Runoff from glacier ice and seasonal snow in High Asia: separating melt water sources in river flow

Richard Armstrong, Karl Rittger, Mary J. Brodzik, Adina Racoviteanu, Andrew Barrett, Siri Jodha Singh Khalsa, Bruce H. Raup, Alice Hill, Alia L. Khan, Alana M. Wilson, Rijan Kayastha, Florence Fetterer, Betsy Armstrong

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Across High Asia, the amount, timing, and spatial patterns of snow and ice melt play key roles in providing water for downstream irrigation, hydropower generation, and general consumption. The goal of this paper is to distinguish the specific contribution of seasonal snow versus glacier ice melt in the major basins of High Mountain Asia: Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Amu Darya, and Syr Darya. Our methodology involves the application of MODIS-derived remote sensing products to separately calculate daily melt outputs from snow and glacier ice. Using an automated partitioning method, we generate daily maps of (1) snow over glacier ice, (2) exposed glacier ice, and (3) snow over land. These are inputs to a temperature index model that yields melt water volumes contributing to river flow. Results for the five major High Mountain Asia basins show that the western regions are heavily reliant on snow and ice melt sources for summer dry season flow when demand is at a peak, whereas monsoon rainfall dominates runoff during the summer period in the east. While uncertainty remains in the temperature index model applied here, our approach to partitioning melt from seasonal snow and glacier ice is both innovative and systematic and more constrained than previous efforts with similar goals
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1249-1261
Number of pages13
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number5
Early online date10 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2019


  • High Mountain Asia
  • seasonal snow
  • glaciers
  • melt contribution to river flow
  • Seasonal snow
  • Melt contribution to river flow
  • Glaciers


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