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Glacier elevation and mass changes over the central Karakoram region estimated from TanDEM-X and SRTM/X-SAR digital elevation models

  • Melanie Rankl (a1) and Matthias Braun (a1)

Snow cover and glaciers in the Karakoram region are important freshwater resources for many down-river communities as they provide water for irrigation and hydropower. A better understanding of current glacier changes is hence an important informational baseline. We present glacier elevation changes in the central Karakoram region using TanDEM-X and SRTM/X-SAR DEM differences between 2000 and 2012. We calculated elevation differences for glaciers with advancing and stable termini or surge-type glaciers separately using an inventory from a previous study. Glaciers with stable and advancing termini since the 1970s showed nearly balanced elevation changes of -0.09 ±0.12 m a-1 on average or mass budgets of -0.01 ±0.02Gt a-1 (using a density of 850 kg m-3). Our findings are in accordance with previous studies indicating stable or only slightly negative glacier mass balances during recent years in the Karakoram. The high-resolution elevation changes revealed distinct patterns of mass relocation at glacier surfaces during active surge cycles. The formation of kinematic waves at quiescent surge-type glaciers could be observed and points towards future active surge behaviour. Our study reveals the potential of the TanDEM-X mission to estimate geodetic glacier mass balances, but also points to still existing uncertainties induced by the geodetic method.

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      Glacier elevation and mass changes over the central Karakoram region estimated from TanDEM-X and SRTM/X-SAR digital elevation models
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      Glacier elevation and mass changes over the central Karakoram region estimated from TanDEM-X and SRTM/X-SAR digital elevation models
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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.
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Melanie Rankl <>
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