Cryosphere and Hydrology, Environment

Snow, ice and glaciers of High Karakoram, Pakistan under changing climate

About all the south Asian countries have agriculture oriented economy. Water for irrigation, power production and for domestic use of mountain regions depends directly or indirectly on the stored water in the form of snow and ice on high mountains of Himalaya Karakoram and Hindu Kush (HKKH), so these ice masses are very important for downstream population. The economy of (HKKH) region mainly depends on agriculture which depends on the availability of water (Akhtar, 2008). The whole Indus Basin (Pakistan) is challenged by uneven climatic events i.e. flood in last few decades, that increases the vulnerability of agricultural and food production for downstream population. The (HKH) Mountains are declared as ‘third pole’ contain largest mass of glacier ice outside of polar region delivering water. It is mentioned in several studies that more than 50% of the water in Indus basin is contributed by snow and ice melt (Immerzeel, et al., 2010). Most recent studies on glacier status indicate that in the central and eastern (HKH) glaciers are reducing their mass and area significantly (Bolch et al., 2011).

Northern part of Pakistan receives precipitation in two seasons, westerlies during winter and summer monsoon precipitation, and these ice masses deliver water continuously in dry seasons as well. Geomorphological and meteorological setting of central Karakoram is in such a way that monsoon contributes very little in precipitation and glacier masses are majorly nourished by westerlies during winter season, in southern part of Central Karakoram, Nangaparbat-Haramush massive act as a barrier for monsoon storms to intrude in central Karakoram. Lower elevations in the Central and Northern Karakoram receives low and only occasional rainfall during summer and winter seasons (Winiger, 2005), On the other hand in central Himalaya (Nepal) about 80% of precipitation is directly contributed by summer monsoon (June-September) (Adhikari, 2013). Meanwhile in winter season (December-February) display very low flow that has large impact in availability of water. The current state of glaciers and their response to the changing climate is also important for availability of water in future. Reduction of ice masses may initially produce more melt water but later their amount may reduce and the advancing ice masses can store more precipitation lead to reduce total runoff and may produce local hazards. Recent glacier status of Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) is also evaluated in some studies according to (Bocchiola, et al., 2013) in 2010 they found an ice coverage of 4613 km2(±38 km2), not remarkable area change (+0.6 % as compare to  2001). Some studies indicate that these mountains receives total annual precipitation between 200mm to 500mm. These values are generally derived from valley based meteorological stations which are not well representative for higher elevations (Archer, 2003). But readings from accumulation pits above 4000 m a.s.l shows 1000mm/year to more than 3000mm/year depending on site (Winiger, 2005). However there is great uncertainty about the precipitation values on higher elevations (Bocchiola, et al., 2011). Upper Indus Basin contain some of the world largest valley glacier (e.g. Baltoro Glacier, Biafo Glacier, Chogolungma Glacier in Shigar Basin, Batura glacier in Hunza Basin) for the sustenance of such huge ice masses precipitation at higher elevation must be high as compare to the information gathered by ground valley met-stations. The huge glacier system in the region can only sustained if precipitation in the accumulation areas must be around 2000mmyr-1 (Hewitt, 2007). Recent studies show that highest precipitation are found along the monsoon influenced southern Himalaya arc up to 3000mm/year, while precipitation decreases rapidly towards north-eastern part of Upper Indus basin, and westerly system are expected to contribute considerable amount of precipitation in higher elevations (Immerzeel, et al., 2015). ‘

The current study will be conducted in sub-catchments of Upper Indus Basin, major part of which lies within Central Karakoram Pakistan. In the current study will answer the current status and evolution of cryosphere from 1990 to 2016 in the sub-catchments of Upper Indus Basin, based on results obtained by using remote sensing tools and special modelling to extract information. Remotely sensed results will also be compared with the meteorological variables of the entire region for validation of remotely sensed results from Landsat images.

About Javed Hassan

M. S by Research in Glaciology from HiCCDRC-Kathmandu University, Nepal.
Now working as Research Associate ‘Glaciology’ in Karakoram International University, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

View all posts by Javed Hassan →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *