Category Archives: Our news

New 3D visualisation of Langtang glacier

Using the software SketchFab we have produced a 3D visualisation of a part of the Langtang glacier in Nepal. The model allows an interactive inspection of the surface features of the glacier. It shows the huge variation on the surafce of the glacier including different types of lakes, ice cliffs, boulders and bare ice. It is also possible to view this 3D model using VR glasses and a Google Cardbox on your smart phone. Enjoy!

Explore Langtang Glacier on SketchFab

UAV Research in Khumbu Valley

Joseph Shea

Against the unparalleled backdrop of Everest and Nuptse, the late November sun warms the glaciologist slightly as he prepares for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) survey flight. From his coat pockets he pulls batteries that desperately need to stay warm for full power: batteries for the laptop, camera, and UAV that have been stored in his sleeping bag overnight, when temperatures plummeted below -20 C. He checks the wind. He sets up the flight on his laptop, sends the details to the UAV through a radio transmitter, and heads to the nearby launch location. At 5,350 m above sea level, the air has less than half as much oxygen as at sea level, and it can be difficult to launch the UAV as the air pressure is so low. He breathes heavily — partly due to the oxygen depletion, and partly due to nerves. With the UAV in his hands, he starts the motor, heart racing as the propeller whine reaches an intense pitch. He steps forward to throw the UAV and start the flight. He hopes.

In collaboration with Dr Patrick Wagnon, visiting scientist at ICIMOD and researcher at L’Institut du Récherche pour le Développement (IRD, France), and Dr Dibas Shrestha, Research Scientist at the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), ICIMOD Glacier Hydrologist Dr Joseph Shea joined a recent field expedition to Sagarmatha National Park ( to conduct UAV surveys of several glaciers in the region. A total of 730 photos were taken from the senseFly eBee ( UAV over six successful flights, and the team collected 56 high-precision ground control points to be used in post-processing. The research may have also set an unofficial eBee altitude record, with a maximum flight elevation of 5,900 m. However, the flight conditions were difficult given the altitude and the unpredictable winds, and the eBee was damaged during the course of the fieldwork.

Data obtained during the research will be used to construct detailed mosaics and elevation models of the study sites. Comparisons of the UAV datasets with satellite imagery and terrestrial photography will be used to examine rates of glacier change, glacier flow velocities, and the role of ice cliffs and ponds in the melt rates of debris-covered glaciers. The research was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), ICIMOD, and Utrecht University. The eBee was generously loaned by FutureWater (Netherlands), who have been assured that it will be sent back to the factory for repairs and testing.

New study on upper Indus precipitation

Reconciling high-altitude precipitation in the upper Indus basin with glacier mass balances and runoff


Mountain ranges in Asia are important water suppliers, especially if downstream climates are arid, water demands are high and glaciers are abundant. In such basins, the hydrological cycle depends heavily on high-altitude precipitation. Yet direct observations of high-altitude precipitation are lacking and satellite derived products are of insufficient resolution and quality to capture spatial variation and magnitude of mountain precipitation. Here we use glacier mass balances to inversely infer the high-altitude precipitation in the upper Indus basin and show that the amount of precipitation required to sustain the observed mass balances of large glacier systems is far beyond what is observed at valley stations or estimated by gridded precipitation products. An independent validation with observed river flow confirms that the water balance can indeed only be closed when the high-altitude precipitation on average is more than twice as high and in extreme cases up to a factor of 10 higher than previously thought. We conclude that these findings alter the present understanding of high-altitude hydrology and will have an important bearing on climate change impact studies, planning and design of hydropower plants and irrigation reservoirs as well as the regional geopolitical situation in general.


Immerzeel, W. W., Wanders, N., Lutz, A. F., Shea, J. M. and Bierkens, M. F. P., 2015, Reconciling high altitude precipitation with glacier mass balances and runoff, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 4755–4784.




Papers in the Annals of Glaciology

The Annals of Glacioly issue with the theme ‘Glaciology in high-mountain Asia will appear in 2016. A few articles of our research group in this issue are already available online as preprints or are accepted for publication.

Available online

  • Seasonal surface velocities of a Himalayan glacier derived by automated correlation of unmanned aerial vehicle imagery
    Philip KRAAIJENBRINK, Sander W. MEIJER, Joseph M. SHEA, Francesca PELLICCIOTTI, Steven M. DE JONG, Walter W. IMMERZEEL
    Debris-covered glaciers play an important role in the high-altitude water cycle in the Himalaya, yet their dynamics are poorly understood, partly because of the difficult fieldwork conditions. In this study we therefore deploy an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) three times (May 2013, October 2013 and May 2014) over the debris-covered Lirung Glacier in Nepal. The acquired data are processed into orthomosaics and elevation models by a Structure from Motion workflow, and seasonal surface velocity is derived using frequency cross-correlation. In order to obtain optimal surface velocity products, the effects of different input data and correlator configurations are evaluated, which reveals that the orthomosaic as input paired with moderate correlator settings provides the best results. The glacier has considerable spatial and seasonal differences in surface velocity, with maximum summer and winter velocities 6 and 2.5 m a–1, respectively, in the upper part of the tongue, while the lower part is nearly stagnant. It is hypothesized that the higher velocities during summer are caused by basal sliding due to increased lubrication of the bed. We conclude that UAVs have great potential to quantify seasonal and annual variations in flow and can help to further our understanding of debris-covered glaciers.
  • Refined energy-balance modelling of a supraglacial pond, Langtang Khola, Nepal
    Evan S. MILES, Francesca PELLICCIOTTI, Ian C. WILLIS, Jakob F. STEINER, Pascal BURI, Neil S. ARNOLD
    Supraglacial ponds on debris-covered glaciers present a mechanism of atmosphere/glacier energy transfer that is poorly studied, and only conceptually included in mass-balance studies of Debris-covered glaciers. This research advances previous efforts to develop a model of mass and energy balance for supraglacial ponds by applying a free-convection approach to account for energy exchanges at the subaqueous bare-ice surfaces. We develop the model using field data from a pond on Lirung Glacier, Nepal, that was monitored during the 2013 and 2014 monsoon periods. Sensitivity testing is performed for several key parameters, and alternative melt algorithms are compared with the model. The pond acts as a significant recipient of energy for the glacier system, and actively participates in the glacier’s hydrologic system during the monsoon. Melt rates are 2–4 cm d–1 (total of 98.5 m3 over the study period) for bare ice in contact with the pond, and <1 mm d–1 (total of 10.6 m3) for the saturated debris zone. The majority of absorbed atmospheric energy leaves the pond system through englacial conduits, delivering sufficient energy to melt 2612m3 additional ice over the study period (38.4 m3 d–1). Such melting might be expected to lead to subsidence of the glacier surface. Supraglacial ponds efficiently convey atmospheric energy to the glacier’s interior and rapidly promote the downwasting process.
  • A grid-based model of backwasting of supraglacial ice cliffs over debris-covered glaciers
    Pascal BURI, Francesca PELLICCIOTTI, Jakob F. STEINER, Evan S. MILES, Walter W. IMMERZEEL
    Ice cliffs might be partly responsible for the high mass losses of debris-covered glaciers in the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya region. The few existing models of cliff backwasting are pointscale models applied at few locations or assume cliffs to be planes with constant slope and aspect, a major simplification given the complex surfaces of most cliffs. We develop the first grid-based model of cliff backwasting for two cliffs on debris-covered Lirung Glacier, Nepal. The model includes an improved representation of shortwave and longwave radiation, and their interplay with the glacier topography. Shortwave radiation varies considerably across the two cliffs, mostly due to direct radiation. Diffuse radiation is the major shortwave component, as the direct component is strongly reduced by the cliffs’ aspect and slope through self-shading. Incoming longwave radiation is higher than the total incoming shortwave flux, due to radiation emitted by the surrounding terrain, which is 25% of the incoming flux. Melt is highly variable in space, suggesting that simple models provide inaccurate estimates of total melt volumes. Although only representing 0.09% of the glacier tongue area, the total melt at the two cliffs over the measurement period is 2313 and 8282 m3, 1.23% of the total melt simulated by a glacio-hydrological model for the glacier’s tongue.


  • Meteorological conditions, seasonal and annual mass balances of Chhota Shigri Glacier, western Himalaya, India
    Mohd Farooq AZAM, Al. RAMANATHAN, Patrick WAGNON, Christian VINCENT, Anurag LINDA, Etienne BERTHIER, Parmanand SHARMA, Arindan MANDAL, Thupstan ANGCHUK, Virendra Bahadur SINGH, P.G. JOSE
  • Air temperature variability in a high-elevation Himalayan catchment
    Martin HEYNEN, Evan MILES, Silvan RAGETTLI, Pascal BURI, Walter W. IMMERZEEL, Francesca PELLICCIOTTI
  • An assessment of basin-scale glaciological and hydrological sensitivities in the Hindu Kush–Himalaya
    Joseph M. SHEA, Walter W. IMMERZEEL


WRF Langtang paper available online

The paper by Emily and Walter on the modelling of high-altitude precipitation processes in the Langtang catchment using WRF is now available online (open access):

  • Abstract
    High-altitude meteorological processes in the Himalaya are influenced by complex interactions between the topography and the monsoon and westerly circulation systems. In this study, we use the Weather Research and Forecasting model configured with high spatial resolution to understand seasonal patterns of near-surface meteorological fields and precipitation processes in the Langtang catchment in the central Himalaya. Using a unique high-altitude observational network, we evaluate a simulation from 17 June 2012 to 16 June 2013 and conclude that, at 1 km horizontal grid spacing, the model captures the main features of observed meteorological variability in the catchment. The finer representation of the complex terrain and explicit simulation of convection at this grid spacing give strong improvements in near-surface air temperature and small improvements in precipitation, in particular in themagnitudes of daytime convective precipitation and at higher elevations. The seasonal differences are noteworthy, including a reversal in the vertical and along-valley distributions of precipitation between the monsoon and winter seasons, with peak values simulated at lower altitudes (~3000m above sea level (asl)) and in the upper regions (above 5000m asl) in each season, respectively. We conclude that there is great potential for improving the local accuracy of climate change impact studies in the Himalaya by using high-resolution atmospheric models to generate the forcing for such studies.

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