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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  25 May 2020

25 May 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Inventory, motion and acceleration of rock glaciers in Ile Alatau and Kungöy Ala-Too, northern Tien Shan, since the 1950s

Andreas Kääb1, Tazio Strozzi2, Tobias Bolch3, Rafael Caduff2, Håkon Trefall1, Markus Stoffel4,5,6, and Alexander Kokarev7 Andreas Kääb et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, 0316, Norway
  • 2GAMMA Remote Sensing, Gümligen, Switzerland
  • 3Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK
  • 4Climatic Change Impacts and Risks in the Anthropocene (C-CIA), Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland
  • 5Department of Earth Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland
  • 6Department F.-A. Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland
  • 7Institute of Geography of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 050010 Almaty, Kazakhstan

Abstract. Spatio-temporal patterns of rock glacier creep have rarely been studied outside the densely populated European Alps. This study investigates the spatial and temporal variability of rock glacier motion in the Ile Alatau and Kungöy Ala-Too mountain ranges, northern Tien Shan. Over the study region of more than 3000 km2, an inventory of slope movements is constructed using a large number of radar interferograms and high-resolution optical imagery. The inventory includes more than 900 landforms, of which around 550 are interpreted as rock glaciers. Out of the active rock glaciers, 45 are characterised by a rate of motion exceeding 1 m/a. From these fast rock glaciers we select six and study them in more detail (Gorodetzky, Morenny, Archaly, Ordzhonikidze, Karakoram and Kugalan Tash rock glaciers) using offset tracking between airphotos, and historical and modern very high resolution optical satellite data. Most of them show an overall increase of decadal surface velocities from the 1950s onwards with speeds being roughly two to three times higher in recent years compared to the 1950s and 1960s. This development indicates a possible significant increase in sediment and ice fluxes through rock glaciers and implies that – when compared to glacier shrinkage – periglacial sediment transport in the region seems to gain importance relative to glacial sediment transport. Those rock glacier fronts reaching the valley floors show a strongly compressive flow regime, and changes in speeds further upstream affect them only in a damped way. The only rock glacier investigated in detail that does not exhibit an overall increase in speed since the 1950s is Gorodetsky where glacier retreat and dead-ice degradation seem to have decoupled the rock glacier from its supply by glacial sediments and ice.

Andreas Kääb et al.

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Andreas Kääb et al.

Andreas Kääb et al.


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Latest update: 03 Dec 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
We present a map of rock glacier motion over parts of the northern Tien Shan and time series of surface speed for six of them over almost 70 years. This is the by far most detailed investigation of this kind available for Central Asia. We detect a two to three-fold increase in rock glacier motion between the 1950s and present, which we attribute to atmospheric warming. Relative to the shrinking glaciers in the region, this implies increased importance of periglacial sediment transport.
We present a map of rock glacier motion over parts of the northern Tien Shan and time series of...