Quantifying the contribution of glaciers to water resources is particularly important in locations where glaciers may provide a large percentage of total river discharge. In some remote locations, direct field measurements of melt rates are difficult to acquire, so alternate approaches are needed. Positive degree-day modeling (PDD) of glacier melt is a valuable tool to making first order approximations of the volume of melt coming from glaciers. In this study, a PDD-melt model is applied to glaciers in the Indus River watershed located in Afghanistan, China, India, and Pakistan. Here, millions of people rely on the water from the Indus River, which previous work suggests may be heavily dependent on glacier melt from high mountain regions in the northern part of the watershed. In this region, the PDD melt model calculates the range of melt volumes from more than 45,000 km2 of glaciated area. It relies on a limited suite of input variables for glaciers in the region: elevation, temperature, temperature lapse rate, melt factor, and surface area. Three global gridded climate datasets were used to determine the bounds of temperature at each glacier: UEA CRU CL 2.0, UEA CRU TS 2.1, and NCEP/NCAR 40 year reanalysis. The PDD melt model was run using four different melt scenarios: mean, minimum, maximum, and randomized. These scenarios account for differences in melt volume not captured by temperature, and take uncertainties in all input parameters into account to bound the possible melt volume. The spread in total melt volume from the model scenarios ranges between 27 km3 and 439 km3. While the difference in these calculations is large, it is highly likely the real value falls within this range. Importantly, even the smallest model volume output is a significant melt water value. This suggests that even when forcing the absolute smallest volume of melt, the glacier contribution to the Indus watershed is significant. In addition to providing information about melt volume, this model helps to highlight glaciers with the greatest contribution to total melt. Despite differences in the individual climate models, the spatial pattern in glacier melt is similar, with glaciers contributing the majority of total melt volume occurring in similar geographic regions regardless of which temperature dataset is used. For regions where glacier areas are reasonably well-constrained, contributions from individual glaciers can be quantified. Importantly, less than 5% of glaciers contribute at least 70% of the total melt volume in the watershed. The majority of these glaciers are in Pakistan, the region with the largest percentage of known glaciers with large surface areas at lower elevations. In addition to calculating current melt volumes over large glaciated areas, this model can also be used to determine future melt rates under differing climate scenarios. By applying suggested future regional temperature change to the temperature data, the impact on average melt rate over the watershed was found to increase from 3.02 m/year to 4.69 m/year with up to 2 °C temperature increase. Assuming glacier area remains relatively constant over short time periods, this would amount to a 145 km3 increase in melt volume.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Indus River watershed, glacier melt, PDD, Himalaya, climate change



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Geology Commons