Rock glaciers represent hidden water stores in the Himalaya

D.B. Jones, S. Harrison, K. Anderson, S. Shannon, R.A. Betts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


In the high mountains of Asia, ongoing glacier retreat threatens human and ecological systems through reduced water availability. Rock glaciers are climatically more resistant than glaciers and contain valuable water volume equivalents (WVEQ). Across High Mountain Asia (HMA) the WVEQ of rock glaciers is poorly quantified, and thus their hydrological significance versus glaciers is unknown. Here we present the first systematic assessment of Himalayan rock glaciers, totalling ~25,000 landforms with an areal coverage of ~3,747 km2. We calculate the WVEQ of Himalayan rock glaciers to be 51.80 ± 10.36 km3. Their comparative importance versus glaciers (rock glacier: glacier WVEQ ratio) is 1:25, which means that they constitute hydrologically valuable long-term water stores. In the context of climate-driven glacier recession, their relative hydrological value will likely increase. These cryospheric stores should be included in future scenario modelling to understand their role in sustainable water management for HMA.
Original languageEnglish
Article number145368
Pages (from-to)145368
Number of pages1
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Early online date3 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
DBJ work was supported with a research grant by the Natural Environment Research Council (Grant No. NE/L002434/1 ) and the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) through a Dudley Stamp Memorial Award. RAB was supported by the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme funded by BEIS and Defra .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Rock Glacier
  • Water Volume Equivalent
  • Water Resources
  • Hydrological Significance
  • Himalaya
  • Climate Change


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