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Ground-penetrating radar measurements of debris thickness on Lirung Glacier, Nepal


Supraglacial debris thickness is a key control on the surface energy balance of debris-covered glaciers, yet debris thickness measurements are sparse due to difficulties of data collection. Here we use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to measure debris thickness on the ablation zone of Lirung Glacier, Nepal. We observe a strong, continuous reflection, which we interpret as the ice surface, through debris layers of 0.1 to at least 2.3 m thick, provided that appropriate acquisition parameters were used while surveying. GPR measurements of debris thickness correlate well with pit measurements of debris thickness (r = 0.91, RMSE = 0.04 m) and two-way travel times are consistent at tie points (r = 0.97). 33% of measurements are <0.5 m, so sub-debris melting is likely important in terms of mass loss on the debris-covered tongue and debris thickness is highly variable over small spatial scales (of order 10 m), likely due to local slope processes. GPR can be used to make debris thickness measurements more quickly, over a wider debris thickness range, and at higher spatial resolution than any other means and is therefore a valuable tool with which to map debris thickness distribution on Himalayan glaciers.

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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.
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Correspondence: Michael McCarthy <>
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