Late-20th-century changes in glacier extent in the Caucasus Mountains, Russia/Georgia
Stokes, C. R., Gurney, S. D., Shahgedanova, M. and Popovnin, V. (2006) Late-20th-century changes in glacier extent in the Caucasus Mountains, Russia/Georgia. Journal of Glaciology, 52 (176). pp. 99-109. ISSN 0022-1430
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To link to this article DOI: 10.3189/172756506781828827
Glaciers occupy an area of similar to 1600 km(2) in the Caucasus Mountains. There is widespread evidence of retreat since the Little Ice Age, but an up-to-date regional assessment of glacier change is lacking. In this paper, satellite imagery (Landsat Thematic Mapper and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus) is used to obtain the terminus position of 113 glaciers in the central Caucasus in 1985 and 2000, using a manual delineation process based on a false-colour composite (bands 5, 4, 3). Measurements reveal that 94% of the glaciers have retreated, 4% exhibited no overall change and 2% advanced. The mean retreat rate equates to similar to 8 m a(-1), and maximum retreat rates approach similar to 38 m a(-1). The largest (>10 km(2)) glaciers retreated twice as much (similar to 12 m a(-1)) as the smallest (<1 km(2)) glaciers (similar to 6 m a(-1)), and glaciers at lower elevations generally retreated greater distances. Supraglacial debris cover has increased in association with glacier retreat, and the surface area of bare ice has reduced by similar to 10% between 1985 and 2000. Results are compared to declassified Corona imagery from the 1960s and 1970s and detailed field measurements and mass-balance data for Djankuat glacier, central Caucasus. It is concluded that the decrease in glacier area appears to be primarily driven by increasing temperatures since the 1970s and especially since the mid-1990s. Continued retreat could lead to considerable changes in glacier runoff, with implications for regional water resources.