Seasonal Cold-Wave Propagation Into the Near-Surface Ice of Debris-Covered Khumbu Glacier, Nepal

Katie E. Miles, Bryn Hubbard, Duncan J. Quincey, Evan S. Miles, Samuel H. Doyle, Ann V. Rowan

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Meltwater from high-elevation debris-covered glaciers—particularly those located in the greater Himalaya and Andes—shapes the water supply of major rivers and nourishes substantial terrestrial, estuarine, and marine habitats (Kraaijenbrink et al., 2017; Immerzeel et al., 2020). However, the relative inaccessibility and high elevation of such glaciers results in a paucity of data relating to their fundamental physical properties and processes, limiting the information available to constrain and evaluate numerical models of their behaviour and project future change. Knowledge of the subsurface properties of such glaciers is particularly deficient because it is largely obscured to satellite and airborne remote sensing; englacial investigations therefore commonly require direct access (Miles et al., 2020). Of the physical properties of glaciers, ice temperature exerts an important control over glaciological processes, such as glacier motion, and their modelled behaviour. For example, ice viscosity is sensitive to temperature such that, under the same stress, ice approaching the melting point deforms 5–10 times more rapidly than it would at −10°C (Deeley and Woodward, 1908; Cuffey and Paterson, 2010). Basal motion depends on lubrication facilitated by the presence of meltwater at the ice-bed interface and/or within the pore space of a subglacial sediment layer. Measurements of near-surface ice temperatures are important for modelling the surface energy balance and projecting the future mass-balance response of glaciers to anticipated climate change. This is especially the case for glaciers with a thick supraglacial debris layer that insulates the underlying ice (according to debris layer thickness and lithology), reducing ablation and potentially extending glacier longevity (Nicholson and Benn, 2006; Nicholson and Benn, 2013; Anderson and Anderson, 2016).

Here, we present a one-year time series of near-surface ice temperatures, measured between 1.5 and 7.0 m below the ice surface, in a borehole drilled by hot water into the debris-covered tongue of Khumbu Glacier, Nepal.
Original languageEnglish
Article number715129
Number of pages4
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2021


  • Himalaya
  • Khumbu glacier
  • debris-covered glacier
  • glacier borehole
  • ice temperature
  • near surface


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