Chilung Glacier Retreat, India

East of the Chilung La and 20 km northwest of Durung Drung Glacier draining into the Sankpo (Suru) River is an unnamed glacier, here referred to as Chilung Glacier. The Suru River flows northwest from Pensi La, while the Zanskar River flows southeast from the Pensi La. The Suru River has a 44 MW hydropower project at Chutak. The glacier is 6 km long starting at 5400 m and terminating at 4400 m.
drung drung map
Topographic map of region

chilung Glacier
Google Earth image

An examination of Landsat imagery from 1998-2013 indicate the expansion of a proglacial lake at the terminus and glacier retreat. The 1998 terminus is marked by a pink arrow in each image. The yellow and green arrow indicate adjacent small glaciers. In 1998 the proglacial lake is 1100 m long and in 2000 it is 1200 m long. By 2005 the glacier has retreated 200 m and the lake is 1400 m long. In 2013 the lake is 1650 m long, and the glacier has retreated 400-450 m since 1998. The retreat rate of 30 m/year is slightly faster than on Durung Drung. A comparison of the adjacent small glaciers on the slopes above Chilung Glacier, yellow and green arrows, from 2000 to 2013 indicate a loss in area of these glaciers as well. Google Earth imagery in 2000 indicates that lower 900 m of the glacier is uncrevassed and relatively stagnant, by 2013 half of this area has been lost. The lake is shallow and may not expand much further as the glacier retreats. The consistent nature of the retreat in this area was noted by Kulkarni (2014)indicating retreat of 12 of the 13 observed glaciers in the region during recent decades. Glacier thinning has exceeded the rate of retreat on many glaciers in this area, indicating that retreat is likely to increase. chilung glacier 1998
1998 Landsat image

chilung 2000
2000 Landsat image

chilung 2005
2005 Landsat image

chilung 2013
2013 landsat image
chilung glacier terminus
2000 Google Earth image


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.

Durung Drung Glacier Retreat, Zanskar, India

The Durung Drung Glacier (Drang Drung) is a frequently seen glacier from the unpaved Kargil-Leh road in the Zanskar, Lakdakh region of India that flows north from the slopes of Doda Peak. This road climbs up the Suru River valley from Kargil, crosses Pensi La Pass crosses the front of the Durung Drung Glacier and descends the Zanskar River valley to Nimoo. The Zanskar River joins the Indus River just above the village of Nimoo. The Nimoo Bazgo Hydroelectric Project opened in 2012 and provides 45 MW of power to the Ladakh Region. Chris Rubey has a nice image of this power plant. This is a run of river project, that does not alter the downstream flow, but it does have a reservoir that stores 120,000,000 gallons of water, as seen in a 2013 Landsat image.

durung drung 1998a
1998 Landsat Image show flowlines fro Durung Drung Glacier

nimoo Bagzo 2013
2013 Landsat image of the dam and reservoir for the Nimoo Bagzo Hydropower Project

There have a few inaccurate reports of late that this glacier is not currently retreating. Here we examine Landsat and Google Earth imagery from 1998 to 2013 to identify the magnitude of the recent retreat. In Landsat images in 1998 there were no evident proglacial lake at the terminus of the glacier, red arrow. By 2013 a series of proglacial lakes are evident in Landsat images at the terminus red arrow. Looking at the higher resolution Google Earth imagery from 2004 and 2013. The retreat and development of the lakes is apparent. In each image the red line is the 2004 terminus and the brown line the 2013 image, orange arrows indicate three lakes that have formed by 2013. The retreat is 200-250 m not large for a glacier of this size but significant for such a short period of time. More importantly the smooth low slope terminus with pieces breaking off into the proglacial lake in 2013 is indicative of a glacier that is thinning and retreating, note video. The lowest 1.2 km of the glacier is uncrevassed and has a low slope suggesting this area will continue to melt away. An image from a Zanskar River expedition indicates the lakes and icebergs in the lakes as well with the blue arrows indicating the low-sloped uncrevassed region. durung drung 1998
1998 Landsat of Durung Drung Glacier terminus

durung Drung close 2013
2013 Landsat of Durung Drung Glacier terminus

durung drung glacier terminus 2004
2004 Google Earth image of Durung Drung Terminus

durung drung terminus 2013
2013 Google Earth image of Durung Drung Terminus

durung drung glacier exped
Whitewater Asia image

Landsat images from 2005 and 2013 indicate the snowline on the glacier as well as the change at the terminus. In 2005 and 2013 the snowline is at 5100 m, purple dots. Given that the glacier extends from 6000 m to 4100 m this is near the median elevation, but this is also likely not the date of highest snowline position. The retreat of Durung Drung Glacier is similar to the more debris covered Gangotri Glacier and Satopanth Glacier but slower than the similarly debris limited Malana Glacier and Samudra Tupa Glacier

durung drung 2005
2005 Landsat image

durung Drung 2013
2013 Landsat image

Khatling Glacier Retreat, Uttarakhand, India

Khatling Bamak (Glacier) is the headwaters of the Bhilangana River in Uttarakhand, India. The Bhilangana River flows into the Tehri Reservoir(2400 MW), that along with the Bhilangana River’s three small hydropower projects (50 MW), make these glaciers key contributors to regional hydropower. The glacier was formerly joined with the Ratangrian Glacier as indicated by the map, but the two have separated with the Ratangrian Glacier now terminating 1.7 km upvalley of this former connection. The 10 km long glacier is fed by several mountain peaks including Jaonli over 6000 m. The lower section of the glacier is debris covered. khatling map
Here we examine satellite imagery from 1998, 1999, 2011 and 2013 to identify recent changes. The yellow arrow in the images indicates the lower limit of the clean ice in 1998, the pink arrow the lower limit of the clean ice in 2013. The red arrow indicates a significant tributary to Khatling Glacier joining from the south. The terminus is not evident in the Landsat images, but can be observed in the Google Earth imagery.

In 1998 the southern tributary joins the Khatling Glacier at 4500 m, 2.5 km upglacier of the terminus. The clean ice extends to within 1 km of the terminus. In the 1999 image the same connection with the southern tributary and location of the clean ice is evident. By 2011 the southern tributary is no longer connected to the glacier, red arrow. The clean ice does not reach the yellow arrow. The spread of the debris cover is not from additional avalanche input or flow from upglacier. The spread occurs as a glaciers ablation melts the clean ice faster and the debris cover where thick slows ice melt. This leads to topographic highs covered by debris cover that than slide-tumble down onto the clean ice. Without much input from upglacier the debris within the ice is melted out and can continue to concentrate at the surface. This is common among retreating glaciers with debris cover to have the debris begins to spread across the glacier. By 2013 the clean ice extent has retreated 1000 m from 1998 to the pink arrow of 2103. The southern tributary has retreated 200 m from its former junction. The terminus of the glacier has retreated 400 m from 1998-2013. A close up of the terminus from 2011 Google Earth imagery indicates the outlet river (pink arrow) issuing from beneath the stagnant debris covered ice (DC) and the distance from the terminus to the clean ice (CI). The lateral moraines of the Khatling and Ratangrian Glacier are also shown. The hummocky thin nature of the lower 700 m of the glacier is evident, light blue arrows, indicating an area that will be lost from the glacier soon. Khatling Glacier retreat is similar to that of nearby Gangotri Glacier and Jaonli Glacier that also feed Tehri Dam.
khatling 1998
1998 Landsat image

khatling 1999
1999 Landsat image

khatling 2011
2011 Landsat image

khatling 2013
2013 Landsat image

khatling terminus upglacier
2011 Google Earth image

Ratangrian Glacier Retreat, Uttarakhand, India

Ratangrian Glacier is adjacent to Khatling Glacier and with that glacier is at the headwaters of the Bhilangana River. The Bhilangana River flows into the Tehri Reservoir(2400 MW), that along with the Bhilangana River’s three small hydropower projects (50 MW), make these glaciers key contributors to regional hydropower.
ratangrian glacier

Ratangrian ge

In the 1998 Landsat image the glacier terminus is at the red arrow, which is at 4150 m and downhill of the stream from the glacier labelled SG. The map above indicates the glacier was joined with Khatling Bamak at 3950 m, the lateral moraines (L-on second image below) indicate this too. The glacier is quite steep in its last mile descending from 5000 m to 4150 m in 1.5 km. The glacier is also not debris covered unlike many of its neighbors Khatling, Gangotri or Jaonli Glacier. A 2011 Google Earth image indicates the glacier has retreated to the blue arrow, where the outtlet stream from the glacier SG reaches the Ratangrian valley. By 2013 the glacier has retreated above the location where the outlet stream reaches the valley and is at the yellow arrow. The total retreat in 15 years is 400-450 m. The terminus of the glacier has risen from 4150 m to 4500 . The glacier is following the path of retreat of the nearby Gangotri Glacier and Jaonli Glacier that also feed Tehri Dam. The retreat is more rapid proportionally for the size of the glacier, probably due to the lack of debris cover. The slopes in the basin feeding the glacier are mostly covered by the glacier itself. If they were steeper and were not as ice covered, than avalanches could sweep debris onto the glacier.
ratangrian 1998b
1998 Landsat image

Ratangrian 2011
2011 Google Earth Image

Ratangrian 2013b
2013 Landsat image

Ratangrian 2013a
2013 Landsat image-closeup

Middle Lhonak Glacier Retreat, Sikkim, India

“Middle” Lhonak Glacier is an unnamed glacier between North Lhonak and South Lhonak Glacier near the border of the state of Sikkim in India and Nepal, red arrow on first map. I have previously reported on the retreat of South Lhonak Glacier whose retreat has led to a significant proglacial lake expansion and nearby Changsang Glacier. Here we examine landsat and Google Earth imagery from 2000-2013. Like all glaciers in this region Middle Lhonak Glacier is a summer accumulation type glacier. This means that the glacier receives most ~80% of its snowfall during the summer monsoon. This is also the period when ablation low on the glacier is highest. Following the summer monsoon which ends in early September there is a transition period with some colder storm events where the snowline drops. Than from November-February is the dry winter monsoon with limited precipitation. Thus, strange compared to most glaciers as winter proceeds often the lower glacier remains snow free. The pre-monsoon season from March-May features increasing precipitation, temperature and rising snowlines. The glacier drains into the Teesta River, which has several existing and many proposed hydropower projects, mostly run-of-river with minor dams. kanchenjunga map close
Map of Region
pyramid tp
Weather records from Pyramid station at 5000 m in Nepal indicating the peak temperature and precipitation occurring in summer monsoon.Deluge_of_Dams_Nature-Dec2012
Proposed hydropower

In 2000 and 2001 Middle Lhonak Glacier ends in a proglacial lake at the yellow dot. The pink dot indicates a small peninsula in the lake. The green dot indicates a bare rock area that separates two arms of the glaciers. The green arrow indicates where the two arms of the glacier join. By 2005 the glacier had retreated from the yellow dot, but the two arms of the glacier still connected, green arrow. In 2006 a higher resolution image from Google Earth indicates the 300-400 m retreat since 2000 of the glacier. The two glacier arms still join, green arrow, though barely. There is a substantial icefall that begins at 5800-5900 m, as noted by red arrows. Above the icefall the glacier is almost always snowcovered, but the icefall the glacier often remains snow free for much of the year at around 5700 meters. This will be explored further in a sequence of 2013 images below the terminus change sequence. In 2013 the two arms of the glacier have separated, the green dot bare rock area has greatly expanded and the glacier terminus has retreated 500-600 m since 2000. Lhonak glacier 2000
Landsat image 2000

Lhonak 2001
Landsat image 2001

lhonak 2005
Landsat image 2005

Middle Lhonak 2006
Google Earth image 2006

Landsat Image 2013

A series of images below indicate the snowline in a period from October 12, 2013-December, 21 2013. On October 21 the snowline is at the last bend above the terminus at 5650 m. By November 21 the snowline has shifted little. By December 1 the snowline has begun to rise to 5700 m. The rise has continued to 5750 by December 21. The lake at the terminus remains unfrozen.

October 12 2013 Landsat

November 21, 2013 Landsat

lhonak 1212013
December 1, 2013 Landsat

December 21, 2013 Landsat

Kalabaland Glacier, Retreat, Uttar Pradesh, India

Kalabland Gal (Glacier) in Uttar Pradesh, India drains into the Goriganga River, via Ralam Gad. The glaciers flows southeast from the Peak of Chhiring We, joins the Yankchar Glacier and turns sharply southwest. The combined terminus is referred to as Shunkalpa Gal, but here since Kalabaland is the largest contributing glacier, that name is applied to the terminus as well. Here we examine changes in the glacier from 2000 to 2013 using Google Earth and Landsat imagery. purphu map
Map of Region

ralma ge
Google Earth Image, blue arrows glacier flow, red arrow terminus.

The Goriganga River is fed by many glaciers and is a target for a number of run of river hydropower projects, some existing such as at Talla Dummar and others projected, such as at Bogudiyar. These projects have only minor dams to divert the water from the river for a short distance before running through turbines and returning to the river. In 2000 both Landsat and Google Earth imagery indicate the terminus location, red arrow. The terminus is heavily debris covered and is evident because of the glacial stream that emerges from beneath the debris covered ice. By 2012 the glacier had retreated 250 m to the yellow arrow. The lowest one kilometer of the glacier has thinned both in width and thickness, is stagnant and will melt away soon. The side by side view from 2000 and 2012 better indicates the change and the thinning of the terminus tongue. The two pink markers are at the 2000 and 2012 terminus respectively, dark pink 2000 and light pink 2012.

ralma 2004
2000 Google Earth

Ralma 2012
2012 Google Earth

ralman terminus change
Terminus closeup in Google Earth

Landsat images from 2000 to 2013 indicate that the terminus retreat is small compared to the full length of the glacier, red arrows. The width and length of blue ice extending southwest at the bend has been reduced from 2000 to 2013 indicating a continued reduction in net flow of ice to the terminus. This glaciers retreat is following the pattern of Malana Glacier, Milam Glacier and Satopanth Glacier in this region.

ralman ls 2000
2000 Landsat image

ralman 2013
2013 Landsat image