Variability of Glaciers and Snow Cover

Anil V. Kulkarni, Shailesh Nayak and S. Pratibha


The Himalayan region has one of the largest concentrations of glaciers. Major rivers such as the Indus, the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and their numerous tributaries originate from this glacier bound region. The snow and glacier melt are important to sustain water requirement in the North India. The contribution of glacier melt in annual stream run-off is the highest in the Indus, followed by the Brahmaputra and the Ganga basins. (Immerzeel et al. 2010; Singh and Jain 2009). The Indus basin produces almost 96 and 27 % of the food production in Pakistan and India, respectively, due to well-developed canal network (RBI report 2011; Khan et al. 2010). Therefore, changes in glacier melt run-off pattern can significantly influence the water and food security. However, distribution of the Himalayan glaciers, seasonal snow cover and possible changes in its dimension due to regional and global climate change is difficult to obtain due to rugged terrain and extreme weather conditions. Therefore, remote sensing techniques have been extensively used to monitor numerous parameters of snow and glaciers. These include areal extent of snow cover and glaciers, albedo of seasonal snow cover, glacier mass balance, formation and development of moraine-dammed lakes and debris cover on the glaciers.

Significant improvement in satellite techniques has made it possible to measure and model these parameters using combination of satellite and field measurements. The characteristics of satellite sensor such as temporal coverage, multiple spatial resolutions, and reflectance and emission characteristics in different wavelengths

A.V. Kulkarni (H) • S. Pratibha

Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

S. Nayak

Earth System Science Organization, Ministry of Earth Sciences, New Delhi, India

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017 193

M.N. Rajeevan and S. Nayak (eds.), Observed Climate Variability and Change Over the Indian Region, Springer Geology, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-2531-0_12

have been extensively used in glacial investigations. For example, medium- resolution satellite sensors with high repetitivity such as Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Advanced Wide Field Sensor (AWiFS) have been extensively used for snow cover and albedo monitoring. Data from Landsat TM Thematic Mapper and Linear Imaging Self Scanning Sensor (LISS) II and III of Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) have been extensively used for glacier inventory, estimation of glacier velocity and modelling depth of glacial ice. High-resolution stereo data have been used to generate digital elevation model (DEM) and to estimate glacier retreat. DEM can also be generated using microwave data and to estimate glacial mass balance. In addition, since recently, gravity anomaly is also measured using satellite such as Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) to estimate changes in glacial mass for the entire Himalayan region. These techniques have aided in measuring various glacial parameters of individual glaciers and on basin and mountain scale, providing invaluable information about Himalayan glaciers, which were not available earlier. Studies carried out by Indian and global scientific community using remote sensing and field investigations are reviewed here.

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