24 Global land ice monitoring from space (GLIMS) project regional center for Southwest Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan)
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Concerns over world-wide loss of ice have resulted in the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) Project wherein glaciers are being mapped and monitored from space with the ASTER satellite sensor. A combined American and Japanese satellite system launched in 1999 on the Terra rocket allowed all countries with glaciers to receive free, large-scale (15 m resolution) satellite imagery. The Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan expressed little initial interest to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or to the U.S. Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who were funding GLIMS. The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNOmaha), with its three decades of research association in both countries, became the Southwest Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan) GLIMS Regional Center for the Hindu Kush and Western Himalaya. This paper is a brief discussion and presentation of a few glaciers we have been studying. In the Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges of Afghanistan we selected a transect of glaciers from west to east, that include (1) Foladi Glacier in Koh-i-Baba Range; (2) Mir Samir glaciers in central Hindu Kush; (3) Sakhi Glacier in Koh-i-Bandakha range in north-central Hindu Kush; (4) Keshnikhan Glacier at the mouth of Wakhan Corridor; and (5) Little Pamir glaciers in the Wakhan Corridor. All glaciers were mapped by geoscientists in the past half century and are now being reassessed for change detection. In general smaller, lower-altitude glaciers were already below the climatic equilibrium line 40 years ago when first mapped, but were protected in shadowed cirques; many are now wasting away, although deconvoluting original cartographic error from real change is problematic. Nonetheless, evidence of serious glacial retreat has major implications for downstream melt-water irrigation in this chronically drought-torn region. In Pakistan focus is primarily upon five main areas in a west-to-east transect, starting with (1) glaciers of Tirich Mir in the northwest; (2) Gorshai Glacier in Swat; (3) Batura Glacier and others in Hunza; (4) glaciers of the Nanga Parbat Himalaya; and (5) Biafo and Baltoro Glacier in the northeast. Because these glaciers are all from higher altitude areas than most of those in Afghanistan, they receive more nourishment but are still undergoing significant downwasting, and some termini are backwasting. Most significant related events, however, are the debuttressing of valley walls that can cause massive landslides, and glacier lake outburst floods (GLOF), which threaten much of the Himalaya. Overall between Afghanistan and Pakistan we can say that the loss of significant glacier ice in coming decades may be becoming progressively more serious unless global warming ultimately generates greater marine evaporation that augments precipitation. The GLIMS Project will continue monitoring glaciers but the task must be passed on to newly trained specialists from Afghanistan and Pakistan. New satellite systems, perhaps even the new European cryosat system, must also be deployed for this purpose. World-wide glacier monitoring underway for decades is at last capable of achieving significant results with high resolution, stereographic satellite imagery in the GLIMS Project. 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.