Photo Friday: Studying Glacier Debris in the Himalayas

How does debris affect and influence glacier hydrology? And how can particulate pollution on glaciers be measured?

Kimberly Casey, a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, studied six glacier sites around the world to understand glacier debris pollution. Her work led her from the volcanically-influenced glaciers in Iceland and New Zealand to dust-influenced glaciers in Nepal and Switzerland.

In an interview with NASA she states that the type of particulates on a glacier surface, along with the thickness of the dust and debris can affect a glacier’s melt rate. “Because glaciers are a key water resource in many parts of the world, it is important to understand how melt rates may be changing over time,” said Casey.

Her work proved that satellite data could help map out which types of particulates are on glaciers.

“From this project, I was able to establish some methods for using satellite data to map dust and debris types on any glacier around the globe. We now have a satellite record of over a decade and we can look back at how dust and debris on glaciers have changed over time and how this is affecting the melt of glaciers. Going to the field to collect samples or do measurements is expensive, and it would be hard to get to the 200,000-plus glaciers on Earth. So it’s important to use Earth-observing satellite data to quickly and efficiently map glaciers,” stated Casey.

This Photo Friday, enjoy some of the pictures that Casey took during her field trip to Ngozumpa Glacier in the Khumbu region of Nepal. For more photos from her field visits across the globe, visit the NASA Flickr page.

Heavily debris-covered section of the Ngozumpa glacier in Khumbu Himalaya, Nepal. (Source: NASA/GSFC/Kimberly Casey/Creative Commons: Flickr).


The icefall of Khumbu Glacier, considered to be one of the most dangerous spots on the South Col route to Mt. Everest’s summit, was one of Kimberly Casey’s fieldwork sites (Source: NASA/GSFC/Kimberly Casey/Creative Commons: Flickr).


Glaciologist Kimberly Casey’s guide, Sherpa Nima Sampang Rai, hikes on rocks laying on top of Ngozumpa Glacier in the Nepali Himalayas (Source: NASA/GSFC/Kimberly Casey/Creative Commons: Flickr).


Glaciologist Kimberly Casey took this photo of Mt. Everest (left peak) lit by the sunset while she was in the field at Khumbu Glacier in the Nepali Himalayas. (Source: NASA/GSFC/Kimberly Casey/ Creative Commons: Flickr)