Changes in glacier surface cover on Baltoro glacier, Karakoram, north Pakistan, 2001–2012
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The presence of supraglacial debris on glaciers in the Himalaya-Karakoram affects the ablation rate of these glaciers and their response to climatic change. To understand how supraglacial debris distribution and associated surface features vary spatially and temporally, geomorphological mapping was undertaken on Baltoro Glacier, Karakoram, for three time-separated images between 2001–2012. Debris is supplied to the glacier system through frequent but small landslides at the glacier margin that form lateral and medial moraines and less frequent but higher volume rockfall events which are more lobate and often discontinuous in form. Debris on the glacier surface is identified as a series of distinct lithological units which merge downglacier of the convergence area between the Godwin-Austen and Baltoro South tributary glaciers. Debris distribution varies as a result of complex interaction between tributary glaciers and the main glacier tongue, complicated further by surge events on some tributary glaciers. Glacier flow dynamics mainly controls the evolution of a supraglacial debris layer. Identifying such spatial variability in debris rock type and temporal variability in debris distribution has implications for glacier ablation rate, affecting glacier surface energy balance. Accordingly, spatial and temporal variation in supraglacial debris should be considered when determining mass balance for these glaciers through time.