Occurrence and characteristics of rock glaciers in the Poiqu River basin – Central Himalaya

Philipp Rastner*, Tobias Bolch*, Yan Hu, Lin Liu, Atanu Bhattacharya, Guoqing Zhang, Tandong Yao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Rock glaciers are important to study as they can be of hydrological importance
and could have serious hazard potentials. Existing investigations about rock
glaciers in High Mountain Asia indicate that the landforms are abundant, but
information is still rare for large parts of the region. We compiled a rock glacier
inventory for the Poiqu River basin, Central Himalaya. The mapping was
conducted using very high-resolution Pléiades imagery and digital elevation
model and imagery available from Google Earth. Rock glaciers were classified
either active or inactive based on interferograms generated using ALOS-1
PALSAR data. Moreover, we developed a new method to automatically map the
frontal slopes of the rock glaciers to investigate their activity. The results reveal
370 rock glaciers including 148 active and 222 inactive ones. We found nine
rock glaciers damming lakes, three of which could be potentially dangerous. The
overall rock glacier area is about 20.9 km which is more than 10% of the glacier
area. The two largest rock glaciers cover 0.50 and 0.45 km². The rock glaciers are located at elevations between ~4000 and ~6000 m above sea level (mean
elevations ~5100 m). Most of the rock glaciers face towards East and Southwest.
The mean overall slope is 19.3° with the active ones being on average only
slightly steeper (active: 19.7°, inactive: 19.0°). Their frontal slopes, however, are
clearly steeper. The availability of very high-resolution data was key to generate
a rock glacier inventory and allowed assessment of the rock glacier
characteristics with high accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGeografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography
Publication statusSubmitted - 28 Jun 2021


  • Himalaya
  • Tibet
  • Pléiades
  • InSAR
  • Digital Elevation Model (DEM)
  • Rock glacier inventory
  • Frontal slopes


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