Health and sustainability of glaciers in High Mountain Asia

Evan Miles*, Michael McCarthy, Amaury Dehecq, Marin Kneib, Stefan Fugger, Francesca Pellicciotti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Glaciers in High Mountain Asia generate meltwater that supports the water needs of 250 million people, but current knowledge of annual accumulation and ablation is limited to sparse field measurements biased in location and glacier size. Here, we present altitudinally-resolved specific mass balances (surface, internal, and basal combined) for 5527 glaciers in High Mountain Asia for 2000–2016, derived by correcting observed glacier thinning patterns for mass redistribution due to ice flow. We find that 41% of glaciers accumulated mass over less than 20% of their area, and only 60% ± 10% of regional annual ablation was compensated by accumulation. Even without 21st century warming, 21% ± 1% of ice volume will be lost by 2100 due to current climatic-geometric imbalance, representing a reduction in glacier ablation into rivers of 28% ± 1%. The ablation of glaciers in the Himalayas and Tien Shan was mostly unsustainable and ice volume in these regions will reduce by at least 30% by 2100. The most important and vulnerable glacier-fed river basins (Amu Darya, Indus, Syr Darya, Tarim Interior) were supplied with >50% sustainable glacier ablation but will see long-term reductions in ice mass and glacier meltwater supply regardless of the Karakoram Anomaly.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2868
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalNature Communications
Volume12
Issue number1
Early online date17 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 May 2021

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