Understanding black carbon impact on glaciers

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Snow samples collection at Yala Glacier in Langtang valley
Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD

In April 2016 and team of glaciologists and experts from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) and partner organisations — Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, Utrecht University, Kathmandu University (KU), Tribhuvan University (TU), Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVI) went to Langtang for a field visit. Among them was Chaman Gul, one of the PhD fellows of the Atmosphere Initiative in ICIMOD from Pakistan.  

As part of his PhD study - ‘Carbonaceous aerosols and its impacts on glaciers of Himalayan region’ Gul aims to discover the concentration of black carbon (BC) from the atmosphere deposited on snow surface. Gul collected snow and ice samples from Yala Glacier. Soon after his return from Yala, he collected samples in Pakistan from Gulkin and Sachin glaciers to ensure that all samples were within the same season and would be useful for comparative studies. 

The samples collected were kept frozen until they were brought down to a lower elevation and melted samples were filtered immediately. The deposition of snow collected in the filter which will be sent to the laboratory in Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, China for analysis. A thermal-optical elemental carbon/organic carbon (ECOC) analysers will be used to examine the samples. 

Snow samples collection at Sachin Glacier in Pakistan 
Photo: Chaman Gul/ICIMOD

The western part of the Himalayas are influenced by air masses from Europe and the Middle East, and Asia, whereas, the central and eastern part of the Himalayas receive most air masses from Asia. To understand these differences, the locations in the northern part of Pakistan (Gulkin and Sachin) and Langtang, the central part of Himalayas, were selected for the study. 

Co-supervisor for Gul’s thesis, ICIMOD’s Aerosol Scientist, Siva Praveen Puppala said ICIMOD plans to do similar observations in the eastern part of Himalayas in Bhutan. 

‘The elevation of Yala Glacier is higher compared to those in Pakistan. Gulkin Glacier, in Pakistan, starts from 2700 to 4000 m, so there was almost no snow on the glacier in this season. Only towards the top of the glacier at around 4000m AMSL snow was present. The rest of the glacier was mostly debris’, Chaman said. Sachin Glacier, at 3200- 4000m AMSL, is different to Yala and Gulkin, and samples collected from this glacier represent semi-aged or aged-snow. ‘There was fresh snow on the night of collection so the samples were very fresh’  Chaman said of Langtang. He expects to see large variability in black carbon concentrations in the samples, contributing to effect of elevation, geographical location, glacier type, age and fresh samples. 

PhD fellow of Atmosphere Initiative, Chaman Gul, collecting samples at Sachin and Gulkin glacier in Pakistan
Photo: ICIMOD

CAREERI (Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute)CAS(Chinese Academy of Sciences) is the parent organisation supporting Chaman with his PhD. Apart from that, ICIMOD has supported him with a fellowship. Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) and Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) are also supporting Chaman with his degree by providing data on temperature and precipitation, information vital for any glacier study.