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Volume 12, issue 1 | Copyright
The Cryosphere, 12, 95-101, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Brief communication 11 Jan 2018

Brief communication | 11 Jan 2018

Brief communication: The Khurdopin glacier surge revisited – extreme flow velocities and formation of a dammed lake in 2017

Jakob F. Steiner1, Philip D. A. Kraaijenbrink1, Sergiu G. Jiduc2, and Walter W. Immerzeel1 Jakob F. Steiner et al.
  • 1Utrecht University, Department of Physical Geography, P.O. Box 80115, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 2Imperial College London, Centre for Environmental Policy, Faculty of Natural Sciences, SW7 1NA, London, UK

Abstract. Glacier surges occur regularly in the Karakoram, but the driving mechanisms, their frequency and its relation to a changing climate remain unclear. In this study, we use digital elevation models and Landsat imagery in combination with high-resolution imagery from the Planet satellite constellation to quantify surface elevation changes and flow velocities during a glacier surge of the Khurdopin Glacier in 2017. Results reveal that an accumulation of ice volume above a clearly defined steep section of the glacier tongue since the last surge in 1999 eventually led to a rapid surge in May 2017 peaking with velocities above 5000ma−1, which were among the fastest rates globally for a mountain glacier. Our data reveal that velocities on the lower tongue increase steadily during a 4-year build-up phase prior to the actual surge only to then rapidly peak and decrease again within a few months, which confirms earlier observations with a higher frequency of available velocity data. The surge return period between the reported surges remains relatively constant at ca. 20 years. We show the potential of a combination of repeat Planet and ASTER imagery to (a) capture peak surge velocities that are easily missed by less frequent Landsat imagery, (b) observe surface changes that indicate potential drivers of a surge and (c) monitor hazards associated with a surge. At Khurdopin specifically, we observe that the surging glacier blocks the river in the valley and causes a lake to form, which may grow in subsequent years and could pose threats to downstream settlements and infrastructure in the case of a sudden breach.

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Short summary
Glaciers that once every few years or decades suddenly advance in length – also known as surging glaciers – are found in many glaciated regions in the world. In the Karakoram glacier tongues are additionally located at low altitudes and relatively close to human settlements. We investigate a very recent and extremely rapid surge in the region that has caused a lake to form in the main valley with possible risks for downstream communities.
Glaciers that once every few years or decades suddenly advance in length – also known as surging...