A Systematic, Regional Assessment of High Mountain Asia Glacier Mass Balance


High-mountain Asia (HMA) constitutes the largest glacierized region outside of the Earth's polar regions. Although available observations are limited, long-term records indicate sustained HMA glacier mass loss since ~1850, with accelerated loss in recent decades. Recent satellite data capture the spatial variability of this mass loss, but spatial resolution is coarse and some estimates for regional and HMA-wide mass loss disagree. To address these issues, we generated 5797 high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) from available sub-meter commercial stereo imagery (DigitalGlobe WorldView-1/2/3 and GeoEye-1) acquired over HMA glaciers from 2007–2018 (primarily 2013–2017). We also reprocessed 28278 ASTER DEMs over HMA from 2000–2018. We combined these observations to generate robust elevation change trend maps and geodetic mass balance estimates for 99% of HMA glaciers between 2000 and 2018. We estimate total HMA glacier mass change of -19.0±2.5 Gt yr-1 (-0.19±0.03 m w.e. yr-1). We document the spatial pattern of HMA glacier mass change with unprecedented detail, and present aggregated estimates for HMA glacierized sub-regions and hydrologic basins. Our results offer improved estimates for the HMA contribution to global sea level rise in recent decades with total cumulative sea-level rise contribution of ~0.7 mm from exorheic basins between 2000 and 2018. We estimate that the range of excess glacier meltwater runoff due to negative glacier mass balance in each basin constitutes ~12-53% of the total basin-specific glacier meltwater runoff. These results can be used for calibration and validation of glacier mass balance models, satellite gravimetry observations, and hydrologic models needed for present and future water resource management.

Frontiers in Earth Science