Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Research article
23 May 2014
Research article |  | 23 May 2014

Glacier changes in the Karakoram region mapped by multimission satellite imagery

M. Rankl, C. Kienholz, and M. Braun

Abstract. Positive glacier-mass balances in the Karakoram region during the last decade have fostered stable and advancing glacier termini positions, while glaciers in the adjacent mountain ranges have been affected by glacier recession and thinning. In addition to fluctuations induced solely by climate, the Karakoram is known for a large number of surge-type glaciers. The present study provides an updated and extended inventory on advancing, stable, retreating, and surge-type glaciers using Landsat imagery from 1976 to 2012. Out of 1219 glaciers the vast majority showed a stable terminus (969) during the observation period. Sixty-five glaciers advanced, 93 glaciers retreated, and 101 surge-type glaciers were identified, of which 10 are new observations. The dimensional and topographic characteristics of each glacier class were calculated and analyzed. Ninety percent of nonsurge-type glaciers are shorter than 10 km, whereas surge-type glaciers are, in general, longer. We report short response times of glaciers in the Karakoram and suggest a shift from negative to balanced/positive mass budgets in the 1980s or 1990s. Additionally, we present glacier surface velocities derived from different SAR (synthetic aperture radar) sensors and different years for a Karakoram-wide coverage. High-resolution SAR data enables the investigation of small and relatively fast-flowing glaciers (e.g., up to 1.8 m day−1 during an active phase of a surge). The combination of multitemporal optical imagery and SAR-based surface velocities enables an improved, Karakoram-wide glacier inventory and hence, provides relevant new observational information on the current state of glaciers in the Karakoram.