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Professional Paper 1386–F

Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World

Glaciers of Asia

Edited by Richard S. Williams, Jr., and Jane G. Ferrigno


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This chapter is the ninth to be released in U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386, Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World, a series of 11 chapters. In each of the geographic area chapters, remotely sensed images, primarily from the Landsat 1, 2, and 3 series of spacecraft, are used to analyze the specific glacierized region of our planet under consideration and to monitor glacier changes. Landsat images, acquired primarily during the middle to late 1970s and early 1980s, were used by an international team of glaciologists and other scientists to study various geographic regions and (or) to discuss related glaciological topics. In each glacierized geographic region, the present areal distribution of glaciers is compared, wherever possible, with historical information about their past extent. The atlas provides an accurate regional inventory of the areal extent of glacier ice on our planet during the 1970s as part of a growing international scientific effort to measure global environmental change on the Earth’s surface.

The chapter is divided into seven geographic parts and one topical part: Glaciers of the Former Soviet Union (F–1), Glaciers of China (F–2), Glaciers of Afghanistan (F–3), Glaciers of Pakistan (F–4), Glaciers of India (F–5), Glaciers of Nepal (F–6), Glaciers of Bhutan (F–7), and the Paleoenvironmental Record Preserved in Middle-Latitude, High-Mountain Glaciers (F–8). Each geographic section describes the glacier extent during the 1970s and 1980s, the benchmark time period (1972–1981) of this volume, but has been updated to include more recent information.

Glaciers of the Former Soviet Union are located in the Russian Arctic and various mountain ranges of Russia and the Republics of Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakstun. The Glacier Inventory of the USSR and the World Atlas of Ice and Snow Resources recorded a total of 28,881 glaciers covering an area of 78,938 square kilometers (km2).

China includes many of the mountain-glacier systems of the world including the Himalaya, Karakorum, Tien Shan and Altay mountain ranges. The glaciers are widely scattered and cover an area of about 59,425 km2. The mountain glaciers may be classified as maritime, subcontinental or extreme continental.

In Afghanistan, more than 3,000 small glaciers occur in the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains. Most glaciers occur on north-facing slopes shaded by mountain peaks and on east and southeast slopes that are shaded by monsoon clouds. The glaciers provide vital water resources to the region and cover an area of about 2,700 km2.

Glaciers of northern Pakistan are some of the largest and longest mid-latitude glaciers on Earth. They are located in the Hindu Kush, Himalaya, and Karakoram mountains and cover an area of about 15,000 km2. Glaciers here are important for their role in providing water resources and their hazard potential.

The glaciers in India are located in the Himalaya and cover about 8,500 km2. The Himalaya contains one of the largest reservoirs of snow and ice outside the polar regions. The glaciers are a major source of fresh water and supply meltwater to all the rivers in northern India, thereby affecting the quality of life of millions of people.

In Nepal, the glaciers are located in the Himalaya as individual glaciers; the glacierized area covers about 5,324 km2. The region is the highest mountainous region on Earth and includes the Mt. Everest region.

Glaciers in the Bhutan Himalaya have a total area of about 1,317 km2. Many recent glacier studies are focused on glacier lakes that have the potential of generating dangerous glacier lake outburst floods.

Research on the glaciers of the middle-latitude, high-mountain glaciers of Asia has also focused on the information contained in the ice cores from the glaciers. This information helps in the reconstruction of paleoclimatic records, and the computer modeling of global climate change.

First posted August 25, 2010

The sections of the report are presented here in PDF format.

For additional information contact:

Richard S. Williams

Glacier Studies Project

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Professional Paper 1386 Home Page

Suggested citation:

Williams, R.S., Jr., and Ferrigno, J.G., eds., 2010, Glaciers of Asia: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386–F, 349 p.

Major Sections

F–1. Glaciers of the Former Soviet Union

F–2. Glaciers of China

F–3. Glaciers of Afghanistan

F–4. Glaciers of Pakistan

F–5. Glaciers of India

F–6. Glaciers of Nepal

F–7. Glaciers of Bhutan

F–8. The Paleoenvironmental Record Preserved in Middle-Latitude, High-Mountain Glaciers: An Overview of U.S. Geological Survey Research in Central Asia and the United States

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