Debris cover effects on energy and mass balance of Batura Glacier in the Karakoram over the past 20 years

Yu Zhu, Shiyin Liu*, Ben W. Brock, Lide Tian, Ying Yi, Fuming Xie, Donghui Shangguan, Yiyuan Shen

*Corresponding author for this work

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The influence of supraglacial debris cover on glacier mass balance in the Karakoram is noteworthy. However, understanding of how debris cover affects the seasonal and long-term variations in glacier mass balance through alterations in the glacier's energy budget is incomplete. The present study coupled an energy–mass balance model with heat conduction within debris layers on debris-covered Batura Glacier in Hunza Valley to demonstrate the influence of debris cover on glacial surface energy and mass exchanges during 2000–2020. The mass balance of Batura Glacier is estimated to be  m w.e. yr−1, with debris cover accounting for a 45 % reduction in the negative mass balance. Due to the presence of debris cover, a significant portion of incoming energy is utilized for heating debris, leading to a large energy emission to the atmosphere via thermal radiation and turbulent sensible heat. This, in turn, reduces the melt latent heat energy at the glacier surface. We found that the mass balance exhibits a pronounced arch-shaped structure along the elevation gradient, which is associated with the distribution of debris thickness and the increasing impact of debris cover on the energy budget with decreasing elevation. Through a comprehensive analysis of the energy transfer within each debris layer, we have demonstrated that the primary impact of debris cover lies in its ability to modify the energy flux reaching the surface of the glacier. Thicker debris cover results in a smaller temperature gradient within debris layers, consequently reducing energy reaching the debris–ice interface. Over the past 2 decades, Batura Glacier has exhibited a trend towards less negative mass balance, likely linked to a decrease in air temperature and reduced ablation in areas with thin or sparse debris cover.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2023-2045
Number of pages23
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2024

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