Geospatial Technology Solutions for Studying Debris-Covered Glaciers in the Himalaya

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Marshall Ballroom South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michael Bishop, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Understanding climate-glacier dynamics in the Himalaya is of critical importance to address issues including water resources, sea level rise, mountain geodynamics, natural hazards and ecosystem sustainability.  Research indicates that glacier fluctuations in this region are highly spatially variable, with more advancing glaciers in the Karakoram, and more retreating glaciers further east in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Numerous controlling factors govern glacier fluctuations and mass balance and include climate systems and dynamics, topography, debris-cover characteristics and glacier dynamics.  Unfortunately, the influence of the integrative coupling of forcing factors has not been adequately characterized to predict the fate of Himalayan glaciers given climate change.  Geospatial data and information technologies have been used to provide us with baseline information about glacier dynamics, although the spatial information content present in multispectral imagery and digital elevation models has not been fully exploited.  Geospatial analysis can be used to study climate and glacier dynamics by extracting information about the spatial structure of the topography, as the topography governs micro-climate, and responds to surface processes and glacier dynamics.  New research is presented that demonstrates new terrain-analysis parameters and spatial analysis approaches that can be used to assess the scale-dependent characteristics of glaciers, thereby providing new insights into glacier dynamics and state, and enabling detailed glacier mapping for inventory and temporal analysis.   Results indicate that climate-forcing hotspots can be identified using wind direction from climate data.  In addition, the supra-glacial topographic structure of medium to large glaciers may be diagnostic of the processes of glacierization, and can be exploited for accurate mapping of debris-covered glaciers. Glacier assessment and mapping can also be facilitated by object-oriented spatial analysis and the use of graph theory.  Finally, the analysis of topographic anisotropy (directional dependence of topographic variation) can be used to assess supra-glacial features, downwasting, and ice-flow direction to provide better characterization of supra-glacial conditions. These results demonstrate that terrain analysis and new geospatial technology solutions can significantly improve our assessment capabilities and understandings of glacier dynamics in the Himalaya.