NASA finds Asian glaciers slowed by ice loss

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A NASA-led, international study finds Asia’s high mountain glaciers are flowing more slowly in response to widespread ice loss, affecting freshwater availability downstream in India, Pakistan and China. Researchers analyzed almost 2 million satellite images of the glaciers and found that 94 percent of the differences in flow rates could be explained by changes in ice thickness.

For more than a decade, satellite data have documented that the glaciers were thinning as the melt rates on their top surfaces increased. However, “It has not been entirely clear how these glaciers are responding to this ice loss,” said the lead author of the new study, Amaury Dehecq of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The rate at which they will disappear in the future depends on how they adjust to a warming climate.”

Animation of satellite images revealing the flow of the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram Range, Pakistan. Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

Asia’s mountain glaciers flow from the cold heights of the world’s tallest mountains down to warmer climate zones, where they melt much faster, feeding major rivers such as the Indus and Yangtze. Scientists need to understand what is regulating the glaciers’ flow speeds to