Skip to main content

Evaluating the contribution of avalanching to the mass balance of Himalayan glaciers

  • Sourav Laha (a1), Reshama Kumari (a1), Sunil Singh (a2), Aditya Mishra (a2), Tushar Sharma (a2), Argha Banerjee (a1), Harish Chandra Nainwal (a2) and R. Shankar (a3)...

Avalanching is a prominent source of accumulation on glaciers that have high and steep valley-walls surrounding their accumulation zones. These glaciers are typically characterised by an extensive supraglacial debris cover and a low accumulation area ratio. Despite an abundance of such glaciers in the rugged landscapes of the High Himalaya, attempts to quantify the net avalanche contribution to mass balance and its long-term variation are almost missing. We first discuss diagnostic criteria to identify strongly avalanche-fed glaciers. Second, we develop an approximate method to quantify the magnitude of the avalanche accumulation exploiting its expected control on the dynamics of these glaciers. The procedure is based on a simplified flowline model description of the glacier concerned and utilises the known glaciological mass-balance, velocity and surface-elevation profiles of the glacier. We apply the method to three Himalayan glaciers and show that the data on the recent dynamics of these glaciers are consistent with a dominant contribution of avalanches to the total accumulation. As a control experiment, we also simulate another Himalayan glacier where no significant avalanche contribution is expected, and reproduce the recent changes in that glacier without any additional avalanche contribution.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Evaluating the contribution of avalanching to the mass balance of Himalayan glaciers
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Evaluating the contribution of avalanching to the mass balance of Himalayan glaciers
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Evaluating the contribution of avalanching to the mass balance of Himalayan glaciers
      Available formats
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Hide All
Adhikari, S and Huybrechts, P (2009) Numerical modelling of historical front variations and the 21st-century evolution of glacier AX010, Nepal Himalaya. Ann. Glaciol., 50(52), 2734
Azam, MF and 10 others (2012) From balance to imbalance: a shift in the dynamic behaviour of Chhota Shigri glacier (Western Himalaya, India). J. Glaciol., 58, 315324 (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J123)
Azam, MF and 5 others (2014) Reconstruction of the annual mass balance of Chhota Shigri glacier, Western Himalaya, India, since 1969. Ann. Glaciol., 55(66), 6980
Banerjee, A and Azam, MF (2016) Temperature reconstruction from glacier length fluctuations in the Himalaya. Ann. Glaciol., 57(71), 189198
Banerjee, A and Shankar, R (2013) On the response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change. J. Glaciol., 59, 480490 (doi: 10.3189/2013JoG12J130)
Banerjee, A and Shankar, R (2014) Estimating the avalanche contribution to the mass balance of debris covered glaciers. Cryos. Discuss., 8(1), 641657
Benn, DI and Lehmkuhl, F (2000) Mass balance and equilibrium-line altitudes of glaciers in high-mountain environments. Quatern. Int., 65/66, 1529
Benn, DI, Kirkbride, MP, Owen, LA and Brazier, V (2003) Glaciated valley landsystems. Glacial Landsystems, Arnold, London, 372406
Bernhardt, M and Schulz, K (2010) Snowslide: a simple routine for calculating gravitational snow transport. Geophys. Res. Lett., 37, 11
Bolch, T, Pieczonka, T and Benn, DI (2011) Multi-decadal mass loss of glaciers in the Everest area (Nepal Himalaya) derived from stereo imagery. Cryosphere, 5(2), 349358
Cogley, JG (2011) Present and future states Himalaya and Karakoram glaciers. Ann. Glaciol., 52, 6973
Cogley, JG and 11 others (2011) Glossary of glacier mass balance and related terms. UNESCO-IHP-VII, Paris, France. [online] Available from:
Farr, TG and 10 others (2007) The shuttle radar topography mission. Rev. Geophys., 45(2)
Gardelle, J, Berthier, E, Arnaud, Y and Kääb, A (2013) Region-wide glacier mass balances over the Pamir-Karakoram-Himalaya during 1999–2011. Cryosphere, 7(6), 18851886
Gruber, S (2007) A mass-conserving fast algorithm to parameterize gravitational transport and deposition using digital elevation models. Water Resour. Res., 43(6)
Hughes, P (2008) Response of a Montenegro glacier to extreme summer heatwaves in 2003 and 2007. Geogr. Ann.: Ser. A, Phys. Geogr., 90(4), 259267
Immerzeel, WW, Pellicciotti, F and Bierkens, MFP (2013) Rising river flows throughout the twenty-first century in two Himalayan glacierized watersheds. Nat. Geosci., 6(9), 742745
Kääb, A, Berthier, E, Nuth, C, Gardelle, J and Arnaud, Y (2012) Contrasting pattern of early twenty-first-century glacier mass changes in Himalaya. Nature, 488, 495498 (doi: 10.1038/nature11324)
Kaser, G, Fountain, A and Jansson, P (2003) A manual for monitoring the mass balance of mountain glaciers. IHP-VI Technical Documents in Hydrology 59. UNESCO, Paris
Kirkbride, MP and Deline, P (2013) The formation of supraglacial debris covers by primary dispersal from transverse englacial debris bands. Earth Surf. Proc. Land., 38, 17791792 (doi: 10.1002/esp.3416)
Kumar, V, Mehta, M, Mishra, A and Trivedi, A (2016) Temporal fluctuations and frontal area change of Bangni and Dunagiri glaciers from 1962 to 2013, Dhauliganga Basin, central Himalaya, India. Geomorphology, 284, 8898
Marzeion, B, Jarosch, AH and Hofer, M (2012) Past and future sea-level change from the surface mass balance of glaciers. Cryosphere, 6(6), 12951322
Nagai, H, Fujita, K, Nuimura, T and Sakai, A (2014) Southwest-facing slopes control the formation of debris-covered glaciers in the Bhutan Himalaya. Cryosphere, 7, 13031314 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-1303-2013)
Nainwal, HC, Banerjee, A, Shankar, R, Semwal, P and Sharma, T (2016) Shrinkage of Satopanth and Bhagirath Kharak glaciers, India, from 1936 to 2013. Ann. Glaciol., 57(71), 131139
Oerlemans, J (2001) Glaciers and climate change. AA Balkema Publishers, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Pandey, P, Venkataraman, G and Shukla, SP (2011) Study of retreat of Hamtah glacier, Indian Himalaya, using remote sensing technique. In Proceedings of Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS), 2011 IEEE International, Vancouver, Canada, 24–29 July 2011, 3194–3197 (doi: 10.1109/IGARSS.2011.6049898)
Ramanathan, AL (2011) Status report on Chhota Shigri Glacier (Himachal Pradesh). Himalayan Glaciology Technical Report No. 1. Department of Science and Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology, New Delhi, 88 pp
Scherler, D, Bookhagen, B and Strecker, MR (2011a) Hillslope – glacier coupling: the interplay of topography and glacial dynamics in high Asia. J. Geophys. Res., 116, F02019 (doi: 10.1029/2010JF001751)
Scherler, D, Bookhagen, B and Strecker, MR (2011b) Spatially variable response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change affected by debris cover. Nat. Geosci. 4, 156158 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo1068)
Shukla, SP, Mishra, R and Chitranshi, A (2015) Dynamics of Hamtah glacier, Lahaul & Spiti district, Himachal Pradesh. J. Ind. Geophys. Union, 19(4), 414421
Srivastava, D and Swaroop, S (1992) Glaciological studies on Dunagiri glacier, district, Chamoli, U.P. – Final Report, Rep. Geol. Surv. India
Venkatesh, TN, Kulkarni, AV and Srinivasan, J (2012) Relative effect of slope and equilibrium line altitude on the retreat of Himalayan glaciers. Cryosphere, 6(2), 301311
Vijay, S and Braun, M (2016) Elevation change rates of glaciers in the Lahaul-Spiti (Western Himalaya, India) during 2000–2012 and 2012–2013. Remote Sens., 8(12), 1038
Vincent, C and 10 others (2013) Balanced conditions or slight mass gain of glaciers in the Lahaul and Spiti region (Northern India, Himalaya) during the nineties preceded recent mass loss. Cryosphere, 7, 569582 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-569-2013)
Viste, E and Sorteberg, A (2015) Snowfall in the Himalayas: an uncertain future from a little-known past. Cryosphere, 9, 11471167
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Annals of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0260-3055
  • EISSN: 1727-5644
  • URL: /core/journals/annals-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed