Document Type



The Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region holds the largest mass of ice in Central Asia and is highly vulnerable to global climate change, experiencing significant warming (0.21 ± 0.08 °C/decade) over the past few decades. Accurate monitoring of the timing and duration of snowmelt across the HKH region is important, as this region is expected to experience further warming in response to increased greenhouse gas forcing. Despite the many advantages and applications of satellite-derived radar scatterometer data shown for capturing ice and snow melt dynamics at high latitudes, similar comprehensive freeze/thaw detection studies at lower latitudes (including the HKH region) are still absent from the scientific literature. A comprehensive freeze/thaw detection study is utilized on perennial snow/ice and seasonal snow cover for the first time in the Himalayan and Karakoram regions. A dynamic threshold-based method is applied to enhanced QuikSCAT Ku-band backscatter observations from 2000 to 2008 that (a)provides spatial maps of the timing of melt, freeze, and melt season duration, and (b)emphasizes regional variability in freeze/thaw dynamics. The resulting average melt durations for 2000-2008 are 161 ± 11 days (early May-mid-October) for the eastern Himalayas, 130 ± 16 days (late May-early October) for the central Himalayas, 124 ± 13 days (mid-May-mid-September) for the western Himalayas, and 124 ± 12 days (late May-late September) for the Karakoram region. The eastern Himalayan region has on average an earlier melt onset, a later freeze-up, and therefore a longer melt season (∼5 weeks) relative to the central and western Himalayan and the Karakoram regions. Snowmelt dynamics exhibit regional and interannual variability with clear connections to terrain features, in particular elevation and aspect. With respect to ongoing controversies surrounding melt in the Himalayan region, this study provides an overall perspective of regional differences in melt onset, freeze-up, and melt duration that have important implications for glaciological and hydrological processes across the HKH region. © 2011 IOP Publishing Ltd.

Publication Title

Environmental Research Letters

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glaciers, Himalaya, QuikSCAT, radar, scatterometer, snowmelt



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