley from the east. The retreat from the location of Gomukh in 2000 to 2013 is 240-270 m, approximately 20 m per year as noted by Srivastava et al (2013) for a shorter interval.
gangotri Glacier 2000
2000 Landsat image

gangotri glacier 2013
2013 Landsat image

2006 Cartosat image

gangotri 2010
2010 Google Earth image

gangotri 2013 ge
2013 Google Earth image
Gangotri 2013
2013 Google Earth image

This glaciers remains over 30 km long, and is not in danger of disappearing anytime soon. The lower section of the glacier is heavily debris covered, which slows melting. The debris cover prevents black carbon-soot from enhancing melt over most of the ablation zone. The upper reaches of the glacier extends above 6000 meters and remains snow covered even during the summer melt season June-August, as this is also a main accumulation season due to the summer monsoon. This is different from other alpine regions, where the melt season is also the dry season, here it coincides with the wet season and the accumulation season on the upper glacier. Compare the differences in hydrographs from Thayyen and Gergen (2009) Figure 3 and 4. The new snowcover on the upper glacier also limits the impact of black carbon or soot on ablation. The glacier is fed from avalanches off of the even larger area of mountains above 6000 meters adjacent to it. This is one of many glacier in the Himalaya that is being tapped for hydropower. The retreat is slower than that of nearby Malana Glacier and Samudra Tupa Glacier but similar to Durung Drung Glacier.