Weak precipitation, warm winters and springs impact glaciers of south slopes of Mt. Everest (central Himalaya) in the last 2 decades (1994–2013)
Abstract. Studies on recent climate trends from the Himalayan range are limited, and even completely absent at high elevation (> 5000 m a.s.l.). This study specifically explores the southern slopes of Mt. Everest, analyzing the time series of temperature and precipitation reconstructed from seven stations located between 2660 and 5600 m a.s.l. during 1994–2013, complemented with the data from all existing ground weather stations located on both sides of the mountain range (Koshi Basin) over the same period. Overall we find that the main and most significant increase in temperature is concentrated outside of the monsoon period. Above 5000 m a.s.l. the increasing trend in the time series of minimum temperature (+0.072 °C yr−1) is much stronger than of maximum temperature (+0.009 °C yr−1), while the mean temperature increased by +0.044 °C yr−1. Moreover, we note a substantial liquid precipitation weakening (−9.3 mm yr−1) during the monsoon season. The annual rate of decrease in precipitation at higher elevations is similar to the one at lower elevations on the southern side of the Koshi Basin, but the drier conditions of this remote environment make the fractional loss much more consistent (−47% during the monsoon period). Our results challenge the assumptions on whether temperature or precipitation is the main driver of recent glacier mass changes in the region. The main implications are the following: (1) the negative mass balances of glaciers observed in this region can be more ascribed to a decrease in accumulation (snowfall) than to an increase in surface melting; (2) the melting has only been favoured during winter and spring months and close to the glaciers terminus; (3) a decrease in the probability of snowfall (−10%) has made a significant impact only at glacier ablation zone, but the magnitude of this decrease is distinctly lower than the observed decrease in precipitation; (4) the decrease in accumulation could have caused the observed decrease in glacier flow velocity and the current stagnation of glacier termini, which in turn could have produced more melting under the debris glacier cover, leading to the formation of numerous supraglacial and proglacial lakes that have characterized the region in the last decades.