Video of the Week: A Glacial Surge in Pakistan

Less than one percent of the world’s glaciers are characterized as “surge-type” glaciers. The Karakoram in Central Asia––the world’s second highest mountain range––has one of the planet’s densest concentration of surging glaciers, where the Shishpar Glacier in northern Pakistan is moving at a rate of five to seven meters per day and is threatening human settlements.

Surging refers to episodes with a sudden, large increase in ice velocities. “Glaciers in the Karakoram exhibit irregular behavior,” said the authors of a 2017 study on surging glaciers published in the journal Scientific Reports. “Early reports suggested they are out of phase with climate fluctuations and trends observed elsewhere.”

A video posted on March 9 by German broadcasting channel DW News, calls attention to the threat posed by Shishpar (also Shisparé or Shishper):

Last year NASA reported that Shishpar started its advance in April 2018, with certain parts moving as fast as 13 to 18 meters (43 to 59 feet) per day. “Since the surge started, the front of Shishpar Glacier has advanced by about 1 kilometer,” the NASA Earth Observatory said. “As the ice pushed south past an adjacent valley, it blocked a meltwater stream flowing from the neighboring Muchuhar Glacier. By autumn 2018, the water had pooled up and formed a sizable lake.”

These images, acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, show the position of the glacier and lake on April 1, 2019 (right), compared to April 5, 2018. The ice appears gray because dust, soil, and other debris are piled on top of it (Source: Lauren Dauphin/NASA).

A lack of incoming water from the blockage has already forced one power station to halt operations and a crucial route used by miners and herders to traverse the glacier is now impassable. According to NASA, this is not the first time that this glacier has surged. Field research and analysis of satellite imagery indicate that Shishpar also surged in 1904-1905, 1972-1976, and 1993-2002.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Roundup: A New Glacier Surge Study, Three Decades of Caucasus Glacier-Debris Change, and Mining Expansion in Greenland

Massive 1929 Himalayan Flood is a Cautionary Tale

Roundup: Plant Succession, Glacier Surges and Organic Pollutants