03 Aug 2023
 | 03 Aug 2023

Seasonal to decadal dynamics of supraglacial lakes on debris-covered glaciers in the Khumbu Region, Nepal

Lucas Zeller, Daniel McGrath, Scott W. McCoy, and Jonathan Jacquet

Abstract. Supraglacial lakes (SGLs) play an important role in debris-covered glacier (DCG) systems by enabling efficient interactions between the subglacial, englacial, and supraglacial environments. Developing a better understanding of the short-term and long-term development of these features is needed to constrain DCG evolution and the hazards posed to downstream communities, ecosystems, and infrastructure from rapid drainage. In this study we present an analysis of supraglacial lakes on eight DCGs in the Khumbu region of Nepal by automating SGL identification in PlanetScope, Sentinel-2, and Landsat 5-9 images. We identify a regular annual cycle in SGL area, with lakes covering approximately twice as much area during their maximum annual extent (in the pre-monsoon) than their minimum (in the post-monsoon season). The high spatiotemporal resolution of PlanetScope imagery (~daily, 3 meter) shows that this cycle is driven by the appearance and expansion of small lakes in the upper debris-covered regions of these glaciers throughout the winter. Decadal-scale expansion of large, near-terminus lakes was identified on four of the glaciers (Khumbu, Lhotse, Nuptse, and Ambulapcha), while the remaining four showed no significant increases over the study period. The annual variation in SGL area is of comparable or greater magnitude as decadal-scale changes, highlighting the importance of accounting for this seasonality when interpreting long-term records of SGL changes from sparse observations. The complex spatiotemporal patterns revealed in our analysis are not captured in existing regional-scale glacial lake databases, suggesting that more targeted efforts are needed to capture the true variability of SGLs on large scales.

Lucas Zeller et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1684', Anna Wendleder, 04 Sep 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1684', Duncan J. Quincey, 15 Sep 2023

Lucas Zeller et al.


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Short summary
In this study we developed methods for automatically identifying supraglacial lakes in multiple satellite imagery sources for eight glaciers in Nepal. We identified a substantial seasonal variability in lake area, which was as large as the variability seen across entire decades. These complex patterns are not captured in existing regional-scale datasets. Our finding show that this seasonal variability must be accounted for in order to interpret long-term changes in debris-covered glaciers.