Retreating Glaciers of the Himalayas: A Case Study of Gangotri Glacier Using 1990-2009 Satellite Images

retreat has become a sensitive indicator of global climate change (Owen 2009, Yao et al. 2007,
Ding et al. 2006, Gupta et al. 2005).
Many researchers have studied glaciers on local and global scales. Owen (2009) and Owen
and England (1998) studied glacier fluctuations in the Himalaya and surrounding areas. Singh et
al. (2006) investigated the hydrological characteristics of the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas.
Racoviteanu et al. (2008) mapped Himalayan glaciers using remote sensing. Yao et al. (2007)
studied glacier retreat on the Tibetan Plateau. Gupta et al. (2007) mapped dry/wet snow cover in
the Indian Himalayas. Kulkarni et al. (2007) analyzed glacial retreat in the Himalayas using
Indian remote sensing satellite data. Hall et al. (1995) discussed snow cover mapping using
remote sensing. Kargel et al. (2005) provided a comprehensive review of multispectral imaging
contributions to global land ice measurements from space. Because of their unique capabilities in
acquiring spatial, spectral, and temporal information on earth surface features and phenomena,
remotely sensed images have been widely used in glacial studies. However, there are some major
limitations of existing studies on glacial mapping using remote sensing: (1) Images from a single
year or limited timeframe are often used to map glacial features that may change over time; (2)
High resolution images are not widely applied to glacial studies; and (3) Quantitative measures
such as glacial retreating distances and rates are often inaccurate because of the above two
limitations.
The objectives of this study are to (1) Detect moraine-covered glacier using medium-
resolution Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and high-resolution IKONOS images; (2) Quantify
changes of moraine-covered glacier from 1990 to 2009. Following this brief introduction, the
following sections provide more details on the study area and data, methodology, results, and
conclusions.
2. Study Area and Data
The Gangotri Glacier of the Indian Himalayas was selected as the study area because of the
following reasons: (1) The Himalayas is the third pole of the Earth, and the first pole of the Earth
in terms of direct impact to human population- several important river systems originate from
the Himalayas, affecting over 3 billion people in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian
Subcontinent. (2) As one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayas (about 25 km by 30 km) with
high elevation, accessibility to the Gangotri Glacier is very difficult by traditional means; (3)

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Ding, Jennifer & Dong, Pinliang. Retreating Glaciers of the Himalayas: A Case Study of Gangotri Glacier Using 1990-2009 Satellite Images. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc84326/. Accessed July 28, 2014.