Accelerated mass loss of Himalayan glaciers since the Little Ice Age

Ethan Lee, Jonathan L. Carrivick (Lead / Corresponding author), Duncan J. Quincey, Simon J. Cook, William H. M. James, Lee E. Brown

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    Himalayan glaciers are undergoing rapid mass loss but rates of contemporary change lack long-term (centennial-scale) context. Here, we reconstruct the extent and surfaces of 14,798 Himalayan glaciers during the Little Ice Age (LIA), 400 to 700 years ago. We show that they have lost at least 40 % of their LIA area and between 390 and 586 km3 of ice; 0.92 to 1.38 mm Sea Level Equivalent. The long-term rate of ice mass loss since the LIA has been between − 0.011 and − 0.020 m w.e./year, which is an order of magnitude lower than contemporary rates reported in the literature. Rates of mass loss depend on monsoon influence and orographic effects, with the fastest losses measured in East Nepal and in Bhutan north of the main divide. Locally, rates of loss were enhanced with the presence of surface debris cover (by 2 times vs clean-ice) and/or a proglacial lake (by 2.5 times vs land-terminating). The ten-fold acceleration in ice loss we have observed across the Himalaya far exceeds any centennial-scale rates of change that have been recorded elsewhere in the world.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number24284
    Number of pages8
    JournalScientific Reports
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021


    • Climate change
    • Environmental sciences
    • Hydrology


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