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High Mountain Glaciers and Hydrology (HIMAL)

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Glacier shrinkage is one of the most striking signals of climate change and has profound impacts for downstream and coastal communities. High altitude glaciers, difficult to access and little understood to date, play a key role in contributing to streamflow in many of the poorer regions of the world.  For these areas, where water is a vital supply for crops and communities, understanding changes in high-altitude cryosphere is crucial to assess vulnerability to future climate change.

We use a synthesis of observational methods to span scales of cryospheric and hydrological change, from local, process-oriented field research to catchment- and regional-scale remote sensing.  We use these observations to drive physically-based radiative, glacier and hydrological models for the recent past, present day, and into the future.  Our research seeks to understand key processes in distinct study sites, and we leverage novel observations and understanding to produce robust ablation and streamflow projections for the Alps, Andes, and across High Mountain Asia. Understanding debris-covered glaciers and their role in the water cycle has been a key recent focus.


RAVEN - Rapid mass loss of debris covered glaciers in High Mountain Asia

One of the most important questions of climate change impact research today is how glaciers are responding to global warming. ERC-funded, RAVEN aims to determine the role that debris-covered glaciers play in the water cycle of High Mountain Asia and better incorporate processes unique to debris-covered glaciers into regional assessments of future runoff projections.

Glaciers, snow and the hydrology of the dry Andes of Chile

Together with researchers at University of Chile and Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zona Arida (CEAZA), we combine field observations and modelling to understand the cryospheric importance and trends of glacier and runoff changes in the dry Andes of Chile. Our current research activities are focused on 1) modelling recent and future changes in glaciers and high-mountain runoff, 2) determining the importance of snow sublimation for the water balance in this arid region, and 3) understanding snow accumulation and seasonal snow in the catchments.

Mapping global debris cover and changes in debris-covered area over the satellite era

Debris-covered glaciers are common in many mountain ranges. Debris considerably alters the response of glaciers to climate, but supraglacial debris distribution is still not documented at the global scale. Debris-covered glaciers are notoriously difficult to delineate due to their fuzzy boundaries and spectral similarities to marginal moraines. Their surface is often characterized by supraglacial ponds and exposed ice cliffs, whitch contribute disproportionately to their melt. Ongoing research has worked to develop robust, automated routines to delineate the debris-covered area and to identify their dynamic surface features from multispectral satellite data and high-resolution digital elevation models.

Understanding glaciers and hydrological changes in the Tibetan Plateau using high resolution monitoring and modelling

This collaboration with the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITP), Delft University and Northumbria University is supported by a Newton Advanced Fellowship by the Royal Society (UK) and an European Space Agency (ESA) project and aims to advance understanding of the cryosphere and hydrology of high elevation catchments on the Tibetan Plateau. Combining comparative modelling, satellite and field-based methods, the study focuses on several glaciers and catchments across the Tibetan Plateau. The project also makes use of repeat UAV surveys and field methods on Glacier 24K and Parlung Glacier in the upper Yarlung Tsangpo catchment to investigate the effect of debris cover on mass balance rates in the region, to understand differences between debris-covered and debris-free glaciers.

High-elevation precipitation in High-Mountain Asia

High-mountain precipitation is a key variable for simulating glacier runoff in High-Mountain Asia but is poorly known and difficult to measure directly. This project combines in-situ data with glacier mass balance and hydrological models in order to reconstruct high-mountain precipitation in High-Mountain Asia, investigating the quantity, seasonality and variability of precipitation in selected catchments, and determining the mechanisms that cause or modify these characteristics.


Peru GROWS – Peruvian glacier retreat and its impact on water security

Peruvian glaciers are an important water resource for downstream populations and have shrunk significantly in recent decades in response to climatic change. This project investigates the impacts of ongoing and projected climatic change on glacier retreat and water resources in Peru’s most glacierised river catchment, and assesses the potential of various adaptation strategies for enhancing the resilience of local communities and ecosystems.




Research in pictures

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Assembling an Automated Weather Station as part of a study of catchment meteorology in Nepal. Photo: Eduardo Soteras
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Testing meteorological instruments on the rugged debris surface of a Himalayan glacier. Photo: Eduardo Soteras
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Supraglacial ice cliffs act as melt hot spots for debris-covered glaciers, and play a key role in determining glacier mass balance. Photo: Eduardo Soteras
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Ponds on the glacier surface regulate discharge from the glacier, but also rapidly absorb atmospheric energy. Photo: Eduardo Soteras
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A research team navigating the debris surface of Lirung Glacier, Nepal. Photo: Eduardo Soteras
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An avalanche descending from 7000 m in Nepal; such avalanches are a principal supply of ice for many debris-covered glaciers. Photo: Evan Miles

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