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Estimation of debris cover and its temporal variation using optical satellite sensor data: a case study in Chenab basin, Himalaya

  • A. Shukla (a1), R.P. Gupta (a1) and M.K. Arora (a2)

Debris cover over glaciers greatly affects their rate of ablation and is a sensitive indicator of glacier health. This study focuses on estimation of debris cover over Samudratapu glacier, Chenab basin, Himalaya, using optical remote-sensing data. Remote-sensing image data of IRS-1C LISS-III (September 2001), IRS-P6 AWiFS (September 2004) and Terra ASTER (September 2004) along with Survey of India topographical maps (1963) were used in the study. Supervised classification of topographically corrected reflectance image data was systematically conducted to map six land-cover classes in the glacier terrain: snow, ice, mixed ice and debris, debris, valley rock, and water. An accuracy assessment of the classification was conducted using the ASTER visible/near-infrared data as the reference. The overall accuracies of the glacier-cover maps were found to range from 83.7% to 89.1%, whereas the individual class accuracy of debris-cover mapping was found to range from 82% to 95%. This shows that supervised classification of topographically corrected reflectance data is effective for the extraction of debris cover. In addition, a comparative study of glacier-cover maps generated from remote-sensing data (supervised classification) of September 2001 and September 2004 and Survey of India topographical maps (1963) has highlighted the trends of glacier depletion and recession. The glacier snout receded by about 756 m from 1963 to 2004, and the total glacier area was reduced by 13.7 km2 (from 110 km2 in 1963). Further, glacier retreat is found to be accompanied by a decrease in mixed ice and debris and a marked increase in debris-cover area. The area covered by valley rock is found to increase, confirming an overall decrease in the glacier area. The results from this study demonstrate the applicability of optical remote-sensing data in monitoring glacier terrain, and particularly mapping debris-cover area.

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