Debriscovered Glaciers and Rock Glaciers in the Nanga Parbat Himalaya, Pakistan Academic Article uri icon


  • The origin and mobilization of the extensive debris cover associated with the glaciers of the Nanga Parbat Himalaya is complex. In this paper we propose a mechanism by which glaciers can form rock glaciers through inefficiency of sediment transfer from glacier ice to meltwater. Inefficient transfer is caused by various processes that promote plentiful sediment supply and decrease sediment transfer potential. Most debris-covered glaciers on Nanga Parbat with higher velocities of movement and/or efficient debris transfer mechanisms do not form rock glaciers, perhaps because debris is mobilized quickly and removed from such glacier systems. Those whose ice movement activity is lower and those where inefficient sediment transfer mechanisms allow plentiful debris to accumulate, can form classic rock glaciers. We document here with maps, satellite images, and field observations the probable evolution of part of a slow and inefficient ice glacier into a rock glacier at the margins of Sachen Glacier in c. 50 years, as well as several other examples that formed in a longer period of time. Sachen Glacier receives all of its nourishment from ice and snow avalanches from surrounding areas of high relief, but has low ice velocities and no efficient system of debris removal. Consequently it has a pronounced digitate terminus with four lobes that have moved outward from the lateral moraines as rock glaciers with prounced transverse ridges and furrows and steep fronts at the angle of repose. Raikot Glacier has a velocity five times higher than Sachen Glacier and a thick cover of rock debris at its terminus that is efficienctly removed. During the advance stage of the glacier since 1994, ice cliffs were exposed at the terminus, and an outbreak flood swept away much debris from its margins and terminus. Like the Sachen Glacier that it resembles, Shaigiri Glacier receives all its nourishment from ice and snow avalanches and has an extensive debris cover with steep margins close to the angle of repose. It has a high velocity similar to Raikot Glacier and catastrophic breakout floods have removed debris from its terminus twice in the recent past. In addition, the Shaigiri terminus blocked the Rupal River during the Little Ice Age and is presently being undercut and steepened by the river. With higher velocities and more efficient sediment transfer systems, neither the Raikot nor the Shaigiri form classic rock-glacier morphologies.

published proceedings

  • Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography

author list (cited authors)

  • Shroder, J. F., Bishop, M. P., Copland, L., & Sloan, V. F.

citation count

  • 129

complete list of authors

  • Shroder, John F||Bishop, Michael P||Copland, Luke||Sloan, Valerie F

publication date

  • January 2000