The response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change varies with climate, surface steepness and the degree of rock debris cover, according to a study online this week in Nature Geoscience. For example, half of the studied glaciers in the Karakoram region of the northwestern Himalaya are stable or advancing, whereas about two thirds are in retreat elsewhere.
Dirk Scherler and colleagues present remote-sensing data of changes at glacier fronts and in surface velocities, observed at glaciers in the greater Himalaya between 2000 and 2008. They find a high degree of variability between the glaciers’ response to global warming. The researchers particularly highlight the role of rock debris cover — common in the central Himalaya but rare on the Tibetan Plateau — in helping to stabilize glaciers.